Tag: Mike Howlett

A Beginner’s Guide To OMD

Celebrating their 40th Anniversary, OMD are one of the acts from the Synth Britannia era whose creative powers now are as strong as their chart heyday.

Setting a high standard of romantic retro-futurism with lyrical gists ranging from technology and war to deceased religious figures and long distance relationships, OMD released their debut single ‘Electricity’ in 1979, a statement about the environment that would have made today’s young campaigner Greta Thunberg proud.

Those who complain that OMD’s music is not dark enough often forget that within their highly melodic songs, subjects have included the suicide of a charismatic musician, the suicide of a woman who worked as a stripper because she had no other means of supporting herself, the racially motivated massacre of five innocent demonstrators by the Ku Klux Klan, the death of over 140,000 people by nuclear attack and most notably on two hit singles, the brutal execution of a teenage girl!

Founder members Andy McCluskey and Paul Humphreys began an impressive run of acclaimed albums and hit singles, starting with the Mike Howlett produced ‘Messages’ in 1980. The huge European popularity of the follow-up ‘Enola Gay’ captured the Cold War angst of the times under the spectre of Mutually Assured Destruction, while ‘Maid Of Orleans’ became the biggest selling single of 1982 in West Germany when Der Bundesrepublik was the biggest Western music market after the USA and Japan.

Long-time drummer Mal Holmes and live keyboardist Martin Cooper joined the fray as full band members for 1983’s ‘Dazzle Ships’ album, but things went creatively awry for OMD as McCluskey and Humphreys found themselves in an existential crisis, following journalistic criticism that songs about dead saints were not going to change the world. The more politically charged and experimental album failed to sell, but has since been re-evaluated in the 21st Century as a meisterwerk.

Bruised and under commercial pressure, OMD opted to pursue more conventional ambitions and traditions to stay in the black and scored the Top5 US hit ‘If You Leave’ from the John Hughes movie ‘Pretty In Pink’ in 1986. However a North American tour opening for DEPECHE MODE in 1988 failed to sustain momentum. In the backdrop of the resultant fallout and the inevitable musical differences, Humphreys, Holmes and Cooper departed, leaving McCluskey with the OMD brand name.

However, the split precipitated a number of interesting artistic and creative diversions for McCluskey and Humphreys which despite the triumphant reunion of the classic line-up in 2007 and the success of OMD’s most recent album ‘The Punishment Of Luxury’ in 2017 , continue in varying degrees today in parallel with band activities.

In his most recent interview with The Electricity Club, Paul Humphreys said: “I still find it utterly amazing and rather fantastic that after 40 years, OMD is still alive and well, selling out big tours and making what even our harshest critics consider to be relevant new records.”

By way of a Beginner’s Guide to showcase the diverse facets of OMD, The Electricity Club has selected a hefty 25 tracks of interest from their career, although largely eschewing those made famous by singular consumption.

But with so many tracks available and the list already being VERY long, links to the OMD family tree like THE ID as well as contributions to the soundtracks of ‘For The Greater Good’, ‘Eddie The Eagle’ and ‘The D-Train’ (which between them saw McCluskey working with notable names such as Danny Boyle, Gary Barlow, Hugh Jackman and Jack Antonoff) have been omitted.

With a restriction of one track per album project, they highlight how two lads from The Wirral have maintained their standing as a creative and cultural force four decades on, despite their numerous ups and downs.


OMD The Messerschmitt Twins (1980)

With their passion for military aircraft and German music, Andy McCluskey and Paul Humphreys were nicknamed ‘The Messerschmitt Twins’; this mournful Compurhythm driven synth ballad of the same name had mournful if cryptic lyrics which could be seen as the thoughts of aircrew during wartime missions, pondering whether they would return to home. The bleak fatalistic narrative was given further resonance by Andy McCluskey’s resigned vocalisation.

Available on the OMD album ‘Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark’ via Virgin Records

http://www.omd.uk.com/


OMD 2nd Thought (1980)

The ‘Organisation’ album saw OMD purchase their first polyphonic synthesizer, a Sequential Circuits Prophet 5 which allowed Paul Humphreys to explore more haunting gothic timbres away from the cheesier chords of the Vox Jaguar organ. Shaped by eerie choir textures and a repeating two note synthbass motif set to Mal Holmes’ simple marching snare pattern, the beauty of ‘2nd Thought’ echoed the third section of KRAFTWERK’s ‘Autobahn’ and displayed a maturity in OMD’s developing sound.

Available on the OMD album ‘Organisation’ via Virgin Records

https://www.facebook.com/omdofficial/


OMD Sealand (1981)

Running at almost eight minutes, the nautical adventure of ‘Sealand’ demonstrated OMD’s mastery of the epic, mysteriously beginning with a ghostly collage of melodica and reed horns before sad synths and progressive sweeps made their presence felt. Featuring just a minute of vocals in the sparse middle section, the penultimate movement collapsed into a fit of industrial noise before a slow misty reprise of the main melodic theme, like a lost ship in the fog.

Available on the OMD album ‘Architecture & Morality’ via Virgin Records

https://twitter.com/OfficialOMD


OMD International (1983)

Like ‘Maid Of Orleans’, the harrowing ‘International’ was musically inspired by the skippy waltz of ‘Back In Judy’s Jungle’ by Brian Eno. The introductory news report about “a young girl from Nicaragua whose hands had been cut off at the wrists by the former Somoza guards…” acted as one of the fuels for Andy McCluskey to express his anger about economic corruption, political hypocrisy and torture in captivity, all topics which are still sadly relevant today.

Available on the OMD album ‘Dazzle Ships’ via Virgin Records

https://www.instagram.com/omdhq/


THE PARTNERSHIP Sampling The Blast Furnace (1984)

THE PARTNERSHIP was an unrealised side project of Peter Saville cohort and ex-SPOONS member Brett Wickens with Roger Humphreys (no relation) who recorded as CERAMIC HELLO. Produced by William Orbit,  the pulsatingly uptempo ‘Sampling The Blast Furnace’ featured guest vocals from Andy McCluskey alongside vocodered voices and chants by Martha Ladly. While this version remains unreleased, the slower McCluskey-less demo was on the reissue of CERAMIC HELLO’s only album.

Not officially released, alternate version available on the CERAMIC HELLO album ‘The Absence Of A Canary V1.1’ via Vinyl On Demand

https://www.studiobrettwickens.com/


OMD Apollo (1984)

After the critical mauling that ‘Dazzle Ships’ received, OMD were in debt to Virgin Records and realised that they would have to sell more records to survive. The commercial pressure led to a trip to the sunnier climes of AIR Studios in Monserrat and the musically diverse ‘Junk Culture’. A song about McCluskey’s intimate liaison with a local girl, the bizarre mix of carnival whistles, soca, Mellotron choir, rhythm guitar and 808 driven electro came over a bit like AZTEC CAMERA produced by Arthur Baker.

