Released in February 2015, ‘In Cold Blood’ was the third and so far final album by SCARLET SOHO.
A duo based in the south of England, James Knights and Scarlet had begun with a more post-punk sound dominated by guitars.
Much of the material compiled on ‘In Cold Blood’ had been previously released on the EPs ‘When The Lights Go Out’, ‘Solo KO’ and ‘Two Steps From Heartache’, heralding a greater interest in electronic pop.
Much more accessible than any of their previous work, ‘In Cold Blood’ looked set to be SCARLET SOHO’s breakthrough from the underground to a wider audience. However, it was not to be and the album was unable to gain momentum in a year when NEW ORDER made their recorded return with ‘Music Complete’ and ‘Every Open Eye’ maintained the standing of CHVRCHES as the UK’s leading act in modern synthpop.
But one thing that ‘In Cold Blood’ did do was plant the seed of KNIGHT$, the shades donning solo persona of James Knights; he released the lively Britalo flavoured ‘Dollars & Cents’ in 2019, one of the best albums of that year.
James Knights and Scarlet got together again to reminisce about the making of ‘In Cold Blood’ with The Electricity Club and how it is a lost jewel awaiting rediscovery.
As SCARLET SOHO prepared to record ‘In Cold Blood’, it had been ten years since your debut album ‘Divisions Of Decency’, how had you changed as a band?
Scarlet: As a band we’d changed a lot in a decade. I was 16 when we started gigging and we never stopped touring in all of those years. Studio time had previously been very fraught, lacking momentum, with James and myself trying to squeeze as much as we could into scattered time frames – often using different producers, studios, techniques, and both operating on very little sleep.
We had always wanted to release more songs in that decade between albums, but enjoyed touring more, so prioritised that.
We had streamlined things a lot by the time we wanted to record ‘In Cold Blood’ and had a better idea of how we wanted an album to sound as a whole. I think it came out pretty well!
Compared with songs like ‘Speak Your Mind’ and ‘Cyclone’ on the second album ‘Warpaint’ and ‘We Must Destroy’ from ‘Divisions Of Decency’, ‘In Cold Blood’ on the whole seems to be less angsty and fraught, was there a conscious decision to make a more positive statement?
Scarlet: I think it was quite a natural thing for the sound to change by the time we wrote ‘In Cold Blood’. The songs have always reflected where James and I were at, which I think is often quite a surprise to people that don’t ‘get’ electronic music, and deem it to be something cold and calculated.
Over the years our circumstances had changed, my lifestyle was considerably less chaotic at this point, and we were comfortable with being a duo. We were willingly accepting help from additional musicians for live performances, rather than trying to incorporate a rolling cast of (albeit very talented) third members as we had done previously.
Lyrically it’s a pretty gloomy album, but musically it’s something else, which I think also says a lot about where we were both at.
At the risk of sounding clichéd, we had both grown up quite a lot and I think this album shows a real progression in songwriting, with James really coming into his own. I think the positivity comes from that confidence.
The title song ‘In Cold Blood’ had the opening line “You shot me down” but signalled the album’s intention of more focussed use of electronic instrumentation and less guitars?
Scarlet: SCARLET SOHO started out as a band with three guitars and a drum machine – three! It was a mess, and over the years we shedded a lot of that, with both James and myself only playing guitars on a couple of songs by ‘In Cold Blood’. Prior to Soho we were both in punk bands and by this point, guitars and amps were starting to feel like baggage – both physically and mentally.
We were both getting more out of a well-produced snappy snare and rib-rattling bass synth than a scrappy guitar sound careering around a venue. The latter also being a pain to shift around on flights and in cars. We wanted to strip things back to what we essentially needed, and could really allow to shine. James’ vocal being one of those things. Starting a song with purely that, felt like a call to arms.
‘When The Lights Go Out’ demonstrated more of a pop disco sound? How did this come about?
Scarlet: I really wish I had an answer to this. James and I both love 70s and 80s disco, and it felt brave to incorporate this into a SCARLET SOHO track. I feel like it’s a true representation of the SCARLET SOHO sound, and always sounded fantastic live whatever it was nestled up against in the setlist. But I truly have no recollection of how it came about. In my head it was birthed as a fully formed song. Perhaps it was…?
‘What You Need’ has THIS pulsing electronic bassline that some would now call synthwave, had things like the ‘Drive’ soundtrack or anything like that been an interest at this point? And what was going on with the speeded up ending?
Scarlet: ‘What You Need’ is one of my favourites. I’m a bit of a film buff, and enjoyed ‘Drive’ and the like, but I’m not sure James had seen it.
We’d always been into KAVINSKY, but I’ve never twigged that as an influence to this song. The speeded up ending was some studio fun that we thought would translate well to a sweaty club when we toured it. It did.
Listening to ‘Gigolo’ now, it sounds like the start of KNIGHT$, especially in the rousing warning chorus, do you have any thoughts in hindsight?
James: I can remember us thinking the song was a bit too “pop” to be on a SCARLET SOHO album. We deliberated over this for a little while before deciding to be brave and put it on the LP. It’s possible the reaction to this song gave me some extra confidence to create KNIGHT$ in the end, subliminally at least. Maybe it should’ve been a single!
Despite the melancholic words, ‘Two Steps From Heartache’ is another track that blueprints KNIGHT$ and is a tune you still perform, what was your mindset at the time of writing and recording? And is the middle eight from Madonna’s ‘Like a Prayer’ being borrowed here, particularly Guy Pratt’s bass guitar solo?
James: Now I’m going to have to go back to ‘Like A Prayer’ and check this Guy Pratt thing! I think it was a little bit inspired from Stuart Key’s time in the band and some of his music we’d listen to on the road. This song was our attempt to infuse house music somehow. It has the pulsing brass line and hallmarks like that, but in the end it still sounds very Soho.
‘This Town Is Mine’ appears to channel your inner Marc Almond?
James: I’m not a huge fan of slow songs, but now and then we would work on one or two in our spare time.
I appreciate the compliment, because somehow this ended up being one of my favourite and best studio vocals.
