1977 is often seen as Year Zero for synthpop, thanks to hit singles by DONNA SUMMER, SPACE and JEAN-MICHEL JARRE.
But it was not until 1979 with TUBEWAY ARMY reaching No1 with ‘Are Friends Electric?’ that the sound of synth truly hit the mainstream. Although ‘No1 Song In Heaven’ by SPARKS had actually been a hit a few months earlier, ‘Are Friends Electric?’ was the beginning of the synth being accepted as a worthy mode of expression, rather than as a novelty. But as synths became more affordable, they became the perfect tool of youthful expression.
The set starts appropriately with OMD and ‘Messages’, one of the first tunes showcasing the warmer side of electronics following the colder wave led by Messrs Numan and Foxx. But as if to counter this next generation of youngsters, ‘Messages’ is immediately followed by the collection’s vocoder laden title song ‘Musik Music Musique’ from Zeus B Held and the superb proto-industrial ode to loveless sex ‘Coitus Interruptus’ by the much missed FAD GADGET.
Zeus B Held was later to make his impression on popular culture remixing ALPHAVILLE and SIMPLE MINDS as well producing the likes of FASHION, DEAD OR ALIVE, SPEAR OF DESTINY and TRANSVISION VAMP, but his wider breakthrough came as part of GINA X PERFORMANCE in 1979 with The Blitz Club favourite ‘No GDM’; on this compendium, the lesser-known but just as worthy ‘Vendor’s Box’ from their second album ‘X-Traordinaire’ is deservedly provided a platform.
The best producers often earn their spurs as artists and realising their limitations, use their accumulated studio nous to subvert the mainstream via pop. ‘Astroboy’ by BUGGLES sees Trevor Horn develop his sonic architecture to prove that he had another song that wasn’t ‘Video Killed The Radio Star’. Meanwhile the welcome inclusion of NEW MUSIK’s other hit ‘This World Of Water’ allows Tony Mansfield to showcase the crafted sparkle that would later go on to adorn records by CAPTAIN SENSIBLE, VICIOUS PINK, A-HA and NAKED EYES.
It may seem strange to see SPANDAU BALLET as part of this package but when they first appeared, they were considered a synthesizer band; ‘Glow’ was a UK double A side single with ‘Musclebound’ in 1981 and while it was the last synth-led track they did, their funk soul aspirations were there for all to hear. In fact, songwriter Gary Kemp had conceived ‘Glow’ with a brass section in mind, so it is now something of a curio that could be seen as a precursor to ‘Chant No1’.
SPANDAU BALLET were produced by Richard James Burgess who co-designed the Simmons SDSV; his electro-jazz combo LANDSCAPE figure with the Colin Thurston helmed ‘European Man’ which was actually designated “electronic dance music” on its single artwork some three decades before it was appropriated and abbreviated to become EDM…
Many of the usual suspects from the period like VISAGE, JAPAN, JOHN FOXX, THE HUMAN LEAGUE and OUR DAUGHTER’S WEDDING are all present and correct with familiar recordings, but interestingly (although not for the better), it’s the original version of PHIL LYNOTT’s ‘Yellow Pearl’ without the Rusty Egan drums or the Midge Ure remix that gets the nod!
One of the main beauties of these thoughtfully curated collections is to be able sway away from the obvious and feature a known-name with a lesser-known work; in the case of ULTRAVOX, it’s the occasionally Eno-inspired and Conny Plank produced ‘Waiting’ which was the B-side to their first Midge Ure fronted single ‘Sleepwalk’. Meanwhile, SUICIDE are represented by the excellent Ric Ocasek produced ‘Diamonds, Fur Coat, Champagne’ and YELLO with ‘Bimbo’, the oddball opener of the Swiss trailblazers’ debut long player ‘Solid Pleasure’.
SILICON TEENS get to feature with something other than ‘Memphis Tennessee’ and it’s the Daniel Miller‘s self-penned instrumental ‘Chip N Roll’ that has the honour, while the Mute Records founder gets another track in with ‘Brushing Your Hair’, a gloriously vibrant instrumental production and co-write for Alex Fergusson of ALTERNATIVE TV.
There’s additionally tracks by lesser known international acts or those bands that faded from view after effectively being one hit wonders. The entire career of M may have been overshadowed by the ubiquitous ‘Pop Muzik’ but Robin Scott did go on to release three albums and work with Ryuichi Sakamoto; the sombre ‘Official Secrets’ may not really have much of a hook but it contains some percolating bleepy sections that pre-date KRAFTWERK’s ‘Home Computer’ by one year.
‘A Circuit Like Me’ from Australian combo, THE METRONOMES actually sounds very 21st century with its detached female vocal and charming monosynths, while the gallop of ‘Drawn & Quartered’ by THE KORGIS is a worthy find. Now while ROCKETS found fame with a catchy robotic flavoured cover of ‘On The Road Again’ with the help of Zeus B Held, the silver faced Italians found that the vocoder suited their performance art poise and reapplied it for the self-penned space rocker ‘Galactica’.
Also possessing a bit of a gallop is LORI & THE CHAMELEONS’ wispy Morricone-influenced single ‘The Lonely Spy’ although with its acoustic strum, it is quite different from the understated electronic disco of their best known track ‘Touch’. Cut from a similar melodic post-punk cloth, the Martin Hannett produced ‘Sympathy’ from PAULINE MURRAY & THE INVISIBLE GIRLS is a reminder of how women were coming to the fore after punk in synth-assisted new wave, a fact borne out on ‘Musik Music Musique’ by the inclusion of more obscure works from TOYAH, KIM WILDE and HAZEL O’CONNOR.
‘Musik Music Musique’ is also an opportunity to become reacquainted with lost tunes of yore and ‘The Eyes Have It’ by KAREL FIALKA will be remembered by those who owned the 1980 Virgin Records compilation ‘Machines’, as will the octave driven ‘Destiny’ by DALEK I LOVE YOU. Some enjoyably avant pop adventures come courtesy of XYNN’s ‘Computed Man’ and SCIENCE’s ‘Tokyo’, while one of the more bizarre but successful experiments included is ‘I’m A Computer’ by THE GOO-Q.
One of the lesser known acts featuring with the eccentric ‘Money’ is MOEBIUS, not the member of German duo CLUSTER but an American art rock band with a penchant for DEVO. ‘Doctor …?’ by BLOOD DONOR is another wonderful discovery while of the more experimental art pieces included, NINI RAVIOLETTE’s ‘Suis-Je Normale’ delightfully comes over like a collaboration between Jane Birkin and Laurie Anderson.
Düsseldorf is often seen as the spiritual home of electronic music and there is worthy representation from DER PLAN and ‘Da Vorne Steht Ne Ampel’ illustrating how there were other dimensions to German electronic music other than that engineered by KRAFTWERK. But closing the set is the band named after the Electri_City itself, LA DÜSSELDORF with the light-hearted ‘Dampfriemen’; a quirky slice of synth “Oompah” with comedic chants and a kazoo section, it sums up the manic oddball nature of the former NEU! drummer Klaus Dinger.
There are many other tracks that have merit, but textures which reoccur on ‘Musik Music Musique’ to date stamp the period are the icy chill of the affordable ARP Quartet string machine and squawky sax, although not in an overblown jazz funk way.
