‘Mirores’ is the excellent debut long player by Welsh synth songstress ANI GLASS and conceived around the idea of movement and progress around her hometown of Cardiff.
With enticing synthpop songs sitting together with more conceptual found sound adventures, it is one woman’s artistic vision celebrating her heritage and home, empowered by the freedom and democracy opened up via electronic music.
ANI GLASS released her first EP ‘Ffrwydrad Tawel’ in 2017 having served an apprenticeship under mentors such as OMD’s Andy McCluskey and the late Martin Rushent. She kindly chatted to The Electricity Club about realising her artistic vision and remaining true to her culture.
Your debut album ‘Mirores’ has been several years in the making, how did you keep focussed and motivated?
It’s been a real labour of love and I’ve really enjoyed the whole process. That’s not to say that it’s been a never-ending journey of joyful motivation; there have been heavy periods of down-time whilst I focussed on other things such as my Masters and PhD, but even during those times I was busy collecting ideas and building a narrative. I’ve always wanted to have created and crafted a strong body of work and so that was all the motivation I needed to make sure that I finished, no matter how long it took.
What were the main differences in approach for you with the album compared with your debut EP ‘Ffrwydrad Tawel’?
The main difference I would say is that my ideas, musicianship and skills have developed since writing and recording the EP and so my approach to making the album was more considered. Essentially, I would just say that I was far more confident in my ability this time around.
You opted to self-produce the album, what were the pros and cons you uncovered along the way?
The only con I can think of was that it probably took far longer than it may have had someone else produced it, but the list of pros is pretty endless to be honest. I learnt the skill of production, I learnt how to fully realise my ideas from start to finish, I felt more ownership over my music and could work at my own pace and it encouraged me to listen to music in a different and more observant way. It also made me realise the amount of work involved and I now fully understand why Martin Rushent took over a year to finish the second PIPETTES album!
What hardware or software synths were you using, have you been tempted by any of those affordable Behringer clones?
I tend to stick to hardware synths, the ones I used on the album include a Juno 106, Waldorf Blofeld, Fender Rhodes and a Korg Minilogue. There maybe one or two software synths but mainly incidental or background stuff and absolutely no Behringer clones!
The album is an observational electronic travelogue with pop songs and conceptual interludes, that appears to be reminiscent of OMD’s ‘Dazzle Ships’ or ‘English Electric’? What were you main pointers influence-wise?
My main sonic influences were Vangelis, Martin Rushent, Giorgio Moroder, Jean-Michel Jarre and Arthur Russell. I do love OMD so I’m quite happy if anything I make resembles their work! The album is a journey – based around a day in the life of a Cardiff girl – and journeys tend to vary in pace, mood and tone and so I made an album that I felt would represent this.
The ‘Mirores’ title song has a very liberating quality about it, what was its genesis?
It was one of the last songs from the album that I wrote, and I certainly began to feel liberated knowing that I had nearly finished it! I wanted the song to capture how moments of doubt and despair can evolve into ones of clarity and realisation.
You play with Euro-disco on ‘Ynys Araul’, do you ultimately still have a pop heart within the messages you are looking to convey?
To me, I find pop music to be the most versatile when it comes to freedom of narrative. I’ve never felt restricted by its more traditional format, this structure allows me to experiment with lyrical themes and ideas. I’m generally quite conceptual and often a little vague when it comes to lyrics which then allows me to discuss almost anything. OMD’s ‘Enola Gay’ is a classic example of how a well-crafted song can be both pop and poignant.
You use sample of Welsh newsreader Huw Edwards within the voice collage on ‘Peirianwaith Perffaith’?
This recording is taken from a news report during the 1997 Welsh devolution referendum results. This momentous event in the social, cultural and political calendar of Wales has played a huge part in the development of Cardiff as a European capital city. What was once the largest exporter of coal in the world, the place where the first million-pound cheque was signed felt like a pretty grey and dreary place during the 80s and 90s.
Despite this, there were a lot of exciting things happening in various pockets around the city and most of all, the people were kind and generous.
The city is unrecognisable today, in part due to the devolution process which has weaved its way into the minds and mechanics of Welsh life, and although we have all the problems of other cities – it’s home.
There’s a gospel flavoured interlude called ‘I.B.T’ which appears to sound familiar?
The recording is of my Mum’s choir CÔR COCHION CAERDYDD (Cardiff Reds), who are a socialist street choir. They sing every Saturday in Cardiff city centre to raise money for great causes and have done for the best part of 40 years. The song itself ‘Freedom Is Coming’ is a South African protest song, but this version is called ‘I.B.T’ which reads in Welsh ‘I Beaty’ (To Beaty). Beaty was a choir member and a wonderful woman and friend, and I recorded the choir singing this song at her funeral.
What was the idea behind including both English and Welsh in ‘Agnes’?
The words spoken at the beginning are taken from an interview done with the artist Agnes Martin as part of a documentary and the Welsh passages that follow depict my feelings about her work (basically, I love her). Her work stops you from thinking or worrying about things, it’s very calming and hugely inspiring – most certainly one of my greatest inspirations.
Do you have any personal favourite tracks on the album, or is it one thread of work for you?
I don’t think I do – they each have specific meanings that are equally important to me. They are reflective of different places, feelings and experiences and I suppose I value them all. I most certainly have songs which fall into the more traditional ‘pop’ category (and I really love pop), but I don’t think I would say that I like them more.
You’re going to be touring the ‘Mirores’ album first in Wales, what have you got planned as far as its presentation is concerned and will you be taking it further afield?
I’ve recently picked up the bass again – I hadn’t played it since I was a member of GENIE QUEEN a long time ago – so that will make an appearance. Andy McCluskey bought this bass for me (as he managed the band at the time) and so the whole process of learning to play it again has been quite an emotional experience… probably realising that I’m not 19 anymore! I will most certainly be travelling across the border and further afield later in the year so I’m very much looking forward to that.
The Electricity Club gives its grateful thanks to ANI GLASS
Special thanks to Bill Cummings at Sound & Vision PR
HARD CORPS were like a piece of a jigsaw that didn’t quite fit.
Utilising aesthetically entrancing KRAFTWERK-like electronic minimalism, produced by the legendary Martin Rushent and Daniel Miller, but restrained by a major label record contract that meant that they never fulfilled their true potential and only belatedly released one full length album ‘Metal & Flesh’ in 1990. Clive Pierce, Hugh Ashton, Rob Doran and Regine Fetet were a candle that burned exceedingly brightly, but still left a small but none the less important legacy of synthetic music which could give their German counterparts a run for their money.
Tracks such as ‘Je Suis Passée’, ‘Dirty’ and ‘Porter Bonheur’ still remain classics of their genre with the band supporting DEPECHE MODE and THE CURE before dissolving a few years after their conception.
HARD CORPS vocalist Regine Fetet cut an enigmatic, but controversial figure by infamously disrobing during their DEPECHE MODE support slots; but tragically passed away in 2003.
Clive Pierce kindly spoke to The Electricity Club about his tenure in HARD CORPS with additional contributions from band members Hugh Ashton and Rob Doran.
What were your individual musical influences?
Hugh: The first records I recall being bought on my behalf were Neil Sedaka’s ‘Happy Birthday Sweet Sixteen’ and ‘Runaway’ by Del Shannon. This latter track featured the sound of a Musitron, an early electronic keyboard with a powerful ‘unworldly’ sound jumping out of the recording which made me aware of the emotional power of ‘sound’. Other examples of this would be ‘62’s Joe Meek produced ‘Telstar’ by THE TORNADOS which was a bit ‘cheesy’ but listen to that Clavioline, another great pre-synthesizer electronic keyboard and DELIA DERBYSHIRE and the BBC RADIOPHONIC WORKSHOP’s ‘Dr Who Theme’.
Rob: Probably my first subconscious feeling that music was powerful, was in secondary school when a cool American kid with hair down to his arse joined. He introduced me to THE DOORS and I especially loved the track ‘Unknown Soldier’ which I played over and over again. I loved its political message and even then, the blending of found sources within music which I have been a fan of ever since.
Clive: After a long time coming, when it was hand-me-down time, I found myself the proud owner of a box of 45s and an old Volmar valve record player that my brother used to own. I think I was more captivated by the machinery than by the music itself at the time, but still within that box of 45s I would as a young child be spinning tracks like ‘You Really Got Me’ by THE KINKS and ‘Telstar’ by THE TORNADOS.
Prior to the eventual meeting with Regine, how did the band members come together and what were their individual backgrounds?
Rob: I met Hugh in the 1970s in Brixton and lived in the same large Victorian house. Eventually I ran the recording studio (which we called Mekon) which was built in the basement of the house and became a sound engineer / designer with the punk group Hugh Ashton had formed called THE SKUNKS.
Clive: One day I answered an advertisement from a band based in Brixton, South London called THE SKUNKS. They described themselves as a sort of punk group, not exactly what I envisaged myself getting involved with, but I decided to give it a go because again they mentioned that they had a record deal and a connection with Pete Townsend of THE WHO. Within minutes of starting my audition, I could visualise myself quite happily being involved with them fully.
