For singer Jaime Harding, the last decade has been a nightmare of hard drugs, poverty and serious illness. But now Marion are back
Marion weren't especially huge or influential - they released one successful album 'This World And Body' in 1996, and a follow-up three years later that bombed - but they meant a lot to me.
I saw them live on my 16th birthday, and (tragically perhaps) it was pretty much the most exciting thing I'd experienced in my life up to that point.
Anthemic in a gothic sort of way, Marion were fronted by the androgynous figure of Jaime Harding, who - quite unusually at the time - could really sing.
They were like a heavier, Northern version of Suede, and attracted an obsessive fanbase, of the heavy-mascara, camping-out-on-the-singer's-mum's-front-lawn variety. Johnny Marr produced them, Morrissey praised them, big things were predicted.
But Marion were desperately unlucky. First, because they made broodingly heroic arena rock at a time when broodingly heroic arena rock was not quite the mainstream big ticket it later became.
Second, they were dicked around by their label, which meant their swan-song album 'The Program' dribbled out, receiving no promotion.
But their main problem was that Harding really, really liked taking drugs. So much so, he stopped turning up to rehearsals in 1999, at which point the band split up in fairly dismal fashion.
By that point he'd picked up a "massive" cocaine habit, which continued until the Marion money ran out - which took longer than you might think, since this was the 90s (boom time for the music industry), and Marion made £1 million inside two years.
After that, Harding graduated to heroin, and then crack. He spent the following decade injecting both, living alone in various bedsits.
The band made a tentative comeback in 2006, but by that point Harding was shooting so many speedballs he contracted blood poisoning, leaving him almost paralysed. He spent months in hospital. Then came home... and still kept smoking crack.
But he's clean now, except for the odd spliff, and Marion are writing songs once more, with a homecoming Manchester show booked for December.
I meet Harding in a bar near London Bridge (he orders tap water, then a cautious beer). Well over six foot, he's broader than you might remember him, and while not exactly a vision of vigorous good health, he doesn't look like an ex-junkie either.
He's amazingly polite, capable of saying profoundly depressing things with a sort of shrugging good humour, as if the last fifteen years of illness, addiction and misery had happened to someone else entirely.
NME: Obvious question first - why did Marion split up?
JH: Just... drugs.
NME: Right. Was it just you, or was it the rest of the band as well?
JH: Erm, it was me mostly. The other lads could handle what they were doing, but I don't think I could. And then I just spiralled into depression.
NME: So it was essentially all your fault that Marion ended.
JH: It was, yeah. It's horrible. A horrible thing to live with. I think at the time I was just relieved that people were finally off my back. But it really didn't take long until I was desperate for those people to be on my back again.
NME: What do you remember about the last days of the band?
JH: Around 1998 we tried to resuscitate it, we toured Japan and America. And we'd be feeling good that we'd done some decent work. But coming home I'd get this horrible feeling. The plane would fly over the Coronation Street tops of houses and I'd be like, 'Oh God', because I knew I'd score soon. It's just horrendous. I don't need to tell you how many lives I've fucked up.
NME: When did you first try heroin?
JH: 1996. Halfway through the 'This World And Body' tour. I used to take it to come down off loads of coke. Because I used to like coke. And it was all OK, until I ran out of money. Until that point I'd been blagging it, just getting through things, not caring. I'd probably been kidding myself I was having a good time. Then the money ran out, and that's when it dawned on me, 'Shit, what have I done?'
NME: So you moved on to heroin because it was cheaper?
JH: Yeah. I have a lot of regret for not knowing more about drugs, really.
NME: But you must have known it wasn't exactly a great idea, taking smack. I mean, there are enough examples of junkie rock stars who've died young.
JH: I really was innocent, though. I didn't know what it was. I honestly didn't know what it had in store.
NME: Do you remember your first time?
Yeah, it was a girl in London that I was seeing at the time, a model, and she used to say, 'Oh heroin's great, it's good and cheap and it'll last'. And I remember the first time I did it, it was like being a child again. All stresses vanished, and even though I was being sick, I didn't mind being sick. But that feeling only lasts for a small period. Three months, six months tops, and then you never get anything like it again, ever.
NME: Would you say there was a lot of heroin around in the music industry at the time?
JH: I think so, yeah. In the 90s there was a lot of money going around and there was a lot of... cheap drugs, basically. That's the thing. It's totally different now, but back then you could get good strong drugs cheap.
NME: Why do you think you chose drugs over the band?
JH: I'm just one of those people that... I don't think I can concentrate on more than one thing at a time [laughs]. I've never been able to do anything other than all or nothing.
NME: It must have taken a long time for them to forgive you.
JH: It did with Phil [Cunningham, guitar]. We got back together to do some shows in 2006 and he was still a bit sore about a lot of stuff. But we had a great time, you know, we were writing songs and playing gigs and selling them out, and it was just amazing to be doing it again.
Marion's Jaime Harding and Phil Cunningham, 2006
NME: But you were still using.
JH: Still using heavily, injecting heroin and crack.
NME: When did you move on to crack?
JH: After the coke money ran out I had like a year just on heroin, in 1999. And then in 2000 there was an influx of crack in this country, everywhere, The people who used to sell you a bag of heroin now served both. Some did it two for £15, one brown, one white, then you've got your speedball and you shoot it up. This went on right up until my heart went, and that's what stopped me.
NME: What happened exactly?
I caught Endocarditis, which made my whole body seize up, starting with my legs first. At first I thought it was deep vein thrombosis because I'd been shooting in my my legs and feet and everywhere. And then it just got... I'd have to do more and more drugs to stop the pain.
