From Cherry Red Records, the makers of the ‘Close To The Noise Floor’ trilogy showcasing formative and experimental electronic music from the UK, Europe and North America, comes their most accessible electronic collection yet.
Subtitled ‘Independent British Synth Pop 78-84’, ‘Electrical Language’ is a lavish 4CD 80 track boxed set covering the post-punk period when all that synthesizer experimentation and noise terrorism morphed into pop.
Largely eschewing the guitar and the drum kit, this was a fresh movement which sprung from a generation haunted by the spectre of the Cold War, Mutually Assured Destruction and closer to home, the Winter of Discontent.
As exemplified by known names like THE HUMAN LEAGUE, FAD GADGET, SECTION 25 and BLUE ZOO included in the set to draw in the more cautious consumer, this was pop in a very loose manner with melodies, riffs and danceable rhythms but hardly the stuff of ABBA or THE BEE GEES!
‘Red Frame/White Light’ by OMD was a chirpy ditty about the 632 3003 phone box which the band used as their office, while THOMAS DOLBY’s ‘Windpower’ was a rallying call for renewable energy sources. Then there was the dystopian ‘Warm Leatherette’ by THE NORMAL based around two noisy notes and lyrically based on JG Ballard’s ‘Crash’ with its story around car collision symphorophilia.
While those acts’ stories have been rightly celebrated for putting the electronic avant pop art form into the mainstream, with any truly great compilation or collection, the joy is in finding the lesser known jewels.
Made primarily by the idealistic outsiders and independent experimenters from the lesser known side of Synth Britannia, ‘Electrical Language’ has plenty of synthetic material to rediscover or hear for the first time. Indeed, the more appealing tracks appear to fall into three categories; forgotten songs that should have been hits, oddball cover versions and largely unknown archive wonders.
Those forgotten gems include the exotic ‘Electrical Language’ title track by BE BOP DELUXE, documenting the moment Bill Nelson went electro. His production on the gloriously emotive ‘Feels Like Winter Again’ by FIAT LUX is another welcome inclusion to the set.
But the two best tracks on ‘Electrical Language’ are coincidentally spoken word; ‘Touch’ by LORI & THE CHAMELEONS about a girl’s Japanese holiday romance is as enchanting and delightful as ever, while there is also THROBBING GRISTLE refugees CHRIS & COSEY’s wispy celebration of Autumnal neu romance ‘October (Love Song)’, later covered in the 21st Century in pure Hellectro style by MARSHEAUX.
Merseyside has always been a centre for creativity and this included synthpop back in the day. ‘I’m Thinking Of You Now’ from BOX OF TOYS was a superb angsty reflection of young manhood that included an oboe inflected twist which was released on the Inevitable label in 1983. From that same stable, FREEZE FRAME are represented by the atmospheric pop of ‘Your Voice’
Jayne Casey was considered the face of Liverpool post-punk fronting BIG IN JAPAN and PINK MILITARY; the lo-fi electronic offshoot PINK INDUSTRY released three albums but the superb ‘Taddy Up’ with its machine backbone to contrast the ethereal combination of voice and synths lay in the vaults until 2008 and is a welcome inclusion. The ‘other’ Wirral synth duo of note were DALEK I LOVE YOU whose ‘The World’ from 1980 remains eccentric and retro-futuristic.
Scotland was in on the action too despite many local musicians preferring THE BYRDS and STEELY DAN; although both ‘Mr Nobody’ from THOMAS LEER and ‘Time’ by PAUL HAIG were detached and electronic, they vocally expressed minor levels of Trans-Atlantic soul lilt compared with the more deadpan styles of the majority gathered on ‘Electrical Language’.
Under rated acts form a core of ‘Electrical Language’ and while THE MOBILES’ ‘Drowning In Berlin’ may have come across like a ‘Not The Nine O’Clock News’ New Romantic parody on first listen, its decaying Mittel Europa grandeur was infectious like Hazel O’Connor reinterpreting ‘Vienna’ with The Master of Ceremonies at the Kit Kat Klub in 3/4 time!
NEW MUSIK’s ‘The Planet Doesn’t Mind’ probably would have gone Top 20 if had been done by HOWARD JONES, although band leader Tony Mansfield had the last laugh when he later became a producer working with the likes of A-HA and NAKED EYES. The brassy arty synthpop of ‘XOYO’ from Dick Witts’ THE PASSAGE was immensely catchy with riffs galore, while POEME ELECTRONIQUE’s ‘She’s An Image’ offered stark European electro-cabaret.
Cut from a similar cloth, one-time ULTRAVOX support act EDDIE & SUNSHINE inventively (and some would say pretentiously) presented a Living TV art concept but they also possessed a few good songs. The quirkily charming ‘There’s Someone Following Me’ deserved greater recognition back in the day and its later single version was remixed by one Hans Zimmer.
Meanwhile, the 4AD label could always be counted on more esoteric output and COLOURBOX’s ‘Tarantula’ was from that lineage, but then a few years later perhaps unexpectedly, they became the instigators of M/A/R/R/S ‘Pump Up the Volume’.
These days, modern synth artists think it is something an achievement to cover a synthpop classic, although it is rather pointless. But back in the day, as there were not really that many synthpop numbers to cover, the rock ‘n’ roll songbook was mined as a kind of post-modern statement. The synth was seen as the ultimate anti-institution instrument and the cover versions included on ‘Electrical Language’ are out-of-the-box and original, if not entirely successful.
Take TECHNO POP’s reinterpretation of ‘Paint It Black’ which comes over like Sci-Fi Arthur Brown while the brilliant ‘My Coo Ca Choo’ by BEASTS IN CAGES (which features half of HARD CORPS) is like PJ Proby with his characteristic pub singer warble fronting SILICON TEENS with a proto-GOLDFRAPP stomp.
Having contributed a T-REX cover for the ‘Some Bizzare Album’, THE FAST SET recorded another. Whereas ‘King Of The Rumbling Spires’ on the former was frantic electro-punk, ‘Children Of The Revolution’ is far more sombre and almost funereal. Least desirable of the covers though is ‘Happy Xmas (War Is Over)’ by HYBRID KIDS.
Of the obscurities worth checking out, the rousing standout is ‘Lying Next To You’ by Liverpool’s PASSION POLKA. A brilliant track akin to CHINA CRISIS ‘Working With Fire & Steel’ but with more synths and drum machine, it was recorded in 1983 but never actually saw the light of day until 2011 via a belated release on Anna Logue Records.
