Tag: Zaine Griff

TEC’s 25 SONGS OF THE BLITZ CLUB

The soundtrack of The Blitz Club was provided by its resident DJ Rusty Egan and its story is more than well documented.

This vibrant post-punk scene, whose flamboyant clientele were dubbed ‘Blitz Kids’ and ‘New Romantics’, became the catalyst for several bands including VISAGE, SPANDAU BALLET and CULTURE CLUB, as well as assorted fashion designers, visual artists and writers.

Rusty Egan told The Electricity Club: “I just played as much as I could fit in, it was not all disco. It was a bar and opened after work. I’d arrive 8.30–9.00pm and played all my faves till it was packed, then I got them dancing and at the end, I slowed down”.

The dancing style at The Blitz Club often involved the swaying of arms at a distance from the face like slow motion maraca shaking so as not to spoil any carefully hairsprayed styles. Meanwhile, feet movements were often impossible as the small dancefloor was often overcrowded!

With Steve Strange as doorman and fashion gatekeeper, the concept for what was initially a “Bowie Night” came together at Billy’s nightclub in Soho in Autumn 1978 in an effort to find something new and colourful to escape the oncoming drabness in the Winter Of Discontent. After a disagreement with the owners of Billy’s, the pair moved their venture to The Blitz Club.

Although Rusty Egan had been a soul boy and an active participant in punk through a stint rehearsing with THE CLASH and then as a member of THE RICH KIDS with Midge Ure, the two friends became fascinated with electronic dance music though the Giorgio Moroder produced ‘I Feel Love’ by Donna Summer and KRAFTWERK’s ‘Trans Europe Express’ album which had been a surprise favourite in New York discos and whose title track referenced David Bowie.

“There was a couple of years of punk which Midge Ure and myself weren’t too impressed with in terms of the clubs and the environment in Thatcherite Britain, it was horrible in Manchester, Birmingham and Liverpool!” recalled Egan, “So we were just trying basically to grasp the good in life, trying to be positive in a very negative time.”

Although Egan curated an eclectic playlist of available synth works supplemented with soundtracks and relatable art rock tunes, tracks were comparatively scarce in this new innovative electronic form.

So with studio time available following the split of THE RICH KIDS, Ure and Egan hit upon the idea of making their own electronic dance music for The Blitz Club, fronted by Steve Strange.

Ure came up with the name VISAGE for the project and presented the demo to his then employers at EMI Records, but it was rejected! Undeterred, the pair recruited Billy Currie from a then-in hiatus ULTRAVOX plus MAGAZINE’s Dave Formula, John McGeoch and Barry Adamson to record the first VISAGE album at the-then newly constructed Genetic Studios of Martin Rushent.

When Billy Currie toured with Gary Numan in 1979, he and fellow keyboardist Chris Payne composed what was to become ‘Fade To Grey’; it was included on the eventual ‘Visage’ album released by Polydor Records in 1980 and the rest is history, reaching No1 in West Germany!

VISAGE was the beauty of the synthesizer played with symphonic classical overtones fused to the electronic dance beat of Neu Europa and visually styled like a cross between the Edwardian dandies and Weimar Cabaret. Midge Ure remembered “it was a major part of my life and Steve was a major part of that period”.

The meeting of Ure and Currie in VISAGE led to the diminutive Glaswegian joining a relaunched ULTRAVOX who released the iconic ‘Vienna’ album in 1980. Co-produced by Conny Plank, the German always thought in terms of sound and on the title song, he imagined an old man at a piano in a desolate theatre who had been playing the same tune for forty years.

And when Billy Currie came to record his ivory parts, that was exactly the feel which Plank had engineered. It was to become a ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ for the New Romantic movement when it was released as a single, stalling at No2 despite being one of the best selling singles of 1981, gracing the UK charts at the same time as ‘Fade To Grey’.

Having started as a “Bowie Night”, the man himself became fascinated by this emergent cult with no name that he had inspired. In 1980, Jacqueline Bucknell, an assistant from his label RCA who was also a Blitz Kid, had taken Bowie down to The Blitz Club to cast extras to appear in a video for his new single ‘Ashes To Ashes’; among the chosen ones was Steve Strange.

Utilising Roland guitar synths and an ARP string machine with a final burst of ARP Odyssey, David Bowie saw ‘Ashes To Ashes’ as an epitaph for his artistic past as he lyrically revisited the Major Tom character from ‘Space Oddity’ over a decade on.

