Tramp Art – A Film About Marah
If you don’t know the band Marah, then shame on you! True, they’re probably one of the most under rated rock bands in recent times. However, don’t just take our word for it, Stephen King has described them as “probably the best rock band in America that nobody knows” and Nick Horny has said “I can hear everything I loved about rock music in their recordings and their live shows”. This recently released DVD is a true fly on the wall documentary of when the band briefly reformed for a short tour of Spain in 2011.
Like everything about the band, right from the opening scene you get exposure to some raw and genuine rock n rollers. Shit, it starts with back stage bickering and concerns over levels of drinking. Maybe as a band they’ve always been just too honest for their own good, or at least to give them the commercial exposure they deserve. Forget the Gallaghers, Dave and Serge Bielanko will show you what proper sibling rivalry is all about. You’ll lose track of how many times the word ‘passion’ is used by the band or the fans in the DVD (or probably by us in this review).
Like so many siblings in bands, there is a reliance on trying to strike a balance between the two characters. Serge is driven by a passion for his music, a sense of commitment and dedication. In contrast, Dave is still passionate for the music but driven by chaos and thrills. It’s like the spilt between poet Jim Morrison and wild child Mr Mojo Morrison.
Whilst all the other members of the band feature in this DVD, the other key ‘character’ is Christine Smith. She appears to be the poor soul who during this tour has to provide the balance. She states during the film that behind every good man is a good woman but, Jesus, she must be a saint to put up with being with Dave and also touring with both brothers!
As we said earlier, this tour saw the band reform after a fairly lengthy hiatus. Typically for the band, the reason behind the split was steeped in romance. Serge had quit the band during what he describes as being a wonderful time in his life when he fell in love with a girl and wanted to be a father and a family man. His description of this is a good reminder that this is not a film about ‘rock stars’ but humans with real lives.
Equally, this is no MTV glorified life on the road video. This shows the arduous nature of touring, from being stuck sleeping in a van to buying socks. Indeed, judging by Serge’s demeanour as the tour goes on, it’s a life that can truly drive you mad. He certainly cuts a fairly solitary figure on this tour and it is clear that he is desperately missing his family. Some of his quiet, contemplative moments bring a real sense of sadness and melancholy to the film. There are some poignant moments that really show the depth of his feelings for his family.
These moments also put the context of the brother’s relationship into real focus. It’s really cool to hear Dave explain how he actually wrote to Serge to ask him to join back up with the band. He explains how close they are and how he needed to perform with Serge again. They may be very different, but they need each other. Serge even describes Dave and Christine as having ‘too much talent’ and is amazed by their love of music (although then also goes on to call them ‘weird as fuck’!).
The tour may have only been 10 days, but god knows how they survived it. They seem to be fuelled purely on cigarettes and beer (or maybe with some chocolate and crisps as well). It’s not an advert for a healthy life on the road… it’s more a recipe for madness! But that’s probably why they are indeed one of the best rock n roll bands on the planet.
There’s a great soliloquy by Dave when he talks about music with a passion and intelligence that will bewilder you. There’s talk of real rock n roll and the origins of music. It includes the importance of their own music and the lyrics they write. Somewhat ironically, it’s interrupted mid-way by a bunch of idiots wanting to get their face on TV. It provides a great contrast between a great musician and lyricist and the desperate for fame approach of kids today.
We’ve been a bit amiss not to even mention the music before now. The film is littered with plenty of treats for fans of the band. This includes snippets of live performances on radio shows through to Serge singing Tiny Dancer in the toilet back stage! A special mention has to go to the recording of the live shows that feature throughout the DVD. Damn, when you get to those live show clips you can almost taste the beer and smell the sweat. Beyond the words, it makes you realise that this is a damn fine live band. They’re shot from the side and front of the stage and you really get to feel like you are experiencing the gig.
Having been filmed over five years ago, it gives an interesting insight into their plans for the band which can now be considered against the reality. At the time it would probably have been great to hear Serge considering recording new stuff, but even then it was clear that his main priority was his family and that he considered he had already left a musical legacy for them. Although there is also mention of a book (what happened to that?!?). Dave though is far more eager and is talking of some music he has been working on for a couple of year. Dave’s own advice to the band is to forget about the magazine covers and just keep playing live. The reality was that Serge would return to his family, although not quite with the happy ending we would all have loved, and Dave and Christine would record the “Mountain Ministry” album. A release under the name Marah, but for us at least serves as more of a side project.
Towards the end of the DVD there’s a great montage of the band playing and loving their tunes as they merge with their fans in the audience. Those scenes tell you all you need to know about Marah. Forget the arguments, the traumas and the drinking, this is a band who live for their music. We should all be grateful for the brilliant albums they have produced and the joy they have brought through those records, the live shows and now this DVD. Over the last year, the band have again started to play some more live shows together. So we can only hope, beg and maybe pray that they will grace these shores again so that we can all drink in a great rock n roll show.