One of the great scene debates runs as follows… what’s better? The John Foxx or Midge Ure era incarnations of ULTRAVOX? This is as idiotic as the Fish versus Steve Hogarth debates that rage (and they do rage) amongst MARILLION fans or the similar GENESIS camps that exist around lead singers.
It’s akin to comparing apples to oranges and without the front man leaving these bands, we would have been denied spectacular bodies of work and long careers from all concerned which would potentially have been cut shorter. And yes I include Phil Collins in this, bite me…
There is however a “what might have been?” surrounding John Foxx and ULTRAVOX, with or without the exclamation mark. Had he stayed with the band beyond ‘Systems of Romance’, what would it have sounded like? A continuation of the ‘Systems’ sound or something more like the imperious ‘Metamatic’? With the release of ‘Howl’, the fifth album under the guise of JOHN FOXX & THE MATHS, we get an idea of what could have been.
The big news is that Foxx and his Maths collaborators Benge and Hannah Peel are joined by former ULTRAVOX guitarist Robin Simon. Simon appeared with The Maths at the Roundhouse in 2010 so this has been a while coming and it arrives in snarling upfront style with the opener ‘My Ghost’, with its stripped down punky intro morphing into a familiar Foxx effected vocal performance, all underpinned by an insistent rhythm track. On the playout, we get swooping synths under a simple but effective guitar solo.
One of the key contributions Simon brings to the table is what Foxx terms as “Demolition Intercision” and this is shown to its fullest on the title track ‘Howl’.
Recorded in one take which left everyone “standing on their chairs”, the tortured, swooping playing harks back to the songs like ‘Slow Motion’ and ‘Dislocation’ in the way it interplays with the synths and Foxx’s voice.
“Born in the middle of a storm” sings Foxx and this is appropriate as his guitarist whips up a hurricane of noise which at all times remains musical. Hannah Peel is given room to shine on the next track, ‘Everything Is Happening At The Same Time’, a psychedelic electronic number that appears owes a more than a little to a certain BEATLES song. Given current events, the message of this track is all the more prescient. “we have to choose between the clowns and the fools…” bemoans the lyrics… quite…
‘Tarzan & Jane Regained’ (a contender for title of the year) and ‘The Dance’ tread familiar sonic territory for the Maths which is not to say they are not good songs, in fact ‘The Dance’ is in places a beautiful shimmering piece of electronica.
‘New York Times’ doesn’t outstay its welcome and features some great drum programming. As stated above these are not bad songs, it’s just these three central tracks are bookended by the sonically more interesting ‘stuff’. ‘Last Time I Saw You’ reintroduces Simon’s more upfront guitar work. In the press release, Foxx compares it to violence and it can be at times shocking but also “…a true delight”.
On this and the opening cuts, the almost visceral at times fretwork married to the electronics is not what one would expect from a band leader that is in his five decade as a performer.
This is however the key to John Foxx, he always does the unexpected and doesn’t allow himself to be pigeonholed. As happy to release an ambient work as he is a straightforward ‘pop’ album or indeed to walk away from music altogether, he really is someone that deserves wider recognition. That said, one feels the artist himself would be uncomfortable with that.
Keeping the best to last, closer ‘Strange Beauty’ is possibly the best thing JOHN FOXX & THE MATHS have ever done, an electronic ballad that puts the plodding attempts at similar by bigger bands to shame. Benge’s production on this really does merit his bandmate’s claim that he is this generation’s Conny Plank.
Across this release there is a musicality to the production that is missing from many modern electronic works. The shear fury in places of Robin Simon’s playing could have just been noise at the hands of a lesser, knowing producer but here it is given room to shine. As a closer, this track more than any other points towards that might have been.
Once again John Foxx has shown how to remain relevant in these modern times.
The Electricity Club has never hidden its love of the man’s prodigious body of work and ‘Howl’ reinforces that further. At a time when Moog are handing out ‘Innovator’ awards to artists as a purely marketing tool, we should be thankful that performers like John Foxx continue to push their own boundaries instead of playing it safe. I can’t wait to hear what he does next.