You get the vocoder out on ‘Make The Final’ for a bit of robotic Italo, what had this been inspired by?
Scarlet: We’ve always loved a vocoder. Pretty much every Soho demo has a vocoded part on it at some point! There’s something sinister about a human voice that you can control and manipulate, and somehow it still ends up sounding fun.
It’s also a great way of putting BVs into a track without me having to sing. James has a huge vocal range, so reducing his voice down to something more simplistic is something we both got a kick out of.
That song was inspired by the Olympics and ‘Chariots Of Fire’ and Vangelis. Big sports fans! Would love to hear ‘Make The Final’ soundtracking some televised athletics in a parallel universe.
‘2015’ is primarily instrumental and points towards synthwave… these days, you have a toe in that scene as KNIGHT$ but you didn’t fully head in that direction, could you have done?
James: It’s not for me to say really, but probably not. There’s a bit more to my music than just that.
The final track ‘Solo KO’ is comparatively darker in aesthetic and sombre, but were you sending out a signal with the title and the lyrics “with nothing left to do and still so much to prove”?
There’s a mystery piano ballad following a gap after the end of ‘Solo KO’; this long last track with two songs several minutes apart thing was very much the fashion in the CD era, but could be annoying! Why not just have it as two tracks? *laughs*
James: I vaguely remember that hidden ballad not really being in our thoughts when putting the tracklist together. It didn’t really fit with the other 9 songs! So when we compiled the 9, we found the album was much shorter than expected!
Adding the hidden ballad was a good way to give a little extra, but we didn’t want to mess with the flow of the other 9 tracks. I hope that makes sense!
SCARLET SOHO seemed to on the cusp of a breakthrough with support slots for IAMX and KOSHEEN that were well received, but it didn’t happen, had that precipitated tensions within further?
James: No, we had some of our best times during this period and enjoyed the ride! At times, we were a little bloody minded, especially when interested parties wanted to speak to us about management and so on, but somehow talking to them often brought us closer together. After all, we were right and they were wrong!
So when did SCARLET SOHO end and how did KNIGHT$ begin?
James: SCARLET SOHO never really ended as such, but after 15 years, we needed to take a break for sure. Our final London show was February 2015. I started writing for KNIGHT$ in early 2016, after almost a year of inactivity. I started to miss singing and writing more than I thought I would!
‘In Cold Blood’ stands up as a good album five years on, which can’t be said of some records, how do you look back on it all now?
Scarlet: Thank you! I hope it continues to have a place in people’s hearts and record collections in the next 5 years 🙂
James: Compared to our other records, it’s the one that never really got promoted and toured. We cancelled the ‘In Cold Blood’ tour through illness, so there is a feeling that some of our best work went unheard, but it’s always nice to hear that people like the album. I think it could be our best.
The Electricity gives its warmest thanks to SCARLET SOHO
Norwegian electronic covers combo CHINESE DETECTIVES released their only album ‘Are Kisses Out Of Fashion?’ in 1999.
The brainchild of Per Aksel Lundgreen who had cut his teeth in APOPTYGMA BERZERK, the concept was to be a “SILICON TEENS of the 90s” with frantic dance beats acting as the backbone to accompany the hooks of classic synthpop.
CHINESE DETECTIVES scored a number of Scandinavian hits with songs originally made famous by YAZOO, MEN WITHOUT HATS and DIVINE.
‘Are Kisses Out Of Fashion?’ additionally featured reinterpretations of SPARKS, BRONSKI BEAT, PET SHOP BOYS and several lesser known acts while the album itself was to become something of a cult favourite, partly thanks to featuring the only officially released version of a Vince Clarke instrumental from which CHINESE DETECTIVES got their moniker.
The classic trio line-up of Per Aksel Lundgreen, Preben Bjønnes and Desirée Grandahl kindly reminisced about the making of ‘Are Kisses Out Of Fashion?’ with The Electricity Club.
So what came first, your cover of ‘Chinese Detectives’ or the band concept? How did it come about?
Preben: Per Aksel suggested ‘Chinese Detectives’ as a track and name for the band.
Per Aksel: Being an avid YAZOO and Vince Clarke collector, I had obtained a live tape that I bought at a stand in Camden Market in London of the 1982 gig at The Dominion, and on that tape, the instrumental track ‘Chinese Detectives’ was included. I always loved the track, and also the name, and I really wanted to use it as a band name, so we did. Then the idea was launched to do a cover of ‘Situation’ as the “A-Side” of the single, and a cover of ‘Chinese Detectives’ as the “B-Side”. I know that the track has also been referred to as ‘China’ on early live-recordings etc, but more on that later, ha ha!
Desirée: I´m the lucky one because I didn´t have to give any of that any thought! Got it all served on a silver platter.
The track is often mistaken as being the theme for the BBC TV drama ‘The Chinese Detective’ but is actually a Vince Clarke original. How did you go about interpreting and recording it? Did Mr Clarke give his approval?
Per Aksel: The sound quality on the live tape I had wasn’t really top notch, so we had to do our best to make out all the sounds and figures being played.
There’s also a part on there where it sounds like Vince is talking on top of the track, but we never ever figured out if that was just an accident, or if it was supposed to include some spoken words. I knew at the time that all Vince Clarke material was published via Sony Music Publishing, so I wrote them a letter, inquiring about the track, and asked for permission to do a cover version of it.
I actually received a reply via fax, yes it was that long ago, and in the fax it said something like: “Sony Music Publishing and Vince Clarke hereby grant you the rights to do a cover of the before mentioned track, ‘Chinese Detectives’.”
I was gobsmacked and very very happy of course. I saved that fax for many years, and when I one day went into some boxes to find it, the print had disappeared and the fax paper was all white, ha ha! I wish I’d taken a copy of it, but hindsight is 2020, right!
Preben: Hopefully we did the track justice 🙂
Desirèe: The credit for that goes to the lads. Hopefully Mr Clarke approved and loved it.
Why did you choose ‘Situation’ as a single to debut CHINESE DETECTIVES with?
