Tag: The Teardrop Explodes (Page 1 of 2)

The Electronic Legacy of VARIOUS ARTISTS

So come on, whose first album was a various artists compilation?

They were the biggest sellers for a decade and had dominated the UK album charts so much so that they were given their own!

In 1966, the Canadian budget household gadget firm K-Tel diversified into the territory of compilation albums with ‘25 Country Hits’; it was a surprise success and this comparatively new idea of collecting a number of artists onto an album based around a single theme was expanded further.

K-Tel negotiated directly with artists and labels for the rights to reproduce the original recordings, but where this was not possible, the company would contract “one or more of the original artists” to make a new recording for the compilation, under the premise that the general public generally could not tell the difference between a re-recording and the original.

However, UK budget label Pickwick Records via their Hallmark imprint went one step further in 1968 by producing compilations of the latest hits but as rush-recorded soundalike cover versions under the title ‘Top Of The Pops’ which had nothing to do whatsoever with the BBC TV show; it was all perfectly legal thanks to an oversight by the corporation on trademark.

Purchasers unknowingly got treated to unique interpretations of ‘Autobahn’ and ‘The Model’ by anonymous session musicians who quite obviously had only learnt the song ten minutes before entering the studio. Although demand for such records had dimmed by 1981, acts such as SOFT CELL were still unable to escape with ‘Say Hello Wave Goodbye’ hilariously reduced to geezer pub rock! The singer was revealed to be one Martin Jay who a few years earlier had treated the world to his cloak and dagger take on ‘Are Friends Electric?’.

The albums from K-Tel attempted to cram as many songs as possible onto the 12 inch vinyl format. In order to accommodate this philosophy within its physical limitations, many of the tracks were usually faded out early or came in unusual and often clumsy edits, but even these versions were sought after by loyal fans, thus making the records they came from valued collector’s items.

The various artists compilation album changed forever in 1983 when Virgin and EMI joined forces to produce the ‘Now That’s What I Call Music’ series which at the last count had reached ‘Now 106’ and spawned numerous spin-offs and even cable TV channels. In 1984, Sony BMG and Warner Music joined in the action with the ‘Hits’ series, but such was the domination in the UK of these types of albums that in 1989, they were given their own chart and excluded from the main one!

For electronic pop, ‘Machines’ released by Virgin Records in 1980 was one of the first attempts to gather music using synthesizers into one place, but the entry point for many new fans was 1981’s ‘Modern Dance’ on K-Tel. This well-thought out collection saw youngsters saving up their pocket money for their first record purchase or asking Santa to put it into their Christmas stocking, thanks to Radio1 DJ Peter Powell declaring that ‘Modern Dance’ was “The best of total danceability, the sounds of modern dance, on one LP!”.

As with greatest hits albums, what makes a great various artists compilation is a seamless listening experience where possible, or at least more killer than filler. However the continuous DJ mix was a particular irritant running through compilations for a period and rarely worked with classic material or recordings not specifically aimed at the clubland.

However, staying within theme on a compilation is VERY important and straying just slightly can spoil a whole concept, especially if it has been outlined in the title. Soul Jazz Records’ lushly packaged ‘Deutsche Elektronische Musik’ sets over two volumes contained a wide range of freeform experimental works from Germany, but occasionally forgot about the Trade Descriptions Act implications of its title. Meanwhile, ‘Reward’ by post-punk trip-poppers THE TEARDROP EXPLODES had a regular place on collections such as ‘Club For Heroes’, ‘New Romantic Classics’, ‘It’s Electric’ and ‘Our Friends Electric’ despite being brass dominated.

But the nadir came with ‘Synth Pop’, a 3CD collection by Sony Music in 2015 which totally missed the point by featuring AZTEC CAMERA and HAIRCUT 100!??! Now while the inclusion of IMAGINATION’s ‘Body Talk’ with its iconic Moog bassline could be justified, the set highlighted just how much the modern day definition of “synth pop” had become particularly blurred…

Now while some listeners just want endless hits on various artists compilations, others want to be informed and introduced to some lesser-known or rare songs. However, this latter approach can meet with mixed results.

For example, Cherry Red’s ‘Close To The Noise Floor’ and the Trevor Jackson’s ‘Metal Dance’ series were historically fascinating, but not always easy collections to listen to in one sitting. With some of the music close to being unlistenable, it could be akin to studying a hefty text book… highly educational but not always entirely fun!