Only just recently I became aware that they chose me because of two main reasons, all of which centred around a Roland CR78 drum machine. The first was I didn’t object or feel intimidated by the use of one. A lot of drummers saw these machines as a threat to their livelihoods and considered them as just a poor imitation. Secondly, I was actually able to keep very good time alongside one.
Hugh: Having replaced our old-style rock drummer with the metronomic Clive Pierce, we changed our name to CRAZE and started incorporating a new hybrid sound. This led to a record deal with EMI and in ’79, we released the single ‘Motions’ with an instrumental B-side ‘Spartans’ which started getting played at Steve Strange and Rusty Egan’s freshly opened New Romantic hangout at The Blitz in London’s Covent Garden.
Once you had formed as an act, what did you hope to achieve together?
Clive: Speaking personally, it was a break from all that had been before. For a start, it marked the end of looking at myself as just being a drummer within a traditional group structure and the hierarchy that came with that.
Rob: We found the machines enabled us to break out of our previous musical roles. Being only a machine-based band initially narrowed our options musically, but at the same time as we developed into electronic musicians, widened our musical palette. Perhaps we were KRAFTWERK’s rough and noisy neighbours!
Hugh: So with Rob and Clive equally happy to join in this marriage with these powerful new toys, we started to evolve the working methods that would sustain us over the coming few years. It was now ‘81 and apart from seeing KRAFTWERK (whose new masterpiece ‘Computer World’ album showed they were still leading from the front) on their long awaited tour, it did not really matter what other musicians were up to. We were quite happily lost in our own bubble.
How did you go about integrating vocals into the band?
Hugh: A guy called David Porter came in to do vocals and managed to get us a support slot to play at the Marquee Club in Soho. In preparation, he brought us copies of some of the latest gay disco tracks (Patrick Cowley, Bobby O etc) which we copied and changed a bit and then he wrote new ‘songs’ on top and we were ready!
Except how could we recreate it live? This was to become a perennial challenge in the following years and not just for us but for many early 80s electronic acts.
David had hurriedly plucked the name HARD CORPS (which was a sort of opposite of SOFT CELL who had recently gone to No1 with ‘Tainted Love’) from a shortlist of possible names I had in my notebook. Thus under the gaze of a few disgruntled and confused rock fans being subjected to a weird reimagining of gay disco… HARD CORPS was born!
At the Marquee Club, David even had an open mic ‘dispute’ on stage with the giant rocker Fish from MARILLION which we by then we were able to enjoy from the audience. Although I don’t think David ever went back on to a stage again and we were more than happy to disappear from the opprobrium and back to the womb of our studio not to re-emerge without a more compelling reason to surface again. So what next?
So what did happen next??
Hugh: The answer was to arrive at a party we were giving at our HQ. Someone I did not know well came up to me and basically said “there is this girl here who you really should meet, she is looking for people to work with because she wants to sing and she is … different and I think she might suit your music!” So off he goes and back he comes with Regine. Well she was just 29 but she looked pretty fine… a gaunt figure with a fine-featured almost medieval visage below a fiery red mane of hair shaved away at the sides and a dead fox (or was it a ferret) draped across her shoulders. She spoke, suggesting she would like to revisit with a cassette of her ‘work’, with a mysterious clipped French accent with almost Germanic overtones (Une Vosgienne!).
She felt hard to refuse and so without much to lose, it was agreed she would return. So she came back to the studio and we found that a song she had already written about a lovelorn petrol-station attendant worked well with a backing track we had recently recorded and ‘Dirty’ was born. Intrigued by the way it all seemed to combine, we found we could create several more tracks that combined tracks we had already prepared with lyrics Regine had already written. So with this ‘flesh’ now added to the bones, the monster HARD CORPS was now truly born.
With Regine now on board, what made you decide to go for a completely electronic aesthetic?
Rob: It was different, a challenge, new, revolutionary, the future, a break from the pompous masturbation of endless dull guitarists and hypocritical rock music. It was two fingers to bland corporate American music. It had a vitality not seen since punk, it was European and it was pioneered by the excellence of KRAFTWERK.
Hugh: So basically we had virtually no outside influences on the music we were making at that time other than late 70s GIORGIO MORODER and KRAFTWERK. Regine was also not really influenced by other writers or singers. She was just very keen to express herself creatively to balance her life…
How did the demos you were creating around this time metamorphose into actual singles?
Hugh: So around 1983, Steve McGowan offered to take our recordings around some record companies. Having got some positive feedback, he effectively became our manager and developed the strategy that led to ‘Dirty’ being pressed as a white label and then being picked up by Survival. We then got an offer to debut at a party in June ‘84, organised by Steve Strange and Rusty Egan who still had a strong presence in London’s clubland.
Steve then secured Polydor’s interest and squeezed a complicated ‘album’ deal out of them that was supposed to give us creative control over all aspects including music production, press, artwork etc which we signed hoping we would keep some control whilst accessing the resources of a ‘major’ record company… a decision we would sooner than expected come to regret.
Whilst Polydor seemed agreeable to us self-producing ‘album’ tracks, they predictably wanted to gain exposure with a single release and wanted to find a producer who could add cache and supervise recording in a ‘proper’ studio rather than our admittedly ‘semi-pro’ basement in Brixton. We were suspicious, but when they offered up Martin Rushent, we were tempted into agreeing given his achievement producing ‘Dare’ for THE HUMAN LEAGUE a few years before. So we recorded ‘Je Suis Passée’ at his Genetic Studios in Reading, Berkshire.
How was the experience of working with Rushent?
Clive: Firstly it was a “pinch yourself” moment for me. I remember quite vividly on the final mix of ‘Je Suis Passée’ sitting alongside Martin at the mixing desk with him riding the 16th delays on a fader on the eight to the bar bass sequence part and me also riding a fader on 16th delays on my middle range sequence part and just bouncing and grooving off each other as the track exited what we affectionately called the ‘crunchy middle break bit’ and thinking to myself “what the f*** is occurring here?” There I was, Little Clive From The Block playing what was effectively duelling banjos with the oddball genius bearded bloke; the one that looked totally out of place in the pictures on the back cover of one of my favourite albums of all time ‘Love and Dancing’. Nuts. Completely nuts!
Martin also monitored extremely loud recording as well as mixing. I was used to working in our Brixton studio on a couple of Auratone speakers, only switching to Tannoys in short bursts to test out the energy of a track for fear of upsetting the very nice lady who lived next door. Martin would have me pinned against the back wall from the blast from the speakers with every bass drum beat hitting me square on in the solar plexus.
Over the space of a few days, it wore me completely down to the point of suffering what I can only describe as mild shellshock. I spent an afternoon in the group restroom on the sofa staring into space and physically shaking much to the amusement of Hugh and Rob, but I felt totally f**ked. I progressively got better but had to request a lower level of playback and take regular breaks from the audio barrage from then onwards. Strange really as I had previously played the drums in various groups with stage monitors pumping sound straight at me, but this was quite different and incessant. I still wince at loud music all these years on… very weird!
Rushent’s huge impact on the production of the songs of THE HUMAN LEAGUE is well documented, what do you feel he brought to the sound of HARD CORPS?
Clive: What we hoped Martin would be able do was to refine and flesh out our sound beyond the point we were physically able to manage ourselves down in our resident basement studio in Brixton and that he did. To also help coax and winkle out the best from Regine who although one of a kind, was never a vocalist in the traditional sense of the word.
She was by nature very hit or miss at the best of times but as much as this could on the one hand be intensely frustrating for us, on the other it could incredibly rewarding when a line or word would emanate from her that was not in any textbook but just sounded right within the context of the music. It was spotting them that was the skill. Martin having worked with the technical brilliance of Shirley Bassey and at the other end of the spectrum Joanne Catherall and Susanne Sulley and their “Working as a waitress in a cocktail bar” performance, I would say was a perfect choice for us.
As you started to record and produce songs for HARD CORPS, how did your relationship with Polydor develop?
Hugh: A profound problem for us was that we had signed thinking we would self–produce an album in our own studio and now we were being cajoled by Polydor into a scenario involving ‘expensive’ names to produce our music and promos. This made the whole project subject to the typical major record company ploy of promoting a single (or two if you’re lucky!) and delaying an album until you have a ‘hit’ and then making the album or otherwise if not, they just drop you.
Given how much they had just spent on one song (combined with the advance we now owed more than £100,000), their position was understandable, but we had spent some years recording enough tracks for an album which they had heard and had originally approved.
As Martin Rushent was now in the throes of a divorce, our A&R man Malcolm Dunbar scouted around for another ‘name’ and to his credit, gained Daniel Miller’s interest. This was quite something since at that time Daniel was steering DEPECHE MODE to international status and was not in the habit of working with people outside of his Mute stable of artists.
So in short, it was an offer we could not refuse and ‘Respirer’ duly ended up being completed with Daniel producing. So now we had two of the best ‘electronic’ music producers in the UK both helping on our track, not to mention Daniel was using Flood as his engineer. A stellar cast and indeed a great honour for us… the only trouble being ‘Respirer’, whilst being a ‘strong’ track was not really, in common with most of our tracks, obvious ‘hit’ single material.
