Out of the bands that emerged post-Synth Britannia, A FLOCK OF SEAGULLS were among those to actually make a worldwide cultural impact, initially gaining traction in the US via the cable phenomenon of MTV.
While frontman Mike Score’s outlandish hair style was honoured in Hollywood with comic references in ‘Friends’, ‘The Wedding Singer’ and ‘Pulp Fiction’, their fourth single ‘I Ran’ has been a ubiquitous staple, appearing in commercials for Grand Theft Auto Vice City, Sensationail, Diet Pepsi and Lexus. Greek synth duo MARSHEAUX even borrowed the main riff from ‘Space Age Love Song’ for their signature tune ‘Dream Of A Disco’.
Today, Mike Score is the only remaining member from the original line-up which included his brother Ali on drums, bassist Frank Maudsley and guitarist Paul Reynolds. Notably his hair is now absent, while his scouse accent has mutated into a Trans-Atlantic drawl from years of living stateside.
Dingwalls in Camden was packed for the second London date of A FLOCK OF SEAGULLS’ first headlining UK tour for many years and opening proceedings was KNIGHT$ whose debut album ‘Dollars & Cents’ has been one of the contenders for best album of 2019.
Photo by Richard Price
Fronted by the suave and charismatic James Knights, dressed in a black leather jacket and sequined shirt combo, he began support set with Eurobeat thrust of ‘What We Leave Behind’ and the heavenly pop ‘Playin It Cool’. Playing the role of the perfect beat boy, Knights was slightly restrained physically, thanks to the small stage, but he made every effort to engage the audience with his brand of BRONSKI BEAT inspired Britalo like the amorous ‘Gelato’.
Meanwhile, the snappy ‘Alligator’ provided an amusing observation on the phenomenon of one-sided conversations. ‘Julia’ offered a more romantic take on the appealing KNIGHT$ sound while presenting a token of musical friendship to the audience, there was an authentic rendition of PET SHOP BOYS’ ‘Heart’. The slinky ‘What’s Your Poison?’ appropriately threw in some sunset sax at the riverside venue, before the catchy ‘Dollars & Cents’ closed an impressive warm-up on an already hot Saturday evening.
Standing behind a Roland Fantom 06 outputting crystal clear electronic sounds, Mike Score took his position to begin A FLOCK OF SEAGULLS’ performance with the vintage Sci-Fi rock of ‘Modern Love Is Automatic’. Backed by his usual North American band of guitarist Gordon Deppe from Canadian New Wavers SPOONS, drummer Kevin Rankin and bass player Patrick Villalpando, the debut album opener was followed by ‘Hearts On Fire’ from 1995’s ‘The Light At the End Of The World’ which had the classic air of ‘Space Age Love Song’ about it.
Photo by Roger Kamp
With a rockier growl to his vocal presence, the gothic gloom of ‘Nightmares’ came over more like THE CURE, but the darkness turned to light as the under-rated ‘The More You Live, The More You Love’ provided the first rousing moment of the evening for the mature audience.
The moody ‘Man Made’ and more Motorik ‘She Won’t Let You Down’ showcased varied aspects of the band beyond their singles, but 1983’s UK Top 40 hit ‘Transfer Affection’ was spoiled by some unnecessary bombast and Score being unsure of what octave to sing the tune in.
However, a magnificent rendition of that paean to neu romance ‘Space Age Love Song’ snatched victory from the jaws of defeat, aided by Rankin’s use of a synth drum and his bandmates’ triple call-and-response vocal, while Deppe ably reproduced the textures of original guitarist Paul Reynolds.
Photo by Richard Price
That said though, it all got awry again with the quartet going all SIMPLE MINDS with a prolonged reinterpretation of ‘Telecommunication’; the song was originally two and a half minutes for a reason!
Throughout the show, while Score did speak to the audience, it was the more flamboyant Villalpando who acted as Master Of Ceremonies with a loud “rawk” address that although probably endearing across the water, may have been anathema for British audiences.
‘Wishing (If I Had a Photograph of You)’ was the moment many were waiting for. A Top 10 UK hit in 1982, it was interesting to be reminded that most of the song’s hooks were instrumental rather than vocal while inspired by a photo of two people running from a UFO, the brilliance of ‘I Ran’ ended the main set.
There was room for an encore and that came with the pleasant surprise of ‘Messages’ from the self-titled debut album, with its more guitar driven dynamics enabling the quartet to fire on all cylinders.
