Tag: Winston Tong

TEC’s 25 CLASSIC SYNTH COVERS

“The medium of reinterpretation” as HEAVEN 17 and BEF’s Martyn Ware once put it, is an important creative opportunity that can widen a musical audience and expand the aural palette.

SoftCell-81This was most evident in 1981 when SOFT CELL’s cover of ‘Tainted Love’ became ubiquitous as Synth Britannia’s first true crossover record, reaching No1 in UK, Germany, Australia and Canada while also breaking the US Top 10 a year later.

A disgruntled rival musician had told Marc Almond only a few months before that “You couldn’t make a decent dance record if you tried”, but make one he did!

Written by Ed Cobb, ‘Tainted Love’ was recorded by Gloria Jones (partner of the late Marc Bolan) and became a Wigan Casino favourite on the Northern Soul scene. As a fan of that scene, David Ball knew the song and took it into haunting electronic torch territory. Segued with a Motown cover ‘Where Did Our Love Go?’ on an extended version, it became one of Sire Records biggest selling 12 inch singles in America.

It was to be a double edged sword though as the coupling of two covers made SOFT CELL minimal money despite the record selling millions. Thus successful cover versions generally only make the original songwriter any dough. Although often perceived as a sign of creative desperation, a fair number of cover versions are genuinely recorded as a labour of love.

So what of the other great synth reworkings? The covers in The Electricity Club’s listing are predominantly conventional songs reworked in a synthpop manner. And in several cases, the reworks have been so distinct and definitive that it is often forgotten they are actually covers! Restricted to one song per artist moniker, they are presented in chronological order.


VISAGE In Year 2525 (1978 – released 1983)

VISAGE 2525ZAGER & EVANS’ pessimistic ditty was perfect fodder for the first VISAGE demo steered by Midge Ure in 1978. ‘In The Year 2525’ was perfectly resigned aural dystopia. Steve Strange’s deadpan fronted the sombre tone perfectly but Ure’s vocal backing and counterpoints added some musicality. But when Ure presented the demo to his then employers at EMI Records, it was rejected! Remixed later by John Hudson, it was finally unleashed for public consumption in 1983.

Available on the album ‘The Face’ via Universal Records

http://www.visage.cc


YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA Firecracker (1978)

One of first Japanese bands to have a Top 20 hit single in the UK was YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA in 1980. ‘Firecracker’ was a cover of a 1959 composition by Martin Denny, but actually released as ‘Computer Game (Theme From The Invader)’. Recorded in 1978, the parent self-titled album was noted for its use of the then brand new Roland MC8 Micro-Composer to control the synthesizers. The result was a clean, exotic pop sound that was unusual, even in the synthpop heartland of Europe.

Available on the album ‘Yellow Magic Orchestra’ via Sony Music

http://www.ymo.org


GARY NUMAN On Broadway (1979 – released 1980)

NUMAN live 79Written by Jerry Leiber, Mike Stoller, Barry Mann, and Cynthia Weil, a quartet who between them have written some of the greatest songs in pop history, the original by THE DRIFTERS was a favourite in the Webb household. So GARY NUMAN did a live machine music rendition on 1979’s ‘The Touring Principle’. However, the star on this magnificent reinterpretation of ‘On Broadway’ is not Numan himself, but guest keyboardist Billy Currie of ULTRAVOX with his screaming ARP Odyssey solo.

Available on the album ‘The Pleasure Principle’ via Beggars Banquet Records

https://garynuman.com


TELEX Rock Around The Clock (1979)

telexOn paper it shouldn’t have worked; a funereal take of the song that heralded the birth of Rock ‘N’ Roll smothered in robotic vocoder. And it caused much head scratching when it became a UK Top 40 hit, although one person listening was Daniel Miller who borrowed the concept for SILICON TEENS. Belgian trio TELEX always had a sense of subversive irony about them. This mischief came to its head with their lampooning number ‘Eurovision’, which they actually entered for 1980 Eurovision Song Contest!

Available on the album ‘Ultimate Best of’ via EMI Belgium

http://www.telex-music.com


THE HUMAN LEAGUE Only After Dark (1980)

human league only after darkAn all synth rework of Head Spider Mick Ronson’s guitar dominated cult favourite, the metronomic tension was enhanced on THE HUMAN LEAGUE version by the metallic sequence of a Roland System 100 while monophonic synth lines complimented the futuristic atmosphere. Oakey impressively bellowed away while Martyn Ware provided some sprightly vocal support. ‘Only After Dark’ had been due to be released as a single but was cancelled in favour of a reissue of ‘Empire State Human’.

Available on the album ‘Travelogue’ via Virgin Records

http://www.thehumanleague.co.uk


JAPAN All Tomorrow’s Parties (1980)

JAPAN all tomorrows partiesSaid to be Andy Warhol’s favourite Lou Reed composition, this interpretation of THE VELVET UNDERGROUND’s Nico-led cult classic was turned from a Teutonic funeral march into a looser, synth assisted beat ballad in the vein of ROXY MUSIC. Demo-ed under the supervision of manager Simon Napier-Bell in 1979 but remixed later by John Punter, ‘All Tomorrow’s Parties’ was to herald the sophisticated muzak direction that JAPAN were to become ultimately associated with.

Available on the album ‘Quiet Life’ via BMG Records

http://www.nightporter.co.uk


OMD The More I See You (1980)

This cover of ‘The More I See You’ had actually began musically as a new OMD composition until Andy McCluskey started improvising and using the words of this vintage tune written in 1945 by Harry Warren and Mack Gordon. It was subsequently a hit for Chris Montez in 1966, although OMD’s version was a far darker proposition, with the spectre of JOY DIVISION vocalist Ian Curtis looming over the bright synthesizer melodies and deep bass drones.

Available on the album ‘Organisation’ via EMI Records

http://www.omd.uk.com


DURAN DURAN Fame (1981)

Before they became Birmingham’s most famous boat crew, DURAN DURAN recorded this speeded up version of David Bowie’s art funk co-write with John Lennon and Carlos Alomar for the 12 inch B-side of their flop single ‘Careless Memories’. As well as having a more frantic pace and layers of Nick Rhodes’ Crumar Performer string machine, Andy Taylor even aped Robert Fripp to add a screaming guitar solo that had not featured in the original.

Available on the album ‘The Essential Collection’ via EMI Records

http://www.duranduran.com


THE FAST SET King Of the Rumbling Spires (1981)

Some_bizzareA speeded-up, manic darkwave rendition of an early Marc Bolan composition, this was the one of the best tracks on the ‘Some Bizzare Album’ after DEPECHE MODE, SOFT CELL, BLANCMANGE, THE THE, B-MOVIE and ILLUSTRATION. The screeching synths and aggressive, unorthodox vocals are all over in a matter of a couple of minutes. THE FAST SET disappeared after just one proper single ‘Junction One’ which also featured another Bolan song ‘Children Of The Revolution’ on the flip.

Available on the ‘Some Bizzare Album’ via Some Bizzare Limited

http://www.last.fm/music/The+Fast+Set


DAVE STEWART & BARBARA GASKIN It’s My Party (1981)

Keyboardist Dave Stewart, once of prog rockers HATFIELD & THE NORTH recruited friend and backing vocalist Barbara Gaskin to sing on the second of his electronic pop covers, the first being ‘What Becomes Of The Broken Hearted’ with Colin Blunstone. Their inventively oddball synth version of ‘It’s My Party’ (made famous by Lesley Gore) was a triumph and a worldwide hit which reached No1 in the UK and Germany. Stewart and Gaskin have continued to worked together and have a new album pencilled in 2018.

Available on the album ‘The Singles’ via Broken Records

http://www.davebarb.com


TECHNO TWINS Falling In Love Again (1981)

TECHNO TWINS were wife and husband duo Bev Sage and Steve Fairnie; they indulged in their own brand of ‘Technostalgia’ with silent partner Dave Hewson who later reappeared in POEME ELECTRONIQUE and more recently TWINS NATALIA. This abstract theatrical cover of the 1930 German song composed by Friedrich Hollaender as ‘Ich Bin Von Kopf Bis Fuß Auf Liebe Eingestellt’ and made famous by Marlene Dietrich actually managed to reach No70 in the UK singles chart!