It’s hard not to compare HARD CORPS with PROPAGANDA, especially with tracks like ‘Respirer (To Breathe)’, was there any kind of rivalry or kinship?
Clive: Absolutely none whatsoever in either rivalry or kinship. I only became aware of them initially when I visited a friend of mine who was an eclectic buyer of slightly alternative music, CABARET VOLTAIRE, PSYCHEDELIC FURS, NEW ORDER, FLOCK OF SEAGULLS etc. He played ‘Dr Mabuse’ to me and I immediately thought FRANKIE GOES TO HOLLYWOOD and I was right.
Now who doesn’t like FGTH in small doses, but the formulaic sound of the ZTT production machine just becomes really tiring after a very short space of time to my ears. Not enough rough edges for my taste and far too manipulated to feel any affinity towards. I can see the comparison you make with ‘To Breathe’ though.
The band did a session for John Peel in 1984, how was that experience when at the time the BBC engineers there were more used to dealing with Indie-style guitar acts?
Clive: Yes, it was a very sterile experience for both parties. The chaps at the BBC by nature were very institutionalised and it was record it and ship it out, and we felt the same. Naively, I personally thought John Peel would be popping his head in and out the studio during the recording but he didn’t. A time constraint dictated that we have some of the instrumentation pre-recorded at our Brixton studio and we would only play certain key components live on the sessions.
There was a rather funny moment when the BBC engineer, I think it was Mike Robinson said he had heard some nasty distortion on our track ‘Dirty’. We hadn’t spotted it and so he rewound the tape and ran it past us again. “There!” he gestured pointing at the monitors. Again none of us reacted as we hadn’t heard anything untoward and looked at each other quizzically.
“One more time please Mike” we asked starting to feel a bit amateurish at not having his depth of perception in the distortion spotting department. “There, there” he said again now standing up out of his chair in order to point closer to the speaker in a bid to home in more precisely to identify it for us. Again we couldn’t react to him until it then dawned on us simultaneously that the distortion he was trying to alert us to, was in fact a sound we had generated in our studio by feeding a delay back into itself and allowing it to get to the point that it started to break up.
We had lovingly crafted the distortion he was trying to point out to us as a defect. I don’t think we had the heart to tell him he hadn’t grasped the concept of the track and why should he but on a trip to the free vend coffee machine, the three of us had a good old giggle about it!
With much of Regine’s lyrics being in French, did you come under a lot of pressure to record totally in English?
Clive: For sure, albeit after we had signed with Polydor. Regine however was no Vanessa Paradis. If you put on the Bardot and sing all cutey, then you can get away with quite a lot as you pander to the stereotypical image most ignorant Brits have of the French, but Regine did not fit that model in the slightest. Her vocals and lyrics came from the scars of her life. They could not be delivered in a contrived way. What came out was what you had to work with and unfortunately working her art in the UK was always going to be an uphill struggle whilst singing in her native language.
Prior to Polydor and the “assault” on the charts, she could have sung in Martian as far as we were concerned. The language was not important to us. It was her personality, her realism and her honesty that mattered. She was flawed but in an intoxicating way to our ears to others this was not always appreciated as much.
What was the reaction when ‘Dirty’ was released as a single in 1984?
Rob: Extraordinary! We thought we were far to leftfield for that kind of interest and were totally unprepared for that amazing response.
Clive: It was very favourable, we attained record of the week in the NME and things snowballed from then onwards.
What kind of image did the band try to cultivate?
Rob: We tried to create a hard machine world with the macho men lined up along the back of the stage and the gentle flower symbolised by Regine pushing through the metaphorical concrete. As usual it became quite controversial!
Clive: The image I reflected on stage was purely a theatrical statement based on how I felt in regards my relationship to the music. I saw the musical phrases I played as having gender. Some male, others female. It felt honest and right to have both those represented in the way, I portrayed myself, a hard edge and a sensitive edge, both of which I possessed. I also think there was a degree of wanting to escape the everyday me who in reality was a rather average guy.
Hugh: I remember I had to deal with a panic at Polydor which involved being hauled in front of John Preston, the new CEO. We had performed at Islington Town Hall in London and we backline boys had decided to wear some 1950s surplus store ex-police motorcyclist’s jodhpurs as a uniform to emphasise our differences to normal casual rock band attire. They were reminiscent of those worn in Fritz Lang’s ‘Metropolis’ and seemed to us to capture in an amusing way (to us anyway), the sort of ‘retro-futurist’ vibe.
However we had not anticipated members of NITZER EBB being at the front of the audience dressed in long leather SS type overcoats. It led to a review in the music press where the reviewer was concerned that she had stumbled on some sort of ‘neo-fascist’ gathering. Preston wanted reassurance that his company had not signed something politically malodorous. I had to reassure him this was not the case and in fact the gig had been organised by Rock Against Racism which might have explained the reviewer’s sensitivity!
The band’s performance of ‘Je Suis Passée’ on ‘The Tube’ is still transfixing, can you tell The Electricity Club about the lead up to this appearance and why Regine looks so stressed and distant?
Clive: Well, we missed our flight from Heathrow to Newcastle. I can’t recall exactly why, but whatever the reason, it was quite inexcusable. TV appearances when you are in your infancy as a group do not throw themselves at your feet very often. We managed to get a later flight from Heathrow to Teeside Airport a good thirty odd miles from the TV studio so had to jump into a cab and tell the driver to put his foot down to get us there. Fortunately our gear had gone up the day before and was already partly set up when we arrived to sound check.
After the sound check I (as I usually did) drifted off to have a look around ‘The Tube’ set and take as much as I could in before the show started. I really had no idea that during this time Regine had had an argument with our manager. I never knew until a long time after the show that this is why her performance looked so stressed. She was actually brooding live on TV. I just thought she was just being her normal self and took no notice of it!
For The Electricity Club, the bit where Rob and yourself turn their backs on the audience, tweak the Rolands and glance at each other is probably one of the coolest things in a live electronic music performance, was that pre-rehearsed?
Clive: Yes is the simplest answer to that! It was the routine that was required to carry out that part of the track. The turning of our backs to the audience was not intended as snub to them at all. The System 100M by nature is rather plain looking viewed from behind so we opted to have the modules with their flashing LED’s facing out towards the audience for the drama. Consequently when we had to change any settings, it meant having to turn our backs to the audience.
DEPECHE MODE’s Black Swarm Devotee fanbase was notoriously antagonistic towards support bands, were you aware of this prior to playing with them?
Clive: No we weren’t aware of them at all. Even if we were, it wouldn’t have bothered us in the slightest. We actually would have revelled in a bit of antagonism, but I can’t say that on the ‘Music For The Masses’ tour, we noticed any animosity from the devotee DM fans.
The worst it ever got for me on the DM tour was actually backstage at the NEC in Birmingham.
There are long periods of spare time on tour pre-concert and the chance to have a bit of a kick around with a football was a good way to while a bit of time away and stretch those legs from the tour van. Rob and I were just passing the ball around when a couple DM roadies walked by. “Wanna game lads, HARD CORPS v DM?” and I said, “Yeah alright”. So down with the jumpers for goalposts and off we went. Within a short while (which normally always happens) a few others joined in on each side including Martin Gore and we had a five a side match on our hands.
Now it was all good natured and sporting, that is until one of the DM roadies took it upon himself to tackle me so ridiculously hard that he almost broke my leg in the process. I wasn’t prepared for that level of aggression from him in what was essentially just a friendly kick around and certainly not two hours before I was due to go on stage. I thought “you complete f**king tw*t!” That tackle could have spelled out the end of my DM tour.
When he next got the ball, I made it my mission to dish out a bit of retribution and hit him twice as hard as he had hit me. He went down but immediately got up and before we knew it we had squared up to each other snarling and swearing with fists about to fly. That was until Martin Gore stepped in between us before things got completely out of hand and managed to calm it down a bit!
What was your opinion about Regine’s dress sense on the DM support tour, do you feel that there was something wilfully self-destructive about it or was it a natural kind of ‘punk’ aesthetic for her?
Clive: Regine was a law unto herself. If she wanted to do something, she would do it regardless of what anyone said or recommended to her. That was her strength as well as her weakness.
The DM tour came at a time where we were as a unit struggling to keep the momentum going and sort of had a fatalistic attitude going into it. Perhaps a few years prior to the DM tour, I might have questioned the sanity of how far she was taking it but on this tour, I thought if we go down we may as well go down in flames…. which is what happened in the end! Retrospectively looking back on it, I can fully understand how her antics rendered us a liability to both DM and their promoters.
I for one, even though I am far from being a prude would have been seriously pissed off if I had gone to a DM concert with my young son or daughter and saw the support group’s front woman with her private parts out parading around on stage. There are lines you do not cross and even though I ashamedly had no regard for that line back then, I regret having been party to Regine being allowed to cross it. It cost us the European leg of the tour and perhaps the American leg and signalled the end for us.
Hugh: The first concert was in Newport in Wales and the concert promoters were furious because parents, who had accompanied their young teenage children, were suddenly confronted with a French Stripper! We had recruited a private detective friend to manage us for the tour and he had to deal with the fall out. So Regine had to sign a letter for the tour promoters, promising specifically not to expose her nipples again. So she did the rest of the tour with a rubber band across her breasts inscribed with the word “censored”.