Preben: We all loved the song and especially Vince Clarke’s song writing.
Desirée: I mean, even if I didn´t do the vocals on the first single, who wouldn´t choose that iconic song with that iconic group?
Per Aksel: We’re all huge YAZOO fans, and it was one of those tracks that we felt we could do something with. It was actually in the Norwegian Dance Charts and it was on a couple of “Eurodance” type compilations here in Norway, and the single sold close to 10.000 copies at the time, so we were very very happy of course. This made us want to do more, and the record company too cheered us on.
Strangely, in Norway we were considered “Eurodance”, but in Sweden and the rest of Europe and the US, they called us a synthpop act, and I for one wanted it to sound “synthpop”, but maybe we leaned towards the “Eurodance” since that was in the charts at the time. I don’t know, but we were treated very differently in Norway and in Sweden.
In Norway, we played “dance party” festivals for 5000 people together with 2 BROTHERS ON THE 4TH FLOOR, SOLID BASE, TWENTY 4 SEVEN, 2 UNLIMITED and stuff like that, but in Sweden we played on Swedish Alternative Music Awards for 500 people together with S.P.O.C.K, IN THE NURSERY and COVENANT, so it was a strange situation, but we just went with the flow and played everywhere we were wanted really.
We also had two other guys involved at the early stage of Chinese DETECTIVES, Trond Haugerud and Lars Kristian Aasbrenn, but they both dropped off. Lars Kristian after the first single, and Trond after the second one. No particular reasons for this, they just left basically, but they did also put in a good deal of work and input before they left, so I feel it’s important to put that out there.
After your second single, a cover of MEN WITHOUT HATS ‘Where Do The Boys Go’, your first singer Kristine Ulfeng departed, what effect did that have on whether to continue with CHINESE DETECTIVES?
Preben: No effect. We already knew we wanted to make a whole album with a different voice.
Per Aksel: When we started recording the third single, ‘You Think You’re A Man’, it became evident very early that Kristine’s voice wouldn’t cut it for that track. We took the harsh decision of telling her to leave and then asked Desirée to join the band. Not our proudest moment, and it wasn’t really fair to Kristine as she was fully devoted on the two first singles, but Preben and I were young and ambitious and had huge egos, so I’ll have to blame it on that.
Desirée: It had the wonderful effect of giving me the role of the mysterious and handsome girl at the mic.
Desirée had a deeper resonance to her voice and her first single with CHINESE DETECTIVES was a cover of DIVINE’s ‘You Think You’re A Man’ in 1996; did you know that song was written by Geoffrey Deane who was the original lead singer of MODERN ROMANCE?!!? 😆
Preben: News to me 🙂
Desirée: Ooops, you got me there! Shame on me for not knowing that…
Per Aksel: All I know is that when I wrote the credits in the booklet, it said “G Deane”, but I had no idea it was the original lead singer of MODERN ROMANCE! :O
We all love a bit of HI-NRG, and especially DIVINE and Bobby O productions in general, and I really think we nailed that one! Very happy with that single to be honest! The two first ones were good too, but the sound on ‘You Think You’re A Man’ is still holding up in my opinion.
The album ‘Are Kisses Out Of Fashion?’ finally came out in 1999, had it been a challenging project to finish?
Preben: It was a labour of love, I loved every bit of it. Working in a pro-studio with Erik Wøllo was a high point for me as I have mostly worked in my own studio. We had a very nice atmosphere in the studio where we loved every song we worked on. It became a very eclectic album I think. 🙂
Desirée: On the subject of who was gonna be our label and who was gonna release it – it was a challenge. The process of making the album wasn´t all that bad. We took some time picking and agreeing on the songs, then finding the right producer and of course getting it right in the studio. I will say that there was more laughter than fights.
Per Aksel: The truth is that the album was already finished late 1996 or early 1997, I can’t remember exactly now, and at the time, the label had a bit of a dry spell and didn’t have the money to finance the printing of the album, and the third single didn’t do as well as the first one, so maybe they lost a bit of faith in us, I’m not sure.
Anyway, in 1999 I kinda pushed them to release it, as 80s sounding synthpop was returning more and more, and the first pressing of 5000 copies sold pretty quickly, so I know the label never regretted it in the end.
It was the label that also paid the £3500 for the studio and recording of the album, so I was surprised that they didn’t want to try and recoup their money.
The process in Wintergarden Studio with Erik Wøllo as our co-producer really helped and lifted this record into what it became. We never could have achieved that result without Erik. His studio was in his basement, so we jokingly said we we’re recording “Downstairs At Erik’s”, ha ha! He also had a lot of cool equipment in his studio that we could use to fatten up our sound and to make the songs more diverse than they were in their original demo-form.
Stephan Groth of APOPTYGMA BERZERK had also bought a Novation Bass Station at the time, and we borrowed that for some tracks too, and it’s especially evident on ‘Hit That Perfect Beat’. I also had a Roland JX3P that we used heavily and a Yamaha TX7 that was in Erik’s studio that we used for the FM-bass lines and such.
Most of the ‘Are Kisses Out Of Fashion?’ album sounds a bit like Alison Moyet fronting a frantic Eurodance covers project, there was a distinct HI-NRG bent with tunes like ‘Hit That Perfect Beat’, ‘All You Ever Think About Is Sex’, ‘You Think You’re A Man’ and a very pacey version of ‘Johnny & Mary’? Was the club market where you were aiming CHINESE DETECTIVES?
Desirée: Oh, I love me a bit of frantic Moyet!! Seriously, I think the club market was THE market at the time, but I also think we were a little bit a head of our time. If the album had hit the club market a bit into the 2000s, I personally think we would have had an even greater success with it. The trend of picking up great tunes from the 80s didn´t really kick in until 2004-2005. Maybe we can say that we started the trend? Let´s keep that illusion.
Preben: We all love HI-NRG and especially songs produced by Bobby O. Having said that, we wanted to do our own versions of our favourite songs.
