Peter Mark Sinclair "Marc" Almond (/ˈɑːmənd/; born 9 July 1957) is an English singer-songwriter and musician. Almond first began performing and recording in the synthpop/new wave duo Soft Cell. He has also had a diverse career as a solo artist. Almond's official website claims he has sold over 30 million records worldwide.
Childhood and early life:
Almond was born in 1957 in Southport, (then Lancashire, now part of Merseyside), the son of Sandra Mary Diesen and Peter John Sinclair Almond, a Second Lieutenant in the King's Liverpool Regiment. He was brought up at his grandparents' house in Birkdale with his younger sister, Julia, and as a child suffered from bronchitis and asthma. When he was four, they left their grandparents' house and moved to Starbeck on the edge of Harrogate, North Yorkshire. Two years later they returned to Southport, and then moved to Horsforth (a suburb of Leeds).
At the age of 11 he attended Aireborough Grammar School near Leeds. Almond found solace in music, listening to British radio pioneer John Peel. The first album he purchased was the soundtrack of the stage musical Hair and the first single "Green Manalishi" by Fleetwood Mac. He later became a great fan of Marc Bolan and David Bowie and got a part-time job as a stable boy to fund his musical tastes.
After his parents' divorce in 1972 he moved with his mother back to his home town of Southport. He gained two O-Levels in Art and English and was accepted onto a General Art and Design course at Southport College, specialising in Performance Art. He applied to Leeds Polytechnic where he was interviewed by Jeff Nuttall, also a performance artist, who accepted him on the strength of his performing skills. During his time at Art College he did a series of performance theatre pieces: "Zazou", "Glamour in Squalor", "Twilights and Lowlifes", as well as Andy Warhol inspired mini-movies. "Zazou" was reviewed by The Yorkshire Evening Post and described as "one of the most nihilistic depressing pieces that I have ever had the misfortune to see", to which Almond later commented in his autobiography, "So it was a success then."
Almond followed bands like Siouxsie and the Banshees and left Art College with a 2:1 honours degree. He later credited writer and artist Molly Parkin with discovering him. It was at Leeds Polytechnic that Almond met David Ball, a fellow student; they formed Soft Cell in 1979.
Early musical influences:
As a child, Almond listened to his parent's record collection, which included his mother's "Let's Dance" by Chris Montez and "The Twist" by Chubby Checker, also his father's collection of jazz including Dave Brubeck and Eartha Kitt. As an adolescent, Almond listened to Radio Caroline and Radio Luxembourg. He listened at first to progressive music, blues and rock, Free, Jethro Tull, Van der Graaf Generator, The Who, and The Doors, and bought the first ever issue of Sounds, because it contained a free poster of Jimmy Page.
Almond became a fan of Marc Bolan after hearing him on the John Peel Show, buying the T. Rex single "Ride a White Swan". From then on Almond "followed everything Marc Bolan did," and it was his obsession with Bolan that prompted Almond to adopt the 'Marc' spelling. He discovered the songs of Jacques Brel through Bowie as well as Alex Harvey and Dusty Springfield. Brel became a major influence.
Almond and Dave Ball formed and signed to Some Bizzare Label the synth duo Soft Cell, whose hits included "Tainted Love" (UK No. 1), "Bedsitter" (UK No. 4), "Say Hello, Wave Goodbye" (UK No. 3), "Torch" (UK No. 2), "What!" (UK No. 3), "Soul Inside" (UK No. 16), and the club hit "Memorabilia". Soft Cell's first release was an independent record (funded by Dave Ball's mother) entitled "Mutant Moments" via Red Rhino Records in 1980.
