Featuring the haunting afflicted vocals of Essex songstress Polly Scattergood, Bruce Woolley reimagines his classic ‘Video Killed The Radio Star’ in a new epic arrangement with the fitting subtitle of ‘Dark Star’…
Recorded with THE RADIO SCIENCE ORCHESTRA, Woolley introduces them with the proclamation: “Listen to The Sound of Tomorrow – Today!”
A number co-written with Trevor Horn and Geoff Downes, Bruce Woolley recorded ‘Video Killed The Radio Star’ first with his band THE CAMERA CLUB in 1979 and originally released as the B-side to the single ‘English Garden’. But it was THE BUGGLES featuring Horn and Downes who scored the UK No1 in a version with slightly different lyrics later that Autumn.
The song was to become prophetic and when MTV launched in August of 1981, the very first music video broadcast on the new channel was ‘Video Killed The Radio Star’. Fast forward to 2017 and while radio maintains a presence via the internet, video continues to rule via platforms such as YouTube and Vimeo.
The spacey monochromatic visual accompaniment for ‘Video Killed The Radio Star (Dark Star)’ sees Scattergood clad like Barbarella in thigh length boots, while enticingly twiddling with an EMS VCS3 in the ultimate homage to retro-futurism and vintage Sci-Fi. She said in an interview with The Electricity Club in 2014: “I have always been fascinated by electronics. When I made my first album, although I enjoyed experimenting, it was all fairly new to me. But by the time I made ‘Arrows’, I guess I felt more confident in the sound I wanted to make”.
Polly Scattergood is no stranger to cover versions, having previously offered reinterpretations of ‘Hurt’, ‘New York, New York’, ‘The Look Of Love’, ‘Comfortably Numb’ and ‘Only You’ in her various guises. Meanwhile, THE RADIO SCIENCE ORCHESTRA sees Woolley reunited with Thomas Dolby who played keyboards with THE CAMERA CLUB.
The single is the lifeblood of pop music, serving the purpose of a trailer to an artist’s new album or as an entity on its own.
The non-album single first came to prominence with THE BEATLES and THE WALKER BROTHERS, but as rock music in particular got more serious, bands like PINK FLOYD and LED ZEPPELIN looked down on the shorter format, refusing to even release singles and focussing only on albums.
With punk and new wave, acts like THE JAM, THE CLASH and SIOUXSIE & THE BANSHEES frequently issued standalone singles, often as a document of developing ideals or even to indulge in the occasional cover version. But others like IAN DURY & THE BLOCKHEADS saw it as statement of not ripping-off their audience by effectively making them buy the same song twice.
All the singles listed here were released in 7 inch format and not included on any of the artist’s original edition albums in the UK. Songs that were singles to promote compilation albums, remix collections or films are permitted, but singles by bands that did not actually get round to releasing a full length album are not included.
So here are The Electricity Club’s 25 Classic Standalone Synth Singles presented in chronological, and then alphabetical order.
FAD GADGET Ricky’s Hand (1980)
The unsettling second single by former Leeds Polytechnic art student Frank Tovey was a commentary on the dangers of drink driving as “Ricky contravened the Highway Code”. Featuring an electric drill alongside assorted synths and industrial rhythms, ‘Ricky’s Hand’ was not included on the debut FAD GADGET long player ‘Fireside Favourites’ that came out a few months later, but it helped establish Mute Records’ credentials as an early champion of independent electronic music.
JOHN FOXX’s first release after the ‘Metamatic’ period recalled his twilight years with ULTRAVOX and in particular ‘Slow Motion’. Featuring live drums from Edward Case, guitars were replicated by treated layers of ARP Odyssey. While not as fully accomplished as ‘Slow Motion’, ‘Miles Away’ was a worthy transitional recording although where Foxx headed next was the more romantic and band oriented textures of ‘The Garden’, with former ULTRAVOX guitarist Robin Simon returning to the fold.
With JAPAN not making any headway in the UK chart singles charts, their manager Simon Napier-Bell felt the only solution was to record a cover version. David Sylvian opted to visit his parents’ Motown collection and the song he chose was a lively SMOKEY ROBINSON & THE MIRACLES number. Slowed down and given a more arty Ferry-ish treatment, ‘I Second That Emotion’ was not a hit on its original release, but the world belatedly caught up when a remixed reissue reached No11 in 1982.
With a haunting string line from an ARP Omni, ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’ was the posthumous hit single that documented the relationship turmoil which JOY DIVISION’s lead singer Ian Curtis was facing prior to his suicide. The initial attempt at recording had been much faster and tighter, but producer Martin Hannett slowed the band down and suggested Curtis take on a more Sinatra based drawl. The looser end result added further weight and poignancy.
A statement on his fractious relationship with the press, incessant riffs, flanged guitar and swooping Polymoog provided melody, grit and tension in equal measures. Meanwhile, real drums and a Roland Compurhythm combined to provide a solid but unusual backbone. This fan favourite was not included on the original LP version of ‘Telekon’, although did feature on the cassette. Numan felt he was giving value to his fans, but casual followers didn’t buy the album as a result and it affected wider sales momentum.
‘I Love This Life’ was the first recorded offering from THE BLUE NILE and the highly acclaimed esoteric template that later emerged on ‘A Walk Across The Rooftops’ was already omnipresent. Rawer and more aggressive than songs like ‘Stay’ and ‘Tinseltown In The Rain’, this was a fine opening gambit from the enigmatic Glaswegian trio who had met at university. Originally self-released on their own Peppermint Records, the single was picked up by RSO who promptly folded after its re-release.
Smothered in ARP Quartet and electronic drums but maintaining the heavy claustrophobic feel of that year’s ‘Faith’ album, the haunting ‘Charlotte Sometimes’ co-produced by Mike Hedges was an interim 45 offering prior to the doomfest of ‘Pornography’. The band’s potential for success now looked like a real threat as The Raincoat Brigade seeked out a successor to JOY DIVISION. But as Robert Smith found his voice, by late 1982 he’d lightened up for the first of THE CURE’s fantasy singles, ‘Let’s Go to Bed’.
Following the politically charged electro-funk of ‘(We Don’t Need This) Fascist Groove Thang’, Martyn Ware and Ian Craig Marsh returned to their roots in THE HUMAN LEAGUE with the more exclusively synth driven ‘I’m Your Money’. The multi-lingual phrases strewn over the bridge highlighted an expanding world market while Glenn Gregory provided commentary on how personal relationships were like business transactions. Often a forgotten HEAVEN 17 single, it has since returned to their live set.