Available on the OMD album ‘Junk Culture’ via Universal Music

https://www.last.fm/music/Orchestral+Manoeuvres+in+the+Dark


OMD Stay (1986)

1985’s ‘Crush’ was Stephen Hague’s first full album production and opened the doors for OMD’s ambitions in the US. Following the success of ‘If You Leave’, ‘The Pacific Age’ continued the partnership and was intended to reinforce momentum. The opening song ‘Stay’ threw in the kitchen sink from Mal Holmes’ mighty drums to layers of synthetic strings plus the addition of soulful female backing singers, brass and heavy metal guitar. But the esoteric elements that made OMD so appealing were being wiped away.

Available on the OMD album ‘The Pacific Age’ via Virgin Records

https://www.setlist.fm/setlists/orchestral-manoeuvres-in-the-dark-73d6ba31.html


ETIENNE DAHO & OMD So In Love (1986)

The suave and sophisticated Etienne Daho was seen as France’s answer to George Michael. While OMD were in Paris recording ‘The Pacific Age’ at Studio de la Grande Armée, they took part in a ‘Les Enfants Du Rock’ French TV special also which also saw their French label mate interviewing his musical influences like Françoise Hardy and  Serge Gainsbourg. The DAHOMD duet saw Daho and McCluskey low voices blend well over the original Stephen Hague produced single from ‘Crush’.

Available on the ETIENNE DAHO deluxe album ‘Pop Satori’ via Virgin Records

https://dahofficial.com/

ARTHUR BAKER & THE BACKBEAT DISCIPLES Walkaway (1989)

Producer Arthur Baker gathered a studio collective to make a pop record tracing his love of soul, synthpop, disco, HI-NRG and Europop. His first since the fragmentation of OMD, Andy McCuskey contributed lyrics, keyboards and vocals to the electro-reggae of ‘Walkaway’ which threatened to turn into CULTURE CLUB’s ‘Do You Really Want To Hurt Me?’. The vocal cast of the ‘Merge’ album included Al Green, Martin Fry, Jimmy Somerville and Etienne Daho.

Available on the ARTHUR BAKER & THE BACKBEAT DISCIPLES album ‘Merge’ via A&M Records

https://twitter.com/arthurhbaker


OMD Walking On Air (1991)

Going it alone as OMD, Andy McCluskey became open to collaboration. Meeting Stuart Kershaw and Lloyd Massett from pop rap combo RAW UNLTD, the pair set about modernising the rhythmic elements of McCluskey’s new songs. The ghostly ‘Walking On Air’ referenced ‘Statues’ from ‘Organisation’ while the mechanical bossa nova evoked the mellow moods of Bryan Ferry. Kershaw has since taken over the drum stool from Mal Holmes who left OMD in 2014 for health reasons.

Available on the OMD album ‘Sugar Tax’ via Virgin Records

https://www.youtube.com/user/OMDenglishelectric


THE LISTENING POOL Where Do We Go From Here? (1993)

With bursts of sampled choir, electric piano and wah-wah guitar, ‘Where Do We Go From Here?’ came from THE LISTENING POOL’s only album ‘Still Life’ released in 1994. Driven by a gently percolating drum machine programmed by Mal Holmes, the understated air reminiscent of CHINA CRISIS was sweetened by Martin Cooper’s soprano set with Paul Humphreys vocally pondering their creative situation with the threesome having now departed the OMD camp.

Available on the THE LISTENING POOL album ‘Still Life’ via Telegraph Records

https://malholmes.com/the-listening-pool/


ELEKTRIC MUSIC Kissing The Machine (1993)

Recorded for his ELEKTRIC MUSIC project after leaving KRAFTWERK, Karl Bartos’ collaboration with Andy McCluskey featured one of his best melodies synth melodies. Bartos told The Electricity Club: “He suggested we do something together and I was up for it… We picked some cassettes and finally I found the opening notes of ‘Kissing The Machine’”. With fabulously surreal lyrics about a love affair with a sexy robot, the song was later resurrected with new backing from Paul Humphreys for ‘English Electric’.

Available on the ELEKTRIC MUSIC album ‘Esperanto’ via SPV Records

http://www.karlbartos.com/


OMD Best Years Of Our Lives (1993)

On a commercial roll and aiming for a younger pop market, ‘Liberator’ featured lots of busy modern dance effects but saw Andy McCluskey losing his way in the song department. Its confused schizophrenic nature was compounded by the pure genius of darker numbers like ‘King Of Stone’ and ‘Christine’. The symphonic string laden ‘Best Years Of Our Lives’ was another of the better tracks, borrowing its solemn topline from ‘Spanish Harlem’, a song made famous by Ben E King.

Available on the OMD album ‘Liberator’ via Virgin Records

https://www.youtube.com/user/OMDVEVO/videos


OMD The New Dark Age (1996)

After the muted reception for 1993’s painfully poppy ‘Liberator’, Andy McCluskey brought in a more conventional rock sound for 1996’s ‘Universal’. However, the OASIS sounding ‘Walking On The Milky Way’ failed to get major traction. One of its B-sides ‘The New Dark Age’ gave a haunting nod to ‘Statues’ using the auto-accompaniment on the Elgam Symphony organ and was the last great synth song of the solo era as the OMD vehicle was quietly retired by McCluskey… for now!

Available on the OMD single ‘Walking On The Milky Way’ via Virgin Records

https://www.discogs.com/artist/9462-Orchestral-Manoeuvres-In-The-Dark


ATOMIC KITTEN Right Now – Demo version (2000)

When Andy McCluskey joined Stuart Kershaw to make some dysfunctional pop for a girl group, most thought he had lost his marbles. The original project HONEYHEAD was stillborn, but when three girls from Liverpool were recruited to form ATOMIC KITTEN, it eventually led to a UK No1 single with ‘Whole Again’. However, the demo of the first single ‘Right Now’ sounded like disco evergreen ‘Never Can Say Goodbye’ arranged like ‘Sugar Tax’ era OMD, but with female vocals!

Available on the ATOMIC KITTEN single ‘Right Now’ via Innocent Records

https://www.atomickitten.com/


THE GENIE QUEEN What A Girl Goes Through (2005)

Having been ousted from Team AK by coup d’état, Andy McCluskey licked his wounds and recruited another three local girls to form THE GENIE QUEEN. Featuring soon-to-be WAG / top model Abbey Clancy and future TV presenter Anna Ord, ‘What A Girl Goes Through’ was an appealing pop R ’n’ B number based around samples of ‘Souvenir’. The project disbanded without being signed, but a track intended for THE GENIE QUEEN called ‘Pulse’ appeared on ‘History Of Modern’ featuring the girls.

Never officially released

https://twitter.com/anna_ord


ONETWO Anonymous (2007)

Paul Humphreys and Claudia Brücken released their only album as ONETWO in 2007 and from it was ‘Anonymous’, a song that began life as a demo from the aborted PROPAGANDA reunion and which had also been co-written with Andy McCluskey. The pretty ringing melodies and elegiac atmospheres were very reminiscent of classic OMD. But the collaboration had been unusual as at the time of the song’s conception, as Humphreys had not yet committed to rejoining McCluskey in his old band.