‘Howl’ is the fifth studio album from JOHN FOXX & THE MATHS and sees the former ULTRAVOX! front man reuniting with his ‘Systems Of Romance’ guitarist Robin Simon.
Also featuring Chief Mathematician Benge along with live band member and regular collaborator Hannah Peel, ‘Howl’ does as its title suggests.
Presenting eight tracks of fierce art rock, it sees guitars as very much part of the scenery in partnership with the electronics. Recorded at Benge’s MemeTune studios in Cornwall , ‘Howl’ is the first JOHN FOXX & THE MATHS album since the instrumental score for a theatre production of EM Forster’s ‘The Machine Stops’, released as ‘The Machine’ in 2017.
Before that, there was an extremely prolific period which saw three albums ‘Interplay’, The Shape Of Things’ and ‘Evidence’ issued between 2011-2013. And this was without Foxx’s other ambient and soundtrack outings.
The Electricity Club caught up with John Foxx for a chat about the genesis of ‘Howl’ and drawing on artistic parallels from working with Conny Plank back in 1978 for ‘Systems Of Romance’…
After the prolific release schedule of 2011-2017, you’ve kept a low profile over the last few years, what have you been doing to keep you busy?
There’s always loads to do -Writing lots of songs and throwing them away. Editing ‘The Quiet Man’ book and digging stuff out of notebooks. Learning to play primitive guitar again. Remembering who I am and for what. Enjoying other people’s gigs. Relishing out-of-control feedback and the sheer joy of being inhabited by very loud, bone-shattering music.
Photo by Ed Fielding
One of the high profile tracks towards the end of that period was ‘Talk (Are You Listening To Me?)’ with Gary Numan in 2016, how did it all come together?
Well, Gary and I had been mentioning we ought to do something together – for about thirty years, but never got around to it. Then Steve (my manager and a friend of Gary) was in LA with him and played the Maths version of ‘Talk’. Gary liked it, Benge got in touch and they began to swap recordings. We mixed a version, and that was it. About time.
Your most recent five album releases have been ambient or instrumental soundtracks, so what inspired you to start working on songs again with ‘Howl’?
Decided to have a listen to everything I’d made – which is something I’ve never actually done before. Bit of a shock. Felt there were a couple of important things I hadn’t properly got to.
One was recording with proper violence and growl. What Lois and I used to call ‘Radge’. I also wanted to get to the sort of cruel glam I really liked – nothing pretty, but a dark, writhing glamour that The Velvets or Iggy touched on – a sort of torn sequins and shades thing. A bit damaged and very urban.
At the same time, I realised I’d not done another of the things I most wanted to – which is work with Robin Simon properly again. Rob came out of that glam into Punk thing as well – and he can play the most violent guitar you’ve ever heard – so the time was absolutely right.
In terms of writing and demos, had these songs been conceived with guitars in mind from the off?
Lyrically, what was moving you with these ‘Howl’ songs?
Well there’s plenty to howl about at the moment. We’re all living in particularly fast-moving and downright weird times. ‘The Dance’, ‘Howl’, ‘Last Time I Saw You’, ‘Everything Is Happening At The Same Time’, in fact all the songs, are kicked off by that.
Robin Simon performed with you at The Roundhouse and Troxy gigs in 2010-2011, so it has taken a few years for you both to work together on this record, you rate him highly don’t you?
He’s the best guitarist ever. Doesn’t play clichés, invented modern guitar – everyone imagines guitars always sounded like they do today but they certainly didn’t before Rob.
In my book, there are four top guitarists – Rob Simon first, along with John McGeoch, Steve Jones, and Fripp. Rob combined the ferocity of Punk with overdriven synths and he was the first to work in that way, using effects as an integral part of the sound. Fripp did some marvellous things later with Bowie. McGeoch worked with MAGAZINE and created their sound, then I met up with him in my studio when he, then Robert, were working with SIOUXSIE & THE BANSHEES. Steve Jones did the most massive blazing chop and drone ever recorded. All these guys have completely unique properties
But for me, Rob combines all of that with the kind of finesse and bite that Mick Ronson had. It’s a broad spectrum, but one thing Rob never loses sight of is the basic animal aggression- and I love that. Agility and power. Marvellous.