Did you ever at any point say to her, “look let’s tone things down a bit”?
Clive: Yes! When you have 15 minutes or so before going on stage and the promoter won’t allow you to go on unless Regine signed a disclaimer stating that she would not disrobe on stage. Regine refused to sign the disclaimer but eventually after us pleading to her, signs it with a scrawl and then goes on stage and disrobes anyway!
Hugh: We were not offered the European leg of the tour despite Martin Gore’s stage attire being remarkably similar to that which Regine revealed when she removed her orange raincoat!
You also supported THE CURE, do you have any memories of this experience?
Clive: We were very fortunate to be published by the same company as THE CURE were and as a result were offered the slot on ‘The Head On The Door’ tour. The chance to tap in to THE CURE’s following was not to be sniffed at and all of us having a healthy respect for them and their music was an amazing opportunity.
Little ole hard CORPS on the same bill as THE CURE… wow the thought blew me personally away. A lot of my mates were ardent CURE fans and I just couldn’t wait to tell them the news. It was all very exciting!
In Torino, Italy we played our set to half a crowd as most of them were still in the bar areas. I don’t remember which track we were performing but we probably weren’t being very well received by the crowd as all manner of objects were being hurled at us. I got hit on the head with a couple of coins and a boiled sweet which fortuitously bounced down on to my keyboard.
Being a boiled sweet fan (who isn’t?) I unwrapped it and popped it in my mouth and gave a thumbs up in the general direction the gift horse had originated from. Hugh was less fortunate. This whole carrier bag of something was lobbed at him. What a shot. The handle managed to impale itself on one of his drumsticks stopping him in full flow. We lost a bar or so of beats as he untangled himself from his plastic nightmare and we finished the rest of our set dodging used Tampax etc!
As I left the stage, I grabbed the bag as I was curious to see what was in it. It was a whole packed lunch. Sandwiches, a packet of crisps and an apple. So if the person who threw it at Hugh ever reads this, I hope you went home hungry that night you bastard!
The band eventually split, was there a particular straw that broke the camel’s back or a series of contributory factors to this?
Clive: We fizzled out rather than split. As touched on previously, the death warrant had been signed when we became too difficult to handle anymore after the DEPECHE MODE tour. We had effectively painted ourselves into a very bleak corner. I think any comradery we had forged since the time Regine joined forces with us had evaporated and we met less and less to work on material, eventually just naturally drifting off our separate ways.
After all of the various recording sessions and singles, the album for Polydor never saw the light of day, why was that?
Rob: If we had released an album on Polydor, they would have been obliged to enter the next year of the contract so it became economically political. In other words, it would have cost them more investment than their accountants were prepared to budget for.
With your electronic aesthetic, you seemed on paper to be an ideal Mute Records band especially with the Daniel Miller link, do you think things could have turned out differently if HARD CORPS had been on a more sympathetic label?
Clive: I really believe we should have adopted the album band model and not been so wooed by the lure of a major label. We could never have been a commodity that would have sat comfortably on ‘Top Of The Pops’ churning out catchy tunes. Polydor were throwing serious money at us and had every right to demand chart contending ditties, but we just didn’t have them in us nor the personality to carry that pop star act off.
When HARD CORPS dissolved, what kind of career did you pursue afterwards?
Clive: My father was a self-employed builder among other things and I had worked alongside him off and on ever since leaving school to help pay my way. When we split, it was really game over for me. So much time was put into the project that I was left well behind my friends’ career wise. They had become civil servants, accountants, estate agents, policemen and were already well into paying mortgages off. I had virtually nothing in comparison to them.
So I just completely turned my back on music and knuckled down working with my father. We made a very good team with me supplying the strength and he the experience. I loved every moment with him. It was around this time that I became a father myself and my focus from then onwards was to provide security for my daughter.
Rob: I wrote and produced music and sound design for Film, TV and radio commercials.
Hugh: In ’92, I joined THE SUN KINGS and using the same equipment as HARD CORPS, we had an enjoyable time through the rest of the 90s doing our take on sort of ambient-techno incorporating our love of 60s psychedelia and 70s ‘German’. We released three albums ‘Hall of Heads’ on G.P.R in 1994, ‘Soul Sleeping’ on Blue Room in 1997 and ‘Before We Die’ released on Chill Out sometime after we stopped in ‘99.
Although HARD CORPS’ body of work is pretty small in comparison with many of their contemporaries, why do you think there is an enduring interest in the band’s work?
Clive: I think we were a truffle in a forest of chanterelles. Not to everyone’s taste but never the less rare and pungent in an appealing way to those who like their musical bouquet a little different.
Dedicated to the memory of Regine Fetet
The Electricity Club gives its warmest thanks to HARD CORPS
For the launch of his first solo album ‘Hey Hey Ho Hum’, Ian Burden held a Q&A in the centre of London to chat about his past, present and future.
A member of THE HUMAN LEAGUE during their imperial pop years between 1981-1986, Burden was joined by his former colleague Jo Callis to answer questions put to them by music journalist David Sinclair from The Times.
To begin the evening, there was a playback of ‘Hey Hey Ho Hum’ accompanied by some specially filmed psychedelic visuals as part of Burden’s ongoing interest for music and fine arts to engage with each other. A seamless of collection of ten songs written, played, programmed, produced and mixed by Burden himself, the album reflects his love of prog and PINK FLOYD in particular, something which perhaps was not so apparent while he was in THE HUMAN LEAGUE.
Talking about his thirty year absence from the music business living out in the English countryside, Burden mentioned how he only got a Spotify account a few weeks before and that the album began when he rescued some vintage synthesizers from his attic. “I thought somebody might have some sort of use for them” he said, “so I thought I’d better check out whether they worked. They were mostly modular synths so you have connect a keyboard and route them through some software, so I just started writing up some parts”.
These riffs and chord sequences developed into an album. ‘Hey Hey Ho Hum’ also features Burden on lead vocals; “I had to get the ideas down” the bassist told everyone, “no-one has come along and said it’s terrible…YET!”
With a cosmopolitan background having been born in Cyprus and spending a part of his childhood in West Germany, Burden became fascinated with the piano at school in Cambridge before listening to DAVID BOWIE, CAN and PINK FLOYD; the latter’s extraordinary sound template on the ‘Meddle’ album was to become a favourite but he could identify a thread running through his tastes. “If PINK FLOYD was prog rock” he declared, “then I would have said Bowie was as well!”
Asked about more recent influences, for Burden there was none: “I haven’t listened to a lot of music, I kind of switched off a bit during the 1990s, I wasn’t hearing stuff that interested me apart from MASSIVE ATTACK and THE PRODIGY”.
Naturally, THE HUMAN LEAGUE became the next topic of discussion; Ian Burden and Jo Callis between them co-wrote some of the band’s biggest hits including ‘The Sound Of The Crowd’, ‘Love Action’, ‘Open Your Heart’ and ‘Don’t You Want Me?’, but they rarely wrote together except on ‘Mirror Man’… or did they?
“No, Jo put the music together” clarified Burden, “he kept playing these chords in soundcheck”
The song even had a different title then, ‘I Can’t Get To Sleep At Night’, “but that was just to get some lyrics on it as we did it live before recording it” added Callis, “everyone would come up with bits of ideas and someone else would have another part to add to it. You’d have a bit of music and Phil would have some words that fitted, it happened quite organically like that… it was competing and collaborating for the good of the whole… Phil did a song called ‘You Remind Me Of Gold’ which he wrote and programmed up, I thought it was one of the best ever songs by THE HUMAN LEAGUE, absolutely brilliant!”
On the ‘Dare’ album favourite ‘Seconds’, Callis remembered “it actually came out of a synthesizer jam!” but with regards leaving THE REZILLOS to join THE HUMAN LEAGUE, it was a case of “leaving one set of mad bastards for another! I just fancied a change from playing the guitar…”
With a vocals and synthesizers only policy, THE HUMAN LEAGUE’s ‘Dare’ was to become of a classic album loved by pop fans and electronic enthusiasts alike. “The policy existed already from when Martyn Ware and Ian Marsh were in the original band” recalled Burden, although for the corresponding tour, Roland supplied one of the first bass guitar synths for him to use; “I had to keep resetting everything in between songs and in those days, you couldn’t store any sounds, so Roland gave me this analogue synthesizer controlled by a guitar instead of a keyboard which had foot switches on it, so you could quickly change from one sound to another”.
“Phil Oakey had a vision” said Callis, “but it was good to push at those goal posts as me and Ian were the only players in the band if you like, so we came at things from a slightly different angle”.
“It was interesting to have real restrictions because it doesn’t make sense on paper”, Burden added although the irony was “you’re a synthesizer band and you need help, so you get two guitarists! But what I learnt from Philip and Adrian Wright was because they hadn’t spent years learning to play an instrument, they would play with one finger and that meant they came up with things that I never have thought of…”
Central to the success of ‘Dare’ was producer Martin Rushent; “he understood what sort of sound it was any of us were trying to achieve and improve upon it” Burden recollected, “He really disciplined me and Jo with our playing because the rhythms were generated by computers, so you had to be much more accurate”.
