Friday, October 31, 2014



A emotional topic for us this week as the musician Lizzy Mercier-Descloux has a very special place in our personal Pantheon. Not only because she represents the bravery, curiosity and sense of humanity in all its verve, but also because it pictures the start to the tough period in recent history, the economic depression. 

The worldwide wave of recession which has followed the Flower Power times shows its darkest side with such tragic stories as the one of Judee Sill or Nico, brilliant characters who departed far too soon, leaving us with a mixed feeling of injustice and warm inspiration with a vivid corpus of work. 

From Paris through New York, Nassau, Soweto, Rio to Corsica, the 'Gazelle' never stopped running. The artist never stopped searching, and as the dolphins accompanied her ashes, she finally found peace in the streams of the Mediterranean sea, in Spring of 2004.

Together with the honour of showing unseen pictures of Lizzy Mercier-Descloux from a source that wish to remain anonymous, Cindy and I have the great chance to get a few words from Mark Cunningham from the New York band Mars who co-produced Suspense, her last release.

It must have been early '86 that Lizzy proposed collaborating directly on a new album. She was in New York at the time so we started with a couple of songs where I came up with melodies and a bit of structure and we'd take it together from there. 

Neither of us were trained composers so we'd try things, record them and eventually worked up a rough demo. Later that year, we spent a couple of months in Paris with some other musicians fleshing things out, adding more songs and eventually coming up with a proper demo for suspense, to take to EMI. This was Lizzy's publisher from the time of Mambo Nassau, and the hit single about the gazelles. By this time I think they were quite concerned about getting another hit from her, although her handler there was quite decent and discreet about trying to influence her music. 

In any case, they seemed to appreciate the demo and okayed the project on the condition we use a producer of their choosing. This took some negotiating and in the end everybody agreed on John Brand, who'd recently produced the Water Boys, with Lizzy and I as co-producers, which in the end really only meant we could (try to) say no to things we didn't like. We then spent three months recording in England and another few weeks in Paris mixing. In the whole process there continued to be pressure to make a commercial product with a potential hit single. Brand added quite a bit of synth padding and other details that were tasteful but our vision of the LP was somewhat compromised. 

However, we could live with it as the songs were fully realized and sounded great. The real problems began after that. EMI (Polydor) decided fairly quickly that there was no big hit there and made, at best, a very half-hearted attempt to promote it. I think they just decided to cut their losses and bury it, and this effectively ended Lizzy's recording career. She'd become dependent on having that sort of weight (and money) backing up her projects, and couldn't even turn to another company as she was still contractually trapped by EMI.  

Mark Cunningham.

We found out that Light In The Attic Records will release a detailed series showcasing the work of Lizzy Mercier-Descloux, starting with a 7" Fire b/w Morning High in duet with her early friend Patti Smith, in November. We must say not before time, a good opportunity to get back to her discography. Cindy tells us about it.

Bérangère Maximin

I will start with a personal anecdote, the Sex Pistols' Screen On The Green gig in August 1976 (the beginning of time!! sorry can't help but quote Paul Morley's Words and Music). I was stood outside of the venue at the front of the queue, this French guy came up to me and said “were you in McLaren and Westwood's SEX shop a couple of months ago ? " I said "yes". He went on “when you left the shop, Vivienne was running around so excited saying: do you know he has come all the way from Durham just to see us !" Then he gave me his card, he was Michel Esteban, Lizzy's partner at the time. They had just started the Rock News magazine in Paris, covering the brewing punk scenes in London and New York, and also booked the Sex Pistols to play Paris the following month. 

The gig was advertised using the same poster I had took down off the Screen On The Green Foyer wall, the design also used on the t-shirt Lizzy wears in one of her videos and the photo above. I had always wondered how she came across that t-shirt. In Paris, the Sex Pistols modeled the latest Westwood/McLaren clothes, Lizzy and Michel were involved. 

Well, now Lizzy Mercier's musical career : she moved to New York with Michel Esteban in 1977 where he was instrumental in the starting of two labels, the Spy label which featured Live Sabotage a great live album by John Cale, and Lester Bangs' Let It Blurt 7” with Robert Quine. He also started the amazing Ze Label with Michael Zilkha. Lizzy was sharing living spaces with the likes of Richard Hell and Patti Smith. She got started as Rosa Yemen, her first 12" EP on Ze Records which remains to this day one of my favourite No Wave releases. That scene was a bit nihilistic to say the least but even this early on, Lizzy was showing the joy and beauty that would come with her forthcoming songs, even in this setting. 

Her debut album Press Color went out in 1978 and got reissued in 2003 - I adored this from the haircut on her sleeve pic, to the music. Someone called it "the Downtown scene filtered through a Frenchwoman’s ears", an album all over the place taking in disco (again Lizzy on the ball first strains of Mutant Disco), funk, film scores and a crazy version of Arthur Browns' Fire. But one of the outtakes that intrigues me the most is Hard Boiled Babe which pre-dates genres like Dub Step by many years, an amazing track. 

Then Mambo Nassau - what a massive jump forward ! she was now Inspired by the music coming from France's Ocora label, and by the way she was doing this at the same time as Talking Heads, who were channeling similar music. She went to Nassau to record this album at Compass Point and using future Talking Heads collaborator Wally Badarou ! This was the start of her African music experiments and a massive success, a beautiful album, a wonderful mix, and her version of Kool and The Gangs' Funky Stuff is joyous.   

"We can only hope that in the next world, the borders between genres and nations are as permeable as they were in Descloux’s cosmopolitan imagination.Franklin Bruno, French connections, The NYC no wave of Lizzy Mercier Descloux.  

Zulu Rock got released in 1984. "Again Lizzy ahead of the game" reviews All Music website. "Some years before Paul Simon scored both attention and protest for his Graceland album, Mercier Descloux had arguably not only beaten him to the punch but had created a more exuberant and fascinating record. Simon's studied ruminations can have their place, but Mercier Descloux, simply put, actually sounds like she's having fun." Michel Estaban said at the time : "this South African music reminded us, as incredible as it may sound, of the Velvet Underground". Well I got both versions of this album, just beautiful heartwarming inventive music !

One For The Soul featuring Chet Baker on five tracks, was recorded in Brazil a few months later, after a record project which got hampered with the South African authorities refusing to give out visas to musicians. This one was produced by Adam Kidron. Lizzy wrote on the sleeve : "Riot of January, record in the city wrecked by the sea, chanting streets... Remember ! Never collapse always dazzle !"

Suspense, her last album got released in 1988.

Coming next month on Light In The Attic Records : the 7″ presents two key tracks from the Mercier Descloux catalog: the epitomic, 1979 disco-punk classic Fire backed with a rare session featuring Lizzy and Patti Smith reciting a bilingual version of Arthur Rimbaud’s poem, Matinée d’ivresse/Morning High set to music by experimental contemporary Bill Laswell; remastered from the original tapes, this 33 1/3 RPM 7” single comes pressed on blue colored wax.
The five albums in store for 2015 (CD/LP/Digital) will be newly remastered with bonus tracks, expanded artwork, photos, and new liner notes.

" Why live down on earth when the sky is so vast and so blue and all is pointless but desire." 
LMD, Cape Desire from Suspense.

Cindy Stern