Tag: BEF (Page 1 of 4)

Play To Win: The Legacy Of HEAVEN 17

HEAVEN 17 started as a pop subsidiary of BRITISH ELECTRIC FOUNDATION, a production company signed to Virgin Records formed after Martyn Ware and Ian Craig Marsh left THE HUMAN LEAGUE in 1980.

With Glenn Gregory as lead singer, the trio eventually became almost as successful as their former sparring partners Philip Oakey and Adrian Wright who had recruited Ian Burden, Jo Callis, Susanne Sulley and Joanne Catherall to score a chart topper in ‘Don’t You Want Me’ on both sides of the Atlantic.

THE HUMAN LEAGUE had a huge selling hit album as well in ‘Dare’, for which Ware and Marsh received a small royalty as part of the original divorce settlement. Whereas at the time, THE HUMAN LEAGUE had a purer synthesizer vision, Ware had been keen to incorporate his love of soul and disco into proceedings.

“We wanted a little distance between what THE HUMAN LEAGUE had been and probably were still going to be, and what HEAVEN 17 were about to become..” remembered Glenn Gregory, “The balance in any group is obviously changed when anyone leaves or joins… things were naturally heading in a different direction just by the very fact that the dynamic of the group had changed, I suppose the real turning point was when we had written ‘Fascist Groove Thang’ (only about ten days after THE HUMAN LEAGUE had split) and Martyn had suggested we put a bass guitar solo in the middle breakdown…”

Featuring young Sheffield bassist John Wilson who also turned out to be a master on rhythm guitar and powered by Simmons SDS-V drums, ‘(We Don’t Need This) Fascist Groove Thang’ was a salvo of urgent electronic funk that won the support of the serious music press, but got a ban from the BBC due to its Ronald Reagan baiting lyrics and warnings about the resurgence of extreme right wing ideology. It only fired the trio up even more!

The resultant ‘Penthouse & Pavement’ album was released in Autumn 1981. It was a landmark achievement, cleverly combining electronics with pop hooks and funky disco sounds while adding witty social and political commentary. It fell into two halves, the ‘Penthouse’ side being more electronic avant pop like an extension of THE HUMAN LEAGUE’s ‘Travelogue’ while the other ‘Pavement’ side was aided and abetted by a game changing piece of digital technology; “The Linn Drum became within a day, the new direction” recalled Martyn Ware, “that and discovering John Wilson were the two things that defined ‘Penthouse & Pavement’.”

In a mood of buoyant optimism, ‘Play To Win’ celebrated aspiration, while the title song with its blistering burst of guitar synth by Wilson wittily captured the greed of yuppie culture during the Thatcher era. But on the other side of the coin, ‘Let’s All Make A Bomb’ and ‘Height Of The Fighting’ reflected The Cold War and the horrifying spectre of Mutually Assured Destruction. The album fittingly ended with ‘We’re Going To Live For A Very Long Time’, a humourous ode to the dangers of religious fundamentalism that had a connected end groove on its original vinyl to ensure it went on for infinity…

With electronic music technology becoming more sophisticated while affordable and user friendly, Ware upped the ante with its production values; “We’d moved on by then to programming using the Roland MC4 Microcomposer so there was a lot of numeric programming on that album.” he said, “That drove my System 100 and Ian’s System 100M. The original demos are really just the programmed parts which then got layered over with real instruments.”

Securing the talents of notable session musicians such as Ray Russell, Simon Phillips and Nick Plytas as well as retaining John Wilson, ‘The Luxury Gap’ had a glossy sheen which combined synthesizer programming and digital drum computers with orchestrations, brass, jazz piano, rhythm guitar and guitar synths.

The first single ‘Let Me Go’ with one of the first uses of the Roland TB303 Bass Line sequencer was a striking slice of art funk, offset by deep delayed thrusts of Jupiter 8 but again failed to be a Top40 hit.

Interestingly, its recording had concocted a few conundrums in the studio. “When we finished ‘Let Me Go’” remembered Gregory, “we realised we’d lost the original beauty of the demo so we did it again…so basically, ‘The Best Kept Secret’ is ‘Let Me Go’ but redone with an orchestra. So we got two songs out of it.”

More obviously pop oriented than its predecessor ‘The Luxury Gap’ hosted two international hits. ‘Temptation’ was euphoric soul fusion of epic proportions utilising strings and the voice of Carol Kenyon. “Martyn had the idea for the Motown backbeat but it’s still very electronic really… there was this part that built and we decided to try an orchestra.” Gregory explained, “So we were in the studio with this massive orchestra and it was like ‘oh my god’, it was amazing because it was so different. It was a complete game changer.”

Meanwhile ‘Come Live With Me’ was a heartfelt cinematic ballad with no instrumental break which was delivered so sincerely, that it veiled its origins as an inter-band joke. “I was at that time I wrote it, seeing a young girl and I was getting a few jibes” recollected the HEAVEN 17 front man, “The words were making us laugh! It was all messing around! That’s where it all came from and we were quite surprised we’d written quite a beautiful song by the end of it because we were laughing like mad.”

‘Crushed By The Wheels Of Industry’, ‘Who’ll Stop The Rain’ and ‘Key To The World’ pointedly explored the themes of ‘The Luxury Gap’ and maintained HEAVEN 17’s socio-political consciousness despite their entry into the mainstream. But there were other highlights; ‘Lady Ice & Mr Hex’ provided a weird fusion of jazz piano, polyrhythmics, Linn Drum and acid squelches while the frantic energy of ‘We Live So Fast’ presented what it said on the tin.

Success brought money and this was reflected in Autumn 1984 with the Fairlighted jamboree of third album ‘How Men Are’.

“The operational reasons for moving to the Fairlight were that Ian had bought one without asking anyone and with his own money… £40,000!” affirmed HEAVEN 17’s musical director of their newly accquired workstation, “I was going ‘Are you sure about this Ian?’, it seemed a little extreme but he was keen”.

The results were mixed and the many options provided by the computer from Sydney, Australia led to the start of HEAVEN 17’s artistic confusion. But without doubt, ‘Five Minutes To Midnight’ was an outstanding opener. Referencing The Doomsday Clock and following on from ‘Let’s All Make A Bomb’ to highlight the absurdity of Mutually Assured Destruction, it used and abused the Fairlight, throwing in ‘Protect and Survive’ styled civil defence announcements, deathly whoops and a doomy orchestral crescendo bringing a frightening finality to proceedings…

“I’m a big fan of ‘How Men Are’ looking back on it” said Ware, “I think it’s an underrated album and that was when we were probably in our most daring and creative phase.” That daring creativity manifested itself on the sub-ten minute closer ‘And That’s No Lie’, an ambitious adventure in sound that threw in everything from abstract sonic experiments, jazz piano, Fairlight samples, gospel voices and an orchestra, plus some excellent live bass and guitar work from John Wilson and Ray Russell respectively.

Although there were hits in ‘Sunset Now’ and ‘This Is Mine’, these singles highlighted that with the exception of ‘Flamedown’, the ‘How Men Are’ album material was not ultimately as strong as it had been on ‘The Luxury Gap’. One case in point was ‘The Skin I’m In’, an insipid ballad in the vein of SPANDAU BALLET’s ‘True’ although it was partly saved by a plucky acoustic guitar solo created using a Roland System 100!

