Marina' is a small and unique German independent label. It was established in Hamburg in 1993 by two former journalists, Stefan Kassel and Frank Lahnemann.

Marina was chosen as a name because, as Kassel, the label's spokesperson, has said in a previous interview, it ' stands for so many positive things : it's a girl's name, it's the sea, a harbour... .' The music itself could be seen as a reflection of this. Both Kassel and Lahnemann have wide-ranging and eclectic tastes, and their policy with Marina, in true indie style, has always been to put out music that they love and care about and feel deserves to be heard, rather than that which is especially fashionable or commercially viable.The music they have released with Marina has, therefore, covered a wide range of styles, from sixties-influenced pop to bossa nova to new wave punk , from easy listening to funk to jazzy film scores.

It is an aim too at Marina to try to put something extra special into every release. Details and aesthetics are, therefore, very important. All releases come in lavish, arty packaging, most of the sleeves of which the multi-faceted Kassel designs and photographs himself. There have been vinyl only singles and EPs, limited edition T-shirts, compact discs and free compilation tapes to be given away at concerts too, all taking this idea of producing something distinct and out of the ordinary a little further.

Unusually for an independent record company, most of the groups that have appeared on the Marina label have not been home based. Marina did not in fact put out anything by a German act until the latter part of 1995, and the majority of the artists on its books, especially initially, have come from Scotland. Much has been made out of this in the music press, often at the expense of the bands who have frequently, as a result, often been ignored and forgotten about. Marina though was always meant to have an international output, and, though it makes a good story and is often presumed to the contrary, it doesn't have any particular obsession with Scotland. It was chance as much as anything else that caused it to sign so many Caledonian acts.

Kassel and Lahnemann, having recently formed Marina, came across from Germany to Glasgow in 1993 on a visit, realised that there was a lot of good bands in Scotland without labels and things simply took off from there. Kassel has had this to say about it: 'We never had a special game plan to concentrate on Scottish artists. It was much more a case of where one thing lead to another: - we heard great unsigned bands and just wanted to release their music regardless of the origin. We definitely don't have a Scotland fixation...The decision about a new signing is certainly not based on the fact in which country a band lives. We just have to like the music.'

Marina, however, could not have come at a more fortunate time for many Scottish musicians. The early nineties were a bleak and desperate time for the Scottish pop and rock industry.

By contrast, in the early and mid eighties, there had been unusually high record label interest in the Scottish music scene, firstly in 'guitar-jangly pop' bands like 'Orange Juice', 'Aztec Camera', and 'The Bluebells', and then in white soul acts such as 'Hipsway' and 'Love and Money'. However few of these bands did as successfully at the time as their record companies would have wished or predicted (though The Bluebells, almost a decade after its first release, were latterly to have a Number One hit in 1993 with 'Young at Heart', after it was used by Volkswagon in a television advert). By the end of the decade, record company allegiances had switched, initially to Dublin as a result of the 'U2' and 'Joshua Tree' phenonomen, and then more solidly in the wake of the 'The Stone Roses', 'The Inspiral Carpets 'and 'The Happy Mondays' to the 'baggy' movement and Manchester. The Scottish music scene was as suddenly out of favour as a few years before it had been.

There was also, to make matters worse, a recession in the music industry and a lot of record companies started to dramatically drop those signings that were not proving immediately successful, rather than giving them two or three album contracts and the opportunity to develop as they would have done before. Virgin, for example, was to cut its roster by half. A lot of groups from Scotland therefore, found themselves suddenly and unceremoniously dumped , and for others it was to prove ever more difficult to get that all elusive deal. As so many bands had been signed to major companies, there was also a lack of indie labels at the time to take some off the pressure off. While a few bands like 'The Pearlfishers' were to put out records on their own labels, most were struggling to survive. Marina was, therefore, able to both cushion some of the damage and to fill a void, and to prolong and give a second life to several stagnating careers which otherwise would have undoubtedly collapsed or gone into oblivion.