"Mutant Moments" came to the attention of music entrepreneur Stevo Pearce, who at the time was compiling a "futurist" chart for the music papers Record Mirror & Sounds which featured young, upcoming and experimental bands of the new wave of electronic sound. He signed the duo to his Some Bizzare label and they enjoyed a string of nine Top 40 hit singles and four Top 20 albums in the UK between 1981-84. They recorded three albums in New York with producer Mike Thorne: Non Stop Erotic Cabaret, Non Stop Ecstatic Dancing and The Art of Falling Apart. Almond became involved with the New York Underground Art Scene at this time with writer/DJ Anita Sarko, and performed at a number of Art events, as well as meeting many New York Art luminaries, including Andy Warhol.
"Tainted Love", a cover of a Gloria Jones' Northern Soul classic, was number one in the UK and in many countries over the world, and was in the Guinness Book of Records for a while as the record that spent the longest time in the Billboard Top 100 chart in the U.S. It also won the best single award of 1981 at the first Brit Awards. Soft Cell brought an otherwise obscure Northern Soul classic to mass public attention and their version of the song is, to date, the UK's 59th best selling single of all time, selling over one million copies in the UK.
In 1982, Almond formed Marc and the Mambas as an off-shoot project from Soft Cell. Marc and the Mambas was a loose experimental collective that set the template for the artist that Almond would become. The Mambas at various times included Matt Johnson, Steve James Sherlock, Lee Jenkinson, Peter Ashworth, Jim Thirlwell and Anni Hogan, with whom Almond worked later in his solo career. Under the Mambas moniker, Almond recorded two albums, Untitled and the seminal double opus Torment and Toreros. He disbanded the collective when it started to feel too much like a regular band.
Soft Cell disbanded in 1984 just before the release of their fourth album, This Last Night in Sodom, though the duo reunited in 2001.
Almond's first proper solo album was Vermin in Ermine, released in 1984. Produced by Mike Hedges, it featured musicians from the Mambas outfit, Annie Hogan, Martin McCarrick and Billy McGee. This ensemble, known as The Willing Sinners, worked alongside Almond for the subsequent albums Stories of Johnny (1985) from which the title track became a minor hit, and Mother Fist and Her Five Daughters (1987), also produced by Mike Hedges. The latter album was highly acclaimed in reviews, with Ned Raggett writing that the 'Mother Fist' album "embraces classic European cabaret to wonderful effect, more so than any American or English rock album since Bowie's Aladdin Sane or Lou Reed's Berlin."
McCarrick left The Willing Sinners in 1987 to join Siouxsie and the Banshees, from which point Hogan and McGee became known as La Magia. Almond signed to EMI and released the album The Stars We Are in 1988. This album featured Almond's version of "Something's Gotten Hold of My Heart", which was later re-recorded as a duet with the song's original singer Gene Pitney and released as a single. The track reached No. 1 in the UK. It also reached number one in Germany and was a major hit in countries around the world. The Stars We Are became his biggest selling solo album in the USA, and the single "Tears Run Rings" became his only solo single to peak inside the US Billboard Hot 100.
Almond's other recordings in the 1980s included an album of Brel songs, called Jacques, and an album of dark French chansons originally performed by Juliette Greco, Serge Lama and Léo Ferré, as well as poems by Rimbaud and Baudelaire set to music. This album was released in 1993 as Absinthe (The French Album), and was initially recorded in the late 1980s then finished in Paris in the early 1990s.
Almond's first release in the 1990s was the album Enchanted, which spawned the UK Top 30 hit "A Lover Spurned". A further single from the album, "Waifs and Strays", was remixed by Dave Ball who was now in the electronic dance band The Grid. In 1991, Soft Cell returned to the charts with a new remix of "Say Hello Wave Goodbye" followed by a re-release of "Tainted Love" (with a new video). The singles were issued to promote a new Soft Cell/Marc Almond compilation album, Memorabilia - The Singles, which collected some of the biggest hits from Almond's career throughout the previous ten years. The album reached the UK Top 10.