Despite ‘Musik Music Musique’ comprising of a carefully researched tracklisting, a few errors do slip through; as well as the SPANDAU BALLET track being released in 1981 as already mentioned (although it was available on a very scarce Japanese-only promo sampler in late 1980), the version of ‘Kebabträume’ by DAF is the 1982 Conny Plank version from the Virgin album ‘Für Immer’ and not the Bob Giddens produced Mute Records five piece band recording which actually came out in 1980.
Then in the booklet, the Foxx fronted 1977 line-up of ULTRAVOX! gets illustrated as opposed to the New Romantic suited Midge Ure one, while LA DÜSSELDORF’s Hans Lampe is referred to as a “Keyboard Whizz” when he is actually a drummer and now performs with Michael Rother who was Klaus Dinger’s partner in NEU!; in fact Dinger handled keyboards himself under the pseudonym of Nikolaus Van Rhein.
Those are minor quibbles though, because this set is very good value and acts as a great music history lesson as well as offering the chance to hear some new vintage synth. While many may have heard of BERLIN BLONDES, THE PASSAGE, THE FALLOUT CLUB and EYELESS IN GAZA, only a few will have heard their music.
‘Musik Music Musique’ offers something of a low risk opportunity to make some new friends while becoming reacquainted with a few old and lost ones. Here’s to the 1981 follow-up set…
The soundtrack of The Blitz Club was provided by its resident DJ Rusty Egan and its story is more than well documented.
This vibrant post-punk scene, whose flamboyant clientele were dubbed ‘Blitz Kids’, ‘The Cult With No Name’ and ‘New Romantics’, became the catalyst for several bands including VISAGE, SPANDAU BALLET and CULTURE CLUB, as well as assorted fashion designers, visual artists and writers.
Rusty Egan told The Electricity Club: “I just played as much as I could fit in, it was not all disco. It was a bar and opened after work. I’d arrive 8.30–9.00pm and played all my faves till it was packed, then I got them dancing and at the end, I slowed down”.
The dancing style at The Blitz Club often involved the swaying of arms at a distance from the face like slow motion maraca shaking so as not to spoil any carefully hairsprayed styles. Meanwhile, feet movements were often impossible as the small dancefloor was often overcrowded!
With Steve Strange as doorman and fashion gatekeeper, the concept for what was initially a “Bowie Night” came together at Billy’s nightclub in Soho in Autumn 1978 in an effort to find something new and colourful to escape the oncoming drabness in the Winter Of Discontent. After a disagreement with the owners of Billy’s, the pair moved their venture to The Blitz Club.
Although Rusty Egan had been a soul boy and an active participant in punk through a stint rehearsing with THE CLASH and then as a member of THE RICH KIDS with Midge Ure, the two friends became fascinated with electronic dance music though the Giorgio Moroder produced ‘I Feel Love’ by Donna Summer and KRAFTWERK’s ‘Trans Europe Express’ album which had been a surprise favourite in New York discos and whose title track referenced David Bowie.
“There was a couple of years of punk which Midge Ure and myself weren’t too impressed with in terms of the clubs and the environment in Thatcherite Britain, it was horrible in Manchester, Birmingham and Liverpool!” recalled Egan, “So we were just trying basically to grasp the good in life, trying to be positive in a very negative time.”
Although Egan curated an eclectic playlist of available synth works supplemented with soundtracks and relatable art rock tunes, tracks were comparatively scarce in this new innovative electronic form.
So with studio time available following the split of THE RICH KIDS, Ure and Egan hit upon the idea of making their own electronic dance music for The Blitz Club, fronted by Steve Strange.
Ure came up with the name VISAGE for the project and presented the demo to his then employers at EMI Records, but it was rejected! Undeterred, the pair recruited Billy Currie from a then-in hiatus ULTRAVOX plus MAGAZINE’s Dave Formula, John McGeoch and Barry Adamson to record the first VISAGE album at the-then newly constructed Genetic Studios of Martin Rushent.
When Billy Currie toured with Gary Numan in 1979, he and fellow keyboardist Chris Payne composed what was to become ‘Fade To Grey’; it was included on the eventual ‘Visage’ album released by Polydor Records in 1980 and the rest is history, reaching No1 in West Germany!
VISAGE was the beauty of the synthesizer played with symphonic classical overtones fused to the electronic dance beat of Neu Europa and visually styled like a cross between the Edwardian dandies and Weimar Cabaret. Midge Ure remembered “it was a major part of my life and Steve was a major part of that period”.
The meeting of Ure and Currie in VISAGE led to the diminutive Glaswegian joining a relaunched ULTRAVOX who released the iconic ‘Vienna’ album in 1980. Co-produced by Conny Plank, the German always thought in terms of sound and on the title song, he imagined an old man at a piano in a desolate theatre who had been playing the same tune for forty years.
And when Billy Currie came to record his ivory parts, that was exactly the feel which Plank had engineered. It was to become a ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ for the New Romantic movement when it was released as a single, stalling at No2 despite being one of the best selling singles of 1981, gracing the UK charts at the same time as ‘Fade To Grey’.
Having started as a “Bowie Night”, the man himself became fascinated by this emergent cult with no name that he had inspired. In 1980, Jacqueline Bucknell, an assistant from his label RCA who was also a Blitz Kid, had taken Bowie down to The Blitz Club to cast extras to appear in a video for his new single ‘Ashes To Ashes’; among the chosen ones was Steve Strange.
Utilising Roland guitar synths and an ARP string machine with a final burst of ARP Odyssey, David Bowie saw ‘Ashes To Ashes’ as an epitaph for his artistic past as he lyrically revisited the Major Tom character from ‘Space Oddity’ over a decade on.
With this, The Blitz Club had now become a mainstream phenomenon as the BBC’s Nationwide programme sent an investigative team in, signalling a changing of the guard in popular culture with parallel scenes going on at The Rum Runner in Birmingham, The Warehouse in Leeds and Crocs in Rayleigh from which DURAN DURAN, SOFT CELL and DEPECHE MODE were to respectively gain their fledgling followings.
The perceived elitist exclusivity of The Blitz Club had partly become legend as a result of Steve Strange refusing entry to Mick Jagger for his sporting of blue jeans. Playing on this and adopting its electronic aesthetic to attract attention, five lads from Islington formed SPANDAU BALLET and initially only performed at special events which were by invitation only. Essentially becoming The Blitz Club’s house band, the quintet later scored worldwide success with a less radical sanitised pop soul sound.
Singer Tony Hadley said to The Electricity Club: “Our first album The ‘Journeys To Glory’ will always be one of my favourite Spandau albums, we were just young excited lads trying to make our mark on the world. There’s a rawness and energy on that album that is impossible to recreate. I love synthpop and still one of my favourite songs is SPANDAU BALLET’s first release ‘ To Cut A Long Story Short’.”
Not all enjoyed their visits to The Blitz Club; Billy MacKenzie notably highlighted the vapid nature of the scene in ASSOCIATES’ second hit single ‘Club Country’. But buoyed by its success, Steve Strange and Rusty Egan eventually vacated The Blitz Club and took over The Music Machine in 1982 and relaunched it as The Camden Palace, making it one of the UK’s first modern superclubs.
But the spirit of The Blitz Club still lives on and recently, there came the surprise announcement that Zaine Griff was to join Rusty Egan and ‘Fade To Grey’ co-writer Chris Payne to perform the songs of VISAGE in an audio-visual presentation at a number of events across Europe including W-Festival in Belgium.
