Marc Almond - Biography
Before Antony, Rufus, and even Boy George, there was Marc Almond. As the vocal half of Soft Cell, the groundbreaking electro-pop duo, Almond was upfront and outspoken about his sexuality; he could work an eyeliner wand as well as a microphone. But like the aforementioned artists, it was his unmistakable voice that overrode his flamboyance and ultimately made him unforgettable. His specialty has been documenting the seamy, seedy, and rancid side of life with a touch of elegance, of course. He remains a prolific solo recording artist as well as a bona fide superstar in his native UK.
Growing up was tough on Peter Mark Sinclair Almond (born July 9, 1957), who felt out of step at home in Southport, England. "It was quite an old-fashioned small town and if you were artistic or you dyed your hair and wore make-up you stood out like a sore thumb," he told the Liverpool Daily Post in 2007. According to a variety of sources including Almond, his military father was abusive and particularly tough on him. "My school experiences were not always pleasant experiences, but I was very much a loner as a child and an adolescent. I was kind of left to my own devices," he stated in the same interview. "I was attracted to people and the people attracted to me didn't fit in with the regular school crowd and the music we liked set us apart from others." That music was glam rock — the sounds of David Bowie, Marc Bolan, Lou Reed, Roxy Music — which he would occasionally see live in Liverpool.
Once he left for college, Almond refined his look and reinvented himself, staking his claim as a musician in his own right. He met David Ball at Leeds Polytechnic and the pair formed the band Soft Cell in 1978. After a few attempts at breaking out with some one-off singles, Soft Cell became a sensation in 1981 with their cover of “Tainted Love,” a rare Northern Soul groove originally sung by Gloria Jones and written by Ed Cobb of the Four Preps. Jones was also famous for being glam rocker Marc Bolan’s girlfriend, and Boaln was a huge inspiration to glam-rock loving Almond. Almond’s desperate delivery of the lyrics combined with the track's icy synth made the classic into a definitive 1980s anthem. It would become recognizable the world over, as it hit number one in the UK and the Top 10 in the US Soft Cell scored a Guinness World Record for the song’s 43-week stay on the Billboard Hot 100 charts. It was reportedly Almond's idea to use the repetitive heart-pulse sound effect throughout the song, which proved to be one of the most infectious pop hooks in history. Despite the single's wonky and amateurish sound, it sold in the multi-millions and Marc Almond's voice left its imprint on turntables across the world.
“Tainted Love” and Soft Cell's debut album Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret (1981 Some Bizarre/Sire) was a tough act to follow, but the duo pressed on until 1984 when, after they released their fourth album, Almond broke it off.
While in Soft Cell, Almond moonlighted with his other project, Marc and the Mambas. They recorded two double studio albums — an untitled album (Some Bizarre) in 1982 and Torment and Toreros (Some Bizarre) in 1983 — that expanded his reputation as a world-class performer of the stage.
Almond was dubbed by some clever media wag as “The Judy Garland of the Garbage Heap” (take that, Rufus) and it was his mix of humor with just a touch of tragedy that made him a favorite amongst fans of cabaret, torch song, chanson, and camp. His next three albums — Vermin in Ermine (1984 Some Bizarre), Stories of Johnny (1985 Some Bizarre), and Mother Fist and her Five Daughters (1987 Thirsty Ear) — were recorded with the Willing Sinners and summed up his edgy attitude.
In 1988, Almond released The Stars We Are (1988 Parlophone/Some Bizarre) as his first album as just “Mac Almond,” but featured were special guests Nico on “Your Kisses Burn” and Gene Pitney on the classic “Something's Gotten Hold of My Heart.” Almond is a solid collaborator and maker of memorable cover versions. The following year, he recorded the songs of Jacques Brel for Jacques (1989 Rough Trade). Four years later in 1993, he continued his Francophilic obsession with the collection of French songs Absinthe (1993 Thirsty Ear). Among the artists Almond has collaborated with are Nick Cave, Siouxsie Sioux, and Jimmy Somerville. He's also enjoyed a healthy professional rivalry with Boy George.
In the early '90s, Almond's attention turned to treating his addictions and entered a rehab program. Nonetheless, he managed to continue to record and in 1991 made one of his most acclaimed works, Tenement Symphony (1991 Some Bizarre), with production master Trevor Horn and his old partner David Ball. Almond's projects continued to get bigger in scope, culminating in an album of romantic Russian songs called Heart on Snow (2003 XIIIBIS Records). Recorded in St. Petersburg and Moscow, Almond enlisted local talent to back him up on choir and orchestra.
Almond is the published author of five books, including the autobiography Tainted Life (2000 and a collection of poems and lyrics called A Beautiful Twisted Night (2000). In Search of the Pleasure Palace (2005) is a travel diary/mid-life memoir.
In 2001, Soft Cell reunited after a 17-year hiatus. They followed their reunion with the release of Cruelty Without Beauty (2002 Cooking Vinyl). In 2004, Almond was involved in a serious motorcycle accident and sustained a head injury that affected his hearing and voice. This injury kept him off the stage for the next three years. He claimed it was a harrowing experience that caused him to lose his confidence. However, by 2007 he was up and running again and has since made a string of triumphant recordings and live appearances. Stardom Road (2008 Sequel) is a collection of covers featuring songs by Dusty Springfield and Gene Pitney, with appearances by Sarah Cracknell of St. Etienne, Antony Hegarty of Antony and the Johnsons, and Jools Holland. Almond continues to draw enthusiastic crowds to his shows. Now past the half century mark, he can still be counted on to sing his songs of sin and redemption and beauty and truth with a flair for the dramatic. And yes, he can still sing the bejesus out of “Tainted Love” too.