Originally released as a single by PRT Records, currently unavailable

https://www.discogs.com/artist/153114-Techno-Twins


BEF feat GLENN GREGORY Wichita Lineman (1982)

BEF Witchita‘Wichita Lineman’ was one of Jimmy Webb’s great narrative songs like ‘By The Time I Get To Phoenix’, ‘Galveston’ and ‘Where’s The Playground Susie?’ which were made famous by Glen Campbell. Although included for the ambitious ‘Music Of Quality & Distinction Vol1’ project, BEF’s recording is a HEAVEN 17 track in all but name and was originally recorded by the other Glenn as his audition piece. The chilling electronic arrangement takes on an even darker turn as a magnificent cacophony of sound invades the climax.

Available on the album ‘1981-2011’ via Virgin Records

http://www.heaven17.com


NEW ORDER Turn The Heater On (1982 – released 1986)

NEW ORDER heaterReggae artist Keith Hudson’s ‘Turn The Heater On’ was a favourite of Ian Curtis and recorded by NEW ORDER for their second John Peel session as a tribute to the late vocalist of JOY DIVISION. Bernard Sumner’s melodica gave a claustrophobic dub laden vibe alongside the white noise rimshot  of Stephen Morris, while Hooky actually played bass as opposed to his trademark higher register six string and Gillian Gillian’s ARP string machine added some appropriately frozen textures to match to the title.

Available on the album ‘The John Peel Sessions’ via Strange Fruit Records

http://www.neworder.com


MIDGE URE No Regrets (1982)

MIDGE URE No RegretsA cover of a cover, ‘No Regrets’ was written by Tom Rush and a comeback hit for THE WALKER BROTHERS in 1976. During a break from ULTRAVOX, Midge Ure created this synth heavy rework. But that wasn’t all that was heavy… out of nowhere came a blistering guitar solo that would have made Eric Clapton proud and a doubled Linn / Simmons pounding for the overdriven climax. Possessing high and lows in a way that previous versions never had, the diminutive Glaswegian made ‘No Regrets’ his own.

Available on the album ‘No Regrets’ via EMI Gold

http://www.midgeure.com


FRANKIE GOES TO HOLLYWOOD Ferry Cross The Mersey (1983)

FRANKIE GOES TO HOLLYWOOD were very good at covers as Born To Run’ and ‘War’ proved. With a superbly honest vocal from Holly Johnson,  the Trevor Horn produced reworking of this paean to Liverpool’s famous river crossing, written by Gerry Marsden for the 1965 film of the same name, climaxed with some joyous cascading synth lines and a frantic Linn Drum programme in a manner that couldn’t have been originally imagined by its composer.

Available on the album ‘Frankie Said’ via Union Square / Salvo

http://www.frankiesay.com


NAKED EYES Always Something There To Remind Me (1983)

NAKED EYES, who comprised of Pete Byrne and Rob Fisher, had actually been in a band called NEON with Roland Orzabal and Curt Smith. They had a huge US hit with a synthpop cover of this Bacharach and David classic which had been put together in the studio from memory. Rob Fisher later met Simon Climie and formed CLIMIE FISHER who had a number of UK hits, but he sadly passed away in 1999 aged just 42; Pete Byrne still continues to tour as NAKED EYES.

Available on the album ‘Burning Bridges’ via Cherry Pop

http://www.nakedeyesmusic.com


BLANCMANGE The Day Before You Came (1984)

blancmange-day before you cameThere once was a time when it was not cool to like ABBA and covering their songs was certainly not on many artists’ agenda. But BLANCMANGE changed all that with their version of what many regard as the last ABBA song. Combining that noted Swedish melancholy and melodicism with the artful quirkiness of Synth Britannia, ‘The Day Before You Came’ fitted well with Neil Arthur’s deep melodramatics. Add in the mystique of the Indian sub-continent and it was pure heaven.

Available on the album ‘Mange Tout’ via Edsel Records

http://www.blancmange.co.uk


ERASURE Gimme Gimme Gimme (1985)

ERASURE GimmeThey did the ‘Abba-esque’ EP and the mid-career crisis ‘Other People’s Songs’ album but ERASURE’s best cover was right at the beginning with this Hi-NRG romp in the big shadow of DIVINE. Turning ‘Gimme! Gimme! Gimme!’ into the ultimate anthem, the progressively faster ending made for an appropriately thrilling climax. Following not long after BLANCMANGE’s cover of ‘The Day Before You Came’, the seeds of an ABBA revival were now well and truly planted.

Remix version available on the deluxe album ‘Wonderland’ via Mute Records

http://www.erasureinfo.com


PROPAGANDA Sorry For Laughing (1985)

Written by Paul Haig and Malcolm Ross, ‘Sorry For Laughing’ was the key song on from the only JOSEF K album ‘The Only Fun In Town’. It had been a favourite of ZTT arch strategist Paul Morley and as per the label’s early policy, he persuaded his then-new signings PROPAGANDA to the rework the frenetic guitar track into a more moodily percussive electronic one. However, Ralf Dörper later told The Electricity Club: “I very much would have preferred to have a THROBBING GRISTLE cover version…”

Available on the album ‘A Secret Wish’ via Union Square

https://www.facebook.com/propagandamabuse/


WINSTON TONG Broken English (1985)

Having written and sung lead vocals on ‘In A Manner Of Speaking’ with TUXEDOMOON which was later covered by a certain Martin L Gore, Winston Tong embarked on a solo electronic pop adventure with Alan Rankine of ASSOCIATES fame at the production helm. The subsequent album entitled ‘Theoretically Chinese’ dealt with the theme of cultural identity and an excellent uptempo cover of Marianne Faithfull’s ‘Broken English’ slotted into the overall concept perfectly.

Available on the album ‘In A Manner Of Speaking: Best Of’ via LTM Records

http://www.ltmrecordings.com/winston_tong.html


DEPECHE MODE Route 66 (1988)

Written by Bobby Troup and covered by artists such as diverse as Nat King Cole and The Rolling Stones, this signalled the start of DEPECHE MODE’s fixation with a more blues based sound. While largely guitar driven, the rhythmical structure was driven by drum machine and sequences while the instrumental break of’Behind The Wheel’ made a guest appearance during the middle eight. It was performed as an encore during the ‘World Violation’ tour in 1990, but with Dave Gahan on lead vocals instead of Martin Gore.

Available on the single ‘Behind the Wheel’ via Mute Records

http://www.depechemode.com


JIMMY SOMMERVILLE From This Moment On (1990)

red hot & blueOften having his biggest hits with covers, you could be forgiven for thinking Jimmy Sommerville was some kind of falsetto karaoke machine. But for the most part, his reinterpretations were good. One of his lesser known covers was ’From This Moment On’, a throbbing contribution to the charity album ‘Red Hot & Blue’ of Cole Porter standards. With a snatch of ‘I Feel Love’ thrown in for good measure, this was one of the best recordings from the collection which also featured U2 and ERASURE.

Available on the album ‘Red Hot & Blue’ via Chrysalis Records

http://www.jimmysomerville.co.uk


PET SHOP BOYS Go West (1993)

Performed at The Hacienda in 1991, ‘Go West’ had been due to be released in Christmas 1992, but PET SHOP BOYS bottled it when it was pointed out a VILLAGE PEOPLE cover would look like the duo were aping ERASURE’s ‘Abba-esque’.  ‘Go West’ was based on Pachebel’s ‘Canon’ and its elegiac quality was particularly poignant with AIDS still very much in the news at the time. Meanwhile the ‘Oklahoma’ male choir styled key change gave the song a lift that was never apparent in the original.