Photo by Simon Helm
There was no ‘D.N.A.’ or ‘(It’s Not Me) Talking’ but on the whole, the crowd were entertained and satisfied. When things were good, it was glorious at Dingwalls and while some may only remember the iconic haircut rather than the music, what A FLOCK OF SEAGULLS have proven is they have a number of great songs which more than stand up in the 21st Century.
And unlike say OMD, DEPECHE MODE and SIMPLE MINDS, they also have a Grammy Award on the mantelpiece. A FLOCK OF SEAGULLS more than deserve their place in British pop history.
Led by Mike Score, A FLOCK OF SEAGULLS will embark on their first UK tour for a number of years this July.
A FLOCK OF SEAGULLS got their original break when Bill Nelson produced and released their debut single ‘(It’s Not Me) Talking’ on his Cocteau label in 1981 while another Nelson produced song ‘Telecommunication’ was their first major label release on Jive Records. But the original line-up of Score, brother Ali on drums, bassist Frank Maudsley and guitarist Paul Reynolds didn’t achieve a breakthrough until their fourth single ‘I Ran’.
It became a 1982 US Top10 hit in the Billboard Hot 100 and later that year, the band scored their biggest UK hit ‘Wishing (I Had A Photograph of You)’. Meanwhile in 1983, the band won a ‘Best Rock Instrumental Performance’ Grammy Award for the track ‘DNA’, at a time when The Second British Invasion had still yet to fully take hold in an America still drunk on TOTO and JOURNEY!
A FLOCK OF SEAGULLS continue live today with Mike Score being the sole remaining original member and have a collection of extended essentials called ‘Inflight’ on the way. He kindly had a quick chat with The Electricity Club about the continuing interest in their music.
It’s been a while since you’ve done a full UK tour, why is the time right now?
Just happened that way really, the time and the offers to play coincided and it all fell in to place. Other years it hasn’t, we are really looking forward to it.
The use of ‘I Ran’ on adverts for Grand Theft Auto Vice City, Sensationail, Diet Pepsi and Lexus won’t have done your profile or bank balance any harm? What was the song originally inspired by and how did it come together in the studio?
That’s a big question, the popularity of the song. ‘I Ran’ has kept it alive in the hearts of fans over the years and some of our fans are in position to want to use it in movies and advertising etc.
The song itself was inspired by a photo of two people running from a UFO, I think the photo was being considered for an album cover for a TEARDROP EXPLODES album as I saw the photo in Zoo Records office in Liverpool. The song was well rehearsed, so there were no problems recording it and we had great input from our producer Mike Howlett and occasional visits from Mutt Lange to see how it was coming along and of course Mike Shipley engineering. For sure, it sounded fab.
How do you look back on the ‘Ascension’ project with the original band reunited and performing with the Prague Philharmonic Orchestra?
It was just another way of looking at the songs a different flavour if you like. We recorded everything in separate studios and then the orchestra was added and it was mixed. Apart from doing my parts, I didn’t have too much to do with it really!
So who will be joining you in your live band for the upcoming shows?
The band for the UK shows will be my band from the US, me on keys and vocals, Gordon Deppe from SPOONS on lead guitar, Patrick Villalpando on bass and Kevin Rankin on drums.
You released a solo album ‘Zeebratta’ in 2014, what led you to drop the A FLOCK OF SEAGULLS moniker for this project and how do you think the album stands up now?
I just wanted to do a solo album for myself and I never intended to release it. I think it’s as good as anything I’ve ever done.
Most people know ‘I Ran’, ‘Wishing (I Had A Photograph Of You)’ and ‘Space Age Love Song’ but ‘The More You Live, The More You Love’ is one of your most under rated singles, any thoughts?
One of my best songs I think, again it was a personal song after a chat with my mom. It’s a bit of a lesson in life and a bit of advice to young romantics to be careful with your feelings.
Were many of the songs a result of jamming?
Yes, of course. You come in with an idea of sorts and show it to the band. Then you just jam it out into shape. Some ideas are just one line it a riff or even a beat but after a while, it takes shape and tells you what it needs to turn in to a song.
What were your tastes in music back in the day?
Then THE BEATLES, PINK FLOYD, ULTRAVOX, ELO and good songs from anyone.
Gary Daly of CHINA CRISIS kept his Jupiter8 and still uses it, what happened to yours?