But the world was changing. Synthpop was falling out of fashion and while potentially there was still success to be had across the Atlantic with the advent of MTV, thanks to the unexpected success of SIMPLE MINDS, British acts were under pressure make themselves more palatable to American audiences.

“So consequently when it came to making ‘Pleasure One’, we’d lost our confidence a bit because it felt like we were slipping.” Ware recalled, “So we started employing more session players and moving towards a more traditional rock sound. And that wasn’t a deliberate decision. We lost confidence not in our songwriting but in the sound that we had, so it like really lost a bit of identity… We wanted to move on but there wasn’t anywhere to move on to from a sound point of view.”

But to be fair, a good number of acts from the school of Synth Britannia like THE HUMAN LEAGUE, OMD, ULTRAVOX and BLANCMANGE were having something of an existential crisis and even those who had tasted major success in the US like DURAN DURAN were falling apart.

Released in Autumn 1986, the conventionally band driven ‘Pleasure One’ which also saw the return of Carol Kenyon was given a lukewarm reception. Highlights included the groovy call for world unity ‘Contenders’ and the LEVEL 42 aping ‘Trouble’, while ‘If I Were You’ brought in an unexpected influence from THE BEATLES. But overall, HEAVEN 17 had lost momentum.

Ware’s success as a producer for acts like Tina Turner and Terence Trent D’Arby was perhaps placing his artistic focus elsewhere, but when Glenn Gregory appeared on the album cover of 1988’s ‘Teddy Bear, Duke & Psycho’ wearing a Stetson and cowboy boots, the writing was on the wall.

“‘Teddy Bear, Duke & Psycho’ was the nail in the coffin; we’d completely lost our way by then as far as I was concerned! We were retreading some ideas and some of the things we were doing were not working. I think we all knew it had run its course at that point” lamented Ware, “But ironically, it wasn’t that we’d run out of musical ideas, it was just that vehicle because at that time, I was doing Terence Trent D’Arby album which showed myself, Glenn and Ian that we’d still got creative ideas but we’d lost focus on what HEAVEN 17 should be at that point.”

‘Teddy Bear, Duke & Psycho’ were the affectionate nicknames given by Terence Trent D’Arby respectively to Ware, Gregory and Marsh, but the album possessed none of the enthusiasm or spirit of the former GI who Ware had been working with on ‘Introducing The Hardline According To…’. ‘The Ballad Of Go Go Brown’ was the cue for some fans to exit, although ‘Train Of Love In Motion’ was a better single. Meanwhile ‘Big Square People’ was as good as some of blue eyed soul of the times.

But with mainstream audiences finding younger acts such as WET WET WET, HUE & CRY and JOHNNY HATES JAZZ more to their liking, HEAVEN 17 effectively went on hiatus between 1989 to 1995, although a dance enhanced Brothers In Rhythm remix of ‘Temptation’ became a surprise UK Top5 hit in 1992.

Then in 1996, the trio reunited to re-explore their electronic roots with a new album ‘Bigger Than America’ and in 1997 toured as the opening act for ERASURE whose 1993 album ‘I Say I Say I Say’ had been produced by Ware.

Although there has only been one further album ‘Before / After’ in 2005 and the departure of Ian Craig Marsh not long after, HEAVEN 17 have been regulars on the live circuit since 2008, often showcasing ‘Penthouse & Pavement’ and ‘The Luxury Gap’ in full where their political commentary still remains sadly relevant in the modern world.

‘Play To Win – The Virgin Years’ captures the glorious imperial phase of HEAVEN 17 and the developmental pace of music technology through these five albums. Featuring a 36 booklet with new interviews and archive photos, the CD version is particularly desirable with its plethora of extended mixes, radio edits, instrumentals and non-album tracks such as the standalone single ‘I’m Your Money’ and its B-side ‘Are Everything’ plus the brilliant and very different demo version of ‘Temptation’ which took its lead from SOFT CELL’s cover of ‘Tainted Love’.

Gregory, Ware and Marsh’s ultimate legacy is being able to use music to deliver socio-political statements with good tunes and a sense of humour while also applying a juxtaposition of programmed technology with live musicians to provide a unique sound for the times.

“Some things will always be relevant” summarised Gregory, “We wrote about subjects that touched our lives and our souls, things that mattered not just to us as individuals but also to us as a part of a political or social system. We never preached and always (I hope) ranted with wit and humour”.

As the band once stated during their 1996 return: “TRUST US – WE’RE ENTERTAINERS”.


‘Play To Win – The Virgin Years’ is released by Edsel Records as a 10CD or 5LP coloured vinyl 12” x 12” boxed set on 29th March 2019

HEAVEN 17 will be opening for SQUEEZE on their 2019 tour, dates include:

Scunthorpe Baths Hall (17th October), Sheffield City Hall (18th October), Gateshead Sage (19th October), Glasgow Royal Concert Hall (21st October), Leicester De Montfort Hall (22nd October), Birmingham Symphony Hall (23rd October), Oxford New Theatre (25th October), Brighton Centre (26th October), Southend Cliffs Pavilion (27th October), London Royal Albert Hall (29th October), Bath Forum(30th October), Hull City Hall (1st November), Liverpool Philharmonic Hall (2nd November), Manchester Salford Quays The Lowry (3rd November), Northampton Derngate (5th November), Guildford G Live (6th November), Nottingham Royal Concert Hall (9th November), Bournemouth Pavilion (11th November), Cambridge Corn Exchange (12th November), Cardiff St David’s Hall (13th November), Llandudno Venue Cymru (15th November), Harrogate Convention Centre (16th November), Reading Hexagon (17th November), Folkestone Leas Cliff Hall (19th November), Ipswich Regent (20th November)

https://www.heaven17.com/

https://www.facebook.com/heaven17official/

https://twitter.com/heaven17bef

https://www.instagram.com/heaven17official/


Text and interviews by Chi Ming Lai
12th March 2019

TEC’s 25 CLASSIC SYNTH COVERS

“The medium of reinterpretation” as HEAVEN 17 and BEF’s Martyn Ware once put it, is an important creative opportunity that can widen a musical audience and expand the aural palette.

SoftCell-81This was most evident in 1981 when SOFT CELL’s cover of ‘Tainted Love’ became ubiquitous as Synth Britannia’s first true crossover record, reaching No1 in UK, Germany, Australia and Canada while also breaking the US Top 10 a year later.

A disgruntled rival musician had told Marc Almond only a few months before that “You couldn’t make a decent dance record if you tried”, but make one he did!

Written by Ed Cobb, ‘Tainted Love’ was recorded by Gloria Jones (partner of the late Marc Bolan) and became a Wigan Casino favourite on the Northern Soul scene. As a fan of that scene, David Ball knew the song and took it into haunting electronic torch territory. Segued with a Motown cover ‘Where Did Our Love Go?’ on an extended version, it became one of Sire Records biggest selling 12 inch singles in America.

It was to be a double edged sword though as the coupling of two covers made SOFT CELL minimal money despite the record selling millions. Thus successful cover versions generally only make the original songwriter any dough. Although often perceived as a sign of creative desperation, a fair number of cover versions are genuinely recorded as a labour of love.