Of ‘Hysteria’, the ploddy follow-up to ‘Dare’, Callis concluded “because ‘Dare’ was such an unexpected success, there was all that pressure to follow and that put a lot of stress on people. I just got really frustrated with how long it was taking, the changing of producers and the lack of direction. It needed a kind of boldness”.
In response, Burden considered the departure of Martin Rushent during the earlier part of the sessions was the main contributory factor: “It didn’t flow… Martin kept the momentum going because he managed the recording sessions and if something sparked a bit of debate, he would put that song away and get out one of the others”.
‘Louise’, one of the few highlights from ‘Hysteria’, proved to be troublesome with six sounds being considered for Callis’ chord parts; “so when you got six people with an opinion on which one is best…” pointed out Burden, “the producers Hugh Pagham and Chris Thomas didn’t know how to deal with us”.
“We started out with Martin before everyone kind of fell out” confirmed Callis, “with the benefit of hindsight, we’d put out the two singles and had an export mini-album called ‘Fascination!’ with six tunes on it including ‘I Love You Too Much’ all produced by Martin. If only we could have kept it all together and done another three or four songs, it would have done a lot better than ‘Hysteria’ because it had two hits on it anyway and come out with a year of ‘Dare’ rather than three! The longer you leave it when you’re on gaps between albums, the better people think it’s going to be, they have great expectations of it, but what you don’t realise is you’ve disappeared up your own ar*e!”
Things indeed had been promising with Burden sampling two bars of himself playing bass guitar for ‘(Keep Feeling) Fascination’, although Rushent left the recording before the song could be mixed.
Callis departed THE HUMAN LEAGUE after the lukewarm reaction to ‘Hysteria’, but Burden remained for ‘Crash’. After sessions with Colin Thurston were aborted, the band were despatched by Virgin Records to Minneapolis to record the album with Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis.
It’s a period that Burden does not have good memories of: “I spent a lot of time playing table tennis, I didn’t play anything although I did bits of vocals…it wasn’t for me. There was a point when I went up to the microphone with my headphones on for a song called ‘I Need Your Loving’ and I just thought ‘why am I singing on this?’…this is no disrespect to Jam and Lewis but it was their record and they let you know that! Although when we went out on tour, I was enjoying being on stage for the first time ever because I was actually doing something…”
After a bit of tech talk to reveal that their favourite synths were the Korg 770 and Roland Jupiter 4 respectively, Ian Burden and Jo Callis chatted informally with fans before leaving to catch up on old times over a drink with Dave Allen, the assistant to Martin Rushent on ‘Dare’ who went on to produce THE CURE’s best albums. It had been a fascinating evening with many fabulous stories.
And with ‘Hey Hey Ho Hum’ getting unleashed to the public, Ian Burden will no doubt be asked to tell a few more.
Special thanks to Matt Reynolds at Savage Gringo PR
Although he became a noted producer during the height of punk, it was with THE HUMAN LEAGUE’s ‘Dare’ that Martin Rushent’s reputation as an electronic music pioneer was forged.
Rushent had cut his teeth as an engineer for acts as varied as SHIRLEY BASSEY and T-REX, working under the wing of their respective producers Johnny Harris and Tony Visconti.
His first major production was for CURVED AIR on their ‘Air Cut’ album; it featured Jim Russell on drums who became later became one of Rushent’s engineers and joined THE HUMAN LEAGUE for their ‘Crash’ tour.
He then secured a lucrative role working for United Artists, the company famously founded by Charlie Chaplin, Douglas Fairbanks Junior, Mary Pickford and DW Griffith, as an in-house producer with A&R responsibilities.
It was in this position that he found major success working with THE STRANGLERS and BUZZCOCKS. Meanwhile his freelance clause allowed him to also produce bands like GENERATION X, 999 and THE REZILLOS whose guitarist Jo Callis was later to join THE HUMAN LEAGUE.
It was in 1978 at the height of his punk success that Radar Records, an offshoot of Warners who had Elvis Costello and Nick Lowe on their roster, offered Rushent an opportunity to start his own label and production company. Radar had been founded by the team that had hired Rushent for United Artists and the offer included funding to build what was to become his Genetic Sound Studios complex at his home in Reading.
With his new office based above The Blitz Club and a desire to move away from guitar bands, Rushent became fascinated by the New Romantic movement and its electronic soundtrack provided by their resident DJ Rusty Egan. Egan had started a project with Midge Ure named VISAGE fronted by the now sadly departed Steve Strange. Their demos had been offered to EMI but were turned down…
“Martin Rushent turned punk into pop with THE STRANGLERS and BUZZCOCKS and was the hottest punk producer in 1977-78”Rusty Egan told The Electricity Club, “He had no idea about synths, he was a rock producer but knew ULTRAVOX, MAGAZINE and RICH KIDS were disbanded. But his musical hunch was ‘they must come up with something’”.
Sensing that something was in the air, Rushent invited VISAGE to use his studio to see what they came up with. These sessions, which also featured ULTRAVOX’s Billy Currie plus MAGAZINE’s Dave Formula, the late John McGeoch and Barry Adamson, intrigued Rushent.
“We came with our equipment and no drum kit” recalled Egan about that visit to Genetic Sound Studios which was still being built, “I had the CR78 and the Simmons SDS3 prototype which Richard Burgess gave us; Midge had a Yamaha CS50, Billy had an RMI Electra Piano, Elka Rhapsody 610 and the ARP Odyssey while Dave brought his Yamaha CP30, ARP Odyssey and Yamaha string machine. We ran sequenced drums and layered, we had SMPTE timecode as MIDI did not come in for years, so we triggered and I hit drum pads and we created the sounds… Martin had never seen this type of recording”.
Despite the promising material coming from VISAGE, Warners pulled the plug on Radar and immediate plans for Genetic Records became stillborn. In hindsight, this move was extremely short sighted on Warners part as it was rumoured Rushent had been in discussions with JOY DIVISION, ULTRAVOX and SPANDAU BALLET.
Despite this set back, this experience helped Rushent realise that music production moving towards being more computer-driven, so he bought a Roland MC8 Micro-composer along with a Roland System 700 and Jupiter 4.
A strong advocate of clarity in instrument voicing and as a former drummer, how drum sounds were achieved, the availability of the Linn LM1 Drum Computer in 1981 was the final piece in the jigsaw and the set-up helped Rushent realise his vision. The rest as they say, is history and THE HUMAN LEAGUE scored a No1 with ‘Don’t You Want Me?’ on both sides of the Atlantic…
Rushent won the 1982 Brit Award for best producer and went on to produce THE GO-GO’S third album ‘Talk Show’ released in 1984. However, while recording the follow-up to ‘Dare’, a breakdown in his personal life, coupled to deteriorating relations with THE HUMAN LEAGUE led to Rushent leaving the sessions and walking out of his own studio!
Following his divorce, Rushent was forced to sell Genetic Sound Studios to avoid bankruptcy. Despite reducing his workload to more occasional studio recordings with ASSOCIATES, HARD CORPS, THEN JERICO and TWO PEOPLE, Rushent was suffering from depression; realising his heart was no longer in music, he effectively retired from the industry.
Taking time out to raise his family as a single parent, he eventually made a steady return to full album productions with HAZEL O’CONNOR in 2005 and THE PIPETTES in 2010. Buoyed by the huge developments in computer technology, he even presented his own DISCO UNLIMITED project with a track called ‘Itchy Hips’ inspired by his daughter Amy, as well as working with his son James’ band DOES IT OFFEND YOU, YEAH? But just as momentum was returning to his music career, Rushent sadly passed away in June 2011, aged 62.
Remembering working with Martin Rushent, Clive Pierce of HARD CORPS said to The Electricity Club: “Personally I felt overwhelmed when in the studio with him as it did feel at times that your precious baby was being bounced around in a manner you would never dream of doing yourself. His deft production work magnified what we were attempting to do ourselves and that’s exactly what great producers do”.
THE PIPETTES’ Ani Saunders who now makes music as ANI GLASS added: “One of the greatest lessons I learnt from Martin was to only spend your time working on music you believe in and not to be afraid to change / amend / cut parts or songs if they’re not good enough. Of course the production and engineering skills I gained working with him were invaluable but I also learnt about how to create the right atmosphere for and during recording, something which I think is often overlooked. When I’m writing pop songs I always ask myself ‘what would Martin do?’ – it helps to keep me in check”.
Focussing primarily on his work with synthesizers and technology, The Electricity Club looks back at the post-punk career of Martin Rushent. With a limit of one track per album project and presented in chronological order, here is a Beginner’s Guide to the late, great man…
THE STRANGLERS Nice N Sleazy (1978)
Making his fortune producing the key tracks of THE STRANGLERS’ career such as ‘(Get A) Grip (On Yourself)’, ‘Peaches’ and ‘No More Heroes’, the mutant punk reggae of ‘Nice N Sleazy’ saw a diversion into synthesizers with Dave Greenfield’s spacey blast of swirling Minimoog during the instrumental break. At their Battersea Park in September 1978, the band typically courted controversy when they were accompanied by strippers for the song’s visual embellishment!