Available on the ONETWO album ‘Instead’ via https://theremusic.bandcamp.com/album/instead

http://www.claudiabrucken.co.uk/


BLANK & JONES featuring BERNARD SUMNER Miracle Cure – Paul Humphreys Onetwo remix (2008)

Having worked with THE CURE’s Robert Smith, trance duo Piet Blank and Jaspa Jones had Bernard Sumner of NEW ORDER high on their list of vocalists for their album ‘The Logic Of Pleasure’, which also featured Claudia Brücken. The German duo remixed ONETWO’s ‘Kein Anschluß’, so naturally the gesture was reciprocated when Paul Humphreys offered his smooth offbeat atmospheric rework of ‘Miracle Cure’ in what could be seen as the nearest thing to a NEW ORDER vs OMD collaboration.

Available on the BLANK & JONES single ‘Miracle Cure’ via Soulfood

http://www.blankandjones.com/


OMD Green (2010)

Of this ‘History Of Modern’ highlight, Paul Humphreys told The Electricity Club: “It was a song Andy did many, many years ago with Stuart and I think it was done in the 90s. He played it to me and it sounded a bit like a rock ballad. I said ‘I think the vocal tune’s great, but everything else has to go. Give me the vocal stem and I’ll do a whole new track for it’, so I came to my studio and completely reworked it.” – the result was mesmerising and even dropped in ROXY MUSIC’s ‘If There Is Something’ at the close.

Available on the OMD album ‘History Of Modern’ via Blue Noise

https://twitter.com/stukershaw


MIRRORS Secrets – Andy McCluskey remix (2011)

Mal Holmes once said that “MIRRORS do OMD better than OMD do OMD!”… originally a ten minute epic split into three movements, ‘Secrets’ closed MIRRORS’ outstanding ‘Lights & Offerings’ long player, driven by an intense percussive tattoo and a shifting octave bass riff that was pure Klingklang. While pushing forward the synthetic claps, Andy McCluskey stripped down and the backing and shortened proceedings, making it much less claustrophobic and militaristic than the original.

Originally on the MIRRORS deluxe album ‘Lights & Offerings’ via Undo Records, currently unavailable

https://www.facebook.com/theworldofmirrors/


PAUL HUMPHREYS & DOUGLAS COUPLAND Electric Ikebana (2012)

A collaboration between ‘Generation X’ author Douglas Coupland, and Paul Humphreys, ‘Electric Ikebana’ was an audio visual installation to act as the voice of the network for French telecoms company Alcatel-Lucent. The beautiful piece had conceptual hints of KRAFTWERK’s ‘The Voice Of Energy’ while there was also a charming mathematical formula recital “x = [-b +- √(b² -4ac)] / 2a” to the tune of the nursery rhyme ‘Pop Goes The Weasel’ which recalled ‘ABC Auto-Industry’ from ‘Dazzle Ships’.

Not officially released

https://www.coupland.com/


OMD Helen Of Troy (2013)

Of ‘Helen Of Troy’, Andy McCluskey said to The Electricity Club: “George Geranios and Nick Bitzenis of FOTONOVELA were our label bosses in Greece via their Undo Records and they sent me this track…the demo had Nick going “Helen Of Troy – Helen Of Troy” so I took his vocal off as you do, chopped it all up and rearranged it… it’s gorgeous! I have used some of Nick’s backing vocals… I love it to bits! And ‘Helen Of Troy’ is much more of a metaphor than either of the ‘Joan Of Arcs’ were.”

Available on the OMD album ‘English Electric’ via BMG

https://www.facebook.com/undofotonovela/


ERASURE Be The One – Paul Humphreys remix (2014)

Andy Bell’s debut solo album ‘Electric Blue’ had been produced by ONETWO’s backing band THE MANHATTAN CLIQUE and featured two duets with Claudia Brücken. ‘The Violet Flame’ album saw ERASURE express an infectious zest for the future with songs beginning as pre-recorded dance grooves from Vince Clarke. But the best number from the sessions was ‘Be The One’ remixed by Paul Humphreys who added some of the beautiful Synthwerk magic that characterised ‘English Electric’.

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

http://www.erasureinfo.com


VILE ELECTRODES The Vanished Past (2016)

The avant pop approach of VILE ELECTRODES is reminiscent of early OMD, with ‘Deep Red’ capturing Andy McCluskey’s interest enough to invite the duo to support the German leg of the ‘English Electric’ tour. With its potent drama, ‘The Vanished Past’ came complete with a mighty drum climax like ‘Navigation’. Bleak and wonderful, “not everything is as it seems” as a forlorn stranger joins in after five minutes. As the adventure unfolds like a lost OMD epic, that stranger reveals himself to be Mr McCluskey!

Available on the VILE ELECTRODES album ‘In the Shadows of Monuments’ via https://vileelectrodes.bandcamp.com/album/in-the-shadows-of-monuments

http://www.vileelectrodes.com/


OMD Don’t Go (2019)

OMD began their recorded career with a KRAFTWERK homage and four decades on, have come full circle. A great grandchild of Klingklang and cousin of ‘Metroland’ from ‘English Electric’ but refined for BBC Radio 2 airplay, ‘Don’t Go’ captures the essence of OMD’s enduring electronic appeal. With crystalline synth melodies from Humphreys and a spirited vocal delivery from McCluskey attached to a hypnotic Synthanorma backdrop, OMD continue to produce quality avant pop tunes.

Available on the OMD album ‘Souvenir: The Singles Collection 1979 – 2019’ via Universal Music

https://open.spotify.com/artist/7wJ9NwdRWtN92NunmXuwBk


The ‘Souvenir’ 5CD + 2DVD deluxe boxed set is released on 4th October 2019 by Universal Music

OMD Souvenir 40th Anniversary 2019 – 2020 European + UK Tour, dates include:

Lisbon Aula Magna (15th October), Porto Casa da Musica (16th October), Madrid Riviera (19th October), Barcelona Apolo (21st October), Belfast Ulster Hall (23rd October), Dublin Olympia (24th October), Nottingham Royal Concert Hall (26th October), York Barbican (27th October), Hull Arena (28th October), Gateshead Sage (30th October), Glasgow Royal Concert Hall (31st October), Manchester Apollo (1st November), Sheffield City Hall (3rd November), Liverpool Empire (4th November), Birmingham Symphony Hall (5th November), Leicester De Montford Hall (7th November), Bath Pavilion (8th November), Oxford New Theatre (9th November), Guildford G Live (11th November), Portsmouth Guildhall (12th November), Watford Colosseum (13th November), Cambridge Corn Exchange (15th November), Ipswich Regent (16th November), Bexhill De La Warr Pavilion (17th November), Bournemouth Pavilion (19th November), London Hammersmith Apollo (20th November), Rostock Stadthalle (25th November), Dresden Kulturpalast (26th November), Leipzig Haus Auensee (28th November), Berlin Tempodrom (29th November), Hamburg Grosse Freiheit 36 (30th November), Berlin Tempodrom (2nd December), Stuttgart Leiderhalle (3rd December), Düsseldorf Mitsubishi Electric-Halle (5th December), Frankfurt Jahrhunderthalle (6th December), Krakow Studio (3rd February), Warsaw Progresja (4th February), Oslo Rockefeller Musichall (7th February), Stockholm Berns (9th February), Malmo KB (10th February), Copenhagen Vega (12th February), Brussels Ancienne Belgique (14th February), Utrecht Tivoli (15th February), Paris La Cigale (16th February)


Text by Chi Ming Lai
29th August 2019, updated 16th April 2020

A FLOCK OF SEAGULLS Interview

A FLOCK OF SEAGULLS were one of the most heavily rotated acts on MTV after it first started broadcasting in 1981.

