Tag: Dave Ball (Page 2 of 3)

SOFT CELL Interview

Photo by Dave Chambers

One-time Leeds Polytechnic art students SOFT CELL set the blueprint for acts such as PET SHOP BOYS and ERASURE with their stark synthesizer driven pop and were undoubtedly ahead of their time.

Managed by Stevo Pearce of Some Bizzare Records who secured them a deal with Phonogram Records, Marc Almond and Dave Ball had an amazing run of Top 40 hit singles between 1981-1984.

Having entered into cultural folklore with their catalogue of classics such as ‘Memorabilia’, ‘Tainted Love’, ‘Bedsitter’, ‘Say Hello Wave Goodbye’, ‘Torch’, ‘What!’, ‘Where The Heart Is’ and ‘Soul Inside’, Almond and Ball will say hello and wave goodbye with a final concert at London’s O2 Arena on Sunday 30th September 2018 and a soon-to-be-released celebratory 10 disc boxed set entitled ‘Keychains & Snowstorms: The SOFT CELL Story’.

Every recorded track from the duo’s Phonogram-era is represented on ‘Keychains & Snowstorms: The SOFT CELL Story’ in some form or another, with all of the singles presented in their extended 12 inch format.

Photo by Dave Chambers

Meanwhile, there will also be tracks like ‘Divided Soul, ‘Somebody, Somewhere, Sometime’, ‘The Night’, ‘Monoculture’, ‘Desperate’ and ‘Darker Times’ released  in 2002 following Almond and Ball’s unexpected reunion as SOFT CELL.

Among the rarities included will be the debut SOFT CELL EP ‘Mutant Moments’, ‘The Girl With The Patent Leather Face’ from the iconic ‘Some Bizzare Album’, tracks recorded under production auspices of Daniel Miller, rarities, demos, BBC radio sessions, new remixes and live recordings.

On a sunny August day, Dave Ball took time out from preparations for the final concert and kindly chatted to The Electricity Club about SOFT CELL and their life of vice…

What concept did you follow for ‘Keychains & Snowstorms’ with regards the budget and restrictions you had?

It wasn’t really so much how much budget we had, but how much material we had; things came out of the woodwork. We’ve got stuff from the very first ever show which we did in 1979 at Leeds Polytechnic for the Fine Art Department party right up to the present day really. There’s rare mixes of quite well-known tracks and a performance from Los Angeles in which Michael Jackson was in the audience! So there’s lots of rarities and oddities.

There’s also a DVD which is most of our British TV performances on ‘Top Of The Pops’ plus ‘Old Grey Whistle Test’, ‘Oxford Road Show’ and even a programme called ‘Supersonic’; ‘Non Stop Erotic Video Show’ is on there too.

It’s got a lot of stuff, there’s a great book that comes with it which has got quotes from people like Neil Tennant and Trent Reznor, so it’s interesting … if anybody is a serious fan, I think it’s a must! It looks beautiful, it was Chris Smith’s idea to have the neon Revox, it’s such as iconic image in its own right, Dave Chambers took the pictures. It’s such a simple design but looks nice as a piece of art, you could have it on your mantelpiece.

Are you including Peter Ashworth’s many photos of SOFT CELL?

The thing is, it’s been such a productive time for us that Richard Franklin who did Marc’s coffee table book, we’ve been working with him on one. I had a meeting over at Peter Ashworth’s flat a few months back, he found a load of stuff from the early 80s, lots of test shots and polaroids, a bin bag full of them! So we sat there one afternoon by the river sipping champagne looking through these test sheets of amazing stuff that people have never seen. Now this is not tied in with the boxed set, this is like a separate project. The audio is the boxed set and the visuals will come out next year as a proper hard backed book.

Photo by Dave Chambers

Is there going to be a souvenir programme for the final concert?

Of course there will be a programme, that’s going to be interesting… there’s lots happening, Universal are going to be re-reissuing all the albums on vinyl while the final one ‘Cruelty Without Beauty’ which we did with Cooking Vinyl, that will be released for the first time on vinyl, which is ironic considering the name of the label *laughs*

Your debut EP ‘Mutant Moments’ had a very art school vibe while the next single ‘Memorabilia’ b/w ‘A Man Can Get Lost’ was more clubby…

‘Mutant Moments’ was very homemade, very lo-fi and made on no money, done at art college. But we thought we needed a producer and we had the chance when Daniel Miller came along. We gravitated towards him because we loved ‘Warm Leatherette’ plus we knew Frank Tovey who was FAD GADGET, he did MUTE 002 which was ‘Back To Nature’.

We passed a cassette to Frank and asked him to play it to Daniel but at first, he didn’t really get it.

Eventually we managed to persuade him to do a single in a 16 track studio in East London called Stage One where we recorded ‘Memorabilia’ and ‘A Man Can Get Lost’ … it was a bit confusing that because the 7 inch came out as ‘A Man Can Get Lost’ while the 12 inch came out as ‘Memorabilia’!

And ‘Memorabilia’ became this big club hit, it even got in the American dance charts!

I think that’s why we got a chance at doing another single with Photogram because they were quite astonished and probably thinking “how are these two art school guys getting a record into the American dance chart?”.

But we were very self-motivating… even with ‘Mutant Moments’, I managed to get three plays on Radio1 with no record label, management or plugger! We did the Futurama2 festival at Leeds Queens Hall in 1980, I had a test pressing with me just in case and lo-and-behold, I saw John Peel! So I made a beeline for him and went “Excuse me sir” while doffing my cap, “may I give you this?”… he was like “oh thanks” and put it in his filing cabinet *laughs*

I thought nothing more of it but he played ‘Metro MRX’ three times on his Radio1 show, all this on a chance meeting. So you never know your luck 😉

You did a re-recording of ‘Metro MRX’ that ended up being issued by ‘Flexipop’ magazine which sounds like it uses the same electronic rhythm track as ‘New Life’ by DEPECHE MODE?

That was done with Daniel Miller, his bass drum at that time was an ARP 2600, which was a semi-modular system which apparently he bought second-hand from Elton John which was used on tour! It’s a fantastic synth, I’d loved to have had one!

Talking of ARP, I’ve just got an ARP Odyssey reissue which has an absolutely beautiful sound because we’ve got a bit of a deal with Korg so that’s quite handy *laughs*

After ‘Mutant Moments’ and ‘Memorabilia’, did you notice that SOFT CELL were morphing into something much more synthpop, because the songs on the demos that are in the boxed set and which formed ‘The Bedsit Tapes’ did not end up on ‘Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret’…

Yeah, ‘The Bedsit Tapes’ were all just little sketches and a lot were written by me at art college, they were just doodles really. When I met Marc, he was a performance artist and I was just doing weird synth music for him. But he asked if he could sing some of my songs, and I was like “great” because I’m not a singer and he looked fantastic, when I first met him I thought “that’s a front man!”.

So we started to think about how to get a sound; Marc had been working at Leeds Warehouse in the cloakroom and they were playing a lot of New York disco, so he was bringing these records home that he’d borrowed. So we were getting more and more into music with a heavy dance beat and heavy basslines.

That’s how ‘Memorabilia’ came about, it was directly influenced by all that and us deliberately doing something a bit more clubby. I give Marc full credit for steering it there and suggesting we do something with more of a James Brown bassline. So I started noodling repetitively, it wasn’t sequenced but it started sounding like those Techno records which came later. We inadvertently came across that sound and with Daniel’s help obviously, we created something amazing.