Available on the album ‘Pop Art’ via EMI Records

http://www.petshopboys.co.uk


CAMOUFLAGE Bad News (1995)

Written by Moon Martin, an American rock artist who also wrote ‘Bad Case Of Loving You (Doctor, Doctor)’ which was covered by Robert Palmer, ‘Bad News’ with its metronomic core had been popular in German new wave clubs, which was how CAMOUFLAGE came to hear it. Given a pacey Eurodance treatment that was very much of its time, it also mixed in twangy ‘Pulp Fiction’ surf guitar elements alongside the trancey electronics for an unusual but successful hybrid of styles.

Available on the album ‘The Singles’ via Polydor Records

http://www.camouflage-music.com/en/News


DUBSTAR Not So Manic Now (1995)

DUBSTAR No so manic nowOriginally a little known song by Wakefield indie band BRICK SUPPLY, DUBSTAR made ‘Not So Manic Now’ their own with the Northern lass earthiness of Sarah Blackwood providing the chilling commentary of an attack on a helpless pensioner. Stephen Hague’s wonderful production fused programmed electronics with guitars and cello in fine fashion, while the incessant programmed rhythms drove the song along without being obtrusive to the horrifying story.

Available on the album ‘Disgraceful’ via Food Records

http://dubstarofficial.co/


Text by Chi Ming Lai with thanks to Ian Ferguson
21st December 2017

NEW ORDER Presents Be Music

Despite their success, NEW ORDER still got their hands dirty in helping to produce a number of acts for Factory Records and other associated labels such as Factory Benelux, Les Disques Du Crépuscule and Rob’s Records.

Be Music was the moniker of NEW ORDER’s publishing and eventually used to cover studio production work by all four members of the band. ‘NEW ORDER Presents Be Music’ gathers a selection of these varied recordings which involved either Bernard Sumner, Peter Hook, Stephen Morris, Gillian Gilbert or combinations thereof.

It includes electro club tracks released between 1982 and 1985, as well as more recent remixes and productions. This is a lavishly boxed 36 track 3CD affair that documents variations on the NEW ORDER theme before solo projects like ELECTRONIC, REVENGE, THE OTHER TWO and MONACO took over. There’s even the inclusion of the JOY DIVISION era ‘Knew Noise’ by SECTION 25, produced by Ian Curtis and Rob Gretton in 1979 which explores the doomy sub-PiL post-punk style of the period.

Beginning the package on Disc 1, QUANDO QUANGO’s percussive ‘Love Tempo’ sets the scene. Bernard Sumner said: “Producing was a really important sideline, it’s OK doing it because although all the groups are skint, you learn a lot and you’re helping somebody”. Mike Pickering’s pre-M PEOPLE electro-funk outfit certainly groove under Sumner’s guidance and the Anglo-Dutch interpretation of the form sounds accessible but unusual even today. The less immediate ‘Tingle’ is also included on the collection.

Another one of Bernard Sumner’s productions with A CERTAIN RATIO’s Donald Johnson featured the late MARCEL KING, a member of SWEET SENSATION who won ‘New Faces’ and had a No1 in 1974 with ‘Sad Sweet Dreamer’; ‘Reach For Love’ couldn’t have been more different. Layered with synths and bassline programming with an infectious machine rhythm, Shaun Ryder remarked that if the song had been released on a label other than Factory, it would have been a hit!

It’s B-side ‘Keep On Dancin’ is also present and comes over as a cooler electrified take on SHALAMAR, while the beefier New York remix of ‘Reach For Love’ by Mark Kamins and Michael H. Brauer is a nice bonus.

While 52ND STREET’s trailblazing ‘Cool As Ice’ was solely produced by Donald Johnson, Sumner contributed the synth basslines programmed using a Moog Source; it was a trademark feature on many of the NEW ORDER frontman’s productions. The hybrid of authentic Manchester soul and New York electro-influences was not surprisingly a cult success across the Atlantic. Indeed, also in the collection is the electro-funk workout of ‘Can’t Afford’, a Stephen Morris production that’s even more New York than Manchester.

Much starker, ‘Looking From A Hilltop’ from Blackpool’s very own post-punk doom merchants SECTION 25 was prompted by founder member Larry Cassidy’s assertion that “you can’t be a punk all your life”. In a move not dissimilar to Gillian Gilbert joining NEW ORDER, Cassidy recruited his wife Jenny and sister Angela to join his brother Vin in the band to realise this game changing manifesto. Produced by Sumner with remix input from Johnson, the collage of clattering drum machine accompanied by ominous synth lines and hypnotic sequenced modulations still sounds magnificent.

Meanwhile, ‘Reflection’ from the parent ‘From The Hip’ long player is a surprise but welcome inclusion to the set.

Almost chirpy when judged against SECTION 25’s earlier output, the tighter sequencing and drum machine programming from Sumner totally transformed the band.

Following along almost similar lines, ‘Fate/Hate’ by Hull combo NYAM NYAM was one of Peter Hook’s Be Music productions and its mighty Moroder-esque template proved that the bass Viking knew his way around the dancefloor despite his more rock inclined sympathies. ‘Fate/Hate’ certainly deserves to be as lauded as ‘Looking From A Hilltop’.

The inclusion of the now rare Bernard Sumner remix of THE BEAT CLUB’s ‘Security’ makes the purchase price alone of ‘NEW ORDER Presents Be Music’ worthwhile. This was the first ever release on Rob’s Records, the imprint of the late Rob Gretton, famed manager of NEW ORDER. Sumner’s additional remix and production saw an overhaul of the original version, with the addition of his own crucial vocal contribution giving it an unsurprisingly NEW ORDER-like feel along the lines of a more fully realised ‘State Of The Nation’.

More widely available, the full length version of ‘The Only Truth’ by PAUL HAIG is possibly the best NEW ORDER song that NEW ORDER never recorded. Although Haig demoed the song to an almost complete standard, there is no doubt that the extra bass, percussion and programming laid down by Johnson and Sumner are the necktie to go with Haig’s shirt and suit. The result is a brilliant cross between ‘Blue Monday’ and ‘Temptation’, and almost as long!

The Be Music journey moves to Berlin where renowned remixer Mark Reeder made his home in 1978, having become fascinated by the artistic diversity of the city.

Reeder often sent records to Bernard Sumner from the emerging electronic club scenes and this influenced his whole outlook on music. So a studio union between the pair was inevitable.

This came with Reeder’s band SHARK VEGAS and their 1986 Factory Records release ‘You Hurt Me’. Produced by Sumner and characterised by the type of disco sequence programming that made NEW ORDER famous, in a bizarre way it sounded like a relative of ‘Reach For Love’, the infectious groove offset by Alistair Gray’s dispassionate vocals.

Italian band SURPRIZE’s ‘Over Italia’ was originally part of the ‘In Movimento’ EP issued on Factory Benelux in 1984. Another Dojo / Be Music co-production, the Bologna combo’s ska and dub influences make this track an interesting curio, although there is no real hook within the repetition.

While Disc 1 has more of a bias on Bernard Sumner, Disc 2 on focusses on Stephen Morris. It has to be said, this second instalment of classic and new recordings is more mixed. THICK PIGEON (led by singer Stanton Miranda) and their ‘Babcock + Wilcox’ is a 1984 production by Stephen Morris and Gillian Gilbert that sort of passes by. However, ‘Bootsy (Swingfire Mix)’ with a remix from THE OTHER TWO is one of A CERTAIN RATIO’s better tracks.

But FACTORY FLOOR’s ‘(Real Love)’ produced by Morris is undoubtedly polarising. Some say it is genius, others a load of repetitive bleeping to an incessant four-to-the-floor beat! ‘Another Hilltop’ though is fabulous, a squiggly reworking by Morris with Bethany Cassidy taking her mother’s role in this update of the SECTION 25 classic; and it wins hands down over FACTORY FLOOR by virtue of being a song.