But it was the Liverpudlian based quartet’s ability as a live band and their willingness to tour as support the likes of GENESIS, THE POLICE and THE GO-GO’S in the US that cemented their success.

Despite relocating to Philadelphia in 1985, the band lost momentum and eventually split. However, for the first time since 1984, the original line-up of frontman Mike Score, his drummer brother Ali, bassist Frank Maudsley and guitarist Paul Reynolds have reunited on ‘Ascension’, an album of A FLOCK OF SEAGULLS’ best known songs like ‘I Ran’, ‘Telecommunication’, ‘Space Age Love Song’ and ‘Wishing (If I Had A Photograph Of You)’ all re-recorded with the Prague Philharmonic Orchestra.

Despite being one of the first UK acts to gain a foothold in the American market and winning a Grammy in the process, A FLOCK OF SEAGULLS are often under-rated. However, their futuristic synthesized rock (which was not that dissimilar to ULTRAVOX) has stood the test of time, with Mike Score’s solo incarnation of the band having been still very much in demand on the live circuit worldwide.

Mike Score kindly took time out to chat to The Electricity Club about both the musical and cultural impact of A FLOCK OF SEAGULLS.

The original quartet has been reunited for ‘Ascension’, what was the catalyst for this?

August Day Records asked us if we would do it. It was a no brainer, who wouldn’t want to hear this?

What do you think the Prague Philharmonic Orchestra have added to A FLOCK OF SEAGULLS’ music?

A new dimension, it’s probably easier to listen to. It’s wider and deeper and fuller.

Why did you choose ‘Space Age Love Song’ as the single to launch ‘Ascension’ with?

It’s the best Seagulls song, followed by ‘Wishing’ and ‘I Ran’, and it’s the one I think people will gravitate to easily.

How do you think you sat within that Merseyside post-punk scene, did you find any kindred spirits?

We didn’t really find kindred spirits in Liverpool, didn’t seem to fit in with the scene there in ’79. We had our own thing going, never wanted to be part of a “scene” really – we were individual / original / different to what was going on.

Bill Nelson who produced ‘(It’s Not Me) Talking’ and ‘Telecommunication’ was a key mentor for you in the early days?

Bill did seem understand us and what we were going for – he is a great guy and producer, easy to work with as well. I still listen to his CDs even today.

What attracted you to using synthesizers and what was your first one?

My first synth was a Korg MS-10, a brilliant little synth. I shoved it through a Clone Theory box and got some deep gritty chorus sounds from it. It was only monophonic, the second was a Korg Delta because it was polyphonic. I “played“ synths because it was easier than guitar and just seemed kinda exiting at the time.

Which was your favourite synth and why?

I don’t really have a fave synth these days, the Jupiter 8 was good, the Fantom X6 is great and the new crop of synths that are out now all sound great. Not such a big fan of Moog or Yamaha but that might be because I’ve never really sat with one. My favourite soft synth is Hybrid!! Love it!

Do you think that having quick Paul Reynolds’ rock infused guitar alongside the synths helped you along in your American success?

Sure, Paul’s guitar work was great, to me it sounded like a distorted synth so it blended right in. It became part of our signature sound.

Do you have a fun story you can tell from one of those American tours at the time?

What happens on the road, stays on the road ?

How important was producer Mike Howlett in realising your sound?

Mike Howlett was a great producer for us – he didn’t over produce anything – he just guided us – didn’t try to change us – just made sure what we were doing was treated correctly and sounded great. A really good friend who didn’t try to put any stamp on us, just let us be us and used his skill and knowledge to make us better that we thought we could be.

‘Wishing (If I Had A Photograph Of You)’ is acknowledged as one of your best known songs, what was its genesis? The melody just uses black keys?

With ‘Wishing’, I had the riff / melody for a long time, just playing it at home here and there. It was a bit weird seeing as it was all black keys, I recorded the demo and wrote the lyrics at Mike Howlett’s house one night when he was out – he had just installed a 16 track studio so I did the demo there.

You won a Grammy Award, which is something OMD and DEPECHE MODE never managed, for ‘Best Rock Instrumental Performance’ with ‘DNA’?

I guess that means I can’t sing! *laughs*

When did the cracks start to appear in A FLOCK OF EAGULLS, history has shown that siblings in bands together can be a volatile cocktail?

Brothers will be brothers, that part was quite volatile. But really, the old drugs n booze tale was the downfall of the band.

A FLOCK OF SEAGULLS have made an impact in popular culture with comic references in ‘Friends’, ‘Pulp Fiction’ and ‘The Wedding Singer’, how do you feel about that?

They didn’t forget us ??

I can look back and laugh along with them, crazy hair crazy band but still nothing else like us and that part is great.

But A FLOCK OF SEAGULLS has actually had an influence on newer electronic pop acts. THE MODERN released a single entitled ‘Industry’ which bore more than a passing resemblance to ‘The More You Live, The More You Love’ while MARSHEAUX borrowed the main riff from ‘Space Age Love Song’ for their ‘Dream Of A Disco’?

When people are so influenced by your songs, it is in fact quite nice – it shows you created something that sank in to people’s thoughts and became part of their lives, quite humbling in a way.

Which A FLOCK OF SEAGULLS songs remain favourites for you?

It varies – but – ‘Space Age Love Song’, ‘Wishing’ and ‘Nightmares’ all have their place…

The new version of ‘Space Age Love Song’ comes in a remix by TINY MAGNETIC PETS who opened for OMD in 2017, how did you come to hear about them?

That was to do with August Day Records, not us really.

Is this a fleeting reunion like with the previous ‘Bands Reunited’ programme on VH1 or will this original line-up tour together again?

I don’t think so, it was nice to do this record with them but it’s not really of any interest to me. But I don’t count it out completely, I don’t know what is coming around the next corner.


The Electricity Club gives its sincerest thanks to Mike Score

Additional thanks to Lisa Freeman at Quite Great PR

‘Ascension’ is released by August Day Recordings in a variety of formats

http://www.aflockofseagulls.org

https://www.facebook.com/seagullsrunning

https://twitter.com/seagullsrunning

https://www.instagram.com/seagullsrunning/


Text and Interview by Chi Ming Lai
30th July 2018

DNA: The Legacy of A FLOCK OF SEAGULLS

Out of all the British bands to emerge from the post-punk era, Liverpool’s A FLOCK OF SEAGULLS made one of the most lasting impacts on modern popular culture.