Is ‘Howl’ sonically a record perhaps you’ve been itching to make since you left Cologne in 1978 after recording ‘Systems Of Romance’?
Oh yes – exactly. But I needed to exorcise a few things first – KRAFTWERK, for one.
You’d worked with Robin since that time on ‘The Garden’, ‘The Golden Section’ and ‘In Mysterious Ways’ but on ‘Howl’, you’ve given him more of a free hand, are you working like you did when you were both in ULTRAVOX!?
Absolutely. A few things have changed though – we don’t rehearse live all together, and I do miss that – We might correct that next time. It gives certain feel to the songs that I like.
Sometimes Rob will give you three or four versions of a song each time he plays it. All good – and mostly better than you imagine. Sometimes so radical you catch your breath.
The thing is to try to absorb what he’s doing quickly enough to work with it. It’s the catching lightning in a bottle thing. You also have to get out of the way sometimes and concentrate on simply catching the take. You learn to live in the moment and the whole process becomes organic and alive – it’s real life actually happening.
You’ve often likened Benge to Conny Plank, so was there any moments of déjà vu when you, Robin and him were together in his countryside studio in Cornwall?
Many times – in fact most of the time. Surprises you in the same way. Never off balance. Always totally competent, but completely unpretentious. Always out for sonic adventure. He even looks like Conny – especially when he’s thinking. Same sort of mannerisms. I swear there’s a stray gene knocking about.
It’s a fantastic piece of luck to come across two guys like that in a single lifetime.
The manner of the guitar driven start on ‘My Ghost’ will be something of a surprise to some?
I do hope so.
While the album has a distinct guitar focus, the synths have not disappeared, like on the title song which has a screeching first two thirds but a more electronic final section; it’s a monster in a scary kind of way, what was on your mind when you conceived that one?
We were simply reacting to what Rob delivered. We’d all found a sound that seemed alive, so of course Rob was straight in there wrestling with it. Luckily Benge recorded all that immediately. It was a single take. Rob played it all over another song – Completely demolished it, so I had to write another around what he’d delivered.
I’d also been thinking about the Allen Ginsberg poem ‘Howl’ and what Rob did fitted. A sort of telepathic coincidence, because I hadn’t mentioned that at all. The song isn’t about the same thing, though.
The track is very reminiscent of that ‘Systems Of Romance’ period…
I’d been pondering how to revisit and update a few impressive things from the past, but in a completely modern context, and here it all was.
Hannah’s busy conspiring too, with her wipeout feedback – especially at the end, and Benge did that great squelch synth to break into the end section – plus some nice and mucky but spare bass and drums, to give everyone enough space.
In short – a series of accidents and coincidences that delivered something alive into the room. That’s how recording should be. Couldn’t sleep properly for days after.
So Hannah Peel is there with her violin on the ‘Howl’ album, evoking even more parallels with ‘Systems Of Romance’?
Always liked what an amped up violin or viola can do. I need chaos. Cale was always an inspiration in the Velvets – it’s another living beast to wrestle with, and Hannah loves to let it howl too. She’s absolutely full spectrum, is Hannah – conducts an orchestra and equally capable of conducting total demolition via feedback and distortion levels that can wreck a sound system. Remains calm throughout.
‘Everything Is Happening At The Same Time’ and ‘New York Times’ both have something of a Metadelic vibe about them?
That’s always there. A sort of punk psychedelia – it’s a cornerstone for me. Always emerges. Goes back to ‘When You Walk through Me’ from 1978, then into ‘No One Driving’ and so on.
Can’t ever forget Rob first playing ‘When You Walk Through Me,’ when I brought it in to rehearsals. He understood it instantly and completely. Fantastic playing. Especially that and ‘Maximum Acceleration’. Totally bloody Marvellous!
‘Tarzan & Jane Regained’ comes over a bit like U2 covering ‘Quiet Men’ with all that echo-locked harmonic guitar?
