Tag: Chinese Detectives

Lost Albums: CHINESE DETECTIVES Are Kisses Out Of Fashion?

Norwegian electronic covers combo CHINESE DETECTIVES released their only album ‘Are Kisses Out Of Fashion?’ in 1999.

The brainchild of Per Aksel Lundgreen who had cut his teeth in APOPTYGMA BERZERK, the concept was to be a “SILICON TEENS of the 90s” with frantic dance beats acting as the backbone to accompany the hooks of classic synthpop.

CHINESE DETECTIVES scored a number of Scandinavian hits with songs originally made famous by YAZOO, MEN WITHOUT HATS and DIVINE.

‘Are Kisses Out Of Fashion?’ additionally featured reinterpretations of SPARKS, BRONSKI BEAT, PET SHOP BOYS and several lesser known acts while the album itself was to become something of a cult favourite, partly thanks to featuring the only officially released version of a Vince Clarke instrumental from which CHINESE DETECTIVES got their moniker.

The classic trio line-up of Per Aksel Lundgreen, Preben Bjønnes and Desirée Grandahl kindly reminisced about the making of ‘Are Kisses Out Of Fashion?’ with The Electricity Club.

So what came first, your cover of ‘Chinese Detectives’ or the band concept? How did it come about?

Preben: Per Aksel suggested ‘Chinese Detectives’ as a track and name for the band.

Per Aksel: Being an avid YAZOO and Vince Clarke collector, I had obtained a live tape that I bought at a stand in Camden Market in London of the 1982 gig at The Dominion, and on that tape, the instrumental track ‘Chinese Detectives’ was included. I always loved the track, and also the name, and I really wanted to use it as a band name, so we did. Then the idea was launched to do a cover of ‘Situation’ as the “A-Side” of the single, and a cover of ‘Chinese Detectives’ as the “B-Side”. I know that the track has also been referred to as ‘China’ on early live-recordings etc, but more on that later, ha ha!

Desirée: I´m the lucky one because I didn´t have to give any of that any thought! Got it all served on a silver platter.

The track is often mistaken as being the theme for the BBC TV drama ‘The Chinese Detective’ but is actually a Vince Clarke original. How did you go about interpreting and recording it? Did Mr Clarke give his approval?

Per Aksel: The sound quality on the live tape I had wasn’t really top notch, so we had to do our best to make out all the sounds and figures being played.

There’s also a part on there where it sounds like Vince is talking on top of the track, but we never ever figured out if that was just an accident, or if it was supposed to include some spoken words. I knew at the time that all Vince Clarke material was published via Sony Music Publishing, so I wrote them a letter, inquiring about the track, and asked for permission to do a cover version of it.

I actually received a reply via fax, yes it was that long ago, and in the fax it said something like: “Sony Music Publishing and Vince Clarke hereby grant you the rights to do a cover of the before mentioned track, ‘Chinese Detectives’.”

I was gobsmacked and very very happy of course. I saved that fax for many years, and when I one day went into some boxes to find it, the print had disappeared and the fax paper was all white, ha ha! I wish I’d taken a copy of it, but hindsight is 2020, right!

Preben: Hopefully we did the track justice 🙂

Desirèe: The credit for that goes to the lads. Hopefully Mr Clarke approved and loved it.

Why did you choose ‘Situation’ as a single to debut CHINESE DETECTIVES with?

Preben: We all loved the song and especially Vince Clarke’s song writing.

Desirée: I mean, even if I didn´t do the vocals on the first single, who wouldn´t choose that iconic song with that iconic group?

Per Aksel: We’re all huge YAZOO fans, and it was one of those tracks that we felt we could do something with. It was actually in the Norwegian Dance Charts and it was on a couple of “Eurodance” type compilations here in Norway, and the single sold close to 10.000 copies at the time, so we were very very happy of course. This made us want to do more, and the record company too cheered us on.

Strangely, in Norway we were considered “Eurodance”, but in Sweden and the rest of Europe and the US, they called us a synthpop act, and I for one wanted it to sound “synthpop”, but maybe we leaned towards the “Eurodance” since that was in the charts at the time. I don’t know, but we were treated very differently in Norway and in Sweden.

In Norway, we played “dance party” festivals for 5000 people together with 2 BROTHERS ON THE 4TH FLOOR, SOLID BASE, TWENTY 4 SEVEN, 2 UNLIMITED and stuff like that, but in Sweden we played on Swedish Alternative Music Awards for 500 people together with S.P.O.C.K, IN THE NURSERY and COVENANT, so it was a strange situation, but we just went with the flow and played everywhere we were wanted really.

We also had two other guys involved at the early stage of Chinese DETECTIVES, Trond Haugerud and Lars Kristian Aasbrenn, but they both dropped off. Lars Kristian after the first single, and Trond after the second one. No particular reasons for this, they just left basically, but they did also put in a good deal of work and input before they left, so I feel it’s important to put that out there.

After your second single, a cover of MEN WITHOUT HATS ‘Where Do The Boys Go’, your first singer Kristine Ulfeng departed, what effect did that have on whether to continue with CHINESE DETECTIVES?

Preben: No effect. We already knew we wanted to make a whole album with a different voice.