So what of the other great synth reworkings? The covers in The Electricity Club’s listing are predominantly conventional songs reworked in a synthpop manner. And in several cases, the reworks have been so distinct and definitive that it is often forgotten they are actually covers! Restricted to one song per artist moniker, they are presented in chronological order.


VISAGE In Year 2525 (1978 – released 1983)

VISAGE 2525ZAGER & EVANS’ pessimistic ditty was perfect fodder for the first VISAGE demo steered by Midge Ure in 1978. ‘In The Year 2525’ was perfectly resigned aural dystopia. Steve Strange’s deadpan fronted the sombre tone perfectly but Ure’s vocal backing and counterpoints added some musicality. But when Ure presented the demo to his then employers at EMI Records, it was rejected! Remixed later by John Hudson, it was finally unleashed for public consumption in 1983.

Available on the album ‘The Face’ via Universal Records

http://www.visage.cc


YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA Firecracker (1978)

One of first Japanese bands to have a Top 20 hit single in the UK was YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA in 1980. ‘Firecracker’ was a cover of a 1959 composition by Martin Denny, but actually released as ‘Computer Game (Theme From The Invader)’. Recorded in 1978, the parent self-titled album was noted for its use of the then brand new Roland MC8 Micro-Composer to control the synthesizers. The result was a clean, exotic pop sound that was unusual, even in the synthpop heartland of Europe.

Available on the album ‘Yellow Magic Orchestra’ via Sony Music

http://www.ymo.org


GARY NUMAN On Broadway (1979 – released 1980)

NUMAN live 79Written by Jerry Leiber, Mike Stoller, Barry Mann, and Cynthia Weil, a quartet who between them have written some of the greatest songs in pop history, the original by THE DRIFTERS was a favourite in the Webb household. So GARY NUMAN did a live machine music rendition on 1979’s ‘The Touring Principle’. However, the star on this magnificent reinterpretation of ‘On Broadway’ is not Numan himself, but guest keyboardist Billy Currie of ULTRAVOX with his screaming ARP Odyssey solo.

Available on the album ‘The Pleasure Principle’ via Beggars Banquet Records

https://garynuman.com


TELEX Rock Around The Clock (1979)

telexOn paper it shouldn’t have worked; a funereal take of the song that heralded the birth of Rock ‘N’ Roll smothered in robotic vocoder. And it caused much head scratching when it became a UK Top 40 hit, although one person listening was Daniel Miller who borrowed the concept for SILICON TEENS. Belgian trio TELEX always had a sense of subversive irony about them. This mischief came to its head with their lampooning number ‘Eurovision’, which they actually entered for 1980 Eurovision Song Contest!

Available on the album ‘Ultimate Best of’ via EMI Belgium

http://www.telex-music.com


THE HUMAN LEAGUE Only After Dark (1980)

human league only after darkAn all synth rework of Head Spider Mick Ronson’s guitar dominated cult favourite, the metronomic tension was enhanced on THE HUMAN LEAGUE version by the metallic sequence of a Roland System 100 while monophonic synth lines complimented the futuristic atmosphere. Oakey impressively bellowed away while Martyn Ware provided some sprightly vocal support. ‘Only After Dark’ had been due to be released as a single but was cancelled in favour of a reissue of ‘Empire State Human’.

Available on the album ‘Travelogue’ via Virgin Records

http://www.thehumanleague.co.uk


JAPAN All Tomorrow’s Parties (1980)

JAPAN all tomorrows partiesSaid to be Andy Warhol’s favourite Lou Reed composition, this interpretation of THE VELVET UNDERGROUND’s Nico-led cult classic was turned from a Teutonic funeral march into a looser, synth assisted beat ballad in the vein of ROXY MUSIC. Demo-ed under the supervision of manager Simon Napier-Bell in 1979 but remixed later by John Punter, ‘All Tomorrow’s Parties’ was to herald the sophisticated muzak direction that JAPAN were to become ultimately associated with.

Available on the album ‘Quiet Life’ via BMG Records

http://www.nightporter.co.uk


OMD The More I See You (1980)

This cover of ‘The More I See You’ had actually began musically as a new OMD composition until Andy McCluskey started improvising and using the words of this vintage tune written in 1945 by Harry Warren and Mack Gordon. It was subsequently a hit for Chris Montez in 1966, although OMD’s version was a far darker proposition, with the spectre of JOY DIVISION vocalist Ian Curtis looming over the bright synthesizer melodies and deep bass drones.

Available on the album ‘Organisation’ via EMI Records

http://www.omd.uk.com


DURAN DURAN Fame (1981)

Before they became Birmingham’s most famous boat crew, DURAN DURAN recorded this speeded up version of David Bowie’s art funk co-write with John Lennon and Carlos Alomar for the 12 inch B-side of their flop single ‘Careless Memories’. As well as having a more frantic pace and layers of Nick Rhodes’ Crumar Performer string machine, Andy Taylor even aped Robert Fripp to add a screaming guitar solo that had not featured in the original.

Available on the album ‘The Essential Collection’ via EMI Records

http://www.duranduran.com


THE FAST SET King Of the Rumbling Spires (1981)

Some_bizzareA speeded-up, manic darkwave rendition of an early Marc Bolan composition, this was the one of the best tracks on the ‘Some Bizzare Album’ after DEPECHE MODE, SOFT CELL, BLANCMANGE, THE THE, B-MOVIE and ILLUSTRATION. The screeching synths and aggressive, unorthodox vocals are all over in a matter of a couple of minutes. THE FAST SET disappeared after just one proper single ‘Junction One’ which also featured another Bolan song ‘Children Of The Revolution’ on the flip.

Available on the ‘Some Bizzare Album’ via Some Bizzare Limited

http://www.last.fm/music/The+Fast+Set


DAVE STEWART & BARBARA GASKIN It’s My Party (1981)

Keyboardist Dave Stewart, once of prog rockers HATFIELD & THE NORTH recruited friend and backing vocalist Barbara Gaskin to sing on the second of his electronic pop covers, the first being ‘What Becomes Of The Broken Hearted’ with Colin Blunstone. Their inventively oddball synth version of ‘It’s My Party’ (made famous by Lesley Gore) was a triumph and a worldwide hit which reached No1 in the UK and Germany. Stewart and Gaskin have continued to worked together and have a new album pencilled in 2018.

Available on the album ‘The Singles’ via Broken Records

http://www.davebarb.com


TECHNO TWINS Falling In Love Again (1981)

TECHNO TWINS were wife and husband duo Bev Sage and Steve Fairnie; they indulged in their own brand of ‘Technostalgia’ with silent partner Dave Hewson who later reappeared in POEME ELECTRONIQUE and more recently TWINS NATALIA. This abstract theatrical cover of the 1930 German song composed by Friedrich Hollaender as ‘Ich Bin Von Kopf Bis Fuß Auf Liebe Eingestellt’ and made famous by Marlene Dietrich actually managed to reach No70 in the UK singles chart!

Originally released as a single by PRT Records, currently unavailable

https://www.discogs.com/artist/153114-Techno-Twins


BEF feat GLENN GREGORY Wichita Lineman (1982)

BEF Witchita‘Wichita Lineman’ was one of Jimmy Webb’s great narrative songs like ‘By The Time I Get To Phoenix’, ‘Galveston’ and ‘Where’s The Playground Susie?’ which were made famous by Glen Campbell. Although included for the ambitious ‘Music Of Quality & Distinction Vol1’ project, BEF’s recording is a HEAVEN 17 track in all but name and was originally recorded by the other Glenn as his audition piece. The chilling electronic arrangement takes on an even darker turn as a magnificent cacophony of sound invades the climax.