I had two JP8s, they were stolen. Some people love them but I think synths are much better now and with software synths. Emulating the old ones it’s easy to have a huge range of sounds.
You are back living in the UK again, how are you finding it?
I’m not permanently living in the UK, I live between UK and USA as I have done a long time. But I’m English and I love coming home.
The Electricity Club gives its sincerest thanks to Mike Score
Additional thanks to Debora at London Variety
A FLOCK OF SEAGULLS tour the UK in 2019 with special guest KNIGHT$ (except Bristol), dates include:
Wolverhampton Robin 2 (11th July), London Dingwalls (12th-13th July), Liverpool Cavern (14th July), Bristol Fleece (16th July), Leeds Brudenell Social Club (17th July), Newcastle Riverside (18th July), Glasgow Art School (19th July)
Combining the Italo spirit of SAVAGE and RAF with British exponents of the form such as PET SHOP BOYS and NEW ORDER, the debut album by KNIGHT$ is one of the best albums of 2019.
‘Dollars & Cents’ is one of those fine immediate electronic pop records, ideal for these turbulent and uncertain socio-political times. The solo musical vehicle of James Knights, his bright crowd pleasing nature has made him a must-see live performer following well-received gigs in Europe.
With a stylish energetic persona coming over like the love child of Richard Butler and Neil Tennant, the catchy glitterball Britalo of KNIGHT$ will be playing all in clubs over the UK in July as the opening act for A FLOCK OF SEAGULLS.
Gathered together in the corner of a bar in Hoxton to avoid the barrage of televised football, James Knights chatted to The Electricity Club about the making of ‘Dollars & Cents’, working with ITALOCONNECTION, plans for his upcoming shows and surviving the vultures circulating in the music industry…
‘Dollars & Cents’ appears to have been a well-received escapist triumph?
I think so, so far it feels like all the objectives have been achieved. Maybe people were feeling a bit of doom and gloom with Brexit so needed a lift; it definitely did that in the short term.
Was ‘Dollars & Cents’ a natural choice for the title track, did you have a theme in mind for the album?
I knew I wanted the album to be as uplifting and uptempo as possible. In terms of the album title, it seemed to make sense, only because as I went through all nine tracks, that was the one that jumped out at me. I later found out RADIOHEAD had a song called that which was quite disappointing…
You achieved some of that authentic ‘Gelato’ flavour by working with Italo legend Fred Ventura on three tracks, how did the association come about?
I have to thank YouTube for this because I was listening to a lot of Italo playlists and this song came on… I looked up who it was that made it, but I didn’t make the connection between Fred and ITALOCONNECTION. Once I realised, I thought maybe we could do something and I wrote a message to him.
Fred was a total gentleman about being open to working together and when I sent him ‘Alligator’, he completely wanted to get involved. It’s funny, but he said “It’s synth music but it reminds me of THE CLASH”, so thank you Fred and his partner Paolo, they did a good job.
One of The Electricity Club’s Italian friends thought the middle section with the girl speaking sounded a bit “porno”, was that the intention? *laughs*
I have to say, it wasn’t that thought out… my vocals require many takes but that part with the Italian girl Monia Rega took two! I asked her to sing on the track, the first take she did very well but the timing wasn’t quite what I wanted, the second time she got it completely bang on. There was never a discussion about this so I don’t know what to say, we were looking for a vibe but we never mentioned anything dodgy like that! *laughs*
You know there was a weird European TV game show called ‘Tutti Frutti’ where contestants answered questions to get strippers to take their clothes off???
‘Hijack My Heart’ had you tightening your trousers for a great Jimmy Somerville impression?
In many other projects that I’ve been in before, maybe I didn’t have the guts to go up that high but it needed to be done. I’ve sung high live but never quite got there on the records. It seemed like a good idea at the time.
It works really well; did you have BRONSKI BEAT in mind when you recorded ‘Hijack My Heart’?
I have to say if I’m going to break down all those elements, the song that I always come back to is ‘Hit That Perfect Beat’ by BRONSKI BEAT… I don’t know if it’s the production or what and I know Jimmy isn’t singing that one, but it’s got a vibe I like it.
Did you raid your sister’s record collection for inspiration, because ‘Running’ isn’t that far off early MADONNA?