As the playlist progresses, there’s the treat of a frantic 2011 instrumental from THE OTHER TWO entitled ‘Inside’ which features the KRAFTWERK ‘Uranium’ sample used on ‘Blue Monday’, while ‘The Hunter’ by MARNIE is given a deep metronomic dance reinterpretation.

On FUJIYA & MIYAGI’s ‘Daggers’, as can be expected from the man who wanted to be a drum machine, Stephen Morris’ remix is rhythmically strong while THE OTHER TWO remix of ‘Oh Men’ by TIM BURGESS offers a Germanic flavour and some lovely cascading synth tones. There’s another 9 minutes of FACTORY FLOOR in ‘A Wooden Box’ before the second CD concludes with two takes on LIFE’s ‘Tell Me’, a female vocalled alternative pop number released as FAC106 in 1984.

Disc 3 collects together some assorted band contributions and a number of Peter Hook productions.

Previously known as just ‘Theme’, ‘Lavolta Lakota Theme’ was composed as gig intro music for LAVOLTA LAKOTA and comes over as a menacing drum machine driven cousin of ‘Murder’, layered with timpani samples to aid the apocalyptic drama.

Of STOCKHOLM MONSTERS, the brassy new wave of ‘All At Once’ produced by Hooky is enjoyable but very much of its time.

Led by a vocoder, ROYAL FAMILY & THE POOR’s ‘Motherland’ is pure art angst, while completing a quartet of Hooky helmed studio creations on Disc 3 is AD INFINITUM’s cover of ‘Telstar’. Not exactly the greatest reinterpretation in the world, FAC93 was originally rumoured to be NEW ORDER in disguise and while this curio certainly had a number of distinct elements like Hooky’s bass and an Oberheim DMX, the exercise was actually a project fronted by Lindsay Reade, the former Mrs Tony Wilson. But her intended new original lyrics for ‘Telstar’ were vetoed by The Joe Meek Estate, so a version with more abstract vocals was released instead.

Not a NEW ORDER production but featuring percussive assistance from Stephen Morris, ‘Theoretical China’ by TUXEDOMOON’s Winston Tong had an all-star cast including ex-PUBLIC IMAGE LIMITED bassist Jah Wobble and MAGAZINE’s Dave Formula who also co-produced with ASSOCIATES’ Alan Rankine. Tong later recorded some more fully realised material for his excellent ‘Theoretically Chinese’ album, but this neo-title song is a good introduction to his electropop phase.

One nice surprise is RED TURNS TO ‘Deep Sleep’; produced by Stephen Morris, the song originally released as FAC 116 still sounds fresh and has dated better than a number of the offerings at the beginning of Disc 3.

With sequence programming by Sumner, ‘Sakura’ documents SECTION 25 entering the electronic world in 1982. Around this time, NEW ORDER went the full sequencer route having previously triggered synthetic pulses on ‘Everything’s Gone Green’ and ‘Temptation’.

The end result was the 20 minute ‘Video 5-8-6’, constructed using a home built a Powertran 1024 Sequencer to control a Powertran Transcendent 2000 synth while clocked off a Clef Master Rhythm.

An ominous sign of the future, it was the first NEW ORDER recording not to feature Peter Hook but ultimately lay the blueprint for ‘Blue Monday’ and more…

Whether you are a fan of NEW ORDER and the legend of Factory Records or would like to discover some lesser known but brilliant electronic pop jewels, this terrific collection is a must.

Accompanied by comprehensive, well-researched liner notes from the ever reliable James Nice that include a quote from The Electricity Club’s 2011 interview with Stephen Morris, there really is something for everyone in this vast set documenting an adventurous period in music.


With thanks to James Nice at Factory Benelux

‘NEW ORDER Presents Be Music’ is available as a 36 track 3CD boxed set or 12 track double gatefold vinyl

http://www.factorybenelux.com/new_order_presents_be_music_fbn60.html

http://www.neworder.com/

http://peterhook.get-ctrl.com/#/


Text by Chi Ming Lai
17th February 2017

Twilight Time: An Interview with JAMES NICE

JamesNice-byPeter StaessensJames Nice is a music publisher and writer whose acclaimed 2010 book ‘Shadowplayers: The Rise and Fall of Factory Records’ provided a detailed and objective account of the legendary label. He also worked for the prestigious Belgian label Les Disques du Crépuscule in Brussels between 1987-91.

More recently, James has resurrected Les Disques du Crépuscule along with its sister Factory Benelux offshoot as platforms to reissue a vast catalogue of experimental and artistically driven music, in addition to releasing newer material from acts such as MARSHEAUX, MARNIE and DEUX FILLES. Back in the day, Les Disques du Crépuscule and Factory Benelux operated as separate entities, although the two labels shared the same premises and staff.

Among Crépuscule’s roster were Blaine L Reininger and Winston Tong from TUXEDOMOON, ASSOCIATES instrumentalist Alan Rankine and former JOSEF K leader Paul Haig. The first music release on Crépuscule came in 1980; ‘From Brussels With Love’ was a carefully curated cassette compilation which included music from John Foxx, Bill Nelson, Harold Budd and Thomas Dolby as well as spoken recordings by Brian Eno and Richard Jobson.

everything's gone green new order FBN12Meanwhile Factory Benelux notably released the 12 inch extended remix of NEW ORDER’s ‘Everything’s Gone Green’ in 1981 and spare recordings from Factory affiliated artists such as A CERTAIN RATIO, SECTION 25, THE WAKE and THE DURUTTI COLUMN.

The latter’s beautiful instrumental ‘For Belgian Friends’ was written in honour of the two labels’ founders Michel Duval and the late Annik Honoré. James Nice kindly chatted to The Electricity Club about his various endeavours, past and present.

You wrote the book ‘Shadowplayers’ on the history of Factory Records. There have been several books about the label, what do you think your account gave that hadn’t been provided before?

Well, reliable facts properly researched! I did ‘Shadowplayers’ as a DVD first, in 2006, but I didn’t do the book until after Tony Wilson passed away the following year.

shadowplayers_book_french_edition_450One of the books which influenced the approach I took was an excellent Creation Records history by Dave Cavanagh, which Alan McGee slated as the accountant’s version of Creation when it first appeared (though he changed his mind later).

I feared Tony might say the same thing about a Factory history written by me. He was more into myths and legends than truth.

I also wanted to include all the bands and artists, not just JOY DIVISION, NEW ORDER, HAPPY MONDAYS and The Hacienda; THE STOCKHOM MONSTERS have a tale to tell too. The French edition won a prize, actually. They sent me a leather jacket – which was a bit too small.

How do you see the public’s continued fascination with Factory Records?

I just glance at it in passing these days, because ‘Shadowplayers’ came out in 2010 and I’ve long since moved on. The entire story of Factory was hugely dramatic, genuine tragic in places, and populated by larger than life characters. You can’t really say the same of, for example, 4AD or Domino. I’m not sure you’ll see it repeated either, because music no longer produces the kind of revenue stream that would allow radical mavericks like Tony Wilson and Rob Gretton to build another Hacienda, and Peter Saville is a complete one-off.

Factory was a classic example of do the right thing, and the money will follow. Unfortunately, they then blew all the money on big recording projects and ill-judged property investments. Let’s leave it at that.

from brussels with loveFactory Benelux and Les Disques du Crépuscule have common roots, but were quite different entities in their original ethos?

Both labels started in 1980. Factory Benelux was intended as an outlet for spare Factory recordings, hence a lot of the early releases like ‘Shack Up’ by ACR, ‘The Plateau Phase’ by CRISPY AMBULANCE and ‘Key of Dreams’ by SECTION 25 were exclusive to FBN. As time went on it became more like a normal licensee.

Crépuscule was something else entirely – a cosmopolitan boutique label, with an international roster and aspirations to kick start some kind of art movement in Brussels. In truth Factory were a little suspicious of Crepuscule early on, although later some Crépuscule albums appeared on Factory in the UK eg Anna Domino and Wim Mertens.