Per Aksel: When we started recording the third single, ‘You Think You’re A Man’, it became evident very early that Kristine’s voice wouldn’t cut it for that track. We took the harsh decision of telling her to leave and then asked Desirée to join the band. Not our proudest moment, and it wasn’t really fair to Kristine as she was fully devoted on the two first singles, but Preben and I were young and ambitious and had huge egos, so I’ll have to blame it on that.

Desirée: It had the wonderful effect of giving me the role of the mysterious and handsome girl at the mic.

Desirée had a deeper resonance to her voice and her first single with CHINESE DETECTIVES was a cover of DIVINE’s ‘You Think You’re A Man’ in 1996; did you know that song was written by Geoffrey Deane who was the original lead singer of MODERN ROMANCE?!!? 😆

Preben: News to me 🙂

Desirée: Ooops, you got me there! Shame on me for not knowing that…

Per Aksel: All I know is that when I wrote the credits in the booklet, it said “G Deane”, but I had no idea it was the original lead singer of MODERN ROMANCE! :O

We all love a bit of HI-NRG, and especially DIVINE and Bobby O productions in general, and I really think we nailed that one! Very happy with that single to be honest! The two first ones were good too, but the sound on ‘You Think You’re A Man’ is still holding up in my opinion.

The album ‘Are Kisses Out Of Fashion?’ finally came out in 1999, had it been a challenging project to finish?

Preben: It was a labour of love, I loved every bit of it. Working in a pro-studio with Erik Wøllo was a high point for me as I have mostly worked in my own studio. We had a very nice atmosphere in the studio where we loved every song we worked on. It became a very eclectic album I think. 🙂

Desirée: On the subject of who was gonna be our label and who was gonna release it – it was a challenge. The process of making the album wasn´t all that bad. We took some time picking and agreeing on the songs, then finding the right producer and of course getting it right in the studio. I will say that there was more laughter than fights.

Per Aksel: The truth is that the album was already finished late 1996 or early 1997, I can’t remember exactly now, and at the time, the label had a bit of a dry spell and didn’t have the money to finance the printing of the album, and the third single didn’t do as well as the first one, so maybe they lost a bit of faith in us, I’m not sure.

Anyway, in 1999 I kinda pushed them to release it, as 80s sounding synthpop was returning more and more, and the first pressing of 5000 copies sold pretty quickly, so I know the label never regretted it in the end.

It was the label that also paid the £3500 for the studio and recording of the album, so I was surprised that they didn’t want to try and recoup their money.

The process in Wintergarden Studio with Erik Wøllo as our co-producer really helped and lifted this record into what it became. We never could have achieved that result without Erik. His studio was in his basement, so we jokingly said we we’re recording “Downstairs At Erik’s”, ha ha! He also had a lot of cool equipment in his studio that we could use to fatten up our sound and to make the songs more diverse than they were in their original demo-form.

Stephan Groth of APOPTYGMA BERZERK had also bought a Novation Bass Station at the time, and we borrowed that for some tracks too, and it’s especially evident on ‘Hit That Perfect Beat’. I also had a Roland JX3P that we used heavily and a Yamaha TX7 that was in Erik’s studio that we used for the FM-bass lines and such.

Most of the ‘Are Kisses Out Of Fashion?’ album sounds a bit like Alison Moyet fronting a frantic Eurodance covers project, there was a distinct HI-NRG bent with tunes like ‘Hit That Perfect Beat’, ‘All You Ever Think About Is Sex’, ‘You Think You’re A Man’ and a very pacey version of ‘Johnny & Mary’? Was the club market where you were aiming CHINESE DETECTIVES?

Desirée: Oh, I love me a bit of frantic Moyet!! Seriously, I think the club market was THE market at the time, but I also think we were a little bit a head of our time. If the album had hit the club market a bit into the 2000s, I personally think we would have had an even greater success with it. The trend of picking up great tunes from the 80s didn´t really kick in until 2004-2005. Maybe we can say that we started the trend? Let´s keep that illusion.

Preben: We all love HI-NRG and especially songs produced by Bobby O. Having said that, we wanted to do our own versions of our favourite songs.

Per Aksel: Alison Moyet is probably THE BEST female voice in the world of music in my opinion, and Desirée is blessed with a serious set of pipes and a voice that is very close to Alison’s, so we felt we’d struck gold when she wanted to join us to be honest.

I’m not quite sure we went for the club market OR “Eurodance” to be honest, it was all “synthpop” to us, but looking back, I can see how the music in the charts and the new synths coming out etc flavoured our sound and the outcome of the finished result. Having had chart success in Norway with the two first singles, we were actually on Norwegian television at the Norwegian Top 20 being interviewed about the ‘Where Do The Boys Go?’ track and video, so that probably also told us that we had a shot at “this chart stuff”, but we failed to chart after that, and became more of a thing for the synthpop fans instead. That’s a good thing, because that’s where we belong anyway, ha ha!

When the album slows down a bit in the middle, the album gets very interesting with your covers of ‘Love Is Just A Word’ by SILENT CIRCLE and ‘Run For Love’ by WINDER, two acts which would have been largely unknown outside of mainland Europe, what is the story behind these?

Preben: We loved the songs. WINDER’s is an all-time favourite of mine from Denmark. I think they only did three singles and an album.