Yes, it’s got a bit of that and definitely some Whitney, it was like a “let go” thing to get me out of my comfort zone! It was the hardest track to finish and mix so when I breakdown that whole record, it’s the one where I haven’t had that many opinions on. I think it’s because it just happens, it’s very natural and appears at the end of the record… maybe time will tell, it takes a couple of listens for it to really work. That was the nearest thing to an experimental moment on the album.
Talking of experimental moments, ‘Proving A Point’ is perhaps the most unorthodox track on the album, featuring Holger Wobker of BOYTRONIC…
Yes, it is different from the other tracks on the album, I had a demo of this for many years but the idea to do this with Holger obviously came later. We’ve both had similar experiences and difficulties so we thought with this track, let’s tell it as it is, we needed to let something out.
I really like ROBYN and her albums always have a couple of tracks in, these diversions that give the album some sense within the pop.
So ‘Proving A Point’ is your ‘Konichiwa Bitches’?
Yes, I felt we needed it! *laughs*
What was the idea behind the throbbing ‘Shadows’, another track with Fred Ventura?
That goes back to a demo I had on this old four track TASCAM, I’d played all the synths and they were completely out of time. We knew which tracks were going to go down first on the album but I dragged out this demo, it needed a touch up and ITALOCONNECTION did an amazing job. It’s nice to resurrect things because it means you didn’t waste your time all those years before. It’s got a nice YAZOO feel to it.
Photo by Gilbert Yates
‘Dollars & Cents’ is a pretty straight-up full-on uptempo electronic pop album over nine tracks, had that been a conscious decision, are albums too long now?
Yeah, I could watch my favourite band of all time and two hours would be too much! I know other music fans think differently, but a good hour of anything is fine, my album is not even that!
What do you think of this new trend for two volume album works like MARINA, THE 1975 and TR/ST have done?
I wouldn’t do a debut album that way but maybe there’s room for it later on. But I really can’t imagine doing that, it’s hard enough work trying to write good songs without having then to find a thread, it’s not in my way of thinking.
For both ‘Dollars & Cents’ and the new BOYTRONIC album you’re involved in, you used Pledge Music and there have been some very public difficulties with its cashflow; how has this hampered you as an artist?
If it wasn’t for having a good fanbase, it would have been a complete disaster. But going with Pledge Music when I did was the worst thing I could have done, I went in at the wrong time! You have to think that the music will live on and that people will back you. People will back whatever they believe in and luckily, I’ve had many messages of support and we just got on with it, all of the fans have been great.
So what is happening with the upcoming BOYTRONIC album?
That’s was a bit tricky because I was meant to be paid by Pledge in December, so I’ve put my own money into recording the BOYTRONIC album. Obviously, I’m still down because the album’s not yet released, but I hope that it all comes good. A hell of a lot have bands like JESUS JONES have been inconvenienced and very vocal about the situation, but the only way we are going to get any solace from this is the music.
As history has proven, there is always someone in the music industry misappropriating money trusted to them by artists and fans. So is there a future to crowdfunding because no matter what happens, it seems like artists are just making money for a different type of crook?
I once did a calculation based on a record deal I was offered… I could sell 1000 myself or with the record deal, it would give me wider growth and expose me to more people, but I would earn exactly the same money if I sold 8000!! In this day and age, it’s so hard to sell 8000 copies of anything that it’s better to keep everything in house probably and try to sell 1000. People will say that’s short sighted but I don’t think it is.
Even at an independent level, there are people getting into the music industry who apply a smokescreen for more sinister intentions, be they DJs who hate the 80s doing 80s radio shows or event promoters who believe ticket touts are “free enterprise”. Any thoughts?
They will always be there, and unfortunately there will always be artists who take the same view… any artist that doesn’t believe in what they’re making, they’re in the wrong game… what can I say? it’s survival of the fittest.
Photo by Chi Ming Lai
On a more cheerful note, your album launch party in London was a great success and even led to you inviting the audience to join you on stage just like early SOFT CELL gigs?
It was a big rush, because you never know what’s going to happen at gigs, you know what London is like. The fact that people came out and really got into it, it was brilliant. My stage is their stage and I wouldn’t really want to create a divide.
I’m not interested in crash barriers, if people want to come up, they should be able to come up. I would rather someone join me on stage and lose their minds.
You had an interesting gig is Sweden because of the venue set up?