You worked for Les Disques du Crépuscule back in the day and lived in Brussels for five years. What are your particular memories of that time?

Way too many to mention. A couple of days after I quit Crépuscule (an argument about a 23 SKIDOO contract, not that anyone will be interested), I took a train to Amsterdam to meet William S. Burroughs.

He was holding court in a hotel with his manager, James Grauerholz. I took along some books to sign, as well as the Burroughs album I’d released on LTM, ‘The Doctor Is On the Market’. I don’t think WSB had even seen a copy before, but he scribbled “Good Work” on it. There was another guy there who was a Lufthansa pilot by day and wrote experimental cut-up novels in his spare time. I remember thinking at the time, I’d like to be that guy.

What are the aims of Factory Benelux and Les Disques du Crépuscule under your direction now?

Heritage curation, and new recordings where appropriate. Michel Duval is quite interested again, and we collaborated on the ‘Ni D’Eve, Ni D’Adam’ compilation at the end of 2015.

I really enjoyed that process, as a matter of fact. The new tracks and artists he brought to the project really added to it, and the artwork by Clou was great too.

I do a lot of boring back office stuff as well as making records, chiefly rights administration. You have to have all your ducks in a row when, for instance, Kanye West decides to sample a SECTION 25 track from 1981.

As well as reissues, Factory Benelux and Les Disques du Crépuscule have released new albums by SECTION 25, MARNIE, DEUX FILLES and others. What attracted you to back these recordings?

In the case of new albums by heritage groups like SECTION 25, THE NAMES and CRISPY AMBULANCE, as long as fresh studio projects are financially viable, and the music is good, then of course we want to be involved. Any label can simply recycle back catalogue, but I like to think we’re a little more committed.

The MARNIE album came to Crépuscule because I’m a LADYTRON fan and it was a perfect fit for the label. It worked for her too as she’d successfully funded ‘Crystal World’ via Pledge Music, but was less sure about how to actually deliver the CD version.

It’s important to back new music, and I’m delighted to be releasing ‘Cold Science’ by LES PANTIES later in 2016. They’re a young band from Brussels – terrible name, but great music!

MARSHEAUX-twi1151cdLes Disques du Crépuscule also released ‘Odyssey’ in 2014, a career spanning compilation of MARSHEAUX. What do you find appealing about their music and which are your favourite songs?

I liked MARSHEAUX anyway, even before we began Crépuscule again back in 2013. Like MARNIE, they seemed like a good fit with the label’s heritage, much of which was modern electronic pop music. The focus was on original songs though rather than covers.

The title is a riff on Homer’s ‘Odyssey’, and the idea of a chronological story, and of course the old ARP Odyssey analogue synth. I’m quite good at coming up with album titles, if I say so myself. ‘Retrofit’ by SECTION 25 is probably the best – it popped into my head while I was watching a documentary about the making of ‘Blade Runner’. Perfect for a remix / reboot album.

Yes, very clever of you. But what’s your favourite MARSHEAUX song?

Well, the ‘Ghost/Hammer’ mash-up is the one we keep putting on LDDC compilations.

You maintain a close relationship with Paul Haig. Is he one of the unsung heroes of post-punk in your opinion?

I wouldn’t say unsung because Paul’s always attracted a lot of press and remains well liked by music writers, but I suppose he’s ‘unsung’ in the sense that he never had a proper chart hit. Ironically, his most popular album – on reissue anyway – is ‘Rhythm of Life’, which was considered far too mainstream at the time.

Paul Haig RoLPaul just did things his way and wasn’t prepared to jump through all the hoops required of a mainstream pop star. For a start he was – and remains – far too shy.

Since you mention post-punk in the question, I’ll take this opportunity to plug a forthcoming Paul project for later in 2016, which is a 1982-based double archive CD including his early pop material (‘Justice’, ‘Running Away’), the Sinatra-styled ‘Swing In 82’ EP, the experimental electronica cassette ‘Drama’, and loads of odd singles and sessions.

He’d just left JOSEF K but had not yet signed to Island, and I’m not sure anyone else was quite that diverse and experimental at the time. It’ll be called ‘Metamorphosis’ – another Kafka reference. Told you I was clever with titles. Paul’s quite nervous about it, I have to say!

You’ve also worked closely with Alan Rankine in his post-ASSOCIATES career?

Well, not so much me personally. Back in the 1980s, Alan was married to Belinda Pearse, who was a Crépuscule director at the time, and so for a while he pretty much became the in-house producer at the label, working with Paul Haig, Anna Domino, Winston Tong, Ludus and his own solo material.

My time at LDDC in Brussels did overlap with his, but I didn’t work on any of those projects. He did three solo albums under the auspices of Crépuscule, and some of the music is the equal of anything he did with Billy Mackenzie. Unfortunately Alan isn’t quite as good a singer, though he is a brilliant writer, arranger, producer, guitarist and keys player. The instrumentals he did for Crépuscule work best, I think. We’ve spoken a couple of times this year. Once was to return some master tapes to him, and I also suggested him as a producer / collaborator for MARNIE.

FBN112CD_12pp_bookletAnother unsung hero of the era is Mark Reeder and the release of his remix collection ‘Collaborator’ on Factory Benelux was a fitting acknowledgement of that. What was the process like to select the tracklisting?

Hmm. We tried to avoid replicating too many tracks that were on the earlier ‘Five Point One’ collection, and having Bernard Sumner singing on quite a few of the tracks should have made it seem more like an artist album than just a compilation.

Not sure the concept really gelled though. Mark isn’t easy to label – a lot of people think he’s a DJ, which is the one thing he isn’t (but probably should be). ‘Collaborator’ is a great album and should have sold a lot more than it did. In fact Mark regularly reminds me of that!

As a label manager, how do you decide on the formats that releases will be issued in? When do you know one format will be more viable than another, eg some are CD only, others are vinyl only?

Vinyl tends to be reserved for prestige items, and / or where you can fashion an art object from it, like THE DURUTTI COLUMN album with the die-cut glasspaper sleeve, which I’ll talk about later.

JOSEF K It's Kinda FunnyThe recent JOSEF K singles collection ‘It’s Kinda Funny’ was vinyl only because there have been several JOSEF K CD compilations already, and because a 12” matt board sleeve was a great way of exhibiting the original artwork by Jean-François Octave.

I still prefer CDs because the sound is better, you can fit more material on them, plus they are easier to keep in print over a long period of time. In an era of declining physical sales, the increasing fragmentation of formats isn’t too helpful, at least as far as labels are concerned.

Vinyl retains cultural clout though. Releasing albums used to be like publishing books, whereas once the market became saturated with releases, it’s kind of become degraded and often feels as if you’re just publishing magazine articles. But a vinyl album still has the heft of a book.

Factory Benelux and Les Disques du Crépuscule were both known for tasteful artwork and you have maintained this aesthetic. The vinyl reissue of ‘The Return Of The Durutti Column’ had an interesting genesis?

FACT14With the Benelux reissue in 2013, the original intention was to replicate Fact 14 from 1980, with coarse sandpaper front and back and a flexi-disc.

Back then Tony Wilson was able to source 12-inch square sheets from a local company called Naylors Abrasives in Bredbury, near Stockport. They still exist, but they don’t manufacture sandpaper any more, and when I got in touch in 2012 to explain the project, they clearly thought I was a lunatic.

I’m not sure that glasspaper is even manufactured anywhere in Western Europe now. In the end we had to go to a company in China, whose minimum order was 10,000 sheets. What was a cheap and (relatively) easy package for Factory in 1980 turned out to be pretty much impossible to copy three decades later. It’s probably easier to source glasspaper in lurid colours rather than plain old beige, and the biggest rolls were only 11 inches wide. You can still source flexi-discs from one plant in the States, but they end up costing more per unit than a 12-inch vinyl album. Fortunately, however, not being able to do a straight copy served to liberate the project somewhat, so that we began to think in terms of a new edition which referenced the original, but offered something different.