Noted by lead singer and keyboardist Mike Score’s outlandish hairdo, his distinctive bonce was sent up on ‘The Wedding Singer’ and ‘Friends’.

Meanwhile, Samuel L Jackson’s “YOU! FLOCK OF SEAGULLS!” line from ‘Pulp Fiction’ in reference to an assassination target’s hairstyle was appropriated by the music press to mock the band! But A FLOCK OF SEAGULLS have a musical legacy too.

In 1983, they won a ‘Best Rock Instrumental Performance’ Grammy Award for the track ‘DNA’, at a time when The Second British Invasion had still yet to fully take hold in an America still drunk on TOTO and JOURNEY!

Then in 2005, THE MODERN released a single entitled ‘Industry’ which bore more than a passing resemblance to ‘The More You Live, The More You Love’. According to band member Nathan Cooper, better known these days as KID KASIO, this was purely accidental: “We didn’t realise until halfway through the promotional tour for it. We were doing an interview for a little radio station in Sheffield and the presenter pointed it out and played both back to back!!!! We were speechless and a bit embarrassed… the verse for both songs is almost EXACTLY the same!!”

Then bizarrely, the poacher met the gamekeeper!

“We actually supported them years later” remembered Cooper, “we were so embarrassed, we were going to drop ‘Industry’ from our set! But in the end, I just went up to Mike Score and explained it and said ‘I’m really sorry, it was unintentional’. He was really lovely about it”. THE MODERN weren’t the only ones mining the Seagull Songbook.

In 2007, MARSHEAUX borrowed the main riff from ‘Space Age Love Song’ for their ‘Dream Of A Disco’, often thought of as the Greek synth maidens’ signature song. Indeed, imitation can be the sincerest form of flattery…

Mike Score unsurprisingly trained as a hairdresser, but music was where his ambitions lay. Joining forces with his drummer brother Ali and bassist Frank Maudsley, they rehearsed as a three-piece and began writing songs along the way. But it was not until after the recruitment of guitarist Paul Reynolds that things began to gain momentum.

By late 1979, Merseyside had become a hot bed of emerging musical talent with acts such as ECHO & THE BUNNYMEN, THE TEARDROP EXPLODES, DEAD OR ALIVE, WAH! HEAT, CHINA CRISIS and OMD. But with their Sci-Fi songs and penchant for dressing up as spacemen, A FLOCK OF SEAGULLS never fitted in with their local contemporaries.

So one could imagine the reaction of Mac The Mouth and Droolian when Mike Score and Co were the the first of the gang to break America when their eponymous debut album reached No75 in the US charts on the back of ‘Telecommunication’, a Bill Nelson produced song from it, becoming a No1 US Dance hit!

A FLOCK OF SEAGULLS had got their original break when Bill Nelson produced and released their debut single ‘(It’s Not Me) Talking’ for his Cocteau label in 1981. But it was with their fourth single ‘I Ran’ that they first nestled just outside the UK Top40. With an echoing guitar kick, this was futuristic synthesized rock along the lines of ULTRAVOX that crucially became a US Top10 in the Billboard Hot 100.

The embracement from America came via MTV; Mike Score’s memorable back combed hair style and the band’s unusual appearance appealed to a college demographic which was tiring of permed long hair and blue denim. With a sound that combined enough conventional rawk guitar to have mainstream appeal while adding a spacey sheen with prominent synths, A FLOCK OF SEAGULLS were onto a winning formula.

Produced by Mike Howlett, who also steered OMD, BLANCMANGE and CHINA CRISIS to chart success, ‘A Flock Of Seagulls’ was a concept album of sorts about an alien invasion that featured ‘I Ran’, ‘Space Age Love Song’ and ‘Telecommunication’, plus other great tracks such as ‘Modern Love Is Automatic, ‘Messages’ and the Grammy Award winning ‘DNA’.

Also produced by Howlett except for the album’s closer ‘(It’s Not Me) Talking’, ‘Listen’ released in 1983 made an even bigger impact, thanks to the song many consider to be A FLOCK OF SEAGULLS’ crowning glory, ‘Wishing (I Had A Photograph Of You)’.

With a percussively clanky backbone and using just black keys for its infectious melody line, it was the big home hit that A FLOCK OF SEAGULLS has been waiting for. Further singles ‘Nightmares’ and ‘Transfer Affection’ were good but did not reach quite the same heights, although that mattered little as at this point, the quartet were one of the most heavily rotated acts on MTV.

Their third album ‘The Story Of A Young Heart’ in 1984 was the beginning of the artistic and sales decline, although the lead single’ ‘The More You Live, The More You Love’ was classic A FLOCK OF SEAGULLS in the vein of ‘Space Age Love Song’.

By the time of the fifth long player ‘Dream Come True’, Reynolds had left the band as the remaining threesome settled into their new base of Philadelphia, but A FLOCK OF SEAGULLS had lost that distinctly British edge that made them so appealing to the US in the first place.

‘Heartbeat Like A Drum’ was a passable watered down digital pop song of a period when British acts like OMD and THE HUMAN LEAGUE were chasing the American dollar, but the Hi-NRG paced ‘Who’s That Girl (She’s Got It)’ was poor and the beginning of the end. By 1986, the Score brothers had fallen out and A FLOCK OF SEAGULLS had disbanded.

The legacy of A FLOCK OF SEAGULLS has now been bolstered by a new compilation on Cherry Pop with the self-explanatory title of ‘Remixes & Rarities’. Featuring most of the band’s singles in radio edit and extended format, it also acts as a document to some of the more hidden experiments of the band, and how popular music was changing under the spectre of MTV and club culture.

There were rumours that while ‘Dream Come True’ was being recorded, A FLOCK OF SEAGULLS were turning into a Mike Score solo act. Two lengthy instrumentals ‘The Last Flight Of Yuri Gagarin’ and ‘Rosenmontag’ that featured on the flip of ‘Nightmares’ certainly give the impression that this was starting to be the case, even back then. Having not been included on Cherry Pop’s album reissues, this pair of collage curios certainly haven’t been missed… also not much cop is the rather badly put together ‘Single Medley’.

Much better though are the nine minute version of ‘Wishing (I Had A Photograph Of You)’, an edit of its B-side ‘Committed’ and the extended remix of ‘Never Again (The Dancer)’ which comes over like OMD but with more guitar.

The ‘Full Moon Mix’ of ‘The More You Live, The More You Love’ fairs less well, being one of those horrid dub styled reworks that were prevalent from 1984 onwards and which featured very little of the actual song!

An assortment of live versions fill the remainder of this compendium and these recordings act as a reminder that despite the exposure on MTV, it was actually A FLOCK OF SEAGULLS’ ability as a live band and a willingness to tour as support to the likes of bigger acts such as GENESIS, THE POLICE and THE GO-GO’S in the US that cemented their success.

A FLOCK OF SEAGULLS continue to play live today with Mike Score being the sole remaining original member. While he might no longer have his hair or his Scouse accent, ‘Remixes & Rarities’ is evidence that despite how they were derided in their own country and have been sent up by popular culture, A FLOCK OF SEAGULLS have a significant number of great songs in their back catalogue that worldwide audiences still want to hear.