The first two bands that Marina signed were 'Gazelle' and 'The Bathers'. Gazelle were a funk/jazz sextet and the band's and Marina's debut was a six track 12 inch EP, the appropriately titled 'Better Days' (MA1), in October 1993. 'Better Days' was re-released in January 1994 on compact disc (MA3) with a different cover. A full length album, 'Time Will Tell' (MA5) and another EP, this one with four tracks entitled 'Everything Inside' (MA6), were released later on that year, after which the band split up.

While Gazelle were a first-time signing, The Bathers were already a relatively established force on the Scottish music scene and had already released two albums, 'Unusual Places to Die' on Go ! Disks in 1987, and 'Sweet Deceit' on Island in 1990. The Bathers use traditional instruments such as violins, violas, and piano as well as guitars and drums. Chris Thomson, their vocalist and driving force, who sings in a Tom Waits growl , is often described as a 'romantic visionary', and his lyrics are intense and passionate. Too difficult for mainstream tastes, though revered by many critics and a committed fan group, both Go ! Disks and Island had dropped the band .

Marina for five years was able to give Thomson a firm base in which to develop his work. While Marina and Thomson stopped working together earlier this year, there have been three Bathers albums on Marina. 'Lagoon Blues' (MA2) the first of these, came out in 1993. 'Sunpowder' (MA12) followed in 1995 and 'Kelvingrove Baby' (MA22) , their most recent and accessible recording, was put out in 1997.

Two other early Scottish signings were 'Cowboy Mouth' and 'Sugartown'. Both bands featured Douglas McIntyre who had been a guitarist with Love and Money. They were essentially duos, though a band was used in both cases to augment recordings. Cowboy Mouth also featured the low-pitched and powerful-throated Graham Skinner on vocals, while in Sugartown Gwen Stewart , who Kassel has described as having a voice 'that could make 10 million Americans cry', did the singing. Both Skinner and Stewart had previously lost deals with other labels, as a result of the recession. Skinner has been with the initially successful Hipsway who had a Top Twenty Hit with 'The Honeythief' in 1986, and Stewart had worked with'The Wild River Apples',who had splintered in 1991 after their debut album was shelved by their record company Chrysalis, because its rich but unaffected pop melodies were considered too risky for the market of that time.

Both Cowboy Mouth and Sugartown are in different ways natural extensions of Love and Money (for anyone who has ever heard them), intense, melancholic and slowly melodic, with exact, precise guitarwork and reflective, pensive lyrics that often both nurture the memory of and mourn fractured relationships. Cowboy Mouth, however, can sometimes be funky too, and Sugartown's sound has an acoustic and electric folk edge to it. Cowboy Mouth released two compact disc albums, 'My Life as a Dog' (MA8) and 'Love is Dead' (MA17), one at either end of 1995. There was also two four track compact disc EPs, 'The My Life as a Dog EP' (MA10) and 'Sugartown' (MA18). The latter, the band's final recording, before they disbanded in 1996, has a limited edition of 500 and on the title track Gwen Stewart joins Skinner in a cover version of 1966 Nancy Sinatra hit. Sugartown have released two compact disc albums. The first 'Swimming in the Horsespool' was released a few weeks after 'My Life as a Dog' in 1995 and the second 'Slow Flows the River' after which they too broke up, came out in 1997.

Malcolm Ross was the next major addition to the Marina label. Ross from Edinburgh had been a guitarist in several Scottish bands in the early eighties ('Josef K', 'Orange Juice', 'Aztec Camera'), and has also done session work with 'Blancmange' and ex Josef K frontman Paul Haig. Ross, whose voice is reminiscent of his former Orange Juice bandmate, Edwyn Collins, and who has the same musical versatility, finally went solo in the early nineties.