Recorded in March 1979, JOY DIVISION spent a day at Eden Studios in London with Martin Rushent, recording a 5 track demo with the view to signing to his Genetic Records label. But afterwards, the band headed to Strawberry Studios in Manchester to record their debut album ’Unknown Pleasures’ with Martin Hannett for Factory Records. However, Rushent always reckoned his version of ‘Ice Age’ was better than the speedier version which ended up on the posthumous ‘Still’ collection in 1981.
Available on the JOY DIVISION boxed set ‘Heart & Soul’ via Rhino Records
At Genetic Sound Studios, VISAGE started recording an album. Rusty Egan recalled: “we agreed to use the studio for a weekend with Martin engineering”; the first track from those sessions was ‘Tar’, a cautionary tale about the dangers of smoking. After numerous contractual issues, it was finally released as a single on Genetic Records but within days, Warners closed down his funding source at Radar Records. But encouraged by all the synthesizer technology being used in his studio, Rushent saw the future.
Available on VISAGE album ‘Visage’ via Polydor Records
Released on the relaunched Genetic Records via Island Records, ‘Homosapien’ came about after sessions were aborted for BUZZCOCKS fourth album. Rushent suggested to frontman Shelley that the two of them should work on new material using the Roland MC8 Micro-composer and System 700. Now seen as Shelley’s coming out song, a cacophony of synths and 12 string guitar combined for a wonderful futuristic snarl. However, the lyric “Homo Superior in my interior” got it a BBC Radio1 ban.
Available on the PETE SHELLEY album ‘Homosapien’ via Active Distribution Ltd
When presented with the demo of ‘The Sound Of The Crowd’, Rushent’s response was “Well, that’s going in the bin”. Phil Oakey objected but the producer snarled back: “You came to me, so I assume that’s because you want hits?”… triggering bursts of System 700 white noise from the Micro-composer for the rhythm track, the combination of obscure lyrics from Ian Burden like “Stroke a pocket with a print of a laughing sound” and a screaming chant gave THE HUMAN LEAGUE their breakthrough hit.
While Steve Severin from SIOUXSIE & THE BANSHEES produced the majority of the ‘Happy Birthday’, the job of turning the title track into the Glaswegian quintet’s breakthrough hit fell to Rushent. Tight ‘n’ bright thanks to his modern production techniques and Glare Grogan’s helium fuelled cutesy vocals and nursery rhyme lyrics, ALTERED IMAGES were denied the No1 spot for 3 weeks by Dave Stewart and Barbara Gaskin’s synth cover of ‘It’s My Party’ and then later, THE POLICE.
Combining the precision of the latest programmed technology with live instrumentation, ‘I Could Be Happy’ was close to perfection as one of Rushent’s best productions. Despite being shrouded in melancholy, it was catchy and danceable enough to be a UK Top 10 hit. Rushent produced the parent album ‘Pinky Blue’ but it was given a lukewarm reception by the music press, ultimately causing the original line-up of ALTERED IMAGES to implode.
Featuring Ross Middleton and Gary Barnacle with production by Rushent, ‘Love Cascade’ was the missing link between PETE SHELLEY and THE HUMAN LEAGUE. The vocals were virtually unintelligible as the clattering Linn Drum, pulsing synths, squawky guitar and sax merged together for a cool dancefloor friendly tune full of the decadent spirit of the times. Rushent produced the duo’s three other singles, while Barnacle went on to become one of the world’s most in-demand session saxophonists.
12 inch version available on the album ‘Retro: Active 5’ (V/A) via Hi-Bias Records Canada
“The most creative experience I’ve ever had in my life” was how Rushent described the making of ‘Love & Dancing’, an album of tracks from ‘Dare’ specially remixed and re-edited by the producer. Pre-sampling, the material was remixed from the mixing board using a multitude of effects with vocal stutters created by cutting up small portions of tape and splicing them together with the aid of his custom-made ruler. The percussive dub laden barrage of ‘Do Or Die’ was one of the highlights.
Available on THE LEAGUE UNLIMITED ORCHESTRA album ‘Love & Dancing’ via Virgin Records
Tensions were running high with creative differences during the recording sessions for THE HUMAN LEAGUE’s follow-up to ‘Dare’, with Rushent losing enthusiasm for the album project due to conflicts in the studio with Phil Oakey and in particular, Susanne Sulley. The weirdly catchy ‘Fascination’ was the last track to be recorded with Rushent, but he departed before it was mixed, despite Jo Callis’ attempts to mediate. The eventual ‘Hysteria’ album was lukewarm, audibly missing Rushent’s touch.
With Shelley and Rushent developing on ‘Homosapien’ with a more fierce sound, ‘Telephone Operator’ could be seen as an extension lyrically to the themes of its predecessor. The original parent album ‘XL-1’ had a novel bonus track in a computer program for the Sinclair ZX Spectrum which printed lyrics in time with the music and displayed graphics, there was a locking groove before the code so that its bleeps and squeaks could not be played accidentally.
Available on PETE SHELLEY album ‘XL-1’ by Active Distribution Ltd
When endorsing Korg’s PSS-50 Programmable Super Section for a magazine advert, Rushent was enthusing about a record which “apart from voice” was “all written and performed on one synth” – that album was HAZEL O’CONNOR’s ‘Smile’. From it, the moody single ‘Don’t Touch Me’ was very art school Weimar Cabaret with some very passionate vocals from O’Connor, constructed around a Synclavier with its distinct period bass and brass sounds.
Available on HAZEL O’CONNOR album ‘Smile’ via Cherry Red
Rushent worked with Billy Mackenzie on five tracks for ‘Perhaps’, the much anticipated recorded return of ASSOCIATES. ‘Waiting For The Love Boat’ was one of those songs, but the recording which stood out from the sessions was the epic string laden drama of ’Breakfast’. It is possibly Mackenzie’s greatest single moment, the melancholic piano motif setting the scene for an entire film noir in five minutes with its widescreen dramatics and mournful tension.
Clive Pierce told The Electricity Club: “HARD CORPS, having traditionally self-produced tracks at our resident studio in Brixton relished the prospect of working with Martin on ‘Je Suis Passée’ having been admirers of his work on ‘Love & Dancing’. It was difficult but never the less a total education. That’s the trouble being so close to something it’s difficult to let go. In retrospect I now listen to ’Je Suis Passée’ in awe of what he achieved for the track. The baby was fine”.
Pop rockers THEN JERICO were fronted by the handsome if volatile Mark Shaw; their debut single ‘The Big Sweep’ was recorded with Rushent and some help from his new Synclavier. However, due to the track’s anti-tabloid lyrical subject matter, the band’s label London Records initially declined to release the track. So it was self-released as a 1000 limited edition, although the track eventually resurfaced in its club mix on the 12 inch of ‘Muscle Deep’ in 1987.
Available on the THEN JERICO album ‘The Best Of’ via London Records
Jo Callis told The Electricity Club: “With ‘Heart Like A Wheel’, when The League came to thinking about the follow up to ‘Crash’ (which would become ‘Romantic?’), I thought there might be a good opportunity to try and get ‘the old team’ back together again, which I did manage to achieve for a couple of tunes at least”. With Rushent at the helm again, the result was a tune that recalled the classic pop era of THE HUMAN LEAGUE more than either of the two 1986 singles ‘Human’ or ‘I Need Your Loving’ had done.
GRAFTON PRIMARY Relativity – Martin Rushent remix (2008)
Australian electro-noir duo GRAFTON PRIMARY balanced in the divide between art and science on their debut single ‘Relativity’. Benjamin and Joshua Garden utilised sharp synthpop hooks and solid basslines in a classic Synth Britannia vein not dissimilar to THE HUMAN LEAGUE, which naturally made the Garden brothers perfect for a remix by Martin Rushent.
Available on GRAFTON PRIMARY single ‘Relativity’ via Resolution Music
THE PIPETTES Our Love Was Saved By Spacemen (2010)
From Rushent’s final album production, ‘Our Love Was Saved By Spacemen’ was a celestial Latin flavoured pop tune by the MkII variant of THE PIPETTES, fronted by sisters Gwenno and Ani Saunders. The partnership was to prove inspirational with Gwenno’s next solo long player ‘Y Dydd Olaf’ being one of the best albums of 2014, while Ani recently tweeted a photo of project notes from recording with Rushent as she prepared to record her first solo album.
Like many graduates of Synth Britannia, MIDGE URE first became interested in electronic music when in 1975, KRAFTWERK’s ‘Autobahn’ hit the UK singles charts.
Already using Yamaha’s flagship SG2000 guitar, in 1977 he was able to negotiate with the Japanese company to make his first synth purchase, a CS50, at half price.
At the time, he was a member of THE RICH KIDS with Glen Matlock, but with THE SEX PISTOLS refugee preferring Hammond organs and brass sections to Minimoogs, the inevitable musical differences ensued.
Breaking away with drummer Rusty Egan in 1978, the pair recruited Steve Strange as vocalist and formed VISAGE, a platform to create modern electronic dance music influenced by the likes of DAVID BOWIE, KRAFTWERK, LA DÜSSELDORF, YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA that could be played at Egan and Strange’s ‘Club For Heroes’. Another band who Egan and Ure loved from that period was ULTRAVOX; their multi-instrumentalist Billy Currie was invited to join the sessions for VISAGE’s debut album and this eventually led to Ure joining ULTRAVOX.