With this, The Blitz Club had now become a mainstream phenomenon as the BBC’s Nationwide programme sent an investigative team in, signalling a changing of the guard in popular culture with parallel scenes going on at The Rum Runner in Birmingham, The Warehouse in Leeds and Crocs in Rayleigh from which DURAN DURAN, SOFT CELL and DEPECHE MODE were to respectively gain their fledgling followings.

The perceived elitist exclusivity of The Blitz Club had partly become legend as a result of Steve Strange refusing entry to Mick Jagger for his sporting of blue jeans. Playing on this and adopting its electronic aesthetic to attract attention, five lads from Islington formed SPANDAU BALLET and initially only performed at special events which were by invitation only. Essentially becoming The Blitz Club’s house band, the quintet later scored worldwide success with a less radical sanitised pop soul sound.

Singer Tony Hadley said to The Electricity Club: “Our first album The ‘Journeys To Glory’ will always be one of my favourite Spandau albums, we were just young excited lads trying to make our mark on the world. There’s a rawness and energy on that album that is impossible to recreate. I love synthpop and still one of my favourite songs is SPANDAU BALLET’s first release ‘ To Cut A Long Story Short’.”

Not all enjoyed their visits to The Blitz Club; Billy MacKenzie notably highlighted the vapid nature of the scene in ASSOCIATES’ second hit single ‘Club Country’. But buoyed by its success, Steve Strange and Rusty Egan eventually vacated The Blitz Club and took over The Music Machine in 1982 and relaunched it as The Camden Palace, making it one of the UK’s first modern superclubs.

But the spirit of The Blitz Club still lives on and recently, there came the surprise announcement that Zaine Griff was to join Rusty Egan and ‘Fade To Grey’ co-writer Chris Payne to perform the songs of VISAGE in an audio-visual presentation at a number of events across Europe including W-Festival in Belgium.

Using Dave Rimmer’s 2003 book ‘New Romantics: The Look’ as an initial reference point and calling on the memories of Rusty Egan himself to verify whether he had actually played these songs in his DJ sets, here are The Electricity Club’s 25 Songs Of The Blitz Club to celebrate the flamboyant legacy of that Blitz Spirit.


ROXY MUSIC Both Ends Burning (1975)

Following-up the hit single ‘Love In The Drug’, ‘Both Ends Burning’ was ROXY MUSIC’s second ‘Siren’ call. With Bryan Ferry’s stylised but anguished vocals, it was a track which laid down the sophisticated art pop trail that JAPAN and DURAN DURAN would later be pursuing. Featuring a prominent coating of ARP Solina string machine sweetened by hypnotic bass and squawky sax, ‘Both Ends Burning’ is probably the most under rated single in the Roxy canon.

Available on the ROXY MUSIC album ‘The Best Of’ via Virgin Records

https://www.roxymusic.co.uk/


BRIAN ENO Kings Lead Hat (1977)

With a title that was an anagram of TALKING HEADS, the New York art school combo were the inspiration for the frantic metallic romp of ‘Kings Lead Hat’ which became a favourite at The Blitz Club. Brian Eno aped David Byrne in his vocal delivery, while he was later to produce three of the band’s albums as he moved further away from art rock as a solo artist. The song was later covered by ULTRAVOX in their live sets during the early phase their Midge Ure-fronted incarnation.

Available on the BRIAN ENO album ‘Before & After Science’ via Virgin Records

https://brian-eno.net/


KRAFTWERK Showroom Dummies (1977)

KRAFTWERK reacted as they generally did to negative criticism by writing a song. A response to a review that said their motionless persona at live performances was like ‘Showroom Dummies’, the sparse eerie atmosphere was punctuated by a tight and rigid electronic drum sound that was completely new and alien, something Rusty Egan was looking to emulate. Incidentally, the count-in of “eins zwei drei vier” was a deadpan Germanic parody of THE RAMONES!

Available on the KRAFTWERK album ‘Trans Europe Express’ via EMI Music

http://www.kraftwerk.com/


IGGY POP Nightclubbing (1977)

An Iggy Pop collaboration with David Bowie, the Vampiric glam of ‘Nightclubbing’ was the former James Osterberg’s commentary on what it was like hanging out with him every night. Utilising a simple piano melody and a cold Schaffel rhythm via the mechanical precision of a Roland drum machine, legend has it that Iggy insisted on keeping it, saying “it kicks ass, it’s better than a drummer”. Alongside ‘Lust For Life’, ‘Nightclubbing’ also featured in the soundtrack of ‘Trainspotting’.