And not many bands actually get to achieve that…


With thanks to Matt Ingham at Cherry Red

‘Remixes & Rarities’ is released by Cherry Pop as a double CD set on 24th March 2017, pre-order from https://www.cherryred.co.uk/product/remixes-rarities-deluxe-2cd-edition

The albums ‘A Flock Of Seagulls’, ‘Listen’, ‘The Story Of A Young Heart’ and ‘Dream Come True’ are all still available on CD via Cherry Pop https://www.cherryred.co.uk/artist/a-flock-of-seagulls/

http://www.aflockofseagulls.org

https://www.facebook.com/seagullsrunning

https://twitter.com/seagullsrunning


Text by Chi Ming Lai
11th March 2017

A Beginner’s Guide To MIKE HOWLETT

Mike-HowlettMike Howlett is undoubtedly one of the producers who helped shape the sound of Synth Britannia and Trans-Atlantic post-punk.

As the bassist in Sydney band THE AFFAIR, he relocated to London after the group travelled to England following winning the Hoadley’s Battle of the Sounds competition.

In 1973, he joined progressive rockers GONG who featured guitarist and future SYSTEM 7 co-founder Steve Hillage.

After leaving GONG, Howlett formed STRONTIUM 90 which featured Sting, Stewart Copeland, and Andy Summers who of course, subsequently had success as THE POLICE. His production career began in earnest at Dindisc Records, the Virgin Records subsidiary where his then-girlfriend Carol Wilson was Managing Director. There, he worked with fledgling acts such as THE REVILLOS, MARTHA & THE MUFFINS, MODERN EON and OMD.

While his first Top 20 UK chart entry was with MARTHA & THE MUFFINS, it was his three consecutive Top 15 hits with OMD, including the mighty ‘Enola Gay’, that were to make him an in-demand producer between 1981-1985.

Working with a number of synth friendly acts like BLANCMANGE and CHINA CRISIS, this lucrative period was to include a Grammy Award for ‘DNA’ with A FLOCK OF SEAGULLS in the ‘Best Rock Instrumental Performance’ category. His portfolio was not just restricted to electronic pop, with FISCHER Z, ANY TROUBLE, COMSAT ANGELS, THE ALARM and JOAN ARMATRADING among the artists he also worked with.

Compared with a number of his peers, Howlett’s output was small, but it was highly influential in a short period. Although he moved away from album production, he co-founded the Record Producers Guild in 1987 and launched a record label Mauve in 1993.

Today, he lectures in music technology at several universities throughout the world, having been awarded a PhD in record production in 2009, while he also performs with his psychedelic space funk combo HOUSE OF THANDOY and the occasional reunion of GONG.

Presented in calendar year order and then alphabetically, with a restriction of one song per album project to conceive an imaginary 18 song compilation CD, The Electricity Club looks back at the impressive studio career of Mike Howlett…


MARTHA & THE MUFFINS Echo Beach (1980)

MARTHA & MUFFINS Echo BeachMARTHA & THE MUFFINS were six Canadian art students who confusingly had two members named Martha; Gane and Ladly. Combining the spirit of punk and North American styled new wave, ‘Echo Beach’ was a catchy slice of credible pop that featured sax, flute and organ alongside the more conventionally accepted guitars, bass and drums. Reaching No10 in the UK singles chart, it was Howlett’s first big hit and set him off on his successful production path.

Available on the album ‘Metro Music’ via Virgin Records

http://www.marthaandthemuffins.com/


OMD Messages (1980)

OMD MessagesFor its single release, OMD re-recorded ‘Messages’ from their self-titled debut. Utilising a pulsing ‘Repeat’ function on a Korg Micro-Preset shaped by hand twisting the octave knob, Howlett harnessed a template of basic primary chord structures and one fingered melodies to produce a No13 UK chart hit. As well including Mal Holmes’ separately recorded drums for a cleaner snap, Howlett added several melodic bass guitar lines onto the coda to enhance the warm sound that was distinct from Messrs Numan and Foxx.

Available on the album ‘Messages: OMD Greatest Hits’ via Virgin Records

http://www.omd.uk.com


OMD Stanlow (1980)

OMD OrganisationJust nine months after the release of OMD’s self-titled and self-produced debut, the band entered Ridge Farm and Advision studios with Howlett for the much more cohesive and gothic follow-up ‘Organisation’. The album’s closer was ‘Stanlow’, a brooding 6 minute epic that conveyed the emotion of returning home after a long journey; the sight of that huge, brightly lit oil refinery from the M56 motorway was apt symbolism. The intellectual but cryptic lyrical themes of OMD set them apart from other synth based acts.

Available on the album ‘Organisation’ via Virgin Records

https://www.facebook.com/omdofficial/


THE TEARDROP EXPLODES When I Dream (1980)

THE TEARDROP EXPLODES When I DreamWhile THE TEARDROP EXPLODES were not a synthesizer group, their use of synths often confused some to dub them New Romantics as they straddled the line between psychedelic pop and Synth Britannia. The Howlett produced ‘When I Dream’ released in Summer 1980 launched Julian Cope and Co’s debut album ‘Kilimanjaro’. Dressed with detuned synths and low-end sweeps, it got them closer to the charts but it took a brass section to net that first hit in ‘Reward’.

Available on the album ‘The Greatest Hit’ via Mercury Records

https://www.headheritage.co.uk/


MARTHA LADLY & THE SCENERY CLUB Tasmania (1981)

MARTHA LADLY FinlandiaFollowing designing the cover to MARTHA & THE MUFFINS second album ‘Trance & Dance’, Martha Ladly won a scholarship to study graphic design and left the band. She also began working with Peter Saville. She continued a solo career with her first single ‘Finlandia’ produced by Mike Howlett. While this was akin to Nordic folk, the B-side ‘Tasmania’ was a brooding percussive piece reminiscent of JOY DIVISION with sombre chants from Ladly. Just one more single ‘Light Years From Love’ emerged in 1983.

Originally released as the B-side to the single ‘Finlandia’ via Dindisc Records, currently unavailable

http://womenandtech.com/interview/martha-ladly/


MODERN EON Euthenics (1981)

MODERN EON EuthenicsMike Howlett had effectively become house producer at Dindisc Records and led him to work with most of their artist roster. His production of MODERN EON’s ‘Euthenics’ was a re-recorded version of a single released by indie label Inevitable in 1980. With a sprightly but solemn sound like WAH! HEAT and HAMBI & THE DANCE, the band showed some promise. Led by Alix Plain, this version of ‘Euthenics’ included Tim Lever and Cliff Hewitt who later respectively showed up in DEAD OR ALIVE and APOLLO 440.