Having scored an unexpected UK hit with the beautiful synth laden ‘I Hear You Now’, JON & VANGELIS did it again with ‘I’ll Find My Way Home’, a song that had not been included on the final tracklisting of their second album ‘The Friends Of Mr Cairo’. Anderson’s lyrics were almost spiritual while the widescreen sonic backing from his Greek chum complimented the mood. Evangelos Odysseas Papathanassiou himself was about to enter his most high profile period with ‘Chariots Of Fire’ and ‘Blade Runner’.
It’s strange to think now that when CHINA CRISIS first emerged with ‘African & White’, they were quite uptempo and percussive, influenced by TALKING HEADS and MAGAZINE. ‘Scream Down At Me’ was unusual in many respects, being more dynamic than most of the material that featured on their debut album ‘Difficult Shapes & Passive Rhythms, Some People Think It’s Fun To Entertain’. The single showcased a degree of frantic art funk tension that was never to be repeated by the band.
Following the cult success of his debut album ‘The Golden Age Of Wireless’, THOMAS DOLBY sent up the mad scientist image he had accquired by actually employing a real mad scientist in Doctor Magnus Pyke for his next single. Produced by Tim Friese-Greene, this slice of gloriously eccentric synthpop had been recorded as a non-LP one-off, but its chart success in America led to ‘She Blinded Me With Science’ being appended to the album. However, it failed to make the UK Top40 despite being re-issued.
‘What!’ effectively bookended Marc Almond and Dave Ball’s imperial pop period which had started with ‘Tainted Love’. Another song that came via the Northern Soul scene, it was originally recorded by Judy Street and had more than a passing resemblance to ‘Always Something There To Remind Me’. The recording was quickly disowned and was to be SOFT CELL’s last Top10 single before the duo entered much darker musical territory and on the path to ‘Mr Self Destruct’.
One of the occasional traits of standalone singles was how they were often quickly recorded and rush-released, due to an impending tour or upcoming greatest hits. In the case of YAZOO, it was the latter. One of only three co-writes by Alison Moyet and Vince Clarke, this bright if almost forgettable tune has been described by Moyet as “hateful”. However, ‘The Other Side of Love’ allowed Clarke to put his newly acquired Fairlight CMI through its paces, while a gospel flavour came from SYLVIA & THE SAPPHIRES.
DURAN DURAN Is There Something I Should Know? (1983)
Released in the interim between the ‘Rio’ and ‘Seven & The Ragged Tiger’ albums, ‘Is There Something I Should Know?’ could be seen as a cynical attempt to ensure DURAN DURAN attained the coveted UK No1 slot. Nick Rhodes made it clear the song was not going to be on the next Duran album while completely different versions featured on each of the 7 and 12 inch formats. One of their most synth laden singles, it featured that dreadfully unforgettable line “You’re about as easy as a nuclear war”!
Now available on the album ‘Greatest’ via EMI Music
THE HUMAN LEAGUE were in limbo after the departure of producer Martin Rushent from the sessions to record a follow-up to the massive selling ‘Dare’. So one of the last songs he worked on was prepared for single release to buy the band some extra time. Subsequently remixed by Chris Thomas, ‘Fascination’ featured a charming four way call-and-response vocal while the huge use of portamento on the lead synth line fooled a number of buyers into returning their singles to the shops, thinking it was warped!
Borrowed from Paul Hindemith’s ‘Heiter Bewegt – Sonate Für Flöte Und Klavier’ composed in 1936, an Emulator was used to synchronise voices and mechanical sounds to a marvellous electronic percussion pattern. ‘Tour De France’ successfully reinforced KRAFTWERK’s credibility within Urban America. But feeling left behind in comparison to THE ART OF NOISE, Ralf Hütter demanded their upcoming ‘Technopop’ album to be reworked with a Synclavier’; it was a move that ultimately stalled momentum.
Dark and brooding, the debut single from the DAF drummer became a highly regarded cult classic. The slow stark Teutonic electro of ‘Mit Dir’ was considerably less harsh than his band’s pioneering electronic body music. Although not featured on Görl’s first solo album ‘Night Full Of Tension’, ‘Mit Dir’ did much to help lighten his mood considerably, so much so that he was even attempting synthpop with contributions from EURYTHMICS’ Annie Lennox on songs like ‘Darling Don’t Leave Me’.
ULTRAVOX had maintained a run of eleven successive Top30 singles in their classic Midge Ure-fronted incarnation so when ‘The Collection’ compilation was being prepared by Chrysalis Records, the band suggested including a new track which was an unusual move for the time. Based on a demo rejected by Levi’s for an ad campaign, the huge symphonic pomp of ‘Loves Great Adventure’ was a brilliantly glorious statement with Billy Currie’s OSCar interventions being its undoubted musical highlight.
An important interim single for DEPECHE MODE, ‘Shake The Disease’ was the bridge between the industrial flavoured synthpop of ‘Some Great Reward’ and the darker aesthetics of ‘Black Celebration’. A much more accomplished recording than the more throwaway standalones like ‘It’s Called A Heart’ and ‘But Not Tonight’ which followed, ‘Shake The Disease’ continues to be performed live at DM shows, albeit in less interesting stripped down form with Martin Gore on lead vocals.
With ambitions to break the US market, SIMPLE MINDS were offered a song written by Steve Chiff and producer Keith Forsey for a John Hughes movie entitled ‘The Breakfast Club’. The song had already been rejected by Billy Idol and Bryan Ferry, so was reluctantly recorded by the band at a studio in Wembley. With the right balance of synths and FM rock, ‘Don’t You’ became an unexpected American No1 on the back of the movie’s success and took Jim Kerr and Co into the stadiums of the world.
Post-Moroder, SPARKS had returned Stateside to hone a more rock-orientated sound. But the Mael Brothers returned to their more eccentric and provocative side with ‘Change’, a one-off for London Records. Engineered by Dan Lacksman of TELEX, the middle eight featured a sonic passage that would have made Trevor Horn proud. Lines such as “I’ve been thinking we’ll get back together again someday – your hair will be some weird color by then…” reminded European audiences of how quirky SPARKS could be.
Love it or loathe it, OMD’s contribution to the ‘Pretty In Pink’ soundtrack was a massive US hit and the reason why youngsters are still discovering the band. Produced by Tom Lord-Alge, while the Fairlight assisted sound appears at odds with Paul Humphreys and Andy McCluskey’s pioneering synthpop, the intro of ‘If You Leave’ actually follows a chord progression very similar to ‘Enola Gay’. Interestingly, the song failed to enter the Top40 on its release in the UK.
Now available on the album ‘Messages’ via Virgin Records
When NEW ORDER issued their ‘Substance’ 12 inch singles collection, 9 out of its 12 songs had not featured on their previous albums in any form. Released to coincide with a three date European tour, the Diego Maradona inspired ‘Touched By The Hand Of God’ is one of the Mancunian’s combo’s more under rated singles. With a synth riff borrowed from SHANNON’s ‘Let The Music Play’, it successfully combined some gritty rock energy to a solid Italo disco backbone featuring a great sequenced bassline.
