The March Violets began in 1981 as one of Leeds’ four famous drum machine bands, alongside the Sisters of Mercy, Three Johns and Red Lorry Yellow Lorry. The Violets favored stark, primitive rhythm-box beats (as did the others), overlaid by Loz Elliott’s heavy bass throb and Tom Ashton’s inventively droning guitar (reminiscent of Magazine’s John McGeoch). What set this quartet apart was the unique interplay (à la X or the Airplane) between the two complementary lead vocalists — big, bearded Simon Denbigh and enigmatic Rosie Garland. His dark, commanding intonations intertwined with her eerie soprano wailing, imbuing the simplistic material with a strident, almost dissonant mystery.
Before a schism with Andrew Eldritch led the Violets to start their own Rebirth label, they were on the Sisters’ label, Merciful Release, starting with Religious as Hell, an establishing 7-inch. Natural History collects the band’s early work, including the EP (save for the odd “Bon Bon Babies”), three follow-up 45s (the brilliant “Grooving in Green,” “Crow Baby” and the insistent ’84 dancefloor hit, “Snake Dance”) and such rarities as the searing “Radiant Boys” (copping the riff from the Cure’s “Object”) and mesmerizing “Undertow.” Though not a discrete album, Natural History flows magnificently.
By “Snake Dance,” Garland had departed, replaced by the more upbeat Cleo Murray. The lineup held for the subsequent “Walk into the Sun” but, as 1985 dawned, Denbigh was squeezed out of the band (he immediately formed Batfish Boys). The first post-Denbigh 45 (the misnamed “Deep”) laid bare the Violets’ weakened condition. Electric Shades, the band’s second compilation album, assembles the entire contents of the three later singles: “Snake Dance,” “Walk into the Sun” and “Deep.” With the dissipation of the band’s intensity, Cleo’s thin, pretty lead vocals simply don’t carry the new material. The Violets continued to surrender to conventionality, obtaining a real drummer and crassly exploiting Cleo’s beauty. After contributing two items (including an amazingly catchy rendition of the Rolling Stones’ “Miss Amanda Jones”) to 1987’s Some Kind of Wonderful soundtrack, the March Violets faded away.