Jennifer Touch, the Dresden-born / Berlin-based producer and DJ makes her long-awaited album debut with ‘Behind The Wall’, having presented her first recordings in 2014.
Wearing a coat of many colours, Jennifer Touch is a developing talent who as happy with techno and industrial as she is with synthpop.
It has been over 30 years since the fall of The Berlin Wall and it is not surprising that she has looked back to her time growing up in Communist East Germany as the catalyst for this long player released on the Brighton independent label Fatcat Records.
The daughter of DDR flower-power children, she was introduced to synthpop and new wave via her father’s extensive record collection which included THE HUMAN LEAGUE and DURAN DURAN. The joyful image of ‘Deutschland 83’ agent hero Kolibri hearing ‘Hungry Like The Wolf’ for the first time on a Sony Walkman is perhaps symbolic of how many young East Germans like her became enthralled and curious about life and culture on the other side of The Iron Curtain.
Taking in DAF, THE KLF and PJ Harvey along the way on the route to adulthood, this melting pot of tastes inspired her early music productions. The excellent ‘Chemistry’ was the track that launched it all to a wider listenership outside of club circles and it appears on ‘Behind The Wall’ in remixed form. Cleaner and tighter but still retaining the essence of the original, Touch conceived her baby while in a state of depression. “I knew I had the music inside me” she explained, “but it felt like I was stuck,”
But ‘Behind The Wall’ begins in a more abstract manner with ‘Imaginary Boys’, an art piece that acts as a building soundtrack to Touch’s commute through Berlin to the studio each day. While much of the city has been rebuilt, many aspects of its distinctive architecture remain and loom with a dark and powerful resonance.
The album’s emotional centre point is ‘Attic’, where stark electronics and metronomic beats echo EMIKA but built around a rigid if much colder foundation. A fight against a system of restricted surroundings, its feelings are relevant in the lockdown of today as they were more than three decades ago in Eastern Europe.
With a hypnotic DAF-like sequencer hook and a brooding metronomic mood, ‘Daria’ is sombre electro-punk, while the depressed aural symbolism of ‘The Wall’ sees Touch expressing her pain of confinement both physically or mentally.
The unsettling adrenaline rush ‘Teflon’ is a non-stick statement of resilience but also an adventure in industrial techno cabaret, with Touch’s role as a chanteuse veering between deadpan and distress also sharpening the Götterdämmerung austere.
The rhythmically dominant ‘I Love You, Let’s Go’ harbours thoughts of escape as the electronics throb and veer towards psychedelia, but ‘Iggy’s Slight’ does what it says on the tin and pays electro homage to Iggy Pop, in particular ‘I Wanna Be Your Dog’ via the retention in spirit of its iconic bassline.
Meanwhile, ‘Flatlands’ beautifully takes a leaf from the songbook of fellow Berlin resident ZANIAS aka Alison Lewis of LINEA ASPERA both vocally and musically with its immersive minimal darkwave to provide an album highlight. With a gritty gothic resonance, ‘Supersize’ is the least electronic number of the collection although this is offset by radio signal swoops and a percussive noise rattle.
However, the mantric ‘Your Dawn’ takes the record down ohne schlagzeug with drones encapsulating a stark subterranean atmosphere which Touch says is “A rescue boat I wrote for a very close friend who was experiencing some dark and sad times. It’s an invitation to dance with me, a lullaby, a consolation”.
While there are stand-out tracks, overall ‘Behind The Wall’ does not quite reach the heights of more recent releases by EMIKA and ZANIAS, enough promise is revealed to indicate that Jennifer Touch could join their ranks in a few years. Whether she decides to expand on her song-based vision or ventures back to the purer techno-oriented productions of 2019’s ‘Seven’ EP remains to be seen.
The soundtrack of The Blitz Club was provided by its resident DJ Rusty Egan and its story is more than well documented.
This vibrant post-punk scene, whose flamboyant clientele were dubbed ‘Blitz Kids’ and ‘New Romantics’, became the catalyst for several bands including VISAGE, SPANDAU BALLET and CULTURE CLUB, as well as assorted fashion designers, visual artists and writers.
Rusty Egan told The Electricity Club: “I just played as much as I could fit in, it was not all disco. It was a bar and opened after work. I’d arrive 8.30–9.00pm and played all my faves till it was packed, then I got them dancing and at the end, I slowed down”.
The dancing style at The Blitz Club often involved the swaying of arms at a distance from the face like slow motion maraca shaking so as not to spoil any carefully hairsprayed styles. Meanwhile, feet movements were often impossible as the small dancefloor was often overcrowded!
With Steve Strange as doorman and fashion gatekeeper, the concept for what was initially a “Bowie Night” came together at Billy’s nightclub in Soho in Autumn 1978 in an effort to find something new and colourful to escape the oncoming drabness in the Winter Of Discontent. After a disagreement with the owners of Billy’s, the pair moved their venture to The Blitz Club.
Although Rusty Egan had been a soul boy and an active participant in punk through a stint rehearsing with THE CLASH and then as a member of THE RICH KIDS with Midge Ure, the two friends became fascinated with electronic dance music though the Giorgio Moroder produced ‘I Feel Love’ by Donna Summer and KRAFTWERK’s ‘Trans Europe Express’ album which had been a surprise favourite in New York discos and whose title track referenced David Bowie.
“There was a couple of years of punk which Midge Ure and myself weren’t too impressed with in terms of the clubs and the environment in Thatcherite Britain, it was horrible in Manchester, Birmingham and Liverpool!” recalled Egan, “So we were just trying basically to grasp the good in life, trying to be positive in a very negative time.”
Although Egan curated an eclectic playlist of available synth works supplemented with soundtracks and relatable art rock tunes, tracks were comparatively scarce in this new innovative electronic form.