Per Aksel:Alison Moyet is probably THE BEST female voice in the world of music in my opinion, and Desirée is blessed with a serious set of pipes and a voice that is very close to Alison’s, so we felt we’d struck gold when she wanted to join us to be honest.
I’m not quite sure we went for the club market OR “Eurodance” to be honest, it was all “synthpop” to us, but looking back, I can see how the music in the charts and the new synths coming out etc flavoured our sound and the outcome of the finished result. Having had chart success in Norway with the two first singles, we were actually on Norwegian television at the Norwegian Top 20 being interviewed about the ‘Where Do The Boys Go?’ track and video, so that probably also told us that we had a shot at “this chart stuff”, but we failed to chart after that, and became more of a thing for the synthpop fans instead. That’s a good thing, because that’s where we belong anyway, ha ha!
When the album slows down a bit in the middle, the album gets very interesting with your covers of ‘Love Is Just A Word’ by SILENT CIRCLE and ‘Run For Love’ by WINDER, two acts which would have been largely unknown outside of mainland Europe, what is the story behind these?
Preben: We loved the songs. WINDER’s is an all-time favourite of mine from Denmark. I think they only did three singles and an album.
Desirée: Those two songs were kind of pushed by the lads. I thought at first that ‘Love Is Just A Word’ was too “German lighter ballad-ish”, but it grew on me really. And after doing it live, it kind of gave you that arena-effect, with people singing along and of course waving their lighters.
When the song ‘Run For Love’ came up, I wasn´t sure what to do. I felt that it was so girly and non-edgy. The fun part is though, that so many reacted to this song and really liked our version. Let´s just say that this was my “swallow the camel” moment.
Per Aksel: The WINDER track was an old “guilty pleasure” of mine, and I thought that we could do a really good job with it. I know Desirée really didn’t like it much, but she played along, and the version we ended up with is ok I guess, but far from my favourite on the album. A lot of people seem to love this version though, which is great, but I don’t know, it’s still a bit Eurovision sounding and a bit cheesy!
‘Love Is Just A Word’ was picked as the idea of having a ballad on the album, but now that I think of it, we should have done ‘Touch In The Night’ instead. CHINESE DETECTIVES were never meant to do ballads, ha ha! I remember seeing SILENT CIRCLE performing ‘Touch In The Night’ on Peters Pop Show from Germany via Swedish Television back in the 80s, and that’s how I got turned onto the band. Their first album, ‘No 1’, is still a good album I think, a hidden gem for many, but a good synthpop album.
The album title song features something of an orchestra stab frenzy and was originally by SUDETEN CRÈCHE, a very obscure British duo. How did you hear about this song?
Preben: Per Aksel introduced us to the song and we knew immediately that we could make our mark on it.
Desirée: Why wouldn´t a bunch of nerdy electronic music people have heard about that one?
Per Aksel: Going back to me being an avid YAZOO and Vince Clarke collector, I’d heard from some other collectors that the compilation album ‘Europe In The Year Zero’ included a different version of ‘Goodbye 70s’ than the one on ‘Upstairs At Eric’s’, so I ended up getting hold of a copy of that LP. It had a different version of ’Goodbye 70s’ indeed with some extra echoes and delays to the vocal, and it was a bit shorter with a strange fade, but still a different version. Anyway, on that same album was the band SUDETEN CRÈCHE with their track ‘Are Kisses Out Of Fashion?’.
My girlfriend at the time loved this track and had it on several mixtapes, so I knew it well, and when it came time to pick track for the album, Preben, Desirée and I wrote down our suggestions of what tracks to do covers of, and we immediately agreed that we could do something with this minimal wave classic. We also decided to use the title of the track as the title of the album, as it was very 80s sounding and cool.
In 2006 or so, I got contacted by Mark Warner from SUDETEN CRECHE who asked us about this cover, because we tried to get hold of them back in 1996, but it was impossible to find any information. So we started emailing them back and forth, and they said they really liked the version we had done. Later I was invited to be live keyboarder for SUDETEN CRECHE on a European tour they did together with OPPENHEIMER ANALYSIS and a couple of other bands, but I couldn’t accept that offer since I had other commitments at the time, but the offer itself meant a lot to me and I was really flattered by it.
Later on, after a lot of emails and a growing friendship, Mark Warner invited me to come stay with him at his house outside Bedford where he’s got a studio in his back yard, to work on some music together.
This is how I ended up doing three EPs with ROSSETTI’S COMPASS together with Mark. He wrote all the material, and I was more in on the production side of things, but we had great fun in the studio, and I got to know his lovely wife and two daughters who now just call me Uncle Per. I visited Mark as late as January this year, and a lovely and lasting friendship has come out of doing that cover version. Who would have thought ha? Life can serve you up some wonderful things sometimes, especially when you meet great people like Mark Warner. A true friend.
You covered INDUSTRY with ‘State Of The Nation’ so the range of genres you sourced on ‘Are Kisses Out Of Fashion?’ was very varied in hindsight?
Preben: We wanted music from all over the spectrum; obscure to the big hits.
Desirée: There is and there was so much good music to choose from, in many genres. The list of songs we would have loved to put on the album was long, but I think we´re all quite happy with the once we chose. I also think that it shows that we´re influenced by many genres.
Per Aksel: ‘State Of The Nation’ to me was a “synthpop” song, and I really really liked it, and I also think we did a great version of it. There was a vocal part there at the end of the track, after the music ended that we should’ve kept though. Desirée wanted to keep it, but Preben and I voted against it, ha ha. Looking back, Desirée was right, we should’ve kept it. Wonder if I’ve still got that other version on DAT-tape somewhere. Hmmm…
What are your own personal favourites on ‘Are Kisses Out Of Fashion?’ and why?
Desirée: Oh, that´s a hard one. I should of course say ‘Situation’ but I´m not gonna say that. I just love ‘State Of The Nation’; loved the song originally and loved to sing it. ‘Are Kisses Out Of Fashion?’ and ‘All You Ever Think About Is Sex’ come in at second place. Just because ‘Are Kisses…’ became almost a completely new song when we did it and ‘All You Ever Think About Is Sex’ is a fun and theatrical song which I love.
