Tag: Billie Godfrey

BEF Music Of Quality & Distinction Vol3 – Dark

bef_darkThe third volume in BRITISH ELECTRIC FOUNDATION’s ‘Music Of Quality & Distinction’ series has been long awaited. Subtitled ‘Dark’, it was first announced back in 2007 and the majority of it was premiered at a special BEF weekend showcase at The Roundhouse in 2011.

‘Music Of Quality & Distinction Vol1’ was issued in 1982 to great fanfare, a sophisticated K-Tel album recorded under the musical directorship of Martyn Ware, then recently departed from THE HUMAN LEAGUE and soon to find fame as part of HEAVEN 17.

Featuring vocalists such as Tina Turner, Sandie Shaw, Paul Jones and Billy Mackenzie, it was a critical if not a commercial success but effectively revived the career of the Soul Siren born Anna Mae Bullock as well as kickstarting Ware’s impressive production portfolio which later encompassed ASSOCIATES and ERASURE.

1991 saw the release of ‘Music of Quality & Distinction Vol2’ which had much more of a mainstream soul vibe; Tina Turner and Billy Mackenzie returned while other notable vocalists included Chaka Khan, Billy Preston, Green Gartside and Terence Trent D’Arby whose massive selling debut ‘Introducing The Hardline…’ was produced by Ware.

The concept of ‘Music Of Quality & Distinction Volume 3 – Dark’ though is dark interpretations of perceivably upbeat songs.

The chilling, stark electronics and eerie soundtrack arrangements on several tracks have led to Ware producing some of his most distinctly industrialised work since his days with THE HUMAN LEAGUE. The tremendous opener ‘Every Time I See You I Go Wild’ is a case in point.

Using just a Roland System 100, instrumentally it could have come from ‘The Dignity Of Labour’ or ‘Reproduction’while Kim Wilde’s spirited vocal adds a human twist to what sounds like THE HUMAN LEAGUE meets DEPECHE MODE. There’s even a tongue-in-cheek reference to ‘Don’t You Want Me’ thrown into the metallic mix for good measure!

Another great fusion of soul mechanics is ‘Don’t Wanna Know’, a John Martyn cover voiced by former COMMUNARDS co-vocalist Sarah Jane Morris. Still sounding like a lower register Jimmy Sommerville, Morris’ bluesy tones contrast well with the synthesized backing. In a variation to the theme, Green Gartside adds his distinctive raspy touch on The Delfonics’ ‘Didn’t I Blow Your Mind This Time’ which absorbs the senses with its silky sonics and complimentary guitar textures.

Andy Bell provides one of the album’s standouts with his rendition of Kate Bush’s ‘Breathing’. A song that was never that upbeat in the first place, its narrative on the nuclear holocaust is given an even more disturbing counterpoint when Bell audibly recites scientific data on the effects of an attack.

While Bell’s distinctive timbre remains intact, on the orchestrated rock of ‘I Wanna Be Your Dog’, Boy George takes on a turn of deadpan and aggression that makes him almost unrecognisable! One of the stars of the BEF showcase at The Roundhouse, his onstage tale about going with Martyn Ware to see Gary Glitter in concert and getting the convicted felon’s autograph was priceless; “I don’t think it’s worth much money now” he quipped! That alone deserves a second track and appropriately enough, it is a near faithful ‘Make Up’ from Lou Reed’s ‘Transformer’. “We’re coming out…out of our closets” indeed!

polly1-richardAnother thematic pairing comes with the return of the barefoot Queen of Pop, Sandie Shaw. After tackling ‘Anyone Who Had A Heart’ on ‘Vol1’, she gives it some Northern Soul welly on ‘Just Walk In My Shoes’, a tune written by one-time Motown signings The Lewis Sisters. Meanwhile the Bacharach and David cover duties on ‘Dark’ go to the kooky Polly Scattergood who delivers a lovely ‘Felt Mountain’ era Goldfrapp styled performance of ‘The Look of Love’.

Trivia fact: ‘The Look Of Love’ (which featured in the original film version of ‘Casino Royale’) was beaten to the 1968 Oscar for Best Original Song by ‘Talk To The Animals’ from ‘Doctor Dolittle’!