Recorded for the ‘Crackers International’ EP between ‘The Innocents’ and ‘Wild!’, ‘Stop!’ was a throbbing Moroder-inspired disco tune that borrowed counter-melodies from DONNA SUMMER’s ‘Love’s Unkind’. Independent labels such as Mute and Factory were more likely to indulge in releases that weren’t specifically tied in to albums, and it proved to be a perfect move to maintain ERASURE’s profile while they were preparing their next plan of action. Another standalone EP release ‘Abba-esque’ was a UK No1 in 1992.
PET SHOP BOYS Where The Streets Have No Name (1991)
Chris Lowe felt that the opener on U2’s ‘The Joshua Tree’ would make a good HI-NRG track. In a cheeky send-up of how Bono and Co would often drop snippets of covers into live versions, ‘Can’t Take My Eyes Off Of You’ made famous by Andy Williams was segued into ‘Where The Streets Have No Name’. It all seemed so camp and ridiculous in the video when Neil Tennant was singing the second verse wearing a Stetson, but then in 1992, out popped Bono doing something similar on their ‘Zoo TV’ tour!
Now available on the album ‘Pop Art’ via EMI Music
When YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA formed in 1978, it was intended to be a one-off project for producer / bassist Haruomi Hosono and the two session musicians he had hired: drummer Yukihiro Takahashi and keyboardist Ryuichi Sakamoto.
Prior to the group’s formation, the classically trained Sakamoto had experimented with electronic music at the Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music.
Hosono had been involved in the recording of several early electronic rock records in Japan.
Meanwhile, Takahashi was in THE SADISTIC MIKA BAND, a prog outfit who were signed to PINK FLOYD’s label Harvest and had appeared on ‘Old Grey Whistle Test’. Hosono began formulating the idea of an instrumental disco band which could have the potential to succeed internationally. The format was formally defined when Sakamoto introduced the music of KRAFTWERK to the other two.
KRAFTWERK’s artistic outlook, along with acts such as TANGERINE DREAM, NEU! and LA DÜSSELDORF had helped restore a sense of Germanic identity in reaction to the Americanisation of European post-war culture. The trio were feeling this was needed in Japan too, so they endeavoured to make something very original using electronics. As Sakamoto remarked, this involved using the “very Japanese” approach of merging many different styles like a Bento box in a reliable, forward thinking fashion.
The technology used on their 1978 debut album included the Moog III-C, Korg PS-3100, Polymoog, ARP Odyssey, Oberheim Eight Voice, Minimoog, Korg VC-10 Vocoder and Roland MC-8 Micro Composer. With the latter programmed by fourth member Hideki Matsutake, the result was a crisp, exotic pop sound that was unusual and ahead of its time, even in the synthesizer heartland of Europe.
YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA scored a UK Top 20 hit single in 1980 with ‘Computer Game (Theme From The Invader)’ . Recorded in 1978, the main section of the track was actually ‘Firecracker’, a cover of a 1959 composition by Martin Denny. The single also gained traction in America where the trio made a memorable appearance on the prestigious music show ‘Soul Train’. It subsequently made an impact out on the block as it was later sampled by Hip-Hop godfather Afrika Bambaataa on ‘Death Mix’ and then in 2001, it was used again by Jennifer Lopez on ‘I’m Real’.
The international popularity of YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA (or YMO as they came to be known) coincided with the burgeoning synthpop scene in Britain which had embraced the affordable synthesizers from Japanese manufacturers such as Roland, Korg and Yamaha. VISAGE’s Rusty Egan in his dual role as DJ at the legendary Blitz Club in London had been spinning YMO tunes while acts such as GARY NUMAN, THE HUMAN LEAGUE, ULTRAVOX, OMD, SOFT CELL and DEPECHE MODE started achieving mainstream success.
YMO went on to be the one of the most popular bands in South East Asia, but despite this success, the trio went into hiatus in 1984, with each member continuing their already established parallel solo careers. While the trio said they were “spreading out” rather than splitting, they continued to play on each other’s recordings and made guest appearances at various live shows.
Sakamoto achieved the highest international profile from his ventures into acting and soundtrack work. His Oscar winning success for ‘The Last Emperor’ in 1988 helped expand his soundtrack portfolio to include films such as ‘Black Rain’, ‘The Sheltering Sky’ and ‘Little Buddha’, while he also composed music for events like the Opening Ceremony of the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona.
A short reunion took place in 1993 for the ‘Technodon’ album where the band had to be known as YMO, but there was no further activity until 2007 when Hosono, Sakamoto and Takahashi were reunited for a Kirin Lager advertising campaign, performing one of their most popular numbers ‘Rydeen’.
Hosono and Takahashi had been working together in a project called SKETCH SHOW and on a number of occasions, Sakamoto was invited to join in. As a result, he proposed that the group rename itself HUMAN AUDIO SPONGE (HAS) for whenever he was involved. Inevitably, YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA reformed again when they played the 2007 Kyoto Live Earth event, although for recording purposes they combined names and went out as HASYMO.
In Summer 2008, the trio played the Meltdown Festival curated by MASSIVE ATTACK billed as YMO, although only four YMO songs were played while the rest of the set comprised of SKETCH SHOW, HASYMO and solo material. However in 2009, the trio performed at the World Happiness festival in Japan and confirmed that YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA was their official name, while there was a further appearance at the 2010 event. Despite the confusion over names, it would appear YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA are still a going concern, although Sakamoto is presently taking an extended break recuperating from illness.
So with their place in electronic music history assured, what twenty tracks would make up an imaginary CD compilation album to act as Beginner’s Guide to the iconic trio? The Electricity Club made the following selections for its YMO Bento box…
YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA Tong Poo (1978)
YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA’s debut self-titled album was noted for its use of the then brand new computerised Roland MC8 Micro-Composer to control the synthesizers. With their use of modern technology, they became standard bearers for what eventually became known in Japan as technopop. Despite its pulsing electronic disco bassline, the Sakamoto penned ‘Tong Poo’ was inspired by Chinese music produced during the China’s Cultural Revolution.
With ‘Behind The Mask’, YMO’s influence touched rock, pop and soul. Michael Jackson loved the track so much, he penned additional lyrics to it during the ‘Thriller’ sessions. Unable to be released at the time by Jackson himself, he gave the reworked track to his musical director Greg Phillinganes who had a surprise Top 5 hit in the US R’n’B charts in 1985. This proxy collaboration was then later covered by Eric Clapton in 1987. The remixed MJ demo eventually appeared on the posthumous album ‘Michael’.