Almond then signed to WEA and released a new solo album, Tenement Symphony. Produced partly by Trevor Horn, the album yielded three Top 40 hits including renditions of the Jacques Brel classic "Jacky" (which made the UK Top 20), and "The Days of Pearly Spencer" which returned Almond to the UK Top 5 in 1992. Later that year, Almond played a lavish one-off show at the Royal Albert Hall in London, which featured an orchestra and dancers as he performed material from his entire career. The show was recorded and released as the CD and video 12 Years of Tears.
In 1993, Almond toured Russia and Siberia by invitation of the British consul in Moscow. Accompanied only by Martin Watkins on piano, he played small Soviet halls and theatres, often without amplification, and ended at the "mini Bolshoi" in Moscow. Transmitted live on television Almond made a plea for tolerance of gay people. The tour was fraught with troubles, which Almond detailed in his autobiography, but it marked the beginning of his love affair with the genre of Russian folk torch songs known as Romance.
Almond's next album Fantastic Star saw him part with WEA and sign to Mercury Records. Much of Fantastic Star was originally recorded in New York with Mike Thorne, but later after signing to Mercury, was reworked in London. Almond also recorded a session for the album with John Cale, David Johanson, and Chris Spedding; some made the final cut. Other songs were produced by Mike Hedges and Martyn Ware. Adding to the disjointed recording process was the fact that during recording Almond also spent several weeks attending a treatment centre in Canterbury for addiction to prescription drugs. However on its release Fantastic Star gave Almond a hit single with Adored and Explored, and also minor hits and stage favorites such as The Idol and Child Star. Fantastic Star was Almond's last album with a major record label, and the period also marked the ending of his managerial relationship with Stevo Pearce.
Almond re-invented himself and signed to Echo records in 1998 with a more downbeat and atmospheric electronica album, Open All Night. This featured R&B and trip hop influences, as well as torch songs for which he had become known. The album featured a duet ("Threat of Love") with Siouxsie Sioux as well as one ("Almost Diamonds") with Keli Ali (then of the Sneaker Pimps). "Black Kiss", "Tragedy" and "My Love" were the singles from the album Open All Night. Almond left the Echo label and signed to European label Tres Bis Viii where he stayed for the next four years.
Almond relocated in 2000 to Moscow where he rented an apartment. With the encouragement and connections of executive producer Misha Kucherenko, he embarked on a three-year recording project of Russian romance and folk songs, called Heart on Snow. Featuring many Russian stars old and new such as Boris Grebenshchikov, Ilya Lagutenko of the Russian band Mumiy Troll, Lyudmila Zykina and Alla Bayanova and featuring The Rossiya Folk Orchestra conducted by Anatole Sobolev, it was the first time that such a project had been undertaken by a Western artist, many of the loved Soviet era songs sung in English for the first time. The album was produced by musician/arranger Andrei Samsonov. Almond performed many times at the famous now demolished Rossiya Concert Hall with Lyudmila Zykina and Alla Bayanova, and with the Rossiya Folk Orchestra.
In 2001, Soft Cell reunited briefly and released their first new album in 18 years, Cruelty Without Beauty. Two singles came out of this album, "Monoculture" and a cover of the Frankie Valli's "The Night", which reached No. 39 in the UK charts.
In October 2004, Almond was seriously injured in a motorbike accident near St Paul's Cathedral, London. Near death and in a coma for weeks, he suffered two huge blood clots and had to undergo emergency surgery twice. He also suffered serious head injuries, multiple breaks and fractures, a collapsed lung and damaged hearing. After the accident he suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder. He began a slow recovery determined to get back on the stage and in the studio.
In June 2007, Almond released an album of cover songs, Stardom Road. Picked to tell a story of his life and career, the album featured songs as diverse as "I Have Lived" by Charles Aznavour, to "Stardom Road" by Third World War, Frank Sinatra's "Strangers in the Night", and "Kitch" by Paul Ryan. The album featured his first new song since the motorbike accident, "Redeem me (Beauty Will Redeem the World)". Stardom Road was to be one of three albums for the Sanctuary label, the UK's largest independent record label up until 2007 when it got itself into financial difficulty and was sold off in June 2007 to Universal Music Group.