So with studio time available following the split of THE RICH KIDS, Ure and Egan hit upon the idea of making their own electronic dance music for The Blitz Club, fronted by Steve Strange.
Ure came up with the name VISAGE for the project and presented the demo to his then employers at EMI Records, but it was rejected! Undeterred, the pair recruited Billy Currie from a then-in hiatus ULTRAVOX plus MAGAZINE’s Dave Formula, John McGeoch and Barry Adamson to record the first VISAGE album at the-then newly constructed Genetic Studios of Martin Rushent.
When Billy Currie toured with Gary Numan in 1979, he and fellow keyboardist Chris Payne composed what was to become ‘Fade To Grey’; it was included on the eventual ‘Visage’ album released by Polydor Records in 1980 and the rest is history, reaching No1 in West Germany!
VISAGE was the beauty of the synthesizer played with symphonic classical overtones fused to the electronic dance beat of Neu Europa and visually styled like a cross between the Edwardian dandies and Weimar Cabaret. Midge Ure remembered “it was a major part of my life and Steve was a major part of that period”.
The meeting of Ure and Currie in VISAGE led to the diminutive Glaswegian joining a relaunched ULTRAVOX who released the iconic ‘Vienna’ album in 1980. Co-produced by Conny Plank, the German always thought in terms of sound and on the title song, he imagined an old man at a piano in a desolate theatre who had been playing the same tune for forty years.
And when Billy Currie came to record his ivory parts, that was exactly the feel which Plank had engineered. It was to become a ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ for the New Romantic movement when it was released as a single, stalling at No2 despite being one of the best selling singles of 1981, gracing the UK charts at the same time as ‘Fade To Grey’.
Having started as a “Bowie Night”, the man himself became fascinated by this emergent cult with no name that he had inspired. In 1980, Jacqueline Bucknell, an assistant from his label RCA who was also a Blitz Kid, had taken Bowie down to The Blitz Club to cast extras to appear in a video for his new single ‘Ashes To Ashes’; among the chosen ones was Steve Strange.
Utilising Roland guitar synths and an ARP string machine with a final burst of ARP Odyssey, David Bowie saw ‘Ashes To Ashes’ as an epitaph for his artistic past as he lyrically revisited the Major Tom character from ‘Space Oddity’ over a decade on.
With this, The Blitz Club had now become a mainstream phenomenon as the BBC’s Nationwide programme sent an investigative team in, signalling a changing of the guard in popular culture with parallel scenes going on at The Rum Runner in Birmingham, The Warehouse in Leeds and Crocs in Rayleigh from which DURAN DURAN, SOFT CELL and DEPECHE MODE were to respectively gain their fledgling followings.
The perceived elitist exclusivity of The Blitz Club had partly become legend as a result of Steve Strange refusing entry to Mick Jagger for his sporting of blue jeans. Playing on this and adopting its electronic aesthetic to attract attention, five lads from Islington formed SPANDAU BALLET and initially only performed at special events which were by invitation only. Essentially becoming The Blitz Club’s house band, the quintet later scored worldwide success with a less radical sanitised pop soul sound.
Singer Tony Hadley said to The Electricity Club: “Our first album The ‘Journeys To Glory’ will always be one of my favourite Spandau albums, we were just young excited lads trying to make our mark on the world. There’s a rawness and energy on that album that is impossible to recreate. I love synthpop and still one of my favourite songs is SPANDAU BALLET’s first release ‘ To Cut A Long Story Short’.”
Not all enjoyed their visits to The Blitz Club; Billy MacKenzie notably highlighted the vapid nature of the scene in ASSOCIATES’ second hit single ‘Club Country’. But buoyed by its success, Steve Strange and Rusty Egan eventually vacated The Blitz Club and took over The Music Machine in 1982 and relaunched it as The Camden Palace, making it one of the UK’s first modern superclubs.
But the spirit of The Blitz Club still lives on and recently, there came the surprise announcement that Zaine Griff was to join Rusty Egan and ‘Fade To Grey’ co-writer Chris Payne to perform the songs of VISAGE in an audio-visual presentation at a number of events across Europe including W-Festival in Belgium.
Using Dave Rimmer’s 2003 book ‘New Romantics: The Look’ as an initial reference point and calling on the memories of Rusty Egan himself to verify whether he had actually played these songs in his DJ sets, here are The Electricity Club’s 25 Songs Of The Blitz Club to celebrate the flamboyant legacy of that Blitz Spirit.
ROXY MUSIC Both Ends Burning (1975)
Following-up the hit single ‘Love In The Drug’, ‘Both Ends Burning’ was ROXY MUSIC’s second ‘Siren’ call. With Bryan Ferry’s stylised but anguished vocals, it was a track which laid down the sophisticated art pop trail that JAPAN and DURAN DURAN would later be pursuing. Featuring a prominent coating of ARP Solina string machine sweetened by hypnotic bass and squawky sax, ‘Both Ends Burning’ is probably the most under rated single in the Roxy canon.
Available on the ROXY MUSIC album ‘The Best Of’ via Virgin Records
With a title that was an anagram of TALKING HEADS, the New York art school combo were the inspiration for the frantic metallic romp of ‘Kings Lead Hat’ which became a favourite at The Blitz Club. Brian Eno aped David Byrne in his vocal delivery, while he was later to produce three of the band’s albums as he moved further away from art rock as a solo artist. The song was later covered by ULTRAVOX in their live sets during the early phase their Midge Ure-fronted incarnation.
KRAFTWERK reacted as they generally did to negative criticism by writing a song. A response to a review that said their motionless persona at live performances was like ‘Showroom Dummies’, the sparse eerie atmosphere was punctuated by a tight and rigid electronic drum sound that was completely new and alien, something Rusty Egan was looking to emulate. Incidentally, the count-in of “eins zwei drei vier” was a deadpan Germanic parody of THE RAMONES!