Using Dave Rimmer’s 2003 book ‘New Romantics: The Look’ as an initial reference point and calling on the memories of Rusty Egan himself to verify whether he had actually played these songs in his DJ sets, here are The Electricity Club’s 25 Songs Of The Blitz Club to celebrate the flamboyant legacy of that Blitz Spirit.
ROXY MUSIC Both Ends Burning (1975)
Following-up the hit single ‘Love In The Drug’, ‘Both Ends Burning’ was ROXY MUSIC’s second ‘Siren’ call. With Bryan Ferry’s stylised but anguished vocals, it was a track which laid down the sophisticated art pop trail that JAPAN and DURAN DURAN would later be pursuing. Featuring a prominent coating of ARP Solina string machine sweetened by hypnotic bass and squawky sax, ‘Both Ends Burning’ is probably the most under rated single in the Roxy canon.
Available on the ROXY MUSIC album ‘The Best Of’ via Virgin Records
With a title that was an anagram of TALKING HEADS, the New York art school combo were the inspiration for the frantic metallic romp of ‘Kings Lead Hat’ which became a favourite at The Blitz Club. Brian Eno aped David Byrne in his vocal delivery, while he was later to produce three of the band’s albums as he moved further away from art rock as a solo artist. The song was later covered by ULTRAVOX in their live sets during the early phase their Midge Ure-fronted incarnation.
KRAFTWERK reacted as they generally did to negative criticism by writing a song. A response to a review that said their motionless persona at live performances was like ‘Showroom Dummies’, the sparse eerie atmosphere was punctuated by a tight and rigid electronic drum sound that was completely new and alien, something Rusty Egan was looking to emulate. Incidentally, the count-in of “eins zwei drei vier” was a deadpan Germanic parody of THE RAMONES!
An Iggy Pop collaboration with David Bowie, the Vampiric glam of ‘Nightclubbing’ was the former James Osterberg’s commentary on what it was like hanging out with him every night. Utilising a simple piano melody and a cold Schaffel rhythm via the mechanical precision of a Roland drum machine, legend has it that Iggy insisted on keeping it, saying “it kicks ass, it’s better than a drummer”. Alongside ‘Lust For Life’, ‘Nightclubbing’ also featured in the soundtrack of ‘Trainspotting’.
Available on the IGGY POP album ‘The Idiot’ via Virgin Records
Utilising Warren Cann’s modified Roland TR77 rhythm machine, this was John Foxx moving ULTRAVOX! into the moody ambience pioneered by CLUSTER, away from the art rock of the self-titled first album and the punky interim single ‘Young Savage’. ‘Hiroshima Mon Amour’ had initially been premiered as a far spikier uptempo number for the B-side of ‘ROckWrok’. Incidentally, the ‘CC’ credited on saxophone is not Chris Cross, but a member of the art collective GLORIA MUNDI.
Available on the ULTRAVOX! album ‘Ha! Ha! Ha!’ via Island Records
LA DÜSSELDORF’s second long player ‘Viva’ was their most successful album and the title track was a regular staple at The Blitz Club. An oddball slice of cosmic space rock sung in French and German by Klaus Dinger, proceedings were aided by the dual motorik thud of Hans Lampe and Thomas Dinger. Performed with the same group of musicians, ‘E-Musik’ by Dinger’s previous band NEU! had also been a favourite at The Blitz Club, influencing the intro of the ULTRAVOX B-side ‘Face To Face’.
Commissioned by Alan Parker for the graphic prison drama ‘Midnight Express’, the noted director wanted some electronic accompaniment to the crucial chase scene of the film in the style of ‘I Feel Love’. The bassline from Giorgio Moroder’s own 1976 cover of ‘Knights In White Satin’ was reappropriated. The fruit of their labours was this Oscar winning Hi-NRG romp bursting with VANGELIS-like keyboard melodies, driven by an intense slamming and syncopated by popping pulses.
Already a fan of German music and ‘Autobahn’ by KRAFTWERK in particular, Daniel Miller’s sense of experimentation and an adoption of punk’s DIY ethic led him to buying a Korg 700s synthesizer. Wanting to make a punk single with electronics, he wrote and recorded the stark JG Ballard influenced ‘Warm Leatherette’ as an independent single release on his own Mute Records. Meanwhile, The Blitz Kids came up with their own bizarre twisting and turning dance entering a human arch to accompany it…
The late Wolfgang Riechmann is the forgotten man in the Düsseldorf axis having been in SPIRITS OF SOUND with Michael Rother and Wolfgang Flür; had his life not been tragically cut short, he certainly had the potential to become a revered and respected cult musical figure. The opening title track of his only album chimed like a Cold War spy drama before the beautifully almost oriental melodic piece imagined PINK FLOYD meeting CLUSTER over a delicate Schaffel beat.
ZAGER & EVANS’ pessimistic ditty was perfect fodder for the first VISAGE demo. Steered by Midge Ure using his freshly acquired Yamaha synths and punctuated by Rusty Egan’s incessant Roland drum machine and synthetic percussion, ‘In The Year 2525’ was perfectly resigned aural dystopia from its vocodered intro onwards. Steve Strange’s deadpan fronted the sombre tone perfectly but Ure’s vocal backing and counterpoints added that extra slice of musicality.
Available on the VISAGE album ‘The Face’ via Universal Records
One of first Japanese bands to have a Top 20 hit single in the UK was YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA in 1980. ‘Firecracker’ was a cover of a 1959 composition by Martin Denny but actually released as ‘Computer Game (Theme From The Invader)’. Recorded in 1978, the parent self-titled album was noted for its use of the then brand new Roland MC8 Micro-Composer to control the synthesizers. The result was a clean, exotic pop sound that was unusual, even in the synthpop heartland of Europe.
Produced by Zeus B Held, ‘No GDM’ was written by androgynous art history student Gina Kikoine in honour of the “great dark man” Quentin Crisp and featured an array of ARP and Moog synths to signal the birth of a new European Underground. Unsurprisingly, the song gained heavy rotation at The Blitz Club. The nonchalant, detached vocal influence of GINA X PERFORMANCE went on to be heard in the music of LADYTRON, CLIENT and MISS KITTIN.
Working with Giorgio Moroder, David Sylvian submitted ‘European Son’ for the session in Los Angeles but it was rejected by the producer. Instead, the Italian offered several of his demos, of which, Sylvian picked the one he considered to be the worst so that he could stamp more of his own vision for the developing synthesized sound of JAPAN. Considered to be too avant-garde at its inception but ahead of its time, unbeknown to Moroder and Sylvian, they had just conceived DURAN DURAN!
Available on the JAPAN album ‘Assemblage’ via Sony BMG Records
THOMAS LEER & ROBERT RENTAL Day Breaks Night Heals (1979)
Originally released on THROBBING GRISTLE’s Industrial Records, ‘The Bridge’ album saw Scottish duo Thomas Leer and Robert Rental trading vocal and instrumental duties. With an air of FAD GADGET, ‘Day Breaks Night Heals’ showcased some of Leer’s pop sensibility that was later apparent in his Arista solo period and in ACT with Claudia Brücken, while Rental maintained a dark experimental presence in this slice of artful electronic blues. Robert Rental sadly passed away in 2000.