Preben: ‘Hit That Perfect Beat’ by BRONSKI BEAT. I loved the vocals on it. And the mix still holds up. Very happy with the bassline 🙂
Per Aksel: I still think that our version of ‘I Want A Lover’ by PET SHOP BOYS is the best one, but nobody seems to agree with me! LOL! I also have a huge fondness for ‘You Think You’re A Man’, ‘Hit That Perfect Beat’ and ‘All You Ever Think About Is Sex’, great versions that differ from the original and still add something extra. I also love the energy that we managed to put into those tracks. They’re explosive in a way, and I’m very proud of what we managed to do together on those tracks! Would’ve been even better if we’d written the tracks ourselves of course, but hey, we borrowed someone else’s songwriting talent and built on that, that will have to do.
Was CHINESE DETECTIVES, like SILICON TEENS, destined to just do the one album?
Desirée: No, not really. We had plans and visions. Preben and I did our own project with POSH. We had so many ideas for our own music and CHINESE DETECTIVES was a cover project. But the intention was to make more music with CHINESE DETECTIVES as well.
Again the situation with getting a label, getting us distributed and of course the sign of the times in the music industry put a stop to more albums at the time. We do however, have some new covers done. We did some new tunes for a couple of gigs some years ago and that was great fun. So you never know, maybe we´ll be back.
Preben: I don’t think we had any plans beyond an album. Might have played it by ear.
Per Aksel: Funny you should say that! My own catch phrase / slogan was that we aimed to be a “SILICON TEENS of the 90s”! We are huge fans of the ‘Music For Parties’ album, and doing 80s tracks in the 90s before that became fashionable kinda put us in the same category at least as SILICON TEENS.
I never had plans beyond that one album back then at least. While waiting for the CHINESE DETECTIVES album to be released, Preben and Desirée continued on the side with their own project, POSH, that released a great album called ‘In Vanity We Trust’ on CD in 1999 too. That is also a great but sadly forgotten album by many. Sounds like YAZOO with a more modern sound.
CHINESE DETECTIVES reformed for Electronic Summer 2016 in Gothenburg, how was that for you?
Preben: I unfortunately had to pull out of it due to illness. But I hear it went down well 🙂
Per Aksel: That was amazing! We had a great great time, and back then it was exactly 20 years since we last played in Gothenburg, so it was a celebration and a huge kick being on stage with CHINESE DETECTIVES again in front of 600 people at The Brewhouse.
People loved it and we got so many people coming up to us after the show saying “finally I got to see you live” and stuff like that, including Hannes Malecki, the singer from WELLE: ERDBALL, who was also playing at the same festival. He confessed to being a huge fan of CHINESE DETECTIVES when I met him there, which was a very nice compliment, coming from a guy whose work I admire very very much. I have a complete collection of all the WELLE: ERDBALL CDs, so…
Desirée: Oh my Lord that was fun. I had no expectations for that gig. I thought we were forgotten and obsolete. We started the evening with our set and I thought that there would be close to no one in the audience. When the music started and I went on stage, I got a pleasant shock. The place was packed and people sang along and had a jolly good time. So did we! People were so positive and loving. That was just a blast!
Over twenty years on, how do you view the way an electronic pop cover should be done? With so much history, is going outside of the genre more preferable to achieve something different, rather than just cover say DEPECHE MODE, NEW ORDER, SOFT CELL and ERASURE, who interestingly CHINESE DETECTIVES didn’t cover?
Preben: We tried to stay away from the obvious songs. But there are millions of great songs we could have done. We have tried to do some new ones few years back. ‘The Metro’ by BERLIN was one of them. We have played it at some concerts. We also demoed ‘You Spin Me Round’ by DEAD OR ALIVE and even made an instrumental of ‘Heartbeat City’ by THE CARS. And a few others. Hopefully we will make another album in the future 🙂
Desirée: The term electronic pop is no longer obscure and for the few and nerdy. So to make an electronic pop cover today, the bar is lifted. We did go outside the electronic genre when we did our album and I think that by doing that, the songs got a new life. This, I think, is still the case. A good song is a good song in any genre. Even if it would be great fun to cover, let´s say a EURYTHMICS tune, the approach I think would be different now than it was twenty years ago. And no wonder, we´ve learned a lot in twenty years!!!
Per Aksel: We definitively tried to AVOID the “usual suspects” when picking tracks for the album. I know Desirée wanted to do both a cover of a EURYTHMICS track, and a CULTURE CLUB track, and that didn’t happen, probably because they were too big and famous or whatever. We had some strict but strange rules back then, ha ha!
The truth is that I’m usually not a big fan of cover versions myself, and it’s only a few that I really like, and I try to avoid them when other bands do covers. Strange to think of when I was in a band that did a whole album of them, right?
We had ‘Send Me An Angel’ by REAL LIFE half-finished in demo form back then, but it never came to fruition, and that’s about it I think from back then. Preben did demo some other tracks that I don’t remember right now, but we ended up with those that are on the album, and I think the selection is pretty much good. When it comes to DEPECHE MODE, we’ve had enough covers there already, haven’t we? I mean, we’ve had enough of the band itself even, so never mind covers ha ha!
Some cover versions that I do like though, are: FAIRLIGHT CHILDREN – ‘Bedsitter’, LEMONHEADS – ‘Mrs. Robinson’, APOPTYGMA BERZERK – ‘Major Tom’, WOLFSHEIM – ‘Ruby, Don’t Bring Your Love To Town”, MALARIA – ‘Lay, Lady Lay’, and BIGOD 20 – ‘Like A Prayer’. The “perfect” cover version in my opinion though, is the one that RÖYKSOPP feat. Susanne Sundfør did of ‘Ice Machine’. Absolutely love that one!
What songs would you cover today if you were to do a new album?