Delightfully odd, the VL Tone and organ infused ‘Bandwagon Tango’ from TESTCARD F is swathed with metallic rattles and possesses a suitably mechanical detachment. But with piercing pipey sounds and a hypnotic sequence, the metronomic ‘Destitution’ by cult minimal wavers CAMERA OBSCURA with its off key voice is one of the better productions of that type. Cut from a similar cloth, the perky ‘Videomatic’ by FINAL PROGRAM throws in some lovely string synths to close.
Swirlingly driven by Linn and her sisters, ‘Baby Won’t Phone’ by QUADRASCOPE comes from the Vince Clarke school of song with not only a great vocal, but also the surprise of a guitar solo in the vein of ECHO & THE BUNNYMEN!
‘The Secret Affair’ from JUPITER RED is a great ethereal midtempo synthpop song also using a Linn, while ‘Surface Tension’ from ANALYSIS is an appealing club friendly instrumental that was largely the work of the late Martin Lloyd who later was part of OPPENHEIMER ANALYSIS.
Produced by Daniel Miller, ALAN BURNHAM’s ‘Science Fiction’ from 1981 takes a leaf out of DALEK I LOVE YOU, while tightly sequenced and bursting with white noise in the intro, ‘Feel So Young’ by LAUGH CLOWN LAUGH has bubbling potential but is spoiled by some terribly flat vocals.
One of the weirder tracks is ELECTRONIC ENSEMBLE’s filmic ‘It Happened Then’ which recalls Parisian art rockers ROCKETS; backed by a brilliant ensemble of synths, it sees the return of the cosmic voice from Sparky’s Magic Piano and remember in that story, it could play all by itself!
Of course, other tracks are available and may suit more leftfield tastes… packaged as a lavish hardback book, there are extensive sleeve notes including artist commentaries, archive photos and an introductory essay by journalist Dave Henderson who cut his teeth with ‘Noise’, a short-lived ‘Smash Hits’ rival that featured a regular ‘Electrobop’ column covering the latest developments in synth.
While worthy, the ‘Close To The Noise Floor’ trilogy could at times be very challenging, but ‘Electrical Language’ provides some accessible balance, allowing tunes and beats in. It captures an important developmental phase in music, when technology got more sophisticated, cheaper and user friendly, that can be directly connected to ‘Pump Up the Volume’. Yes, this story is the unlikely seed of the later dance revolution, like it or not! And at just less than twenty five quid, this really is an essential purchase.
The one thing that Rusty Egan is not short of is something to say…
It makes him the most ideal guest for talk events and ‘An Audience with Rusty Egan’ returns to London this June for a fun couple of hours in the animated company of The Blitz Club DJ and VISAGE drummer.
Loud and frank, not always subtle and occasionally angry, but always interesting and lively, his anecdotes combine laughter, tears and a vivid eye-witness account of his role as a catalyst in popular culture over the past four decades.
The Electricity Club had originally met up Rusty Egan for what was intended to be a 10 minute chat to obtain quotes for a mooted Beginner’s Guide listings article but one hour later, the interview ended and only because he had a soundcheck to do for a DJ slot at Blow Up.
The resultant career spanning conversation over several cups of tea was far too enthusiastic, amusing and informative not to make public, so this is Rusty talking, with only a few edits to stop him from going to jail…
How did VISAGE come together in 1978?
Midge Ure and I had some demo time left over after THE RICH KIDS’ demise and EMI let us have Manchester Square Studios.
We got Barry Adamson and Dave Formula from MAGAZINE, Midge and me in, during that time we did ’If You Want Me To Stay’, ‘In The Year 2525’, ‘The Dancer’ and ‘Eve Of Destruction’, I can’t remember much about that last one as I wasn’t a fan, it was something Steve Strange wanted.
Photo by Sheila Rock
So ‘In The Year 2525’ and ‘The Dancer’ were among the first VISAGE recordings?
We did ‘In The Year 2525’ in half a day, but it was an example of the future sound of London you could call it, it was an example of what we wanted to do, as was ‘The Dancer’; these were demos for what became VISAGE but were turned down by EMI! ‘In The Year 2525’ was just me and Midge with him doing vocals and vocoder.
We were keeping it simple and all that but it was heavily influenced by KRAFTWERK. I had my CR78 Compurhythm and drum triggering while there was that Morse codey type intro. I loved it and I think still sounds great today, although some people hate it!
‘The Dancer’ was obviously influenced by NEU! as you can hear from my drums and a little bit of ‘One Of These Days’ by PINK FLOYD, we wanted that “sccchhiiiing!” and that was one of our trademarks. As Midge was doing guitar and John McGeoch played the sax.
How come ‘If You Want Me To Stay’ was made during those early VISAGE sessions with Ronny singing it?
I met Ronny in Paris, she was very androgynous and she had a low voice so people were going “is it a boy, is it a girl?”. I had this song in mind, Barry Adamson absolutely loved Sly Stone and at the time, we were being VISAGE. We knocked out as much as we could, as fast as we could.
I adored that record and we had an instrumental flipside. It had a lounge type concept like ‘Cracked Actor’; we literally played it live, got it going and pressed record. I bought the Swan Vestas to have the sound of the cigarette match burning.
Ronny later met Warren Cann who then introduced her to Hans Zimmer who he was working with in HELDEN at the time. Then through them, she met Vangelis and then Peter Godwin, so her whole creative life opened up. We remained friends and I’d often see her in clubs but as far as recording went, she was doing her own thing.
You spent a period playing drums with THE SKIDS in 1979?
There’s a hell of a lot of intricate drumming on THE SKIDS, when you talk about the NEU! drumming, I was trying to be a Motorik drummer. So on ‘Charade’, I got this CR78 drum machine banging away and the producer Bill Nelson, who did a great track called ‘Living In My Limousine’, he loved working with them.
So you influenced Bill Nelson’s later use of drum machines in his work?
Yes, I worked quite closely with him on the production of ‘Days In Europa’ at Rockfield Studios in Wales.
DALEK I LOVE YOU were in the next studio, I lent them my drum machine. Funnily enough at the same time, SIMPLE MINDS were in the rehearsal room there! So I’m stuck in Wales and going “Who’s here? Oh SIMPLE MINDS in the farmhouse!”, so we all got to hang out with each other as there was nothing else to do on a farm.
Want to know why the album is called ‘Days In Europa’? THE SKIDS had a hit in Germany and we were on a TV show called ‘Scene 79’ in Munich… it always happens to me but they only had one drum kit in the studio! It’s a live mimed show, MOTORHEAD were on before us and Philthy Animal Taylor wanted ALL the drums.