The flexi became a hard vinyl 7”, which sounds far better, and we were now able to add an inner sleeve with period images and explanatory text. The 11-inch glasspaper squares took about eight months to arrive from China, and while we were twiddling our thumbs the designer, Carl Glover, came up with the idea of seating the glasspaper sheet on the front in a recessed deboss. A bit like a frame, thereby underlining the ‘art’ credentials.

The Return Of The Durutti Column

Somewhat to my surprise the pressing plant in Germany agreed to assemble the finished package from start to finish, which was fortunate since I couldn’t imagine NEW ORDER agreeing to help out. I didn’t much fancy the idea of doing it myself. Like the building trade people we had to go through en route to China, the pressing plant just couldn’t understand why we’d want to release a record in a glasspaper sleeve. Someone suggested a photo of some sandpaper might be better…

Then, when the sheets finally arrived, some of the cutting was pretty rough, and the pressing plant insisted on a 3mm tolerance between each side of the sheet and the deboss. That would just look as though we’d fluffed the measurements, besides which even with a deboss, the glasspaper sheets simply stuck on the cover just didn’t have that ‘wow’ factor.

I spent a few days arguing with the plant about tolerances, and agonising generally, then decided that a die-cut would be just as impressive, with the glasspaper underneath, as if you were seeking it through a window. This scheme also overcame the issues about imperfect size and cutting of the glasspaper.

fbn114insituThe only obvious, practical shape for the die-cut was Peter Saville’s original ‘bar chart’ logo, which appeared on the labels of most Factory releases between 1979 and 1980, Fact 14 included. It just looks right, and is also suggestive of a graphic equalizer, which I suppose is a bit Hannett. The pressing plant had already printed 2000 copies of the original inner bag though, so we had to throw those away. All the problems and changes also mean that the release date was late. Very Factory, I suppose.

The finished package looked even better than anyone dared to imagine, and housed in the polythene bag it has a fantastic 3D quality, plus the glasspaper catches the light beautifully. I was particularly delighted that Vini Reilly liked it. All the various headaches and reverses improved the design no end, and the addition of the die-cut means that you now have this unique Reid/Saville hybrid. Truly a happy accident.

LesDisquesduCrepuscule+FactoryBenelux logosYour CD reissues on Factory Benelux and Les Disques du Crépuscule are known for their comprehensive sleeve notes which are written by you. What is your philosophy and style regarding this?

I tend to focus on facts, and direct quotation from the people involved.

Creative writing I leave to experts like Paul Morley, Simon Reynolds and Kevin Pierce. My notes tend to be honest rather than gushing or pseudo-academic, and that’s probably why I rarely get commissioned to write liner notes for other releases! I think the last time was an ELECTRONIC retrospective. Johnny Marr just wanted a hagiography in which everything and everyone was, like, amazing and brilliant, all the time. Buyers aren’t stupid and don’t really want that. Then again, I probably have been a bit too glass half empty at times.

What are your thoughts on modern music, particularly the synthpop and electronic variety, having worked with a number of the original pioneers?

I really like EDM, it’s probably my favourite genre for blasting out loud in the car, annoying my daughter etc; RIHANNA, MISS KITTIN, TODD TERJE, electroclash, Xenomania productions.

A lot of what Crépuscule released during the golden years – the 80s, basically – was either very poppy (Paul Haig, Anna Domino, Isabelle Antena, Kid Montana), or pretty abstract (Wim Mertens, Glenn Branca, Gavin Bryars). That’s probably why my taste in music remains similarly schizophrenic.

If you’re asking who my current / recent favourites are then its TEGAN & SARA, ROBYN, M83, some NINE INCH NAILS, and the last NEW ORDER album. That was a spectacular return to form. Hats off to them, and to Mute.

Which have been your favourite reissues or products on Les Disques du Crépuscule and Factory Benelux over the years?

I can answer that in a heartbeat. My all-time favourite LDDC album is ‘Night Air’ by Blaine L Reininger, which came out in 1984 and was his first proper solo album during the time he was absent from TUXEDOMOON.

Blaine L Reininger Night AirIt’s a magical album about exile in Brussels and was a key influence on my relocating to the city a couple of years later. Expertly recorded and engineered by Gareth Jones, I might add. I’d love him to tour the whole album – maybe there will be an opportunity after TUXEDOMOON are done touring ‘Half Mute’ during 2016.

My favourite FBN reissues would be the glasspaper Durutti, or the pochette 2xCD edition of ‘Always Now’ by SECTION 25. Both presented considerable challenges, and both came off.

Are there any upcoming releases on Factory Benelux or Les Disques du Crépuscule you can tell us about?

I’ve been talking to a group from Brussels called LES PANTIES for a couple of years. I love their music – poised, sophisticated cold wave, with a hint of shoegaze – they have a great aesthetic sense, and Sophie Frison is an excellent singer. We just couldn’t agree about the name though. It might work in a French speaking country, but elsewhere it sounds like a novelty band. Eventually I just gave in and collected all their singles on an album, ‘Cold Science’, which is coming out on Crépuscule in September. It’s a bit of a passion project for me, I suppose. But it’s also one in the eye for people who carp we do nothing but reissues.


The Electricity Club gives its grateful thanks to James Nice

http://lesdisquesducrepuscule.com/

http://factorybenelux.com/


Text and Interview by Chi Ming Lai
Portrait photo by Peter Staessens
28th May 2016, updated 5th February 2017

ALAN RANKINE Interview

AssociatesLike their contemporaries JAPAN, Scotland’s ASSOCIATES are a band that burned briefly but brightly.

Fronted by the mercurial Billy MacKenzie and driven musically by multi-instrumentalist Alan Rankine, the group’s entire back catalogue has been remastered, accompanied by a new compilation. The MacKenzie / Rankine era albums ’The Affectionate Punch’, ‘Fourth Drawer Down’ and ‘Sulk’ have been supervised by silent partner and bassist Michael Dempsey.

These 2CD deluxe editions include previously unreleased tracks and 28 page booklets featuring unseen photos, rare memorabilia and extensive sleeve notes to do justice to the ASSOCIATES legacy.

Alan RankineThe young Alan Rankine grew up in Linlithgow, a town that was stuck between Glasgow and Edinburgh in more than just the geographical sense.

The way he and MacKenzie came together seemed almost predestined, with the pair forming a live covers band to keep themselves afloat as a sustainable entity, while demoing their own material. Courted by a number of labels, they decided to take control of the situation and independently released a cover of ‘Boys Keep Swinging’ only weeks after the Bowie original came out.

As if by magic, Fiction Records offered a deal and their first album ‘The Affectionate Punch’ came out in 1980. However, they were unhappy with their time on a conventional label and opted thereafter to licence their material, first with Situation 2 for their second album ‘Fourth Drawer Down’ and WEA for their commercial breakthrough ‘Sulk’.

Associates+swimDuring their run of three chart hits in 1982, it would be fair to say ASSOCIATES gave SIMPLE MINDS a run for their money in the art rock stakes. But stardom was not really something that suited ASSOCIATES, particularly MacKenzie. Sadly after the cancellation of a world tour, the pair parted ways, leaving SIMPLE MINDS to head for the stadiums while A-HA took up the mantle left vacant for melancholic cinematic multi-octave synthpop.

With the upcoming reissues soon to be released, Alan Rankine kindly spoke to The Electricity Club about his time with ASSOCIATES and the legend of Billy MacKenzie.

You and Billy played in a covers band which seems miles away from the usual route to the way bands at the time. Is the cover ‘Eloise’ on the ‘Very Best of ASSOCIATES’ indicative of the material were you playing?

Bill and I had a real affection for these kinda big sounding singles from the ‘67-‘68, we’re talking about things like ‘Rainbow Valley’ by LOVE AFFAIR, horns and strings and stuff. So we ended up doing a punk version of ‘Eloise’ by BARRY & PAUL RYAN, it was at breakneck speed!