That was in Halmstad, the original gig had been cancelled and they moved us to what seemed like the local Wetherspoons, I was on at two in the morning and it was crazy! *laughs*
The Swedes love their Italo…
I think it’s just an appreciation of melody coming through via the ABBA tradition, they really know a good song when they hear one. If there wasn’t any melody, we wouldn’t remember anything.
Photo by Chi Ming Lai
You’re touring this UK with A FLOCK OF SEAGULLS?
I’m really excited about it and looking forward to going round the UK again with two nights in London, there’s a lot to be thankful for.
I’ve always loved A FLOCK OF SEAGULLS, I know they get a lot of stick with the haircuts and whatever, but they’re far better than people give them credit for. The songs aren’t that far from THE CURE, let’s be honest! It’s nice to be part of it.
So for those people who may not know what you are like live, why should they come along and arrive early?
They’d be fools not too! I have some nice surprises up my sleeve but for every person who has decided to sit in the pub to have an extra beer, I will match that beer! So if they turn up early, the beers are on me! *laughs*
What’s on the cards for the future?
I’d like to make another record as soon as possible but it always takes longer than you think, but we’ll have to see. And it would be nice to do an end of year show somewhere…
The Electricity Club gives its warmest thanks to James Knights
KNIGHT$ opens for A FLOCK OF SEAGULLS on the following 2019 UK tour dates:
Wolverhampton Robin 2 (11th July), London Dingwalls (12th-13th July), Liverpool Cavern (14th July), Leeds Brudenell Social Club (17th July), Newcastle Riverside (18th July), Glasgow Art School (19th July)
2018 saw JEAN-MICHEL JARRE celebrate 50 years in the business and whether the world really needed another of his compilations, ‘Planet Jarre’ was probably one of the better collected representations of his work for casual admirers.
But not standing still and releasing his fourth new album in three years, ‘Equinoxe Infinity’ continued the story as the French Maestro tuned 70.
SOFT CELL made a totally unexpected return for a huge one-off farewell gig at London’s O2 Arena; and with it came a boxed set, the ‘Northern Lights’ single and other new recordings which have raised hopes for a new album.
From the same era, FIAT LUX announced plans for their debut album ‘Save Symmetry’ with an excellent lead track ‘It’s You’, while B-MOVIE came up with their most synth-propelled single yet in ‘Stalingrad’.
But one act who actually did comeback with a brand new album in 2018 were DUBSTAR; now a duo of Sarah Blackwood and Chris Wilkie, as ‘One’ they reminded audiences as to why they were the acceptable face of Britpop with their bridge to Synth Britannia.
IONNALEE finally released her debut opus ‘Everyone Afraid To Be Forgotten’ and her tour which included choice cuts from IAMAMIWHOAMI, proved to be one of the best value-for-money live experiences in 2018, one that was even endorsed by Welsh songstress Charlotte Church.
CHVRCHES offered up their third album ‘Love Is Dead’ and continued their role as international flagwavers for quality synthpop, while EMIKA presented her best album yet in ‘Falling In Love With Sadness’, an exquisite electronic record with a Bohemian aura.
JOHN GRANT was on an artistic roll both solo and in partnership with WRANGLER as CREEP SHOW with two new albums. However, he was beaten by Neil Arthur who managed three albums over a 12 month period as NEAR FUTURE and BLANCMANGE including ‘Wanderlust’, possibly the latter’s best body of work in its 21st Century incarnation.
It was a busy year for STEVE JANSEN with a new solo ambient work ‘Corridor’, the well-received vinyl reissue of JAPAN’s two Virgin-era studio albums and his epic, more organically flavoured band project EXIT NORTH with their debut long player ‘Book Of Romance & Dust’.
SARAH NIXEY went on some ‘Night Walks’ for her best solo album yet, a wonderful collection of everything she had ever been musically all wonderfully rolled into one.
Meanwhile TRACEY THORN went back to the ‘Dancefloor’ with her ‘Record’ which content wise was right up there with some of ALISON MOYET’s electronica output from the last five years.
Hungary’s BLACK NAIL CABARET offered some noirish ‘Pseudopop’ and promising Norwich youngsters LET’S EAT GRANDMA got more deeply into electronica without losing any of their angsty teenage exuberance on their second album ‘I’m All Ears’.
Less intense and more dreamy were GLASSHOUSE, the new duo fronted by former TECHNIQUE singer Xan Tyler.