So I’m waiting for the kit to be moved from MOTORHEAD’s stage and the announcer goes “Und jetzt DER SKIDS!”… I’ve not even got my f***ing drum kit and I’m standing there like “great!”, the track’s already started and the roadies are bringing me the kit but it’s a live show! *laughs*
You got involved with the New Romantic mime troupe SHOCK and recorded a cover of ‘Angel Face’ backed with ‘R.E.R.B.’ for their first single in 1980?
When VISAGE was recording demos etc, I found out Midge had a professional relationship with some 70s pop writers Bill Martin and Phil Coulter who were involved with SLIK, the bottom line is this led him to know John Hudson who worked with THE GLITTER BAND and owned Mayfair Studios. I thought “Brilliant, I don’t have to go to Wales”
We sat in the control room talking, I loved THE HUMAN LEAGUE’s cover of ‘Rock ‘N’ Roll’ and said I wanted a sound like that clap, so John went round the back and got these two floorboards with some door handles and clapped them together, that’s how they the claps did those records! I said I’d like to do this sound but with computers and triggered drums.
I said I could make a track with this trademark sound but without physically playing anything. So I told him I knew this bloke called Richard Burgess who had been doing the linking interludes on the VISAGE album and had that massive Roland System 700 modular with the Micro-composer. Richard had a Fairlight as well, he seemed to be able to get access to all this stuff via the tech companies.
Basically Richard was my tech guy, he’d got hold of Dave Simmons and got me a deal on only the brain of the synthesized drum system they were working on, cos they hadn’t got the pads as they hadn’t been made yet. He said I could trigger them which is how I got the drum fills on ‘R.E.R.B.’
So basically, doing ‘Angel Face’ was the catalyst for ‘R.E.R.B.’?
We programmed the whole thing to do a cover of ‘Angel Face’ first at Mayfair and John Hudson said “You know I can get hold of Gerry Shephard who wrote the song”, so he came along and helped us with the backing vocals… and the lead vocals! *laughs*
Meanwhile, Robert Pereno from SHOCK did ‘Top Of The Pops’ as a member of TIGHT FIT for that ‘Back To The 60s’ medley before ‘The Lion Sleeps Tonight’!
You know that Tim Friese-Greene produced ‘The Lion Sleeps Tonight’ and it was when Mark Hollis heard that, he got him to work with TALK TALK?
REALLY? Well, the sound of that was amazing! Anyway I haven’t finished!! *laughs*
So we’re talking about SHOCK, and “R.E.” Rusty Egan and “R.B.” Richard Burgess… so we had this 7 inch and 12 inch record of ‘Angel Face’ done, John went to RCA and said they loved it and would put it out, but we needed a B-side. So I quickly threw up ‘Angel Face’ and took off all the vocals and things, me and Richard sat at the piano to do that “da-da-dah” theme. I wanted to call it ‘The Red Bridge’ because it was in Luxembourg and has the most beautiful view, I had been there with Brigitte who was the girl’s voice on ‘Fade To Grey’, I wanted to get this feeling of European grandeur but we ran out of time to do any words. So ‘R.E.R.B.’ came out of ‘Angel Face’.
Now if you go back to THE SKIDS, on the album track ‘Animation’, the closing track of ‘Days Of Europa’ is ‘Animation’ backwards, but with the drums put forwards while Stuart Adamson and Richard Jobson wrote another song over it, but it was the basically same backing track. So I had this idea that you could do music over another one, so that’s what we did on ‘R.E.R.B’ with a new melody and those signature drums.
Your first remix was ‘ Burundi Black’…
It was 1980 and I’m DJing in a club. I knew Marco Pirroni from ADAM & THE ANTS and they dropped this record ‘Kings Of The Wild Frontier’ and I knew it was the Burundi drums. So I said to my then partner Jean-Philippe Iliesco who produced SPACE about wanting to get hold of it and he said he knew Eddie Barclay of Barclay Records who had released it; so he called him and got the multi-tracks for me. I just wanted the drums on their own with the tribe and no music, then I added a drum machine and some playing, I wanted this tribal feel and the future together.
I don’t believe I did a great job on that to be honest… it’s funny but recently Mark Reeder released an album ‘Mauerstadt’ and as I was listening to it, I noticed one track ‘Giant Mushrooms’ was like that, I heard the Burundi sample and loved it. I mentioned it to Mark and said “Oh, you sampled Burundi” but he replied he’d sampled someone who’d sampled Burundi! *laughs*
And that’s the world of sampling now! I might come back to that you know, I’ve got an idea based on what you can do today.
Let’s talk about ‘Yellow Pearl’…
If I’m not mistaken, ‘Yellow Pearl’ was a track that Midge was working on for the VISAGE album but hadn’t got past the drum machine stage. But I had done the break in a rehearsal room somewhere with him that lodged in his head.
After Midge did the THIN LIZZY tour, Phil Lynott came to The Blitz Club and heard the sounds there so when he was doing his solo album, he said he wanted me in on the drums. I did a few songs like ‘Kathleen’ which were very normal. Then I got this call back from Midge that Phil wanted me to do ‘Yellow Pearl’ and use that break. So I said “yeah”, turned up and I did that. Then Midge’s manager showed up with a single piece of paper and asked me to sign my life away so I did, then it got on ‘Top Of The Pops’ as the theme and I was a bit p*ssed off because I’d signed my life away!
SPACE are most famous for ‘Magic Fly’ and you did a remix of a later single ‘Tender Force’…
When I get a remix, I don’t necessarily want to put Rusty all over it, I just like something a lot and I feel that I can shine a light on it.
If you get a song which you like that didn’t make it, sometimes a remix can bring people’s attention to the original and people go “I heard this version by Rusty which I didn’t like, but then I found the original”. So I did timbale drumming cos when you’re a drummer, why don’t you do some drums?
SPACE introduced me to Didier Marouani and Jannick Top who were exceptional musicians, I thought these guys were amazing. Through them, I got on really well with Roland Romanelli and I programmed everything on his solo album ‘Connecting Flight’ which was very pioneering.
So what was ‘Do What Ya Wanna Do’ by THE CAGE featuring Nona Hendryx all about?