So The Electricity Club takes a personal look at the electronic legacy of various artists via twenty notable compilation albums, each with valid reasons for their inclusion, presented in yearly and then alphabetical order within.

Yes, several songs reoccur over a number of these releases, but perhaps that is more an indication of their timeless nature. These were tunes that were dismissed by the press and wider public back in the day, but are now considered classic and part of the cultural heritage.


Having seen the future and signed THE HUMAN LEAGUE as well as OMD through their Dindisc subsidiary, Virgin Records had the foresight to issue a long playing showcase of acts that used synthesizers as their primary instrumentation. As well as their two great hopes, among the outsiders on board were TUBEWAY ARMY, FAD GADGET, SILICON TEENS and DALEK I LOVE YOU. While XTC’s B-side ‘The Somnambulist’ appeared to be incongruous, this was from the band’s synth experimentation period before going more acoustic on 1982’s ‘English Settlement’.

‘Machines’ was released by Virgin Records



This compilation had actually been the idea of David Sylvian, hence why it was named after the JAPAN song although their contribution would be ‘The Art Of Parties’. Virgin presented their embarrassment of riches including BEF, DEVO, DAF, SIMPLE MINDS and MAGAZINE while the primary selling point was a new special dub edit of THE HUMAN LEAGUE’s ‘Do Or Die’ acting as a trailer to ‘Love & Dancing’. The cassette featured more tracks including John Foxx and the actual undanceable ‘Methods Of Dance’ song in place of ‘The Art Of Parties’!

‘Methods Of Dance’ was released by Virgin Records



1981 was when the sound of electronic pop was virtually everywhere, so the release of ‘Modern Dance’ was perfect synthchronicity. Featuring superb singles from the stellar cast of OMD, THE HUMAN LEAGUE, HEAVEN 17, JAPAN, DEPECHE MODE, SIMPLE MINDS, VISAGE, LANDSCAPE, FASHION and THE CURE as well as synth trailblazers John Foxx and Gary Numan, an indicator of how supreme this compilation was came with the fact that its most obscure track ‘A World Without Love’ by little known combo THE NEWS was rather good!

‘Modern Dance’ was released by K-Tel Records



Stevo Pearce’s compendium of new Futurist acts has gone into folklore, having launched the careers of DEPECHE MODE, SOFT CELL, BLANCMANGE, THE THE and B-MOVIE. Several of acts who didn’t make it were also superb. THE FAST SET’s cover of Marc Bolan’s ‘King Of The Rumbling Spires’ was enjoyable electro-macabre while ‘Tidal Flow’ by ILLUSTRATION is one of the great lost songs of the era, the band themselves disappearing despite securing the services of Martin Hannett to produce their debut single ‘Danceable’, but it was never finished…

‘Some Bizzare Album’ was released by Some Bizzare



It took a few years for people to realise just how good the music from the New Romantic era was, so how better than to celebrate it than a compilation named after one of Steve Strange and Rusty Egan’s club nights. Featuring the all-star cast of DURAN DURAN, SPANDAU BALLET, ULTRAVOX, VISAGE, SOFT CELL and JAPAN, other acts who also got entry into the party were YAZOO, ABC, TALK TALK and CLASSIX NOUVEAUX while most welcome were ICEHOUSE with their eponymous single.

‘Club For Heroes’ was released by Telstar Records



Gathering nineteen “Classic Hits From An Electric Era” including the full length ‘Blue Monday’ from NEW ORDER, ‘It’s Electric’ was largely, a more purist synth collection than ‘Club For Heroes’. Alongside the usual suspects were A FLOCK OF SEAGULLS, TEARS FOR FEARS, BRONSKI BEAT, KRAFTWERK, EURYTHMICS, BRONSKI BEAT and ERASURE. However, this collection featured the album version of ‘Tainted Love’ instead of the single, a mistake that would be repeated again and again even on SOFT CELL’s own compilations.

‘It’s Electric’ was released by Dino Entertainment



A tie-in with Uncut magazine celebrating “a music synonymous with futurism”, ‘Dawn Of Electronica’ included the album version of ‘From Here To Eternity by Giorgio Moroder and for the first time on CD, the Some Bizzare version of ‘Remembrance Day’ by B-MOVIE. With the likes of DAF, SUICIDE, ASSOCIATES, CABARET VOLTAIRE, PROPAGANDA, THE ART OF NOISE and YELLO alongside TUBEWAY ARMY, ULTRAVOX, JAPAN and SOFT CELL, this compilation was something a bit different compared to the ones that had come before.