‘Dark’ is a large collection of work, 16 songs in all and they appear to fall into three categories. As well as dark electronics, there are more contemporary dance assisted numbers and filmic ballads. Of the dancier numbers; melodramatic Sheffield newcomer David J Roch doing Bill Withers’ ‘Same Love’ is one of the big surprises with an emotive neo-acappella intro segueing into a meaty pulsing bassline, spacey whistles and haunting invader games. HEAVEN 17 backing vocalist Billie Godfrey features on a similar but extended treatment of Bronski Beat’s ‘Smalltown Boy’ while Maxim aka Max Pokrovsky of the Moscow-based rock band Nogu Svelo! goes all campy Europop on an enjoyably over-the-top reading of ABBA’s ‘The Day Before You Came’; a virtual unknown before ‘Dark’… not anymore! The clarinet solo just sums up how gloriously loopy this rendition is!

BEF-H17The late Billy Mackenzie left this earth in 1997 and after his presence on the first two volumes, ‘Dark’ would not be complete without his legacy being represented.

This comes in the shape of a sparse, slowed down waltz rendition of ‘Party Fears Two’ by Glenn Gregory which first appeared on HEAVEN 17’s 08 versions compilation ‘Naked As Advertised’. An unexpected inclusion, this is an important centrepiece that sits well with the other songs in the compendium.

And Gregory almost steals the show with Frank Sinatra’s ‘It Was a Very Good Year’. Held together by a sampled drum loop and dressed with Ware’s bubbling synths, Gregory makes a perfect crooner in the tradition of Scott Walker, with echoes of his ‘Always Coming Back To You’ in the delivery. The 60 year old song itself takes on a magnificent dimension that will please any early HEAVEN 17 fan.

However, ‘God Only Knows’ and ‘Picture This’ performed respectively by Shingai Shinowa from The Noisettes and Kate Jackson from The Long Blondes are, while sweetly performed, possibly the two least essential items to The Electricity Club’s ears on this album. But, such are the strengths of Ware’s curation and production that they are highly likely to be appeal to others. And this is one of the important selling points of ‘Dark’… there really is something for everyone.

BEF1-chiEnding with new HEAVEN 17 backing vocalist Kelly Barnes on Teena Marie’s ‘Co-pilot To Pilot’, this is maybe the most incongruous item on the set with the backing track having been originally recorded for ‘Music of Quality & Distinction Vol2’.

Its Trans-Atlantic soul vintage is quite apparent, especially when belted out in that classic manner by the Macclesfield youngster.

Overall, ‘Music Of Quality & Distinction Volume 3 – Dark’ is a worthy adventure and Martyn Ware can pat himself on the back for realising his most challenging project to date. Whereas the first two volumes had record label support, ‘Dark’ has been self-funded, hence the time span of the work; Ware’s dedication, musical ear and co-ordinating abilities deserve recognition and reward.


‘Music Of Quality & Distinction Volume 3 – Dark’ is released by Wall Of Sound on 27th May 2013 as a single CD, deluxe 2CD with bonus instrumental disc and download

http://britishelectricfoundation.com/

http://www.facebook.com/BritishElectricFoundation/

http://www.heaven17.com/bef/


Text by Chi Ming Lai
Photos by Richard Price and Chi Ming Lai
21st May 2013

BILLIE GODFREY Interview

Billie Godfrey has been an integral part of HEAVEN 17’s live line-up since their comeback supporting ERASURE in 1997.

Oozing charm and sensuality, Billie’s obvious on-stage chemistry with lead vocalist Glenn Gregory has been a wonderfully entertaining aspect to any HEAVEN 17 show.

Her interpretation of the classic ‘Temptation’ (a ‘Versions 08’ reworking of which is included on the album ‘Naked As Advertised’) has brought the song into the 21st Century while still retaining its soulful passion.

Her voice has also provided a powerful human counterpoint to some of the more electronic material on this year’s ‘Penthouse and Pavement’ tour. Having served HEAVEN 17 for nearly 13 years, Ms Godfrey is busier than ever. As well as further shows on UK leg of the ‘Penthouse and Pavement’ tour, she is a much in demand session singer and has supported soul star Beverley Knight as well as being part of her band for several years.

The Electricity Club caught up with Billie Godfrey during a break in her hectic schedule to talk about her work with Messrs Gregory, Ware and Marsh, and her new solo album.

You’ve been singing with HEAVEN 17 since they started playing live in 1997. How did this first come about?

I was singing sessions for various artists at the time and got a call to go along and meet the guys as they wanted two female vocalists for their live gigs. I went along and met them in Martyn’s studio and sang a few parts for them to listen to my voice – it was a fairly casual set up – I remember sitting with a cup of tea in my hand when Martyn said “the thing is, we need someone who can do the high notes in ‘Temptation'” – I had been a fan of the song for years so just sang along with it sitting in the chair and as I’ve naturally got a high range, I was comfortable with the top notes… I think Mart said something like “well that’s that sorted then!”.