I’d got myself a TR808 by now, I had this beat and sequence to make people dance so I’m playing around with it and thought “why don’t I do T-CONNECTION but totally electro?”, it could sound like ‘I Feel Love’. I called up Gary Barnacle who played with SOFT CELL, he brought his bass playing brother Steve and we had this little Casio out for the break, there’s this 64 bar build with the percussion before I smash a light bulb, it was literally hitting fire extinguishers, bashing everything. It was great, I was grabbing everything in the studio, bits of wood…
Through my trips to New York, I’d known Nona Hendryx was session singing having been in LABELLE who did ‘Lady Marmalade’. So Vicki Wickham who managed Dusty Springfield and Nona suggested having her on the track. It was this time that I met producer John Luongo who had remixed THE JACKSONS, so it was all about dance music for me as The Camden Palace was about to open and had the biggest sound system in the world.
The final classic VISAGE track ‘I’m Still Searching’ was moody but still very New York…
It was actually just me and Steve, mostly me although I did credit the other members of VISAGE because at the time, I didn’t believe we had split up, the fact that they weren’t there was irrelevant. VISAGE was always about a group of people where some show up and some can’t like John McGeoch, but he was still a member. So we had to do a B-side…
It’s unusual in that it was a VISAGE B-side that had a vocal…
Yeah, it was just one finger on the synth…
It sounded a bit like PET SHOP BOYS…
I’d never heard of PET SHOP BOYS back then in 1982…
Well that’s cos they didn’t exist at the time! *laughs*
Ok, so what’s the story about your UK remix of MADONNA’s ‘Everybody’?
I’ve been recently linking and tweeting over the years about how upset I am about this, but the reason I’m upset is based on my knowledge of Blockchain and how in the future, musicians will ALL be paid, there will be none of this not paying people and all the b*llocks that the music industry loves…
So the bottom line is we did a verbal agreement in New York that I would remix the track for Warner Bros that needed a British introduction. Basically at the time, you could make it easier in England than you could in America.
Was this a thing you sorted with Seymour Stein of Sire Records who were part of the Warners set-up?
Yes, I did a lot with Seymour, I gave him SOFT CELL whose publishing I looked after, B-MOVIE, the ‘Batcave: Young Limbs And Numb Hymns’ compilation album, we did a lot.
Everything was agreed and we put her on at The Haçienda in Manchester, that would introduce her to ‘cool’ England, the tune would be cool and I think it did the job, the press were all over it. I think I did a great mix and you can find it online. If you go to madonna.com there is information on it even though it’s not credited “Rusty Egan”, it says “UK mix” but that IS the Rusty Egan mix. I only played my mix at The Camden Palace, all the time…
So what did you do specifically on your mix that was different to make it more UK friendly?
I gave it a lot more space, it was more on vocals and guitar because I liked that rhythm thing like on ‘The Anvil’ plus I especially liked the talking. I think the regular MADONNA version is a pop song and I made it more of a seductive groove in a club, I extended the breaks, I put echoes and delays on the vocals and brought it right up.
So, let’s enter ‘The Twilight Zone’…
I had an agreement with Warner Chappell and each project they turned down, this was a Warner movie and a classic theme, I did not want to use the main theme, just the well-known sequence adding all the rest myself, bassline and string stabs and percussion. Rob Dickens of Warners came to the studio and said he would not accept the mix unless I edited in the main orchestral and organ theme. So it was released like that as ‘The Twilight Zone’, RUSTY 1 on Warner Bros Records.
That tw*t John Pitcher of MRC who stole VISAGE, ‘R.E.R.B’ and Blitz Club Records then added it to a compilation ‘Trevor Jackson – Metal Dance 2: Industrial New Wave EBM Classics & Rarities 79-88’. But what Trevor did was edit out the main theme back to what I submitted, so it’s all me.
TIME ZONE ‘Wild Style’, you’ve reclaimed this one…
The story is I heard this band called YELLO and I was invited by Ian Tregoning of their label Do It Records to meet them. There was this place on the way by train where these blokes SUPERSEMPFT had made a record I liked, so we went to their studio. I sampled all these records by BLANCMANGE and KRAFTWERK into a beat, programmed the drum machine, played the bass on the Moog and did all the pieces in one night.
I had a cassette of it and went on my journey to meet YELLO, but when I got back, I sent it to Celluloid Records in New York who released a lot of French electronic music I was liking like MATHÉMATIQUES MODERNE, the French seemed to like quite odd records at the time. Anyway, next thing I know, Afrika Bambaataa loves it and suggested we go 50:50 as I’d done the music.
But over the years, people online I’ve never heard of who have claimed they wrote it by logging into this publishing database, I didn’t know about that… in 1993, Todd Terry made a record called ‘My Definition Wild Style’, all he did was take the B-side of the record and added a nice beat, that was it! We don’t mind that BUT what we mind is he claimed he wrote the f***ing thing! I was furious, then a load of other blokes claimed they wrote it, so I had to get Notting Hill Music to say 100% written by Rusty Egan and all the others can F*** OFF! But they’d all been paid for 20 years!
Anyway, I reworked it for ‘Welcome To The Dancefloor’ as ‘Wonderwerke’ because I kept saying in German “Was ist das? Ein Wonderwerke?”, so I’ve reclaimed it from Todd Terry!
To continue the German connection, what about when you worked with German act HONGKONG SYNDIKAT in 1984?
These guys sampled Ronald Reagan’s speech in Berlin for a track called ‘Berlin Bleibt Doch Berlin’ and they did this beat. I met with Gerd Plez from HONGKONG SYNDIKAT, he played me the demos for the next album and I suggested mixing it at my Trident Studios and adding overdubs. We did this song ‘Divided By’ which was literally a pocket calculator that went “9-8-7, 7-8-9, divided by-divided by”, it was hard, maybe too hard.
Then there was a song called ‘Too Much’, I introduced him recently to HP Hoeger and the chill out mix has ended up on a few ‘Buddha Bar’ albums.
Now, you formed THE SENATE and released ‘The Original Sin’…
Yeah, with Kirk Brandon… well, ‘The Original Sin’ was the one everyone says is about Kirk’s friendship with Boy George. Now the other day on The Blitz Club Facebook group, there’s a picture of Kirk Brandon which the poster labelled “closet”, what a f***ing thing to write? Don’t forget, The Blitz was a place where people who were unsure of their sexuality could go to.
While it wasn’t a gay club, you had to be open-minded so why do we have people on The Blitz Club Facebook group talking like a homophobic thug?
Well it’s rather like electronic music fans who are into KRAFTWERK ‘Europe Endless’ and ULTRAVOX ‘New Europeans’ but being staunchly pro-Brexit…
Yes, so basically this song is Kirk admitting that Boy George was a beautiful boy, as was Marilyn, and about when you’re 19-20 years old and you are unsure of your sexuality. We loved that “is it a boy, is it a girl?” time and when I heard that lyric “since you came into my life, I had to rearrange my heart”, boy did Kirk have a voice and I wanted to have this orchestrated epicness behind it, but I think I went way over the top!