Available on the album ‘The Bridge’ via The Grey Area
Manipulating their influences like SPARKS and MAGAZINE with a very European austere, Glasgow’s SIMPLE MINDS were “underground, pulsating through” thanks to the rhythmic interplay of Derek Forbes’ bass with Mick McNeil’s synths. Charlie Burchill was now thinking beyond the sound of a conventional electric guitar while the precision of under rated drummer Brian McGee locked the glue. That just left Jim Kerr to throw his bizarre shapes and pontificate over this dark avant disco.
Having graced the UK Top 20 again with the tremendous ‘No1 Song In Heaven’, SPARKS continued their Giorgio Moroder produced rejuvenation and had an even bigger hit with ‘Beat The Clock’. Percussively augmented by Keith Forsey who was later to produce Billy Idol, Russell Mael’s flamboyant falsetto more than suited the electronic disco sound while the programmed backing meant that Ron Mael could stoically maintain his image of doing nothing.
Belgian trio TELEX comprised of Marc Moulin, Dan Lacksman and Michel Moers, with the intention of “making something really European, different from rock, without guitar”. Opening their debut album ‘Looking for Saint Tropez’ which also contained their funeral robotic cover of ‘Rock Around The Clock’, ‘Moscow Diskow’ took the Trans-Siberian Express to Moscow, adding a funkier groove compared with KRAFTWERK’s ‘Trans Europe Express’ excursion for what was to become a cult international club favourite.
From their third album ’20 Jazz Funk Greats’, the uncompromising THROBBING GRISTLE led by the late Genesis P-Orridge were neither jazzy or funky! Gloriously sequenced by Chris Carter via a Roland System-100M modular, ‘Hot On The Heels Of Love’ was mutant dystopian disco lento with a hypnotic rhythm punctuated by a synthetic whip-crack for that S&M twist as Cosey Fanni Tutti’s whispered vocals competed with pentatonic melodies and electronic drill noises!
Zaine Griff had a Bowie-esque poise was tailor made for The Blitz Club and Tony Visconti saw enough in him to produce his debut solo album ‘Ashes & Diamonds’. Featuring Hans Zimmer on synths, the title song was sitting just outside the Top 40 and earned a performance on Top Of The Pops but the episode was pulled thanks to a Musicians Union strike. Demonstrating the song’s longevity despite it not being a major hit, it was recently covered live by American alternative rockers MGMT.
‘Being Boiled’ was the first song Philip Oakey wrote with Martyn Ware and Ian Craig Marsh for THE HUMAN LEAGUE, his bizarre lyrics being the result of a confusion between Buddhism and Hinduism while highlighting the plight of silk worms. Intended to reimagine FUNKADELIC’s funky overtones as synthetic horns, this brassier re-recorded version with fatter electronic beats was included on the ‘Holiday 80’ EP and the ‘Travelogue’ album, becoming a dance staple of The Blitz Club.
Available as a bonus track on THE HUMAN LEAGUE album ‘Travelogue’ via Virgin Records
Didier Marouani wrote the worldwide hit ‘Magic Fly’ but having left the band, Roland Romanelli and Jannick Top continued as SPACE. The rousing thrust of ‘Tender Force’ was, like ‘Magic Fly’, produced by Jean-Philippe Iliesco who later invited Rusty Egan to contribute a timbale heavy remix of this synth disco tune ; he was later to begin an ill-fated business relationship with Iliesco who was named by Midge Ure in his ‘If I Was’ autobiography as responsible for putting a wedge between him and Egan in VISAGE…
Although now known as a duo, eccentric Swiss pioneers YELLO actually began as a trio of Dieter Meier, Boris Blank and Carlos Peron. Later remixed and extended, the military drum tattoo at the start of ‘Bostich’ was deceiving as an electronic throb quickly set in. This was perfect avant garde disco for The Blitz Club with a quirky range of vocal pitches from Meier while the track also included a style of speedy European rap later that was repeated on their only major UK hit ‘The Race’ in 1988.
Available on the YELLO album ‘Essential’ via Mercury Records
Electronic pop music was often seen as pretentious, LANDSCAPE had their tongues firmly in their cheeks as evidenced by ‘Einstein A Go-Go’. “The song is a cautionary tale about the apocalyptic possibilities of nuclear weapons falling into the hands of theocratic dictators and religious extremists.” said the band’s Richard Burgess, “We talked about the track conceptually before we wrote it and our objective was to make a very simple, cartoon-like track with a strong hook that would belie the meaning of the lyrics!”
Written as a B-side instrumental for The Blitz Club’s resident dance troupe SHOCK to work a routine to, ‘R.E.R.B.’ was constructed by Rusty Egan and Richard Burgess, hence the title. Burgess had been doing the linking interludes with a Fairlight on the first VISAGE album and brought in Roland System 700 modular driven by the Micro-composer while Egan triggered the brain of the synthesized drum system that Burgess had been working on with Dave Simmons for its punchy drum fills.
Available on the SHOCK single ‘R.E.R.B.’ via Blitz Club Records
Produced by Daniel Miller, one of the first SOFT CELL recordings on signing to Phonogram was the seminal ‘Memorabilia’. While not a hit, it was critically acclaimed and become a favourite at The Blitz Club. Dave Ball’s deep Roland Synthe-Bass and klanky Korg Rhythm KR55 provided a distinctive danceable backbone to accompany Marc Almond’s souvenir collecting metaphors about sexual promiscuity. After this, SOFT CELL were signed by Rusty Egan to Metropolis Music for publishing.
Ever bought an album on the strength of a single, only to find that “this is not the single I am looking for”??
As long as there has been a music business, artists and producers have been forever tinkering with their work. Sometimes it is to improve an album track for single release by remixing or even re-recording it. Or it is vice-versa to create a new vision for a song or just to make it sound more like the material on a latterly recorded long player. But in many cases, it’s the version that was made for mass consumption through radio play that remains superior and best loved.
This list celebrates the frustration of being stuck with the wrong version and the dilemma of whether to shell out extra cash to go out and buy the proper version.
Restricted to one single per artist and presented in chronological and then alphabetical order, here are The Electricity Club’s 25 Single Versions That Are Better Than The Album Versions…
JOHN FOXX No-One Driving (1980)
While ‘Metamatic’ is an iconic long player and includes ‘Underpass’, its second single opted for a reworking of ‘No-One Driving’, rather than the more obvious ‘A New Kind Of Man’. Much busier and expansive than the comparatively tame album version, it provided JOHN FOXX with another Top40 hit, something which had eluded him in ULTRAVOX who interestingly also produced a better single version with ‘Quiet Man’ from ‘Systems Of Romance’ while he was in the band.
Available on the JOHN FOXX boxed set ‘Metamatic’ via Edsel Records
On OMD’s debut self-titled album, ‘Messages’ just a song with potential as a single. Utilising a pulsing repeat function on a Korg Micro-Preset shaped by hand twisting the octave knob, it was decided to re-record ‘Messages’ for its single release. Produced by Mike Howlett, the new version included the addition of separately recorded drums for a cleaner snap alongside the basic primary chord structures and one fingered melodies to produce a magnificent UK chart hit that reached No13.
Despite being alongside DEPECHE MODE, SOFT CELL, BLANCMANGE and THE THE on the now iconic ‘Some Bizarre Album’, B-MOVIE were unable to secure a Top40 chart entry with the poignant magnificence of the Mike Thorne produced ‘Remembrance Day’. The struggle for success coupled with internal tensions led to the band fragmenting by 1983. Finally releasing an album in 1985 on Sire Records entitled ‘Forever Running’, it featured an inferior re-recording of ‘Remembrance Day’.
