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+ {M/A/R/R/S}

London’s answer to the flux of faceless 12-inch dance imports from over the Big Pond (Arthur Baker et al), COLOURBOX – named after a 1937 animated film by Len Lye `A Colour Box’ – were a group held in high esteem by the napping, nocturnal night-clubbers buzzing from Radio 1’s John Peel show. From 1982 to 1987 (if one included their masterful alliance with stablemates A.R. KANE on the chart-topping M/A/R/R/S smash, `Pump Up The Volume’), the brothers Martyn and Steven Young (on guitar and drums respectively) had the world beneath their dancing feet. And then zilch.
Formed in 1982 by the aforementioned songwriting brothers (still teenagers at the time) and, initially, bassist Ian Robbins (a replacement for Steve Biggs) and auxiliary singer Debian Curry, COLOUR BOX somehow found their way on to the roster of Ivo Watts-Russell’s indie imprint 4 a.d., who duly unveiled their debut, `Breakdown’ (b/w `Tarantula’). Unimpressed with their first version, a second was issued the following May. A permanent vocal fixture was subsequently found by way of Leicester-born Lorita Grahame, a funkier proposition who’d delivered a “lovers rock”-type solo 45 (`Young Free And Single’) for Intense Records, earlier in ‘83.
Her impact was felt almost immediately on the 25-minute mini-album, COLOUR BOX (1983) {*6}, a slick but skewed set of four soulful/dub-friendly tracks, one of them in particular, the 10-minute `Nation’, epic by comparison.
In a further artistic adjustment of the easel, COLOURBOX – note the missing space – beat a path to the Hacienda in March ’84 with a delicious, Factory-styled rendition of U-ROY’s `Say You’, a deserved indie chart hit. The electro beatbox-friendly `Punch’ followed it soon afterwards, but Robbins was finally surplus to requirements thereafter (he died in 2014).
Not particularly prolific up to now, although the young brothers were an integral part of Ivo’s THIS MORTAL COIL collective, the commercial `The Moon Is Blue’ (b/w: Holland-Dozier-Holland’s `You Keep Me Hanging On’) previewed the trio’s only full-set, COLOURBOX (1985) {*7}. Also showcasing their most recent of 45s and the sprawling `Manic’, that provided a brief solo rock guitar spot for one WILLIAM ORBIT, the brothers Young were also adept at adding spoken-word movie samples or Spaghetti Western/The Prisoner soundbites, a la `Just Give ‘Em Whiskey’; one could also re-imagine MORRICONE on an exclusive ska-beat B-side, `Looks Like We’re Shy One Horse’.
A palette and paintbox still overflowing with off-kilter rhythms, an almost synchronised release of two singles in the spring of ’86 were indie chart-toppers: the soulful dub-tastic `Baby I Love You So’ and the simplistic, sombrero groove of instrumental, `The Official Colourbox World Cup Theme’. But for a sample-addled contribution, `Hot Doggie’, to the 4 a.d. various artists compilation, `Lonely Is An Eyesore’ (June ’87), the COLOURBOX team had given up the ghost.
In its place was the brothers teaming up with Messrs Alex Ayuli + Rudy Tambala + Russell Smith (aka A.R. KANE), plus Chris “CJ” Mackintosh and DJ Dave Dorrell – as M/A/R/R/S – to come up with one of the most cosmically commercial, yet memorable tracks of the year, `Pump Up The Volume’. Unfortunately, the No.1 acid-house, solid-soul single (US #13) was their last brushstroke, so to speak, as both Young’s looked to production work (Martyn twiddled knobs for The WOLFGANG PRESS and The CHRISTIANS). The irony was that the sample-tastic recording of summer ’87 was indeed sampled itself by many dance acts of the late 80s, while the fate of Lorita Grahame duly lay within the short-lived venture with Hit The Roof on a One Little Indian-endorsed re-vamp of EDWIN STARR’s `Contact’. Sadly, on 13 July 2016, Steven Young passed away, aged only 53.
MC Strong/MCS 1994-1999/GRD series // rev-up MCS Jul2016

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