Was THE SENATE meant to be a limited project?
Yes, it was one-off, me and Kirk were mates and I’d produced SPEAR OF DESTINY, ‘Mickey’ is a classic and featured Anne Dudley on strings.
PULSE’s cover version of LED ZEPPELIN ‘Whole Lotta Love’, you were having a hit again…
This was 1988, on the bottom of the rear artwork, it says “Every generation has a musical revolution…” and I was part of the 1980 musical revolution. But I was sitting in the Island Records office, working as a friend for U2 on a little salary, I’d lost my wife, my home, my car so basically I’m losing it, 80% of the people at Island were into DEACON BLUE and I was at my lowest ebb! It really wasn’t happening, I liked THE CHRISTIANS and SHRIEKBACK but I was desperately looking for something.
I knew Paul Oakenfold and all these DJs that had come to The Camden Palace so I thought to myself “something is going to happen musically to get me out of this”. But in the meantime, it wasn’t house as it hadn’t arrived yet, electro and techno had probably peaked. I did this psychedelic record sleeve and I just thought of Robert Plant, so I had this idea of doing ‘Whole Lotta Love’ with Tracy Ackerman from SHAKATAK on vocals, an amazing singer.
Dave Robinson who was Stiff Records but now Island MD at that time was linked with Trevor Horn cos of FRANKIE GOES TO HOLLYWOOD.
So I was invited down to Sarm Studios and they offered to let me use it, so we made that! Then U2 released it on their Son Records imprint…
Ah yes, Son Records released that novelty Country & Western cover of ‘The Fly’ by THE JOSHUA TRIO and ‘Riverdance’…
And again, I never got paid! *laughs*
So it all ended for a few decades but you came back with a club remix of FILTHY DUKES ‘Messages’ in 2009…
I think it’s f***ing great that mix! The late Mick Clark who signed SOUL II SOUL suggested I remix so they put me in this studio with all the parts of FILTHY DUKES, but of course I hadn’t been in one for 20 years so didn’t know what to do, it was all computerised! So I’m there with this guy Sie Medway-Smith who I was told had remixed DEPECHE MODE and I was like “WHAT?”… they said he was the right guy for me.
BUT, when you go back into the studio for the first time in ages and don’t really know how it works anymore, you tend to let other people do things and then say “I don’t like it”… but when you say “I don’t like it”, it tends to go down like nails down a blackboard! So what happened with him was he went “well, this is how it works mate!”
I just wanted it simple and I did all the synths, but everything about it was an argument! Sie Medway-Smith was way advanced and in-demand so acted like he was doing me a favour, I couldn’t p*ss him off!
So there’s this interesting side-story with LA ROUX…
Because of that mix, through Mick Clark I got the chance to see and remix LA ROUX. I went to the Notting Hill Arts Club and I heard ‘Bulletproof’. So I went back to Sie and said “I want to do this!”, but he went “it’s f***ing rubbish Rusty”! Sie pulled up the lead vocal and said “it’s terrible” and I was like “IT’S NOT! IT’S A POP SONG!”, so we basically had this argument. I’m trying to do a remix and he’s literally downing tools, doing anything to avoid finishing it! *laughs*
I was powerless cos I don’t know what to do, so we get like a half finished version to Mick Clark who said “it’s good but it’s not right and you’ve missed the deadline, they’ve gone for some drum ‘n’ bass guy and it’s blowing up!”…. I had to ask what that meant!! I was so angry! You can hear it on my Soundcloud.
Fast forward to 2014 and you do this mash-up with Antony Toga on TINY MAGNETIC PETS ‘Control Me’?
I search for stuff all the time and I found ‘Control Me’, I thought it was brilliant although the drums were sh*t, so I knew Antony Toga and his adaptation of ‘Seconds’ by THE HUMAN LEAGUE so I mashed them together and sent it to the band. I said “I think you’re great and I love your songs but you need to sort your drums out”…
Funnily enough, I said the same to them after I first saw them live in Düsseldorf 2015…
It was only supposed to be an idea, but TINY MAGNETIC PETS made a video and uploaded it saying I did it but it wasn’t me as such. They left it as it is but I suggested they contact Antony Toga to make sure he didn’t mind. They do this version live…
Some of your most high profile remixes recently were for U2?
I had always been a U2 fan, but I lost it around ‘How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb’. I hadn’t really reconnected to their new music, their first five albums were classic as most people I think would agree, although I did like ‘Beautiful Day’. But I reconnected on this new album ‘Songs Of Experience’, I felt it had a message and that message was love. It had vocoders, synthesizers and I thought “this isn’t your rock ‘n’ roll’, I would love to do something with this”.
So I wrote to U2 asking if I could remix them, not realising 20 other DJs had already done so. They sent me a link and they were HORRIBLE, sh*tty terrible EDM! I asked to do ‘Love Is Bigger Than Anything In Its Way’ which I did with HP Hoeger, one without drums, one with drums and one in the style of ‘In The Air Tonight’ by Phil Collins.
NOW, we all know ‘In The Air Tonight’ is a Roland CR78 drum machine, it’s got this sound but I just wanted to put a beat on it, which I programmed on a plug-in. I sent it to the band and they loved this version but wanted more guitars on, so it became like the ‘band’ mix. But the Chill mix without the drums is my preferred mix…
U2 go with the ‘band’ mix which is not the one I love, but then this well-known remixer from Holland, Ben Liebrand is on YouTube and Soundcloud going “RUSTY EGAN HAS STOLEN MY DRUMS!”, so I’m like “what?”… I searched and found he had remixed a version of ‘In The Air Tonight’ in 1988, I listened to it and went “OH F*CK! It sounds like the same thing!”, but then that’s because it’s the same drum machine!
Anyway, when you Google “Drums In The Air Tonight Phil Collins”, there’s all these YouTube tutorials going “Hi! Whassup? Today we’re going to show you how to programme the ‘In The Air Tonight’ drums”… I was like “Hang on Ben Liebrand, there’s 25 guys here who can programme the ‘In The Air Tonight’, I DIDN’T do ‘In The Air Tonight’, I did U2 and used the same f***ing drum machine! There is no ‘In The Air Tonight’ drums on it, it is just SOUND!”