Desirée: Those two songs were kind of pushed by the lads. I thought at first that ‘Love Is Just A Word’ was too “German lighter ballad-ish”, but it grew on me really. And after doing it live, it kind of gave you that arena-effect, with people singing along and of course waving their lighters.

When the song ‘Run For Love’ came up, I wasn´t sure what to do. I felt that it was so girly and non-edgy. The fun part is though, that so many reacted to this song and really liked our version. Let´s just say that this was my “swallow the camel” moment.

Per Aksel: The WINDER track was an old “guilty pleasure” of mine, and I thought that we could do a really good job with it. I know Desirée really didn’t like it much, but she played along, and the version we ended up with is ok I guess, but far from my favourite on the album. A lot of people seem to love this version though, which is great, but I don’t know, it’s still a bit Eurovision sounding and a bit cheesy!

‘Love Is Just A Word’ was picked as the idea of having a ballad on the album, but now that I think of it, we should have done ‘Touch In The Night’ instead. CHINESE DETECTIVES were never meant to do ballads, ha ha! I remember seeing SILENT CIRCLE performing ‘Touch In The Night’ on Peters Pop Show from Germany via Swedish Television back in the 80s, and that’s how I got turned onto the band. Their first album, ‘No 1’, is still a good album I think, a hidden gem for many, but a good synthpop album.

The album title song features something of an orchestra stab frenzy and was originally by SUDETEN CRÈCHE, a very obscure British duo. How did you hear about this song?

Preben: Per Aksel introduced us to the song and we knew immediately that we could make our mark on it.

Desirée: Why wouldn´t a bunch of nerdy electronic music people have heard about that one?

Per Aksel: Going back to me being an avid YAZOO and Vince Clarke collector, I’d heard from some other collectors that the compilation album ‘Europe In The Year Zero’ included a different version of ‘Goodbye 70s’ than the one on ‘Upstairs At Eric’s’, so I ended up getting hold of a copy of that LP. It had a different version of ’Goodbye 70s’ indeed with some extra echoes and delays to the vocal, and it was a bit shorter with a strange fade, but still a different version. Anyway, on that same album was the band SUDETEN CRÈCHE with their track ‘Are Kisses Out Of Fashion?’.

My girlfriend at the time loved this track and had it on several mixtapes, so I knew it well, and when it came time to pick track for the album, Preben, Desirée and I wrote down our suggestions of what tracks to do covers of, and we immediately agreed that we could do something with this minimal wave classic. We also decided to use the title of the track as the title of the album, as it was very 80s sounding and cool.

In 2006 or so, I got contacted by Mark Warner from SUDETEN CRECHE who asked us about this cover, because we tried to get hold of them back in 1996, but it was impossible to find any information. So we started emailing them back and forth, and they said they really liked the version we had done. Later I was invited to be live keyboarder for SUDETEN CRECHE on a European tour they did together with OPPENHEIMER ANALYSIS and a couple of other bands, but I couldn’t accept that offer since I had other commitments at the time, but the offer itself meant a lot to me and I was really flattered by it.

Later on, after a lot of emails and a growing friendship, Mark Warner invited me to come stay with him at his house outside Bedford where he’s got a studio in his back yard, to work on some music together.

This is how I ended up doing three EPs with ROSSETTI’S COMPASS together with Mark. He wrote all the material, and I was more in on the production side of things, but we had great fun in the studio, and I got to know his lovely wife and two daughters who now just call me Uncle Per. I visited Mark as late as January this year, and a lovely and lasting friendship has come out of doing that cover version. Who would have thought ha? Life can serve you up some wonderful things sometimes, especially when you meet great people like Mark Warner. A true friend.

You covered INDUSTRY with ‘State Of The Nation’ so the range of genres you sourced on ‘Are Kisses Out Of Fashion?’ was very varied in hindsight?

Preben: We wanted music from all over the spectrum; obscure to the big hits.

Desirée: There is and there was so much good music to choose from, in many genres. The list of songs we would have loved to put on the album was long, but I think we´re all quite happy with the once we chose. I also think that it shows that we´re influenced by many genres.

Per Aksel: ‘State Of The Nation’ to me was a “synthpop” song, and I really really liked it, and I also think we did a great version of it. There was a vocal part there at the end of the track, after the music ended that we should’ve kept though. Desirée wanted to keep it, but Preben and I voted against it, ha ha. Looking back, Desirée was right, we should’ve kept it. Wonder if I’ve still got that other version on DAT-tape somewhere. Hmmm…

What are your own personal favourites on ‘Are Kisses Out Of Fashion?’ and why?

Desirée: Oh, that´s a hard one. I should of course say ‘Situation’ but I´m not gonna say that. I just love ‘State Of The Nation’; loved the song originally and loved to sing it. ‘Are Kisses Out Of Fashion?’ and ‘All You Ever Think About Is Sex’ come in at second place. Just because ‘Are Kisses…’ became almost a completely new song when we did it and ‘All You Ever Think About Is Sex’ is a fun and theatrical song which I love.