As his catalogue has shown, Billy was very comfortable with doing covers?

We were both very keen on doing the occasional cover version. When we were in the studio or even at soundchecks, we would start playing ‘Brown Sugar’ or ‘Let’s Spend The Night Together’ by THE ROLLING STONES, or a Bowie or Roxy song. And then we would go onto ‘The Look Of Love’ by DUSTY SPRINGFIELD.

Associates-duoYou and Billy bonded over a shared love of ROXY MUSIC, DAVID BOWIE and SPARKS. Was it a gradual process coming up with that Venn diagram which became your sound?

I know exactly what you mean… it’s a Venn diagram with a few circles crossing over, but central to a lot of it was Bowie, a bit of Roxy, a bit art of art rock a la THE TUBES maybe and a bit of zaniness like THE REZILLOS. There was always an element of cheekiness in there. Anyone that was into music at that time just could not help be influenced by Bowie, but I think we had a more cinematic approach.

We loved our film themes, how they could hug your emotions and pull you this way and that way, just with a change of a chord here and the introduction of a different instrument there.

The cover of ‘Boys Keep Swinging’ forced Fiction’s hand and led to the recording of ’The Affectionate Punch’. You seemed to almost immediately find your own sound.

We did the recording of ’The Affectionate Punch’ very quickly in about three and a half weeks including mixing and mastering. Then we went into rehearsals and only played three songs from the ten track album which didn’t please the record company very much. But we just said “F*** YOU”, we just played what we felt was good. ’The Affectionate Punch’ has a lot of keyboards on it and we wanted to go out as just guitar / bass / drums / vocals. We played ‘Gloomy Sunday’ as well, which didn’t surface on record until 1982, so it was a bit of a mish-mash.

associates - message oblique speechHow did you get back into using synths again?

When you’re out there playing live to 600-700 people, it’s really fun to have a post-punk aesthetic but when you start recording again, it’s a luxury and you’ve got to have this sound. So we had five keyboards all lined-up ready to go, five different guitars and five different amps. We would work at breakneck speed, not because there was a time pressure, but because we had so many ideas coming into our heads at the same time. We wanted sumptuousness and for it to be dripping with silk and satin, we didn’t want cotton! *laughs*

Which keyboards where you using?

Digital-wise, we used the Synclavier. These geeky guys used deliver this thing which we hired by the day and it had floppy discs. It was fairly primitive, but it worked. Apart from that, we used Oberheims, Solinas, Yamaha CS80s, that sort of thing… there was another one starting with a ‘P’ but I can’t remember what it was! *laughs*

We liked to try and do different things; very seldom did we just use a preset sound and not put an effect on it in some way. Sometimes, we would just play a sound and hold down the notes of a chord and changed positions as the chord progression changed, and the sound would open up as the snare drum would hit. So it was like a Wah-Wah effect which was in time with the snare. The snare drum triggered off the sound, so it would open up and immediately shut.

‘White Car In Germany’ was an obvious nod to KRAFTWERK and LA DÜSSELDORF, but I seem to remember Billy saying he was really into THE HUMAN LEAGUE?

Yes, I can remember when we were in Ashley Newton of RSO Records’ BMW and he was playing THE HUMAN LEAGUE when he drove us to the studio. We thought it was great; I wouldn’t call Phil Oakey a vocalist, I would call him a vocaliser and there was brilliant songwriting from Jo Callis who was in THE REZILLOS. He wrote ‘Don’t You Want Me?’ so yeah, it was just the sheer pop of it. To us, it was really no difference between that and ‘Dancing Queen’ by ABBA, that’s bloody genius!

You and Billy popped down to The Blitz Club occasionally and you documented your experiences on ‘Club Country’…

We were definitely there fairly early on when it was in Great Queen Street. Yes, it was a bit exotic and yes, it was a bit pretentious but it was a young animal finding its feet; sometimes it did feel a little bit elitist and I think that was the nature of the beast, it was what it was.

I don’t think we really fitted in; I think SPANDAU BALLET fitted in there but I think we fell between two points. We were not New Romantics, we were not post-punk… were we new wave? I don’t know! The closest I can think of, if there was a category called Barking Mad, that’s where we would lie! *laughs*

associates-kitchen personWhat was the approach to recording Billy? Do you remember any particular quirks you can remember?

Recording Bill was such a luxury. After I went on to produce other people, I thought everyone was like that, I thought they all got it in one or two takes!

God, how wrong I was! I found myself thinking “this is sh*t” and they’re on like their 40th take in the studio and it’s still not right!

So you’re having to make up composites of five different takes!

On ‘White Car In Germany’ and ‘Kitchen Person’, Bill did sing through greaseproof paper and a comb. And into the bargain, on ‘Kitchen Person’ he was singing down the hose of a vacuum cleaner before it got to the mic.

‘Party Fears Two’ hit the top 10 in early 1982. The instrumental version included on CD2 of ‘Sulk’ brought a tear to my eye for a number of reasons. It revealed a lot of layers and each instrument has its own voice, but ultimately, Billy is missing…

You’re exactly right there; it’s like a great big hole. Yes, the instrumental sounds good and you can hear things more clearly in a more defined way. But yes, the lyrics, the vocal expression and the colour of the human voice, Bill had it all.

associates sulkLooking back, you weren’t ones for following the usual script. With the subsequent success of ‘Sulk’, it set you on the path that led to implosion of the band.

We recorded ‘The Affectionate Punch’ in the Spring of 1980 but promptly ditched most of the album and did new songs, some of which would appear on later albums and played in Scotland. I’ve looked up our gigography and we were up there for about two and a half months, playing maybe thirteen or fourteen gigs. So there was no tour laid out in front of us, it was more “oh, have we got a gig this week?”

Then we moved down to London and it was slightly more structured there. We’d play a month of Sundays at The Marquee etc but still, not like a world tour. But having your life mapped out for the next fifteen months, where you’re going to be, who’s going to meet you, how many radio stations you’re doing, how many press interviews you’re doing, that to Bill was just an anathema… that would freak anyone out, but it freaked Bill out because he was being boxed in. All we really wanted to do was be creative. Or if he was going to do a concert or two or three, that would be enough… ten days into the future was enough for Bill to take.

’18 Carat Love Affair’ is often considered the anomaly in the ASSOCIATES’ cannon and has been described as “quasi Neil Sedaka”… how do you look back on it? In retrospect, it was quite subversive to have a perfect pop song about a secret gay relationship in the charts in 1982.

Yeah, that’s another one. With ‘Party Fears Two’, the piano motif was written by us in 1977… we stared at each other hungover one Sunday morning and said “this is good but we can’t use this right now”. And indeed, we didn’t until five years later, the market just wasn’t there for it.

Similarly with ’18 Carat Love Affair’, to me it’s like 60s pop song, the melody, the feel of it. I like the fact it’s got an agony aunt in the lyrics, Evelyn Home who was in ‘Woman’ magazine and it was about a secret gay affair.

billymackenzieWaitFotTheLoveboatIs there anything you could have done differently in retrospect to keep the partnership together with Billy?

I really don’t think so, because Bill needed to stretch his legs creatively and work with other people… I get that now.

At the time, yes I was mad as hell and all the rest of it, but that’s what he needed to do.

He needed to work with YELLO and write the lyrics and melody to ‘The Rhythm Divine’; he needed to not be with me. I don’t think there was anything we could have done about that.

You continued to record with other artists like PAUL HAIG and WINSTON TONG. Would the recordings you did with them be an indicator of how ASSOCIATES might have sounded if you’d continued to work with Billy?

They’re different in that Paul’s a great vocalist, but he’s not Billy; he’s not got a four octave range and Paul really can’t sing unless it’s through microphones, he needs his voice to be electrified for him to feel comfortable.

Winston? Not the greatest singer! You had a forty-five minute window to try and get a performance out of him before he fell over, he was taking a little too much heroin although I’m glad to say he’s clean now. But he was having a real bad time when he was recording the ‘Theoretically Chinese’ album with me.