Original version available on the boxed set ‘Birth Of A Nation – Inevitable Records: An Independent Liverpool 1979-1986’ via Cherry Red Records

http://www.soulsaw.com/modern-eon/


OMD Souvenir (1981)

OMD SouvenirMike Howlett’s work on ‘Souvenir’ cannot be underestimated, with the nightmare scenario of spinning taped choir loops alongside early synthesizer technology. And all this while dealing with a disillusioned Andy McCluskey, who was feeling left out of a song written by his bandmates Paul Humphreys and Martin Cooper. Even after its recording, ‘Souvenir’ didn’t sound quite right, until Howlett varispeeded to the point of Humphreys almost sounding like Alvin The Chipmunk. The end result? OMD’s biggest UK hit!

Available on the album ‘Architecture & Morality’ via Virgin Records

http://www.mikehowlett.co.uk


THOMPSON TWINS Perfect Game (1981)

THOMPSON TWINS Perfect GameBefore THOMPSON TWINS settled into being the Alex Sadkin produced electropop trio of Tom Bailey, Alannah Currie and Joe Leeway, they were a seven strong combo with a more conventionally driven musical outlook. Previous to that, they were a five-piece art squat collective and Mike Howlett produced their guitar driven third single ‘Perfect Game’. The band later signed to Arista Records and released the more synth friendly breakthrough single ‘In The Name Of Love’ in 1982.

Available on the album ‘A Product Of…’ / ‘Set’ via Edsel Records

http://thompsontwinstombailey.co.uk/


BLANCMANGE I Can’t Explain (1982)

With a blistering opening of Linn Drum and elastic synth bass, ‘I Can’t Explain’ opened BLANCMANGE’s ‘Happy Families’ and set the scene for an impressive debut album. With a sub-Ian Curtis vocal from Neil Arthur, this  wasn’t far off an electronic take of JOY DIVISION’s ‘Interzone’, which was based on the Northern Soul fave ‘Keep On Keeping On’ by NF PORTER. This feeling was enhanced further once David Rhodes’ frantic processed guitar kicked in alongside the bizarre, staccato gospel backing vocals.

Available on the album ‘Happy Families’ via Edsel Records

http://www.blancmange.co.uk/


A FLOCK OF SEAGULLS Space Age Love Song (1982)

A FLOCK OF SEAGULLS Space Age Love SongWith titles ‘like Modern Love Is Automatic’ and ‘Telecommunication’, the futuristic Sci-Fi vibe of A FLOCK OF SEAGULLS came to its zenith with ‘Space Age Love Song’. Howlett’s brilliantly punchy production integrated synths with guitars, which undoubtedly helped this often forgotten Liverpool band gain a foothold in the traditionally synthphobic territory of the USA. But the song was popular in Europe too, as exemplified by MARSHEAUX’s blatant interpolation of its main hook for ‘Dream Of A Disco’!

Available on the album ‘A Flock Of Seagulls’ via Cherry Pop

http://www.mikescore.com/


GANG OF FOUR I Love A Man In A Uniform (1982)

GANG OF FOUR I Love A Man In A UniformA popular cult single from the Leeds combo named after the Chinese Communist faction led by Madam Mao, ‘I Love A Man In A Uniform’ was a fine example of the scratchy post-punk funk that was prevalent with alternative acts such as A CERTAIN RATIO, PIGBAG and BAUHAUS. Exploring the public fascination with the military, it was also perhaps a passing dig at ECHO & THE BUNNYMEN who the year previously had perfected a camouflaged look that their fans were copying.

Available on the album ‘A Brief History Of The 20th Century’ via EMI Music

http://gangoffour.co.uk/


TEARS FOR FEARS Pale Shelter (1982)

TEARS FOR FEARS Pale ShelterWith the title inspired by Henry Moore, Roland Orzabal described ‘Pale Shelter’ as “a kind of a love song, though more referring to one’s parents than to a girl” – the original single version was produced by Howlett and subtitled ‘You Don’t Give Me Love’ but failed to chart. It began with an unsettling, reverse spoken vocal from Orzabal. Much darker and obviously synthetic than the familiar re-recording produced by Ross Cullum and Chris Hughes for the TEARS FOR FEARS debut album ‘The Hurting’.

Available on the deluxe album ‘The Hurting’ via Mercury Records

http://tearsforfears.com/


TV21 All Join Hands (1982)

TV21 All Join HandsNamed after the Gerry Anderson offshoot comic, TV21 primarily used conventional instrumentation, but their Howlett produced single ‘All Join Hands’ featured an OMD styled bass synth sequence and drum machine. Possibly the best known song in the Edinburgh band’s short career, ‘All Join Hands’ was filled with melodic drama, thanks to some classical augmentation by THE CANNIZARRO STRINGS and a fine lead vocal from singer Norman Rodger.

Available on the album ‘Snakes & Ladders – Almost Complete: 1980-82’ via Cherry Red Records

https://www.facebook.com/TV21-63251111019/


CHINA CRISIS Wishful Thinking (1983)

China_Crisis_Wishful_ThinkingWith his OMD success, Mike Howlett was drafted in by Virgin Records to produce what turned out to be the most synth based CHINA CRISIS long player. Utilising Emulator strings and a pizzicato sample derived from plucking an acoustic guitar string close to the bridge, ‘Wishful Thinking’ was a sweetly textured, melodic pop single that deserved its Top 10 chart placing. One fan of the record was STEELY DAN’s Walter Becker who went on to produce the 1985 follow-up ‘Flaunt The Imperfection’.

Available on the album ‘Working With Fire & Steel – Possible Pop Songs Volume 2’ via Virgin Records

https://www.facebook.com/China-Crisis-295592467251068/


A FLOCK OF SEAGULLS Wishing (1983)

A FLOCK OF SEAGULLS WishingWith a percussively clanky backbone and using just black keys for its infectious melody line, ‘Wishing’ was the big home hit that A FLOCK OF SEAGULLS has been waiting for, following their acceptance by the MTV audience across the Atlantic. Although much derided in the UK, it was in the US that A FLOCK OF SEAGULLS made a cultural impact, with send-ups of singer Mike Score’s outlandish hairdo appearing in ‘The Wedding Singer’ and ‘Friends’. Score later moved to America and lost his Scouse accent!

Available on the album ‘Listen’ via Cherry Pop

http://www.afosfanclub.com/


JOHN FOXX Twilight’s Last Gleaming (1983)

JOHN FOXX The Golden SectionWhile Zeus B Held provided his rugged arty pop energy for the majority of ‘The Golden Section’, a gentler hand was required for the more serene closer ‘Twilight’s Last Gleaming’. Bringing in Mike Howlett to fulfil the role, he gave the tune an epic gothic aesthetic that recalled ‘Statues’ from OMD’s ‘Organisation’. The end result had more of a connection to its predecessor ‘The Garden’ thanks to the choir boy vocal of James Risborough and John Foxx’s own forlorn whistling alongside the synthesized dramatics.

Available on the album ‘The Golden Section’ via Edsel Records

http://www.metamatic.com


TIN TIN Hold It (1983)

TIN TIN Hold ItAfter leaving DURAN DURAN prior to the band signing to EMI, Stephen Duffy formed TIN TIN, an electronic oriented project. Their first single ‘Kiss Me’ released in 1982 became a cult dancefloor hit and for its follow-up ‘Hold It’, Mike Howlett was drafted in on production duties. Less immediate than ‘Kiss Me’, ‘Hold It’ nevertheless gained club traction thanks to a remix by Francois Kevorkian. Duffy eventually went solo and it was a Fairlighted remake of ‘Kiss Me’ that got finally got him a hit.