Back from when Sakamoto spelt the alphabetical version of his first name as ‘Riuichi’, ‘Riot in Lagos’ off his 1980 ‘B-2 Unit’ album has often been seen as a pivotal track that anticipated the beats and pulses of house music. A frantic but danceable instrumental that conveyed the rhythmic tension and violence of the title, it was a fine example of the visual narrative of Sakamoto’s compositional mind. It was a talent that would serve him well in a burgeoning career that would eventually lead him to the cinema.
Available on the RIUICHI SAKAMOTO album ‘B-2 Unit’ via GT Music Japan
Following the success of JAPAN’s third album ‘Quiet Life’, Sakamoto was assigned by a magazine to interview David Sylvian. The meeting led to the beginnings of a long standing friendship and a magnificent collaboration entitled ‘Taking Islands In Africa’ which ended up closing the long player. The music was entirely Sakamoto’s while Sylvian contributed the worldly lyrics. There were to be further collaborations between the pair, the most recent being ‘World Citizen’ in 2004.
‘BGM’ was the first recording to use the now iconic Roland TR-808 Rhythm Composer and a 3M 32-track digital recorder. However, as producer of ‘BGM’, Hosono did not like the latter’s aural sharpness and preferred to record the rhythm sections on analogue tape first before copying them to the 3M machine. This album’s best song ‘Camouflage’ was a curious beat laden blend of Eastern pentatonics and Western metallics… the German synth band CAMOUFLAGE took their name from this very song.
Available on the YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA album ‘BGM’ via Alfa Music
The Roland MC-8 Micro-Composer programmed by fourth member Hideki Matsutake was a key part of YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA’s early production and live performances. In 1981, Matsutake formed his own project LOGIC SYSTEM. Inspired after hearing a playback of Wendy Carlos’ ‘Switched-On Bach’, he went on to be the technical assistant of TOMITA. ‘Domino Dance’ was the excellent lead single from the acclaimed ‘Logic’ and while less immediate, it was worthy of his better known employers.
Available on the LOGIC SYSTEM album ‘Logic’ via Express Japan / Toshiba EMI
After guesting on ‘Absolute Ego Dance’ from ‘Solid State Survivor’, Hawaiian Japanese vocalist Sandy O’Neal began working with Hosono, who was producing a Japanese band called THE SUNSET GANG. Convincing the all-male combo that her Kate Bush influenced vocals would be ideal to front their brand of chunky music, SANDII & THE SUNSETZ were born. The highlight of the 1981 Hosono produced album ‘Heat Scale’ was ‘The Great Wall’, a song influenced by music of the Chinese Cultural revolution.
Available on the SANDII & THE SUNSETZ album ‘Heat Scale’ via Alfa Music
Being YMO’s main vocalist did not necessarily mean Takahashi-san was a great singer and indeed, it very much had a Marmite effect. With his solo albums of course, his voice took centre stage. And with his afflicted, semi-croon in the vein of Bryan Ferry, he showed his passionate side on ‘Something In The Air’. Not a cover of the THUNDERCLAP NEWMAN song, it came from ‘Neuromantic’, considered to be one of Takahashi’s finest solo albums; it featured Tony Mansfield, Phil Manzanera and Andy Mackay.
Available on the YUKIHIRO TAKAHASHI album ‘Neuromantic’ via GT Music Japan
YMO’s experimental fourth long player ‘Technodelic’ was notable for its use of an LMD-649, a hand-made sampler developed by Toshiba EMI engineer Kenji Murata. Although ‘Neue Tanz’ was a tribute to KRAFTWERK, Hosono played bass guitar on the track, adding a dark funkiness that once merged with the Indonesian Kecak chanting samples, recalled David Byrne and Brian Eno’s ‘My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts’ album. KRAFTWERK borrowed back the concept in 1986 for ‘Musique Non Stop’.
Available on the YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA album ‘Technodelic’ via Alfa Music
Franco-Japanese beauty SUSAN was a protégée of Takahashi and ‘I Only Come Out At Night’ was produced and written by him with lyrical assistance from the now-regular YMO collaborator Peter Barakan. Gloriously detuned and pentatonic, this was a fine example of how new technology was allowing the smarter than average drummer to challenge their perceived role in pop. Takahashi certainly provided a heavier, more leftfield sound compared with Hosono’s production work for Idol singers such as Seiko Matsuda.
Available on the SUSAN album ‘Complete’ via Sony Music Japan
‘Naughty Boys’ was YMO’s most commercial album of their career. This was highlighted by the massively popular and joyous lead single ‘Kimi Ni Mune Kyun’. Takahashi, Hosono and Sakamoto were the oldest J-Pop boy band in town, looking like ARASHI’s great uncles! A YMO vs THE HUMAN LEAGUE EP featuring a remix with new English lyrics and vocals by Phil Oakey was released in 1993. Meanwhile in 2009, the song was the closing theme to the Anime series ‘Maria Holic’, sung by the voice cast.
Available on the YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA album ‘Naughty Boys’ via Alfa Music
DAVID SYLVIAN & RIUICHI SAKAMOTO Forbidden Colours (1983)
Following a joint single with David Sylvian at the height of JAPAN’s fame entitled ‘Bamboo Music’ in 1982, Sakamoto made his 1983 acting debut alongside David Bowie in ‘Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence’. He also composed the soundtrack with Sylvian providing lead vocals on the single version of the WWII drama’s haunting theme tune. Retitled ‘Forbidden Colours’, the lyrics reflected the taboo love story of the Nagisa Oshima directed film. Since then, the track has been covered in various languages.
YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA You’ve Got To Help Yourself (1983)
Like the polarising ‘∞Multiplies’ mini-album from 1980, ‘Service’ contained YMO songs alongside various skits, performed by the comedy combo SUPER ECCENTRIC THEATER (SET). Whether the inclusion of the SET material was an ironic act of cultural subversion is a mystery to Western ears, as the sketches were all in Japanese! The best song on ‘Service’ though was the poppy ‘You’ve Got To Help Yourself’ which tellingly had previously featured in instrumental taster form on ‘Naughty Boys’.
Available on the YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA album ‘Service’ via Alfa Music
Hosono was one of the first people to acknowledge the appeal of video game sounds and arranged an album containing Namco arcade game music. Simply titled ‘Video Game Music’, it was acknowledged as being the first chiptune record. A subsequent maxi single release ‘Super Xevious’ had Hosono actually composing and performing around original game music by Yuriko Keino and Junko Ozawa. ‘Gaplus’ with its phased gunshots, blips and classical overtones was the undoubted highlight.