Available on the IGGY POP album ‘The Idiot’ via Virgin Records

https://iggypop.com/


ULTRAVOX! Hiroshima Mon Amour (1977)

Utilising Warren Cann’s modified Roland TR77 rhythm machine, this was John Foxx moving ULTRAVOX! into the moody ambience pioneered by CLUSTER, away from the art rock of the self-titled first album and the punky interim single ‘Young Savage’. ‘Hiroshima Mon Amour’ had initially been premiered as a far spikier uptempo number for the B-side of ‘ROckWrok’. Incidentally, the ‘CC’ credited on saxophone is not Chris Cross, but a member of the art collective GLORIA MUNDI.

Available on the ULTRAVOX! album ‘Ha! Ha! Ha!’ via Island Records

http://www.metamatic.com/


LA DÜSSELDORF Viva (1978)

LA DÜSSELDORF’s second long player ‘Viva’ was their most successful album and the title track was a regular staple at The Blitz Club. An oddball slice of cosmic space rock sung in French and German by Klaus Dinger, proceedings were aided by the dual motorik thud of Hans Lampe and Thomas Dinger. Performed with the same group of musicians, ‘E-Musik’ by Dinger’s previous band NEU! had also been a favourite at The Blitz Club, influencing the intro of the ULTRAVOX B-side ‘Face To Face’.

Available on the LA DÜSSELDORF boxed set ‘Triple Album Collection’ via WEA Records

https://www.dingerland.de/


GIORGIO MORODER Chase (1978)

Commissioned by Alan Parker for the graphic prison drama ‘Midnight Express’, the noted director wanted some electronic accompaniment to the crucial chase scene of the film in the style of ‘I Feel Love’. The bassline from Giorgio Moroder’s own 1976 cover of ‘Knights In White Satin’ was reappropriated. The fruit of their labours was this Oscar winning Hi-NRG romp bursting with VANGELIS-like keyboard melodies, driven by an intense slamming and syncopated by popping pulses.

Available on the GIORGIO MORODER album ‘Midnight Express’ via Casablanca Records

https://www.giorgiomoroder.com/


THE NORMAL Warm Leatherette (1978)

Already a fan of German music and ‘Autobahn’ by KRAFTWERK in particular, Daniel Miller’s sense of experimentation and an adoption of punk’s DIY ethic led him to buying a Korg 700s synthesizer. Wanting to make a punk single with electronics, he wrote and recorded the stark JG Ballard influenced ‘Warm Leatherette’ as an independent single release on his own Mute Records. Meanwhile, The Blitz Kids came up with their own bizarre twisting and turning dance entering a human arch to accompany it…

Available on THE NORMAL single ‘Warm Leatherette’ via Mute Records

http://mute.com/category/the-normal


RIECHMANN Wunderbar (1978)

The late Wolfgang Riechmann is the forgotten man in the Düsseldorf axis having been in SPIRITS OF SOUND with Michael Rother and Wolfgang Flür; had his life not been tragically cut short, he certainly had the potential to become a revered and respected cult musical figure. The opening title track of his only album chimed like a Cold War spy drama before the beautifully almost oriental melodic piece imagined PINK FLOYD meeting CLUSTER over a delicate Schaffel beat.

Available on RIECHMANN album ‘Wunderbar’ via Bureau B

http://www.bureau-b.com/infotexte/Riechmann.Wunderbar.Bio.engl.pdf


VISAGE In The Year 2525 (1978 – released 1983)

ZAGER & EVANS’ pessimistic ditty was perfect fodder for the first VISAGE demo. Steered by Midge Ure using his freshly acquired Yamaha synths and punctuated by Rusty Egan’s incessant Roland drum machine and synthetic percussion, ‘In The Year 2525’ was perfectly resigned aural dystopia from its vocodered intro onwards. Steve Strange’s deadpan fronted the sombre tone perfectly but Ure’s vocal backing and counterpoints added that extra slice of musicality.