Preben: ‘Hit That Perfect Beat’ by BRONSKI BEAT. I loved the vocals on it. And the mix still holds up. Very happy with the bassline 🙂

Per Aksel: I still think that our version of ‘I Want A Lover’ by PET SHOP BOYS is the best one, but nobody seems to agree with me! LOL! I also have a huge fondness for ‘You Think You’re A Man’, ‘Hit That Perfect Beat’ and ‘All You Ever Think About Is Sex’, great versions that differ from the original and still add something extra. I also love the energy that we managed to put into those tracks. They’re explosive in a way, and I’m very proud of what we managed to do together on those tracks! Would’ve been even better if we’d written the tracks ourselves of course, but hey, we borrowed someone else’s songwriting talent and built on that, that will have to do.

Was CHINESE DETECTIVES, like SILICON TEENS, destined to just do the one album?

Desirée: No, not really. We had plans and visions. Preben and I did our own project with POSH. We had so many ideas for our own music and CHINESE DETECTIVES was a cover project. But the intention was to make more music with CHINESE DETECTIVES as well.

Again the situation with getting a label, getting us distributed and of course the sign of the times in the music industry put a stop to more albums at the time. We do however, have some new covers done. We did some new tunes for a couple of gigs some years ago and that was great fun. So you never know, maybe we´ll be back.

Preben: I don’t think we had any plans beyond an album. Might have played it by ear.

Per Aksel: Funny you should say that! My own catch phrase / slogan was that we aimed to be a “SILICON TEENS of the 90s”! We are huge fans of the ‘Music For Parties’ album, and doing 80s tracks in the 90s before that became fashionable kinda put us in the same category at least as SILICON TEENS.

I never had plans beyond that one album back then at least. While waiting for the CHINESE DETECTIVES album to be released, Preben and Desirée continued on the side with their own project, POSH, that released a great album called ‘In Vanity We Trust’ on CD in 1999 too. That is also a great but sadly forgotten album by many. Sounds like YAZOO with a more modern sound.

CHINESE DETECTIVES reformed for Electronic Summer 2016 in Gothenburg, how was that for you?

Preben: I unfortunately had to pull out of it due to illness. But I hear it went down well 🙂

Per Aksel: That was amazing! We had a great great time, and back then it was exactly 20 years since we last played in Gothenburg, so it was a celebration and a huge kick being on stage with CHINESE DETECTIVES again in front of 600 people at The Brewhouse.

People loved it and we got so many people coming up to us after the show saying “finally I got to see you live” and stuff like that, including Hannes Malecki, the singer from WELLE: ERDBALL, who was also playing at the same festival. He confessed to being a huge fan of CHINESE DETECTIVES when I met him there, which was a very nice compliment, coming from a guy whose work I admire very very much. I have a complete collection of all the WELLE: ERDBALL CDs, so…

Desirée: Oh my Lord that was fun. I had no expectations for that gig. I thought we were forgotten and obsolete. We started the evening with our set and I thought that there would be close to no one in the audience. When the music started and I went on stage, I got a pleasant shock. The place was packed and people sang along and had a jolly good time. So did we! People were so positive and loving. That was just a blast!

Over twenty years on, how do you view the way an electronic pop cover should be done? With so much history, is going outside of the genre more preferable to achieve something different, rather than just cover say DEPECHE MODE, NEW ORDER, SOFT CELL and ERASURE, who interestingly CHINESE DETECTIVES didn’t cover?

Preben: We tried to stay away from the obvious songs. But there are millions of great songs we could have done. We have tried to do some new ones few years back. ‘The Metro’ by BERLIN was one of them. We have played it at some concerts. We also demoed ‘You Spin Me Round’ by DEAD OR ALIVE and even made an instrumental of ‘Heartbeat City’ by THE CARS. And a few others. Hopefully we will make another album in the future 🙂

Desirée: The term electronic pop is no longer obscure and for the few and nerdy. So to make an electronic pop cover today, the bar is lifted. We did go outside the electronic genre when we did our album and I think that by doing that, the songs got a new life. This, I think, is still the case. A good song is a good song in any genre. Even if it would be great fun to cover, let´s say a EURYTHMICS tune, the approach I think would be different now than it was twenty years ago. And no wonder, we´ve learned a lot in twenty years!!!

Per Aksel: We definitively tried to AVOID the “usual suspects” when picking tracks for the album. I know Desirée wanted to do both a cover of a EURYTHMICS track, and a CULTURE CLUB track, and that didn’t happen, probably because they were too big and famous or whatever. We had some strict but strange rules back then, ha ha!

The truth is that I’m usually not a big fan of cover versions myself, and it’s only a few that I really like, and I try to avoid them when other bands do covers. Strange to think of when I was in a band that did a whole album of them, right?

We had ‘Send Me An Angel’ by REAL LIFE half-finished in demo form back then, but it never came to fruition, and that’s about it I think from back then. Preben did demo some other tracks that I don’t remember right now, but we ended up with those that are on the album, and I think the selection is pretty much good. When it comes to DEPECHE MODE, we’ve had enough covers there already, haven’t we? I mean, we’ve had enough of the band itself even, so never mind covers ha ha!

Some cover versions that I do like though, are: FAIRLIGHT CHILDREN – ‘Bedsitter’, LEMONHEADS – ‘Mrs. Robinson’, APOPTYGMA BERZERK – ‘Major Tom’, WOLFSHEIM – ‘Ruby, Don’t Bring Your Love To Town”, MALARIA – ‘Lay, Lady Lay’, and BIGOD 20 – ‘Like A Prayer’. The “perfect” cover version in my opinion though, is the one that RÖYKSOPP feat. Susanne Sundfør did of ‘Ice Machine’. Absolutely love that one!