Originally released a single on WEA Records, currently unavailable

http://thelilactime.com/


BERLIN Now It’s My Turn (1984)

Although the two songs produced by Giorgio Moroder grabbed most of the attention on BERLIN’s first album proper, the rest of ‘Love Life’ was produced by Howlett. Having achieved success with A FLOCK OF SEAGULLS, Howlett was a natural choice for the LA based band and their Eurocentric aspirations. Combining electronics with a dash of AOR, BERLIN often sounded like ULTRAVOX fronted by HEART. With a defiantly feisty vocal from Terri Nunn, ‘Now It’s My Turn’ was absorbingly anthemic.

Available on the album ‘Love Life’ via Rubellan Remasters

http://www.berlinpage.com/


Text by Chi Ming Lai
4th January 2016, updated 3rd May 2020

Lost Albums: BERLIN Love Life

In their prime, BERLIN only actually recorded one mini-LP and two albums with the nucleus of Terri Nunn and John Crawford. Although not the original vocalist, Nunn joined multi-instrumentalist Crawford to become partners in life and music with BERLIN.

Although DEVO and OUR DAUGHTER’S WEDDING had featured electronics in a more artful fashion, BERLIN’s 1982 independent mini-LP ‘Pleasure Victim’ was one of the first occasions of an American pop act embracing the synthesizer which had changed the face of music in Europe.

It led to a deal with Geffen Records and notoriety with the deviantly fuelled breakthrough single ‘Sex (I’m A…)’. At this point, mainstream USA was still getting excited about macho rock posturing like JOURNEY, TOTO or JOHN COUGAR (as the man born Mellencamp was then known)!

BERLIN’s brilliant songs such as ‘The Metro’ and ‘Masquerade’ with their motorik drum machines and Teutonic pulses were a far cry from the way instruments made by Sequential Circuits, Moog and their sisters were being used Stateside.

“We were first inspired to create our sound from a couple of European bands ULTRAVOX and KRAFTWERK that were using these new kinds of keyboards that created very different sounds than those of a standard keyboard or piano.” said Nunn, “It created a whole new dynamic that we fell in love with”. Meanwhile, the title track with its pretty synth melody showed how emotive such instrumentation could be, even in songs that were perceived to be AOR ballads.

Featuring an expanded line-up including David Diamond (keyboards and guitar), Ric Olsen (guitar), Matt Reid (keyboards) and Rob Brill (drums) plus an array of devices such as the ARP Quadra, Memory Moog, Prophet 5, Pro-One, TR808, OBX-a, DX7 and Fairlight, Nunn and Crawford delivered their first full-length album together in 1984 called ‘Love Life’. With this, BERLIN enhanced their reputation and planted the seeds that led to them becoming household names for a short while.

Produced mostly by Mike Howlett who had worked with OMD, A FLOCK OF SEAGULLS, BLANCMANGE and MARTHA & THE MUFFINS, he brought his interest in German experimental music and experience as a seasoned musician with GONG to combine Eurocentric electronics with a Trans-Atlantic flavour that was perfect for the MTV generation. The revenge themed ‘Now It’s My Turn’ was the ultimate culmination of that, a mysterious monochrome verse counterpointed by a belting chorus that sounded like HEART’s Ann Wilson fronting ULTRAVOX.

Opening number ‘When We Make Love’ soared vocally and accompanied by some rousing modern backing, provided the cinematic mood for the rest of the album which was dressed in a sleeve picturing Nunn as a vintage film starlet. ‘Touch’ had a similar feel but was slightly more frenetic with synths and guitars blending to produce a unique sound for the time. However, despite starting side two, ‘Pictures Of You’ was really just a pedestrian rock retread of ‘The Metro’.

Taking the pace down, ‘Beg Steal or Borrow’ was BERLIN having fun in the vein of ALTERED IMAGES gone electro while ‘In My Dreams’ was melancholic but dreamy pop. With its atmospheric sweeps and chiming guitar lines, ‘For All Tomorrow’s Lies’ recalled A FLOCK OF SEAGULLS’ ‘Transfer Affection’ before the album closed with the lovely John Hughes’ movie romance of ‘Fall’.

The end product resulted in BERLIN sounding neither entirely European or American, walking an enjoyable fine line between FM rawk and New Romantic. Despite the US Top 30 success of ‘Love Life’, the band fragmented, leaving only Nunn and Crawford plus Brill to continue…

By way of a musical prophecy, the album’s Top 30 US hit single ‘No More Words’ was to be the undoing of the close if tempestuous bond between Nunn and Crawford. That song and another album highlight ‘Dancing In Berlin’ were produced by Giorgio Moroder and the blueprint of the Linn driven synth/rock fusion later developed further on his album with THE HUMAN LEAGUE’s Philip Oakey.

Moroder and Nunn got on very well during the sessions so he asked her to sing on a song he had written with his Ferrari mechanic Tom Whitlock entitled ‘Take My Breath Away’.

It had already been demoed by Martha Davis of cult new wavers THE MOTELS who had a couple of US Top 10 hits including ‘Only The Lonely’.

The Oscar winning ’Take My Breath Away’ became a No1 around the world in 1986 having been featured in the film ‘Top Gun’ but the success was bittersweet.

While it was the ultimate guilty pleasure, the song was unrepresentative of BERLIN’s previous work, especially as it only featured Nunn with no input from Crawford who had been the band’s main songwriter.

Despite an extensive tour supporting FRANKIE GOES TO HOLLYWOOD, the accompanying rock oriented album ‘County Three & Pray’ (produced largely by Bob Ezrin) did not sell well despite the inclusion of ‘Take My Breath Away’ and another great single ‘You Don’t Know’. With confusion over their musical direction and deteriorating personal relationships, BERLIN fell apart, ironically three years before the actual city’s wall did!

The majority of the ‘Love Life’ line-up including John Crawford were persuaded to reform for VH1’s ‘Bands Reunited’ programme in 2004 but today, only Terri Nunn remains, touring regularly under the BERLIN name having bought the name from Crawford and occasionally recording.

Sadly, their original Geffen back catalogue is difficult to obtain outside of North America and inferior re-recordings appear on various ‘Greatest Hits’ and ‘Live’ CDs.

It’s a shame because although they were plagued by the legacy of a massive hit song they didn’t write, BERLIN are worthy of recognition as American electronic pop pioneers for a sound that had been alien to most of their countrymen pre-MTV. For this reason alone, their work from this imperial period deserves to be heard.


‘Love Life’ is available as a CD via Rubellan Remasters at https://www.rubellanremasters.com/online-store/Berlin-Love-Life-Expanded-Edition-p179552492

http://www.berlinpage.com/

https://www.facebook.com/berlinofficialband/

https://twitter.com/realterrinunn


Text by Chi Ming Lai
7th July 2012, updated 21st March 2020