While the new HEAVEN 17 album ‘Not For Public Broadcast’ is still to be finished, Glenn Gregory teamed by with live keyboardist Berenice Scott as AFTERHERE. Their long-time friend Claudia Brücken performed as xPROPAGANDA with Susanne Freytag and partnered up with one-time TANGERINE DREAM member Jerome Froese, releasing the ‘Beginn’ album in the process.
Highly appealing were a number of quirky Japanese influenced female artists from around the globe including COMPUTER MAGIC, MECHA MAIKO and PLASMIC. But there were also a number of acts with Far Eastern heritage like STOLEN, FIFI RONG, DISQO VOLANTE and SHOOK who continued to make a worthy impression with their recorded output in 2018.
Heavy synth rock duo NIGHT CLUB presented their ‘Scary World’ on the back of tours opening for COMBICHRIST and A PERFECT CIRCLE while also from across the pond, NYXX and SINOSA both showcased their alluring potential.
At the poppier end of the spectrum, Holger Wobker used Pledge Music to relaunch BOYTRONIC with their most recent vocal incumbent James Knights in an unexpected twist to once again prove the old adage to “never say never” as far as the music industry is concerned.
Meanwhile, Chris Payne co-wrote and co-produced the excellent ‘Walking In West Berlin’ EP with KATJA VON KASSEL while also revealing plans for an autobiography and opening for his old boss…
The surprise album of the year was CHRIS CARTER with his ‘Chemistry Lessons Volume One’ while using a not dissimilar concept with their second album ‘Hello Science’, REED & CAROLINE took their folk laden synthpop out on a US tour opening for ERASURE.
STEVEN JONES & LOGAN SKY harked back to the days when GARY NUMAN and OMD would release two albums in one year by offering ‘Hans Und Lieselotte’ and ‘The Electric Eye’ in 2016. Those veteran acts themselves celebrated their 40th anniversaries by going orchestral, something which SIMPLE MINDS also did when they opted to re-record ‘Alive & Kicking’ for the ’80s Symphonic’ collection although Jim Kerr forgot how a third of the song went!
With SIMPLE MINDS also performing a horrible and barely recognisable ‘Promised You A Miracle’ during BBC’s ‘The Biggest Weekend’, making up for the live joke that his former band have become was one-time bassist Derek Forbes with the album ‘Broken Hearted City’ as ZANTi with Anni Hogan of MARC & THE MAMBAS fame. Other former members of high-profile bands were busy too with Ian Burden, formally of THE HUMAN LEAGUE returning with the Floydian ‘Hey Hey Ho Hum’ while A FLOCK OF SEAGULLS reformed briefly for an orchestral re-run of their catalogue.
With the release of their second album ‘Kinetik’, EKKOES handed over THE HUMAN LEAGUE support baton to SHELTER who came up with their best body of work yet in the more introspective shades of ‘Soar’
That darker approach manifested itself on singer Mark Bebb’s side project FORM with Keith Trigwell of SPEAK & SPELL whose debut long player ‘defiance + entropy’ also came out in 2018.
There was a good showing from UK acts in 2018 with RODNEY CROMWELL, ANI GLASS, THE FRIXION, NEW ARCADES, OLLIE WRIDE and FAKE TEAK all issuing some excellent synth tinged songs for public consumption. However, the side was let down by the conveyor belt of lame profanity laden offerings from a number of British acts afflicted with deluded normality.
NINA’s long awaited debut album ‘Sleepwalking’ was a fine hybrid of synthpop and the currently fashionable Synthwave aesthetic; her live double billing with Canadian synthpopsters PARALLELS was one of the hottest tickets of the year. The sub-genre was indeed making waves and there were some very enjoyable artists coming out of it like GUNSHIP, DANA JEAN PHOENIX and MICHAEL OAKLEY.
However, the endless AOR excesses, moonlight sax breaks and highly unimaginative band monikers using numbers between 80 to 89 affixed to an archaic technology reference, illustrated by yet another neon sunset, VCR grid and Lamborghini, were becoming tiresome.
As Synthwave cynics, The Electricity Club’s touch paper was being lit big time! The whole point of the synthesizer’s role during the Second British Invasion of the US was to fight against the insipid overtures of AOR like TOTO, CHICAGO and JOURNEY, NOT to make music coated with its horrid stench as THE MIDNIGHT did in 2018 with their long player ‘Kids’.