Available on the HARUOMI HOSONO EP ‘Super Xevious’ via Scitron Digital Content
RYUICHI SAKAMOTO featuring THOMAS DOLBY Field Work (1986)
Most of the tracks for what was to become ‘Illustrated Musical Encyclopedia’ were originally recorded in 1984 and as the title suggested, saw Sakamoto exploring a variety of styles and genres including jazz and soca. Initially only released in Japan, the album was altered for the international market with some new tracks. One of these was this great collaboration with Thomas Dolby. Entitled ‘Field Work’, it united both artists’ concerns for the environment.
YUKIHIRO TAKAHASHI & STEVE JANSEN Stay Close (1986)
Takahashi’s solo albums featured JAPAN’s bassist Mick Karn and drummer Steve Jansen. In 1986, Jansen and Takahashi released a brilliant joint single ‘Stay Close’. Additionally featuring the talents of legendary rhythm guitarist Carlos Alomar, Jansen in particular did a very able impression of his older brother David Sylvian, while Takahashi provided his usual mannered “will he make it – won’t he?” vocals. It remains a true lost classic as possibly the best song that JAPAN and YMO never recorded.
Available on the YUKIHIRO TAKAHASHI album ‘Once A Fool…’ via Pony Canyon
The dreamy ‘Heartbeat (Tainai Kaiki II)’ saw David Sylvian return to give a raw passionate vocal performance which was counterpointed by a whispery spoken word passage from Ingrid Chavez. The two emotionally connected in real life and got married after the recording. More organic than previous Sylvian / Sakamoto collaborations, the bed of the song was Sakamoto-san’s eerie piano and ‘Twin Peaks’ strings, while out of nowhere came a rousing solo from noted jazz guitarist Bill Frisell.
Available on the RYUICHI SAKAMOTO album ‘Heartbeat’ via Virgin Records
For their comeback album ‘Technodon’, the band were forced to release it under the moniker YMO as the name YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA was owned by former record label Alfa Records. Songs like ‘Hi-tech Hippies’ had more straightforward techno arrangements than any of the trio’s more recent solo work. The album was also sample free to save any potential copyright infringements. ‘Pocket Full Of Rainbows’ was a Japanese language cover of the tune made famous by Elvis Presley in ‘GI Blues’.
RYUICHI SAKAMOTO Anger – Rare Force 2 Meg Remix (1998)
Sakamoto’s soundtrack success led him to sign with Sony Classical. His first work for the label ‘Discord’ was a four movement avant-garde composition exploring dissonant musical structures. Two of the tracks ‘Anger’ and ‘Grief’ were given out to remixers, thus cementing the link Sakamoto had with dance culture since ‘Riot In Lagos’. The aggressive, almost industrial ‘Anger’ was given a dark breakbeat treatment by Skint Records signings RARE FORCE which got the adrenaline pumping.
Available on the RYUICHI SAKAMOTO album ‘Moto.tronic’ via Sony Music
Producing a single ‘Rescue’ for the Anime film ‘Appleseed Ex Machina’, Hosono, Sakamoto and Takahashi utilised a leftfield jazz techno sound and the pretty female voice of Chiho Shibaoka. The film’s soundtrack featured two further HASYMO tracks ‘Method’ and ‘Weather’ as well as a large number of solo contributions from Hosono. The recorded reunion put YMO back into the public eye and led to invitations for a variety of prestigious events including Meltdown.
Available on the HASYMO single ‘Rescue’ via Commmons / Avex Trax
In the five years since its formation, The Electricity Club has reviewed over a hundred gigs and witnessed some fabulous live performances as well as some not so great ones… one was so bad in fact, TEC declined to submit a review in the end!
There have been sell-out concerts and also ones where literally one man and their dog have been attendance, until the dog realised it was at the wrong gig and left!
Despite the downturn in music sales overall, the live scene has been vibrant with gigs and events sympathetic to electronic music springing up all over Europe. Again, the quality of these has been variable, but at least acts using synthesizers no longer have to necessarily perform on incongruous bills alongside indie bands, folkies and rapper MCs.
Listed in chronological order with a restriction of one headline gig per artist, here are The Electricity Club’s 30 favourite gigs from the period between 2010 to 2014… modesty prevents The Electricity Club from listing its own TEC001, TEC002 and TEC003 events 😉
LA ROUX + HEAVEN 17 at BBC Maida Vale (2010)
In a performance for BBC6 Music, when Glenn Gregory took the lead on the verses of ‘In For The Kill’, any scepticism lingering about the connection between LA ROUX, HEAVEN 17 and early HUMAN LEAGUE was quashed. Before ‘Temptation’, Martyn Ware gleefully told everyone that Gregory only got 78% doing it on ‘SingStar’. While Elly Jackson might not have a natural soul voice, she certainly hit those high notes. An uptempo cover of TERENCE TRENT D’ARBY’s ‘Sign Your Name’ finished a unique evening.
Part of the Teenage Cancer Trust series of gigs, rumours that DEPECHE MODE had something special up their sleeves were spreading like wild fire among The Devoted as they gathered from all over the world in South Kensington. And it came in the shape of the much missed Alan Wilder appearing with DM for the first time since 1994 to accompany Martin Gore on a rendition of ‘Somebody’ during the encore. “A proud moment for me knowing that most people were so happy about it” Wilder said.
Following their triumphant reunion in 2009, ULTRAVOX returned for a second leg with an expanded setlist. The line-up of Warren Cann, Chris Cross, Billy Currie and Midge Ure were much more relaxed and with a stripped down lightshow, it was all about the music. Highlights included an even more Kraftwerkian rendition of ‘Mr X’, ‘I Remember (Death In the Afternoon)’ where Currie opted to do the closing piano motif one-handed and the effervescent quadruple drum action climax to ‘The Voice’.
French songstress EMILIE SIMON is an embodiment of the truly independent female artist. And as in the PET SHOP BOYS song ‘Opportunities’, she really did study at the Sorbonne. Her one woman performance at The Jazz Café showcased her range of musical devices such as a Yamaha Tenorion, an amazing ‘effects’ gauntlet and a futuristic Casio guitar synth alongside her faithful keyboards. The brilliant avant pop of ‘Dreamland’ wonderfully highlighted her inventive use of electronics.
With some eccentric Fe-Mael intuition, Marina Diamandis was possibly the nearest thing to SPARKS meeting LENE LOVICH. She arrived on the stage like Aphrodite, the Olympian Goddess of Love and Beauty, all dressed up to the nines in a most elegant full length black gown. Fabulously quirky songs like ‘I Am Not A Robot’, ‘Oh No!’ and her attack on WAG culture ‘Girls’ showed she was no poppet. ‘Shampain’ and the so far unreleased ‘Jealousy’ proved she could do classic synthpop too.