I was living in London at the time, Hoxton Square. It got so bad that I crawled to Old Street tube around 7pm on a Saturday night. I took the tube to Euston, then the train to Macclesfield. I got caught and fined actually, though I still havent paid it. There should be a law protecting junkies who are about to die and need transport [laughs].
I needed to be in Macclesfield as I knew it was really bad and I wanted to see my mother for the last time. She took me to Macclesfield hospital and within seconds the doctor put a stethoscope on me and could hear that my heart was backfiring. One of the valves that was supposed to be pushing blood out was spitting it back into my heart.
They diagnosed me as having a heart murmur. My mitral valve had to be replaced. I also had blood poisoning, and had three peanut-sized clots close to my heart that needed a month's course of intravenous antibiotics to burn away. That was hell, because every six hours I'd be woken up and these four fat syringes - like this, Luke [he traces a cucumber-sized shape in the air] - put in me each time. It was horrible.
NME: So you were in hospital for some time.
JH: Months. And it was hard because then I had to really face up to what I'd been doing for the past ten years. Although in all honesty what really helped me kick drugs was moving to London. Because, no offence to anybody here, but the drugs are shit. The heroin and crack are just a joke.
NME: Do you think your illness was a lucky escape, in the sense that, if you hadn't gone to hospital, you would have eventually OD'd and died?
Oh I would have died, yeah. And I would have told you that in 2006. If you'd sat me down and said, 'What do you think's gonna happen?'... I was gonna die. I knew that. But I'd just gone so far down that road that... the thing is, you just need those drugs so much that it takes precedence over anything else.
NME: So between the band splitting up in 1999, and being taken into hospital in 2007, how did you sustain yourself? Did you have a job?
JH: It was just horrible. Honestly, various bedsits, in Manchester and Macclesfield, flitting back and forth, get sick of one place and go to another. Just a very lonely, poverty-stricken time, you know? Excruciatingly lonely. It was horrendous. I spent six Christmases in bedsits, on the trot, from 1999 to 2005. The bedsit era, oh my God.
NME: Obviously there's a romantic notion of the penniless artist alone in a bedsit.
JH: Oh God, no. I mean, I can romanticise it now. There were some moments that were as beautiful as any of my life, even though I was on my own. Like, just how the sky looked some nights. Little things. But yeah, mostly it was horrific. Christmas days just in bed with nothing, not even bread to make a piece of toast.
NME: So how did you fill the days?
JH: Watching TV. For a long time I had nothing. I just used to listen to Classic FM and weep.
NME: Did you carry on singing while you were on drugs?
JH: Being on drugs sort of took away the reason to sing. It's completely selfish, being like that, you don't have any feelings for anyone else. It kills all your pain, but it kills all your joy as well, and you just kind of are nothing really. And now, recovering from being a drug addict, I've had to start a new life. Psychologically that's quite hard, because it means going back to something like 18 years old. Because I've been high for so many years. Wasted.
NME: So what's a typical day like, when you're a junkie?
You wake up, and you're ill. So you need to go out and get something. If you manage it, that does you until about 4pm, and then you need to go out again, get money, score. That'll take you to about 8 or 9pm, and then you need one before you go to sleep, and one to get up. And the times between get shorter and shorter. It's horrendous.
NME: If you don't mind me asking, how do you pay the bills?
JH: I can't work because of my heart, so I'm on sickness benefit. I've got a lovely flat in Stoke Newington, which I share with my girlfriend. I still make money off 'This World And Body' now. Not much - PRS, stuff like that, from being played on the radio. I got £200 on Friday. I usually get about a grand, four times a year.
NME: This interview has been quite bleak, sorry. You must have some good memories, though?
JH: I look back on all of it with fondness, really. Early on, just getting to realise that I had some kind of power on stage, that made me feel really good. And there were funny moments. Like, my mum always had our fans in her back garden. She'd go out at night to switch the light on and be like, 'Fuck!' There'd be girls at the bottom of the garden.
But then also it happened the other way round. I was quite a pretty boy and didn't mind being fancied by boys at all, I'd even encourage it. But when the lads would see me getting chased round Brixton Academy by some total queen with some flowers going, "Jaime! Jaime!", they'd all just really rip me to shit for it [laughs].
But you know, we're an exciting band to watch. The gigs were incredible, kind of spiritual events, as pretentious as that sounds. And they will be again. There's no doubt about that. We will be good.
NME: What's the next phase then?
JH: The plan is, we've got the Marion UK site, we're on Facebook. We're gonna do this main comeback show in Manchester, record it for an album 'Alive In Manchester', and then hopefully use the money from that to make a third Marion studio album.
We've got about twenty new songs, and we want to write another ten really good ones. I'm a better singer now. All the reasons I wanted to be in a band have become a lot clearer to me now.
And with that, Jaime Harding is off, back to his quiet north London life of DVD box sets and classic novels (he says he reads three books a week, and loves Shakespeare).
When I play the tape back after the interview, I find something unexpected. At one point I'd gone to the bar, but left the tape running. It's only when writing it up that I hear the message Harding left for me: "I just wanted to say I'm having a great time, thanks man."
And then he sings a line from 'Fallen Through', the opening track from Marion's debut album. I loved that song as a teenager, still love it now. "All my work has fallen through," he sings into the dictaphone, leaning in close to drown out the noise of the bar. "That's me again, that's just me again..."
Harding has been recording acoustic demos over the last few years. Here's one recent track, 'The Vines':