Photo by Peter Ashworth

You’ve talked about the rhythmic and art school side, but where did the tunes spring from?

Marc’s always been the very big pop fan as have I, plus I’m a big fan of a lot of film music like John Barry. So we’ve always been strong on our melodies. I’d play a little tune and Marc would do something that counters it. KRAFTWERK, YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA and DEPECHE MODE are very melodic, the most successful electronic bands are all extremely melodic and fantastic. It’s all very good listening to drones, I mean I love Brian Eno and even some of that has amazing melodies, but it’s like being washed over in water colour.

I do like a powerful theme and I like the subject matter of a song to be powerful and to have some kind of a thematic quality with it, like a James Bond song such as ‘Goldfinger’, a very powerful musical element and a powerful vocal element.

Even on ‘Mutant Moments’, there’s a track called ‘L.O.V.E Feelings’ which had a John Barry vibe, so it seemed to be there even back then?

There was this pub Marc and I used to frequent. On a Sunday evening, they had a singalong-with-the-organist night and there would be this old bloke with a Hammond organ and this drummer who had this round tom and he’d have his newspaper on that, doing the crossword with his pint and a fag in his mouth, playing the hi-hat and bass drum! And then there was this mad old lady who had drunk too much sherry trying to sing Shirley Bassey! I think Peter Kay captured all that with ‘Phoenix Nights’, so it was kind of like a p*ss take of that! You can hear Marc giggling at the end!

He did that a few times when we were recording, we were doing something recently going through some of our old tracks and I found a multi-track of a take of ‘Tainted Love’ and when Marc gets to the first chorus, he’s in fits of giggles, I don’t know why!

Despite being art school boys, did a new discipline have to emerge with ‘Mutant Moments’, just by the nature of having to choose four songs to record for an EP?

At that point, we went through what we’d got and thought those were the best four songs we had at the time, so that’s why those ended up on it. It was never done as a commercial enterprise, it was more like a promotional thing and it did work because it got us on Radio1 and we started getting more and more gigs. It built very gradually over a two year period…

So this is where Stevo picked up on you?

Yes, that was after Futurama2, he wasn’t there but asked if there were any interesting unsigned electronic bands there and people kept saying our name. So he got involved… he was very lucky, he was an opportunist really, but he had good ears and was putting together a compilation which became the ‘Some Bizzare Album’ which helped us immensely.

Us and DEPECHE MODE were singled out as the ones to watch. But unfortunately, we did this gig at Crocs in Rayleigh, Essex… DEPECHE MODE were the house band and SOFT CELL were the main act, we were absolutely appalling and they were fantastic! There were all these people from London like VISAGE and SPANDAU BALLET there to check us out and they were chucking pennies at us, we were dreadful.

But that’s when Daniel Miller got involved because we knew we had to get the sound better, and as he’d signed DEPECHE MODE, we thought he might know what to do with us and luckily he said yes. We didn’t want to create any rivalry but DEPECHE MODE were cool because their take on electronic music was different. We always got on fine with DEPECHE MODE.

Was this the night where legend has it, Tony Mayo from NAKED LUNCH took a dig at Marc?

I think he said “You’re a load of sh*t”, but then Rusty Egan said to Stevo to drop us because he thought we were rubbish! *laughs*

I’ve known Rusty for years and in fairness to him, when ‘Memorabilia’ came out, he changed his mind. He used to have two copies of it and keep it going for like half an hour, mixing into each other because he loved it so much. That really was the key track that changed the momentum upwards and obviously, what happened next is history as they say…

Photo by Peter Ashworth

Do you remember much about the recording of ‘The Girl With The Patent Leather Face’ for the ‘Some Bizarre Album’?

That again was done at art school with a couple of Revoxes, a toy Chinese instrument that I put a pick up on for that clanging sound, a Korg synth and a Rhythm Master drum machine.

It was a little black box that had the usual bossa nova / jazz / disco / pop presets, but only one or two of those were useable *laughs*

The guy who ran the sound studio in Leeds Poly was a guy called John Darling who’s sadly no longer with us, he had a nice home studio in the Yorkshire Dales and a proper mixing desk, so we tried to polish it up as much as possible on zero budget. It came out as it was, so we were surprised when people like journalist Betty Page aka Beverley Gillick gave it a really good review!

Your drum machine journey has been quite interesting…

I bought a Boss Doctor Rhythm DR55 which was used on those BBC Radio sessions and the first time I used anything to do with Roland, because Boss was part of the same company.

When we did ‘Tainted Love’, we used a CR78 Compurhythm which had a monophonic output which our engineer Paul Hardiman cleverly managed to split the bass and the snare by gating one off the other so that they were isolated, it probably helped that it was quite a simple rhythm. The rest of the percussion came from Marc’s Pearl Syncussion unit, a Synare which looked like a flying saucer and an Electro-Harmonix Crash Pad which had a trigger made out of cork! So all that zapping and sounds that are like smashing pottery on the segue of ‘Tainted Love’ with ‘Where Did Our Love Go?’ were done with those, alongside the live finger snaps. Simple but effective!

Then you moved onto a Roland TR808?

I think SOFT CELL were the first band to use a TR808 in the British charts with ‘Bedsitter’. As soon as ‘Tainted Love’ went massive, the record company said we had to do an album and our producer Mike Thorne was an Englishman who lived in New York, so he suggested recording it there… we weren’t going to say no!

So off we went to Manhattan for a few months. I took my little Korg SB100 Synthe-Bass which was the SOFT CELL bass sound on the first album.

When I got to the studio, I thought “what’s that?”… Mike had bought one of the first 808s in America and I thought “bloody hell, that’s amazing”! I immediately took to it and developed my own style. I loved it, it was instant, I had a feel for it.

Then we had the Synclavier which was the first time I’d seen a polyphonic digital synth… so I’ve got this dirty little bass thing with this amazing very early techno drum machine that no-one had really used before and we did ‘Bedsitter’, everyone was asking me “how did you get that sound?”.

That drum machine, the bass synth and the Synclavier were seriously important to our sound and the whole first album. We also put on things like a Mellotron, a celeste, a bit of real piano and some real percussion, woodwind and brass. We found our sound very quickly when we worked with Mike in New York and we knew how to do it.

We had the songs, we never stopped writing and it was great to be able to hear them recorded properly. A lot of those songs we wrote at art school and been playing them for years so we knew what people liked, things like ‘Bedsitter’.

After the 808, you moved onto the Oberheim DMX on ‘The Art Of Falling Apart’?

Yes, I bought a DMX; we used a mix of that with the Linn Drum Mk1 and Mk2. But when I listen to those albums, I prefer the sound of the 808. I wished we’d carried on using it, but everyone was gravitating towards that more ‘realistic’ sound and the 808 was out of favour. Everyone wanted real snare and bass drum samples, Martin Rushent was using the Linn Drum with THE HUMAN LEAGUE. So it was the fickle world of pop y’know, so you tend to go with the flow on that… it was a bit stupid in that way I think.

Photo by Paul Cox

SOFT CELL did some glorious 12 inch versions, in particular ‘Bedsitter’, ‘Facility Girls’, ‘Torch’ and ‘Insecure Me’, which are long songs with song parts rather than just extended versions…

We always wrote songs to be long versions… people would normally do a radio version and then re-edit that, we just did a really long version and then take the best bits to compress them into a radio version which I think worked quite well for us. We always seemed to get good results and everyone comments on how our 12 inchers seem to flow, but that’s because they’re written as long pieces and not an assemblage.