In July 2007, Almond celebrated his 50th birthday on stage at the Shepherds Bush Empire in London and in September performed at a tribute show to Marc Bolan, his teenage hero. At the concert he dueted with Bolan's wife, Gloria Jones, on an impromptu version of "Tainted Love".
In October 2007, the fashion house Yves Saint Laurent picked Almond's "Strangers in the Night" to represent their show at London's Fashion Rocks. Almond performed for the event at the Royal Albert Hall.
In 2008 and 2009, Almond toured with Jools Holland throughout the UK as well as guesting at shows by Current 93, Baby Dee and a tribute show to the late folk singer Sandy Denny at the Festival Hall.
In October 2009, Almond released his second album of Russian Romances and Gypsy songs in an album titled Orpheus in Exile: Songs of Vadim Kozin. The album was a tribute to Russian singer Vadim Kozin, who was exiled to the gulags of the Arctic Circle. The album was produced by Alexei Fedorov and features an orchestra arranged by Anatole Sobolev.
In June 2010, Almond released Varieté, an album of crafted personal songs, his first studio album of self-penned songs in almost a decade. Almond has stated this will possibly be his last fully self-penned album. He also announced a new concert tour in Autumn 2010 to celebrate his 30 years in music. Almond was awarded a Hero Award by the music magazine Mojo. He undertook his most successful tour celebrating thirty years of being a recording artist with a show of mostly hits and A-sides entitled "All A's".
In 2011, Almond released an album Feasting with Panthers. A collaboration with musician and arranger Michael Cashmore. It featured poems of Count Eric Stenbock put to music as well as decadent and homoerotic poems by Jean Genet, Jean Cocteau, Paul Verlaine and Rimbaud. Almond took part in a music-theatre work Ten Plagues, held at Edinburgh's Traverse Theatre from 1-28 August 2011. Ten Plagues is a one man song cycle based on Daniel Defoe's Journal of the Plague Year (which dates back to 1722), with metaphors of Aids and epidemics.
In 2012, Almond took the role of the Roman Stoic philosopher Seneca in the Paris Théâtre du Châtelet's experimental rock adaptation of Poppea based on Monteverdi's original 17th century opera The Coronation of Poppea also starring ex-Libertines Carl Barat, Benjamin Biolay, Fredrika Stahl, Valerie Gabail and Anna Madison.
On 9 August 2012, Almond performed at Antony Hegarty's Meltdown Festival in London's Southbank. He sang the whole Marc and the Mambas Torment and Toreros album for the first time live. Some of the original musicians in the album performed with Almond. Hegarty sang "My Little Book of Sorrows" with Almond.
In 2013, Almond performed Ten Plagues for a month at Wiltons Music Hall Theatre, London. He performed with Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson in Tull's seminal concept album "Thick as a Brick" at The Royal Albert Hall. He received The Ivor Novello Inspiration Award presented by long time friend and co-Manager Vicki Wickham, and the Icon Award from Attitude Magazine. He recorded an E.P "The Dancing Marquis" with producer Tony Visconti.
In 2014, Almond recorded and toured with composer John Harle, The Tyburn Tree, a concept record about themes of Dark London.
Almond has lived in London for over 30 years. He divides his time among London, Moscow and Barcelona. In an interview in 2010, Almond said: "The London I love seems to be disappearing every day. For all its faults, it is the greatest city."
Almond has stated that he dislikes being pigeon-holed as "a 'gay' artist", claiming that such a label "enables people to marginalize your work and reduce its importance, implying that it won't be of any interest to anyone who isn't gay". In 2010, Almond said that he has "a fulfilling work life and a comfortable private life". He has been with the same partner for over 20 years.
Text from this biography licensed under creative commons license