But using a drum sound is not like nicking a bit off an actual song…
That’s right! So if you want to get into that, I made THE ART OF NOISE drum sound! I’d brought JJ Jeczalik who did ABC into my studio, I paid him £500 to press all these buttons on a Fairlight as none of us knew how to work it, he took my sound and he had a band of his own called THE ART OF NOISE!
Was that the VISAGE ‘Beat Boy’ drum sound?
YES! You can tell ‘Beat Boy’ and THE ART OF NOISE are the same sound! We made it before! *laughs*
If Ben Liebrand had written to me privately about the similarity or whatever, we could have handled it in an “oh my god, I didn’t realise” manner. ‘Yellow Pearl’ IS my drum sound, people when they listen to music always go “oh, it sounds like…”
Let’s talk about ‘Thank You’, the closing track on your album ‘Welcome To The Dancefloor’…
‘Thank You’ is as it is, I just believe a lot of people should say “thank you” but they don’t… so I felt when I made my album, my career and everything that I am is because of that list of people.
And even if in there I thank Nikonn who worked with me on that album and I clashed with, or people that I disagreed with, it’s about the music. I even end it poignantly by saying “VISAGE”, regardless of any problems or issues that I had with Steve Strange, I am still immensely proud of the music I made with VISAGE, so I am very upset when it is imitated or faked as anybody would be…
The Electricity Club gives its warmest thanks to Rusty Egan
FIAT LUX only officially released thirteen songs in their original recorded career and none were ever released in CD format, save two of their early tracks for the 1989 ‘Cocteau Signature Tunes’ compilation issued in North America.
But after many years, that has now been put to rights with the Cherry Red collection ‘Hired History Plus’ which brings together the criminally underrated trio’s entire recorded output for Polydor Records and their unreleased debut album ‘Ark Of Embers’ which had been slated for public consumption in 1985.
FIAT LUX were one of the most promising of the new synthesizer based acts that emerged following the success of DEPECHE MODE and SOFT CELL. Hailing from Wakefield, founder members Steve Wright and David Crickmore were later joined by Ian Nelson, brother of Bill who had independently produced FIAT LUX’s early works for his Cocteau Records.
Signing to Polydor Records, in 1984 the label issued a six track EP ‘Hired History’ containing their three singles to date plus their corresponding B-sides. Produced by Hugh Jones, who had worked with SIMPLE MINDS, THE TEARDROP EXPLODES and ECHO & THE BUNNYMEN, ’Hired History’ was intended as a stop-gap before FIAT LUX’s debut album was completed, but it turned out to be the only thing close to a long form release by the band until 2019. But thirty five years after the event, the tracks which comprised ‘Hired History’ still stand up.
Beginning with the singles, ‘Secrets’ was a beautifully haunting ballad was bolstered by what appeared to be a violin solo but was actually a Yamaha CS80 played by Mike Timoney. Initially released earlier, ‘Photography’ was less immediate, but the vocal interplay between Wright’s croon and Crickmore’s repeat staccato harmony was a dreamboat delight while the climax was aided by a bursting lift from Nelson’s sax.
The magnificent ‘Blue Emotion’ was an observation on the disturbing militarism that had risen in the wake of the Falklands war and the embracement of Thatcherism. Shaped by fabulous sweeping ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ derived MemoryMoog theme from Ian Nelson along with a wonderful Vox Matrimonium by Wright and Crickmore, the political sentiment however limited radio play and the song failed to be a Top40 hit.
The B-sides reflected FIAT LUX’s more theatrical side; ‘Sleepless Nightmare’ in particular sounded like Bertolt Brecht gone electro. Meanwhile the funky ‘Aqua Vitae’ sounded like something from GARY NUMAN’s ‘Warriors’ album.
Of course, ‘Hired History’ only had six tracks so its release has been bolstered by a selection of bonus tracks, most notably ‘Feels Like Winter Again’ and ‘This Illness’ which were produced by Bill Nelson.
‘Feels Like Winter Again’ was and still is a musical triumph, driven by a resonant drum machine, with a chilling mix of synth and treated guitar over an electronic pulse, Wright’s sombre and ambiguous tale of broken love affairs made a resigned emotive statement. ‘This Illness’ was more moody and featured Bill Nelson’s distinctive E-bowed infinite guitar alongside some sparkling synth work.
Also included on ‘Hired History Plus’ is the disappointing ‘House Of Thorns’ originally released in 1984 which saw FIAT LUX losing momentum. But with still no hit singles, the debut album that was being worked on was shelved by Polydor. Disillusioned, Crickmore departed FIAT LUX before Wright and Nelson quietly disbanded altogether.
Ian Nelson sadly passed away in 2006 but a few years later with the accessibility of the internet, a number of music bloggers were offering a FIAT LUX compilation entitled ‘Fact Ut Vivas’ for free download… this turned out to largely be what had been intended to be the trio’s debut album for Polydor.
Now titled ‘Ark Of Embers’ thanks to the remaining duo of Wright and Crickmore uncovering paperwork confirming this had been the long player’s intended title, the fully restored and properly mastered collection is impressive, even without including the three Polydor singles ‘Photography’, ‘Secrets’ and ‘Blue Emotion’.
Quite what Polydor was thinking in not even taking a chance with the release of a FIAT LUX album when Colin Verncombe’s BLACK were making waves with the original independently released version of ‘Wonderful Life’ is something of a mystery.
Interestingly, the opening song on ‘Ark Of Embers’, ‘The Moment’ possesses the atmospheric air of BLACK. It is then followed by the brooding uptempo North European melancholy of ‘Breaking The Boundary’, a song easily as good as BLACK’s ‘Everything’s Coming Up Roses’. Always keen to combine electronics with real instruments such as sax, marimbas, drums, bass and guitars, ‘Embers’ is something of a distant cousin of PINK FLOYD’s ‘Wish You Were Here’.
But ‘Ark Of Embers’ isn’t just about moods, as the groovy Roxy flavoured artrock of ‘No More Proud’ showed, while ‘Splurge’ offered a bizarre textural mix of chattering tablas over screeching guitar and a gothic disco backbone. Led by dreamy sax, ‘In The Heat Of The Night’ is a marvellous slice of emotive pop reminiscent of CHINA CRISIS, with additional clarinet providing atmospheric resonance to the sonic balance.
Closing with the brilliantly filmic synthpop of ‘Solitary Lovers’, ‘Ark Of Embers’ would have been an impressive debut long player demonstrating FIAT LUX’s instrumental versatility and diversity. Although also reprising the imperial Polydor singles trilogy in its tracklist, this is a new album to most, and damn fine it is too.
