Thursday, May 21, 2009

Marshall Hain Isn't A Solo Artist?

Throughout popular music history, there have been a number of artists whose monikers have initially caused a degree of uncertainty - are they a person, or a band? The likes of Jethro Tull, Harvey Danger, Edward Bear, Elliot Minor, Sebastian Hardie, Jesus Jones, Rose Royce, Pablo Cruise, all feature a nomenclatural ambiguity in respect of their categorisation as solo artist or group. Another to add to that list, is Marshall Hain, who beyond Britain, were largely known as a one hit wonder, for their sensual 1978 dance-pop hit ‘Dancing In The City’.

In fairness to the duo of Marshall Hain, their name actually combines the surnames of both members, Julian Marshall and Kit Hain, and that’s not so unusual for a duo (or trio) of musicians to do - but it’s not as common for the combination to still sound like an individual’s moniker (or exclude ‘and’ to link the names). All conjecture over artist tags aside, it’s worth exploring the story behind the group a little further.

British based Julian Marshall, and Kit Hain, had both been involved in music since their school days, during which both played in school bands (though not together). Marshall studied music formally at the Royal College of Music in London, whilst Hain took a diversion for a while into studying psychology, though she continued to write and perform music, mostly in the folk vein. Hain then balanced a career in teaching and music, before moving to London. She met up with Julian Marshall (who she had known from school days), and Marshall himself was at a bit of a crossroads, having ended an association with a jazz outfit, and by mid ‘76 the pair had begun writing and performing together, Marshall on keyboards/piano, Hain on vocals/guitar.

As the duo Marshall Hain, they burst onto the pop music scene over the northern summer of 1978, with the calypso flavoured ‘Dancing In The City’, and began to have fun on the charts almost immediately. Following its June chart debut, the song cruised on up to dock at #3 before summer’s end. Just as ‘Dancing In The City’ was proving a shining remedy for those British who were feeling dull and run down, the track lit up a dark and cold Australian winter. It was a slow burner, but eventually matched its British performance, and peaked at #3 during October. For me, one of the stand out features of the song was the brilliant drum track, which happened to be played by Peter Van Hook (later of Mike and the Mechanics fame). Having also notched up solid sales across Europe, Marshall Hain made their only foray into the U.S. charts (as a duo) late in ‘78, with ‘Dancing In The City’ peaking at #43. Marshall Hain released the album ‘Free Ride’ (OZ#56) on the Harvest label, produced by Christopher Neil, who later worked with the likes of Sheena Easton, The Other Ones, and Gerry Rafferty (see previous posts). The album (released in the U.S. as ‘Dancing In The City’) featured a mix of styles and influences, from soul, jazz, funk, and pop, but only spawned one more minor hit, with the slower tempo ‘Coming Home’ (UK#39). The third single was the lyrical antithesis of ‘Dancing In The City’. The laid back ballad ‘Back To The Green’ advocated a shift from the hustle and bustle of city life to the quiet life in the country, but city slickers (and country folk) obviously didn’t fall for its charm. For the duo of Marshall Hain, that was pretty much all she wrote, though as individuals, both Julian Marshall and Kit Hain would go on to be involved in other successful group/duo projects, in both a writing and performance capacity.

Julian Marshall explored a new pop vision with the duo Eye To Eye, in partnership with Seattle born vocalist and songwriter Deborah Berg. Eye To Eye released their debut single, ‘Am I Normal?’ in 1980, but despite being a somewhat intriguing offering ,the track remained largely unseen, or that should probably be unheard. The duo did enjoy a higher profile Stateside, where the single ‘Nice Girls’ (lifted from their self titled album) broke into the Hot 100 during May of ‘82, and peaked at #37 (OZ#89). A follow up single, ‘Lucky’, caught a glimpse of the U.S. Hot 100 (#88) late in ‘83. A couple of sources have referred to Julian Marshall having some involvement with the avant-garde synth-rock act the Flying Lizards, and I was initially a bit dubious about the accuracy of that association. However, on closer inspection of the credits for the Flying Lizards’ 1981 album, ‘Fourth Wall’, Julian Marshall is credited with contributing vocals/keyboards on three of the album’s tracks, so this must have been a side project for Marshall, in between working with Berg in Eye To Eye. He returned to play piano on several tracks with David Cunningham’s Flying Lizards, on their 1984 outing ‘Top Ten’. More recently Marshall joined up with percussionist Martin Ditcham to record the album ‘Selling Water By The River’ (2000), as Umbrella People, with the album reflecting Marshall’s long standing affection for jazz fusion.

Kit Hain released two solo albums, ‘Spirits Walking Out’ (1981), and ‘School For Spies’ (1983), but neither found a significant audience. Hain then moved to the U.S., and continued to work as a vocalist, contributing to work by Barbara Dickson, and Deborah Blando. In subsequent years her career took on more of a song writing focus, and Hain has penned songs recorded by the likes of Selena, Peter Cetera, Cyndi Lauper, Roger Daltrey, and Jonathan Butler. Recently, Kit Hain also had involvement as a vocalist with the Mike Thorne dance album projects, ‘Contessa’s Party’ and ‘Sprawl’ (which also featured Lene Lovich).


Barely Awake In Frog Pajamas said...

Where I grew up, Eye To Eye's "Nice Girls" MASSIVE - it was always on the radio that summer.

Last summer, I snagged the full album on vinyl and was a bit disappointed. "Nice Girls" really overshadowed everything else to me.

A. FlockOfSeagulls said...

'Nice Girls' only snuck into #89 on Australia's national chart. To be honest I don't recall hearing the song at the time of its release but it wasn't unusual for a song to make an impact in one part of the country and go completely unnoticed in another.

I'm not sure what the state of U.S. radio was at that time, but in Australia radio stations were still very much regionalised operations and syndicated national networks were in their infancy at best. Consequently one part of the country might cotton on to a particular track months ahead of another. Television was much the same, and the only vehicle that reached the entire country was the show 'Countdown', which is probably why I rabbit on about it so much on this blog - it could literally make or break a song's sales, and artist's career.

I'd like to have seen how different things might have been had syndicated radio/tv, satellite services and the internet been around during that era - some of those hidden gems may have made more of an impact - then again there are many more market forces at work that would skew the picture.

Many thanks for your feedback and the info on the Eye To Eye album :)