Alison Statton & Spike \ Biography
To date, the recorded catalogue of Alison Statton and Spike Williams stretches to two studio albums and a live set, all released between 1994 and 1997. Their history begins much earlier, however, as we shall see...
Alison first sang with Young Marble Giants, the cult trio formed in Cardiff in 1978 whose minimal electronics ran to two singles and an album, Colossal Youth, released on Rough Trade in 1980. One of the quirkiest and most idiosyncratic groups to emerge from the UK independent scene, YMG were New Wave more in strategy than in sound, subverting conventional pop/rock methods by stripping both song construction and instrumentation down to its essence. A reverberant funky bass, a shrill organ, short choppy bursts of guitar, a softly ticking drum machine - this was all the trio needed. Their haunting, spacious sound was made both more intimate and foreboding by Alison's dispassionate, almost neutral vocals. Pop minimalism of the first order, their recorded work now stands as one of the first fully formed expressions of the sub-genre that would come to be called post-punk.
In 1992 grunge god Kurt Cobain let slip that Nirvana planned to record a cover of Credit in the Straight World for a YMG tribute album. This didn't happen, although Courtney Love's band Hole did record a version of the song a couple of years later. The Young Marble Giants catalogue has seldom fallen out of print since.
Young Marble Giants disbanded early in 1981, after which Alison began writing with Wrexham native Mark 'Spike' Williams, an old friend who had been a key player in the Z Block label and its flagship band Reptile Ranch. After writing a clutch of songs including Drumbeat for Baby, Summerdays, Nostalgia, Red Planes and Woman's Eyes, Alison and Spike teamed up with guitarist Simon Booth to form Weekend, a breezy fusion of jazz and pop influences which was intended to last for a year. Their sole album, La Variete, appeared in 1982, and was followed by the ep Live At Ronnie Scotts, recorded in March 1983 by which time the project (always something of a compromise) had run it's course. Simon Booth went on to form Working Week, while Alison and Spike quit London and returned to South Wales, where they continued to write as a duo.
Here the plot thickens. A demo of material in much the same style as early Weekend was rejected by Rough Trade, after which Alison was involved in various Cardiff-based music projects, including Spike's agit-prop dance band, Bomb and Dagger, who formed to raise money for striking miners. At the end of the decade she appeared on two albums as Devine and Statton with former Ludus guitarist Ian Devine, The Prince of Wales (1988) and Cardiffians (1990). Both appeared on chic Belgian indie Les Disques du Crépuscule, and featured material largely written by Devine, with Alison's role that of featured singer. In 1991 Geoff Travis commissioned another demo from Alison and Spike, which was recorded in a Cardiff studio in ten hours flat after a single late night rehearsal, and featured Phil and Andrew Moxham among the guest musicians. However, history repeated, and the demo was rejected.
Finally the five songs were released as the ep Weekend In Wales in 1993, credited to Alison Statton and Spike. Reviewing it in CMJ Music Monthly, Steve Burt noted: "the EP combines Matisse-style sketchiness with swaying nods to pre-rock pop; the title suggests that Alison and Spike are trying to pick up where Weekend left off. But the new stuff is more focused; there is a spare sureness to the riffing on A Greater Notion that Weekend never reached. The vocals hold a new and careful self-confidence; she is picking her way across a long line of slick rocks at high tide, but she knows she can do it."
The self-produced debut album, Tidal Blues, was recorded and mixed at home, and released by Vinyl Japan in January 1994. It adds a larger band, including Andrew Moxham on drums, and together with the quite brilliant title track features ten other genially delicate songs. Mr. Morgan clicks and coalesces around an organ line, resurrecting the YMG sound, while Seaport Town coasts on jaunty, high-life rhythms. "It's a bunch of songs," recalls Spike. "We bounced ideas back and forth on tape between London and South Wales. Neither of us responds particularly well to the formal recording studio environment, so it was a question of looking for more comfortable ways to catch Alison's voice."
In October 1994 and again in 1995 the duo played several shows at the Jazz Café in London, the last of which featured a stellar cast of guest musicians including Carlos Gonzalez, Lol Coxhill and Harry Becket. In December 1994 the duo also toured in Japan, and although the visit was marred by problems with hired equipment, the resulting live CD, Maple Snow, recorded in Tokyo and Osaka, is a fine souvenir. Guest musicians on the tour included Andrew and Phil Moxham. In 1995 Spike also contributed to a solo album by Stuart Moxham, Cars in the Grass.
The second Statton and Spike album did not appear until 1997. In the meantime, the duo worked towards releasing a new set through Crepuscule-affiliated label Pretty Inside, but after that project ran into protracted delays various tracks and offcuts were released by Vinyl Japan as The Shady Tree. Recorded at home in Penarth, Cardiff and London, the album explores the complex relationship between mathematics and music. Spike has drawn inspiration from the mathematics of nature since stumbling over the connection between Chopin and Bach as a teenager, and exploring the highbrow concepts of Phi (as featured in The Da Vinci Code) and the divine proportion or golden section. It's also a deliberately spooky album, in that none of the contributing musicians (Phil Moxham included) actually met or played together, in order to induce the same feeling of musical isolation as a Walkman or an iPod. Mathematics was also epoyed to distance the composers from the compositions. Alison sings over highly atmospheric music filled with echoes, loops, gentle harp trills and sweetly ringing guitar. Pensive, reflective and ultimately indefinable, everything on the record ultimately conspires towards calm.
Professional and family commitments mean that neither Alison nor Spike can commit to music full-time. Alison trained as a chiropractor, and now has her own practice in Wales, while Spike once again lives in London. One day, perhaps, that elusive third album will emerge.