On a cold Autumn evening, something unusual was happening; Alison Goldfrapp was having fun! It was if the thigh booted ice queen of yore had melted and turned into Olivia Newton-John. The ‘Head First’ album dominated the middle part of this show and was tailor made for the dynamics of live performance. The bouncy FM synth rock numbers ‘Alive’, ‘Believer ‘and ‘Rocket’ had that punch the air feeling and sat well alongside the Schaffel stomps of ‘Ooh La La’, ‘Train’ and ‘Strict Machine’.
It says something about a band’s standing when the song that gets the biggest applause is a new one, and the one that everyone thinks should have been played is also new… A-HA’s ‘Foot Of The Mountain’ was a true return to form for the Norwegian trio and its title track was the best received moment of the show at Wembley. Sadly, ‘Nothing Is Keeping You Here’ wasn’t played, but with so many great songs in their catalogue, that didn’t matter in a glorious live celebration of their career before disbanding.
CLAUDIA BRÜCKEN gathered a number of friends to celebrate her career. As well as Paul Humphreys, Andy Bell, Glenn Gregory and Martyn Ware, there was the wonderful 3/4 reunion of PROPAGANDA with Susanne Freytag and Ralf Dörper on ‘Dr Mabuse’ and ‘P Machinery’. There was also a surprise performance of HEAVEN 17’s demo version of ‘Temptation’ where a suitably detached vocal from Ms Brücken enhanced the song’s more electronic origins, along with material from her projects ONETWO and ACT.
DURAN DURAN proved they could recapture the performing zest of their glory days, but now thanks to the ‘All You Need Is Now’ album, they had the new material to back it up too. Beginning in true DURAN DURAN style with a Bond Theme overture delivered by a string quartet of blonde, brunette, red and raven haired beauties, the band launched into a glorious set of hits and highlights from the new long player. And best of all, they didn’t bother with their horrendous cover of ‘White Lies (Don’t Do It)’ 😉
IAMX have captured an electro Gothic aesthetic that combines the theatrics of Weimar Cabaret with themes of sex, alienation and dependency which have appealed more in Europe than at home. So it was appropriate that the contradiction theme of ‘Think Of England’ was a live centrepiece that evening in Cologne. Delivering a mechanical cabaret with a deluge of haunting East European scales and neo-classical flourishes, the disturbingly militaristic cinematic waltz of ‘President’ was a great finish.
Pop Noir quartet MIRRORS were an outstanding live act with their powerful synthetic sound resonating alongside their grainy impressionistic film projections and stark lighting. On their first headlining tour of Germany, the extra setlist time allowed for the premiere of the neo-electro disco of ‘Toe The Line’ and their 10 minute epic ‘Secrets’. New’s majestic vocal style took a backseat in the song’s third movement as he adopted a sub-Ian Curtis persona and screamed out during the screeching military tattoo of its climax.
Short Circuit Presents Mute at The Roundhouse (2011)
This two day celebration of Mute Records had everything except DEPECHE MODE themselves. Alan Wilder appeared as RECOIL with Doug McCarthy of NITZER EBB joining him for a performance of ‘Personal Jesus’, while Andy Fletcher and Martin Gore each did DJ sets. The live centrepiece was a special set featuring ERASURE, YAZOO and THE ASSEMBLY, although one memorable moment of the day was non-musical with Flood’s lecture on the making of ‘Enjoy The Silence’ and his goofy mimicking of Martin Gore!
Korg is a four letter word…but then so is love. LADYTRON pulled off that rare feat of being an electronic based act that appealed to rockers, emos, indie kids and synthpopsters alike. Their only UK gig of 2011 was drawn from all of their albums. Mira Aroyo’s distinctive Bulgarian over the mechanical buzz of ‘True Mathematics’, a fabulously frantic cover of DEATH IN JUNE’s ‘Little Black Angel’ and old favourite ‘Discotraxx’ with its repeated claptrap fill were key show highlights.
The Electronic Phuture Revue at Royal Festival Hall (2011)
‘The Electronic Phuture Revue’ curated by Martyn Ware and Mark Jones featured a stupendous line-up of HEAVEN 17, ONE TWO, THOMAS DOLBY, MIRRORS, ONETWO, RECOIL and MOTOR. And although not there, the musical legacy of Martin Gore lingered in the sets of the latter three. But the event was clouded by a poor attendance, caused by the high ticket price from hosts The Vintage Festival charging gig goers a compulsory extra £50 to enter a clothing fayre that they were never going to attend…
Featuring Sandie Shaw, Boy George, Kim Wilde, Green Gartside, Polly Scattergood, Midge Ure and of course, Glenn Gregory, Martyn Ware’s ambitious BEF covers project became a live entity for the first time. As well as the great and varied music on offer, one of the highlights was Boy George’s unsurprisingly camp take of ‘These Boots Are Made For Walking’. His onstage tale about going with Martyn Ware to see Gary Glitter in concert and getting the convicted felon’s autograph was priceless: “…I don’t think it’s worth much now” he quipped!
Foxx and Mathematical partner Benge took to the road on a national tour and in the backing band were the glamourous duo of Hannah Peel and Serafina Steer handling synths among several other conventional instruments. With ‘Interplay’ being Foxx’s most complete body of work since ‘Metamatic’, material from both albums sat comfortably side-by-side within the set. But it was Hannah Peel’s eerie violin contributions on the ‘Metamatic’ era songs like ‘Burning Car’ and ‘He’s A Liquid’ that were probably the show’s biggest revelation.
Ja Ja Ja 3rd Birthday Party at The Lexington (2012)
London based Nordic music night ‘Ja Ja Ja’ celebrated its third birthday where the beautiful and the bearded mingled alongside musical figures from different generations such as KARIN PARK and RUSTY EGAN. It featured the first live performance outside Finland of SIN COS TAN. The highlight of SIN COS TAN’s set was marvellous extended workout of ‘Trust’. A cold dark evening and synthesizers… it was a concoction made in heaven. Concluding the evening, headliner MØ was impressive too, coming across like LANA DEL REY trapped in a frozen Fjord.
REPUBLICA’s gig at London’s Garage had a superb line-up of supporting players. There was the enjoyable disco pop of KOVAK fronted by the very sexy Annelies Van de Velde and the electro rock fusion of the almost equally sexy TENEK. Like two parts Toyah: one part Siouxsie at a warehouse party, Saffron provided the feisty focus while Tim Dorney and Jonny Glue acted as complimentary foil to recreate the punchy REPUBLICA sound. With luminaries like SAMANTHA FOX and RUSTY EGAN also in the audience, it was a fun filled occasion for all.
KARIN PARK’s fourth album ‘Highwire Poetry’ was a steady burner embraced through word of mouth, but its embracement couldn’t have prepared audiences for the spectacle of her live show. With an obviously towering presence, her animated stares and jerky movements had the crowd transfixed. In an unusual set-up featuring her heavy metal loving brother David primarily on drums, the siblings showed themselves to be impressive multitaskers with David even venturing onto keyboards while Karin dabbled with a Korg MS20 and keytar.