But there was naivety within some quarters too; electronic music did not begin in 2011 with ‘Drive’, an above average film with a good if slightly over rated soundtrack. However, its cultural influence has led to a plethora of meandering tracks made by gamer boys which sounded like someone had forgotten to sing on them; perhaps they should have gone back to 1978 and listened to GIORGIO MORODER’s ‘Midnight Express Theme’ to find out how this type of instrumental music should be done?
Many of the newer artists influenced by Synth Britannia that The Electricity Club has featured have sometimes been accused of being stuck in the past, but a fair number of Synthwave acts were really taking the soggy biscuit with their retro-obsession.
Rock band MUSE’s use of glowing artwork by Kyle Lambert of ‘Stranger Things’ fame on their eighth album ‘Simulation Theory’ sent sections of the Synthwave community into meltdown. There were cries that they had “stolen the aesthetics and concept” and how “it’s not relevant to their sound”! But WHAM! had Peter Saville designed sleeves and never sounded like NEW ORDER or OMD, while electropop diva LA ROUX used a visual stylisation for ‘In For The Kill’ that has since been claimed by Synthwavers as their own, despite it being from 2009 when Ryan Gosling was peddling graveyard indie rock in DEAD MAN’S BONES 😉
This was one of the bigger ironies of 2018, especially as MUSE have always used synths! One of Matt Bellamy and co’s biggest musical inspirations is ULTRAVOX, indicating the trio probably have a better understanding of the fusion between the synthesizer, rock and classical music, as proven by the ‘Simulation Theory’ bookends ‘Algorithm’ and ‘The Void’, than any static laptop exponent with a Jan Hammer fixation.
It is interesting to note today how electronic music has split into so many factions, but there’s still the assumed generalisation that it is all one thing and that synthpop fans must also like Synthwave, Deep House, EDM, Industrial and those tedious beach chill-out remixes.
Back in the day and even now, some fans of THE HUMAN LEAGUE didn’t like OMD, DEPECHE MODE fans only liked DEPECHE MODE and rock fans had a token favourite electronic band. Out of all the synth based pop acts of the Synth Britannia era, The Electricity Club had very little time for THOMPSON TWINS despite their huge international success, but their leader Tom Bailey’s 2018 solo recorded return ‘Science Fiction’ was warmly received by many.
Just as COLDPLAY and SNOW PATROL fans don’t all embrace ELBOW, it is ok to have preferences and to say so. Not liking the music of an artist does not make you a bad person, but liking everything does not make you a better person either… in fact, it shows you probably have no discerning taste! In 2002, SOFT CELL warned of a ‘Monoculture’, and if there is no taste differentiation in art and music, it will spell the end of cultural enhancement.
A FLOCK OF SEAGULLS were one of the most heavily rotated acts on MTV after it first started broadcasting in 1981.
But it was the Liverpudlian based quartet’s ability as a live band and their willingness to tour as support the likes of GENESIS, THE POLICE and THE GO-GO’S in the US that cemented their success.
Despite relocating to Philadelphia in 1985, the band lost momentum and eventually split. However, for the first time since 1984, the original line-up of frontman Mike Score, his drummer brother Ali, bassist Frank Maudsley and guitarist Paul Reynolds have reunited on ‘Ascension’, an album of A FLOCK OF SEAGULLS’ best known songs like ‘I Ran’, ‘Telecommunication’, ‘Space Age Love Song’ and ‘Wishing (If I Had A Photograph Of You)’ all re-recorded with the Prague Philharmonic Orchestra.
Despite being one of the first UK acts to gain a foothold in the American market and winning a Grammy in the process, A FLOCK OF SEAGULLS are often under-rated. However, their futuristic synthesized rock (which was not that dissimilar to ULTRAVOX) has stood the test of time, with Mike Score’s solo incarnation of the band having been still very much in demand on the live circuit worldwide.
Mike Score kindly took time out to chat to The Electricity Club about both the musical and cultural impact of A FLOCK OF SEAGULLS.
The original quartet has been reunited for ‘Ascension’, what was the catalyst for this?
August Day Records asked us if we would do it. It was a no brainer, who wouldn’t want to hear this?
What do you think the Prague Philharmonic Orchestra have added to A FLOCK OF SEAGULLS’ music?
A new dimension, it’s probably easier to listen to. It’s wider and deeper and fuller.
Why did you choose ‘Space Age Love Song’ as the single to launch ‘Ascension’ with?