What songs would you cover today if you were to do a new album?

Preben: BLANCMANGE – ‘Blind Vision’ or ‘Don’t Tell Me’, THE CARS – ‘Heartbeat City’, ABC – ‘Be Near Me’, JAPAN – ‘Life In Tokyo’, CRETU – ‘Samurai’, THE HUMAN LEAGUE – ‘Boys & Girls’, OMD – ‘Telegraph’, BERLIN – ‘Metro’, SECRET SERVICE – ‘Flash In The Night’, DEAD OR ALIVE – ‘Big Daddy Of The Rhythm’, CLOCKWORK ORANGE – ‘Sensation Boys’, THOMPSON TWINS – ‘In The Name Of Love’ or HEAVEN 17 – ‘Come Live With Me’. All of those would have worked I suppose!

Desirée: I’ve always wanted to do a cover of ‘Sexuality’ with Erasure, but never got around to it. Maybe the time is now?

Per Aksel: Hmmmm… THOMPSON TWINS – ‘We Are Detective’ would fit us perfectly I think, and I also agree with Preben on ‘Big Daddy Of The Rhythm’, such power and energy! Maybe we should accommodate Desirée too, and do ‘Here Comes The Rain Again’ or ‘Paint A Rumour’ by EURYTHMICS? I also would’ve picked another minimal wave track or two, like ‘Night In June’ with LINEAR MOVEMENT, or ‘All Rights Reserved’ by FRED. Great tracks, real gems that one could bring out to the masses! That’s the best thing I think, when you can get people to discover a track they’ve never heard before through your cover version!

All in all though, I’m a little fed up with covers at the moment as I told you, but I’m not going to be a killjoy.

Preben, Desirée and I live nearby each other, and if we find the time and inspiration, I don’t see why we couldn’t / shouldn’t do some more stuff together. All that without giving any promises though, ha ha!


The Electricity Club gives its sincerest thanks to CHINESE DETECTIVES

‘Are Kisses Out Of Fashion?’ is available via Sub Culture Records as a download album direct from
https://chinesedetectives.bandcamp.com/album/are-kisses-out-of-fashion

https://www.facebook.com/ChineseDetectives/

https://open.spotify.com/album/3rhx1YmkwXeeFF0ZTdR6eN

http://www.subculture.no/


Text and Interview by Chi Ming Lai
Photos by Jon Sverre Høiden, Kjetil Berg and Khyber Westlund
9th April 2020

A Beginner’s Guide To VINCE CLARKE

It would be fair to say that Mute Records’ initial commercial success came on the back of Vince Clarke’s songcraft.

First with DEPECHE MODE in 1981 and then YAZOO in 1982, Clarke demonstrated that Mute Records had some marvellous pop sensibilities amongst all the cult acclaim that was accorded to acts like THE NORMAL, DAF and FAD GADGET. He was to become one of the key players in an exciting period of music that was eventually documented in the BBC4 programme ‘Synth Britannia’. Born Vincent John Martin in Basildon, Clarke cut his teeth performing his own songs with a number of local bands including FRENCH LOOK.

But it was when he formed COMPOSITION OF SOUND with Martin Gore and Andy Fletcher that things got more serious. There was a new music revolution around the corner involving affordable synthesizers from Japan. With Clarke’s love of OMD’s now classic ‘Electricity’ single and its B-side ‘Almost’ coinciding with Martin Gore’s purchase of a Yamaha CS5, he and Fletch soon bought a Kawai 100f and Moog Prodigy respectively to follow this new futuristic direction.

However, unhappy with his own voice, Clarke recruited college student Dave Gahan as vocalist to fully realise their new ultrapop sound. They renamed themselves DEPECHE MODE after a French fashion magazine and the rest is history… but Clarke soon became disillusioned with touring and the general pop circus despite the success. And there was also that old chestnut of musical differences.

yazoo_lA song submitted by Clarke at rehearsals called ‘Only You’ had apparently been rejected by the other members of DEPECHE MODE. So teaming up with local girl ALISON MOYET in a new combo called YAZOO, they released ‘Only You’.

It reached No2 in the UK singles chart, higher than any DEPECHE MODE single had reached at the time and Clarke was vindicated. Although denied the top spot, the song reached No1 in an accapella rendition by THE FLYING PICKETS in 1984.

However, Clarke was reprising the personal disillusionment that had seen him leave DEPECHE MODE. He moved on to produce his mate ROBERT MARLOW via his own Reset Records imprint and record as THE ASSEMBLY with THE UNDERTONES’ Fergal Sharkey and YAZOO’s producer Eric Radcliffe.

But it was in 1985 that he finally settled down and formed ERASURE with Andy Bell. Although success was not instant, the chemistry between Clarke and Bell possessed a special spark both musically and personally; the pair have become one of the most consistent UK pop acts ever with hits such as ‘Sometimes’, ‘Victim Of Love’, ‘The Circus’, ‘A Little Respect’, ‘Stop!’, ‘Chorus’ and ‘Breath Of Life’.

