In Conversation: Maggie K De Monde

Maggie K De Monde has revived Scarlet Fantastic for a new album, Reverie, just 29 years after the previous (and first) one 24 Hours, which contained the much-loved 1987 hit ‘No Memory’. I caught up with Maggie to chat about new beginnings, inspirations and a little about her old band, Swans way

Congratulations on the excellent new album (Reverie – out June 3rd); did you know that it was going to be a Scarlet Fantastic album from the start, or did it naturally evolve into one?

I didn’t preplan it, it just kind of evolved into one!! I realised as the songs were emerging that there were quite a few similar themes to the Scarlet of 1986/87 and I thought, heck, it’s been 30 years, What if I make this into a Scarlet album 30 years on!!

The mention of ‘no memories’ on the album’s opening track, ‘Take Me Away’, links neatly from the first Scarlet Fantastic record – was that deliberate, or a happy accident?

Interesting question!! Well spotted! The words just came out of my mouth, quite often I write like that, I just let it all pour out. It was only in hindsight looking at it that I realised I was giving the old Scarlet a nod!

There are some interesting collaborations on the new record including ‘Sand’ – who sings the male vocal? I felt that the feel was quite reminiscent of Nick Cave / Tindersticks…(in a good way!)

The guy who duets with me is Dominic Silvani from The Avon Guard (coincidentally he’s another Midlander!) I was lying in bed one night, feeling sleepy and I heard my phone make a noise & I saw someone had messaged me. I looked at my messages and there was a link to this video, no message with it, just the link! I was curious so I opened the link & it was a video for The Avon Guard song ‘Forget’; when Dominic’s voice came in I sat bolt upright and at that moment I just knew I had to sing with him! You’re right, his voice is reminiscent of Nick Cave/Johnny Cash/Lee Hazelwood etc and actually in parts he reminds me of Rob Shaw, vocalist from Swans way!

‘Beyond Pluto’ is another highlight – it appears on the face of it a song about reaching out and not being tied to any particular place…or am I getting that wrong?

I think you might be getting that right! It’s a rather fantastical escapist song!!

I could imagine some of the tracks on a Florence and the Machine album as they have that similar epic, lush feel; what are your thoughts on Florence and/or do you admire any (other) contemporary artists?

Oh wow! I take that as a compliment!! I do rather like Florence! Other artists I’m currently enjoying are Wild Birds & Peace Drums, The Avon Guard and Book of Fears.

The cover of ‘Nature’s Way’ on the new album is lovely. I actually knew that first from This Mortal Coil’s version – was that your reference point, or the original 1960s one by Spirit?

You know, it’s quite funny, I’ve only just learned that This Mortal Coil did a cover of it! I never knew! I love This Mortal Coil too, their version of ‘Song to the Siren’ is still one of my all time favourite recordings to date. No, I had only heard the original ‘Nature’s Way’ by Spirit and I loved the song so much I wanted to record a version with my own interpretation of the song. It’s one of my favourite tracks on the album!

If you had to choose a favourite track from Reverie, which one would it be?

Ooh, now that’s a difficult one! It really depends on what kind of mood I’m in! If I’m totally chilled out and feeling very laid back I like to get even more spaced out and cosmic listening to ‘Crystalline’! In another mood I would go for the cheeky/fantasy/sassiness of ‘A Taste of You’.

My first memory of Scarlet Fantastic was the clip on The Tube, performing an early version of your enduring hit ‘No Memory’ (it has been remixed and reissued several times). Was that the very first Scarlet Fantastic song to be recorded? What recollections (or memories, if you prefer!) do you have from that experience?