Well, although I like some of the things they’ve done in the past, we’ve no wish to sound like them – U2 certainly pinched some of our early sound in the 1970s. Particularly Rob’s approach. Mind you, they weren’t alone. I think we were the most copped unit on the planet around ’78-79.
In ‘The Dance, there’s some echoes of ‘Goodbye Horses’ by Q LAZZARUS which was on the soundtrack of ‘Silence Of The Lambs’, any coincidence?
Completely. I’ve got no memory of that. I’ll check it out.
‘Last Time I Saw You’ art rocks like hell…
Great – Rob and Benge were saying recently that’s the starting point for the next album. I’m on the case.
Where did the gorgeous cinematic ballad ‘Strange Beauty’ emerge from? Is that a soaring ARP Odyssey solo or a violin?
It sort of descended all at once, one night, as the best things tend to. No memory at all of writing it. Simply played it to some exterior direction – and there it was. Had to check it wasn’t someone else’s tune.
The solo is Hannah integrating with synth as she does so perfectly. She did a lot of that on the record, as well as the wild stuff. Widens everything out somehow. After she’s worked on a track, it sounds twice as big, and you’re not sure how she did it. Benge also did massive things with the drums and more synths. Rob did his seemingly simple but essential structural work. Everyone really went for that one. It went tidal.
Is the prospect of JOHN FOXX & THE MATHS performing again as a group ever a possibility in the future?
We’re being offered USA and Mexico at the moment so I guess we’ve got to get down and review things asap, but it’s like knitting fog. Penalty of working with top people – Everyone’s suddenly off with their own career – Hannah in Ireland and increasingly global, there’s an international queue for Benge in Cornwall, Rob nipping between LA and Yorkshire.
We all want to do it, because it’s a real buzz blasting it out together, and Rob seems to have galvanised the whole thing – as he always does. But it’s got to be absolutely right for everyone to think of clearing the table.
The Electricity Club gives its sincerest thanks to John Foxx
Special thanks to Steve Malins at Random Management
May 2018 sees a new edition release of JOHN FOXX’s seminal 1980 album ‘Metamatic’.
Although arguably there can be very few electronic music fans who don’t possess a copy, this new version includes a third disc of unreleased instrumentals and prototype demo versions that will appeal to completists and fans alike.
The 3CD package also includes some previously unseen photos and drawings by John with 49 tracks in total. The Electricity Club were fortunate to get an advanced preview of the new additions and there are some real gems in there.
From the alternative mix of the TANGERINE DREAM-like ‘Glimmer’ through to the appearance of a prominent acoustic piano in ‘Fragmentary City’, also worthy of a mention is the droning ‘Critical Mass’ which feels like it would make a superb instrumental prelude to ‘Underpass’.
Also present are early demos of some of the best known tracks on ‘Metamatic’ including ‘Touch & Go’ and two versions of ‘No One’s Driving’; one sequencer driven, the other more piano chord-oriented.
Other pieces including unreleased track ‘Miss Machinery’ which has such a beautifully honed mix suggesting that it must have been in strong consideration to be included on the final album.
JOHN FOXX kindly spoke to The Electricity Club about the gestation of the album and the transition from ULTRAVOX Mk1 to solo artist.
What impact did the studio location and surroundings at Pathway in London have on the sound and content of ‘Metamatic’?
Great location for me – a cycle ride away, so I could wobble home at night. I was living in Finsbury Park at the time. It was all very urban North London and I liked that too.
How important was the influence of JG Ballard on your work at this point?
Well, he was the first writer who seemed to be addressing what I’d come to call ‘the unrecognised present’. It takes us all a little time to realise exactly how we’re living, since circumstances are changing so quickly and in that gap, some it gets out of hand. For instance, I felt cars were out of hand at that (and this!) point.
Without noticing, we found we were all living on diminishing islands, surrounded by an ocean of cars, dominating the environment completely, enabling new crimes and new situations, forcing new ways of living and changing everything – even architecture and the shape of cities, as harried city councils threw up welcoming worlds of concrete to accommodate them.