In 1985 while juggling ULTRAVOX and his work with the Band Aid Trust, Ure released his debut solo album ‘The Gift’ which spawned the rousing No1 single ‘If I Was’. Two further albums ‘Answers To Nothing’ and ‘Pure’ followed but in 1993, he went ‘Out Alone’ on an intimate tour which saw Ure performing on his own, accompanying himself primarily on just an acoustic guitar.
In 1995, his fourth solo album ‘Breathe’ signalled a new direction with a more Celtic feel and traditional instrumentation.
Although initially the album had a slow start, Swatch chose the title track to accompany a well-received advertising campaign. As a result, the album became a massive seller all over Europe.
Ure has been particularly busy over the last 6 years. The successful live reunion of ULTRAVOX with the classic line-up of Warren Cann, Chris Cross and Billy Currie in 2009 led to the recording of 2012’s ‘Brilliant’ album.
2014 saw the release of ‘Fragile’, his first solo album of original material for over 12 years. A striking return to form, it included a number of poignant songs such as ‘Become’, ‘Dark Dark Night’, ‘For All You Know’ and ‘I Survived’.
But for 2015, 20 years on from its original release, MIDGE URE is performing the ‘Breathe’ album its entirety as part of an ongoing concert tour, augmented on stage by Cole Stacey and Joseph O’Keefe from INDIA ELECTRIC CO. He kindly took time out from rehearsals and chatted to The Electricity Club about the ‘Breathe Again’ tour and much more…
Out of your solo albums, why have you chosen ‘Breathe’ as the one for the full length live showcase treatment?
A lot of my solo albums go through hell before they’re actually released. ‘Fragile’ took a long time to come and ‘Breathe’ was one of those albums where the record company, in their infinite wisdom, decided to A&R me after all these years! They wanted me to not use the same musicians, not to record in the same studios, not to produce the album myself… so they asked me to gather a whole bunch of songs which I did and I ended up with a producer I could work with, Richard Feldman who had done an album for the model and actress Milla Jovovich which was a great album.
So I made ‘Breathe’, it was fantastic and I delivered the album, only to have it sit on a shelf for a year while BMG started sorting out their internal problems. It was a hideously frustrating process to go through, and when it finally came out, the first two years of its life, it was the worst selling record I’d ever made.
So until Swatch came along and picked up the title track thanks to a fan in Italy, the album was an absolute disaster. But because of a TV commercial, it turned the entire thing round. It bounced all around Europe and was a big record eventually. I thought how good it would be to play the album in its entirety because I’ve never done that before.
At the time it was released, it was a departure from what you were known for, with a lot of traditional instrumentation?
It was more organic… there was still electronics involved with samples and stuff like that, but I think it’s just what you end up doing. You try to run a million miles from what you’re known for and it’s all part of the process of finding your own feet and trying to decide what you are and what you want to do. Part of that process would have been turning my back on the standard synthesis and rediscover my Scottish roots.
So the idea of doing something more organic had a bit of oomph to it, and was quite appealing at the time. I don’t think you’re the same person your entire life and you go through phases like chapters in a book. So when you get to chapter twenty five, you’re a very different person to the one who started off in chapter one. It was just another phase of discovery. To me, the important part of it was the quality of the songs, not just necessarily the instruments enhancing the songs.
A lot of ‘Breathe’ was recorded in America?
It was, yes… Richard Feldman is an American guitarist / producer and we did an awful lot of it at his place but a good chunk of it at mine in Bath.
There appeared to be some Country music vibes creeping in?
You know what, I’m not quite sure about that… I think Country and traditional music are all very intermingled. Country music is just music from the country it’s sourced from. So country music would be Scottish or Irish or whatever, and it was when it got to America, it became Western. Country & Western music is based in roots music, it’s all the stuff I would have been taught as a kid in school.
The title song turned out to be one of the biggest songs of your career internationally, yet it is one of your lesser known ones in the UK?
Yeah, very much so… quite simply, the TV advert didn’t run in the UK, only on satellite channels so it didn’t get the same exposure here. And of course, good ol’ Great Britain, the radio didn’t play it even though it was No1 in the whole of Europe. There was a European chart that was an overall one for the whole continent including the UK, and for months and months, it was the No1 record! Yet UK radio chose not to play it! So there’s nothing much you can do about situations like that. You put it out and hope for the best. And sometimes you don’t get the best…
You roped in Robert Fripp to play on ‘Guns & Arrows’. What was it like working with him?
It was great, he’s lovely guy and a brilliant guitarist. You know, to have the guy who played on ‘Heroes’ play on one of your tunes is quite spectacular. It was very fortuitous actually, because he was in Los Angeles when I was recording there and I went to Dave Stewart’s studio just across the road from where I was. Robert was there and he said “of course I’ll play on the track, but do you mind if I bring 20 Japanese guitar students?”; I said it was fine and I had this bizarre scenario of Robert playing his fabulous Frippertronics thing in the recording room and in the control room looking through the glass window were these Japanese kids, all jotting down everything he did and said, with him lecturing “this is Midge… this is his song… I’ve known Midge a while… what I’m going to do is this…” – so he’s playing these textures and explaining it to these Japanese kids, it was most surreal but a great thing to happen.
You also had Shankar playing a blistering violin solo on ‘Live Forever’, how are you reinterpreting the album on the ‘Breathe Again’ tour with the guys from INDIA ELECTRIC CO?
The INDIA ELECTRIC CO guys play a variety of instrumentation and there’s only two of them.
So there’s three of us on stage but we manage to cover a lot of stuff. For three people, we’re making quite a big noise.
Joseph O’Keefe who plays violin is just spectacularly good as a musician. He’s one of these guys who can hear in a cacophony that one string is out of tune. Him and Cole Stacey are both incredible but they’re so versatile and jump between instruments all the time.
I’m very pleased with how it’s gone. Even though the album wasn’t a huge success in the UK, the reaction it’s had so far has been phenomenal. The response of people has just been great, whether they knew the album or not. I was a little wary of going in and playing an entire album live of material that some of the audience wouldn’t know at all, but it seems to be irrelevant. They seem to be hooked on the textures, the melodies and the atmospheres. So maybe I’m just under estimating the audiences taste.
Of course, ‘Breathe’ is only so long, so you will also be playing material from throughout your career. How are you deciding which songs to play, especially as a fair number of your best known songs are synth based and are being rearranged for a more organic setting?
Well, I think that the song itself will dictate whether it can fit in that format or not, but I’ve been quite surprised at the ones which really sell; ‘Fade To Grey’ works brilliantly in this format as does ‘Lament’. And ‘Vienna’ works well! You would think, how could you recreate a song like that and get away with no drums, no bass, no whatever… you treat it differently, you just look at the song as an entity, it is its own thing and it’s like a salad; it changes flavour depending on what dressing you put on it.
So a song just changes it flavour by whatever dressing you put on it, so it changes whether you’re doing it electronically, doing it with a rock band or doing it with acoustic instruments. The song should be malleable and pliable, and still work as a song. But I have to say, some stuff we’re doing that’s not from the ‘Breathe’ album is working a treat. In fact, some of it is going down better than the ones designed to be played in that format.
Has there been a song you’ve loved and tried to do in this organic three piece line-up but that hasn’t worked?
Not really, although I shied away from doing ‘Dancing With Tears In My Eyes’, because I’m not quite sure how it would work in that format… maybe that’s just me being a coward. But then again, I’ve been doing it solo acoustic for quite a long time now and it seems to work when it’s stripped right down. It’s down to the quality of the song.
I remember when the ‘Breathe’ album came out at first, and with the band I’d got to back it up, we couldn’t get ‘Live Forever’ to work. It just didn’t sound right and I scrapped it. So we never played ‘Live Forever’ live; but with the three piece, it works brilliantly! Don’t ask me why! It just does, it gels and has become a firm favourite in the current shows. I don’t know, maybe the ones you suspect will work, don’t! And the ones that won’t, do! You just have to be surprised and go with the flow! *laughs*
You released the excellent album ‘Fragile’ in 2014, how do you look back on its reception?
It was better than I expected in a lot of areas and no worse than I kind of expected. Some of the great stuff was really great. But there was one review that called it “Ultravox lite”; I didn’t get that at all because I think it’s a very different animal to ULTRAVOX.
A lot of places got it, The Huffington Post review put it in the Top 10 albums of 2014, even in America which is spectacular for an album that maybe a lot of people in America wouldn’t understand. But I think because it was something real, raw and honest, I think I came up with a very interesting album with a very good, strong batch of songs. I think some of the songs are the best that I’ve ever done. I spent a long time on it and poured my heart and soul into it. I didn’t listen to anybody outside telling me or guiding me how to do it, I just did exactly what I felt at the time.
Tracks like ‘Wire & Wood’ and ‘Bridges’ reminded people of your aptitude for instrumentals, so would soundtrack work interest you in the future?