Before ‘Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret’, you did a BBC Radio session for Richard Skinner. ‘Seedy Films’ was on it and underwent the biggest transformation because it was quite fast at first and didn’t have the clarinet, what was it like doing those?

We were always very fast with Mike Thorne, he didn’t like to work long hours but with the BBC Radio sessions, you had to work ultrafast because you basically had a day to do four or five songs. Luckily, we were very well rehearsed, so it was down to me to get stuff done as quick as possible. A lot of the energy and pace we were going probably led to us speeding the track up subconsciously!

I always used to enjoy those sessions, they were recorded in Delaware Road in Maida Vale with Dale Griffin who was in MOTT THE HOOPLE and had moved on to be an in-house producer for the BBC. We were really good friends with Richard Skinner and David Jensen who we also did a session for. I got on well with those two guys, you could have a drink with them in the BBC bar after ‘Top Of the Pops’, they were very approachable, really nice.

Songs like ‘Chips On My Shoulder’, ‘Frustration’ and ‘Secret Life’ hit a zeitgeist with Marc’s lyrical observations?

There’s always been a more fantastical underworld side with SOFT CELL, but there was a track which never came out called ‘Bleak Is My Favourite Cliché’ and it’s still strangely relevant today. I look at Marc’s lyrics now and they have a very keen sharp wit, I think he’s an extremely excellent writer. I’ve always loved his lyrics and he just sees things from a very interesting point of view. It’s taken me a while to get what he’s saying .

Photo by Peter Ashworth

The success led to SOFT CELL taking a darker path towards ‘The Art Of Falling Apart’ and then ‘This Last Night In Sodom’, how do you think you were developing musically to get into this grittier mindset that harked back to art school?

‘Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret’ became a pop album, but by the time of ‘The Art Of Falling Apart’, we wanted to make something a bit more grown-up because we were getting a bit sick of being on TV programmes like ‘Tiswas’ and being perceived as lightweight pop fluff which we obviously weren’t. When we did ‘Old Grey Whistle Test’ on the BBC in 1982, it was amazing the gravitas that programme had.

People started treating us as more of an albums band because before that, we were seen as a singles act. So when we made ‘The Art Of Falling Apart’, it was a statement and much more heavyweight and mature, we were taken more seriously I think.

Was this why you chose ‘Numbers’ as a single rather than having something more obvious like ‘Forever The Same’ or ‘Loving You, Hating Me’?

I think we were just being contentious! *laughs*

We were deliberately just trying to p*ss off the record company, because they were p*ssing us off! That’s when Marc went mental after he discovered they were double packaging ‘Numbers’ with a free copy of ‘Tainted Love’ to try to boost sales. Marc went into the Phonogram office with Stevo and they went berserk, smashing up all the gold discs on the wall and chucking coffee at the A&R men… I wasn’t there I’m glad to say, but this story is quite legendary in Phonogram circles *laughs*

Photo by Peter Ashworth

We did a lot of things just to be awkward, we refused to play ‘Tainted Love’ live in America which was the only thing they knew by us, which was f***ing stupid! *laughs*

And then putting out a single about homosexual rough trade and how many people you’ve f**ked that night is not going to appeal to the little girls who buy pop records is it? But we didn’t care at that point…

The final first phase SOFT CELL single was a cover of ‘Down In The Subway’, was that reflective of your state of mind at the time?

That was an early R’n’B track by Jack Hammer with some really clever heavy lyrics.

It was one that Marc discovered and I thought it had a great rhythm to it, it was very SOFT CELL because it was in that netherworld and had that dark element to it. It was still a minor hit, but what amazed me was the album ‘This Last Night In Sodom’ actually got in the Top10 despite being our least commercial album, it even has a track called ‘Mr Self Destruct’! It was wilfully self-destructive and we made a conscious decision that it was going to be the last album, we’d do a couple of final shows and call it a day, we’d just had enough!

So the 2001 reunion, how do you look back on that and the ‘Cruelty Without Beauty’ album now?

It was great because it was unplanned to reform SOFT CELL. I’d worked with Marc on a few of his solo things like ‘My Hand Over My Heart’, ‘Meet Me In My Dream’ and a remix of ‘Waifs & Strays’, but he called me up at my studio with Ingo Vauk in Kensal Road and asked if I’d fancy meeting up for a coffee to discuss writing some tunes for other people. After coffee, I suggested going to my studio so we did about three or four numbers and Marc did some vocals. When we listened to them played back, we looked at each other and went “it’s SOFT CELL isn’t it?” *laughs*

Photo by Joe Dilworth

So we recorded an album ‘Cruelty Without Beauty’ and started shopping it around, eventually Cooking Vinyl bought it and we toured it, playing festivals in Europe.

Then we went over to America but it was not exactly the most successful tour in the world, it was a bit of a disaster that one but you live and learn.

Then we came back from a festival in Venice and there were plans to do more shows and another record, but the awful motorbike accident happened and Marc was in a very bad way. That was it almost, we sort of lost touch and didn’t speak for about 15 years…

‘Desperate’ was one of the highlights from that period, a swipe at the X-Factor generation and you got in some more John Barry references with that ‘Goldfinger’ thing going on in there…

That’s right, it’s always lurking around somewhere, any chance! Marc’s always had that social awareness and ‘Desperate’ was totally about celebrity culture.

But my favourite was ‘Monoculture’, although it’s an agricultural term, Marc mentioned it in passing… I thought it was brilliant.

Those two songs sort of sum up that repetitive and boring blandness in pop culture, it’s so safe and there’s no real serious artists coming through. They’ve all got that really irritating electronic Country sound that’s autotuned so they all sound like the same person, it’s monoculture. They’re desperate to be there for the opening of a can of lager! *laughs*

‘Caligula Syndrome’ was quite menacing…

That’s about people like Saddam Hussain, it’s to do with modern tyrants, it could be relevant today to people like Putin or even Donald Trump, they think they’re emperors… I mean, Trump’s apartment has gold plated everything. I’ve got this book of tyrants’ home interiors, people like Hitler and Idi Amin, they all had these palatial places like Nero; ‘Caligula Syndrome’ is a reference to that and tyrannical behaviour.

How’s the setlist coming along for the final show at the O2 Arena?

Marc did a survey of what were the most popular tracks and we can’t please everybody all of the time, there’s so much material. I think the show is going to be about two and a half hours long, so it will be quite taxing.

We’ve got backing singers, live brass and percussion, live synths, me and Marc… there will be nine people on stage and an array of engineers plus a lot of computer power on the mixing desk. And there’s a visual show which should look amazing.

The SOFT CELL social media teased a photo of your old live rack with the Korg 800DV, is that going to be brought out of retirement?

We’re actually making a documentary for BBC4, we did a little performance to camera and they wanted me to use my original synths at the Leeds Warehouse where we did our first proper shows.

So the photo was just a reference to that really. That will come out some time after the show, they’ve not advertised when yet because we’re still filming. It’s quite in-depth and for once, I get to talk quite a lot! *laughs*

The boxed set has two remix discs, one is new versions using only original parts…

It was just tightening a few things up as a lot of the original stuff was all played manually, I didn’t want them to sound too mechanical but it was to make them sound more punchy and modern without sounding completely rehashed.