‘Dawn Of Electronica’ was released by Demon Music Group



Like ‘Teenage Kicks’ for punk and new wave, there are far too many compilations named ‘Electric Dreams’. This 2CD affair from Virgin Records comprised of thirty-eight “synth pop classics”. For once, this was a compilation documenting the different electronic pop phases including trailblazing analogue electro and the advent of digital sampling that actually worked. From ‘The Model’ and ‘Electricity’ to ‘Relax’ and ‘19’, with ‘We Are Glass’, ‘Yellow Pearl, ‘Say Hello Wave Goodbye’ and ‘Absolute’ in between, this was one of the best releases of its type.

‘Electric Dreams’ was released by Virgin Records


THIS IS NOT THE 80s (2002)

Subtitled “A Nu-Wave Electro Compilation”, this modern collection brought out the electro in Electroclash with gloriously klanky drum machines in abundance. The undoubted star was Miss Kittin with four tracks including the mighty scene anthem ‘You & Us’ with Michael Amato aka THE HACKER; meanwhile the man himself and Anthony Rother each had three contributions in various guises. FPU, DOPPLEREFFEKT and ADULT. were among those helping to bring the sound of vintage electronic pop into the 21st Century for the club crowd.

‘This Is Not The 80s’ was released by Incredible / Sony Music



Compiled by Ministry Of Sound, ‘This Is Tech-Pop’ was a representative snapshot of electronic music at the start of the 21st Century. However the “Tech-Pop or Electroclash or Synth-Core or Neu-Electro” legend in the booklet highlighted the dance music’s daft obsession with categorisation. But the music from the likes of FISCHERSPOONER, TIGA & ZYNTHERIUS, FC KAHUNA, WALDORF, ZOOT WOMAN, LADYTRON, SOVIET, FELIX DA HOUSECAT, CIRC and GREEN VELVET was mostly excellent, although DJ mixing the tracks together clouded the listening experience.

‘This Is Tech-Pop’ was released by Ministry Of Sound


ELECTRICITY 2 An Electronic Pop Sampler (2003)

‘Electricity 2’ came at a time when the only platform for UK and Irish synth acts seemed to be Ninthwave Records in the USA. It featured HEAVEN 17’s first new song for six years in the ‘Music Sounds Better With You’ influenced ‘Hands Up To Heaven’ as well as material by WHITE TOWN, SPRAY and EMPIRE STATE HUMAN. Among the highlights were ‘The Machines’ by MASQ which sounded like a bizarre Gaelic synthpop take on Gary Numan and the comical ‘Alan Cumming’ by TURD FERGUSON which satirically sent up ‘Frank Sinatra’ by MISS KITTIN & THE HACKER.

‘Electricity 2’ was released by Ninthwave Records


ROBOPOP Volume 1 (2003)

Compiled by Wayne Clements of Essex duo MACONDO for his own Lucky Pierre imprint, ‘Robopop’ was possibly the closest thing to the ‘Some Bizzare’ album in the 21st Century. Heading the line-up were the-then newly configured CLIENT and MY ROBOT FRIEND while Mute stalwarts KOMPUTER contributed the previously unreleased ‘My Private Train’. The stand-outs though were machine funksters ALPINE STARS, irreverent retro-poppers BAXENDALE and VIC TWENTY featuring Piney Gir with a delicious synth cover of Lynsey de Paul’s ‘Sugar Me’.

‘Robopop Volume 1’ was released by Lucky Pierre Recordings



Compiled by Alex Hush, now of U2 and ERASURE remixers DAYBREAKERS, ‘Retro:Active 5’ pulled off the feat of gathering twelve classic 12 inch extended versions into a listenable programme. Longer takes of ‘I’ve Been Losing You’ by A-HA and ‘Pretty In Pink’ by THE PSYCHEDLIC FURS led the way with BLANCMANGE and DEAD OR ALIVE in support. But the biggest selling points were the ultra-rare ‘Love Cascade’ from LEISURE PROCESS and ‘More To Lose’ by SEONA DANCING, the synthpop duo fronted by Ricky Gervais.