His solo career began badly when his debut album, the country-influenced 'Malcolm Ross with the Delancey Street Group and the Magic Bus', was released, with almost no publicity, in 1993 by the Bus Stop label. Marina was to give his career a boost, when it re-released it under the new title of ' Low Shot' (MA14) half way through 1995. Ross's latest album 'Happy Boy' (MA33) came out in January of this year. It takes in a variety of styles and there are funk tunes, pure pop songs and some acoustic tracks.

Marina have also released a Josef K compilation 'Endless Soul' (MA40) on both compact disc and vinyl in October. Josef K were a 'Television' and 'Talking Heads' inspired new wave quartet with a frenzied, , chopped guitar technique. 'Endless Soul takes in tracks off their only long player 'The Only Fun in Town' released in 1981 and also another album, 'Sorry for Laughing', which they recorded and abandoned the year before. There are also some rarities and radio sessions.

In 1996 Douglas McIntyre formed his own 'avant punk' label, Creeping Bent, in Glasgow but this has led to him further extending and strengthening his relationship with Kassel and Lahnemann. The two companies came up with an arrangement, so that some bands, signed to Creeping Bent, could have records released on both labels. Kassel explains the reason for this 'If records appeared on both labels we thought that there would be a market over here (in Germany) aswell and Marina would be more effective to sell a German pressing over here instead of a Creeping Bent import.'

Two Creeping Bent bands have now had records released in this way. 'The Secret Goldfish', the first of these bands, come from East Kilbride and, inspired by 'The Buzzcocks' and 'The Go-Betweens' are a punk guitar band. Their album, 'Aqua-Pet...You Make Me' (MA19), produced by ex-Altered Images guitarist, Stephen Lironi, was released in 1996.

'Adventures in Stereo' are the other group, and feature Judith Boyle and Jim Beattie. Both of whom were formerly in 'Spirea X', who split up after they were dropped by 4AD in 1993 . Beattie had also previously been in an early line-up of 'Primal Scream'. Adventures in Stereo combine 'Beach Boys' harmonies with Boyle's ethereal Julee Cruise vocals. Their first album, called simply 'Adventures in Stereo' (MA24), came out on both labels in 1997, and a second album, 'Alternative Stereo Sounds' (MA38) was released earlier this year.

McIntyre has returned the favour, as well as putting all the Cowboy Mouth and Sugartown recordings out on Marina, writing sleeve notes for and helping to compile some other Marina releases.

The Pearlfishers are Marina's latest Scottish signing. The Pearlfishers, who were formed in 1986, like many of the other bands on Marina, had had difficulty keeping a record deal, being signed briefly to CBS then dropped before they had the chance to record anything, and having to release their first two singles on their own label 'My Dark Star'. Their situation, however, improved when Iona Gold, a Scottish label who had once specialised in folk music but by this time was trying to break into rock, released their debut, the rootsy 'Za Za's Garden', in 1993. There was an option to do a second album with Iona Gold, but the band had changed direction and David Scott,its frontman, in a display of the high regard that many Scots musicans now have for Marina, offered his next record to Kassel and Lahnemann, and was duly signed. The resultant Beach Boys influenced 'The Strange Underworld of Tall Poppies' (MA25) was released in 1997, and two EPs, 'Even on a Sunday Afternoon' (MA27) and 'Banana Sandwich' (MA35) followed, the first in the same year, the latter in 1998.

Two rare English signings have been 'The Pale Fountains' and 'Shack'. Both bands featured songwriter and vocalist, Michael Head, and were from Liverpool. The Pale Fountains released two albums before splitting in the mid eighties, 'Pacific Street' which mixes the bossa nova sound with acoustic guitars, and 'From Across the Kitchen Table', which has a straighter guitar pop feel to it. Kassel and Lahnemann were both long-term fans, and 'Longshot for Your Love', a Pale Fountains album which they compiled and released earlier this year, is a collection of rarities and out-takes, including recordings made for both a John Peel radio show and an 'Old Grey Whistle' television performance. Shack , Michael Head's next band, also featured his brother, John.