The combination of obscure lyrics from Ian Burden like “Stroke a pocket with a print of a laughing sound” and a screaming chant gave THE HUMAN LEAGUE their breakthrough hit. Produced by the late Martin Rushent, bursts of Roland System 700 white noise were trigged from an MC8 Micro-composer for the rhythm track. But for the subsequent ‘Dare’ album, ‘The Sound Of The Crowd’ was reworked with a Linn Drum and with the chant also pushed back, it lost much of its dystopian tension.
More muscular and dynamic, ‘The Art Of Parties’ explored a funkier template was a move away from the mannered Roxy muzak that JAPAN had been associated with. Originally produced by John Punter, when it came to the album ‘Tin Drum’, new producer Steve Nye smoothed off some of the track’s tribal weirdness and muted its brassy punch. While the end result was tighter, synthier and had more melody, the band preferred to play the original single version live…
The first track on side two of the last two JEAN-MICHEL JARRE albums provided the trailer singles for radio and ‘Magnetic Fields’ was no different. But in a new approach, the French Maestro offered up a toughed up remix where the klanky lightweight tones of the Korg Rhythm KR55 were replaced by bangier drum samples while the synth stabs on the bridge were turned up. But as Jarre’s audience preferred albums, this superior remix got lost over the years and missed inclusion on his many compilations.
Everyone knows the wonderful hit single version of this Northern Soul cover with its hypnotic Roland Compurhythm running all the way through it. But for the ‘Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret’ album, ‘Tainted Love’ was shortened by 2 seconds while the second phrase became the first, thus strangely muting the emotive impact of the original single. Annoyingly, this inferior version crept onto the first SOFT CELL compilation ‘The Singles’ and the more recent ‘Keychains & Snowstorms’ collection.
With its iconic honky tonk piano line, ‘Party Fears Two’ was a magnificent song about dealing with the perils of schizophrenia. It also kick started a brief period when ASSOCIATES subverted the UK charts with an avant pop approach that fitted in with the Synth Britannia template of the times. A Top10 hit and emotive to the nth degree, the original single version is still the best and total perfection, while the longer album remix with its ambient intro and stop ending lost some of the magic.
The original ‘Height Of The Fighting’ from the second side of ‘Penthouse & Pavement’ was sonically an extension of ‘Travelogue’, Martyn Ware’s last album as a member of THE HUMAN LEAGUE. The more commercial single version took the funkier approach of the first side of ‘Penthouse & Pavement’, adding synthetic drums and a meatier bass synth attack. Also featuring the BEGGAR & CO brass section who had already played on records by SPANDAU BALLET, it was a glorious electronic soul hybrid.
Led by Iva Davies, the song which got Australian combo ICEHOUSE noticed by a wider audience in the UK during their tenure opening for SIMPLE MINDS was a slight reworking of the chilling synth laden ‘Icehouse’, the title track of their debut album from when the band were called FLOWERS. Featuring a strange offbeat and the mannerisms of GARY NUMAN before blitzing out for the song’s flanged guitar climax, ‘Icehouse’ was easily as good as anything on VISAGE’s eponymous debut.
Having been outflanked by DURAN DURAN in the New Romantic debut album stakes, SPANDAU BALLET explored Britfunk with ‘Chant No1′, but then took a strange about turn with their next album ‘Diamond’ featuring a number of ethnic art pieces. Fresh from working with ABC, Trevor Horn reworked Richard James Burgess’ understated production of ‘Instinction’ from the album. Throwing in extra synths played by Anne Dudley and extra bombastic percussion; it effectively saved SPANDAU BALLET’s career.
Still Matt Johnson’s finest five minutes as THE THE, ‘Uncertain Smile’ on its single release featured a wonderfully rigid TR808 pattern, lovely layers of synths and a variety of woodwinds including flute and sax. Produced by Mike Thorne, this fuller sounding and more emotive take far outstripped the bland and overlong ‘Soul Mining’ album cut produced by Paul Hardiman which included the extended boogie-woogie piano of Jools Holland tagged onto the end…
Inspired by the burgeoning New York club scene, Rusty Egan brought in John Luongo to remix ‘Night Train’ from ‘The Anvil’ album much to Midge Ure’s dismay; it lead to the diminutive Glaswegian ending his tenure with VISAGE. But Luongo’s rework was sharper and more rigid, pushing forward the female backing vocals to soulful effect in particular and replacing the clumpier snare sounds of the original album version with cleaner AMS samples.
Extended version available on the compilation boxed set ’12”/80s – Volume 2′ (V/A) via Family Recordings
At over eight and a half minutes, the album version of ‘Sister Surprise’ on the ‘Mad Max’ inspired ‘Warriors’ was far too long, plus something was missing. For its single release, this slice of synthetic funk rock was shortened and sharpened, while a new vocal hook was added over Numan’s now ubiquitous “woah-oh-oh” refrains which provided a much better chorus. Despite this improvement and an appearance of ‘Top Of The Pops’, it was the lowest charting GARY NUMAN single to date…
“Somebody’s fooling around…” – the ‘Seven & The Ragged Tiger’ album sessions had not been a happy experience for DURAN DURAN with the prolonged mixing leading to a fall out between bassist John Taylor and producer Alex Sadkin. ‘The Reflex’ had potential but this was not fully realised. Enter Nile Rodgers who gave the track a rhythmic lift and played around with the then-new innovation of sampling, using various vocals to create new hooks and phrases for a monster international hit.
Available on the DURAN DURAN album ‘Greatest’ via EMI Records
Comedian Lenny Henry summed things up best in a sketch where he entered a record shop to buy a single and was then offered a plethora of versions by the assistant:”I JUST WANT THE VERSION THEY GOT RIGHT!” – ZTT’s marketing exploits with 12 inch mixes are well known, but they played around with album versions too and with the version of ‘Two Tribes’ on ‘Welcome To The Pleasure Dome’, they got it wrong and took out the piper call middle eight!
Available on the FRANKIE GOES TO HOLLYWOOD album ‘Frankie Said’ via Union Square
There once was a time when it was not cool to like ABBA but BLANCMANGE changed all that with their version of ‘The Day Before You Came’, a song many regard as the last ABBA song. Combining that noted Swedish melancholy and melodicism with the artful quirkiness of Synth Britannia, the more compact single version produced by Peter Collins considered improved on the ‘Mange Tout’ album version helmed by John Luongo and made more of Neil Arthur’s deep melodramatics.
The collective strength of A-HA over the years has been to produce great melancholic pop in that classic Nordic tradition, but also add a contrasting glorious optimism. The photogenic trio have offered many great ballads over the years such as ‘Stay On These Roads’ and ‘Summer Moved On’, but their best known one is ‘Hunting High & Low’. Originally produced by Tony Mansfield, it was dramatically remixed for single release by Alan Tarney with the addition of orchestrations by Anne Dudley.
Originally produced by Stephen Hague, ‘Suburbia’ was a good if slightly underwhelming album track from ‘Please’ that got transformed into a more fully realised epic in a re-recording produced by Sarm West graduate Julian Mendelson. Complete with barking dogs, widescreen synths and thundering rhythms, the more aggressive overtones in the single version of PET SHOP BOYS‘ clever social commentary made ‘Suburbia’ a big hit, particularly in West Germany.