‘Retro:Active 5’ was released by Hi-Bias Records


ROBOPOP The Return (2006)

For ‘Robopop The Return’, Wayne Clements was joined by production duo MANHATTAN CLIQUE who co-released the compilation via their own Planet Clique label. Described as “Essential Electro Pop”, it was a much higher profile release than its predecessor with GOLDFRAPP, THE KNIFE, TIGA and DRAGONETTE all on board. Also present were THE MODERN relaunching themselves as MATINEE CLUB while HUSKI, FORMATIC, LORRAINE and SOHO DOLLS were among the worthy lesser-known inclusions. A bonus DJ mix by MANHATTAN CLIQUE also featured.

‘Robopop – The Return’ was released by Planet Clique / Lucky Pierre


CHILLTRONICA A Definition No1 (2008)

Electronic music of a more downtempo disposition compiled by BLANK & JONES, perhaps unsurprisingly, the most exquisite tracks featured female vocalists with Sarah Nixey just pipping the highlight honours on her cover of JAPAN’s ‘Ghosts’ with INFANTJOY over Claudia Brücken guesting on the hosting trance DJ duo’s ‘Don’t Stop’. ‘Ghost Trains’, a solo tune by KINGS OF CONVENIENCE and RÖYKSOPP vocalist Erlend Øye was a livelier number that actually worked alongside chilled out tracks by THE GRID, BLISS, SPOOKY, MARCONI UNION and DEPECHE MODE.

‘Chilltronica – A Definition No1’ was released by Soundcolours


ELECTRI_CITY 1_2 Elektronische Musik Aus Düsseldorf (2016)

Tying in with Rudi Esch’s book about the German city of Düsseldorf’s music heritage, ‘ELECTRI_CITY 1_2’ gathered the more accessible elements of Deutsche Elektronische Musik, Kosmische and Neue Deutsche Welle. Featuring RIECHMANN, DAF, DER PLAN, DIE KRUPPS, LIAISONS DANGEREUSES, RHEINGOLD, HARMONIA, LA DÜSSELDORF, NEU! and pre-PROPAGANDA girl group TOPLINOS featuring a very young Claudia Brücken and Susanne Freytag, this two volume collection was like a journey of discovery with the benefit of a local tour guide.

‘ELECTRI_CITY 1_2 – Elektronische Musik Aus Düsseldorf’ was released by Grönland Records


NEW ORDER Presents Be Music (2017)

Be Music was the moniker of NEW ORDER used to cover studio production work by all four members of the band. This boxed set gathered these varied recordings which involved either Bernard Sumner, Peter Hook, Stephen Morris, Gillian Gilbert and combinations thereof, with notable solo tracks from Marcel King, Paul Haig and Winston Tong alongside those of 52ND STREET, SECTION 25, THE BEAT CLUB, SHARK VEGAS and AD INFINITUM’s cover of ‘Telstar’ which many believed was NEW ORDER in disguise but actually only featured Hooky.

‘NEW ORDER Presents Be Music’ was released by Factory Benelux


ELECTRICAL LANGUAGE Independent British Synth Pop 78-84 (2019)

From the team that put together the ‘Close To The Noise Floor’ series, the 4CD ‘Electrical Language – Independent British Synth Pop 78-84’ did as it said on the tin and with a far more accessible template, was all the better for it. With THE HUMAN LEAGUE, OMD, THE NORMAL and FAD GADGET included to draw in the more cautious consumer, purchasers were treated to a plethora of wonderful lesser known acts like FIAT LUX, BOX OF TOYS, LORI & THE CHAMELEONS, PASSION POLKA, TESTCARD F, EDDIE & SUNSHINE and JUPITER RED. Meanwhile, the best novelty item was a Schaffel driven cover of Alvin Stardust’s ‘My Coo Ca Choo’ by BEASTS IN CAGES; half of the band went on to form HARD CORPS!