'Waterpistol' , their second album and another pop guitar record, which NME has described as 'a lost gem' was due for release in 1991, but the collapse of the record company, Ghetto Records, and a subsequent fire at a studio, which destroyed all masters, put paid to this. A sole remaining copy, which had been lost by the album's producer, Chris Allison, in a hire car in the United States, was eventually located by the hire company, Alamo. Marina was able to buy up the rights for it from the publishers and 'Waterpistol' (MA22) finally came out in 1995.

Marina's first German group was a duo from Hamburg, 'Camping'. Camping are 'Beatles-influenced and combine guitars with strings. A compact disc album was released in 1995 entitled 'Maritime Strick-Und Regendmoden' (MA15). In the last year Marina have released recordings by two other German acts. 'Die Moulinettes' are a girl pop trio, and their album '20 Blumen' (MA34) was released on both compact disc and vinyl at the beginning of the year, and was followed a few weeks later by a CD EP 'Herr Rossi Sucht Das Glueck' (MA36).

Peter Thomas, the other act, has been described as a 'German John Barry'. He has been a prolific writer of film and television music for many years. His best known work is perhaps the theme tune for 'The Mysteries of Edgar Wallace' television series, and he has been an influence to many acts including 'Stereolab' and 'Pulp', whose 'This is Hardcore' is almost entirely based around a Thomas sample.

'Moonflowers and Miniskirts' (MA39) is a compilation, which Kassel and Lahnemann, have put together of some of his more obscure recordings from the late sixties and early seventies.The album has a funky jazz feel and there is a lot of wacky electronic noises. It is rounded off by three vocals, two of which are sung by actresses Senta Berger and Uschi Glas, and the other, 'Black Power', which features the previously unreleased and first ever recording of future disco queen, Donna Summer. Marina have also released, to coincide with the album, 'Opium' (MA41), a twelve inch vinyl EP by Thomas. It has three tracks on it and is Marina's most recent release.

Marina have also released two compilation albums, 'In Bed with Marina' (MA21) which came out in 1996, and 'Songs for Marshmallow Lovers' (MA33) which was released in 1997. Unusually for record company compilation albums, both these compact discs, as well as having songs by regular Marina musicians, also contain tracks by acts who are signed to other labels. Marina have obtained the latter by special agreement, and they are are favourites of Kassel and Lahnemann, artists they would have liked to record if someone had not got there first.

'In Bed with Marina' features 'The Teenage Fanclub', Edwyn Collins, sixties acts 'Harpers Bizarre', the easy listening Nick De Caro, and an all time hero of both Kassel and Lahnemann, Antonia Carlos Jobim, the godfather of Bossa Nova. 'Songs for Marshmallow Lovers' is a version of a Mike Alway's (of 'Cherry Red' and 'El Records' ) compilation 'Songs for the Jetset'. There are easy listening and bossa nova tracks, and it is entirely 'rock free' . Nine tracks from the original remain, but five others have been dropped and replaced by new songs from Marina acts.

Marina, at the time of writing, have few definite plans for the future. There will , however, be a new Pearlfishers album, 'The Young Picnickers', in the spring of the New Year. With all the Scottish connections it has built up, and the respect it has gained from so many Caledonian musicians, it be would be very surprising if there were not more signings from Scotland in years to come. While the music recession has lifted slightly, and there are several more indie labels in Scotland than there were a few years ago, there are still a great many Scottish bands without deals, and Marina is needed almost as much as ever. In its homeland it has a far higher profile than it did even a year ago. One can presume ,as a result of this, that there will be more German releases too. There are, however, no certainties. Kassel says that he is unable to say what yet will come out in the future, and from which country it will come, that ' it really depends on what stuff gets offered to us.' When new material does come out, however, the one thing that is definite,and that can be guaranteed, as has already been proved by other previous Marina releases, is that it will be different and very special.

Thanks to Stefan Kassel and Marina for giving Pennyblackmusic permission to use the sleeves and images that accompany this article, and also for all the information and help. Thanks also to Douglas McIntyre at Creeping Bent for his information.

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