Available on the album ‘1981-2011’ via Virgin Records

http://www.heaven17.com


NEW ORDER Turn The Heater On (1982 – released 1986)

NEW ORDER heaterReggae artist Keith Hudson’s ‘Turn The Heater On’ was a favourite of Ian Curtis and recorded by NEW ORDER for their second John Peel session as a tribute to the late vocalist of JOY DIVISION. Bernard Sumner’s melodica gave a claustrophobic dub laden vibe alongside the white noise rimshot  of Stephen Morris, while Hooky actually played bass as opposed to his trademark higher register six string and Gillian Gillian’s ARP string machine added some appropriately frozen textures to match to the title.

Available on the album ‘The John Peel Sessions’ via Strange Fruit Records

http://www.neworder.com


MIDGE URE No Regrets (1982)

MIDGE URE No RegretsA cover of a cover, ‘No Regrets’ was written by Tom Rush and a comeback hit for THE WALKER BROTHERS in 1976. During a break from ULTRAVOX, Midge Ure created this synth heavy rework. But that wasn’t all that was heavy… out of nowhere came a blistering guitar solo that would have made Eric Clapton proud and a doubled Linn / Simmons pounding for the overdriven climax. Possessing high and lows in a way that previous versions never had, the diminutive Glaswegian made ‘No Regrets’ his own.

Available on the album ‘No Regrets’ via EMI Gold

http://www.midgeure.com


FRANKIE GOES TO HOLLYWOOD Ferry Cross The Mersey (1983)

FRANKIE GOES TO HOLLYWOOD were very good at covers as Born To Run’ and ‘War’ proved. With a superbly honest vocal from Holly Johnson,  the Trevor Horn produced reworking of this paean to Liverpool’s famous river crossing, written by Gerry Marsden for the 1965 film of the same name, climaxed with some joyous cascading synth lines and a frantic Linn Drum programme in a manner that couldn’t have been originally imagined by its composer.

Available on the album ‘Frankie Said’ via Union Square / Salvo

http://www.frankiesay.com


NAKED EYES Always Something There To Remind Me (1983)

NAKED EYES, who comprised of Pete Byrne and Rob Fisher, had actually been in a band called NEON with Roland Orzabal and Curt Smith. They had a huge US hit with a synthpop cover of this Bacharach and David classic which had been put together in the studio from memory. Rob Fisher later met Simon Climie and formed CLIMIE FISHER who had a number of UK hits, but he sadly passed away in 1999 aged just 42; Pete Byrne still continues to tour as NAKED EYES.

Available on the album ‘Burning Bridges’ via Cherry Pop

http://www.nakedeyesmusic.com


BLANCMANGE The Day Before You Came (1984)

blancmange-day before you cameThere once was a time when it was not cool to like ABBA and covering their songs was certainly not on many artists’ agenda. But BLANCMANGE changed all that with their version of what many regard as the last ABBA song. Combining that noted Swedish melancholy and melodicism with the artful quirkiness of Synth Britannia, ‘The Day Before You Came’ fitted well with Neil Arthur’s deep melodramatics. Add in the mystique of the Indian sub-continent and it was pure heaven.

Available on the album ‘Mange Tout’ via Edsel Records

http://www.blancmange.co.uk


ERASURE Gimme Gimme Gimme (1985)

ERASURE GimmeThey did the ‘Abba-esque’ EP and the mid-career crisis ‘Other People’s Songs’ album but ERASURE’s best cover was right at the beginning with this Hi-NRG romp in the big shadow of DIVINE. Turning ‘Gimme! Gimme! Gimme!’ into the ultimate anthem, the progressively faster ending made for an appropriately thrilling climax. Following not long after BLANCMANGE’s cover of ‘The Day Before You Came’, the seeds of an ABBA revival were now well and truly planted.

Remix version available on the deluxe album ‘Wonderland’ via Mute Records

http://www.erasureinfo.com


PROPAGANDA Sorry For Laughing (1985)

Written by Paul Haig and Malcolm Ross, ‘Sorry For Laughing’ was the key song on from the only JOSEF K album ‘The Only Fun In Town’. It had been a favourite of ZTT arch strategist Paul Morley and as per the label’s early policy, he persuaded his then-new signings PROPAGANDA to the rework the frenetic guitar track into a more moodily percussive electronic one. However, Ralf Dörper later told The Electricity Club: “I very much would have preferred to have a THROBBING GRISTLE cover version…”

Available on the album ‘A Secret Wish’ via Union Square

https://www.facebook.com/propagandamabuse/


WINSTON TONG Broken English (1985)

Having written and sung lead vocals on ‘In A Manner Of Speaking’ with TUXEDOMOON which was later covered by a certain Martin L Gore, Winston Tong embarked on a solo electronic pop adventure with Alan Rankine of ASSOCIATES fame at the production helm. The subsequent album entitled ‘Theoretically Chinese’ dealt with the theme of cultural identity and an excellent uptempo cover of Marianne Faithfull’s ‘Broken English’ slotted into the overall concept perfectly.

Available on the album ‘In A Manner Of Speaking: Best Of’ via LTM Records

http://www.ltmrecordings.com/winston_tong.html


DEPECHE MODE Route 66 (1988)

Written by Bobby Troup and covered by artists such as diverse as Nat King Cole and The Rolling Stones, this signalled the start of DEPECHE MODE’s fixation with a more blues based sound. While largely guitar driven, the rhythmical structure was driven by drum machine and sequences while the instrumental break of’Behind The Wheel’ made a guest appearance during the middle eight. It was performed as an encore during the ‘World Violation’ tour in 1990, but with Dave Gahan on lead vocals instead of Martin Gore.

Available on the single ‘Behind the Wheel’ via Mute Records

http://www.depechemode.com


JIMMY SOMMERVILLE From This Moment On (1990)

red hot & blueOften having his biggest hits with covers, you could be forgiven for thinking Jimmy Sommerville was some kind of falsetto karaoke machine. But for the most part, his reinterpretations were good. One of his lesser known covers was ’From This Moment On’, a throbbing contribution to the charity album ‘Red Hot & Blue’ of Cole Porter standards. With a snatch of ‘I Feel Love’ thrown in for good measure, this was one of the best recordings from the collection which also featured U2 and ERASURE.

Available on the album ‘Red Hot & Blue’ via Chrysalis Records

http://www.jimmysomerville.co.uk


PET SHOP BOYS Go West (1993)

Performed at The Hacienda in 1991, ‘Go West’ had been due to be released in Christmas 1992, but PET SHOP BOYS bottled it when it was pointed out a VILLAGE PEOPLE cover would look like the duo were aping ERASURE’s ‘Abba-esque’.  ‘Go West’ was based on Pachebel’s ‘Canon’ and its elegiac quality was particularly poignant with AIDS still very much in the news at the time. Meanwhile the ‘Oklahoma’ male choir styled key change gave the song a lift that was never apparent in the original.