There’s one remix which Hifi Sean did of ‘So’ which was a B-side I knocked together for ‘What’, he’d been playing the original in clubs and it goes down really well with people into this Nu-disco stuff. So he did a dub mix of that and it got its first play on Radio1… for SOFT CELL to still be played on Radio1 these days is pretty amazing, considering we have the combined age of 120! *laughs*

Photo by Dave Chambers

Then there’s this continuous dub mix entitled ‘Non-Stop Euphoric Dubbing’…

That was meant to be more of a chill out sort of thing, you can just put it on and leave it in the background to get stoned to…

…I thought it sounded more like a horror film soundtrack!

I guess some people chill out differently! *laughs*

I could imagine a gothic ballet or dance commission coming out of this…

…now that’s an idea! *laughs*

There’s been a few theatrical things, there’s a musical that’s going to happen in London called ‘Tainted’, I briefly met the guy who’s done it because he lives near me and he gave me his card. I’d forgotten all about it, but he said he’d spoken to Marc. I was talking to my manager about it yesterday and he said it was all in hand.


The Electricity Club gives its warmest thanks to Dave Ball

Special thanks to Debbie Ball at Create Spark

‘Keychains & Snowstorms: The SOFT CELL Story’ is released by Universal Music on 7th September 2018

SOFT CELL play their final live concert at London’s O2 Arena on Sunday 30th September 2018

http://www.softcell.co.uk

https://www.facebook.com/softcellband/

https://twitter.com/softcellhq

https://www.instagram.com/softcellhq/

http://www.ashworth-photos.com

https://www.facebook.com/peter.ashworth.photography


Text and Interview by Chi Ming Lai
18th August 2018

SOFT CELL Martin (Hallowe’en Mix)

SOFT CELL had an amazing run of Top 40 hit singles between 1981-1984 with electronic pop classics such as ‘Tainted Love’, ‘Bedsitter’, Say Hello Wave Goodbye’, ‘Torch’, ‘What!’, ‘Where The Heart Is’ and ‘Soul Inside’.

Now, Marc Almond and Dave Ball will say hello and wave goodbye with a final concert at London’s O2 Arena on Sunday 30th September 2018 and a celebratory boxed set out released a few weeks before entitled ‘Keychains & Snowstorms: The SOFT CELL Story’. The boxed set was recently launched with a new remix of the fan favourite ‘Martin’, which in its original 10 minute version was part of a bonus 12 inch single that came with the second  SOFT CELL full length album ‘The Art Of Falling Apart.

Reimagined for 2018 by Dave Ball using only the original studio parts, a new black and white video for ‘Martin’ which recalls ‘The Blair Witch Project’ has just been unleashed to coincide.

‘Martin’ is one of a number of new mixes supervised by Dave Ball which will feature on disc 3 of ‘Keychains & Snowstorms – The SOFT CELL Story’. There will also be original 12 inch versions, B-sides, rarities, demos, BBC radio sessions and live tracks.

Among the rarities included will be SOFT CELL’s debut EP ‘Mutant Moments’, ‘The Girl With The Patent Leather Face’ from the iconic ‘Some Bizzare Album’, the Daniel Miller produced demo of ‘A Man Could Get Lost’, covers of BLACK SABBATH ‘Paranoid’ and the ‘007 Theme’ plus an out-there live reinterpretation with Clint Ruin of SUICIDE’s ‘Ghost Rider’ which was previously only available as a flexi-disc via the Cellmates fan club.

Every recorded track from the duo’s Phonogram-era is represented on ‘Keychains & Snowstorms: The SOFT CELL Story’ in some form or another, while there will also be a selection of highlights from their 2002 reunion album ‘Cruelty Without Beauty’.

Working with Chris Smith and Philip Larsen of THE MANHATTAN CLIQUE, Dave Ball has also produced an hour-long continuous dance mix of well-known and lesser-known fan favourites entitled ‘Non-Stop Euphoric Dubbing’ for disc 7 which will include as a bonus track, a remix of ‘Bedsitter’by ERASURE.

The final disc in the collection is a DVD which will include a complete SOFT CELL live show recorded in Leeds a few weeks before ‘Tainted Love’ was released, while also included will be various UK TV performances, documentaries, interviews, promo videos and other rare material.

The accompanying booklet includes an essay by Simon Price based around new interviews with Marc Almond and Dave Ball, along with rare and unseen photos plus lyrics and other memorabilia.

With Dave Ball and Marc Almond overseeing the project as executive producers, the boxset promises to be an exceptional quality product boasting over 130 tracks and 12 hours of music.


‘Keychains & Snowstorms – The SOFT CELL Story’ is released by Universal Music on 7th September 2018

SOFT CELL play their final live concert at the O2 Arena on Sunday 30th September 2018

http://www.softcell.co.uk

https://www.facebook.com/softcellband/

https://twitter.com/softcellhq

https://www.instagram.com/softcellhq/


Text by Chi Ming Lai
16th July 2018

Vintage Synth Trumps with FICTION STUDIOS

Fiction Studios is a boutique recording studio located right in the heart of Central London, fully equipped for recording, mixing and mastering while also available to hire for Voiceover and ADR recording.

The studio was set up by brothers Dominic and Nathan Cooper in 2016; Cooper is best known for his role in the film adaptation of ‘Mamma Mia’ while Nathan was a member of THE MODERN and today performs as KID KASIO.

Combining Dominic’s experience in the acting field and Nathan’s background in music production, the air conditioned studio caters for bands, musicians and voiceover artists.

The studio also features an array of classic analogue gear which The Electricity Club decided would be a good reason to visit and challenge Nathan Cooper to a round of Vintage Synth Trumps…

First card today and it’s a Korg Mono/Poly…

I’ve got the plug-in! My friend’s got a Mono/Poly and he swears by it, we were in a band together when we were young…

…I thought you were young? 😉

Yeah! *coughs*

His name’s Gabriel Prokofiev, we both got into synths at primary school and we’ve both built up a collection over the years. I’m quite jealous of his collection, there’s a few he’s got that I haven’t and the Mono/Poly is one of them.

What was the first synth you owned?

It depends if you want the first good one or the first keyboard? My first keyboard was a Yamaha PSS-110, I found one again recently on eBay and thought I’d buy it on a whim… it’s awful! It’s got these samples of a dog bark and cat meow and what’s supposed to be a cuckoo! *laughs*

So it was more like a toy?

Yes, so I followed that up with a Casio SK1 when I was about 10-11 which had a sampling thing in it, so that you could burp into it and play ‘Happy Birthday’ out of burps! *laughs*

But my first proper synth was when I was 14, I begged my mum to buy me what I wanted, which was a Roland Juno 60. In those days, you went to ‘Loot’ magazine… this was at a time when they were really cheap because everyone wanted a Roland D50 or Korg M1.

I would say it’s the same one I own now, but it isn’t… sadly in the early 90s, I was recording in Ezee Studios with TOYAH and MARILLION’s producer Nick Tauber.

He told me to leave the synth there as we’d be back in a couple of weeks.

But the session got put back and put back and we didn’t go back for nearly a year, so when I finally returned it was gone! I was heartbroken!

A lot of people just stared blankly when I asked where it was, we couldn’t trace where it had gone. The one I replaced it with, I’ve had now for a fair amount of time.

The Juno 60 is a robust old thing isn’t it?

Every synth I have at Fiction Studios has at some point, needed to be completely refurbished, apart from the Juno. It never goes out of tune! The only thing that ever happened to it, was when I was touring with THE MODERN and I snapped one of the keys while I was loading it back onto the van. It was after a horrific gig at an indie venue called ‘Filthy McNasty’s’ which was where THE LIBERTINES were signed, so God knows what we were doing there! *laughs*

What I really wanted was an Oberheim or a Jupiter 8, but that was out of my range, so the Juno fitted in the budget for a birthday present. I know Howard Jones used one and it was analogue so that was it.

