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Marie and the Atom


Marie and the Atom were an experimental pop group created as a performance and song-writing vehicle for Gill Civil, who had previously been part of mainstream groups Rhythm Method and The Bongos, before joining an Ivan Zagni directed music workshop for unemployed Auckland musicians:

Civil’s involvement in the group, which eventually became Big Sideways, never really got off on the right footing. She spent her days at a Ponsonby rehearsal space with a bunch of men who preferred to smoke weed and drink rather than play music. She soon lost interest and drifted to another room to work on her own music. ‘Isol’ was the first song she wrote, a song that became the stand-out track on Marie And The Atom’s first EP.

True to raw feelings: The story of Marie And The Atom by Matthew Goody (from Needles and Plastic: Flying Nun Records 1981 – 1988)

Civil was subsequently fired from the group and began performing (initially supporting a clown) in central Auckland instead. Photography student Virginia Were (according to Civil “a Punk Rocker girl with a really white face, she looked like Boy George”) took an interest in Civil’s street performances (which involved banjo, a droning keyboard and various other elements such as flexible pipes), and asked if she could join in, taking up guitar – Marie and the Atom was born.

Fairly soon the group were on tour regularly, and acquired an arts grant, using the $200 to partially fund the recording of their debut EP ‘Yellow Read Aloud‘. Civil and Were roped in several friends to augment the instrumentation on the recording, including Were’s classmate Sarah Westwood, who eventually became a permanent member in the group.

The resulting EP is a landmark release in Flying Nun Records catalog. An unusual, free-form collection of songs, soundscapes and tone-poems, making use of field recordings, interesting instrumentation, and moody, sparse sounds. The aforementioned highlight ‘Isol‘ stands apart – sounding like some kind of template for the evocative, moody songs Demarnia Lloyd would make years later as part of Mink and Cloudboy:

Marie and the Atom continued to push the experimental side of their sound with 2 further releases – the 8 song ‘She Said‘ cassette for Paul Luker’s Industrial Tapes DIY label and the ‘Spit it Out’ EP for Flying Nun, released in December 1985.

By the EPs release Civil, Were and Westwood (who contributed Viola to two further landmark Flying Nun records – Tall Dwarfs’ ‘Nothings Gonna Happen’ and The Great Unwashed’s ‘Can’t Find Water) had moved on – Civil began performing piano music for ballet performances which would become her career, and eventually settled in Canada.

A sample of ‘Isol‘ would turn up as the basis of UK electronic-pop / post-rock group Hood’s song ‘Branches Bare’ on their 2001 album ‘Cold House‘:




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