An Iggy Pop collaboration with David Bowie, the Vampiric glam of ‘Nightclubbing’ was the former James Osterberg’s commentary on what it was like hanging out with him every night. Utilising a simple piano melody and a cold Schaffel rhythm via the mechanical precision of a Roland drum machine, legend has it that Iggy insisted on keeping it, saying “it kicks ass, it’s better than a drummer”. Alongside ‘Lust For Life’, ‘Nightclubbing’ also featured in the soundtrack of ‘Trainspotting’.
Available on the IGGY POP album ‘The Idiot’ via Virgin Records
Utilising Warren Cann’s modified Roland TR77 rhythm machine, this was John Foxx moving ULTRAVOX! into the moody ambience pioneered by CLUSTER, away from the art rock of the self-titled first album and the punky interim single ‘Young Savage’. ‘Hiroshima Mon Amour’ had initially been premiered as a far spikier uptempo number for the B-side of ‘ROckWrok’. Incidentally, the ‘CC’ credited on saxophone is not Chris Cross, but a member of the art collective GLORIA MUNDI.
Available on the ULTRAVOX! album ‘Ha! Ha! Ha!’ via Island Records
LA DÜSSELDORF’s second long player ‘Viva’ was their most successful album and the title track was a regular staple at The Blitz Club. An oddball slice of cosmic space rock sung in French and German by Klaus Dinger, proceedings were aided by the dual motorik thud of Hans Lampe and Thomas Dinger. Performed with the same group of musicians, ‘E-Musik’ by Dinger’s previous band NEU! had also been a favourite at The Blitz Club, influencing the intro of the ULTRAVOX B-side ‘Face To Face’.
Commissioned by Alan Parker for the graphic prison drama ‘Midnight Express’, the noted director wanted some electronic accompaniment to the crucial chase scene of the film in the style of ‘I Feel Love’. The bassline from Giorgio Moroder’s own 1976 cover of ‘Knights In White Satin’ was reappropriated. The fruit of their labours was this Oscar winning Hi-NRG romp bursting with VANGELIS-like keyboard melodies, driven by an intense slamming and syncopated by popping pulses.
Already a fan of German music and ‘Autobahn’ by KRAFTWERK in particular, Daniel Miller’s sense of experimentation and an adoption of punk’s DIY ethic led him to buying a Korg 700s synthesizer. Wanting to make a punk single with electronics, he wrote and recorded the stark JG Ballard influenced ‘Warm Leatherette’ as an independent single release on his own Mute Records. Meanwhile, The Blitz Kids came up with their own bizarre twisting and turning dance entering a human arch to accompany it…
The late Wolfgang Riechmann is the forgotten man in the Düsseldorf axis having been in SPIRITS OF SOUND with Michael Rother and Wolfgang Flür; had his life not been tragically cut short, he certainly had the potential to become a revered and respected cult musical figure. The opening title track of his only album chimed like a Cold War spy drama before the beautifully almost oriental melodic piece imagined PINK FLOYD meeting CLUSTER over a delicate Schaffel beat.
ZAGER & EVANS’ pessimistic ditty was perfect fodder for the first VISAGE demo. Steered by Midge Ure using his freshly acquired Yamaha synths and punctuated by Rusty Egan’s incessant Roland drum machine and synthetic percussion, ‘In The Year 2525’ was perfectly resigned aural dystopia from its vocodered intro onwards. Steve Strange’s deadpan fronted the sombre tone perfectly but Ure’s vocal backing and counterpoints added that extra slice of musicality.
Available on the VISAGE album ‘The Face’ via Universal Records
One of first Japanese bands to have a Top 20 hit single in the UK was YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA in 1980. ‘Firecracker’ was a cover of a 1959 composition by Martin Denny but actually released as ‘Computer Game (Theme From The Invader)’. Recorded in 1978, the parent self-titled album was noted for its use of the then brand new Roland MC8 Micro-Composer to control the synthesizers. The result was a clean, exotic pop sound that was unusual, even in the synthpop heartland of Europe.
Produced by Zeus B Held, ‘No GDM’ was written by androgynous art history student Gina Kikoine in honour of the “great dark man” Quentin Crisp and featured an array of ARP and Moog synths to signal the birth of a new European Underground. Unsurprisingly, the song gained heavy rotation at The Blitz Club. The nonchalant, detached vocal influence of GINA X PERFORMANCE went on to be heard in the music of LADYTRON, CLIENT and MISS KITTIN.
Working with Giorgio Moroder, David Sylvian submitted ‘European Son’ for the session in Los Angeles but it was rejected by the producer. Instead, the Italian offered several of his demos, of which, Sylvian picked the one he considered to be the worst so that he could stamp more of his own vision for the developing synthesized sound of JAPAN. Considered to be too avant-garde at its inception but ahead of its time, unbeknown to Moroder and Sylvian, they had just conceived DURAN DURAN!
Available on the JAPAN album ‘Assemblage’ via Sony BMG Records
THOMAS LEER & ROBERT RENTAL Day Breaks Night Heals (1979)
Originally released on THROBBING GRISTLE’s Industrial Records, ‘The Bridge’ album saw Scottish duo Thomas Leer and Robert Rental trading vocal and instrumental duties. With an air of FAD GADGET, ‘Day Breaks Night Heals’ showcased some of Leer’s pop sensibility that was later apparent in his Arista solo period and in ACT with Claudia Brücken, while Rental maintained a dark experimental presence in this slice of artful electronic blues. Robert Rental sadly passed away in 2000.
Available on the album ‘The Bridge’ via The Grey Area
Manipulating their influences like SPARKS and MAGAZINE with a very European austere, Glasgow’s SIMPLE MINDS were “underground, pulsating through” thanks to the rhythmic interplay of Derek Forbes’ bass with Mick McNeil’s synths. Charlie Burchill was now thinking beyond the sound of a conventional electric guitar while the precision of under rated drummer Brian McGee locked the glue. That just left Jim Kerr to throw his bizarre shapes and pontificate over this dark avant disco.
