One of the first goth/rock bands to achieve mainstream success, National Velvet was formed in 1985 in Toronto. Taking their name from a 1944 Elizabeth Taylor movie of the same name, the band originally consisted of Maria Del Mar (not the actress of the same name), guitarist Mark Crossley, Mark Storm (real name Mark Erickson) on bass, and Ken Sinclair on drums. The lineup soon swelled when Mick Gzowski was added as a second guitarist, and saxophonist Chris Weiss also came on board.
Del Mar first meet Storm in a back alley during a party in Toronto. He introduced her to some friends who were looking to get a band together, and so they moved in together in a rehearsal space affectionately dubbed ‘The Jam Factory,’ and rehearsed while writing some material. This same warehouse was used by many other struggling groups at the time, including Honeymoon Suite, Jeff Healey, Tragically Hip, and Lisa Del Bello. Because of the party atmosphere, more established artists like Ian Hunter also spent time there. To help make a buck, the band members also hosted some legendary after hours parties.
While they played the local b-circuit and developed a following, they used the money they’d saved up to record a four-track demo. They shopped the demos out to different record labels, but growing impatient, they cut their first EP themselves, which they sold at their shows barely six months after they first formed .
When Capitol Records president Dean Cameron heard the demo, he was intrigued enough to send a staff member to see the band live. The lackie’s report was positive, and a record and management contract with Capitol’s affiliate Intrepid Records was signed in the spring of ’87. One condition of signing them though was to replace half of the band, so Gzowski, Weiss and Sinclair were gone, and guitarist Tim Welch (ex of Images In Vogue) and drummer Garry Flint were brought in.
The song “Flesh Under Skin” was reworked and added to the next set of sessions they recorded. Their self-titled debut album was in the stores in 1988, and “Pacifist At Risk” and “Change My Mind” were released as singles, though neither made a dent in the charts. They began touring some better venues while “Flesh Under Skin” crept into the top 40, followed by “68 Hours.” With a video to accompany it, the song earned them a CASBY Award (given out by local radio station CFNY) the following spring.
Switching over to EMI, they flew to London, England to work with producer Zeus B Held (Men Without Hats, Nina Hagen, Dead Or Alive) at Eastcote Studios for their next project. On the shelves in the summer of ’89, COURAGE produced the band’s biggest hit in “Shine On.” “Sex Gorilla” followed, and was originally titled “Sasparilla,” but while the band was performing it live before it was recorded, it was learned that many fans were mishearing the lyrics, so it was renamed. The videos for both singles got heavy rotation on MuchMusic and MTV and the album was certified gold. But unhappy with the direction the execs were trying to push the band, the third single “A Place Called Hysteria” received practically no push from the label, and no video was made.
Following the subsequent tour, they left the label but continued to tour sporadically for the next few years. They eventually signed with the independent Iron Music Records, and with a revised lineup of Del Mar and Crossley, guitarist Tim Welch, and brothers Garry and Darrell Flint on drums and bass, they released WILDSEED in 1995. It was recorded at the band’s eNVy Studios in Toronto with by Garry Flint producing. But finding their audience had by this point largely faded and gotten into other music, the album was largely ignored by radio, and it came and went without a whimper. This is despite what some critics considered their strongest writing to date, with songs like the lead-off “Prize,” “Life Force,” and “Take Charge.”
The band called it a day and everyone went on to their own outside projects. Del Mar continues to work in Toronto, including as part of the touring ensemble ‘Classic Albums Live. Storm was reported missing in November 2002. His body was found in Lake Ontario the following June.