It’s always interested me but it’s never come my way properly, other than a few small independent movies, that was good fun and great to do.
I always thought ULTRAVOX should have been doing soundtracks with that Germanic synthesizer feel.
People like Trent Reznor who have been involved in electronics are doing soundtrack work… it never came ULTRAVOX’s way, but maybe we wouldn’t have been very good at it! Who knows? But the music kind of lent itself to that cinematic openness and atmospherics.
Are there any intentions to perform songs from ‘Fragile’ with a full band rather than in an acoustic setting?
We’re doing ‘Become’ and ‘Fragile’ in the ‘Breathe Again’ show… ‘Fragile’ lends itself well to that format because it’s a delicate little thing. I would LOVE to do the entire ‘Fragile’ album with a band, but it’s down to necessity, demand and cost… putting a full band together and major rehearsals, it’s a very costly thing to do. And I’m wary of piling on the ticket price to make an audience pay for it. So it’s something that would have to be well thought out, to do it properly and do it well. But I’d love to get my teeth in there and play the entire album.
You used Melodyne for both ‘Fragile’ and ULTRAVOX’s ‘Brilliant’ album but got some criticism for it. I find it quite strange that some electronic music fans have a problem with voice processing technology, especially when you used the equivalent period aesthetic on the third verse of ‘New Europeans’ for example… how do you see it?
I think anyone who cuts out processing or techniques in any form is just stupid! It like saying “why would you want to record on a computer when you’ve got tape machines?” or “why would you want to record digitally when you’ve got analogue?”. People don’t progress that way!
If I was somebody who couldn’t sing and had to pitch vocals or do all sorts of stuff to make it sound in tune, of course, then I should be pilloried for it! But I’m not! I use it for effect… my hearing pitch has got better and more refined over the years, so anything that’s slightly out for me, I want to get that right! But that nobody else can hear it… I used to drive ULTRAVOX crazy! It’s a bit like with my new glasses that are scratched in the middle of the lens, nobody can see it but I can!
So there’s nothing wrong with effecting something to make it the best it can possibly be, if that’s what you want to achieve. It’s very different hiding behind something because you’re not good enough. And it’s very different from being good enough, and making it better.
I don’t use it all the time, it’s a tool and no different from any of the plug-ins that I use when I make music. It’s a bit like saying “why do you use reverb on your voice?”… well, it’s because it suits the song and makes it more interesting.
And when you you’ve already recorded something and then think “oh, I wish I’d played that as a minor!”, why wouldn’t you use a tool that would allow you to do that without having to re-record the entire thing? You can adapt it and change it… music should be malleable, you should be able to play it ‘til you’re blue in the face. Some people are just anal to tell you the truth! *laughs*
How was the ‘Brilliant’ experience for you? It seemed reinvigorate you?
Yeah, it’s funny because people think I did ‘Fragile’ after ‘Brilliant’, it was 80% there but ‘Brilliant’ was what sparked me up to finish it. So a lot of the textures, sounds and character of the ‘Brilliant’ album kind of stemmed from my dabblings on ‘Fragile’ where I’d run out of steam… I didn’t see the point of finishing it, I was making an album that only a handful of people would appreciate. It was just me being a twat really, but that’s the feeling you get! You think “what’s the point of putting your heart and soul in it?”
So doing the ‘Brilliant’ album with the guys was the spark that I needed. It gave me the incentive to think “WOW! There’s something still there!”, because any artist is full of self-doubt… the first thing you think isn’t “the record company were crap” or “the radio are rubbish for not playing it”, but “maybe I’m not good enough”. You look at yourself first and foremost. That’s the process I went through and the whole get-together with ULTRAVOX was just such an enjoyable thing. I’m very proud of that record, I think we did a great job and it gave me the boost I needed to get on and finish my own record.
What is the state of play with ULTRAVOX?
I haven’t seen Billy since we walked out of the O2 after the SIMPLE MINDS show, I haven’t seen Warren as he’s in Los Angeles but Chris has just texted me.
We always said we were never getting back together to take over the world as a band and pretend we were a bunch of teenagers, we all have other things that we do.
And we said that if and when something interesting pops up, we would get-together and do it. But right now, there’s no “yes, we’re doing something” and there’s no “no, we’re never doing anything again”. It’s just there resting on a shelf.
You’ve under taken quite a number of collaborations recently with MOBY, SCHILLER, LICHTMOND, JAM & SPOON and STEPHEN EMMER, have you any more planned?
I’ve never planned a collaboration to tell you the truth, it sort of lands on your lap. All of those you mentioned, they approached me and if I find it interesting, I’ll work on something, especially these days when it doesn’t involve jumping on a plane and disappearing from home for a week. It’s all done via the internet these days, someone sends you an idea for a track and you stick it on your computer. You start chopping it around, write new bits for it, do some lyrics, record a vocal, email it back to them and they assemble it at their place. It’s making collaborations much easier.
What’s been your favourite collaboration?
My favourite collaboration? KATE BUSH ‘Sister & Brother’… what a joy to go to my grave knowing that KATE BUSH and I are on the same piece of music, how cool is that?
Was further collaboration with the late Mick Karn ever a realistic proposition following ‘After A Fashion’ in 1983, other than those aborted JBK sessions that spawned ‘Get A Life’ and ‘Cry’ on your ‘Little Orphans’ rarities CD?
We did some stuff in Montserrat, Mick came out for a couple of weeks and did some basic grooves, textures and backing tracks… there’s a copy of it somewhere but I’ve never tried to complete any of it.
We never got round to doing it, it was just one of those things. We talked about various projects, but we never got over the dabbling stage and never got seriously into it, which is a pity.
The JBK thing never got any further than those two tracks, all those guys who were in JAPAN are incredibly talented, and that would have been an interesting collaboration, but it never really happened. The idea was to put a band together, but I didn’t want to be the singer and we could never come up with someone who could take over the vocals. If I sang it, it would have been too much like me or ULTRAVOX, so it kind of fizzled out.
You wrote ‘Personal Heaven’ with Glenn Gregory of HEAVEN 17 and recorded it with X-PERIENCE, have you ever considered doing a collaborative EP or anything with him?
We’re probably better mates than collaborators! But yes, nothing is out of the question, especially with somebody like Glenn, he’s such a joy to be around and a lovely guy. And these days, you can do it without confusing people… you can go off and just do a little sideline. But back in the ULTRAVOX days, you couldn’t really do it, that’s your band, that’s what you do and you should never step outside that. So these days, it’s great to just go out and collaborate with people, I fully enjoy the whole process. So it’s a good idea Glenn and I getting together and doing a few songs ever so often, to see what we come up with.
Of course, your best known collaborative project was VISAGE and we lost Steve Strange recently. Have you had a chance to reflect back on that period at The Blitz?
You can’t help for all that stuff to go around your head, it was a major part of my life and Steve was a major part of that period. It was just dreadfully sad, the whole thing… it was just pathetic and horrible.
Y’know, I’m not sure what he was doing towards the end, VISAGE was never meant to be a live act. It was a studio project and meant to be a ‘Willo The Wisp’ thing that you couldn’t really grab hold of it cos it disappeared… that was the whole concept Rusty Egan and I came up with, it was just a passing thing.
But Steve looked like he was having fun doing it. I hadn’t seen Steve for a year and a half, two years or whatever prior to his passing, so it sparked off all the memories and all the fun stuff. Like the challenge of putting something like VISAGE together from a variety of different bands who were all still in existence and touring. So trying to put them all in the same place at the same time was a tall order.
The majority of the initial VISAGE recordings were done in Martin Rushent’s studio which was a little house in the bottom of his garden which had all his equipment in. Martin used to come down and watch we were doing, he’d never seen or heard anything like it, all these electronics. He used to hang about every night watching what Rusty and I were up to, watching Billy doing his sequencing and things like that, it was great. He was coming down with notebooks to learn how it all worked, and then went off and made THE HUMAN LEAGUE’s ‘Dare’ album! *laughs*
It was very beneficial, he gave us studio time because it was his label who was originally putting the stuff out, but he won because he got to make ‘Dare’ which was fantastic.
What’s next for you after the ‘Breathe Again’ tour?
There’s some dates in Germany and Dubai at the end of the year. But I’ve got to get back in the studio and carry on writing, now that I’m fired up. I want to keep that momentum going, I don’t want it to be another 12 years… I’m not sure I’ve got another 12 years, so I just want to get on with it! *laughs*
The Electricity Club gives its warmest thanks to MIDGE URE
MIDGE URE’s ‘Breathe Again’ Tour 2015 includes:
Gateshead Sage (27th June), Southport Atkinson (28th June), Bury St. Edmunds Apex (17th September), Andover The Lights (September 18th), Redhill Harlequin (19th September), Falmouth Princess Pavilion (1st October), Porthcawl Grand Pavilion (2nd October), Cheltenham Tithe Barn (3rd October), Wolverhampton Wulfrun Hall (4th October), Preston Guildhall Charter Theatre (14th October), Ulverston Coronation Hall (15th October), Leamington Spa Assembly Rooms (16th October), Hunstanton Princess Theatre (17th October), Lincoln Drill Hall (22nd October), London Union Chapel (23rd October)