Among the other extras on the ‘Hired History Plus’ package are various 12 inch extended mixes, the original Bill Nelson version of ‘Photography’ which had been rejected by Polydor and a cover of the traditional South West English folk standard ‘Sally Free & Easy’ written by Cyril Tawney.
Arranged with a cacophony of voice samples like Philip Glass, it was a track which had only previously been available in Germany that Wright usually sang in the studio for Jones to set up levels and EQ.
‘Hired History Plus’ with its accompanying bonus of ‘Ark Of Embers’ is a belated but very welcome vindication of the talents of Steve Wright, David P Crickmore and Ian Nelson. A definitive collection with expansive booklet notes featuring commentary by Wright and Crickmore, the package represents exactly what was and is still brilliant about FIAT LUX.
It’s rather a nice time to be a FIAT LUX fan right now.
At the start of 2017, not a single FIAT LUX track was available digitally and only two songs ‘Feels Like Winter Again’ and ‘This Illness’ had ever been available on CD via the long deleted 1989 compilation ‘Cocteau Signature Tunes’ issued in North America.
Between 1982 to 1985, Wright, Crickmore and the late Ian Nelson issued a series of acclaimed singles including ‘Secrets’ and ‘Blue Emotion’ which garnered the support of BBC Radio 1 DJs such as Janice Long and Peter Powell. Despite this, FIAT LUX were unable to secure a Top 40 UK single and led to the album that the trio were recording for Polydor Records to be shelved.
But now, that lost album now entitled ‘Ark Of Embers’ and all the material recorded during that period plus those first recordings for Cocteau Records will be released by Cherry Red Records as a 2CD set entitled ‘Hired History Plus’, named after the 1984 singles compilation EP which was FIAT LUX’s only longer form release.
Steve Wright and David P Crickmore chatted to The Electricity Club about what has been a very busy and fruitful period for FIAT LUX.
Like buses, you wait 35 years for a FIAT LUX album and get two?
David: Yes – it’s strange how it’s turned out – more by accident than design…
Steve: …although a happy one.
What’s the reception for ‘Saved Symmetry’ been like?
Steve: It’s been gratifying that there have been so many good comments about it and many of the reviewers have gone into great detail about what they like about each track.
It’s clear that they got what we we’re trying to achieve (a whole listening experience, rather than a bunch of random songs). We didn’t presume that that would be the case so it’s a real “nice to have”.
David: Music industry people who were around during our Polydor years and championed us back then have had encouraging things to say about the new album. That reassures us that it measures up to our old stuff. Plus we’ve also had support from people and places that weren’t around in the ‘80s. So we’re delighted with the reception for it so far!
The call to action of ‘We Can Change The World’ from ‘Saved Symmetry’ appears to have become a key track, any particular favourites for you?
Steve: We’ve nurtured them all, so it’s hard to pull out a favourite.
David: The whole project was a real mixed bag of absolutely brand new writing, (which we did while we were in the studio), plus some “unfinished business” from the 1980s – a few scraps of song ideas that had perhaps previously not got past the demo stage. ‘We Can Change The World’ from ‘Saved Symmetry’ had its roots in a tune I wrote just after leaving FIAT LUX the first time round, but most of the words are very recent and in part reflect on the loss of Ian Nelson and our getting back together without him.
So since you last spoke to The Electricity Club, ‘Hired History Plus’ has become reality…was there a particular moment that sparked this into actually happening and having a budget to see through its release?
David: It’s difficult to say what the actual catalyst was for a FIAT LUX retrospective collection finally springing to life. I have a few theories.
A meeting I had in London with a well-known producer who happened to be good mates with the MD of Universal (the rights holders of our 80s works) may have had something to do with them suddenly starting to talk to us.
However, I can tell you the chain of events that led to ‘Hired History Plus’ being the outcome: We had already got some way to agreeing with Universal on a release of our lost Polydor album ‘Ark Of Embers’ which was going to come out on Splid Records. Just as we were about to sign this off, the person we were dealing with at Universal said “Oh by the way, I think Cherry Red are planning to do some sort of full retrospective set”.
We immediately realised that we would be treading on each other’s toes if both came out at once, so I got to know who they were negotiating with at Cherry Red and proposed that if we dropped the rival release, we would agree to curate ‘Hired History Plus’ for them on condition that Disc Two could be the lost album ‘Ark Of Embers’. They were happy with that proposition, and delighted to have our help and support, so that’s what happened.
How were the old Polydor tapes eventually found and what condition were they in? Did you get involved in the digital transfer process?
Steve: Originally when we were trying for a release ourselves, and getting nowhere, we thought perhaps the tapes had been lost. However, it turned out to be quite the opposite!
David: Yes, Polydor had kept everything we had done right down to the accompanying paperwork and had it stored in good order in the massive Decca archive, which is in a vault in a mountainside somewhere in Wales. I spent quite a bit of time looking through spreadsheets and PDF files provided by the helpful staff there to establish the whereabouts of the right master tapes for the job. Eventually we found them all and they were taken to EMI Studios in Abbey Road where they were digitally transferred at very high spec.
Steve: They then gave them to us to work on at Splid studios. We checked that everything was the right version, decided on the running order and got the recordings tidy and ready for mastering. That was then done at 360 Mastering which is Cherry Red’s preferred company and, when it came back from there, we gave the final ok before it went to manufacture.
So the ‘lost’ unreleased album forms the bonus disc of ‘Hired History Plus’ has emerged with the title ‘Ark Of Embers’, was that its working title?
Steve: That was a working title during the latter part of us recording it, yes.
David: But in the intervening years we had completely forgotten this and simply began to refer to it as “The Lost Album”. It was only when the accompanying paperwork that went with all the tapes turned up that we rediscovered the title idea scribbled down on one of the sheets. “That’s it” we remembered.
Steve: Of course over the years it took on a bit of a mythical status with some FIAT LUX followers. They began speculating on what tracks would be on it and giving it the name ‘Fact Ut Vivas’, but that was never a title that came from within the band.
Going through the tapes to compile ‘Hired History Plus’ must have jogged all sorts of memories? Any ones in particular?
David: It certainly did. Even seeing the old tape boxes again – all those brilliant old studios we visited: Amazon, Eden, RG Jones, Strawberry, Rockfield.
Steve: I remember us using Midge Ure’s studio in his back garden in Chiswick. I recall he was about to go on an ULTRAVOX tour when we visited to work on our ‘House Of Thorns’ single and he had all his guitars sprayed completely grey for the shows for some reason. We thought it was sacrilege to do that to such a nice guitar collection.