I didn’t really perform it as such but with the guys knowing voices the way they do, they could tell I could handle it and I think we just hit it off as friends and they knew I’d be easy to work with which is important when you spend time on the road together.

You must really enjoy working with the boys because you’re still here and you also co-wrote the excellent ‘Are You Ready’? with them for their most recent album ‘Before After’?

I do love working with Martyn and Glenn (as well as Ian when he was on the scene). If you’ve seen / heard them interviewed, you’ll know that they’re quick witted, funny and very clever. Musically I’m still fascinated by their work which sometimes seems so leftfield lyrically (which is refreshing in a world of the bland regurgitation of old ideas). Mostly I’m drawn to the elements of soul and funk within the music which is more where I fit in as I’m a soul singer.

I’m glad you asked about ‘Are You Ready?’ which I’m very proud of as a co-write. The guys gave me a backing track and I wrote the top line melody and lyrics. I tried to get under the skin of their lyrical style; a little off-kilter and unpredictable; it’s essentially a love song but there’s a slavish servant to master/penitent soul to preacher idea behind it with the spurned lover almost begging to be redeemed or converted by the object of their desire. I got a real buzz hearing Glenn sing the lines I’d penned; it was just how I imagined it sounding with his great voice. I think there’s more mileage to be had in that song and my ideal would be to hear Elly from LA ROUX and Glenn sing it as a duet – what do you reckon?

Yes, that would be really interesting! So what are your own favourite HEAVEN 17 songs?

All too obvious perhaps but ‘Temptation’ is my runaway favourite – as a singer it’s one of those great vehicles to get your teeth (or voice) into and really give it some. I also love the recent tour version of ‘Height Of The Fighting’ we’ve been doing – the beat just gets right under my skin and although there’s not lots in it vocally for me to do, I loved having a groove onstage to that one. It’s one of many of HEAVEN 17’s tunes with a delicious groove.

You’ve appeared with HEAVEN 17 on TV shows like ITV’s Now That’s What I Call 1983 singing ‘Temptation’ and BBC6 Music’s HEAVEN 17 / LA ROUX session plus more recently, the Sheffield Magna concert broadcast on BBC2. What was it like to be involved in these programmes and how does it feel to be recognised by the general public afterwards?

Well now, I don’t generally get recognised after TV appearances which I’m happy with as I can get on with my life! I am known at Beverley Knight (who I’ve also been with for 8 years) and HEAVEN 17 gigs by fans and that’s nice; it’s like meeting up with a certain set of friends. With me, it’s more often the case that people I already know will say they saw me on TV and my extended friends and family can see that I’m still alive and well.

I’m no stranger to TV appearances in my work as a session singer with various artists and have sung on TV for Beverley Knight, Sting, Annie Lennox, Paulo Nutini, Tom Jones, Lionel Richie and many others. There’s a certain unreality about TV performance as the audience in the studio seems small while in reality it can be a few million people that see it.

I enjoy the challenge of holding my nerve which is really important if it’s a lead vocal – being nervous affects your breathing so you have to keep it together. I really loved doing the Now ’83 programme as basically I’m a show off and love taking centre stage. I like people to hear my voice too as I feel I’m lucky to have it and it’s my responsibility to share it with others. The LA ROUX performance felt more like a radio in-session and that means you take even more care of the sound you’re making rather than worrying about the visual impact. The whole thing felt cool and relaxed and the small audience gave us a lot of love and made it feel like we were all at something a bit special.

It’s been fantastic to hear the ‘Penthouse and Pavement’ album live on this recent tour. Were you familiar with it before you started working with HEAVEN 17 and how did you manage to learn all the words to the songs? Do you have a particular method to help prompt you?

I’ve loved doing the ‘Penthouse and Pavement’ songs – I did know the album but not as well as ‘The Luxury Gap’ which was more my era. I love the artwork and have an old vinyl copy at home. Learning lyrics is something I have to do a lot of and the lyric remembering part of my brain is huge and has squashed out everything else – that’s why I can’t do Sudoku!

Preparation is everything and if there’s not enough time, I do sometimes take notes on stage but mostly I try to learn lyrics when I’m relaxed, just before bed is good. I sometimes re-write them so I can visualize how they looked on the page and recall them like that or do drawings to give me clues. The main drawing I add is an eye which means “watch out for this bit coming up” if I’ve had trouble learning one bit.