Preben: BLANCMANGE – ‘Blind Vision’ or ‘Don’t Tell Me’, THE CARS – ‘Heartbeat City’, ABC – ‘Be Near Me’, JAPAN – ‘Life In Tokyo’, CRETU – ‘Samurai’, THE HUMAN LEAGUE – ‘Boys & Girls’, OMD – ‘Telegraph’, BERLIN – ‘Metro’, SECRET SERVICE – ‘Flash In The Night’, DEAD OR ALIVE – ‘Big Daddy Of The Rhythm’, CLOCKWORK ORANGE – ‘Sensation Boys’, THOMPSON TWINS – ‘In The Name Of Love’ or HEAVEN 17 – ‘Come Live With Me’. All of those would have worked I suppose!
Desirée: I’ve always wanted to do a cover of ‘Sexuality’ with Erasure, but never got around to it. Maybe the time is now?
Per Aksel: Hmmmm… THOMPSON TWINS – ‘We Are Detective’ would fit us perfectly I think, and I also agree with Preben on ‘Big Daddy Of The Rhythm’, such power and energy! Maybe we should accommodate Desirée too, and do ‘Here Comes The Rain Again’ or ‘Paint A Rumour’ by EURYTHMICS? I also would’ve picked another minimal wave track or two, like ‘Night In June’ with LINEAR MOVEMENT, or ‘All Rights Reserved’ by FRED. Great tracks, real gems that one could bring out to the masses! That’s the best thing I think, when you can get people to discover a track they’ve never heard before through your cover version!
All in all though, I’m a little fed up with covers at the moment as I told you, but I’m not going to be a killjoy.
Preben, Desirée and I live nearby each other, and if we find the time and inspiration, I don’t see why we couldn’t / shouldn’t do some more stuff together. All that without giving any promises though, ha ha!
The Electricity Club gives its sincerest thanks to CHINESE DETECTIVES
Following the ‘Technique’ album released in early 1989, NEW ORDER were in something of a state of flux.
Bernard Sumner had already opted for what was planned as a solo album but became ELECTRONIC after meeting up with Johnny Marr, then a free agent having left THE SMITHS. Peter Hook responded with the fittingly named REVENGE. Even the band’s manager Rob Gretton had his own adventure with Rob’s Records.
But what of Stephen Morris and Gillian Gilbert, THE OTHER TWO?
Having soundtracked the BBC’s comedy drama ‘Making Out’ and youth culture show ‘Reportage’, the NEW ORDER couple had been composing and stockpiling various sketches and instrumentals pieced together at their home studio near Macclesfield in the event of future commissions, as happened later with ‘America’s Most Wanted’.
However, following the Italia 90 World Cup song ‘World In Motion’ which was supposed to start the process towards making the follow-up to ‘Technique’, Gilbert and Morris found themselves with time to kill having turned down a film soundtrack to accommodate the now false start. ‘World In Motion’ had actually mutated from the ‘Reportage’ theme which Gilbert had mostly written, so Factory Records’ Alan Erasmus suggested that some of this stockpiled material could be released as an album.
In a 2011 interview, Stephen Morris told The Electricity Club: “They start off as these things for TV, you get really attached to them and you twist one or two of them into being songs. Some of them never turn into songs but you get persuaded by the record company or someone that you have to get a singer! So we tried to get a singer and then Gillian ended up doing it which is great, she’s really good at it.” – that singer they tried to get was actually Kim Wilde! But when that idea never got beyond a meeting, Gilbert took on the role of lead vocalist, helped along the way with some singing lessons.
The brilliant debut single ‘Tasty Fish’ released in late 1991 was superbly catchy and had the Kylie Factor. But with the ongoing problems at Factory Records, the single never made it to many shops and stalled at No41 in the singles chart.
The subsequent album which had actually already given a catalogue number of Fact 330 never got released on Factory as planned, while the couple’s attentions were turned to NEW ORDER for what was to become ‘Republic’, produced by Stephen Hague. In the fallout that came with talk of London Records buying Factory out, the iconic Manchester record label collapsed and NEW ORDER signed with London direct.
THE OTHER TWO ‘& You’ finally appeared in late 1993 on London Records seven months after ‘Republic’ and had been tweaked from its original Factory configuration by Stephen Hague.
Opening with a new version of ‘Tasty Fish’, although Hague’s additional production neutered the dynamics of the original Pascal Gabriel single mix, the song still stood out, a well-deserved hit if ever there was one, but not to be.
Following it was the dancey DUBSTAR of ‘The Greatest Thing’, a joyous music statement about the power love. Its sampled acoustic guitar lines could easily have been represented by Peter Hook’s bass and highlighted the couple’s contribution to NEW ORDER, despite some reports to the contrary.
‘Selfish’ made it three in a row for the start of THE OTHER TWO ‘& You’, a Hague production rich in synthetic strings and lively but unobtrusive machine driven rhythms. Gilbert’s resigned vocal about “someone I hate” reinforced to the inherent melancholy in a fabulous song with an exquisite understated quality.
On the moodier electro-acoustic strum of ‘Movin’ On’, it wasn’t difficult to imagine Sarah Blackwood and the usual cup of tea, with Gillian Gilbert’s singing lessons proving effective and highlighting her as actually the best technical vocalist in NEW ORDER.
With soundtracks having been their main compositional forte during this period, there were naturally instrumentals; the uptempo pulse of ‘Ninth Configuration’ wouldn’t have sounded out of place as a NEW ORDER B-side circa ‘Technique’, ditto ‘Spirit Level’, although the eerie interlude ‘Night Voice’ pointed more towards filmic ambience.
Meanwhile the widescreen synthpop of ‘Feel This Love’ foresaw a future Stephen Hague produced act called TECHNIQUE; a female electronic pop duo comprising of Xan Tyler and Katie Holmes, they were to name themselves after the NEW ORDER album and later morphed into CLIENT featuring Sarah Blackwood! The charming ‘Innocence’ with its lovely OMD-styled string melody embraced a subtle Italo house staccato, but closing the album was the brilliant ‘Loved It (The Other Track)’.
