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Reissue CDs Weekly: Rema-Rema - Fond Reflections | reviews, news & interviews

Reissue CDs Weekly: Rema-Rema - Fond Reflections

Reissue CDs Weekly: Rema-Rema - Fond Reflections

Belated confirmation that Marco Pirroni’s pre-Ants outfit was more than a post-punk footnote

Rema-Rema hang out in front of the Royal Albert Hall. Marco Pirroni is second from the rightPaul Stahl

Until now, Rema-Rema’s only release was a 12-inch EP released in August 1980. It had hit shops after the band fell apart at the end of the previous year. Negotiations with 4AD, a new offshoot of the Beggar’s Banquet label, were underway towards the end of 1979 but then guitarist and future Adam and the Ants-man Marco Pirroni left. They rehearsed without him but called it a day in November. Yet 4AD issued that EP, titled Wheel in the Roses.

Pirroni’s presence is partly what rescues Rema-Rema from being a post-punk footnote. Over their lifespan – the band formed in May 1978 – the band played live eleven times. Despite the slim gigography, their trajectory was upwards: they supported Siouxsie and the Banshees and The Human League at London’s Rainbow in April 1979, they were billed with Cabaret Voltaire and Throbbing Gristle at Tottenham Court Road’s YMCA that August and were on the September 1979 Banshees’ tour which also featured The Cure. Charisma Records were interested.

Rema-Rema_Fond ReflectionsThe posthumous case for by Rema-Rema is made by Fond Reflections, a collection of studio recordings, tracks taped at rehearsals and live material. It’s promoted as “The Debut Album That Never Was” but the disparate sources means it’s not this: nothing was recorded with an album or release in mind.

Fond Reflections is issued on vinyl and CD. The double-album version spreads ten tracks across four sides, while the CD package collects those on a first disc and includes a second disc which supplements the four Wheel in the Roses (pictured below left) tracks with another three. Go for the CD edition. Each includes an insightful essay by the band’s drummer Dorothy Max Prior. The audio sources are cassette and reel-to-reel tapes, and the sound quality is good and enviably hefty: better than might be expected. However, what is heard now is not necessarily what was recorded in 1978 and 1979. The credits include a worrying note that “additional production, overdubs and treatments” have taken place. What this means is not explained, but hopefully Fond Reflections is an accurate – though avowedly modified – representation of Rema-Rema.

rema-rema wheel in the rosesAmongst the earliest tracks – recorded on a 4-track reel-to-reel in the band’s rehearsal room in September 1978 – is “Why Ask Why”, a dense, relentless chug with an anthemic, almost-screamed vocal. Roxy Music-style synth squalls weave in and out of white-noise guitar and a steam-hammer rhythm. The only analogy coming to mind is a conjoining of the Wire of “Pink Flag” (the song) and early Killing Joke (whose first record was issued in October 1979: they formed in late 1978 – were Killing Joke paying attention?).

Fond Reflections opens with “Feedback Song”, recorded in 1979 at another rehearsal session. It also has that Killing Joke flavour but there’s an added tension. The guitar is almost all feedback and the vocal even more edgy. A version of “Rema-Rema”, the song which gave them their name, is tougher than the one issued on the 1980 EP and as unrelenting as “Why Ask Why”. “Fond Affections”, another September 1978 track, opens the sound out, is less dark and shows that band were still effective when stepping-back from the intensity.

Rema-Rema_Fond Reflections_Rainbow 7 April 1979A look at Rema-Rema’s line-up reveals why they were prospective contenders. Pirroni was in the one-off initial iteration of Siouxsie and the Banshees created for the September 1976 100 Club punk festival. After that, he went on to The Models who recorded a Peel session and one terrific single. With codification bringing punk-as-such to a standstill, they spilt in April 1978 and he and Models’ bassist Mick Allen formed what became Rema-Rema. The new band’s synth player Mark Cox had been in a final model of The Models. Rema-Rema’s drummer Dorothy Max Prior had been in Adam Ant’s pre-Ants band The B-Sides (along with members of the Monochrome Set, who Rema-Rema would support). With singer Gary Asquith, who was at school with Allen, Rema-Rema played their first show on New Year’ Day 1979 at a venue run by Toyah Wilcox. They had connections. (pictured right: Rema-Rema at London's Rainbow, 7 April 1979)

After Rema-Rema and a few detours, Pirroni of course went on to the Ants. For them, he repurposed his Rema-Rema guitar style for “Killer in the Home”. On Fond Reflections, parts of “Entry” also point to Adam and Co. In the wake of Rema-Rema’s demise, Allen, Asquith and Cox formed Mass, who turned into 4AD stalwarts The Wolfgang Press. As Dorothy, Max issued a peculiar glam-synth single on Throbbing Gristle’s Industrial label in late 1980, and then ended up in Psychic TV. Following a brief brush with The Wolfgang Press, Asquith co-founded Renegade Soundwave.

The prodigious before and after biography casts Rema-Rema as a way station. However, Fond Reflections amply demonstrates they were a unique entity. Pity it took 40 years to learn this.

What is heard now is not necessarily what was recorded in 1978 and 1979: additional production, overdubs and treatments have taken place

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