Again, with Paul and Winston and with whoever else, everything was done very quickly and it was always a great laugh and good fun.

AlanRankine-She loves me notAfter several solo records on Les Disques du Crépuscule and Virgin, you got back together with Billy in 1993 but he didn’t follow it through with the pressure for live shows. Was there no-one willing to take ASSOCIATES on as a studio-only band?

No, all the record companies were interested, but they were saying “PROVE IT!”… that was like a red rag to a bull for Bill, he just said “I’m not f***ing proving myself to anyone! Get real!”

Would the environment of today with self-releasing been better for him?

It probably would have suited Bill right down to the ground.

Are you surprised by people’s continual fascination with the band?

I think there’s a great deal of good will with regards the memory of ASSOCIATES and the memory of Bill, plus a certain amount of frustration because a lot of people that heard us in ‘81 and ‘82 hadn’t seen us play live in 1980-81, so you never know… *laughs*

What are your personal favourites from these releases?

On ‘The Very Best Of ASSOCIATES’, it’s got to be ‘International Loner’ and ‘Edge Of The World’. These were both done in the 1993 sessions; I see and hear them as a much more mature sound. I suppose ‘Skipping’ is probably my all-time favourite, although really, it’s ‘Party Fears Two’ because it gets played a lot.

But also, if you go back to the cover versions, ‘Long Hangover’ because I can remember being in Moulin Rouge Studios and Bill did that in two takes. There’s something about doing a cover version because you’re not in any way insular or self-conscious. Just watching and listening to Bill in full flight without a care in the world, there’s something very special about that.

What does the future hold for yourself?

I’ve done everything from perfume adverts to wet your panties teen pop. I just write and write whatever comes into my mind.


The Electricity Club gives its warmest thanks to Alan Rankine

Additional thanks to Stuart Kirkham at Hall Or Nothing Independent Publicity

associates_verybestofThe expanded 2CD deluxe edition reissues of ‘The Affectionate Punch’, ‘Fourth Drawer Down’ and ‘Sulk’ are released by BMG on 13th May 2016

The 2CD anthology ‘The Very Best Of ASSOCIATES’ is available now via Union Square through the usual retailers

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Text and Interview by Chi Ming Lai and Ian Ferguson
28th April 2016

Lost Albums: WINSTON TONG Theoretically Chinese

Winston-Tong-Theoretically-ChineseWINSTON TONG is best known for writing and singing ‘In A Manner Of Speaking’, a song that was subsequently covered by DEPECHE MODE’s Martin Gore on his 1989 ‘Counterfeit’ solo mini-album.

Originally performed by TUXEDOMOON, Tong had joined the experimental art rockers in a flexible arrangement that allowed him to pursue other projects.

He had not featured on TUXEDOMOON’s 1979 debut album ‘Half Mute’, but performed on its 1981 follow-up ‘Desire’, an album that was to become a favourite of DM’s Andy Fletcher.

Born in San Francisco, the son of Chinese parents forced into exile by Chairman Mao’s Communist regime, Tong studied at the California Institute of Arts. One of his teachers was Marni Nixon, who was best known in Hollywood for providing the singing voice for Natalie Wood and Audrey Hepburn in the films ‘West Side Story’ and ‘My Fair Lady’ respectively. On graduating, he started specialising in leftfield performance and puppet theatre.

His first solo album ‘Like The Others’ was released in early 1983 by the prestigious Belgian label Les Disques du Crépuscule. Issued on cassette only, it was a collection of abstract monologues backed by members of TUXEDOMOON.

Around this time, TUXEDOMOON’s lead singer Blaine L Reininger temporarily left for a solo career. So Tong lent his voice to an interim single ‘Soma’ in 1984. However, he opted to collaborate with Belgian singer Niki Mono who he had met following the band’s relocation to the more sympathetic artistic playground of Europe. The pair recorded a nine song demo which impressed Crépuscule enough to sign them. However, by the time the first single ‘Theoretical China’ appeared in November 1984, Mono had departed the project and the release was credited to just Tong.

But ‘Theoretical China’ was a promising calling card, the combination of alternative electronic disco and Tong’s Bowie-esque mannerisms recalled ‘Charlie Cat’ on ROBERT GÖRL’s ‘Night Full Of Tension’ which was produced by Mike Hedges, the man behind the desk for ASSOCIATES ‘Sulk’.

Winston-Tong-01But the ASSOCIATES connections didn’t end there either, as the track and subsequent album was recorded under the production supervision of Alan Rankine. Accompanied by an all-star cast of cool, ex-PUBLIC IMAGE LIMITED bassist Jah Wobble added some of the distinctive dub flourishes that had adorned his own ‘Snakecharmer’, while other renowned guests included NEW ORDER drummer Stephen Morris and MAGAZINE’s Dave Formula who also co-produced the track.

The finished electropop opus was released in October 1985 under the title of ‘Theoretically Chinese’. On it, the theme of cultural identity, which had been the lyrical gist of ‘Theoretical China’, was further explored via compositions like ‘Yellow Peril’ and an excellent uptempo cover of MARIANNE FAITHFULL’s ‘Broken English’. The era’s inherent Cold War tensions also loomed large on the fine pulsing opener ‘Big Brother’, its syncopated construction reminiscent of TALKING HEADS.

The bouncy ‘Endgame’ added saxophone to the synth dominated palette, while the similarly augmented ‘No Regrets’ was an enjoyably rousing number that wouldn’t have gone amiss on Bowie’s ‘Tonight’ album or a RYUICHI SAKAMOTO solo album of the period. The effervescent ‘Principles Of Movement’ closed proceedings on ‘Theoretically Chinese’, but it wasn’t all frantic, digitally programmed energetics as the elegant sweeping ballad ‘Reports From The Heart’ and the moodier set piece ‘The Quotidian’ proved.

Winston-Tong-02With Alan Rankine’s vibrant sequencing and keyboard work alongside his layered guitars, it was not hard to imagine how ASSOCIATES’ follow-up to ‘Sulk’ might have sounded had Alan Rankine and Billy Mackenzie not parted company. ‘Theoretically Chinese’ sold well for a European independent release, partly thanks to the positive reception for ‘In A Manner Of Speaking’ and its parent album ‘Holy Wars’ which came out earlier in 1985.

But true to the spirit that led to Tong’s flexible status within TUXEDOMOON, he had already left the band and as his second solo album reached the collections of the cognoscenti, he was off composing for a modern ballet production called ‘Miserere’. Thus, any further potential sales of ‘Theoretically Chinese’ that could have been gained from touring, remained unfulfilled.

WINSTON TONG’s danceable synthpop outing was as much of a departure from TUXEDMOON as ROBERT GÖRL’s ‘Night Full Of Tension’ was from DAF or PAUL HAIG’s ‘Rhythm Of Life’ was from JOSEF K. In all three cases, a lightened spirit previously hidden amongst the angsty overtones of each parent band was allowed to shine through. But Tong opted not to develop this comparatively commercial sound… he was done with his experiment and quickly moved on. He ventured into jazz and continued his various theatrical pursuits, with the occasional reunion with TUXEDOMOON.

While ‘In a Manner of Speaking’ has since become a cult favourite, thanks to Mr Gore and numerous media synchronisations, the ‘Theoretically Chinese’ album deserves rediscovery and reappraisal as a demonstration of how art school and dancefloor can live together in a sophisticated, harmonic union.


With thanks to George Geranios at Undo Records

‘Theoretically Chinese’ is still available as a download album via LTM Recordings

A WINSTON TONG compilation ‘In A Manner Of Speaking (Best Of)’ featuring five songs from the ‘Theoretically Chinese’ period is available on CD directly from http://www.ltmrecordings.com/in_a_manner_of_speaking_best_of_ltmcd2520.html

http://www.winstontong.com/


Text by Chi Ming Lai
11th August 2015