‘Electrical Language – Independent British Synth Pop 78-84’ was released by Cherry Red Records



Comprising of thirty-four tracks from 2009 to 2015, ‘The Electricity Club’ compilation has stood the test of time, scrutiny and repeated plays. With ERASURE heading the line-up alongside a MARSHEAUX remix of Katy Perry and acts such as MIRRORS, SIN COS TAN, VILE ELECTRODES, NIGHT CLUB, ARTHUR & MARTHA, KID MOXIE, MESH and ELECTRONIC CIRCUS. In hindsight, the weakest link comes surprisingly from one of the star attractions, coming as a result of the licencing compromises that often have to be made when the first and second choices get declined 😉

‘The Electricity Club’ was released by Amour Records / Minos EMI / Universal Music in collaboration with Undo Records



Compiled by Pete Wiggs and Bob Stanley of SAINT ETIENNE, what ‘The Tears Of Technology’ had was a heartfelt suite of music which captured the essence of its title. At its centre was OMD’s sub-eight minute adventure ‘Sealand’ alongside synthy diversions by THE TEARDROP EXPLODES and THE PALE FOUNTAINS, with the Merseyside connection extended to CARE and CHINA CRISIS. Scotland got also got a look in courtesy of Paul Haig and Thomas Leer. The rare ‘Direct Lines’ by Chris Payne’s ELECTRONIC CIRCUS found itself a place too.

‘The Tears Of Technology’ was released by Ace Records


Text by Chi Ming Lai
2nd August 2020


A self-confessed purveyor of rock ‘n’ roll, Ian McNabb found fame as the leader of THE ICICLE WORKS who hit UK charts in 1984 with ‘Love Is A Wonderful Colour’, eventually reaching No15.

Emerging from post-punk Liverpool, perhaps unsurprisingly, THE ICICLE WORKS were often compared with THE TEARDROP EXPLODES, sharing psychedelic overtones, frantic rhythms and cosmic string machines.

While it would be fair to say McNabb had a similar vocal timbre to Julian Cope, he was the undoubted master of a belting chorus. Releasing a self-titled debut album in 1984, THE ICICLE WORKS also found success in the US with the magnificent ‘Birds Fly (Whisper To A Scream)’ becoming a Top 40 hit Stateside. Its recent use in the Episode 7 end credits of ‘Stranger Things 2’ helped revive interest in the band’s back catalogue.

With great songs such as ‘Nirvana’, ‘As The Dragonfly Flies’, ‘Hollow Horse’, ‘When It All Comes Down’, ‘Understanding Jane’ and ‘Who Do You Want For Your Love?’, the original line-up of McNabb, Chris Layhe and Chris Sharrock knocked on the door of the UK Top40 on several occasions during their career but ultimately remained acclaimed cult favourites.

While THE ICICLE WORKS split with Sharrock notably ending up on the drum stool for Robbie Williams, McNabb pursued his love of Americana and went on to work with CRAZY HORSE, releasing the Mercury Prize nominated album ‘Head Like a Rock’ in 1994.

With the work of THE ICICLE WORKS being celebrated on a 35th Anniversary tour featuring a two and a half hour set including solo material, Ian McNabb kindly chatted to The Electricity Club about string machines, Micro Mellotrons and more…

When THE ICICLE WORKS started out, you were a tight-knit guitar / bass / drums three piece, so when did keyboards enter the frame?

I played keyboards from the very beginning. Keyboards were in the frame from first day’s rehearsal.

You were using a Korg 770 and Logan string machine back then, what drew you to those?

Korg 770; well I couldn’t afford a Moog…

The Logan string machine I bought in 1977; it was state of the art for the times!

Those early songs were quite complex and frantic, as exemplified by your first single ‘Nirvana’?

Yes we loved tom toms. We were deliberately complex. We knew we could play better than anyone else around at the time and wanted to prove it. ‘Nirvana’ set the template. Pretty much everything on that first album has tribal drums. We never really did it again after that. We loved The Bunnymen, Banshees, Adam &The Ants, Bow Wow Wow. We wanted to make three people sound huge.

On the self-titled debut album, ‘As The Dragonfly Flies’ was one of the highlights and had an air of THE TEARDROP EXPLODES, how did that come together?

Yes it did. We loved THE TEARDROP EXPLODES. We ripped loads of that stuff off. ‘A Factory In The Desert’ was me trying to rewrite ‘Reward’. The original demo of ‘In the Cauldron Of Love’ is so like ECHO & THE BUNNYMEN, it’s funny. We managed to scale it back a little on the record and sound more like us.

You recorded the debut album with Hugh Jones, how was the studio dynamic between band and producer? Any funny stories you can recall?