We had to try to live with all that. Ballard had understood and mapped this process and how it can all come tumbling down. He could see how fragile things really are, I guess from his childhood, when his world was torn apart by the Japanese invasion. He wasn’t the only one though, there were others, some writers such as Burroughs and Philip K Dick and several film makers – Tarkovsky, that ‘Chien Andalou’ film by Dali and Bunuel, Alain Resnais’ ‘Last Year in Marienbad’- and so on.
Songs such as ‘He’s A Liquid’ and ‘Touch & Go’ had debuted live as ULTRAVOX! numbers… how did the shift towards you playing synthesizers and programming drum machines yourself evolve?
I wrote those at home using a drum machine, then we developed them with the band, but I didn’t really feel they’d reached their potential until they were synth and drum machine only. I had a certain sound in my head that I wanted to get to – that more minimal electronic / primitive / dub sound. It simply needed tape, synth, drum machine, voice – and nothing else.
So basically, it was an ARP Odyssey, Elka String Machine, a Compurhythm and go!?
Exactly. Everything fell into place then.
There are some fantastic recordings that have surfaced from ULTRAVOX’s 1979 US tour where you debuted ‘Touch & Go’ and ‘He’s A Liquid’ with the band. What are your feelings or emotions when you listen back to these prototype versions now?
Oh, I like them – and I also really enjoyed working with the band, but that naked electronic thing was feeling urgent – I just had to get that working.
Speaking of prototypes – I think the band was responsible for a couple of generations worth of prototypes – there were really so many basic seeds sewn by us by that point.
I remember being really torn in ‘77-‘78, because there were two great directions we’d evolved- first the modern rock thing which is a line that extends from ‘Systems Of Romance’ and is still running – it goes on through SIMPLE MINDS / JOY DIVISION / U2 / BLUR / ELASTICA / FRANZ FERDINAND / RADIOHEAD / HORRORS and so on. Inventive Britrock. We defined that very early on, and we were the first to do it, with songs like ‘Slow Motion’ and ‘I Can’t Stay Long’ etc, we’d mapped it some years before – even that branch of OASIS and STONE ROSES, with our nod to THE BEATLES Psychedelic thing on ‘When You Walk Through Me’ from ‘Systems’ in 1978.
Then there was the minimal studio electronic thing that was really just beginning – but we’d done that a good two years before with ‘My Sex’, then ‘Hiroshima Mon Amour’ and Dislocation’ and ‘Just For A Moment’ etc. We’d recorded ‘My Sex’ in summer 1976. I really felt things branched dramatically at the point of ‘Systems’, not just for us, but for the entire future of Brit music, and I think we’d mapped both directions as inevitables, some years before.
How did you feel when the main riff for ‘Touch & Go’ ended up on ULTRAVOX’s ‘Mr. X’? Was there any kind of legal challenge with this?
Oh, impossible to untangle who did what after you’ve been in the studio together. Everyone has their own perspective and they’re all different. Bit of a road accident really. It would’ve been declared a mistrial. All witnesses concussed.
‘A New Kind of Man’ was originally slated to be the first single off of the album? What inspired the song?
It was a continuation of the ‘Quiet Man’ theme – I’d begun to write the stories, and in one he steps out of and into a film screen. That image also provided the ‘Metamatic’ cover image.
What was the background to deciding to issue ‘My Face’ as a yellow flexi-disc with ‘Smash Hits’; it’s quite a strange combination looking back in hindsight, but perhaps indicates how open the interpretation of pop music could be in 1980?
They asked if I had a track they could use and I’d just recorded it. Having a track on that magazine was a good thing and I could choose whatever I liked.
You’re right – it was an example of how things had opened up after Punk and just at GARY NUMAN’s jump into the charts. He was the point the floodgates opened for the entire Brit electronic movement. Everyone has a lot to thank him for.
Is it true that you were influenced by dub reggae on the album?
Absolutely, it all goes back a very long way…
As with most good things, it all began in Chorley. There was a great West Indian couple I’d known since I was about eight years old – Mr Huey and his wife May. They’d come over from Jamaica in the late 1950s and been lodgers with a Polish friend of mine, Richard Woczeck.
