In Praise of Angela Conway

Angela Conway is the angelic voice behind the limited-discography early 1990s release of A.C. Marias, which features a collaboration between Conway with various members of the punk band Wire, specifically Bruce Gilbert and Rowland Howard. These songs and music videos have stamped their place onto my subconscious. They really hit home and capture something that I yearn to feel and experience in life. While the project was temporally limited, the group managed to form a gifted and memorable artistic collaboration. Moreover, there is a certain mystery not only to the ethereal quality of the music but also to the cinematic and choreographed style of the music videos and the fact that Conway somewhat mysteriously faded out of the music scene. Somewhat foreshadowing, the title of their only complete album (besides other singles and rarities that have been released) is One of Our Girls Has Gone Missing. This title, ominous on its own, has even stronger implications in light of the fact that Conway herself left the singer spotlight and went on to do behind-the-scenes directorial work. To the best of my knowledge, she never released any other discography despite having being a highly talented vocalist with a rare, beautiful voice. However, her music video directorial work, for example in The Smashing Pumpkins videos for ‘Rhinoscerous’ and ‘Siva’, captures the same mysterious, ephemeral, and nostalgic rendering from her music and her videos with A.C. Marias.

My first encounter with AC Marias was through a link on the LastFM page of a user who had high musical compatibility with me. This profile featured a summary of the user’s top 20 albums with the vaguely haunting cover image of One Of Our Girls Has Gone Missing and a link to the ‘Just Talk’ music video.

acmarias_oneofourgirls

The ‘Just Talk’ music and video had me completely mesmerized. Keeping the browser window open all day, I listened to the song on repeat and took breaks in my work day to flip back to the video between other tasks. In a strange way, I could not believe that something like this song and this video could exist. The video showed me a time and a place that I felt had only existed in my dreams, compiled montages of “best moment” memories, and my imagination. I wanted to show the video to all of my friends, and I wanted to people to get it in the way that I did.

Most people with whom I shared the video enjoyed it, but they did not seem to understand that it represented to me this special type of communal and expressive place that I craved. I admire Conway in this video and in her other videos for her solemn strength and self-expression. The video reveals a place where the locals are comrades celebrating life, and Conway’s mysterious stranger donned in a red dress dances in to unite everyone.

I have a recurring dream of visiting a little cafe with open seating and window lighting where I find people who welcome me with creative ideas and insights. We have real, imploring, honest, compassionate, and highly intellectually mature conversations. The whole atmosphere is dynamic and encouraging, but also conducive to contemplation and concentration. Someday somewhere I will find this place in real life, where any stranger can come in and feel welcomed, and if I do not find it I hope to create it. The closest I have ever felt to this was a cafe I visited in Olympia, Washington and a craft club that I accidentally stumbled into in Portland, Oregon.

I think the video is important for me to watch and re-watch because it reminds me of what a place like this might look like, and how it might make me feel. I am also hugely appreciative of a poetic story that The Same Mistakes Blog posted in 2009 about the video and the album, which I highly recommend reading.

Then I found the video for ‘One of Our Girls has Gone Missing‘, featuring Angela Conway spearheading a telephone search squad for the missing dancer. The protagonist in the video dances freely past the search squad, telephoning in updated reports. She climbs up rocks, carrying her suitcase all the way. She is not causing or getting into any trouble, she is just finding her way. Throughout my life, I have always had a tendency to wander, often to a place where I could just sit and observe, in ways that made me “rebellious” in the least risky sense of the word.

In a two-sided and two-track vinyl single release Time Was, Conways covers Canned Heat’s famous ‘Time Was’ track from the 1969 Hallelujah release. This album credits “AC Marias” with Barry Adamson, Bruce Gilbert, Rowland S. Howard, Paul Kendall, and John Fryer. The 1989 promo clip for Time Was again features an incredibly beautiful music video. (There is some conflicting information here, though, since the vinyl is dated 1987 and the promo clip claims to be from ’89.) The video features a series of embraces between (what appears to be) couples, friends, lovers, and families. A young girl is seen in the window of an airport. Conways bites a notebook while the lyrics play, “Someday you’ll write what I’m saying now.”

A search for “Angela Conway” yields few results, but thankfully fans on YouTube have compiled playlists of all tracks which feature her vocals. Her vocals are featured on Bruce Gilbert’s album The Shivering Man, for instance, and she choreographed dancers Julie Hood (who I believe also appears in the ‘One of Our Girls Has Gone Missing’ music video), Michael Clark, and Ian Longmuir for a theatrical interpretation of the song. However, I was interested in exploring Conway’s other choreography and directorial work and eventually came across her director videography listing on The Music Video Database.

My favorite is her directing for the Smashing Pumpkins video ‘Rhinocerous’:

3 thoughts on “In Praise of Angela Conway

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