Available on the VISAGE album ‘The Face’ via Universal Records

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 YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA album ‘Yellow Magic Orchestra’ via Sony Music

http://www.ymo.org/


GINA X PERFORMANCE No GDM (1979)

Produced by Zeus B Held, ‘No GDM’ was written by androgynous art history student Gina Kikoine in honour of the “great dark man” Quentin Crisp and featured an array of ARP and Moog synths to signal the birth of a new European Underground. Unsurprisingly, the song gained heavy rotation at The Blitz Club. The nonchalant, detached vocal influence of GINA X PERFORMANCE went on to be heard in the music of LADYTRON, CLIENT and MISS KITTIN.

Available on the album ‘Nice Mover’ via LTM Recordings

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


JAPAN Life In Tokyo (1979)

Working with Giorgio Moroder, David Sylvian submitted ‘European Son’ for the session in Los Angeles but it was rejected by the producer. Instead, the Italian offered several of his demos, of which, Sylvian picked the one he considered to be the worst so that he could stamp more of his own vision for the developing synthesized sound of JAPAN. Considered to be too avant-garde at its inception but ahead of its time, unbeknown to Moroder and Sylvian, they had just conceived DURAN DURAN!

Available on the JAPAN album ‘Assemblage’ via Sony BMG Records

http://www.nightporter.co.uk/


THOMAS LEER & ROBERT RENTAL Day Breaks Night Heals (1979)

Originally released on THROBBING GRISTLE’s Industrial Records, ‘The Bridge’ album saw Scottish duo Thomas Leer and Robert Rental trading vocal and instrumental duties. With an air of FAD GADGET, ‘Day Breaks Night Heals’ showcased some of Leer’s pop sensibility that was later apparent in his Arista solo period and in ACT with Claudia Brücken, while Rental maintained a dark experimental presence in this slice of artful electronic blues. Robert Rental sadly passed away in 2000.

Available on the album ‘The Bridge’ via The Grey Area

http://mute.com/category/thomas-leer-and-robert-rental


SIMPLE MINDS Changeling (1979)

Manipulating their influences like SPARKS and MAGAZINE with a very European austere, Glasgow’s SIMPLE MINDS were “underground, pulsating through” thanks to the rhythmic interplay of Derek Forbes’ bass with Mick McNeil’s synths. Charlie Burchill was now thinking beyond the sound of a conventional electric guitar while the precision of under rated drummer Brian McGee locked the glue. That just left Jim Kerr to throw his bizarre shapes and pontificate over this dark avant disco.

Available on the SIMPLE MINDS album ‘Reel To Real Cacophony’ via Virgin Records

http://www.simpleminds.org.uk/


SPARKS Beat The Clock (1979)

Having graced the UK Top 20 again with the tremendous ‘No1 Song In Heaven’, SPARKS continued their Giorgio Moroder produced rejuvenation and had an even bigger hit with ‘Beat The Clock’. Percussively augmented by Keith Forsey who was later to produce Billy Idol, Russell Mael’s flamboyant falsetto more than suited the electronic disco sound while the programmed backing meant that Ron Mael could stoically maintain his image of doing nothing.

Available on the SPARKS album ‘No1 In Heaven’ via Lil Beethoven Records

https://allsparks.com/


TELEX Moscow Diskow (1979)

Belgian trio TELEX comprised of Marc Moulin, Dan Lacksman and Michel Moers, with the intention of “making something really European, different from rock, without guitar”. Opening their debut album ‘Looking for Saint Tropez’ which also contained their funeral robotic cover of ‘Rock Around The Clock’, ‘Moscow Diskow’ took the Trans-Siberian Express to Moscow, adding a funkier groove compared with KRAFTWERK’s ‘Trans Europe Express’ excursion for what was to become a cult international club favourite.

Available on the TELEX album ‘‘Looking For San-Tropez’ via EMI Music

https://www.facebook.com/TELEX-312492439327342/


THROBBING GRISTLE Hot On The Heels Of Love (1979)

From their third album ’20 Jazz Funk Greats’, the uncompromising THROBBING GRISTLE led by the late Genesis P-Orridge were neither jazzy or funky! Gloriously sequenced by Chris Carter via a Roland System-100M modular, ‘Hot On The Heels Of Love’ was mutant dystopian disco lento with a hypnotic rhythm punctuated by a synthetic whip-crack for that S&M twist as Cosey Fanni Tutti’s whispered vocals competed with pentatonic melodies and electronic drill noises!