OK, next card!! What are the chances, it’s a Juno 60!!! *laughs*

When I set up Fiction Studios, I was lucky to be loaned some of my dream synths like the Oberheim OBXa.

I also have the Prophet 5 which I saved up for ages for, but having said that, the go-to synth is still the Juno 60, it’s still used in my KID KASIO stuff more than anything else.

Maybe it’s because I know it so well and all the patches on it were programmed by me, but there’s something about the interface on it, it’s just so easy to manipulate, it does what you want it to do, to fit into the track. Having said that, you get less happy mistakes with it though. I guess because I know all the sounds on it so well, so it rarely does anything that truly surprises.

Now, here’s a monster on the next card, a Yamaha CS80!!

That’s the dream isn’t it? I’d love one! I have the Arturia softsynth version. I always think of VANGELIS, the ‘Blade Runner’ soundtrack and Stevie Wonder who used it a lot. It’s one of those synths that’s got a ‘sound’ to it with that ribbon controller.

The ribbon controller is an interesting point as the Polymoog had one too and I’m assuming that kind of controllability is very difficult to simulate using software?

Yeah, totally! It’s why I use as much hardware stuff as I can because when I’m using mod wheels, pitch bends and stuff, I’ll programme the part in MIDI and then have the part playing through the synth while tweaking it and then I’ll record the sound onto the computer, adding any kind of modulation manually.

Because you’ve got that tiny bit of human touch to it, that is what people kind of connect to.

Although it’s still synths, it’s got some human authenticity to it. You can use pitch bend and stuff with softsynths but you don’t get that same interaction. And I think that can make or break a sound sometimes.

I remember on one of my KID KASIO tracks ‘Full Moon Blue’, I was using a harmonica sound from a Yamaha DX7 but it wasn’t quite sounding right, and everyone said I needed to use a breath control; so you put this thing in your mouth and plug it into the back of the synth and it will change the sound as you blow.

I love things being electronic and mechanical but sometimes if you add something like that, it adds that human element to it. There’s something about humans AND machines.

So why set up a studio when today, someone can grab hold of a laptop, get GarageBand and do everything there? Why does anyone out there need somewhere like Fiction Studios?

Good question… because many softsynths are now based on old analogue ones, it’s got people hankering after the authentic sound, even though softsynths do a really great job.

I think most people are aware the original sounds are better, but people can’t get their hands on them and they are expensive these days; a lot of people don’t have the room for them as well.

So in the current environment where synthpop is popular, there is a market for people coming in and wanting to play around with the old synths and run their ideas through some classic analogue flagship gear. It’s nice in that sense that people can do that. Some people often just want another pair of ears so if people want me to produce something, I can listen to what they’ve done and steer it in a certain direction.

Modern music has become very inward because of home recording…

Yes, it’s become very introspective. You can get something sounding good on GarageBand and get it up to a professional level but you always need someone else, that’s why all KID KASIO albums are mixed by Adrian Hall because I need that extra pair of ears, he can hear stuff that’s clogging up the track that I’ve been too entrenched in to notice.

So that’s why a studio with an in-house engineer or producer is great to make professional sounding tracks, or they can use the synths to produce their own stuff.

How did your most recent single ‘Drive (Some Kind Of Love)’ come about?

It was inspired by the film ‘Drive’ which came out in 2011; I’d just finished doing the ‘Tamara Drew’ soundtrack with Ben Todd and ‘Drive’ really blew us both away.

We thought it would be great to write a song that could stylistically fit into the film.

We performed it live and realised it went down pretty well. So that’s why I decided to release it.

When it was being mixed, I gave Adrian some reference points which were ‘The Boys Of Summer’ by Don Henley and ‘You’re The Voice’ by John Farnham. The track had this American vibe to it which a lot of my stuff doesn’t have, my sound is very Synth Britannia but for some reason, ‘Drive (Some Kind Of Love)’ just had this MISTER MISTER element to it!

I envisaged the video being filmed on an American highway in an open top car, but it ended up being done in London with me driving around in my Reliant Scimitar classic car and the video came out ok *laughs*

Looking at Fiction Studios, I’m amazed how spacious it is… what did you have in mind when you chose this location?

It is right in the heart of London, very few studios are now, normally you have to go to the East of London or the trendier parts, this is slap bang central.

I was looking for a space with my brother and his accountants have got a firm on the fifth floor of this building. He mentioned to them he was looking for a location to set up a studio and they suggested their store room in the basement.

We came down to have a look and it was not what you would expect an accountancy firm’s store room to look… there were boxes of files but because this firm looked after actors, models and people in the entertainment industry, there was all this weird stuff there.

I was looking around and there were MTV and Nickelodean Awards for ONE DIRECTION!! The firm represented them! So there was a pile of their tour clothes and what was really sad was all their stuff that fans had given them was here!

So there was this huge great portrait of Harry Styles staring at me that some fan had spent ages drawing! And it was down there gathering dust! *laughs*

Anyway, I noticed a library area that looked something out of Hogwarts from ‘Harry Potter’ and it was set up originally as a film set but never got round to being used. They offered to move it but I said not to as I could imagine bands hanging out in this bit because it had a really nice vibe.

The brickwork and features are all fake, but the 6000 old books are real! Occasionally you’ll pick a book out and it’ll be from the 1850s. So it’s great for inspiration, and what I’ve found I’ve done recently is I’ve been tidying up, looked up at the shelves and see the spine of a book that has the title of a song I’ve just written! It’s very weird!

And there’s no curfew or restrictions on the time of day an act can use the studio?

No, people have booked Fiction Studios until very late at night and it has 24 hour concierge so you can come and go when you please.

You have your synths but you are equipped to record acoustically as well, was this important in the viability of the studio?

Yes, the drum kit has been put near the library area. I would happily just set it up as a synth studio but I was looking into this as a business, so I didn’t want to close it off and make it accessible to everyone. And it’s worked the other way, I haven’t really had enough synth acts in here! I’ve had indie bands, opera singers and everything here so it’s been really interesting *laughs*

So, time for another card, an Oberheim 2 Voice…

I haven’t got a 2 Voice but I’ve been really lucky recently to accquire an OBXa, which was one of my dream wants because I’m a big fan of Richard Barbieri from JAPAN, where they used the similar OBX and Prophet 5.

There’s just a sound about the OB series; since getting one I’ve actually come to really respect Richard Barbieri’s work because it’s not as easy as turning it on and having those sounds.

You can find them when you tweak but it’s hard, and makes me realise he was a bit of a genius when it came to that stuff. How I came to acquire it is one of those funny things, I was at a party and I got chatting to a guy called Ian Merrylees who is a TV Editor.

He said “I’ve got a few synths at home”. Now nine times out of ten with these types of conversations, it turns out the synth is a Casiotone… so I asked him what they were and he said “one’s an Oberheim” and I’m like “WHAT?”

It had been in his loft for fifteen years… so I went round to his house to have a look, and not only did he have an OBXa, but he had a Prophet T8 as well! He wanted to see them used, and he very kindly loaned them to Fiction Studios, although they needed loads of servicing… I needed about four people to carry the T8 into the car, it’s a real monster! *laughs*

What other synths do you have here at Fiction Studios?