Having graced the UK Top 20 again with the tremendous ‘No1 Song In Heaven’, SPARKS continued their Giorgio Moroder produced rejuvenation and had an even bigger hit with ‘Beat The Clock’. Percussively augmented by Keith Forsey who was later to produce Billy Idol, Russell Mael’s flamboyant falsetto more than suited the electronic disco sound while the programmed backing meant that Ron Mael could stoically maintain his image of doing nothing.
Belgian trio TELEX comprised of Marc Moulin, Dan Lacksman and Michel Moers, with the intention of “making something really European, different from rock, without guitar”. Opening their debut album ‘Looking for Saint Tropez’ which also contained their funeral robotic cover of ‘Rock Around The Clock’, ‘Moscow Diskow’ took the Trans-Siberian Express to Moscow, adding a funkier groove compared with KRAFTWERK’s ‘Trans Europe Express’ excursion for what was to become a cult international club favourite.
From their third album ’20 Jazz Funk Greats’, the uncompromising THROBBING GRISTLE led by the late Genesis P-Orridge were neither jazzy or funky! Gloriously sequenced by Chris Carter via a Roland System-100M modular, ‘Hot On The Heels Of Love’ was mutant dystopian disco lento with a hypnotic rhythm punctuated by a synthetic whip-crack for that S&M twist as Cosey Fanni Tutti’s whispered vocals competed with pentatonic melodies and electronic drill noises!
Zaine Griff had a Bowie-esque poise was tailor made for The Blitz Club and Tony Visconti saw enough in him to produce his debut solo album ‘Ashes & Diamonds’. Featuring Hans Zimmer on synths, the title song was sitting just outside the Top 40 and earned a performance on Top Of The Pops but the episode was pulled thanks to a Musicians Union strike. Demonstrating the song’s longevity despite it not being a major hit, it was recently covered live by American alternative rockers MGMT.
‘Being Boiled’ was the first song Philip Oakey wrote with Martyn Ware and Ian Craig Marsh for THE HUMAN LEAGUE, his bizarre lyrics being the result of a confusion between Buddhism and Hinduism while highlighting the plight of silk worms. Intended to reimagine FUNKADELIC’s funky overtones as synthetic horns, this brassier re-recorded version with fatter electronic beats was included on the ‘Holiday 80’ EP and the ‘Travelogue’ album, becoming a dance staple of The Blitz Club.
Available as a bonus track on THE HUMAN LEAGUE album ‘Travelogue’ via Virgin Records
Didier Marouani wrote the worldwide hit ‘Magic Fly’ but having left the band, Roland Romanelli and Jannick Top continued as SPACE. The rousing thrust of ‘Tender Force’ was, like ‘Magic Fly’, produced by Jean-Philippe Iliesco who later invited Rusty Egan to contribute a timbale heavy remix of this synth disco tune ; he was later to begin an ill-fated business relationship with Iliesco who was named by Midge Ure in his ‘If I Was’ autobiography as responsible for putting a wedge between him and Egan in VISAGE…
Although now known as a duo, eccentric Swiss pioneers YELLO actually began as a trio of Dieter Meier, Boris Blank and Carlos Peron. Later remixed and extended, the military drum tattoo at the start of ‘Bostich’ was deceiving as an electronic throb quickly set in. This was perfect avant garde disco for The Blitz Club with a quirky range of vocal pitches from Meier while the track also included a style of speedy European rap later that was repeated on their only major UK hit ‘The Race’ in 1988.
Available on the YELLO album ‘Essential’ via Mercury Records
Electronic pop music was often seen as pretentious, LANDSCAPE had their tongues firmly in their cheeks as evidenced by ‘Einstein A Go-Go’. “The song is a cautionary tale about the apocalyptic possibilities of nuclear weapons falling into the hands of theocratic dictators and religious extremists.” said the band’s Richard Burgess, “We talked about the track conceptually before we wrote it and our objective was to make a very simple, cartoon-like track with a strong hook that would belie the meaning of the lyrics!”
Written as a B-side instrumental for The Blitz Club’s resident dance troupe SHOCK to work a routine to, ‘R.E.R.B.’ was constructed by Rusty Egan and Richard Burgess, hence the title. Burgess had been doing the linking interludes with a Fairlight on the first VISAGE album and brought in Roland System 700 modular driven by the Micro-composer while Egan triggered the brain of the synthesized drum system that Burgess had been working on with Dave Simmons for its punchy drum fills.
Available on the SHOCK single ‘R.E.R.B.’ via Blitz Club Records
Produced by Daniel Miller, one of the first SOFT CELL recordings on signing to Phonogram was the seminal ‘Memorabilia’. While not a hit, it was critically acclaimed and become a favourite at The Blitz Club. Dave Ball’s deep Roland Synthe-Bass and klanky Korg Rhythm KR55 provided a distinctive danceable backbone to accompany Marc Almond’s souvenir collecting metaphors about sexual promiscuity. After this, SOFT CELL were signed by Rusty Egan to Metropolis Music for publishing.
‘And You Thought You Were Normal: A Documentary Film About NASH THE SLASH’ asks what it is like to be an artist who is “not normal”.
NASH THE SLASH was the late Jeff Plewman, a Canadian multi-instrumentalist adept at electric violin and mandolin. He was also the first Canadian to ever use a drum machine on an album, while his music was a complex blend of prog, art rock, new wave and performance art. His persona was inspired by a killer butler that featured in the 1927 silent film ‘Do Detectives Think?’ starring Laurel and Hardy.