So how was it to step into Tina Turner’s high heels on the BEF cover ‘Ball Of Confusion’?

I think Tina’s a size 6 and a half and I’m a 5… her voice cannot be bettered for power and raw guts. My voice is sweeter but I can belt when I want to so I hope I added something of my own. The rhythm of that tune is everything and I listened back to The Temptations’ original to get my vibe on it. The lyrical content is serious and still relevant today – it shares a lot of the sentiment of one of my songs called Allergic To The World so I hope I give it the emotional weight it deserves.

Who were the singers who originally inspired you?

Stevie Wonder, Minnie Riperton, Donny Hathaway and Joni Mitchell as well as Anita Baker who I saw live at Wembley and decided there and then that I HAD to be a singer. It’s all her fault!

Apart from HEAVEN 17, what other musical projects that you have got going on at the moment?

I have a solo album just out called ‘The Eden Tree. This is my most important project as it is me as an artist expressing what I want to say musically and lyrically, and it is what I would most like to be known for.

It’s twelve original songs written or co-written by me plus two covers ‘Woodstock’ by Joni Mitchell and ‘You’ve Got A Friend’ by Carole King. ‘The Eden Tree’ is being received well so far but there’s still a long way to go though. So any fans out there who can spread the word, get twittering please!

I’ve already opened for Beverley Knight on her 100% UK tour with songs from the album which culminated in playing the Royal Albert Hall, London in April. There are YouTube clips of the gig on my website and I’ll think you’d be surprised how different it is to HEAVEN 17……

Martyn Ware and his family really like ‘The Eden Tree’ and have it playing regularly in their car so that’s a good start! Beverley and Martyn have both likened it to Minnie Riperton which is a great compliment; it’s also influenced by Joni Mitchell and Stevie Wonder. And if you have Eva Cassidy, Ray Lamontagne and Norah Jones in your CD collection, ‘The Eden Tree’ would sit pretty well on the same shelf I think. I write music the way I listen to it; sometimes mellow, sometimes really uptempo.

I am also the co-writer and lead singer of a Latin fusion band called SAO BENITEZ – they have song being used for the Bacardi worldwide advertising campaign at the moment and there are two albums coming out in June called ‘Feeling High’ and ‘Peace & Love’ which I’m really proud of. The music is mainly uptempo Latin with some soul.

And finally, is it true you are the first Western artist to have recorded a whole album entirely in Japanese?

Good question – I’ve seen that on Wikipedia and I have to say I don’t know if it’s true or not. I certainly did record an album in Japanese which is out on JVC Japan called ‘Number One’. It was mostly original songs, although there’s a cover of Minnie Riperton’s ‘Loving You’ on there. I would like to think I was the first but I don’t know – Wikipedia don’t always get everything right – it also says I’m a keyboard player which isn’t true – I can play enough to write songs, but you won’t catch me playing at a gig anytime soon!

The album was the idea of producer Mark Summers and I really enjoyed making it. The album has a character of its own which is quite young with a pop/R’n’B feel and is very different to my current solo album which (aside from being in English) represents me much more truthfully as a mature artist and songwriter.


The Electricity Club gives its warmest thanks to Billie Godfrey

BILLIE GODFREY’s album ‘The Eden Tree’ is available to download on iTunes while CDs can be purchased via her website

http://billiegodfrey.com/

www.myspace.com/billiegodfrey

HEAVEN 17’s 30th Anniversary ‘Penthouse and Pavement’ Tour dates include: Edinburgh HMV Picture House (Nov 22), Glasgow O2 ABC (Nov 23), Manchester Ritz (Nov 25), Birmingham HMV Institute (Nov 26), London HMV Forum (Nov 28), Oxford O2 Academy (Nov 29), Brighton Corn Exchange (Nov 30), Bristol O2 Academy (Dec 1)

Please visit www.heaven17.com for more details


Text and Interview by Chi Ming Lai
3rd July 2010

HEAVEN 17 Penthouse & Penthouse Live

Music Of Distinct Quality

To celebrate the upcoming 30th anniversary of the recording of ‘Penthouse And Pavement’, HEAVEN 17 returned home to play at the local renovated symbol of the Industrial Revolution which is the Magna Science Park and perform this seminal album in its entirety.