David: Looking again at all the worksheets from the tapes, it’s interesting to see how much we used a Minimoog synthesizer as a preferred choice for lead lines and bass pulses – what a great piece of kit. This happened even though, after signing to Polydor, we had purchased state of the art polyphonic keyboards like the Jupiter 8 and a Memory Moog, both from Rod Argents shop in Demark Street – still there today I think.
Steve: There are also lots of big heavy things that we continually hired in at Polydor’s expense: Mellotrons and Marimbas which came in flight cases the size of dining tables.
David: We made good use of them though – they’re all over many of the tracks and help make them distinctive I think.
The words “It’s just a piece of my life” from ‘Photography’ have never rung truer?
Steve: You’re right. It’s been like unearthing a time capsule of our past. Not only listening back to the tapes, but also finding all the memorabilia and, yes, photographs to go in the accompanying artwork and booklet.
There’s the bonus of ‘Feels Like Winter Again’ and ‘This Illness’ being included, both classic Bill Nelson productions with their drum machine backbones and textural guitar treatments?
David: Yes. Where it all began. At that stage we had no gear, so Bill made a big contribution in helping us conceive the prototype Fiat Lux sound, allowing us use of his vast array of instruments to go with the songs we had.
Steve: Definitely. Bill was the person who kickstarted FIAT LUX. Without him and his production guidance and record label we probably wouldn’t have been able to get off the ground.
You’ve unearthed the ultimate Bill Nelson rarity in the master tape of the 12” mix of his production of ‘Comfortable Life’?
David: Yes. We’d only had it as a working copy on a rather ropey cassette, made in the studio at the time. It was a delightful surprise to find the proper master tape in the Decca archive – it was more we stumbled on it really while looking for the A-Side, the Bill produced (but never used) ‘Photography’ which took some detective work to track down. Great that we got both on ‘Hired History Plus’.
Steve: On ‘Comfortable Life’, you can clearly hear Bill joining in the backing vocals too. Great fun.
You got back in contact with your producer Hugh Jones, that must have been quite interesting for him to listen to the tapes again, did he hear ‘Saved Symmetry’ too?
Steve: He did. Well before he got involved in, or had listened to ‘Hired History Plus’.
David: Personally I was a bit nervous about what Hugh’s reaction to ‘Saved Symmetry’ would be as I had stepped into his shoes as producer (very much with a thought process of “what would Hugh do here?”). We needn’t have worried. His email to us on hearing the tracks was “they’re absolutely bloody lovely!!”
Steve: If you want Hugh’s reappraisal of the ‘Hired History Plus’ material, you can read all about that in the accompanying CD booklet. He kindly provided us with a “foreword from the producer”.
It would be fair to say ‘House Of Thorns’ was not FIAT LUX’s finest moment, how was it to listen back to the master tape of that?
David: Hmm. Obviously it was one of those things that we had to include to satisfy the completist and to fulfil the album’s brief that it was to be all the finished master takes that were either released or intended to be released at the time. In our write-up in the booklet, we cover the difficulty of Polydor insisting that we come up with a follow up to ‘Blue Emotion’ without waiting for Hugh Jones to become available to produce it.
Steve: Listening back after such a long time away from it, it stands up better than I thought – there’s great drumming from Dave Ruffy (ex-RUTS, whom I loved as a band. He was about join AZTEC CAMERA around that time I think). It definitely pulled us away from our normal sound, but there are record collectors you can find online who reckon on it being their favourite track of ours, so there you go.
Do you think ‘House Of Thorns’ might have undone the positive momentum you achieved with ‘Hired History’ that even the release of the far superior ‘Solitary Lovers’ could not claw back?
Steve: I don’t know really – it did get some radio coverage at the time, so it wasn’t a complete failure but it certainly didn’t build on the momentum of ‘Blue Emotion’.
David: As Steve said, it was a diversion from our normal sound for an A side which must have confused people.
Hugh Jones did manage to pull that back once he got his hands on ‘Solitary Lovers’. The problem then was that, by then, we’d pretty much had enough of the label bungling all our chances. With the amount of airplay our singles enjoyed and the coverage in the music papers, it’s arguable that would could have got a lot further if the records were actually in the shops when people were trying to buy them. This was a complaint we heard a lot from people who came to see us live.
On ‘Ark Of Embers’, ‘Splurge’ has the most bizarre but wonderful textural mix, chattering tablas over gothic disco overtones and screeching guitar…
David: …and of course the Mellotron choir – so scary manipulating those real voices – almost like ghosts coming out of the keyboard.
Steve: We were lucky to get Pandit Dinesh to play tabla. I’m not sure, but I think we must have come across him through our BLANCMANGE associations. We had no idea how well respected he was in his field at the time – a sort of Buddy Rich of Indian percussion.
Sadly Ian Nelson is not here to witness this belated vindication, his contribution really was vital in FIAT LUX, like on ‘Embers’ and ‘Blue Emotion’?
Steve: Absolutely. Would not have been the same without him. Now we are writing and recording again, we always pause and ask – what would Ian have done here?
David: I am so pleased we were able to include his brother’s production of ‘Photography’ Mk1 in the collection as it shows how that great soaring sax line half way through was part of Ian’s design for it right from the beginning and Hugh Jones saw no reason to change that part when we remade it later. The wonderful Holtz style Moog line in ‘Blue Emotion’ really makes it and is all Ian’s, as was the looping clarinets of ‘Embers’. Lovely touches like that were his speciality.
It had been intended for ‘Ark Of Embers’ to come out in 1985, how do you think it stands up in 2019?
David: I think it offers the best tracks we had in our repertoire during the Polydor years. It’s what we were always striving to produce when we weren’t being diverted away from it by other music business issues.
Steve: I think it holds together as an album should and doesn’t have such an overwhelming sense of period that it is too dated to appreciate now. I’d be proud to stand by it in any era.
FIAT LUX fans are literally being spoilt in 2019, are you tempted to spoil them further with the possibility of live shows?
Steve: Let’s just say that we are exploring possibilities on that one at the moment.
David: Nothing concreate as yet, but it might be nice to do a few boutique shows if things do come together to our satisfaction.
After a tentative return, how does it feel to have FIAT LUX active again?
David: It’s great actually. It’s a shame circumstances didn’t conspire for us to do it sooner, but that’s life.
Steve: We’ve certainly enjoyed getting it all together over the last couple of years and it’s been good to feel the support of followers (and websites like yours!) cheering us on as we have.
The Electricity Club gives its sincerest thanks to FIAT LUX
Special thanks to Matt Ingham at Cherry Red Records
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