Plewman started performing as a solo artist beginning in 1975 and founded the progressive rock band FM in 1976. The NASH THE SLASH trademark look covered in surgical bandages began in 1979 to raise awareness of the Three Mile Island nuclear disaster; he walked on stage wearing bandages dipped in phosphorus paint and exclaimed: “Look, this is what happens to you!”
NASH THE SLASH opened for GARY NUMAN on his ‘Teletour’ and played violin on the tracks ‘Cry The Clock Said’ and ‘You Are You Are’ from his 1981 ‘Dance’ album; as well as this, he appeared as an onstage guest at Numan’s then-farewell concert at Wembley Arena in April 1981. Earlier in the year, he had released the Steve Hillage produced album ‘Children Of The Night’ on Dindisc Records, the Virgin Records funded imprint that brought OMD their initial commercial success.
This was the period when NASH THE SLASH had his highest mainstream media profile, with him even being given the honour of a profile interview by ‘Smash Hits’ where he stated his full name was “Nashville Thebodiah Slasher”! Indeed, NASH THE SLASH’s best known recording in the UK was an early stripped down version of ‘Swing-Shift’ alongside his label mates’ live rendition of ‘Pretending To See The Future’ on a blue flexi-disc given away free with ‘Smash Hits’.
NASH THE SLASH’s next album was ‘And You Thought You Were Normal’ in 1982 and featured the single ‘Dance After Curfew’ produced by Daniel Lanois; it fittingly became a radio hit in Poland as the country’s Communist government declared martial law.
NASH THE SLASH also later worked with Bill Nelson and opened shows for IGGY POP, THE WHO, THE TUBES and DEVO. He rejoined FM but continued to perform solo and returned for a UK tour in 2008. He was also on stage with GARY NUMAN again in October 2010 for a rendition of ‘Complex’ at Toronto Opera House but announced his retirement via his website in November 2012, stating he was “rolling up the bandages”. However, NASH THE SLASH sadly passed away in May 2014.
But his work and legacy lives on; a number of his costumes and instruments were donated to the National Music Centre in Calgary while his custom skull mandolin is on display in the Canadian Music Hall of Fame.
The film is being produced by Side Three Media in collaboration with The NASH THE SLASH Legacy; over 50 interviews have been conducted with his friends, collaborators and fans of his work, while archival footage and rare images have also been unearthed.
Back in 2010, Stephen Roper interviewed NASH THE SLASH for his GARY NUMAN book ‘Back Stage: A Book Of Reflections’; he has kindly given permission for The Electricity Club to publish edited extracts of his delightful conversation with a unique individual.
On his start in electronic music…
I started doing solo electronic music in 1975 and back then, I was probably the first guy in Canada using a drum machine when drum machines were illegal. People don’t seem to know all these years later but drum machines used to be illegal and according to The Musicians Union, anyone using an artificial device to make music would be barred from appearing on a union stage.
On performing at The Edge in Toronto 1980…
I was the second biggest draw at the club after MARTHA & THE MUFFINS. The club held 150 people and even the band THE POLICE had only attracted 35 people to what was their fifth gig ever. I asked to do a week-long show which I decided to call ‘The St. Valentine’s Week Massacre’. It played from Monday to Sunday night, the Thursday being St. Valentine’s Day, February 14th.
For the second part of my set I changed into a grey pinstripe suit with a grey fedora. I was doing a symbolic re-enactment of the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre! At the end of ‘Danger Zone’ you could hear 1930’s gangsters talking and then gunfire on the backing tape.
Meanwhile, I jumped off the stage and as the music and gunfire continued, I pulled a blank-gun from my vest and began shooting at the stage at my imaginary assailants. I escaped through the crowd back to the dressing room, firing all the way. To say the least, it was dramatic and went down a storm.
Today, I would be arrested for carrying a concealed weapon and sued for causing extreme emotional trauma! I had no idea then, that I would be offered the gig to open for GARY NUMAN at The Toronto Music Hall on the following Monday.
On opening for GARY NUMAN…
This was my first big tour and I loved it. I was somewhere in age between Gary and his dad Tony and the whole family on the road thing suited my personality. Beryl was the tour mom and it felt nice to be part of their personal family dynamic.
His mum and dad weren’t prudish and didn’t tut tut over people doing strange rock ‘n’ roll things – they knew what it was about. I was just another performer whom Beryl wanted to make sure looked his best on stage. She would send my stage-clothes along with everyone else’s to the dry cleaners.
I wasn’t that familiar with Gary’s music when we first set out. I’d heard ‘Cars’ and ‘Down In The Park’ but I didn’t know his other TUBEWAY ARMY stuff but I certainly got a quick lesson in it! I really did love the music and I still love it today. Not everything that Gary’s done has been that memorable but I think that period of time when he was writing those tunes was just killer stuff.
On touring the UK…
I didn’t think twice about it if I’m honest. For me, the UK was all about the intensity. I’d already established myself opening for Gary at big venues on the North American tour.
When I got to England, I was just pleased to be playing to these rabid British crowds. In North America, the audiences were good but at the same time, they were just getting into Gary.
When I got to England, his crowd were already well established and enthusiastic to say the least. They were also very respectful of me in the opening slot so that was very nice.
The only low point for me on the tour was having my mandolins stolen from the Hammersmith Odeon. As we were doing two consecutive nights there, the equipment was left set-up on the stage overnight. Unfortunately for us, someone broke in and stole three of Gary’s keyboards, a few guitars and my mandolins. Keyboards and guitars were relatively easy to replace but custom-built electric
mandolins were a different matter.
Scotland Yard came to the venue to take statements from everyone. They got a police artist to do a drawing of my mandolins and showed the picture on the TV on a show called ‘Crimewatch’. I managed to get by using a cheap electric mandolin I found in a shop in London.
I managed to modify it so that it sounded half-decent. My mandolins eventually turned up four months later in a park. They were found by a little old lady walking her dogs and luckily, weren’t seriously damaged.