Doing away with the standard support act, the audience were instead presented an audio/visual art installation using LED screens featuring the companion instrumental BEF album ‘Music For Stowaways’. Produced by HEAVEN 17 founders Martyn Ware and Ian Craig Marsh after they left THE HUMAN LEAGUE in 1980, it predicted iPod culture (‘Stowaway’ was the original name of the Sony Walkman) by illustrating the concept of mobile headphone music as a rolling film soundtrack to one’s day-to-day life.

Not only that but some of the titles like ‘Uptown Apocalypse’, ‘Rise Of The East’ and ‘Decline Of The West’ couldn’t be more relevant 30 years on. With echoes of THE HUMAN LEAGUE’s aborted support slot for the 1979 TALKING HEADS tour which was intending to feature “specially taped songs and rhythms with synchronised moving pictures and snapshots instead of The League”, this esoteric start to proceedings was lost on some of the crowd who sadly got a bit impatient and rudely started slow hand clapping et al!

But arriving to the sinister percussive tones of ‘Music To Kill Your Parents By’, the backing band of guitarist Asa Bennett, Joel Farland on electronic percussion and funk bassist Julian Crampton took to the stage before being followed by HEAVEN 17’s live nucleus of Martyn Ware, Glenn Gregory and their forever gorgeous backing vocalist Billie Godfrey to launch into a rousing ‘(We Don’t Need This) Fascist Groove Thang’.

Playing the ‘Pavement’ A-side of the original vinyl release in order, this electro-funk hybrid sounded magnificent, particularly with Julian Crampton’s slap bass runs coming to the fore. Billie Godfrey gave the title track barrels of sumptuous passion as she would throughout many of the numbers tonight, also adding a touch of soulful warmth to many of the predominantly synthetic backing tracks on the ‘Penthouse’ flipside.

But before tackling this, four tracks from BEF’s ambitious if slightly flawed ‘Music Of Quality & Distinction Volume 1’ covers album formed the musical interlude. Originally billed by some observers as a Hi-Tech K-Tel album, although it sold poorly, it kick started Martyn Ware’s association with the legendary Tina Turner and ultimately relaunched her career in the process.

Tonight though, it’s Billie Godfrey who understudies for the former Miss Anna Mae Bullock on ‘Ball Of Confusion’ while special guest Claudia Brücken of PROPAGANDA and ONETWO joins proceedings to replace the late Paula Yates’ catty whine with a more assured teutonic tone for ‘These Boots Are Made For Walking’.

Big Glenn of course adds his two contributions from the album ‘Wichita Lineman’ and ‘Perfect Day’ which are great to hear live for the first time but not before he straps on an acoustic guitar to give an impromptu solo version of ‘Geisha Boys & Temple Girls’ which also gets a strum during the ‘Wichita Lineman’ coda. “Don’t tell Phil Oakey, he’ll kick me out of the electronic club” he laughed! Returning to the ‘Penthouse And Pavement’, the crowd finally gets ‘Geisha Boys…’ proper while the remaining four electronically driven pieces do not disappoint.

Songs such as ‘Let’s All Make A Bomb’, ‘Height Of The Fighting’ and that ode to the dangers of religious fundamentalism ‘We’re Going To Live For A Very Long Time’ sound even more poignant than ever despite their Cold War origins. Indeed, some of these numbers even become powerful singalongs, quite incongruous for what are basically a set of avant-pop compositions with not a hit single among them! At times, it sounds like the roots of modern electronic dance music.

For the encore, the crowd are treated to something special in both sides of HEAVEN 17’s second (and non-album) single. BUZZCOCKS’ ‘Are Everything’ possesses a snarly cyber-punk edge, enhanced by Glenn staring at the ground to glance at a lyric sheet while the vastly underrated ‘I’m Your Money’ is delivered in its full brilliance with its sub ‘Trans-Europe Express’ mechanical rhythm structure and rousing refrain. The various ‘Linguaphone’ business phrases recall an age when traveling to Europe was still a major logistical undertaking and the internet only had military applications!

Closing with ‘Let Me Go’, ‘Temptation’ and THE HUMAN LEAGUE’s ‘Being Boiled’, the whole presentation is an outstanding statement of musical and social values. Although ‘Come Live With Me’ and ‘Crushed By The Wheels Of Industry’ are missing tonight, for the same reasons that THE HUMAN LEAGUE dropped ‘Human’ from the ‘Steel City’ tour, it is appropriate every now and then to follow one’s artistic motivations rather than commercial ones to restore artistic integrity. The evening really did prove to be music of distinct quality.


‘Penthouse & Pavement’ is available on CD and download via Virgin Records

https://www.heaven17.com/


Text and Photos by Chi Ming Lai
15th March 2010