Running in parallel over the years, there have been numerous other projects with 3D sound, computer games and in particular, remixes which have seen Clarke’s portfolio expand. His Midas touch has been commissioned notably for songs by SPARKS, GOLDFRAPP, BLANCMANGE and FUTURE ISLANDS. But his appeal has spread across all genres, as indicated by HAPPY MONDAYS’ 1988 invitation to rework ‘Wrote For Luck’ as well as more comparatively recently, remixes of FRANZ FERDINAND’s ‘No You Girls’, DIDO’s ‘End of Night’ and THE SATURDAYS’ ‘Issues’.

With THE SATURDAYS in particular, this five piece girl group were practically joined at the hip with Clarke; their first single ‘If This Is Love’ sampled YAZOO’s ‘Situation’ while their sixth was a cover of ‘Just Can’t Get Enough’ for Comic Relief! Indeed, YAZOO’s musical template was a much coveted sound among girl groups in the late noughties, the best example of which was RED BLOODED WOMEN using ‘Don’t Go’ as the basis for their feisty number ‘Colour Me Dirty’. It was recognition of how absorbed into the mainstream Clarke’s music had become.

But one of the best covers of his songs came in 2012 when RÖYKSOPP and SUSANNE SUNDFØR recorded ‘Ice Machine’. With ERASURE releasing their best album in nearly a decade with ‘The Violet Flame’ and ‘Only You’ being used in a McVities TV ad, Clarke’s stock is as high as ever. Further reinforcement came recently via an episode of the acclaimed Cold War spy drama ‘The Americans’, which featured ‘Upstairs at Eric’s’ as part of the plot.

So what tracks would make up an imaginary twenty track double CD retrospective as an introduction to Vince Clarke’s work? With a restriction of one track per album project, this list is not a best of as such, but a chronological compendium of historic and artistic adventures that capture the career diversity of a man who used synthesizers to present traditional song structures with that something different.


DEPECHE MODE Photographic – Some Bizzare Version (1981)

Some_bizzare_albumThe recording that started it all off, the first version of ‘Photographic’ was driven by Mute supremo Daniel Miller’s klanky Korg 55 Rhythm box. It was undoubtedly the stand-out track on the ‘Some Bizzare Album’ compiled by DJ and Futurist champion Stevo Pearce which also showcased SOFT CELL, THE THE, BLANCMANGE and B-MOVIE. Much darker than the eventual ‘Speak & Spell’ album take, while tuneful, ‘Photographic’ was not indicative of the supreme pop nous that Clarke was later reveal.

Available on the DEPECHE MODE album ‘The Singles 81-85’ via Mute Records

http://www.depechemode.com


DEPECHE MODE Dreaming Of Me (1981)

DepecheModeDreamingOfMeSigning to Mute Records, the debut single ‘Dreaming of Me’ made an impressive first chart showing at No57 for DEPECHE MODE in Spring 1981. The infectious melody and closing “la-la-la” refrain borrowed from ‘Make Me Smile (Come Up & See Me)’ by COCKNEY REBEL (incidentally later covered by ERASURE) were a dreamboat combination as a naïve but snarly Dave Gahan interpreted Clarke’s rather bizarre lyrics. Although not a Top 40 hit, as a great slice of synthpop, it certainly deserved to be…

Available as a bonus track on the DEPECHE MODE album ‘Speak & Spell’ via Mute Records

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Depeche-Mode-Information-Service-1981/342571782527621


YAZOO In My Room – David Jensen BBC Session Version (1982)

Mute+Audio+Documents‘In My Room’ was a good song from ‘Upstairs at Eric’s’ but was spoiled by the tape loop experiments featuring Clarke’s voice that had formed the polarising ‘I Before E Except After C’. For a David Jensen BBC session, these spoken word passages were omitted as the track was reworked using a Fairlight and Linn Drum combination. While much sparser, this superior version allowed the beautifully dark nature of ‘In My Room’ to shine. Alison Moyet in particular was on tremendously passionate vocal form.

Available on the compilation box set ‘Mute Audio Documents’ via Mute Records

http://www.yazooinfo.com/


YAZOO Ode To Boy (1982)

yazoo-othersideofloveOriginally the B-side to ‘The Other Side of Love’, ‘Ode To Boy’ was one of only three songwriting collaborations Clarke did with Moyet while in YAZOO. The song itself was Moyet’s own personal tribute to Clarke, and despite their difficulties in gelling as people, the chemistry between them in this sparse but hypnotic track showed that musically at least, there was potentially much more great work to come, had YAZOO been able to stay together. They did eventually reform in 2008 for the ‘Reconnected’ live tour.

Available on the YAZOO album ‘‘You & Me Both’ via Mute Records

http://www.alisonmoyet.com


THE ASSEMBLY Never Never (1983)

The_Assembly_-_Never_Never_coverOn what turned out to be THE ASSEMBLY’s only single, ‘Never Never’ saw Fergal Sharkey providing his distinctive warble which was marvellously counterpointed by himself doing some very Moyet-esque backing vocals. It was an interesting concept to feature guest vocalists over Clarke’s songs. Although BLANCMANGE’s Neil Arthur was rumoured to be one of those likely to be involved, the only track that did eventually surface from these sessions was ‘One Day’ with Paul Quinn from BOURGIE BOURGIE.