Available on the album ‘Pop Art’ via EMI Records

http://www.petshopboys.co.uk


CAMOUFLAGE Bad News (1995)

Written by Moon Martin, an American rock artist who also wrote ‘Bad Case Of Loving You (Doctor, Doctor)’ which was covered by Robert Palmer, ‘Bad News’ with its metronomic core had been popular in German new wave clubs, which was how CAMOUFLAGE came to hear it. Given a pacey Eurodance treatment that was very much of its time, it also mixed in twangy ‘Pulp Fiction’ surf guitar elements alongside the trancey electronics for an unusual but successful hybrid of styles.

Available on the album ‘The Singles’ via Polydor Records

http://www.camouflage-music.com/en/News


DUBSTAR Not So Manic Now (1995)

DUBSTAR No so manic nowOriginally a little known song by Wakefield indie band BRICK SUPPLY, DUBSTAR made ‘Not So Manic Now’ their own with the Northern lass earthiness of Sarah Blackwood providing the chilling commentary of an attack on a helpless pensioner. Stephen Hague’s wonderful production fused programmed electronics with guitars and cello in fine fashion, while the incessant programmed rhythms drove the song along without being obtrusive to the horrifying story.

Available on the album ‘Disgraceful’ via Food Records

http://dubstarofficial.co/


Text by Chi Ming Lai with thanks to Ian Ferguson
21st December 2017

A Short Conversation with MARTYN WARE

Synth trailblazers HEAVEN 17 recently won the title of ‘Sheffield’s Greatest Band of All Time’ following a public online poll conducted by local newspaper The Star.

Despite competition from DEF LEPPARD, THE HUMAN LEAGUE, ABC and ARCTIC MONKEYS, the combo founded by Martyn Ware, Ian Craig Marsh and Glenn Gregory hung on to come out victorious.

Although Marsh left the fold in 2007, HEAVEN 17 are still going strong 35 years on from the release of their debut album ‘Penthouse & Pavement’. Ware and Gregory will commemorate the occasion this October with a concert tour featuring a new electronic version of the acclaimed long player.

HEAVEN 17 initially began as a pop subsidiary of BEF, the production umbrella of Martyn Ware; he would go on to release an ambitious three volume series of technologically enhanced covers albums with guest vocalists.

h17_ware_turnerEntitled ‘Music Of Quality & Distinction’, each featured assorted favourites from Ware’s own record collection with the 1981 ‘Volume 1’ reinterpretation of ‘Ball Of Confusion’ sung by Tina Turner effectively reviving the career of The Soul Queen.

As a special treat for this 2016 tour, there will be a BEF live set in the second half of the show. Among the guest singers will be ‘Miss Beehive’ Mari Wilson, SEX PISTOLS’ Glen Matlock and Peter Hooton from THE FARM, while Glenn Gregory will also indulge in a cover or two.

In the middle of rehearsals for assorted HEAVEN 17 and BEF shows in the lead-up to the tour, Martyn Ware kindly took time out for an enlightening chat with TEC about a variety of topics including new HEAVEN 17 material, DAVID BOWIE, the pros and cons of crowdfunding plus how the major record labels are still up to their old tricks, despite (or because of) changes in the marketplace…

h17You’ve promised a new electronic version of ‘Penthouse & Pavement’ for this tour. What style are you going for?

We’ve been doing new versions of stuff from ‘Penthouse & Pavement’ for a while. The last time we did it in 2010 was with a full band, so as much for economic reasons as anything, we are doing it with a more stripped down electronic format.

So we’ve tried to reapproach a few of the songs in the style of the new stuff we’re writing and it will be a unique insight into where we are at the moment, kinda retro-futurist…

You said 2013 was the last BEF show, but the brand was revived and you came back at Rewind in 2015. What prompted the change of heart?

Rewind approached me and I said “over my dead body” because it was a pain in the neck organising it all. With all the artists that would be involved, I didn’t think we could make it work financially. But Rewind very kindly said “we’ll make it worth your while” so I had a change of heart. The last BEF shows in 2011 and 2013 made no money and whilst I love contributing toward the cultural health of the country, I’m not so keen on doing it at my own expense. So the change of heart was down to economics really. The production values of Rewind are very high and I like them, so if I was going to do it, it had to be at the highest level and they delivered.

BEF-Robin+Berenice Scott-2015Having M’s Robin Scott perform alongside his daughter Berenice, who is in the HEAVEN 17 / BEF live band, must have been a special moment?

It was amazing, what a lovely man! It was a very strange thing because it was the first time he’d performed ‘Pop Muzik’ since the 80s and its one of our all-time favourite pop songs, it’s almost the perfect pop song to be honest; we were very honoured to have Robin doing it. In the latest BEF show, Glenn is singing it.

So how did BEF end up being part of this upcoming tour?

Our agent Jack Gray, who is also our manager, asked if we’d like to do a BEF element to this year’s tour and I said I’d rather just do a HEAVEN 17 tour. He said the promoter was very keen to do it, but I wondered how we could make it work. Jack asked some people, did the sums and this is where we’re at.

Will there any BEF guests that will be specific to each night on the tour?

The nature of the tour is a specific production and won’t really mix with a support act, the BEF element will be provided by Glen Matlock, Peter Hooton and Mari Wilson. But there’s a little bit of flexibility, so we can potentially have an additional guest singer at some of the venues.

H17-pray‘Pray’ has been an extremely well-received new HEAVEN 17 track. Can you tell me about its genesis?

We started off with doing something that was reminiscent of early HUMAN LEAGUE and wanted the beginning to sound like it could conceivably come off ‘Reproduction’ or ‘Travelogue’ instrumentally. Meanwhile, the lyrical content emerged from what was on our minds… like with ‘Five Minutes To Midnight’ on ‘How Men Are’, we were obsessed with cruise missiles and us all getting blown to smithereens.

So with ‘Pray’, conceptually it was about politics in the broadest sense of the word, but specifically feeling lost and hoping that something better is going to come along.

The second half of ‘Pray’ reminds me of ‘Young Americans’ era Bowie, particularly ‘Fascination’…

Yes, that was deliberate…

davidbowie-martynware-chattingRecent events must have brought to mind when DAVID BOWIE came to see THE HUMAN LEAGUE play at The Nashville and chatted to you afterwards?

Yes, he’s been like a spirit that’s guided me.

In the wake of his demise, I put together an idea for a Bowie exhibition which I’ve since presented to The V&A and The Barbican.

It seems to have stalled a bit, but the idea is to have an exhibition based around the meaning of Bowie’s lyrics and his work in general called ‘Bowie Decoded’. The one failing as far as I could tell about the V&A show ‘David Bowie Is…’ was it was a bit shallow in some respects. It didn’t go into what I regard to be the conceptual depth of Bowie at all, it was all about the artefacts.

So I thought somebody, somewhere should do one about what Bowie means to people and how deep that connection is. Everyone has their own personal journey because Bowie left so much room for interpretation. His ideas, philosophy and artistic intention were so strong that he has been a constant presence in my life and I thought that could be articulated. So I put together a team of people who do interaction and physical exhibition work.

One of the key ideas was to create an online presence both on an app and the web where we could create a database of crowdsourced meaning for his lyrics, so making people empowered to contribute their interpretation of his songs. I don’t think it’s been done before. It would be combined together with a traditional exhibition that would tour, but there would be mechanisms for people to leave their thoughts. These things take time… The Barbican for example plans 2-3 years in advance anyway, but I’m hoping to restart this again.