On signing to Dinsdisc and recording with GARY NUMAN…
After the tour, I stayed on in London and managed to get a deal with Dindisc who were a subsidiary of Virgin. I went in the studio in December 1980 and recorded the album ‘Children Of The Night’. In January 1981 I was doing my own one-man shows in London and I got a call from Gary. “How would you like to play on my new album ‘Dance’?” I went to the studio and met Gary and QUEEN’s Roger Taylor and the three of us sat around and mucked about on the piano and came up with some ideas.
I’d been forewarned about the phenomenon of QUEEN and their status but it turned out that Roger Taylor was totally non-pretentious. I found him to be a really nice guy. Although it was fun to play on the tracks, I don’t think ‘Dance’ was one of Gary’s strongest albums. Considering its title, the LP just doesn’t make me want to DANCE! I found it all too laid back for my tastes. It was as if Gary wanted to sound like the band JAPAN which frankly, I can’t stand.
We were recording the ‘Dance’ album in February 1981 and not long after that, Gary became busy formulating his big farewell concert at Wembley. Knowing I was available, Gary asked me to be part of it. Gary said to me “I don’t want you to be the opening act, I want you to be in the band”.
On performing with GARY NUMAN…
It was still a lot of work though and as I remember, the big film studio we were rehearsing in had no heating and April that year was particularly cold. The crew brought in these giant heaters for us that looked like jet engines but they barely made any difference. I remember we rehearsed every day for a week. When you have such a monstrous stage show, you can imagine the amount of preparation needed.
My part was to stand on-top of the massive rig and play ‘Cry, The Clock Said’, (reprising my role from the new album) and then my big moment would be to come running out onto the stage for ‘The Joy Circuit’ and join the rest of the band with my violin. We did three nights but the last was just a bit more special and would definitely be one of those unforgettable moments for me.
On the UK music press…
It’s wonderful that Britain has a passionate music press but on the other hand they can take their role too seriously. There’s the praising you one week and crucifying you the next. I think that has a lot to do with power tripping. I became aware of the bad press Gary was getting when I got over there and started to tour with him.
I think there was a lot of jealousy in the industry at the time. I noticed it being bantered about at Virgin and Dindisc in general conversation. It seemed that anytime I went into those offices and we’d be talking about electronic pop music, if Gary’s name came up the reaction would be “GARY NUMAN’s just a poser, a w*nker, you know a DAVID BOWIE wannabe…” and all that stuff. I would just reply “Yeah but he’s had hit songs; what about you?”
I’ve always been offended by the term “one-hit-wonder”. Not from the perspective to condescend to these people but to say to people who comment “well what f*cking hit did you ever have?”
One hit is more than nothing. I wish I was a one hit wonder! Gary certainly rose above that, I think he was bugged by the slagging personally, (I know I sure as hell was) but regardless, he rose above it. He just got on with doing what he does.
On his impact in the UK…
It was great to have the opportunity to come back and play in the UK in 2008. I had an epiphany from when I was there. What happened was that every night, these guys were coming up to me and telling me the same thing. “I was going to my very first rock concert to see my new idol GARY NUMAN, I was 14 years old and what’s the first thing I see? Not GARY NUMAN but this guy in white tails, top hat and bandages playing solo electric violin and ripping my face off, and I never forgot it.”
All of these guys were telling me this twenty eight years later and I’m thinking, Gosh you people have a helluva memory. It wasn’t that at all… It was that I’d brainwashed them all when they were 14!
IGGY POP’s 2016 ‘Post Pop Depression’ album was seen by many as his swansong with an also mooted retirement from the live arena because his failing eyesight meant that he had become unable to see the edge of the stage.
But in a surprising twist, dance legends UNDERWORLD have coaxed the 71 year old out of retirement and collaborated on the quintessentially British sounding ‘Teatime Dub Encounters’ EP. Comprising of four tracks, the EP clocks in at a lengthy 27 minutes and opens with ‘Bells & Circles’.
An epic piece based around live drum loop samples and an entertaining rant from Pop revolving around “…the golden days of air travel”, topics taken in along the way include being able to smoke on a plane, whether the air stewardess was hot or not and doing copious amounts of drugs on the fold out table in front of the passenger.
In typical UNDERWORLD style, the musicality of the track is slow building with layers gradually added with subtle strings, Hammond organ stabs and a “sunlight on my wings” semi-chorus hook in the end section. Rick Smith’s daughter Esme Bronwen-Smith provides backing vocals on the latter and features elsewhere on the EP.
Second track ‘Trapped’ sees a surprisingly SUICIDE / DAF-influenced synth bass sequence make an appearance with a sung vocal by Pop and further backing by Esme Bronwen-Smith. Lyrically ‘Trapped’ gives a world-weary Pop another chance to climb on his soapbox and rant: “I’m trapped, I’m trapped and I’ll never get out no more”.
The song also touches on that moment when you (or your kids) grow up, get a mortgage and become pinned down into an inescapable lifestyle with commitments that make you a slave to “the man”.
Maybe vocally ‘Trapped’ recalls FOO FIGHTERS ‘All My Life’ a little too much, but the underpinning synth bass is wonderfully hypnotic and carries the track throughout.
‘I See Big’ see things take a downtempo turn, again based around spoken word, but this time in a more reflective manner with Pop ruminating on past friendships (both positive and negative) over a backing which features Krautrock elements, a hazy synth part and backwards guitar. The closing ‘Get Your Shirt’ musically references GOLDFRAPP, especially with Bronwen-Smith’s vocal part and Pop refers to the song as “a good old rock’n’roll moan about ripoffs”.