We got on well although there were arguments. When you’ve been playing those ten songs for a couple of years and then you try to record them and someone starts changing things, it’s traumatic. I wouldn’t say it was much fun working with Hugh as he was such a taskmaster. He would make us play things over and over for hours. That’s not how I work. If I haven’t got it by take two I move on. We took sleeping bags into the studio as Hugh could spend three days mixing one track and he never stopped until it was finished. Hugh came to see us this year playing the first album in full. We had a lovely time. The debut IW album is the only one I can listen to.

‘Love Is A Wonderful Colour’ was a UK hit in late 1983 and captured a glorious wintery feel which suited its time of release?

It actually got in the Top 20 in January 1984. It was getting a lot of airplay leading up to Christmas but when they stopped playing all the festive sh*te, they really hammered it. It was a long, slow burn. I never thought it was all that good but it sits in people’s memories of their youth now and has a special place in their hearts (and mine). It definitely has a brown leaf flavour.

‘Birds Fly’ is perhaps your best known song and has been exposed to a new audience via its inclusion in ‘Stranger Things’, how did you feel about the songs longevity?

That song has been very kind to me. It was a sizeable hit in the USA and once you have a smash over there, they never forget it. It didn’t sound like anything else and a lot of songs have ripped it off over the years.

Every couple of years I hear another. I’m very proud of that one. I particularly like the way it has a prologue that is in a different tempo and is not repeated. THE BEATLES used to do this a lot in their early years (‘If I Fell’, ‘Do You Want To Know A Secret?’, ‘Here There & Everywhere’). THE BEACH BOYS did it on ‘California Girls.’

‘Birds Fly’ was a US Top 40 hit but never quite got that recognition in the UK, any thoughts in hindsight as to why it might not have been?

It was No2 in the indie chart for a while, but it never really got any significant airplay whereas ‘LIAWC’ got loads. We re-released it after’ LIAWC’ was a hit, but the fans all had it and the unconverted never really got to hear it. I’m sure a TOTP appearance would have made it huge.

By the time of 1984’s ‘Hollow Horse’, the arrangements had become less complex and more direct while hints of Americana like THE BYRDS were starting to make themselves heard, was that a natural move for you?

We’d gone as far as we could with experimenting, yes we definitely became more of a straight ahead pop / rock band after that. I got fed up of shouting over the Burundi Boys and Chris Sharrock would have had a heart attack if he would have kept on doing that every night. The songs became more simple, lyrically also.

THE ICICLE WORKS will be touring the UK this Autumn, what can people expect who might be thinking about coming along?

Two and a half hours of pop / rock jollity. Plus songs from my solo catalogue. And some good gags.

Are you taking the Logan string machine out with you?

It’s in the cellar but I haven’t turned it on for 20 years. I’ll be using my Micro Mellotron though.

Looking back, which songs from THE ICICLE WORKS catalogue remain your favourites and why?

The ones that are fun to play live; ‘When It All Comes Down’, ‘Hollow Horse’, ‘Up Here In The North Of England’…I enjoy them all or I wouldn’t play them. ‘Birds Fly’ will always be my favourite.

The Electricity Club gives its grateful thanks to Ian McNabb

Special thanks to Helen Robinson at Mersey Beast PR

‘The Icicle Works’ is still available as a 2CD deluxe set via Beggars Banquet Records

THE ICICLE WORKS National Tour 2019 includes:

Newcastle O2 Academy 2 (27th September), Sheffield Plug (28th September), Clitheroe The Grand (4th October), Farncombe St John’s Church (5th October 2019), Cardiff Globe (11th October), Southampton The Engine Rooms Sat (12th October), Cottingham Civic Hall (18th October), Norwich Arts Centre (19th October), Derby Flowerpot (25th October), Douglas Isle Of Man Villa Marina (26th October 2019), Bristol Thekla (1st November), Birmingham O2 Academy 2 (9th November), Leeds Brudenell Social Club (15th November)




Text and Interview by Chi Ming Lai
27th August 2019


friends_white_liesAs the old adage goes, “misery loves company…” and it cannot be denied that some huge selling albums have been written following dark times in an artist’s life.

So what happens when things start to become a bit peachy? The royalties come rolling in, your singer starts dating a celebrity boy/girlfriend and you pay off your mortgage?

Do you still continue to write about the dark feelings and circumstances that initially gave you fame and fortune?

Or do you evolve and explore themes of your newfound happiness/comfort instead hoping that your fans follow you in a lemming-like fashion?