MESH, DE/VISION + TORUL at Islington O2 Academy (2013)
Bristolian electro-rock duo MESH ended their successful European tour in style with a rousing show at the O2 Academy in London’s Islington district. Supporting an excellent bill were TORUL, a promising trio hailing from Slovenia and German veterans DE/VISION. But MESH’s set sprang into technological life as screens and projections set the scene for a live presentation of their best album yet ‘Automation Baby’. With songs such as ‘Born To Lie’, ‘Adjust Your Set’ and ‘Taken For Granted’, MESH were at the height of their powers.
Tickets for CHVRCHES gigs were exchanging hands at ridiculous prices but it was easy to see why as there was an endearing charm about them. Pulling out the stops with a huge laser display at Village Underground, singer Lauren Mayberry surreally remarked that it would have been cruel for anyone to have brought their cat to the show!! ‘Lies’, ‘Science & Vision’ and ‘The Mother We Share’ showcased what was to come with their debut LP while PRINCE’s ‘I Would Die 4 U’ was a good choice in the “we haven’t got enough songs, let’s do a cover” conundrum that haunts new acts.
VILE ELECTRODES got to play their most OMD derived number ‘Deep Red’ on the final night of their German tour supporting their heroes. Meanwhile, new OMD material such as ‘Dresden’ and ‘Kissing The Machine’ satisfied the crowd alongside the usual OMD favourites. Live duds ‘So In Love’ and ‘Walking On The Milky Way’ were also dropped for the welcome, good natured surprise (due to audience demand) of ‘Secret’. The almost frightening Teutonic shout of “ZU-GA-BE” by the audience in time to the closing drum machine of ‘Enola Gay’ was another unforgettable moment.
For Virgin Records 40th Anniversary, THE HUMAN LEAGUE were invited to play a special concert but declined. Instead, founder member Martyn Ware stepped into the breach. Loaded with surprises such as a ‘Marianne’, ‘Circus Of Death’ and ‘WXJL Tonight’, Glenn Gregory relished the vocal challenge while Ware took to the mic himself for a new rendition of IGGY POP’s ‘Nightclubbing’. HEAVEN 17’s hits satisfied members of the audience who still weren’t quite sure of the connection and with support provided by SCRITTI POLITTI, it was an unforgettable evening.
Numan’s shows in last ten or so years have been frustrating, often with great highs but then spoiled by severe lows, thanks to the one dimension nature of numbers from the ‘Jagged’ album. But with the ‘Splinter’ album and tour, Numan got it right. Free of the ballast from ‘Jagged’ and incorporating the best elements of ‘Replicas’, ‘The Pleasure Principle’, ‘Telekon’, ‘Pure’ and ‘Dead Son Rising’, The Roundhouse show was back to Numan at his formidable best. The dynamic and tempo variation plus the return to more electronics appeared to have done the trick…
KARL BARTOS’ ‘Off The Record’ show was a perfect multi-media history of electronic pop that celebrated the innovation of the past while moving forward musically. While the sounds are meatier, the technology more versatile and the tools much simpler to operate, what remains are the melodies, the traditions and the soul. It may be an unusual way to describe things related to Kling Klang, but with an evening of solo and KRAFTWERK material that coincided with Ralf Hütter receiving a Lifetime Achievement Grammy on behalf of the Düsseldorf quartet, this couldn’t have been truer.
A little basement studio in Hoxton houses one of biggest collections of vintage synths and within it, the delightful Miss Peel launched her marvellous ‘Fabricstate’ EP with an intimate performance using primarily just synths and samplers. On the title track, Peel launched into an amazing whirring synth solo on a DS Mopho x4 while with the haunting award winning ‘Chloe’, she showed her sensitivity. There was also a treat in a music box driven cover of PAUL BUCHANAN’s ‘Cars In The Garden’ with the said antique sequencer operated by a member of the audience.
An Evening With The Swedish Synth at 93 Feet East (2014)
Featuring synth veterans PAGE alongside comparative newcomers MACHINISTA and TRAIN TO SPAIN, Nordic friendly music blog Cold War Night Life’s ‘An Evening With The Swedish Synth’ proved what could be achieved when a genuine electronic music enthusiast curated an electronic event. A fair number of Swedes and Norwegians were in attendance so with the added cocktail of that Scandinavian sense of enjoyment and their insatiable appetite for liquid refreshment, it was a fun, good natured occasion that captured the spirit of how great music can unite people.
DIE KRUPPS are rightly cited as a huge influence on the likes of NITZER EBB, FRONT 242, DEPECHE MODE and most significantly RAMMSTEIN. Vocalist and founder member Jürgen Engler is still a great front man, playing up to Teutonic clichés and bashing metal with aplomb, particularly on a frenzied cover of VISAGE’s ‘The Anvil’ with special guest Sarah Blackwood. With big, sequenced basslines from Ralf Dörper, Marcel Zürcher’s crushing guitars and powerful drumming by Bradley Bills, it was a strangely joyful mechanised experience that was indeed, metal machine music.
MUS_IIC Festival.01 at Shoreditch Red Gallery (2014)
MemeTune, the acclaimed London studio and label curated its first festival featuring WRANGLER, GAZELLE TWIN and MINNY POPS. While MINNY POPS’ provocative art school antics divided opinion, the sheer anonymity of GAZELLE TWIN combined with some unsettling put powerful music made her voyeuristically enticing. But it was WRANGLER led by ex-CABARET VOLTAIRE man Stephen Mallinder who most had come to see. And he delighted his followers with reworked versions of ‘Sensoria’ and ‘Crackdown’ alongside great new dystopian material such as ‘Lava Land’.
‘The Violet Flame’ was ERASURE’s return to more uptempo material with a reinvigorated energetic zest within the duo. A number of hits were reprogrammed into a more disco format, but this was balanced with preserving the integrity of the original songs. It didn’t spoil the fun as a guessing game element was added to proceedings. In tour programme foreword, Mute supreme Daniel Miller quoted Seymour Stein of Sire Records who said “the reason ERASURE are so great is because they make people feel good about themselves”.
“In 1981 or 1982, this digital technology was creeping in and it was clear a sea change was occurring. It would roll over everything and everyone, so you had to be part of it or not. I wanted to give it a go, but no-one else in the band did. It was exciting, musically enjoyable and very quick, but it wasn’t what people expected of JETHRO TULL. I was influenced by THOMAS DOLBY. He fitted the bill perfectly. He had that credibility… That electronic world was very exciting. HOWARD JONES was good and GARY NUMAN was amazing. He nailed it… I saw him on ‘Top Of The Pops’ and wanted to hate him, but I realised how important he was. And he was British!” – IAN ANDERSON, Word Magazine (April 2012)
Right, first things first, in the interest of full disclosure: I am the token Team TEC rocker.