Available on the compilation box set ‘Mute Audio Documents’ via Mute Records

http://mute.com/artists/the-assembly


ROBERT MARLOW The Face Of Dorian Gray (1983)

Robert-Marlow-The-Face-Of-Dorian-grey“After Vince left DEPECHE MODE and was in the middle of the YAZOO project, I tapped him on the shoulder and said ‘I’ve got some songs, can you give me a day in the studio?’” recalled ROBERT MARLOW, Clarke’s best friend and a cult figure in the Basildon music scene. ‘The Face Of Dorian Grey’ was the first fruit of labours and was released on Reset Records, a label set up by Clarke and Eric Radcliffe that was licensed initially to RCA. But the single wasn’t a hit and RCA later withdrew funding.

Available on the ROBERT MARLOW album ‘‘Peter Pan Effect’ via Energy Records

http://www.discogs.com/artist/Robert+Marlow


ERASURE Who Needs Love (1985)

erasure-whooneedsIn 1985, Clarke placed a small ad in Melody Maker that said “Versatile voice wanted for established songwriter”. A 21 year old Andy Bell was audition #36 and what set the ex-butcher apart from the others was his ability to hit falsetto during the audition piece ‘Who Needs Love (Like That)’. Impressing not only with his Moyet-esque vocal technique but range too, in neo-X Factor style, the judging panel of Clarke, producer Flood and Daniel Miller declared Bell as the winner… ERASURE were born.

Available on the ERASURE album ‘Wonderland’ via Mute Records

http://www.erasureinfo.com/


TWILIGHT Just Me Alone (1985)

twilightReleased on Polydor, TWILIGHT comprised of ERASURE’s tour manager Andrew Mansi and soon-to-be NITZER EBB tour manager Steev Toth. So it was natural that Clarke would end up being involved in the production of what turned out to be their only single. ‘Just Me Alone’ was great synthpop regardless, but that VC touch gave it something special. The B-side ‘Talk To You’ showed that TWILIGHT did indeed have songwriting talent, but the duo eventually went back to their day jobs.

Originally released as a single via Polydor Records, currently unavailable

http://www.discogs.com/artist/799006-Twilight-16


ERASURE Blue Savannah (1989)

erasure-blue-savannah-mute109Imagine ROY ORBISON doing electropop… that was the concept of ‘Blue Savannah’. Uncluttered and full of soaring optimism, this glorious ditty has crossed over to be one of ERASURE’s most universally loved songs and is without doubt, equal to ‘A Little Respect’.  It came in the middle of an imperial phase that began with ‘The Innocents’ and continued to the spectacular theatrical shows in 1992 documented on ‘The Tank, The Swan and The Balloon’.

Available on the ERASURE album ‘Wild!’ via Mute Records

http://mute.com/artists/erasure


ERASURE Fingers & Thumbs (1995)

fingers+thumbsERASURE’s seventh self-titled album was Vince Clarke’s attempt at prog synth or as Andy Bell referred to it, the duo’s own ‘Dark Side Of The Moon’ ie ‘Bright Side Of The Sun’. It was an ambitious, if flawed opus with extended intros and the sub-10 minute numbers like ‘Rock Me Gently’. But there was also emotive neo-classical moments such as ‘Grace’. The brilliant ‘Fingers and Thumbs (Cold Summer’s Day)’ though was its most accessible offering and is possibly their most under rated single.

Available on the ERASURE album ‘Total Pop! – The First 40 Hits’ via Mute Records

http://www.andybell.com/


CHINESE DETECTIVES Chinese Detectives (1995)

chinese detectivesCHINESE DETECTIVES were a strange beast, hailing from Norway and only doing cover versions of New Wave classics as a “SILICON TEENS of the 90s”. Among their reworkings was YAZOO’s ‘Situation’. But naturally having named themselves after the plinky instrumental interlude of YAZOO’s 1982 concert tour, they recorded their own version of it. Very much a note-for-note transcription, it remains the only officially released version of the track; founder member Per Aksel Lundgreen now runs Subculture Records.

Available on the CHINESE DETECTIVES album ‘Are Kisses Out of Fashion’ via Tatra

http://chinesedetectives.bandcamp.com/


VINCENT CLARKE & MARTYN WARE Green (2001)

spectrum-pursuit-vehicleTogether with Martyn Ware, Clarke founded the Illustrious company to exploit the creative possibilities of 3D sound technology. Their first release was ‘Pretentious’ as THE CLARKE & WARE EXPERIMENT. But their follow-up ‘Spectrum Pursuit Vehicle’ formed part of an art installation where the colours referred to in the titles of the six lengthy pieces were “programmed to cross fade imperceptibly to create an infinite variation of hue”. ‘Green’ took the looming template of OMD’s ’66 & Fading’ into a new spacey dimension.

Available on the VINCENT CLARKE & MARTYN WARE album ‘Spectrum Pursuit Vehicle’ via Mute Records

http://www.illustriouscompany.co.uk


SIMPLE MINDS The Floating World (2002)

Simple Minds-cry‘The Floating World’ was an instrumental that closed the Glaswegians’ rather dull ‘Cry’ album. Basically a thumping rave version of the ‘Dr Who Theme’, it was also nothing like the FM pomp rock of SIMPLE MINDS’ stadium years. Closer scrutiny revealed this track to be written by one ‘V. Clarke’ and was more like an update of the band’s early electronic experiments such as ‘Theme For Great Cities’ and ‘Film Theme’. This unlikely collaboration was SIMPLE MINDS’ most interesting piece of work in nearly 15 years.