One of the main reasons that the debut WHITE LIES album ‘To Lose My Life’ drew significant attention was its overt obsession with death; eight of the ten tracks featured the words “death”, “dead”, “die”, “died” or “deceased” in their lyrics and the monolithic monochromatic album artwork added to the overall effect.

Musically, the band have always worn their influences on their sleeves, their debut was a highly (Flood) produced mixture of ULTRAVOX synths and U2 bombast with huge catchy hooks and the baritone Julian Cope-ish vocal of Harry McVeigh sitting majestically on top. Second album ‘Ritual’ saw a honing of the sound, ‘Big TV’ ramped up the anthemic nature of the band’s music and now after a gap of three years comes ‘Friends’.

Lead-off single ‘Take It Out On Me’ is undeniably catchy and features a huge earworm of a chorus melody. If it wasn’t for the guitar and live drums on the track, it could quite conceivably be an OMD song from ‘History of Modern’ or ‘English Electric’.

‘Morning in LA’ starts like another late period OMD track with a hooky synth refrain before a Midge Ure style guitar joins the mix. Again this is another ultra-melodic song, but the extended length of the track means towards the end the chorus vocal feels like it’s outstayed its welcome by a minute or so. ‘Hold Back Your Love’ has a cool live bass and synth interplay with an ORBITAL-esque string sequence; McVeigh’s big vocal range is utilised well here, but lyrically it all feels a bit flat and emotionally disconnected.

whitelies-bridge‘Don’t Want to Feel It All’ takes the tempo down a few notches and introduces some welcome darkness with the middle eight line “no I’m not going to break your heart but I might use it”.

There’s also very little guitar and has the kind of dynamic that made ‘Death’ from their debut such a killer (sorry) song.

‘Summer Didn’t Change A Thing’ is a standout track if only for the fact that it throws in some unpredictable musical and dynamic shifts over its four minute running time. Like other songs on the album, the chorus again outstays its welcome somewhat. By the time you get half way through the album, proceedings start to flag, the formulaic song structuring and synth sounds become very predictable and despite the immaculate production, the songs eventually roll into one.

whitelies2016Like a slow moving iceberg, WHITE LIES have gradually moved away conceptually from the dark themes explored on ‘To Lose My Life’ and ‘Ritual’.

By the time you’ve sat through ten tracks of lyrics mainly about love, you even start to morbidly wish for a ditty about a suicide pact just to hark back to the band’s imperial phase.

If you are new to the band, there is a lot to be enjoyed here, loads of synth parts and melodic songs, but with ‘To Lose My Life’ now seeming like a long distant memory, ‘Friends’ is the sound of a band that is starting to scrabble around for its identity and failing.

For many fans, is this where the friendship with WHITE LIES possibly ends…?

‘Friends’ is released by BMG in the usual formats



Text by Paul Boddy
17th October 2016

A Beginner’s Guide To MIKE HOWLETT

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MARTHA & THE MUFFINS Echo Beach (1980)

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

Available on the album ‘Metro Music’ via Virgin Records


OMD Messages (1980)

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

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


OMD Stanlow (1980)

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

Available on the album ‘Organisation’ via Virgin Records



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

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



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

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


MODERN EON Euthenics (1981)

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

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


OMD Souvenir (1981)

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

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


THOMPSON TWINS Perfect Game (1981)

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

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


BLANCMANGE I Can’t Explain (1982)

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

Available on the album ‘Happy Families’ via Edsel Records


A FLOCK OF SEAGULLS Space Age Love Song (1982)

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

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


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

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

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


TEARS FOR FEARS Pale Shelter (1982)

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

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


TV21 All Join Hands (1982)

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

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


CHINA CRISIS Wishful Thinking (1983)

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

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


A FLOCK OF SEAGULLS Wishing (1983)

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

Available on the album ‘Listen’ via Cherry Pop


JOHN FOXX Twilight’s Last Gleaming (1983)

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

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


TIN TIN Hold It (1983)

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

Originally released a single on WEA Records, currently unavailable


BERLIN Now It’s My Turn (1984)

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

Available on the album ‘Love Life’ via Rubellan Remasters


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

Lost Albums: SKYRAY Tranquilliser

SKYRAY TranquilliserSKYRAY was the experimental instrumental project of Paul Simpson, a cult figure within the Liverpool music scene based around the legendary Eric’s Club that spawned acts such as OMD, ECHO & THE BUNNYMEN, DEAD OR ALIVE, FRANKIE GOES TO HOLLYWOOD and WAH!