With DEPECHE MODE’s Trans-Atlantic breakthrough album ‘Music For The Masses’, the good but meandering track heading side two never realised its potential. But with PET SHOP BOYS, NEW ORDER, DURAN DURAN, ERASURE and MADONNA remixer Shep Pettibone ‘Behind The Wheel’, a funkier bassline and syncopated rhythms were added to the much better single version, giving the song a far more accessible groove that could fill alternative club dancefloors in America.
‘Republic’ produced by Stephen Hague was not the finest hour of NEW ORDER, so it was something of a surprise when London Records chose to release the underwhelming ‘Spooky’ as the fourth single from it. But it was remixed by FLUKE, a house dance trio who had already worked with BJÖRK and were influenced by CABARET VOLTAIRE and GIORGIO MORODER. Rhythmically more spacious, this superior ‘Minimix’ allowed the best elements of the song to shine.
Available on the NEW ORDER single ‘Spooky’ via London Records
Listen to the ‘So Tough’ album version of ‘You’re In A Bad Way’ and it is far too understated. With a brighter punchier recording helmed by A-HA producer Alan Tarney for the single version, the acoustic guitar was pushed back while vintage synths and a lovely ‘Telstar’ motif was added for a vastly superior rendition of the song. Sometimes more can mean more and this slice of HERMAN’S HERMITS inspired pop brilliance gave SAINT ETIENNE a well-deserved No12 hit single.
Orbit’s concept of adapting classical works was because he wanted to make a chill-out album that had some good tunes. But trance enthusiasts who loved Dutch producer Ferry Corsten’s blinding remix of Samuel Barber’s ‘Adagio For Strings’ will have been shocked if they had bought its virtually beatless parent long player. Sounding not unlike JEAN-MICHEL JARRE set to a 4/4 dance beat, this single version actually reached No4 in the UK charts.
In a poor period for Andy and Vince, the ‘Loveboat’ album’s problem wasn’t just the emphasis on guitar driven dynamics, but it also lacked the usual ERASURE charm despite production by Flood. Even the album’s one potentially great song ‘The Moon & The Sky’ was missing an uplifting chorus, something which was only fixed with the Heaven Scent Radio Rework version by Jason Creasey that was later released as an extended play single.
With vocals by KINGS OF CONVENIENCE vocalist Erlend Øye, ‘Remind Me’ was one of the highlights of RÖYKSOPP’s excellent debut album ‘Melody AM’ which fitted in with dance music culture’s penchant for chill-out. But for single release, the track was given a more rhythmic KRAFTWERK styled feel via ‘Someone Else’s Radio Remix’ by Marisa Jade Marks. The track drew in new listeners, although they would have had a major shock to the system on hearing the album original…
Available on the RÖYKSOPP download single ‘Remind Me’ via Wall Of Sound
The Union Club in Soho was the location of ‘Question Mark’, a panel discussion hosted by Wall Of Sound and Back To the Phuture’s Mark Jones.
The four guests gathered for the fascinating and extremely good humoured chat about their experiences in the music business were OMD’s Paul Humphreys, HEAVEN 17’s Glenn Gregory, Steve Norman from SPANDAU BALLET and T’PAU vocalist Carol Decker.
A series that has been going for several years, Mark Jones announced this was to be the last free session to which Carol Decker amusingly quipped “Will I have to pay to talk about myself?”
To begin proceedings, Jones asked the quartet about their first record purchases; Carol Decker remembered it was Michael Jackson’s first solo album while for Paul Humphreys, it was ‘Make Me Smile (Come Up & See Me)’ by Steve Harley and Glenn Gregory had ‘Can The Can’ by Suzi Quatro. However, both Humphreys and Gregory agreed that the turning point for them was hearing ‘Autobahn’ by KRAFTWERK in 1975.
When asked about their first instruments, Humphreys confessed that as an “electronics geek”, he built his own sound making device because he initially could not afford to buy a synth. Gregory had an acoustic guitar which he promptly broke while Decker admitted that although she knew her chords and notes, she couldn’t really play the piano very well.
But it was Norman that had the most impressive CV; starting as a drummer before moving to guitar having been influenced listening to Hank Marvin, he then recorded the sax solo on ‘True’ just six months after first taking lessons. All four guests and the host also discussed their adventures in the murky world of synthesizers. When Jones told of how his mother bought him a Yamaha CS01 from the Grattans catalogue, Norman recalled how SPANDAU BALLET used a Yamaha CS10 on ‘To Cut A Long Story Short’ during the Islington quintet’s initial dalliances in synthpop.
Perhaps surprisingly, the more AOR inclined T’PAU did their demos using a synth and its built-in sequencer with Decker telling how she and writing partner Ron Rogers had written their breakthrough hit ‘Heart & Soul’ entirely around a bass synth sequence which ended up in the final mix.
Of course, Humphreys’ and Gregory’s histories with OMD and HEAVEN 17 respectively are well documented. But both found they had to constantly defend their art against those who didn’t consider the use of synthesizers as “real music”.
When questions were opened out to the audience, The Electricity Club took the opportunity to remind the pair that the Musicians Union tabled a motion in May 1982 to ban synthesizers from recording and live performance. Having already shared how in the pursuit of a more electronic dominated sound, his first serious band THE ID shrunk from eight members to two in order become OMD, Humphreys gleefully told the story of how the MU kept giving him and Andy McCluskey a hard time over using a tape recorder, so the Wirral duo mischievously “put ‘Keep Music Live’ stickers on the tape reels!”.
Meanwhile when HEAVEN 17 performed on ‘Top Of the Pops’ for the first time in 1981 with ‘Play To Win’, Gregory told of how the heavily unionised show, where MU membership was compulsory, refused to let Martyn Ware and Ian Craig Marsh perform behind synths, insisting that they used a guitar and glockenspiel instead!!
But remembering how T’PAU had used a Fairlight for their orchestral arrangements, Decker expressed that “it did prick my conscience” that she might be putting musicians out of work, with the technology having advanced to such a degree that for the untrained ear, it was difficult to tell the difference. Steve Norman also had a vivid technology nightmare when while using Yamaha WX7 MIDI wind controller connected to a DX7 live, it suddenly changed settings in the middle of a moody solo under the heat of stage lights!
When asked about new music, Gregory admitted he listened to very little. However, recollecting his own experience of how GARY NUMAN looked after OMD when the young duo opened for the electronic pioneer in 1979, Humphreys said OMD tried to help young bands where possible with no buy-on fee for support slots, citing the much-missed pop noir combo MIRRORS as one of the best acts in recent years.
This drew the discussion onto how safe and unadventurous the major record labels had become in recent years with their lack of vision towards artist development, in their quest to protect their dwindling revenue streams.
On the subject of music formats, Humphreys said he still very much believed in the artistic statement of the album and how you could not skip tracks on vinyl, so the less immediate tracks had to be absorbed and accepted in order for the work to grow. Meanwhile, Norman felt the EP was the platform of the future, as a new artist could offer less but more frequently, in order to engage an audience.
While Humphreys still embraced vinyl and CD, he confirmed he was very much against using Spotify, not just due of the poor royalty rates paid to artists but as he also revealed, the major record companies hold shares in the Swedish based concern… so no conflicts of interest there!