Yes, I do believe that ‘No Memory’ was the first song that we ever recorded as Scarlet Fantastic, and actually that Tube clip is the demo that Rick and I initially recorded at our home in Sparkhill! I feel a pun coming along the lines of I have no memory but I will spare you that!! Ha! Gosh, It was February time and Rick and I were embarking on our new project after Swans way and it was a pretty gloomy time of year! I had a vivid dream of being on a motorbike riding fast through a desert and I think this was the initial idea that sparked off ‘No Memory’. I was also very tuned into nature and the planet and energy (which are some of the parallels of today’s Scarlet) and one beautiful clear day I was walking up on the Clent Hills with my friend Yana (Sigue Sigue Sputnik) and it was later in the afternoon and on one side of the sky was the sun and on the other the moon. I think that inspired the idea of sun in our hair, moon in our eyes! The chorus is about absolutely living in the moment and being free from life’s woes (no memory of them!) They were crazy times! Rick and I were young and we spent a lot of time going out, the Brum scene back then was vibrant and fun! As well as partying we loved our long forest walks too, we used to walk for miles in Shropshire (still one of my favourite counties) ‘Follow That Star’ was inspired by the forests in Shropshire.

Looking back a little further, I remember a piece on Swans way on a show called The Cat’s Whisker on (Wolverhampton’s) Beacon Radio in the mid-80s. Presenter Mike Davies said that Swans way were ‘as good as music gets’. That’s a pretty nice thing to say, do you have any recollection of that show? Any fond memories from the West Midlands / Birmingham music scene at that time?

Funny you should mention Mike Davies!! He just played ‘Sand’ from my new album on this past Sunday! It felt really nice that my first radio play from Reverie was home grown! The Brum music scene was alive and kicking at that time! I remember going to the Au Pairs gigs with Fast Relief and The Pinkies supporting! Everyone knew everyone and we all used to hang out together in the same pubs and clubs. In Swans way we rehearsed at the Rum Runner in the old disused Casino bit & I remember one time we got locked in and we had to climb up really high and we managed to escape by clambering over rooftops in Broad Street and then down some scaffolding! It was hairy!! My first band supported Duran Duran on tour when their song ‘Planet Earth’ hit the charts! My manager was UB40’s manager, I was in a film that Brian Travis from the UB’s made, it was called Dance With the Devil. It’s on YouTube, it had Chrissie Hynde, Keith Allen, Robert Palmer and others in it too! They were crazy old days, fun fond memories! Martin Degville is still a good pal and lives just up the coast from me now!

Swans way famously had a big hit with the classic single ‘Soul Train’ in 1984 – were you expecting chart success or did it come as a surprise? Was it an enjoyable experience?

It was a wonderful experience. We were incredibly lucky to be able to take an “orchestra” on tour with us. We got to record in New York, It was like our dream coming true! I don’t think we had expected it to be a hit as it wasn’t really what was considered a “commercial” record. We were all very close too and enjoyed each other’s company. Rob was a joy to work with and still remains one of my greatest influences. He makes amazing films now and beautiful photographs! Always the artist!!

I always thought that Swans way seemed totally original and were not part of any kind of scene. Did you think of any other bands at that time as kindred spirits?

No we were doing our own thing really although the press used to lump us in with the “new jazz” scene like Blue Rondo a la Turk, Carmel, Sade etc……

What was the best Swans way song from your point of view?

I love ‘Illuminations’ and ‘Stay’.

Coming back nearer to the present time, you had a well-received collaboration with (Marc Almond piano / keyboard player) Martin Watkins in 2012 (Union was released under the name of Maggie and Martin). Are you likely to work with Martin again?

I’m not sure but it’s not something that I would rule out entirely!

No cheating on this next one: I have here a CD single of Scarlet Fantastic’s ‘Plug Me In’ from 1987. Can you name one of the remixes on it?

No!! Haha!! Although having given it a little thought the “F Train Connection” comes to mind, am I right??!!

Finally, please tell me that the new album is coming out on scarlet vinyl?

Haha! That’s funny…… but what a brilliant idea!! Maybe I should do a very limited run! Thanks for the inspiration!!

Reverie is out on 3rd June on Dirtbag Baby Records.

By the way…Maggie was correct with her answer to the penultimate question!

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