Simpson had been a founder member of THE TEARDROP EXPLODES before moving on to form THE WILD SWANS. When the trio folded after releasing the brilliant single ‘Revolutionary Spirit’, Jeremy Kelly and Gerard Quinn went on to form THE LOTUS EATERS while Simpson joined ECHO & THE BUNNYMEN producer Kingbird aka Ian Broudie in a doomed romantic duo named CARE.

Despite the three promising singles ‘My Boyish Days’, ‘Flaming Sword’ and ‘Whatever Possessed You’, CARE dissolved before a debut album was finished. Broudie went on to find fame as THE LIGHTNING SEEDS while Simpson reformed THE WILD SWANS with Jeremy Kelly to finally release an acclaimed debut LP ‘Bringing Home The Ashes’ in 1988 before the band fragmented again.

In 1990, Simpson released another album ‘Space Flower’ under THE WILD SWANS name which was produced by Ian Broudie, but by now, he was becoming disillusioned by the years of music industry politics. As a result, he began to abstain from singing and started composing progressive instrumentals which were inspired by both ambient and kosmische music forms.

Four of these lengthy recordings were given limited runs on 10 inch vinyl singles between 1996-97, but the works were collected together along with new material on an album entitled ‘Tranquilliser’. Released in 1998 on Ochre Records, it combined melodic beauty, minimalist drones and motorik rhythms all on one very long CD.

Held together around a dreamy piano motif and layered by pretty synth strings, album opener ‘Rocket Lake’ took the listener on a futuristic journey to a tropical island with burst of simulated Hawaiian guitar. Reminiscent of OMD’s more pastoral offerings, it was the perfect start to a body of work that had variance in both style and structure.

Skyray2Released as SKYRAY’s second single, ‘Neptune Variations Part One’ was produced by Henry Priestman of THE CHRISTIANS and his sonic enhancements provided a sheen of accessibility as a repeating piano riff and hypnotic drum loop acted as the backbone. ‘Neptune Variations Part Two’ was a longer, slowed down version of ‘Part One’ and as with its more uptempo sister, repetition was the key, with enough melody to catch the ear despite its less percussive nature.

The first ever release by SKYRAY, ‘Invisible Part One’ featured Will Sergeant from ECHO & THE BUNNYMEN. His cacophony of guitar derived effects embellished what was probably the most kosmische derived piece on the collection. With its motorik drum machine and deep bass guitar runs, it was also possibly the most excessive and least essential track on ‘Tranquilliser’. With no obvious hook or melody over its eighteen minutes, chemical enhancements were perhaps needed to appreciate its somewhat enigmatic qualities!

‘Invisible Part Two’ was better though, incorporating the melodic riff heard earlier on ‘Neptune Variations Part One’. The more sprightly rhythm section accented on occasion so dynamically, this was a more realised interpretation. Despite the comparatively muted nature of both versions of ‘Invisible’, the closing ten minute synth dronefest of ‘Magnetic North’ was the perfect ending to ‘Tranquilliser’ with an unsettling yet, cerebral vibe that evoked images of icecaps and chilling long nights.

Simpson actually took ‘Tranquilliser’ on the road, notably opening for ECHO & THE BUNNYMEN with just a bass guitar, slideshow and tape machine for company… the bemused looks of the raincoat brigade, more used to post-punk snarls, were a picture, But for those who were more open minded, the SKYRAY live experience was enlightening.

Two further SKYRAY albums followed before the new millennium, with the third long player ‘Mind Lagoons’ being a more accessible offering that featured shorter, sharper arrangements and a narrative cameo from Bill Drummond on the title track under the pseudonym of Tenzing Scott-Brown!

While the most recent SKYRAY album ‘Liquid Crystal Display’ was in 2005, the last few years have seen Simpson busy with the return of THE WILD SWANS and a 2011 album entitled ‘The Coldest Winter For A Hundred Years’. Whether he will return to instrumental work remains to be seen.

‘Tranquilliser’ is available as a download from https://skyray.bandcamp.com/album/tranquilliser or http://store.paul-simpson.co.uk/product/skyray-tranquilliser-download/



Text by Chi Ming Lai
7th October 2015, updated 6th August 2020

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