I love metal (it will always be Maiden before Mode for me), grunge, AOR and most of all Progressive styles of the genre.
I say this happily; not for me hiding in a darkened room listening to ‘Tales From Topographic Oceans’ or ‘The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway’, though parties at my house tend not to be as filled with joyous dancing as say those at TEC co-founder Chi Ming Lai’s…
People sneer at Prog due to the, I will agree in places, ludicrous song subjects and lengths, the dressing up and noodling of the players. However also note that the punks that kicked against the musical systems of the mid 70s of which Prog was a cornerstone had as many GENESIS albums in their collections as releases from MC5.
But after punk, many of the classic Prog bands had changed significantly from their heydays. ELP had spectacularly imploded (it’s doubtful though if any band could survive the horror of the sleeve of ‘Love Beach’, let alone the contents of said album), GENESIS and PETER GABRIEL had parted company in 1975 and were further dividing with the ongoing solo success of PHIL COLLINS. This would lead to all individual GENESIS parts having their most successful period sales wise and with a move towards the ultimately more commercial sound of the monster selling ‘Invisible Touch’.
YES were once again a bit of a rudderless ship that would come roaring back as a straightforward rock outfit with former member, a certain Mr Trevor Horn at the production helm by the middle of the decade and in the interim JON ANDERSON would write and record with fellow Prog musician VANGELIS, no mean shakes at creating the odd synth tune himself, with a certain amount of success.
Another Anderson, JETHRO TULL’s Ian, was looking to move in another direction in the early part of the decade too. In 1980, Anderson had been persuaded to release his planned solo album ‘A’ as a Tull album. The album and resulting tour featured Eddie Jobson, who had replaced ENO in ROXY MUSIC, on keys and was an altogether more current sounding offering. The live video ‘Slipstream’ showcased this perfectly not just on ‘A’ material but also classics such as ‘Locomotive Breath’.
The pieces which lead to the album being examined here fell into place when JETHRO TULL recruited Anderson’s fellow Scot Peter John Vitesse for the 1982 album ‘The Broadsword & The Beast’. This was a more conventional album than ‘A’, albeit with a fair amount of synthesizer work across its tracks.
Anderson was fascinated by the possibilities offered by the technology PJV had at his fingertips and began work with him on what would eventually become 1983’s ‘Walk Into Light’.
‘Walk Into Light’ is a bit of a weird album, even for one both from the period and also from the bonkers musical mind of Anderson. As an electronic album from 1983, there are the usual tropes in place (the loneliness brought from technology, disaffected youth and the colourless aspects of that Winter Of Discontent era) but also much that fans of Tull would recognise, some weird time signatures, a smattering of guitar and yes flute!
I bought the album on its release back in 1983 on the strength of an interview with PJV in ‘Electronic & Music Maker’ magazine where he discussed using the Rhodes Chroma and Roland MC-202 sequencers extensively. This very much sounded like my sort of thing and was not disappointed. Opener ‘Fly By Night’ kicks on with arpeggios and sequenced strings before settling into a Linn driven groove complimented by trade mark Anderson flute. With dramatic piano chords and insistent strings and sampled vocal loops this is both accessible and edgy.
‘Made In England’ is the proggiest track on the album with time changes and guitars. Again the trademark flute is there and the vocal delivery is the most Anderson too, with multi-tracked parts and almost but not quite harmonies. Anderson himself is on record saying he feels the album was too cold and could have benefited from some live drumming. By and large I disagree, but do think that this could track could have come alive with some real percussion.
Title track ‘Walk Into Light’ is something ROBERT PALMER could have easily released around the same time, an excellent pop / rock track with some scat singing on it, now that’s something don’t hear that often, a man with a mighty beard getting his free form jazz vocal stylings on. ‘Trains’ and ‘End Game’ are a taste of what the next JETHRO TULL album ‘Under Wraps’, would sound like although lacking the latter’s guitars. Sequencer driven and spikily electronic, the heartfelt lyrics are sung in a style that work surprisingly well with the musical backing.
The second half of the album is more knowingly electronic. ‘Black & White Television’ muses on modern living even warning that the Suzuki corner boys in the lyric “will still fade to grey…”
‘Toad In The Hole’ and ‘Looking For Eden’ continue the themes of the challenges of modern life underpinned by cold choral sounds and very European bass synth programming.
This accuracy that was brought by the technology at hand was part of the attraction for Anderson, as Vitesse explained in that 1983 interview I found so compelling: “The Roland MC-202 kind of frees my hands and we can have an absolutely accurate backing track done even within a few seconds… The way I do this is by writing the music, discussing the part that I should be playing with Ian then entering the pitch data, gate data and the step data and we’ll have an accurate and groovy bass track in the first take!”
Closing pair ‘User Friendly’ and ‘Different Germany’ hint at how the project could have developed if given another run out… ‘Different Germany’ especially embraces both the electronic and progressive sides of Anderson’s career perfectly with a marvelous middle section featuring a bristling keyboard solo. The end result is not unlike JETHRO TULL fronting ULTRAVOX; of course, the circle was completed when MIDGE URE covered Tull’s ‘Living In The Past’ in 1985.
So in the grand scheme of things where does ‘Walk Into Light’ sit? Certainly it’s a release anyone interested in synthesizer music should give a listen to, for the list of equipment featured on the sleeve alone (Rhodes Chroma and Expander, Yamaha CP80, Roland JP8, Roland Promars, MC202, Emulator, Linn Drum Computer) and also as a document of a time where the technology on offer was almost but not quite what it would be a year or so later with the advent of MIDI. This is the sound of a time where analogue and digital synths were crossing over.
I haven’t yet mentioned the obvious contemporary comparison, BUGGLES and their pair of releases from around the same time. They too had Prog credentials as former members of YES and harnessed the technology available to make Prog infused pop, to more commercial success. ‘Walk Into Light’ is similar in approach but sits separately in that it lacks the warmth of ‘The Age Of Plastic’ and ‘Adventures In Modern Recording’ that Anderson bemoaned. This does not do it down, as it is the sound of an artist reinventing and finding himself in a new decade.
Moving forward, the acts mentioned at the top of this piece would use the technology available and move their sound in new and exciting directions (I will argue that Tony Banks of GENESIS is the greatest exponent of the synthesizer the UK has produced and dare you to take me up on that!) that would give us classic releases such as YES’s ‘90120’ and PETER GABRIEL’s ‘4’ and ‘So’ Albums.
Anderson would continue with JETHRO TULL to ongoing success and return to his more folk roots as the decade progressed. As I say above, ‘Walk Into Light’ is a great might have been and deserves to be celebrated for what it ultimately is, a cracking album.