Huey and May then got a terraced house at the top of Corporation Street, were my Gran and uncles lived, so I saw them often. They’d occasionally invite me and my mate Arthur Sweeney to a Blues party in their yard – we’d be around mid-teens at that point and young mods, so right into all that – Curried Goat, beer and PRINCE BUSTER. Great!
After that, I listened to things developing in Manchester, when I was an art student there, at the Ponda Rosa, a three storey Café – food on the ground floor, then some secret gambling and shenanigans upstairs. They had a home-built sound system, one of the first I’d seen. Great bass and the music was changing, too.
Then, when I came to London and formed the band, I found Chris Cross was from Tottenham, not far from Broadwater Farm, and he was a decent dub bass player too. At the other end of town, the Ladbroke Grove scene was also in full swing – big custom sound systems on the street. Island Records was West Indies central, so Billy Currie and I used to go into Island studios Basing Street to listen to LEE PERRY and BOB MARLEY sessions. Well foggy in there!
Then, when I started work at Pathway studios in 1979, a tiny eight-track place in North London, Gareth Jones and I heard lots of dub sessions. A crew of guys would book two hours studio time and bang out half a dozen dub tracks for 12’ singles, which were a new thing then. I was fascinated by that mixing technique of stripping everything right back to give one sound all the power.
So when we mixed ‘Metamatic’, we did a lot of that. In fact I chose the studio partly because it had a home-built desk that was especially good for punching sounds in and out and throwing effects on the sound live in the mix. That technique became part of our repertoire. The drums and synth on ‘Underpass’ are done like that, for instance, and the bass is consciously Dub-style. It’s a Dub rhythm track with Euro electro toplines and voice.
Although ‘Metamatic’ is an electronic album, there’s quite a bit of bass guitar by Jake Durant. Was it quite tricky get the synth bass to work the way you wanted with the ARP Odyssey back then?
Well, it wasn’t always easy to get the right depth of bass from the Odyssey. It’s a demon for unusual and complex noises – the best there is at tearing down walls and taking the skin off your back.
A Minimoog was best for bass. Richer. I used that too, on ’He’s a Liquid’, for instance, but I preferred the precision and vitality of the ARP. Much quicker, more vicious and more intuitive for me.
Do you subscribe to the Philip Oakey viewpoint that synthesizers are more ‘punk’ than guitars?
Bang on Phil – you only need the one finger! No chords. As soon as synths became affordable, I knew there’d be a permanent revolution. Inevitable.
Listening back to the album now, what strikes most is how stark and minimalist it sounds, what kind of reception did you get from Virgin when you submitted it?
Oh, I think they simply stepped back and put the record out. It was certainly weird, minimal, cold, harsh and surreal for that period – all that BROTHERHOOD OF MAN stuff in the charts. At that time though, everyone at Virgin was in close cahoots and out for a bit of fun.
It was a great time. Simon Draper, the real power and judgement there, was totally supportive. A marvellous visionary character. He created Virgin really.
The extra songs which feature as part of this package and the ‘Metamatic Plus’ edition (including ‘Cinemascope’ and ‘My Face’) all seem strong enough to have made it onto the original album, was it a difficult process deciding which tracks would make the final cut first time around?
There was no shortage of material. I was just listening to the demos and ideas from cassettes recently. Tons of stuff. Lots of unfinished song starts. It drives me nuts. I’m going to destroy it all, just for peace of mind.
The ‘Metamatic’ follow-up ‘The Garden’ saw quite a significant change in sound for you, especially with the re-integration of more live instrumentation, why did you move away from the colder electronic aesthetic with that release?
I remember wanting to reclaim some of the territory I’d defined with ‘Systems’ – the other side of things, as I mentioned earlier, also I loved working with Robin Simon’s great guitar playing. Power and ideas. He’s the most inventive guitarist – or musician – I’ve ever worked with. Doesn’t do cliches. Forget everyone else, no other player comes close to him, in my opinion.