As well at the Oberheim OBXa, Prophet 5 and Prophet T8, there’s a Crumar Performer which after the Juno 60 is my most used synth, the SH101, Yamaha DX7, Korg MS2000, Korg DS8 and a Korg Poly 800 which my band mate Chi in THE MODERN found in a skip!

My most recent addition to the synth armoury was from when Roland came down to the studio and were impressed with the look. So the deal is they will lend us anything if they can film in here every now and then, so I have been lent a Roland JDXa which Nick Rhodes of DURAN DURAN spearheads the campaign for. It has a really nice interface, it looks amazing.

It’s great for live because unlike the old analogues where you need a torch because you can’t see the controls, this has everything lit up really nicely and there are in-built effects so everything sounds nice straight out of the box.

You have two mixing desks here?

One is for bands to use when they rehearse in the live area, it’s an old Datum series made by Hill Audio who provided the desks for Live Aid.

I was keen on having an old analogue desk, so I got this Soundtracs IL36 32 channel mixer from a friend of mine who was downsizing. That’s the thing about these desks nowadays, no-one wants them, my friend just wanted it taken away, it took five people to lift it! But I love it because it’s got a great sound to the EQs, I run all my synths through it. I have a nice Focusrite pre-amp so that it sounds like those old Neve desks, it’s got a beautiful analogue sound.

I use Logic to record but if people want to use Pro-Tools, they can. I have a nice Neumann U87 microphone and an Avalon pre-amp so you can get a good vocal chain. The monitoring uses Genelec speakers so it’s all here for people if they want it.

Another card, an ARP Odyssey…

I was this close to getting the Korg remake last year and then the studio came up. So when there was the offer of these other synths and I was getting the studio set-up, I had to spend my money on other things. I’d like to get one because ULTRAVOX used it…

…you know Billy Currie’s just sold his?

Did he? Why would you sell it?

He did sell it for £8500!

Ah! That’s why you’d sell it! *laughs*

How much is the remake by Korg?

Don’t quote me on this, but I think it’s about £700 so it’s a lot cheaper than buying an old one and it’s got MIDI.

Now I see here you have a tape recorder AND a drum machine… *laughs*

The tape recorder is all rigged up and came into use recently. Dave Ball from SOFT CELL came in with some old ¼ inch tapes of demos recorded when he and Marc Almond were at Leeds Polytechnic. He wanted to find out what was on them in case there was any other stuff that hadn’t been heard before, and there was!

That was a great experience, he’s such a nice guy and one of my idols, so to sit there and go through this stuff first hand was amazing, This early stuff was almost punk and really out there lyrically, it was amazing how simplistic some of the synth lines were, that’s the beauty of them.

The Oberheim DMX was kindly donated by a friend, I must give it back to him soon as I’ve had it for about ten years *laughs*

It’s got a brilliant kick drum, snare and clap sound which I use in almost everything I do but I tend to sample it rather than use it as a drum machine.

There are modern drum machines like the Roland TR8, but most people just use software, so is there a place for drum machines in recording today?

I think there probably is, but I still use loops quite a lot. Most people will use a programme in Logic for drum sounds called Battery where you can load up whatever vintage drum machine you want and play it on the keys of a synth, layering up the percussion framework into the computer.

I like the inspiration you can get from loops, I use a company that supplies them and you can pick one out by year. When you buy a particular year like say 1982, they send you a pack of a hundred loops played on the popular drum machines of that year in various tempos and stuff. So what I invariably do is use that as a basis and layer the sounds up with real ones from the DMX or a sample from a 12 inch single. The great thing about the DMX is that you can open it up and tune up each drum to the song via the dials inside.

When it comes to using a drum machine to programme, it’s quite fiddly and you end up recording it back into the computer anyway, so it’s a bit pointless. But it is nice to have it hands on.

Final card, it’s the Polymoog…

People say I haven’t got any Moogs in the studio but they’re one of those makes that I never got into.

I want one, partly because Howard Jones had a Moog Prodigy but when I was young, I always associated Moog with the more proggy end of music and it sort of put me off *laughs*

It’s funny because RODNEY CROMWELL admits he’s “a Moog Snob”

I guess it’s the difference between 1977-1980 which is more the lo-fi era of electronics where he comes from musically, while my stuff fits more into the more later end of synthpop 1982-1983…

Ah, the digitally stabilised analogue period…

Yeah, exactly *laughs*

Having said that, if anyone wants to donate a Moog synth? I do have all the Moog plug-ins but it’s just been one of those things.

So what are you up to at the moment musically?

Apart from producing an array of acts here at Fiction, I’m planning the video to the final release from my KID KASIO ‘Sit & Wait’ album. It’s going to be made up of old footage of me in bands from the 90s.

Also I’m putting the final touches to an EP of cover versions I’m releasing next year. And busy writing and recording for my third KID KASIO album.


The Electricity Club gives its warmest thanks to Nathan Cooper and Fiction Studios

Fiction Studios is based at 49 – 51 Bedford Row, London, United Kingdom – for further information, please phone 020 7404 7111 or visit their website at http://www.fictionstudioslondon.com/

https://www.facebook.com/fictionstudioslondon/

https://twitter.com/fiction_studios

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Vintage Synth Trumps is a card game by GForce that features 52 classic synthesizers


Text and Interview by Chi Ming Lai
18th August 2017

MARC ALMOND + SOFT CELL Hits & Pieces

‘Hits & Pieces’ celebrates the career of MARC ALMOND, one of the most prolific and subversive artists of the last four decades.

Almond once said that for an artist to be “truly subversive”, they had to have “access to the mainstream”.

Making his name in SOFT CELL with Dave Ball, the duo were undoubtedly ahead of their time and set the blueprint for acts such as PET SHOP BOYS and ERASURE.

With their stark synthesizer driven pop, Almond and Ball became Top 40 chart regulars between 1981-84 and the double CD version of this collection contains no less than nine SOFT CELL singles including the hypnotic proto-house of ‘Memorabilia’ and the emotive brilliance of ‘Say Hello Wave Goodbye’.

Almond excelled at reinterpretation and covers of Northern Soul favourites like ‘Tainted Love’, ‘Where Did Our Love Go?’, ‘What’ and ‘Down In The Subway’ set the tone for some ambitious projects like French chanson and Russian folk in later years.

But despite having hits with their own compositions like ‘Bedsitter’ and ‘Torch’, all was not well in the SOFT CELL camp. As their art school ethos clashed with commercial success, the pair imploded and this state of mind was suitably documented by the frantic percussive paranoia of ‘Soul Inside’.

Even before this, Almond was tiring of the electronic pop sound that made him famous. He began to embrace a classic European cabaret style, and this move was highlighted by ‘Black Heart’, a tremendously passionate single by his side project MARC & THE MAMBAS.

It eventually led to Almond’s first solo record ‘Vermin in Ermine’ in 1984 but perhaps surprisingly, none of this album is represented on Hits & Pieces’, with ‘Tenderness Is A Weakness’ the most missed. This was a period when Almond was losing sales momentum, but with a move to Virgin Records in 1985, ‘Stories Of Johnny’ became an unexpected Top 30 hit.

And so began a mainstream renaissance for Almond with ‘Tears Run Rings’ getting him back onto ‘Top Of The Pops’ , followed by a No1 in ‘Something’s Gotten Hold Of My Heart’ with the late Gene Pitney. This paved the way for the brilliance of ‘A Lover Spurned’ and ‘The Desperate Hours’, both songs showing Almond was more than well-suited to the grand overtures of hi-tech production.