With their independent appearances on the original iconic ‘Trainspotting’ film soundtrack, the two acts here are inextricably linked and there’s something brilliant about them finally collaborating. The deal breaker with ‘Teatime Dub Encounters’ is whether you happen to be a fan of IGGY POP’s vocal; one could either find it totally sublime or completely irritating depending upon your standpoint.
Musically though, this is interesting territory for both UNDERWORLD and IGGY POP; the EP has plenty to keep fans of electronic music happy, especially with the stripped-down Germanic synth-based groove of ‘Trapped’. On paper this collaboration shouldn’t really work, but in the main it succeeds wonderfully and will hopefully lead to further joint works between these two godfathers of their respective genres.
While Colin Thurston is perhaps not as lauded as Conny Plank, Giorgio Moroder and Trevor Horn, he undoubtedly helped shape the sound of a pioneering musical era.
A jingle writer and jobbing musician, legend has it that he bluffed his way into audio engineering before securing a job with Tony Visconti.
Working alongside the legendary producer during his sojourn at Hansa Tonstudio in the Kreuzberg district of West Berlin by the Wall, he experienced a baptism of fire as he worked on what became two legendary albums, David Bowie’s ‘Heroes’ and Iggy Pop’s ‘Lust For Life’.
He impressed enough to be recommended to Virgin Records signings MAGAZINE when they approached Tony Visconti as producer for the follow-up to their debut album ‘Real Life’. It was this connection to Virgin Records that also led Thurston to work with THE HUMAN LEAGUE on their debut album ‘Reproduction’.
Working together on classic League tracks such as ‘Empire State Human’, ‘Almost Medieval’, ‘Blind Youth’, ‘The Path Of Least Resistance’ and a stark cover of ‘You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling’, while the union was not a commercial success, Phil Oakey, Martyn Ware and Ian Craig Marsh gained valuable experience that would ultimately progress their music careers.
But it was Thurston’s work with DURAN DURAN that was to have the biggest worldwide impact. John Taylor said: “without Colin’s depth of vision, we would never have become the band we became” – under Thurston’s production guidance, DURAN DURAN grew from being a promising New Romantic band with a JAPAN fixation into becoming one of the UK’s biggest music exports to North America.
This was thanks in part to the striking videos accompanying songs such as ‘Girls On Film’, ‘Hungry Like The Wolf’ and ‘Save A Prayer’ directed by the likes of Godley & Crème and Russell Mulcahy, all gaining regular rotation on MTV, although DURAN DURAN’s willingness to undertake long periods of Stateside touring also helped their cause.
After working with DURAN DURAN, Thurston also produced albums by TALK TALK, KAJAGOOGOO, and CAMOUFLAGE, although a reunion with THE HUMAN LEAGUE in 1985 on what was intended to be ‘Crash’ came to nought when Virgin Records rejected the results of the recording sessions.
Thurston became an in-house producer for the Canadian label Brouhaha and latterly undertook only occasional production work. There had been talk of Thurston working together again with DURAN DURAN when the classic line-up of Simon Le Bon, Nick Rhodes, John Taylor, Roger Taylor and Andy Taylor reunited in 2001, although this came to nothing. Sadly after a long illness, he passed away in January 2007, aged 59.
His portfolio indeed reads like a Who’s Who? of popular music; an under rated figure in the successful application of electronic instrumentation within a studio environment, The Electricity Club looks back at the career of Colin Thurston via eighteen tracks presented in chronological order, with a limit of one track per album project.
IGGY POP Tonight (1977)
Featuring Bowie on ARP Solina and providing his very distinct backing vocals to compliment Pop’s brooding baritone, ‘Tonight’ was a reflective number dealing with the spectre of heroin addiction. Recorded in Berlin, Thurston co-produced and engineered the parent ‘Lust For Life’ album under the collective name of Bewlay Bros with his two star performers.
Engineering alongside producer Tony Visconti, Thurston found himself working with Brian Eno and Robert Fripp to help fully utilise the Frippertronics tape looping technique that provided the celestial triple guitar signature. Melting in alongside swooping EMS Synthi AKS, stabbing Chamberlain brass and swimmy ARP Solina string machine textures, coupled to a most passionate vocal performance, the train ride that was ‘Heroes’ became one of the most iconic David Bowie recordings.
Available on the DAVID BOWIE album ‘Heroes’ via EMI Records
As a disco flavoured experiment helmed by Thurston, THE HUMAN LEAGUE recorded ‘I Don’t Depend On You’ under the pseudonym of THE MEN using a drummer, bassist and female backing vocalists, planting the seed for HEAVEN 17 when Martyn Ware and Ian Craig Marsh left in 1980. Released before the ‘Reproduction’ album, while the single wasn’t a hit, a certain Nick Rhodes was listening and included it in his DJ sets at The Rum Runner.
Available on THE HUMAN LEAGUE album ‘Travelogue’ via Virgin Records
Howard Devoto and co had initially suggested Tony Visconti as producer of their second long player, but were very happy to have his engineer as a substitute. But nervous about his credentials, Thurston did not reveal this was his first full album production. ‘Rhythm Of Cruelty’ captured the art rock virtuosity of Barry Adamson and John McGeoch, while allowing Dave Formula’s keyboards to shine.
With a manifesto of “synthesizers and vocals only”, Colin Thurston was the man behind the desk for THE HUMAN LEAGUE’s eagerly awaited debut album. Eerily intro-ed with a taped announcement from Peter Lewis of London Weekend Television that Steve McGarrett from ‘Hawaii Five-O’ was about to arrive on a Hawker Siddeley Trident, the clattering synthetic dystopia and narcotic doom of ‘Circus Of Death’ was delivered with a charismatically sombre baritone by Phil Oakey.
Electronic pioneer Richard James Burgess said to The Electricity Club: “I think we all embraced this new direction because of our raw excitement over the new technology…We discussed it in the band and everyone was on board so I started working on the lyrics that became ‘European Man’”. Colin Thurston was ideally the man to assist in realising this new direction and interestingly, the rear artwork of the first issue featured an early use of the term “electronic dance music” while the catalogue number was EDM1.