With ‘My Face’, ‘Burning Car’, ‘20th Century’, ‘Cinemascope’, ‘Young Love’, ‘To Be With You’ and the amount of unreleased material in this new boxed set indicates that a follow-up in the style of ‘Metamatic’ was on the cards; how do you think you might have evolved this sound if you hadn’t had thawed out on ‘The Garden’?
I remember not wanting to repeat myself . In retrospect, though, maybe I should have carried on with the CR78 and ARP and made another record, it would have been interesting – but I was impatient as always and had another set of songs and lots of ideas left over from ‘Systems’.
However, there was the immediate influential aftermath of ‘Metamatic’; it is said Daniel Miller hired Gareth Jones to engineer DEPECHE MODE as a result of his work with you, while TUXEDOMOON were also fans and worked with him too…
Oh yes, Dan came to the studio with Depeche and I eventually managed to persuade Gareth to work with them. At first he thought Depeche were a bit light, but we’d both really liked ‘Warm Leatherette’, so he trusted Daniel and I think that’s what swung it. They all had a great instant rapport when they finally worked together. Still do.
Tuxedo were a fierce, inventive band we both liked, so Gareth was straight in there, no problem. I liked them all and their work. They were an interesting lot. I remember encountering a certain member wandering about on Shoreditch High Street in the rain in winter, no shoes on, totally oblivious, clearly hallucinating. I especially liked Blaine L Reininger’s playing – he’s a truly exceptional instinctual musician. It was good to hear him again on that ‘Blue Velvet Revisited’ album we all did recently with CULT WITH NO NAME.
Remixes of classic synth tracks rarely turn out well, an exception is Mark Reeder’s ‘Sinister Subway’ mix of ‘Underpass’, what are your feelings on this interpretation?
I think it’s superb! A big surprise, how well it turned out. He translated it for today.
I like Mark Reeder a lot. He’s one of those people you instantly feel you might have known all your life – you know, like someone you might have been at school with. His instincts and tastes are perfectly in line. He’s Mr German Electronic – Manc Branch. And his Berlin movie is brilliant….
There have already been several reissues of ‘Metamatic’, what’s the most special aspect for you about this new package for you?
The notebooks and synth patches etc, and all the experimental sounds from the master eight-track tapes. They do show another aspect of the work Gareth and I were doing then. I also liked the way Steve D’Agostino picked up on all that, some years ago, with that soundtrack for Alex Proyas’ short film.
You’ve stepped out of the live arena for a few years, are there any plans to do live dates to support this release?
No plans at the moment, but things are always brewing, so we’ll see!
The Electricity Club gives its grateful thanks to JOHN FOXX
With thanks to Steve Malins at Random PR
‘Metamatic’ is released as 3CD boxed set by Metamatic Records
THE FALL OUT CLUB may have only released three singles in their brief existence, but have become one of those bands that have fallen into cult legend.
Featuring singer Trevor Herion, drummer Paul Simon, bassist Matthew Seligman and a young synthesizer upstart named Thomas Dolby, the intensity of their best song ‘Dream Soliders’ from 1981 captured the anxiety and tribulations of young manhood in a manner not dissimilar to Northern English acts of the period such as THE WILD SWANS, HAMBI & THE DANCE, BOX OF TOYS, BLACK and FIAT LUX.
And now, Paul Simon has reissued six songs that originally appeared on THE FALLOUT CLUB’s three singles as ‘Dangerous Friends’, a mini-album bolstered by a number of remixes featuring the addition of his brother one-time ULTRAVOX Robin Simon on guitar and vocalist Gina Watson.
Swathed in synths and attached to a precise militaristic beat, ‘Dream Soliders’ was produced by Thomas Dolby and saw Herion give a mournful majestic vocal which reflected a battle with depression that haunted him throughout his short life.
Meanwhile solely composed by Dolby, the B-side ‘Pedestrian Walkway’ utilised pulsing sequencers married to a stark electro-funk backdrop and some afflicted vocalisation from Herion.