With its hypnotic digital slap bass and club friendly vibes, it had been composed to celebrate the opening of The New Factory, a building in Charles Street which became a white elephant and ultimately contributed to Factory Records’ collapse.
Featuring cut-up speech from the likes of the late label co-founder Tony Wilson shouting “Any one of you miserable musicians want any more pills?” as well members of NEW ORDER deadpanning “Not my idea!” and “Are you sure?”, time has made the track an amusingly ironic musical document of that carefree Factory period.
Better than REVENGE but not consistently soaring to the heights of the ELECTRONIC debut, THE OTHER TWO ‘& You’ did however showed how Gilbert and Morris had often been overlooked in the NEW ORDER story.
Over the following years, work continued on THE OTHER TWO’s second album ’Super Highways’. It eventually surfaced in 1999 and was perhaps less immediate than its predecessor. The realisation of their original guest female vocalist idea came to fruition with Melanie Williams from Rob Records signings SUB SUB on the excellent ‘You Can Fly’ and the very DUBSTAR sounding title track.
Gilbert sang on the lovely orchestrated electropop of ‘The River’ while there were also various experiments in drum ‘n’ bass like the mighty ‘One Last Kiss’. However, the record had been overshadowed by the reunion of NEW ORDER with their triumphant comeback gigs at Manchester Apollo and the Reading Festival in 1998.
Family matters led to Gillian Gilbert departing NEW ORDER before the guitar heavy ‘Get Ready’ was released in 2001. The void left the band in a much tenser masculine environment and the sad untimely death of Rob Gretton in 1999 left the now well-documented conflicts between Bernard Sumner and Peter Hook without a referee. Fast forward to today, Gillian Gilbert is back in NEW ORDER and the electronics have returned in style on 2015’s ‘Music Complete’ released on Mute Records. “I’m on all the best records” she amusingly quipped to Q magazine on her return.
But if NEW ORDER hadn’t made a return in 1998 and THE OTHER TWO had been able to be a full-time occupation, could they have been as successful as DUBSTAR or SAINT ETIENNE?
“No, we’re completely the wrong kind of people!”,Stephen Morris said adamantly. “I’ve tried but it never works… we’d never be popstars!”
THE OTHER TWO ‘& You’ + ‘Super Highways’ are reissued by Factory Benelux in double coloured vinyl LP and CD formats on 3rd April 2020 with ‘The Other Disc’ bonus CD featuring rare tracks and remixes by FACTORY FLOOR available as an exclusive optional extra via FBN mailorder copies of either album, pre-order direct from https://www.factorybenelux.com/the_other_two.html
Following the sad passing of Mark Hollis, front man and songwriter of TALK TALK, many of the obituaries that followed focussed on their final two records ‘Spirit Of Eden’ and ‘Laughing Stock’.
But very little mention was made of TALK TALK’s 1982 debut long player ‘The Party’s Over’. Even Alan Wilder, executive producer of the 2012 tribute ‘Spirit Of Talk Talk’, in an interview with The Electricity Club admitted that although “I liked the sound of the singles ‘Today’ and ‘Talk Talk’”, he had “never heard the first album” adding “In fact I still haven’t heard that album in full.”
Synthpop has often had a credibility problem, especially among “too cool for school” hipster writers and even so-called commentators of electronic music. But ‘Spirit Of Eden’ and ‘Laughing Stock’ might not have happened had TALK TALK not had single success in 1982 during one of the most exciting and enjoyable years in music.
It was a year that saw ASSOCIATES, SOFT CELL, SIMPLE MINDS and JAPAN slugging it out in the Top40 alongside ABC, DURAN DURAN, SPANDAU BALLET, YAZOO, THE HUMAN LEAGUE, VISAGE, ULTRAVOX, DEPECHE MODE and BLANCMANGE, while HEAVEN 17, CHINA CRISIS and B-MOVIE were knocking on the door and looking for a way in.
At the time, TALK TALK comprised of Paul Webb on bass, Lee Harris on drums and crucially Simon Brenner on keyboards who came armed with a Roland RS09 and Oberheim OBXa. Signing to EMI, TALK TALK were originally dismissed by the press as DURAN DURAN copyists as they shared the same label, the same producer in Colin Thurston and even had a repeated word name!
Released in July 1982, ‘The Party’s Over’ was an impressive synth flavoured collection devoid of guitar that very much captured the sound of the era with its thundering Simmons drums and fretless bass. It opened with the very immediate ‘Talk Talk’, a heated song which began life in 1977 as a song for THE REACTION, a punk band that Hollis was in, which was co-written by his brother Eddie Hollis who managed EDDIE & THE HOT RODS.
Although it flopped on its initial single release in April 1982, it belatedly became a hit later that Autumn in a remix by ROXY MUSIC producer Rhett Davies. ‘Talk Talk’ possessed an anguish and frustration in Hollis’ voice like Bryan Ferry through clenched teeth and it was a seed that was to serve him well through the band’s small recorded portfolio.
A band composition, ‘It’s So Serious’ was a delightful number influenced by OMD with catchy hooks and the then state-of-the-art production techniques. But things were to get even better. The moody ‘Today’ dominated by Webb’s melodic bass playing showed TALK TALK had more in common with artistically thoughtful bands like JAPAN rather than more obvious pop combos like DURAN DURAN; it reached No14 in the UK singles charts but deserved to go much higher.
The template of Sylvian & Co was taken further with the magnificent title track, another band composition which made impressive use of penetrating oriental overtones and an epic gothic backdrop for the track’s conclusion.
Beginning the second side, the aggressive chant-laden ‘Hate’ did as the title suggested, frantically laced with Harris’ reverberant percussive barrages reminiscent of ULTRAVOX’s live version of ‘The Voice’ from that period.
The serious lyrical matter of the solemn ‘Have You Heard the News?’ with a narrative about the aftermath of a car accident highlighted how TALK TALK were indeed not part of the SPANDAU BALLET league. But the album exposed its weak link with the ploddy ‘Mirror Man’, surprisingly issued as the first TALK TALK single with its noticeable BEATLES-influenced string aesthetics.