And so it was that with Trevor Horn at the helm, that another imperial phase began with more electro-orchestrated covers in ‘Jacky’ and ‘The Days Of Pearly Spencer’ plus a reunion with Dave Ball on the wonderfully over-the-top ‘My Hand Over My Heart’ on which Almond demonstrated his fabulously forlorn romanticism.

However, just as it looked like Almond was to consolidate his position as a commercially successful but credible artist, he stole defeat from the jaws of victory with the schizophrenic ‘Fantastic Star’ album in 1996. ‘Hits & Pieces’ features far too many singles from this period, although ‘Child Star’ is a classic Almond ballad, while ‘The Idol’ is a fun glam rock tribute to Bowie and Bolan.

But as the boy who came back, Almond got back on track with new management and one very welcome inclusion on ‘Hits & Misses’ is 2001’s ‘Glorious’. An appropriately titled electronic torch song, it combined his distinctive vocal histrionics with a big sounding production.

Around this time, Almond reunited with Dave Ball as SOFT CELL for the ‘Cruelty Without Beauty’ album, but with Almond now declaring this reunion “a terrible mistake”, neither of the two singles ‘Monoculture’ or ‘The Night’ make the tracklisting which is a shame, but understandable.

However, one of the joys of ‘Hits & Pieces’ is that it provides a platform for Almond’s most recent material. Proving he still has that endearing quality, 2014’s ‘The Dancing Marquis’ in particular, produced by Tony Visconti, is like a more fully realised version of ‘The Idol’. Developing its thumping Schaffel motif on ‘Bad To Me’ co–written with Chris Braide, Almond is fully reinvigorated as the flamboyant tattooed pop diva.

Bringing things fully up to date, the new single ‘A Kind Of Love’ is a wonderful optimistic statement that romantic liaisons don’t have to be tainted after all and that we can all be nice to each other, whatever our desires.

There are no quibbles with the track selection, maybe preferences for Almond’s work with SYSTEM F, T-TOTAL and STARCLUSTER to substitute inclusions such as the big band live rendition of ‘Tainted Love’ with Jools Holland and the over representation of ‘Fantastic Star’.

But otherwise, this collection does what it says on the tin.

MARC ALMOND and his fabulous career of ups and downs and ups and downs and ups has become engrained into the fabric of popular culture.

Spanning a period of 36 years, ‘Hits & Misses’ is testament that he remains vital as ever and as important as Jacques Brel, Scott Walker or Lou Reed.


With thanks to Stuart Kirkham at Hall Or Nothing

‘Hits & Pieces’ is released by Universal Music as a single CD, double CD and download

MARC ALMOND’s ‘Hits & Pieces’ 2017 tour includes: London Roundhouse (22nd March), Perth Concert Hall (25th March), York Barbican Centre (26th March), Buxton Opera House (27th March), Warrington Pyramid & Parr Hall (28th March)

http://www.marcalmond.co.uk/

https://www.facebook.com/MarcAlmondOfficial

http://www.softcell.co.uk

https://www.facebook.com/softcellband/


Text by Chi Ming Lai
17th March 2017

DAVE BALL Interview

Dave Ball by Paul CoxDave Ball is best known as the musical genius of SOFT CELL.

Together with Marc Almond, they recorded ‘Tainted Love’, a marvellous hybrid of Northern Soul and KRAFTWERK that was possibly Synth Britannia’s first true crossover song. It started a run of hit singles that ensured SOFT CELL would be Top 40 chart fixtures for the next three years.

Their self-released ‘Mutant Moments’ EP in 1980 came to the attention of DJ Stevo Pearce, who had been compiling “futurist” charts for the music papers Record Mirror and Sounds.

Stevo gathered a number of fledgling acts like DEPECHE MODE, BLANCMANGE, B-MOVIE and THE THE who appeared alongside SOFT CELL on the independently produced ‘Some Bizzare Album’ compilation in 1981. This eventually led to SOFT CELL signing to Phonogram Records.

After ‘Tainted Love’, a cover of a Northern Soul favourite by Gloria Jones, became a UK No1 in September 1981, Ball and Almond became unlikely pin-ups with poster spreads in ‘Smash Hits’. The follow-up single ‘Bedsitter’ reached No 4 and proved SOFT CELL could have hit singles with their own material.

Meanwhile, a further three Top 3 hits came with ‘Say Hello Wave Goodbye’, ‘Torch’ and ‘What’ during what could be now considered as SOFT CELL’s imperial phase, a period which undoubtedly broke down barriers and paved the way for many of the acts who followed, like PET SHOP BOYS, ERASURE, BRONSKI BEAT and FRANKIE GOES TO HOLLYWOOD.

However, as former art students who had met at Leeds Polytechnic, commercial success and pop stardom did not sit well with Ball and Almond; inevitably, the pair began to implode. SOFT CELL disbanded in 1984 but while Almond went solo, Ball eventually found solace in the burgeoning house scene.

thegrid_03With his new musical partner Richard Norris, he found success as THE GRID. Their debut album ‘Electric Head’ proved to be quite influential, with Canadian DJ TIGA probably one of the artists who owe a debt to its timeless musical template.

Around this time, Ball began collaborating with Marc Almond again. The results ended up on ‘Tenement Symphony’, possibly the most mainstream recording of Almond’s career. This eventually led to a full SOFT CELL reunion in 2001 and the album ‘Cruelty Without Beauty’ in 2002.

Following an impromptu meeting at a recent Wolfgang Flür gig Under The Bridge in Chelsea, Dave Ball kindly agreed to a chat with The Electricity Club about his career with SOFT CELL, THE GRID and more.

What inspired you to adopt synthesizers as your tools of expression, rather than guitars?

I first started out as a guitar player but I wasn’t good enough and after hearing ‘Autobahn’ by KRAFTWERK, I decided I was more interested in the possibilities of synthesizers, so I part-exchanged my Fender Telecaster for a second hand synth.

Which were your first couple of synth and drum machine purchases?

My first synth was a Mini Korg 800DV, followed by a Korg Synthe-Bass SB-100 and I had Rhythm Master drum machine that played presets like Bossa Nova, then I got a Boss Dr Rhythm which was programmable.

Korg Synthe-Bass 100One of the key instruments in the SOFT CELL sound was the Korg Synthe-Bass SB-100, a little two octave synth which no-one else appeared to use.

The SB-100 was great because it was specifically a bass instrument, although the twangy topline on ‘Bedsitter’ is made on that instrument using the two pitchbend buttons. The B52s are the only other group I know of that also used that keyboard.

I’ve always been interested in how you connected your love of Northern Soul with your rhythm structures for SOFT CELL, particularly once you’d acquired the Roland TR808?

I would say the only similarity was to do with the tempo of Northern Soul and our faster numbers. On ‘Tainted Love’ I used a Roland Compurhythm CR78 drum machine, I first used a TR808 on ‘Bedsitter’, the follow-up single. I think that was possibly the first record in the UK Top 10 to use an 808.

soft-cell-ciggie-FinCsotelloSOFT CELL self-released ‘Mutant Moments’ which brought you to the attention of Some Bizzare and the inclusion of ‘The Girl With The Patent Leather Face’ on the subsequent era defining compilation. Do you have any key amusing memories of that period and those ‘Some Bizzare Evenings’ playing live alongside DEPECHE MODE, BLANCMANGE, THE THE and B-MOVIE etc?