Available on the SIMPLE MINDS album ‘Cry’ via Eagle Records

http://www.simpleminds.com


ERASURE Here I Am Impossible Again (2005)

here am i impossibleFollowing 2001’s dull “indie” album ‘Loveboat’ and their inconclusive covers compendium ‘Other People’s Songs’, Andy Bell and Vince Clarke made ‘Nightbird’, possibly their best album since ‘The Innocents’. Something of a departure, it comprised entirely soft synths and was more layered than anything they had undertaken before. ‘Here I Go Impossible Again’ was one of the highlights in a brilliant cohesive collection of work. It was proof if that if you’ve got it but have lost it, you can get it again back if you keep trying…

Available on the ERASURE album ‘Nightbird’ via Mute Records

https://www.facebook.com/erasureinfo


POLLY SCATTERGOOD Other Too Endless – Vince Clarke Remix (2009)

polly-scattergood-other-too-endless-mute412POLLY SCATTERGOOD was managed by former Mute plugger Neil Ferris and her self-titled debut came out on Mute in 2009 to largely positive reviews. An intense organic collection of ethereal songs, Scattergood revealed herself to be a promising talent unafraid to express emotion and vulnerability. From it, ‘Other Too Endless’ was bolstered by a superb VC remix and highlighted the compatibility of her sound within a synthesized pop environment.

Available on the compilation album ‘The Electricity Club’ (V/A) via Amour Records

http://www.pollyscattergood.com/


THE GOOD NATURED Ghost Train – Vox Mix (2011)

goodnatured02THE GOOD NATURED were a British pop trio who  were keen to collaborate to develop their sound. This slice of electropop goodness originated from a demo that Clarke had sent over to the band. Wanting to explore more electronic territory, singer Sarah McIntosh’s voice was given a layered, almost robotic aesthetic that suited the eerie but danceable atmosfear. Like a futuristic funfair ride, ‘Ghost Train’ swooped in a manner that was very appealing. They later changed their name to LOVESTARRS.

Originally released as a free download via Astralwerks, currently unavailable

http://www.lovestarrs.com/


ELECTRIC YOUTH The Best Thing (2012)

Electric-Youth-best-thingELECTRIC YOUTH are a synthesizer couple hailing from Edmonton in Canada. Having enjoyed ‘A Real Hero’, Bronwyn Griffin and Austin Garrick’s contribution to the ‘Drive’ soundtrack, Clarke accepted the duo’s invitation to provide his production and mixing skills to the dreamy synthpop of ‘The Best Thing’. Bringing a vintage Yamaha CS80 along to the session, this laid back but melodic ditty was enhanced by the input and came out as ELECTRIC YOUTH’s second single.

Available on the ELECTRIC YOUTH album ‘Innerworld’ via Last Gang Entertainment / Secretly Canadian

http://www.electricyouthmusic.com/


VCMG Lowly (2012)

VCMG_Ssss_albumartwork-560x560At 2011’s Short Circuit Presents Mute, Martin Gore discussed with Vince Clarke about collaborating on some minimal techno sketches. After a period of exchanging sound files via the web, the fruits of their endeavours were released as ‘Ssss’ by Mute. Very much Martin Gore’s “kind of disco”, tracks like ‘Spock’, ‘Single Blip’ and the ironically titled ‘Skip This Track’ were possibly more accessible than purer forms of techno; the best track was ‘Lowly’ with its sweeping synthetic strings over robotic rhythms.

Available on the VCMG album ‘Ssss’ via Mute Records

http://mute.com/artists/vcmg


VINCE CLARKE & ANA BRUN Fly On The Windscreen (2012)

Novelist Tonya Hurley commissioned her brother-in-law to record a stark cover of his former band’s ‘Fly On The Windscreen’ with vocalist ANE BRUN, as part of promotion for her literary trilogy ‘The Blessed’. While the guitar-like textures appeared to have been borrowed from the original in an act of artistic homage, the rest of the widescreen arrangement was quite different as the vulnerable feminine Gothic twist acted as the ‘Twilight’ Generation’s perfect introduction to DEPECHE MODE.

Available on the VINCE CLARKE download single ‘Fly On The Windscreen’ via Amazon and iTunes

http://www.vinceclarkemusic.com


ERASURE Dead Of Night (2014)

ERASURE-TheVioletFlame2014Following the disappointment of 2011’s ‘Tomorrow’s World’, ‘The Violet Flame’, produced by Richard X saw ERASURE return to form and express an infectious zest for the future. Interestingly following his VCMG techno project, the songs began with Vince Clarke’s pre-recorded dance grooves. With Andy Bell preferring these faster pace backbones, the result was a much more immediate and uptempo album. ‘Dead Of Night’ was the collection’s euphoric, uplifting opening number.

Available on the ERASURE album ‘The Violet Flame’ via Mute Artists

https://twitter.com/erasureinfo


Text by Chi Ming Lai with thanks to Deb Danahay
18th May 2015, updated 13th August 2020