‘Life On Mars’ occasionally is part of a HEAVEN 17 encore. You’re no stranger to Bowie related covers. Any more you’d like to attempt, either as HEAVEN 17 or BEF?

That’s a good question. At the recent BEF performances at Rewind, we’ve done ‘Ashes To Ashes’ with Peter Coyle from THE LOTUS EATERS singing. I’m so proud of it, it’s the best cover version we’ve ever arranged.

I honestly think if Bowie had been in the audience, he’d have loved it. We love it so much, I think we’ll do it as part of the BEF show on this tour.

With Glenn busy with HOLY HOLY and you working on the 3D commissions etc, it must be a challenge to get any new HEAVEN 17 material recorded?

Yeah, to put it bluntly! We’re never in the same place at the same time. Ideas and creativity are not an issue. We’ve recorded the next single after this one that we’re going sell on the tour. This new single is a AA side 12 inch, one side is called ‘Captured’ and the other side is ‘Unseen’.

They’re coming from the same vein as ‘Pray’, similar kind of sound and vocal palette. It sounds like HEAVEN 17! We’re happy to put our names to them, and there’s a certain kind style emerging, which wasn’t planned. It’s high production values, but incorporating the System 100 sounds together with contemporary stuff. It’s a hybrid of stuff and back to intellectually rigorous lyrics.

h17-martyn-system100Are you going down towards the traditional album route?

This album is just going to be a compilation of all these AA sided 12 inchers essentially, although it might have a bonus track or something.

We like the idea of keeping it to about the same length as a traditional album so it will be around 40 minutes, which means probably 10 tracks.

Both myself and Glenn have gone right off packing out a 70 minute CD for the sake of it. The quality is much more important than quantity. So we’ve got 6 tracks done, we’ve just got another 4 to write… easier said than done though. The ironic thing is though, when we do manage to write and record together, it’s quite quick because we know each other so well and trust each other’s judgement; we just get on with it.

The working title is ‘Not For Public Broadcast’, an ironic take on us not wanting to release it digitally. Actually, Glenn wants to go one step further and ban it from the radio as well, but I don’t think we’re gonna let him do that! *laughs*

Have you considered crowdfunding as an option for the new album?

We looked into this… There’s something about crowdfunding that makes both me and Glenn feel uneasy. The existing companies that do it, it’s not an immoral thing but there’s a fine line between giving fans special stuff, and milking them… if we could do the mechanism ourselves where fans support making the record in return for getting their name on the album, that simple thing could probably work for us.

But it’s this thing about “with this package, you’ll also get a piece of pubic hair and with another one, you get to sleep with the artist!”! I’m not having it… if money ties in a passion for a subject, I don’t really like it! But it’s horses for courses, people can do what they want.

I mean, we are selling VIP tickets on this tour, people get to meet us and have photos… we’d always done that for free in the past, but everybody was saying we were stupid. Because to make ends meet, we need to do this stuff, and that I’m afraid is what we have to do now to cover the cost and expense thing of a tour. That makes me feel a little bit uneasy but if people want to pay it, there’s nothing wrong with that. What I don’t like is getting people on a hook and milking it ‘til they’re dry, it’s not right!

bef_darkThe public generally aren’t aware of the financial traumas artists go through…

I got stung a little bit by the third BEF album… that was a big wake-up call! I put a year of my life on-and-off into doing that and then in the end, there was no money in it at all.

I don’t think I wasted my time because I’m proud of the album, but there’s no money in that stuff anymore. We just have to find another way of releasing stuff from a financial point of view.

As you know, Universal Music now own our back catalogue and I’m not a big fan of them, because of this five album compilation that’s come out. It has the first three albums but also ‘Pleasure One’ and ‘Teddy Bear, Duke & Psycho’ which have been out of print for a few years; so it has some commercial value, albeit limited. We had suggested about doing a proper boxed set including all the later albums as well for a definitive HEAVEN 17 career boxed set, but Universal turned it down saying they couldn’t make any money!

But, they then sent us an email notification, not asking what we thought, but telling us about this five album compilation and actually saying in the email “this is for your information only”, ie this is happening whether you like it or not! And it’s been put out at a price of £12 for FIVE albums! Basically, if something is released as a reduced price compilation or something, under the terms of our old contract, we get paid only 60% of the royalties that are due!

So not only are they charging too low a price for our legacy, we also don’t even get paid the right amount for it! I’m not happy at all! That’s why me or Glenn haven’t been mentioning or publicising this compilation through any of the official channels!

H17 and Martyn's AngelsHow do you think HEAVEN 17 / BEF are covered by the mainstream and independent media now?

I think people are generally very kind to us, but there’s two sides to this. We don’t have a record company so we don’t have any access to resources like press officers.

So everything we do has to come through me and Glenn. We don’t even have anybody working on our social media, me and Glenn don’t have time to service it properly but we do our best. We can’t afford to be spending money on getting lots of mainstream press. We have some very kind people who are willing to do radio promo for virtually nothing, but we feel guilty about not paying them.

So it’s difficult to get stuff in the mainstream press but what we do get is complimentary, as is our coverage online. So I’m very happy with it in general. What’s more important to us is credibility than spreading the word. It’s all about artistic freedom and control over how you’re presented to the public, we are willing to trade large scale commercial success for that.


The Electricity Club gives its warmest thanks to MARTYN WARE

H17+BEF 35th anniversary

HEAVEN 17 + BEF October 2016 tour includes: Liverpool O2 Academy (20th October), Birmingham Town Hall (21st October), Glasgow O2 ABC (23rd October), Gateshead Sage (24th October), Sheffield City Hall (25th October), Manchester O2 Ritz (26th October), Bury St Edmunds Apex (28th October), Basingstoke Anvil (29th October), London Shepherd’s Bush Empire (30th October)

http://www.heaven17.com/

https://www.facebook.com/heaven17official/

https://www.facebook.com/BritishElectricFoundation/


Text and Interview by Chi Ming Lai
Live photos by Chi Ming Lai, Lindon Lait and Richard Price
Other photos courtesy of Martyn Ware
15th August 2016

CLOSE TO THE NOISE FLOOR Formative UK Electronica 1975-1984

CLOSE TO THE NOISE FLOOR artworkTwo years in the making, ‘Close To The Noise Floor’ is a Cherry Red Records compilation which binds together many of the formative roots of UK electronic music.

It mixes up recognised artists such as THE HUMAN LEAGUE, BLANCMANGE, BEF, OMD and THROBBING GRISTLE side-by-side with those that for a variety of reasons, managed to remain in the shadows of obscurity. This compilation makes a worthy companion piece to the ‘Mute Audio Documents’ set which was released back in 2007 and showcases that it wasn’t just Daniel Miller’s Mute label that was championing experimental synthetic music.

The four disc set lovingly curates an era of musical experimentation of artists initially “enthralled by the mysterious electronics of PINK FLOYD, HAWKWIND and German Kosmiche artists” and then went on to evolve into a scene, which would provide the stepping stone for the chart-conquering likes of DEPECHE MODE and GARY NUMAN.

In this 60 song collection, there are a few definite gems hidden here; ‘Tight As A Drum’ by THOMAS LEER is a sparkling piece of electronic music, with KRAFTWERK-ish percussion and a semi-improvised synth solo winding its way throughout.