But THE FALLOUT CLUB began in 1980 with just Herion and Simon on the debut single ‘The Falling Years’. It was a drum machine propelled cocoon of sound with vocals recalling Russell Mael of SPARKS. It was something that ‘Desert Song’, the slightly overwrought B-side of ‘Wonderlust’ also had lingering within it.
Their third single ‘Wonderlust’, co-written with Thomas Dolby, saw a big leap in sound quality thanks to Dolby’s production skills and came with a dramatic Spaghetti Western flavour, lushly sculpted using electronics.
Although THE FALLOUT CLUB disbanded, Dolby found success as an artist in his own right in 1982 and Trevor Herion secured a solo deal with Interdisc, a subsidiary of Island Records.
With CULTURE CLUB producer Steve Levine on board, the melodic promise shown in THE FALLOUT CLUB looked like it might be fully realised, but the album ‘Beauty Life’ released in 1983 was unable to gain traction due to a lack of hit singles, despite the rich quality of the Chanson influenced ‘Kiss Of No Return’ and the Ferry-esque ‘Love Chains’.
Eventually overcome with severe depression, Herion sadly took his own life in October 1988.
So in a fitting tribute, the new versions of ‘Dream Soldiers’ and ‘Pedestrian Walkway’ with extra guitar and female vocals add more eerie textures to the space freed up by the cleaned up mixes.
While ‘Dangerous Friends’ still sounds comparatively rough by 21st Century standards, the important thing is that these songs are readily available again to hear, especially the wondrous lost classic that is ‘Dream Soldiers’.
Dedicated to the memory of John Trevor Herion 1959 – 1988
‘Dangerous Friends’ is released by Stratotester Records and available digitally via the usual online outlets
With the well received returns of ULTRAVOX and DURAN DURAN in the last few years, it was inevitable VISAGE would resurrect themselves. Originally a synthesized collective comprising of Midge Ure, Rusty Egan, Billy Currie, Dave Formula and the late John McGeoch, it was fronted by the face of the New Romantic scene, Steve Strange.
But on this new album, only Strange remains although Formula co-writes ‘Diaries Of A Madman’, the only track to emerge from an aborted attempt to revive the brand as VISAGE II back in 2007.
Rusty Egan was involved in the early stages of ‘Hearts & Knives’, but departed due to creative differences while despite an announcement by Strange on German TV that he was working with Ure again, the diminutive Glaswegian has distanced himself from the project although it is known he had submitted a song on condition that it involved Egan.
The absence of the key musical driving forces that gave the world ‘Fade To Grey’, ‘Mind Of A Toy’ and ‘The Damned Don’t Cry’ really exposes itself on ‘Hearts & Knives’. Even an attempt to lob the iconic Compurhythm intro of ‘Fade To Grey’ onto ‘She’s Electric’ to reference past glories cannot detract from the poor quality of this album. The first two VISAGE albums were notable for their arrangements, counterpoints and musicality while layers of Midge Ure’s backing vocals propped up Strange’s lead monotone. But like the disastrous third album ‘Beat Boy’ which saw Strange and Egan try to keep the VISAGE name alive after the departure of the ULTRAVOX and MAGAZINE crew, Strange’s voice is laid bare and simply not strong enough for a collection of songs to be based around.
Bare is a description that could be used for the music too. The production is almost demo-like; the rhythmical base is particularly thin and while it is great to hear ex-ULTRAVOX guitarist Robin Simon again, the squawky nature of his interplay becomes irritating from being pushed too far up in the mix. And despite claims that exclusively analogue synths are used, they’re hardly noticeable with the assorted technicians seemingly unaware of VISAGE’s history.
It’s not all bad; ‘Shameless Fashion’ is unsurprisingly the single and could have come off ‘Beat Boy’ while ‘Dreamer I Know’ has unleashed melodic potential. But compared with ULTRAVOX’s ‘Brilliant’ or DURAN DURAN’s ‘All You Need Is Now’ though, ‘Hearts & Knives’ just doesn’t cut it!
With thanks to Vicky Berry at Quite Great PR
‘Hearts & Knives’ is released on 20th May 2013 by Blitz Club Records as a CD and download