Meanwhile Decker loved the convenience of listening to music digitally while expressing a slight, and not unshared, bemusement at the vinyl revival.
To end the evening, Mark Jones amusingly challenged his guests to sing a song without accompaniment. Carol Decker was first up, belting out ‘Little China Girl In Your Hand’, an improvised mash-up of her own hit tune and the Iggy / Bowie classic.
Not known as a vocalist, Steve Norman gamely launched into a rendition of ‘Gold’ to enthusiastic cheers while initially reluctant, Paul Humphreys sang ‘Enola Gay’ after being goaded by Jones, with some audience assistance. Finishing the impromptu sing-song, Glenn Gregory gave a timely and relevant acapella version of ‘(We Don’t Need) This Fascist Groove Thang’.
It was a fabulously entertaining two hours with Carol Decker perhaps stealing the show from the boys with a salt of the earth persona that was akin to your favourite auntie who enjoys a tipple or two at Christmas, like a cross between Julie Waters and Tracey Ullman.
Providing amusing and engaging group conversation that was also educational, the fact that all four guests continue to have successful careers today is testament to their longevity and cultural impact during a more open and therefore competitive musical era.
People are still interested in this music not because of “nostalgia” as one member of the audience suggested, but because of its quality, inventiveness and authenticity.
Now, that really doesn’t happen that much these days… and that’s why people go Back To The Phuture 😉
The Electricity Club gives its sincerest thanks to Mark Jones
CHRIS PAYNE is best known as being a long standing member of GARY NUMAN’s band between 1979 to 1990.
First appearing with Numan as part of TUBEWAY ARMY when they appeared on ‘Old Grey Whistle Test’ to perform ‘Are Friends Electric?’, he played a vital role on the synth pioneer’s solo debut ‘The Pleasure Principle’ sharing keyboard duties and contributing the beautiful viola part on ‘Complex’.
It was while on ‘The Touring Principle’ that during soundchecks, Payne and fellow keyboardist Billy Currie (on hiatus from ULTRAVOX) began jamming with a number they’d written entitled ‘Toot City’. The pair eventually recorded the track at Genetic Studios with band mate Ced Sharpley on drums; a few months later it was reworked by Midge Ure and morphed into ‘Fade To Grey’, a 1981 No1 in West Germany for VISAGE.
Although always remembered for an iconic video featuring Steve Strange and Princess Julia, musically ‘Fade To Grey’ was shaped by the hypnotic synth bassline and haunting string tones played by Payne on a Polymoog.
While Numan was on a much publicised touring hiatus after three spectacular farewell shows at Wembley Arena in 1981, Payne joined Cedric Sharpley and guitarist RRussell Bell in DRAMATIS, releasing an album ‘For Future Reference’ on Elton John’s Rocket Records.
After leaving the Numan band, Payne moved to France where he began a successful career in Celtic music as the mastermind behind CELTIC LEGEND. More recently, he has returned to the synthpop fold, co-writing five songs with RUSTY EGAN for his new album ‘Welcome To The Dancefloor’.
With the revival of his old side project ELECTRONIC CIRCUS as well, CHRIS PAYNE chatted to The Electricity Club…
It was a few years ago that RUSTY EGAN first engaged you to work on some songs with him. Are you pleased overall with how your co-compositions have turned out on his ‘Welcome To The Dancefloor’ long player?
Yes, very pleased. Having spent many years composing orchestral music plus the CELTIC LEGEND project, it was great to get back to synth basics again.
Basically my role was to create backing tracks of synth pads, bass lines and rough arrangements with various synth lines, piano etc and hand the tracks over to Rusty, who then worked on melodies and lyrics with new drum patterns etc.
It is an amazing feeling when you hear the melodies for the first time. On a couple of the tracks, it completely transformed the song into something I could never have imagined. It’s a very good way of working providing you’re not too precious about your original ideas.
I have to hand it to Rusty, he had gone through some horrendous moments to get this album done, but credit to him. He never gave up, whereas a lot of musicians would have. I admired his determination and I guess that’s what kept me in touch with him during the entire period. Plus I wanted these songs to be finished as much as he did.
How did you feel when Midge Ure reworked ‘Glorious’?
It was like completing a cycle and I remember punching the air with joy when I first heard Midge’s version. I should explain the background to ‘Glorious’ and it will make more sense.
For a while, I had had this idea of writing a track called ‘Glorious’ with reference to the English National Anthem in the chorus of the song but slightly transformed. “I’m feeling glorious, you make me feel so victorious” type of thing, which mad though I am, I thought could be quite interesting.
I tried to get the point over to Rusty and he came back with some tunes he’d written with another very talented songwriter called Gerard O’Connell. They were good, but it was all a bit chilled and not what I’d envisioned.
Well, time passed and one day I had a call from Rusty saying that Midge had recorded some of his ideas on ‘Glorious’. When I heard it for the first time I was delighted. Midge had transformed the chorus into this huge anthem sound and stripped back the verses and added his guitar and voice. It’s curious that 35 years earlier ‘Fade to Grey’ was also constructed this way with Billy Currie and I doing the backing track and Midge adding lyrics and melody. He really made the song into what you now hear, and I have to say it is probably my favourite track on the album.
And what about ‘Lonely Highway’ featuring Tony Hadley?
That song has a weird history; I had come up with this simple synth riff and very basic simple chord structure using very old analogue synth sounds through a Roland JV 1080 and Alesis Quadrasynth. The odd thing was that Rusty tried loads of very good singers on the song and surprisingly, they just didn’t work. It didn’t make a great deal of sense to me as both Gerard and Rusty had come up with a great vocal melody and the key was fine for most singers.
Anyway, ‘Lonely Highway’ was lying around for about two years and suddenly I get an email from Rusty telling me that his friend Tony Hadley from SPANDAU BALLET had agreed to record it. That was another revelation for my ‘ageing’ ears. What a vocal he produced, simply stunning and the way he sings it, you’re hooked in from the start.
One thing that is apparent is Rusty’s choice of singers. It’s true that he has used famous names like Tony Hadley, Midge Ure, Arno Carstens and Peter Hook, but equally he has had some outstanding vocalists that have given such colour to the songs. So acknowledgement has to go to these amazing singers including Kira Porter, Erik Stein (who performed with us in Düsseldorf), Andy Huntley and Emily Kavanaugh.
You had the chance to put your vox humana Polymoog touches on songs like ‘Hero’ and ‘Ballet Dancer’, was that intentional?
Yes, very much so. When Rusty first approached me with a view to writing songs for what was then going to be another VISAGE project, I intentionally worked with old analogue sounds admittedly by using plug-ins rather than the original instruments (have you seen the prices of Minimoogs and Polymoogs these days???).
The Polymoog vox humana was the obvious one for me as it is synonymous with the early Numan sounds of ‘The Pleasure Principle’ and ‘Telekon’, plus ‘Fade To Grey’. This was my attempt to place sounds on Rusty’s album directly relating to my past life as Numan’s keyboard player from 1979 until 1990, and with DRAMATIS and VISAGE’s ‘Fade to Grey’. I thought it might work and having heard what Rusty did to ‘Hero’, it worked very well.
‘Evermore’ has turned into a frisky little number now with the vocals of Emily Kavanaugh from LA synthpop duo NIGHT CLUB, did that surprise you?