CLOSE TO THE NOISE FLOOR 4CDs‘Holiday Camp’ by BLANCMANGE which made its re-appearance on the reissued ‘Irene and Mavis’ EP still remains an almost OMD-ish charming lo-fi slice of electronica.

‘I Am Your Shadow’ by the distinctly un-rock’n’roll sounding COLIN POTTER is an out-there electronic reimagining of Dick Dale’s ‘Miserlou’ combined with added lyrics from a stalker’s perspective, whilst ‘D’Ya Think I’m Sexy?’ (yes, that one!) by BRITISH STANDARD UNIT is transformed from its Rod Stewart sleazy / cheesy original into a hilariously dark and twisted piece with deadpan lyrics and menacing electronics.

‘Drugrace’ by THE PASSAGE has some wonderful almost TANGERINE DREAM style synth melodies and ‘(Leaving Me) Now’ by WORLDBACKWARDS is like a long-lost GARY NUMAN track with female vocals and added sampled dialogue.

Disc three of the set changes direction in that it mainly showcases instrumental or more soundscape-oriented electronic pieces. It is here that sees instrumental synthesists MARK SHREEVE (‘Embryo’) and PAUL NAGLE (‘Yns Scaith’) gaining some long overdue recognition – whilst JEAN-MICHEL JARRE, KLAUS SCHULZE and TANGERINE DREAM dominated this genre, it is easy to forget that there was a thriving underground scene in the UK too.

Although as you would expect from a collection of music of this type, a lot of it is (putting it kindly) “challenging”, or if listened to as a teen “back in the day” would have a probably prompted a parental response of “turn that bloody racket down!”.

‘Sedation Strokes’ by MALCOLM BROWN on disc one neatly falls into this particular category with a cyclical bassline overlaid with what sounds like a mix of an elephant being abused and a screaming woman thrown in for good measure.

Unsurprisingly, ‘All Day’ by THROBBING GRISTLE falls into this category too and alongside tracks such as ‘In The Army’ by BLAH BLAH BLAH, these are pieces that are unlikely ever to appear on your typical ‘Now That’s What I Call Synthpop’ compilations any day soon!

However, songs which have since been recognised as classics of the genre also feature (‘Being Boiled’ by THE HUMAN LEAGUE being the most obvious), but thankfully the choices are not always predictable, hence ‘Almost’ by OMD, rather than the ubiquitous ‘Messages’ and an alternative mix of ‘A New Kind of Man’ by JOHN FOXX features instead of ‘Underpass’ or ‘No-One Driving’.

The main feeling you are left with after listening to ‘Close To The Noise Floor’ is how the punk DIY ethic of four track portastudio production and affordable synths, with a probable lack of A&R involvement, became the ultimate glass ceiling for these acts being able to break through to a wider audience and any form of commercial success. ‘Back to the Beginning’ by SPÖÖN FAZER would be a typical case in a point, a potential hit with a killer chorus given a bigger budget and some quality control in the lyrical department… “You want babies with curly hair, well come on, dance if you dare”(!).

The ‘Close To The Noise Floor’ package itself also contains over 9,000 words of artist sleeve notes, archive photographs and extracts from Sounds journalist Dave Henderson’s ‘Wild Planet’ overview of the underground / industrial electronic music scene. Although you may find yourself listening to some of these tracks only once, there is plenty here to give you an appreciation of a wildly experimental and creative era, the likes of which we are unlikely to see again…


‘Close To The Noise Floor’ is released by Cherry Red on 29th April 2016

Details of the full tracklisting and how to pre-order at:
http://www.cherryred.co.uk/product/close-to-the-noise-floor-formative-uk-electronica-1975-1984/

https://www.facebook.com/closetothenoisefloor/


Text by Paul Boddy
23rd April 2016

An Interview with WALL OF SOUND’s Mark Jones

Walls Have Ears…

Mark Jones Portrait Shoot

Photo by Rob Monk

Big corporations may have a stranglehold on the modern music industry, but it’s the genuine music enthusiasts with their independent labels and knowledge of their respected genres who feed it by their intuition to recognise talent.

One of the most successful has been Daniel Miller with Mute Records; his ambition brought DEPECHE MODE, YAZOO, ERASURE, MOBY and GOLDFRAPP to the world.

And in the current climate, there are others too; in Europe, there’s George Geranios whose Undo Records has given us electro delights such as MARSHEAUX, MIKRO, NIKONN and KID MOXIE.

And here in the UK, there has been Mark Jones, impresario of Wall Of Sound Records.

The label began as a collaboration between Jones and Marc Lessner, when Lessner employed Jones at his music distributor Soul Trader. Compilations and club nights followed.

Wall Of Sound turned first PROPELLERHEADS and then RÖYKSOPP into Top 10 album acts while the label also launched the career of Stuart Price aka LES RYTHMES DIGITALES. Belatedly getting a hit single in 2004 with ‘Jacques Your Body (Make Me Sweat)’ following its use in the ‘Transformer’ Citroën C4 TV ad, Stuart Price’s influence on the shape of 21st century popular music cannot be under estimated… read the production credits of albums by MADONNA, THE KILLERS, TAKE THAT and PET SHOP BOYS if you’re unsure!

Comparatively more recently, Wall Of Sound have released albums by GRACE JONES, THE HUMAN LEAGUE and BEF.

As a long-time fan of electronic music, Mark Jones’ success also led him to becoming involved with BBC6 Music under his Back To The Phuture banner, with programmes that have recognised the history of electronic pop. BTTP also hosted the ambitious ‘Tomorrow Is Today’ event featuring GARY NUMAN, JOHN FOXX, MIRRORS and MOTOR in Spring 2011.

With Wall Of Sound now celebrating their 21st Anniversary with a compilation entitled ‘Walls Have Ears – 21 Years of Wall Of Sound’ featuring the label’s highlights and previously unreleased BBC sessions, Mark Jones chatted to The Electricity Club…

MJ +CS01What was the music that inspired you when you were growing up as a teenager, and how did this shape Wall Of Sound as a record label?

OK, well I reacted against what my brother and sister were into, as you do, which was rock and reggae at the time. I was transfixed by electronic music and got my Mum and Dad to get me a Yamaha CS01 from the Grattans catalogue. I painted my bedroom black and sat up there making noises. The sounds and scapes made it all work. I’ve always loved melody too and been hooked on hooks. Some of the music that made me do it…

THE HUMAN LEAGUE – Every single track / album they created from the beginning 🙂

BLONDIE ‘Parallel Lines’ – I was obsessed with the band and Debbie Harry as a teen.

THE NORMAL ‘TVOD’- Electroid post-punk that inspired me to make the first ever Wall Of Sound single, as Daniel Miller did with this and Mute Records.

DEPECHE MODE ‘Just Can’t Get Enough’ – The first synth riff I learnt and still is with me every minute of every day, I followed them around Germany in 1983 🙂

STEELY DAN ‘Do It Again’ – The band that brought all the Wall Of Sound artists together bizarrely.

The label’s first Top 20 single was ‘History Repeating’ in 1997 with PROPELLERHEADS and SHIRLEY BASSEY. It was quite an eccentric idea although in many ways, it was an obvious one given the duo’s interest in Bond themes. Whose idea was it to bring in her in?