But it all got back on track with ‘Another Word’, a song from the solo pen of Paul Webb and his only one in the TALK TALK catalogue. With an enjoyably memorable chant and uptempo rhythm construction, it was released in its own right as a single in Germany thanks to its use in the domestic TV detective series ‘Derrick’.
That German single was backed with ‘Candy’ which closed ‘The Party’s Over’. Here, TALK TALK aped FOREIGNER and featured some fabulous piano playing from Brenner; it was a final moment that was to be symbolic.
Although there was an excellent interim non-album single ‘My Foolish Friend’ produced by Rhett Davies and co-written by Brenner in 1983, the keyboardist left TALK TALK with good old fashioned musical differences cited.
In 1984, Mark Hollis said to Electronics & Music Maker: “Each album should be a definite move on from the one before it. Now y’see some people understand that and other people don’t understand that. Some people think that if you have a hit with something like ‘Today’ then what you should do is maintain that style and that will ensure more hits right?”
Simon Brenner’s departure was to be significant as for TALK TALK’s second album ‘It’s My Life’, Hollis was to find his ideal collaborator in producer Tim Friese-Greene.
He had been an unlikely writing partner as his credits included STIFF LITTLE FINGERS and somewhat bizarrely TIGHT FIT’s ‘The Lion Sleeps Tonight’, but it was to be the start of a fruitful partnership.
Although the more sonically adventurous ‘It’s My Life’ album sold well in Europe, TALK TALK would not actually have another UK Top20 hit until 1986 with ‘Life’s What You Make It’. It was here where Hollis headed into the more traditional instrument direction he craved and was to become lauded for with ‘The Colour Of Spring’ album.
And as if to prove that TALK TALK were maybe ahead of their time, the ‘It’s My Life’ single finally became the UK Top20 smash it deserved to be on its 1990 re-release to promote the excellent singles compendium ‘Natural History’
Becoming reclusive artist in the mould of Scott Walker and David Sylvian who each also had successful pop careers before venturing into more experimental territory, Mark Hollis left a legacy of artistic ambition over commercial success. But without the latter, as with the aforementioned Walker and Sylvian, it might not have happened.
While ‘The Party’s Over’ is very much of its time, as a result, it still retains much of its charm.
Despite being generally glossed over in TALK TALK history, the album is an excellent under rated synthpop jewel that has aged well, thanks to the quality of its songs and is probably a better body of work than say ‘Quartet’ by ULTRAVOX from the same year.
In memory of Mark Hollis 1955 – 2019
‘The Party’s Over’ is still available in CD, vinyl LP and digital formats via Universal Music
Released on the short-lived Homewood Records in 1976, ‘Mother Earth’s Plantasia’ by Mort Garson became one of those rare sought after albums, thanks to the fact that most of the copies pressed had actually been given away for free by its esteemed creator.
With its inventive use of the Moog IIIC modular synthesizer with a plethora of cosmic textures, it possessed a transcendental quality that was the antithesis of the FM rock that was dominating the American airwaves at the time like THE EAGLES and FLEETWOOD MAC.
The book ‘The Secret Life of Plants’ by Peter Tompkins and Christopher Bird theorised that plants could hear prayers, predict natural disasters and receive signals from outer space. It led to a boom in indoor horticulture, while Stevie Wonder provided a soundtrack for the accompanying documentary and HRH Prince Charles enthused about how he talked to his plants.
The late Mort Garson was a composer best known for orchestrating arrangements with Doris Day but most notably, the strings on Glen Campbell’s ‘By The Time I Get to Phoenix’, one of a number of great songs made famous by the Country legend which were written by Jimmy Webb.
However, one day Garson met Robert Moog demonstrating the Moog IIIC at the Audio Engineering Society’s West Coast convention in 1967 and entered a brave new world. Garson’s electronic work was to be used as incidental music during the television transmissions of the Apollo 11 moon landing in 1969. But as a man who lived and breathed music, making an album for plants to enjoy and grow to was a natural progression and right up his allotment.
‘Mother Earth’s Plantasia’ was weird, wonderful and tuneful. John Foxx once described musician Tara Busch aka I SPEAK MACHINE as “Doris Day in outer space” and Garson’s seedling was not far off that in terms of template, something exemplified by ‘You Don’t Have To Walk A Begonia’, something of a novelty show tune but without the vocals.
In common with his Japanese counterpart Isao Tomita, Garson loved constructing piercing whistles on his Moog with engineer Eugene L. Hamblin III, while the synthfluence of Wendy Carlos who found fame with ‘Switch On Bach’ also loomed. Together with a suitably psychedelic vibe, this all came together on the pieces like ‘Plantasia’ and ‘Symphony For A Spider Plant’, the latter also adding an ARP Solina string machine.
Jazzier overtones made their presence felt on the bouncy ‘Baby’s Tears Blues’ and the self-explanatory auto-rhythmed ‘Swingin’ Spathiphyllums’, while ‘Rhapsody In Green’ naturally borrowed a title from George Gershwin, although its spacey atmospheres ensured it sounded nothing like it.
Gently percussive, the swoops on ‘Ode To An African Violet’ were melodically otherworldly, less threatening than the ‘Fourth World’ overtures of Brian Eno and Jon Hassell which while inventive, were not always comfortable listening. And that was the thing about ‘Mother Earth’s Plantasia’, it WAS a very comfortable listen, with tracks like ‘Concerto For Philodendron And Pothos’ photosynthesizing a sweetness for those moments when some sugar was desired.
In amongst all the brightness though was the comparatively sombre ‘A Mellow Mood For Maidenhair’ which came over more like a spy drama theme, while closing the short 30 minute suite was ‘Music To Soothe The Savage Snake Plant’, a beautifully classically-derived chocolate selection box piece in the vein of Erik Satie.
Perfectly timeless lounge synth music with an enjoyable connective AIR (see what The Electricity Club did there?), ‘Mother Earth’s Plantasia’ fits right into the 21st Century despite being 45 years old. It is an album that very much subdues aggression in a world that very much needs that ethos right now.