Led by the striking evangelical presence of Sal Solo, CLASSIX NOUVEAUX flirted with New Romanticism and while the eventual third album ‘La Verité’ was self-produced by Solo, the Colin Thurston steered ‘Never Again’ was the lead single. Written by bassist Mik Sweeney, it showcased Solo’s passionate falsetto amongst a barrage of period Simmons drums, synths, octave bass and flanged guitars. While just missing out on being a Top 40 single, it paved the way for ‘Is It A Dream?’ to reach the No11 spot six months later.
Available on the CLASSIX NOUVEAUX album ‘La Verité’ via Cherry Red Records
After seeing the promising support act for Hazel O Connor’s 1980 tour, Colin Thurston found his perfect band, one that appealed to both his electronic and art rock sensibilities. Combining the disco sequencer drive of Giorgio Moroder, the funkier groove of CHIC and the anthemic qualities of glam rock, Messrs Le Bon, Rhodes, Taylor, Taylor and Taylor were to be the new romantics who moved beyond “looking for the TV sound” as they became one of the biggest bands on ‘Planet Earth’.
“We were proud of our musicianship, that we could play complicated parts with precision and speed” said Scott Simon of OUR DAUGHTER’S WEDDING to The Electricity Club and having supported DURAN DURAN, they summoned the services of Colin Thurston for their ‘Digital Cowboy’ EP . Utilising a live drummer in Simon Phillips who played on Thurston’s session with THE MEN, ‘Target For Life’ was the frantic highlight from the five track offering.
It’s bizarre to think now that when TALK TALK first appeared, they were dismissed as nothing more than DURAN DURAN copyists, thanks to their double name, patronage by EMI and production on their debut album ‘The Party’s Over’ by Colin Thurston. Utilising synths and Simmons drums, their eponymous signature song was not actually a hit first time round and following a number of disagreements, Thurston’s name was taken off the credits of the album.
Based around a frantic arpeggio sourced from Nick Rhodes’ Roland Jupiter 4, ‘Rio’ is possibly Colin Thurston’s finest moment as a producer. From utilising a reversed slowed down tape of metal rods being dropped on a grand piano’s strings for the intro and capturing some amazing funky bass work from John Taylor, to the quintet locked in full flow with a rousing chorus and sax driven middle section, it was to become an iconic work both musically and visually.
Available on the DURAN DURAN album ‘Rio’ via EMI Records
Look past the silly haircuts and what you see in ‘Too Shy’ is a very well-produced and well-written pop tune. Limahl had handed over a demo to Nick Rhodes while working as a waiter at London’s Embassy Club. Curious, he took the tape to Colin Thurston and when the band signed to EMI, they were embraced by a teenybop audience. Less happy were the other members of KAJAGOOGOO who had been the more serious ART NOUVEAU and the result as a coup d’état with Limahl ousted as lead singer.
A catchy militaristic tune with a profound anti-war statement, London-based combo KISSING THE PINK had wanted Brian Eno as producer, having worked with Martin Hannett on their debut single ‘Don’t Hide In The Shadow’. But their then-label Magnet Records suggested that Colin Thurston would give a more commercial sound and they were proved right when ‘The Last Film’ become a UK Top 20 single, although it was to be the band’s only hit.
Available on the KISSING THE PINK album ‘Naked’ via Cherry Red Records
Notably High Wycombe’s most famous son, Howard Jones told The Electricity Club of working with Thurston on his debut single: “Warners wanted me in the studio as quick as possible to get something going and Colin was doing very well with DURAN DURAN and KAJAGOOGOO”. With a catchy new song that sounded like a synthpop version of Peter Gabriel’s ‘Solsbury Hill’, Jones got that first hit twhich his label desired although he and Thurston were not to do any further work together.
With Limahl gone and working with Giorgio Moroder, Thurston stuck with KAJAGOOGOO, now led by bassist and Chapman stick player Nick Beggs. ‘Big Apple’ was a rousing funky pop punctuated by brass section that allowed the band to show off their musical virtuosity. Interest in KAJAGOOGOO waned afterwards, although Beggs was to become a noted sessioneer, working with Gary Numan, Howard Jones, Steve Hackett and Steven Wilson.
Available on the KAJAGOOGOO album ‘Islands’ via EMI Records
Having not had a happy experience working with Bill Nelson on the ‘Warriors’ album, Gary Numan was open to sharing the studio with an outsider again when the name of Colin Thurston was suggested. The first fruit of labour was the excellent and uncluttered PPG dominated ‘Your Fascination’. However, there was to be no further productions with Thurston as he was in the middle of working with THE HUMAN LEAGUE on the first version of ‘Crash’, which was subsequently scrapped.
As synthesizers became more passé with the advent of MTV and a desire for American success, Thurston found himself working with more guitar oriented acts like IMMACULATE FOOLS, WESTWON and ATLANTIC while adding his modern studio sheen. One of his more successful productions in this period was with Aylesbury AOR band FLIP whose appealing FM friendly number ‘That’s What They Say About Love’ was a minor hit in The Netherlands.
Originally available on the FLIP album ‘Flip’ via CBS Associated Records, currently unavailable
In order to move away from the DEPECHE MODE derived sound of their first two albums ‘Voices & Images’ and ‘Methods Of Silence’, Marcus Meyn and Heiko Maile enlisted session drummer Gavin Harrison and Thurston to capture more of a live feel to their music. ’Heaven’ was certainly looser than previous CAMOUFLAGE recordings although like with DEPECHE MODE not long after, the use of live drums ironically took some of soul and tension out of the band’s sound.
Available on the CAMOUFLAGE album ‘The Singles’ via Polydor Records