A big surprise; this was the very first track I presented to Rusty back in 2011 and he quickly added the guitar of ex-ULTRAVOX guitarist Robin Simon who played with that very distinctive sound that he used on ‘Systems of Romance’. Gerard had sung on it and although it was only supposed to be a guide vocal, it sounded very good and then it was kind of shelved for ages.
Then as always with Rusty, this MP3 arrives one morning with a female voice recorded on ‘Evermore’. Of course, I hadn’t a clue what was going on and when I questioned Rusty, he told me about Emily Kavanaugh’s role in the song.
Her vocals fit ‘Evermore’ perfectly and in my opinion have given it a slight change in direction. She is a very talented young singer and performer, and I like her non-conformist rebellious attitude. She’s definitely going far if you ask me.
You played a short selection of material as part of the ELECTRI_CITY_CONFERENCE 2016 in Düsseldorf, how was it for you to be back on stage again after so long?
I had done some GARY NUMAN shows in 2012 as a guest performer so it wasn’t as if I hadn’t been on stage for ever. But you’re right, I’m not a regular performer and I’d like this to change.
The Düsseldorf Festival was a great weekend and I got to meet some great people over there including event organiser Rudi Esch who is an amazing person. Also putting together this event in what is after all a historic city for electronic music was something very special.
The show went very well considering Rusty and I with another keyboard player Nick Bitzenis from the band MARSHEAUX had never rehearsed together. I remember meeting Nick at the hotel for the first time and having a coffee with him and Rusty comes up to me and says: “Guys, we’re 10 minutes short so Chris, can you improvise something?”. I just looked at Nick and buried my head into my cup of coffee in despair!
Because of the lack of preparation, the show was a bit scary in that respect but it worked well in the end for a first show and certainly it came across well on the TV channel ARTE who filmed the event. My only regret was not being able to stay for JOHN FOXX’s performance, but I had to get back to work in France.
Your short set featured material recorded for your first solo album ‘Between Betjeman, Bach and Numan’ in 2012, how do you look back on it today?
Yes it was a short set. I think it lasted about 10 minutes or so and I just improvised sections of it, punctuated by references to ‘Cars’ and ‘Are Friends Electric?’ and playing ‘Down in the Park’ and ‘Fade to Grey’ on piano. It went well apart from the occasional ‘harmonic howler’! But my philosophy is if a mistake is made, smile and move on… life’s too short
So ELECTRONIC CIRCUS is being formally rebooted again, what’s happening there?
Well, this all came about in the strangest of circumstances. I’ve been trying to bury this bloody project for years and it keeps coming back to me as if to say “record it and they will come”. I know it sounds a bit melodramatic, but it really feels like this to me.
It all started up (again) when my old music college buddy Michael J Stewart contacted me one day and said that our original song called ‘Direct Lines’, which had been recorded back in 1980, had received nearly one million YouTube views. Of course I was astounded, but it seems that a song released back in the day and having sold about six copies has gone a bit viral as a synthpop classic. How bizarre is that?
Now to cut a long story short, I have never really wanted to go out and perform under my name, but soon I’m performing at The Seventh Wave Festival in Birmingham in March as CHRIS PAYNE, as well as my performance with RUSTY EGAN scheduled for the following day. To me ‘An Evening with Chris Payne’ sounds like you’re going to go to a tedious event in a village hall and listen to some old git banging on about crop rotation in the 19th Century!
So I added the name CHRIS PAYNE’s ELECTRONIC CIRCUS, which will be dropped the moment I’m associated with EC… for a more detailed history check out our site www.electroniccircus.co.uk
There’s going to be a reworking of the brilliant ‘Roundabout’ coming; now some may think the lyrics are a bit banal but they’re metaphoric…
Well spotted. Yes, I have to admit that my lyrics are entirely based on satire and metaphors disguised as banality. The notion of the roundabout is a quirky and fun ‘mid-life crisis song’, but at the same time quite frightening. We have choices in life and life is very challenging. I liked this idea of using the roundabout as a ‘map of life’ where you can either turn around, take a different direction or carry straight on. A simple idea, but effective with the music.
You’ve turned a previously released piano ballad into an electronic track?
Yes indeed, another track that I’ve re-worked is called ‘Graceland’. Most people hear this as a simple love song but oh no!! It’s actually about the tragic destruction of the Planet Earth’s environment believe it or not, and not a love song.
It started as a piano ballad to test my daughter Marikay’s vocals under studio conditions. I’m not saying this because she’s my daughter, but she has a good voice and a lot of potential. She will sing a bit with ELECTRONIC CIRCUS, but she’s more into folk acts like OMNIA and that style, and I think this is where she will head towards eventually.
How is the other ELECTRONIC CIRCUS material turning out?
It’s all going well and a lot of fun. It is an eclectic mix so far. I have songs, instrumentals in the style of JEAN MICHEL JARRE, classical styles, pop and minimalist, also what I call naive synth. With Mike’s contributions, that will add another dimension as he was trained under the great British composer Sir John Tavener and as you know, I’m capable of throwing in a medieval crumhorn for good measure. So as it says on the label, it is an Electronic Musical Circus where virtually anything goes, providing it’s predominantly electronic of course.
Now this is going to sound contrived, but I swear it isn’t. The new ELECTRONIC CIRCUS album is tentatively called ‘Trumpety Trump’ to add to the slightly quirky nature of the project, and the obvious references to ‘Nelly The Elephant’ (and something else that escapes me for the time being?)
What’s happened to the DRAMATIS comeback?
To be honest and this might sound bad, but as far as I’m concerned, DRAMATIS died with Cedric. RRuss and I met up with him the weekend before he had his fatal heart attack and for me, the project’s never been the same since.
Yes it’s true that RRussell and myself had written and recorded a few songs before we met back up with Ced, but it’s been so long now, I can’t see it coming together. Also RRuss is so busy with other projects as am I. Also bear in mind we live in different countries, so it’s very difficult to get the momentum back.
I will never rule out another album, but unless circumstances change, I’ve got to be realistic and say it’s doubtful.
How do you feel how modern electronic pop is heading, where would you take it? Is there enough musicality these days?
I think there are interesting times ahead. Of course, history has proved on so many occasions that you can’t predict music fashion. But I have a strong feeling something big is around the corner and possibly involving synthpop. I don’t see my ELECTRONIC CIRCUS project being hugely influential as it’s very diverse and will no doubt end up a bit mad.
As for musicality, I honestly don’t know. It would be nice to see a few bands playing some great synth solos like Billy Currie did with GARY NUMAN and ULTRAVOX, as there doesn’t seem to be much in the way of that as far as I have heard.
Personally I’d like to hear a band as good as ABBA songwriting wise, but all in the electronic domain. In spite of my academic but rather stultifying classical music training, I’m a shameless fan of ABBA’s.
Actually that’s given me an idea. ‘Waterloo’ and ‘Dancing Queen’ with Polymoogs…
What’s next for you?
Well I would really love Rusty’s album to break through and do more shows with him. Finish ELECTRONIC CIRCUS album and see where that takes me, but that’s all I have time for.
I run a music resource business with producer Nigel Bates called the ‘Electronic Music Library’ which is great fun but time consuming, and not a lot of people know this, but I am a licensed acupuncturist practising Chinese medicine in the Dordogne, South West France.
So as you can imagine I don’t really have time for anything else at the moment. But knowing me, that will all change!
The Electricity Club gives its warmest thanks to CHRIS PAYNE