It’s the best Seagulls song, followed by ‘Wishing’ and ‘I Ran’, and it’s the one I think people will gravitate to easily.
How do you think you sat within that Merseyside post-punk scene, did you find any kindred spirits?
We didn’t really find kindred spirits in Liverpool, didn’t seem to fit in with the scene there in ’79. We had our own thing going, never wanted to be part of a “scene” really – we were individual / original / different to what was going on.
Bill Nelson who produced ‘(It’s Not Me) Talking’ and ‘Telecommunication’ was a key mentor for you in the early days?
Bill did seem understand us and what we were going for – he is a great guy and producer, easy to work with as well. I still listen to his CDs even today.
What attracted you to using synthesizers and what was your first one?
My first synth was a Korg MS-10, a brilliant little synth. I shoved it through a Clone Theory box and got some deep gritty chorus sounds from it. It was only monophonic, the second was a Korg Delta because it was polyphonic. I “played“ synths because it was easier than guitar and just seemed kinda exiting at the time.
Which was your favourite synth and why?
I don’t really have a fave synth these days, the Jupiter 8 was good, the Fantom X6 is great and the new crop of synths that are out now all sound great. Not such a big fan of Moog or Yamaha but that might be because I’ve never really sat with one. My favourite soft synth is Hybrid!! Love it!
Do you think that having quick Paul Reynolds’ rock infused guitar alongside the synths helped you along in your American success?
Sure, Paul’s guitar work was great, to me it sounded like a distorted synth so it blended right in. It became part of our signature sound.
Do you have a fun story you can tell from one of those American tours at the time?
What happens on the road, stays on the road ?
How important was producer Mike Howlett in realising your sound?
Mike Howlett was a great producer for us – he didn’t over produce anything – he just guided us – didn’t try to change us – just made sure what we were doing was treated correctly and sounded great. A really good friend who didn’t try to put any stamp on us, just let us be us and used his skill and knowledge to make us better that we thought we could be.
‘Wishing (If I Had A Photograph Of You)’ is acknowledged as one of your best known songs, what was its genesis? The melody just uses black keys?
With ‘Wishing’, I had the riff / melody for a long time, just playing it at home here and there. It was a bit weird seeing as it was all black keys, I recorded the demo and wrote the lyrics at Mike Howlett’s house one night when he was out – he had just installed a 16 track studio so I did the demo there.
You won a Grammy Award, which is something OMD and DEPECHE MODE never managed, for ‘Best Rock Instrumental Performance’ with ‘DNA’?
I guess that means I can’t sing! *laughs*
When did the cracks start to appear in A FLOCK OF EAGULLS, history has shown that siblings in bands together can be a volatile cocktail?
Brothers will be brothers, that part was quite volatile. But really, the old drugs n booze tale was the downfall of the band.
A FLOCK OF SEAGULLS have made an impact in popular culture with comic references in ‘Friends’, ‘Pulp Fiction’ and ‘The Wedding Singer’, how do you feel about that?
They didn’t forget us ??
I can look back and laugh along with them, crazy hair crazy band but still nothing else like us and that part is great.
But A FLOCK OF SEAGULLS has actually had an influence on newer electronic pop acts. THE MODERN released a single entitled ‘Industry’ which bore more than a passing resemblance to ‘The More You Live, The More You Love’ while MARSHEAUX borrowed the main riff from ‘Space Age Love Song’ for their ‘Dream Of A Disco’?
When people are so influenced by your songs, it is in fact quite nice – it shows you created something that sank in to people’s thoughts and became part of their lives, quite humbling in a way.
Which A FLOCK OF SEAGULLS songs remain favourites for you?
It varies – but – ‘Space Age Love Song’, ‘Wishing’ and ‘Nightmares’ all have their place…
The new version of ‘Space Age Love Song’ comes in a remix by TINY MAGNETIC PETS who opened for OMD in 2017, how did you come to hear about them?
That was to do with August Day Records, not us really.
Is this a fleeting reunion like with the previous ‘Bands Reunited’ programme on VH1 or will this original line-up tour together again?
I don’t think so, it was nice to do this record with them but it’s not really of any interest to me. But I don’t count it out completely, I don’t know what is coming around the next corner.
The Electricity Club gives its sincerest thanks to Mike Score
Additional thanks to Lisa Freeman at Quite Great PR
‘Ascension’ is released by August Day Recordings in a variety of formats