They weren’t amusing at the time I assure you although I can laugh about them now. When we played with DEPECHE MODE, it was at a club called Crocs in Rayleigh and they were the house band so they were our support act, believe it or not. They were really tight and played really well and I was very nervous about going on after them as various members of ULTRAVOX, VISAGE, SPANDAU BALLET had come down from London to check us out. We played maybe the worst gig of our careers, the crowd were chucking pennies at us and laughing at us. That was when we realised we had to get our shit together or think about getting day jobs.

‘Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret’ is still much talked about and certainly was a better debut than say, DEPECHE MODE’s ‘Speak & Spell’. How do you yourself look back on it today in the pantheon of classic synthpop?

I think it was the result of working on loads of songs together for two years solid and we seemed to catch the zeitgeist – it was very of its time and I think the S&M references helped. It was quite dangerous imagery for a pop band. It took DEPECHE MODE a few years before they got into the black leather and druggy stuff that we were into from day one.

soft-cell-falling-apart-Peter AshworthBy ‘The Art Of Falling Apart’, you had expanded the instrumental palette to include guitar and bass plus early samplers and digital drum machines.

I think we were trying to sound heavier and slightly rockier. In retrospect I actually prefer the TR808 drum machine on the previous album, as opposed to the Oberheim DMX and Linn Drum MkII on ‘The Art Of Falling Apart’.

The sampler we used was a Synclavier MkII that belonged to our producer, Mike Thorne. I only used the sampler for the bass guitar on the track ‘Martin’ on the bonus 12” single.

You recorded a solo album ‘In Strict Tempo’ and produced VICIOUS PINK PHENOMENA. What did you find creatively by doing these that perhaps you hadn’t done with SOFT CELL?

My solo album was really just me wanting to work with some different people and experiment with the studio. It was more like a sketchbook than a fully realised album. VICIOUS PINK were good friends and were on the first SOFT CELL album and I desperately wanted to become a producer, as I was never really into the live performance thing.

After SOFT CELL disbanded, you took an interest in acid house and met Richard Norris to form THE GRID. How did that and then the subsequent availability of the Akai samplers and other equipment become a game changer for you?

I first met him a mutual friend, Genesis P. Orridge of THROBBING GRISTLE / PSYCHIC TV fame when we were working on an album called ‘Jack The Tab’.

thegrid_01What was really crazy about the tech at that time was the affordability. When I first used a Synclavier, they cost £120,000. Then I used a Fairlight III, they cost £60,000! Suddenly you could buy an Atari computer and an Akai sampler and still have change out of £2,000.

It made the whole thing available to many more people and people started sampling records and creating a whole new kind of loop based music. It was a totally new thing and I found it incredibly exciting.

THE GRID’s debut album ‘Electric Head’ stills stand up and a track like ‘One Giant Step’ hasn’t dated at all. Why do you think that might be?

To be quite honest, there’s a lot of electronic music out there that hasn’t dated because a lot of it is timeless; also because we often tried to sound futuristic.

The single versions of ‘A Beat Called Love’ and ‘Floatation’ featured recognisable musical elements that could be linked back to SOFT CELL. Had that been a conscious thing or was it proof that the rave scene was a natural progression from the ecstasy fuelled recording sessions for ‘Non-Stop Cabaret’?

Regarding ‘A Beat Called Love’ and ‘Floatation’ – we were under pressure to have hit singles, so in that respect you could make a link to SOFT CELL, albeit slightly tenuously. There was a link in terms of the ecstasy / dance music progression I guess.

What inspired the move to the now infamous “cow-punk techno” sound of ‘Swamp Thing’ and ‘Texas Cowboys’?

I’ve never heard it called “cow-punk techno” before. “Swamp Thing” was inspired by a guy I saw playing sort of Bluegrass with an Irish band in a pub in Marylebone and it occurred to me that the tempo and feel would work with a 4/4 dance beat. Unfortunately it became a bit of a novelty record. We sold a million copies worldwide and it got synched on a John Waters movie, ‘Pecker’ and on Robert Altman’s film ‘Pret A Porter’ – so it’s not all bad. ‘Texas Cowboys’ was inspired by the Andy Warhol / Paul Morrisey film, ‘Lonesome Cowboys’.

thegrid_02THE GRID became in-demand remixers / producers for people like BILLIE RAY MARTIN, SPARKS, ERASURE, PET SHOP BOYS, DAVID SYLVIAN and ROBERT FRIPP. Do you have a particular favourite remix that you did?

I like our mix of ‘Am I Right’ by ERASURE, I was pleased they included it on their recent anthology that got to number 9 in the UK charts. I like the mixes we did for HAPPY MONDAYS, ‘Bob’s Yer Uncle’ and ‘Loose Fix’.

How did you come to be writing again with Marc again for ‘Tenement Symphony’?

I think it was after we’d done a mix of his track ‘Waifs & Strays’. We hadn’t spoken for some time and that got us working together again on a few tracks.

What was the process in composing and recording ‘Meet Me In My Dream’, a song which many regard as a SOFT CELL song in all but name?

I think anything I’ve ever done with Marc sounds like SOFT CELL really. It’s hard not to. My process is always I’ll work out a few chords and sketch out a topline then pass it to him.

This eventually led to a full SOFT CELL reunion and the ‘Cruelty Without Beauty’ album in 2002. Had SOFT CELL been unfinished business for you?

Well, as the saying goes “Never say never again”. We were originally trying to write songs for other people, there was no plan to reform SOFT CELL, but when we did the demos in my studio it just sounded like SOFT CELL… so we just said, “OK, it’s SOFT CELL”.

SOFT CELL 2002Did you and Marc achieve all you had hoped for artistically in getting back together?

I’m glad we did one more album, I can’t say I had any hopes or expectations but I like the album.

You were one of the last people to work in the studio with the late Martin Rushent with your NITEWRECKAGE project?

Yes, Martin was a lovely man and a total genius in the studio. I wish I’d worked with him earlier in both our careers. He is sadly missed.

Which five tracks from all aspects of your career have you felt the most satisfaction from?

‘Baby Doll’ – SOFT CELL off ‘The Art of Falling Apart’ – it reminds me of a very special time in New York.

‘Floatation’ – THE GRID – I was pleased when it was recognised as an Ibiza chill out classic.

‘Your Loving Arms’ – BILLIE RAY MARTIN– it was our first GRID production to get in the UK Top 10 and in the Billboard 100 in the US.

‘My Hand Over My Heart’ – MARC ALMOND off ‘Tenement Symphony’- I love Trevor Horn’s epic production and Anne Dudley’s arrangement.

‘Say Hello, Wave Goodbye’ – SOFT CELL – I think it’s become an anthem.

Are there any projects you are working on at the moment?

Yes, I’m producing an album for Gavin Friday and another one for Anni Hogan with my production partner, Riccardo Mulhall.

What floats your boat musically these days?

Messing about with modular synths.


The Electricity Club gives its grateful thanks to DAVE BALL

https://www.facebook.com/David-Ball-393529214088933/

https://twitter.com/dbelectrode

https://www.discogs.com/artist/62914-Dave-Ball

http://www.softcell.co.uk

https://www.facebook.com/softcellband/

http://www.soundonsound.com/sos/apr12/articles/classic-tracks-0412.htm

http://www.soundonsound.com/sos/dec02/articles/softcell.asp


Text and Interview by Chi Ming Lai
Photos by Paul Cox, Fin Csotello, Peter Ashworth and Piers Allardyce
10th March 2016

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