Well, we had talked about getting vocalists and the idea was rinsed out in the very early hours in some dodgy Belgian hotel. Alex Gifford and myself were both a bit obsessed with getting her on the track. Alex had recorded a basic vocal through a pitch shifter and it sounded more like BILLIE HOLIDAY than SHIRLEY BASSEY. We then pitched it to Shirley’s management and she was digging it in very first listen… the rest is history… repeating.

les-rythmes-digitales-darkdancerWhat was the reaction like during the climax of Britpop and chart dominance by tedious bores like TRAVIS and STEREOPHONICS to Wall Of Sound’s release of an electropop album like LES RYTHMES DIGITALES ‘Darkdancer’ in 1999?

Oooooooooh! Well, I’ve said this before, but I did get hate mail and death threats when we got ‘Darkdancer’ out there. Some peeps really didn’t get it at that time as they saw the 80s as an enemy. Literally!

How did you discover Stuart Price aka Jacques Lu Cont aka LES RYTHMES DIGITALES? And what’s it been like watching him rise to working with MADONNA and literally becoming the top record producer in the world?

He bunked off school and came to see me at Soul Trader with Adam Blake as they had the band ZOOT WOMAN who I listened to and loved. I signed them up and released them, it was the fifth ever single on the label. He then informed me he had some ‘other music’ which was his school music exam and played it to me; that was ‘Liberator’. We then created LES RYTHMES DIGITALES and Jacques Lu Cont, as I said he couldn’t be the same person and the French thing was buzzing. ‘Darkdancer’ really stands the tests of time.

He is one of, if not, my proudest signing ever to the label. Seeing him elevate to being one of the world’s leading producers, and working with the world’s leading artists is something that I am very proud of.

Is it true that you first approached Phil Oakey about singing on LES RYTHMES DIGITALES’ song ‘Sometimes’ which was eventually sung by NIK KERSHAW?

I don’t remember that, but I probably did 🙂

‘Dare’ was the album that changed Stuart’s life as he was pretty much listening to classical music before that apparently!

The sublime ‘Melody AM’ by RÖYKSOPP was a really important album for Wall Of Sound. How did you find them and what makes them so magically consistent?

RÖYKSOPP have never compromised their artistic integrity, and they never will. ‘Melody AM’ is the biggest selling album in the label’s history. They are who they are, and not someone else. They featured on a Norwegian compilation and we found them there. I flew over to see them and we made things happen.

MJ + CredoHow do you look back on signing THE HUMAN LEAGUE and the resultant album ‘Credo’?

Well, they say “Never work with your heroes!” but I thought “F*** that!”; so when the opportunity arose to give them the bounceboard and platform that they needed, I couldn’t say no! The band made me do what I do. ‘Credo’ is a great album and was loved by everyone that actually heard it. The band were / are great to work with.

Of course, you released BEF’s ‘Music Of Quality & Distinction Volume 3 – Dark’, continuing the association with HUMAN LEAGUE co-founder Martyn Ware. Would you be interested in releasing the new HEAVEN 17 album?

Yes! BEF ‘Music Of Quality & Distinction 3: Dark’ had some amazing guest vocalists. Martyn Ware is another inspiring artist who creates magical moments in music. A new HEAVEN 17 album would be great to hear.

Photo by Richard Price

Photo by Richard Price

You were a big fan of synth band MIRRORS, although they were on Skint Records and sadly didn’t breakthrough. What would you have done different with them if they had been signed to Wall Of Sound?

Yep, I loved MIRRORS. I’m not clear on what exactly happened though, I assumed the band split up so there was nothing the label could do. You have to understand exactly who a band are and what they want to achieve to make things happen.

You’ve been very critical of the ‘X Factor’ dominance on the music industry. But what are your thoughts on the more generic EDM that’s sweeping the US?

*adopts American accent* EDM?? It’s brand new, right ? 🙂

With EDM, the penny has dropped and the pills have dropped. Hopefully, they will be asking “where did this music come from?” sometime soon…

They need music in a ‘box / brand’ over there but hey, it’s finally happened and broken through. It is crazy. I’ve said this a few times too… when I first took music from the label over to the USA, most peeps I played it to said (*readopts American accent *) “This is not music! This is not ‘real’ music” because it didn’t have a ‘real’ instruments on it.

Then when we did PROPELLERHEADS and more, they were like (*American accent*) “Wait… is that a guitar?? Is that drums?? This is real music now!”; they had a bump there. Never played on daytime radio but it did well and connected to people.

wall of sound logoWhat’s been your highlight with Wall Of Sound after 21 years?

Still being here… but it was apparently always my goal to get to this point. In every interview I did back in the crazy days when journalists asked “Why are you doing this?”, I answered “Cos I’m going to get to 20 years… and stick it up your ar*e!”

I am proud of all of the music that I have released on the label, and giving artists the platform to do what they do and be themselves.

What new electronic acts do you rate at the moment?

All the acts on the label obviously… but there are a few others 🙂

CHVRCHES
DENIS THE NIGHT & THE PANIC PARTY
MARSHEAUX

What’s next for Wall Of Sound?

A new RÖYKSOPP single…

EKKOES – like HURTS meets THE HUMAN LEAGUE

KILLSFLAW – THE CHEMICAL BROTHERS vs LED ZEPPELIN… rock ‘n’ rave or as I am calling it in the USA… RDM! (Rocktronic Dance Music) 🙂

KIDS ON BRIDGES – the album ‘Kidology’ is out there. They combine electronics and guitars
in a cool way too

PERFECT DAY – pop vs rock (prock), they are amazing 😉

There are some very new artists that I cannot announce at momento, as contracts not signed and someone will probably steal them!

MJ + Fletch 1984Will Back To The Phuture ever return and would you be interested putting on another event like ‘Tomorrow Is Today’ featuring GARY NUMAN, JOHN FOXX, MIRRORS and MOTOR? If so, who would be the fantasy line-up?

Well, I’ve been focussing on the Wall of Sound fanniversary, the ‘Walls Have Ears’ compilation release and more.

But yes, Back To The Phuture will be returning, so many peeps have been asking me about it too. It looks like there will be some residencies around the world and more. There are too many phantasy line ups for me 🙂

Where do I start? BTTP places classic artists with new artists rather than being too retro-minded to. I have some cool ideas, but don’t want to mention them as they will deffo get borrowed. Phantasy line-ups… here are some that explore different electronic genres…

Line-up 1

THE HUMAN LEAGUE
HEAVEN 17
EKKOES

Line-up 2

KRAFTWERK
BBC RADIOPHONIC WORKSHOP
PUBLIC SERVICE BROADCASTING

Line-up 3

DEPECHE MODE
CABARET VOLTAIRE
THE NORMAL

Line-up 4

GIORGIO MORODER
JEAN MICHEL JARRE
CERRONE
YELLO


WOS_WallHaveEars_PRESS_COVERThe Electricity Club gives its warmest thanks to Mark Jones

‘Walls Have Ears – 21 Years of Wall of Sound’ is released as a double CD and digital download by Wall Of Sound through PIAS

http://www.wallofsound.net

https://twitter.com/WallofSoundUK

http://www.backtothephuture.net/


Text and Interview by Chi Ming Lai
Photos courtesy of Mark Jones except where credited
17th April 2015

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