Available on the THROBBING GRISTLE album ’20 Jazz Funk Greats’ via Industrial / Mute Records

https://twitter.com/ThrobbingGrstle


ZAINE GRIFF Ashes & Diamonds (1980)

Zaine Griff had a Bowie-esque poise was tailor made for The Blitz Club and Tony Visconti saw enough in him to produce his debut solo album ‘Ashes & Diamonds’. Featuring Hans Zimmer on synths, the title song was sitting just outside the Top 40 and earned a performance on Top Of The Pops but the episode was pulled thanks to a Musicians Union strike. Demonstrating the song’s longevity despite it not being a major hit, it was recently covered live by American alternative rockers MGMT.

Available on the ZAINE GRIFF album ‘Ashes & Diamonds / Figvres’ via MIG Music

https://www.zainegriff.com/


THE HUMAN LEAGUE Being Boiled (1980)

‘Being Boiled’ was the first song Philip Oakey wrote with Martyn Ware and Ian Craig Marsh for THE HUMAN LEAGUE, his bizarre lyrics being the result of a confusion between Buddhism and Hinduism while highlighting the plight of silk worms. Intended to reimagine FUNKADELIC’s funky overtones as synthetic horns, this brassier re-recorded version with fatter electronic beats was included on the ‘Holiday 80’ EP and the ‘Travelogue’ album, becoming a dance staple of The Blitz Club.

Available as a bonus track on THE HUMAN LEAGUE album ‘Travelogue’ via Virgin Records

http://www.thehumanleague.co.uk/


SPACE Tender Force (1980)

Didier Marouani wrote the worldwide hit ‘Magic Fly’ but having left the band, Roland Romanelli and Jannick Top continued as SPACE. The rousing thrust of ‘Tender Force’ was, like ‘Magic Fly’, produced by Jean-Philippe Iliesco who later invited Rusty Egan to contribute a timbale heavy remix of this synth disco tune ; he was later to begin an ill-fated business relationship with Iliesco who was named by Midge Ure in his ‘If I Was’ autobiography as responsible for putting a wedge between him and Egan in VISAGE…

Available on the SPACE album ‘The Best Of’ via Nang Records

http://www.space.tm.fr


YELLO Bostich (1980)

Although now known as a duo, eccentric Swiss pioneers YELLO actually began as a trio of Dieter Meier, Boris Blank and Carlos Peron. Later remixed and extended, the military drum tattoo at the start of ‘Bostich’ was deceiving as an electronic throb quickly set in. This was perfect avant garde disco for The Blitz Club with a quirky range of vocal pitches from Meier while the track also included a style of speedy European rap later that was repeated on their only major UK hit ‘The Race’ in 1988.

Available on the YELLO album ‘Essential’ via Mercury Records

https://www.yello.com/


LANDSCAPE Einstein A Go-Go (1981)

Electronic pop music was often seen as pretentious, LANDSCAPE had their tongues firmly in their cheeks as evidenced by ‘Einstein A Go-Go’. “The song is a cautionary tale about the apocalyptic possibilities of nuclear weapons falling into the hands of theocratic dictators and religious extremists.” said the band’s Richard Burgess, “We talked about the track conceptually before we wrote it and our objective was to make a very simple, cartoon-like track with a strong hook that would belie the meaning of the lyrics!”

Available on LANDSCAPE album ‘From The Tea-Rooms Of Mars…’ via Sony Music

https://twitter.com/Landscape_band


SHOCK R.E.R.B. (1981)

Written as a B-side instrumental for The Blitz Club’s resident dance troupe SHOCK to work a routine to, ‘R.E.R.B.’ was constructed by Rusty Egan and Richard Burgess, hence the title. Burgess had been doing the linking interludes with a Fairlight on the first VISAGE album and brought in Roland System 700 modular driven by the Micro-composer while Egan triggered the brain of the synthesized drum system that Burgess had been working on with Dave Simmons for its punchy drum fills.

Available on the SHOCK single ‘R.E.R.B.’ via Blitz Club Records

https://twitter.com/DJRustyEgan


SOFT CELL Memorabilia (1981)

Produced by Daniel Miller, one of the first SOFT CELL recordings on signing to Phonogram was the seminal ‘Memorabilia’. While not a hit, it was critically acclaimed and become a favourite at The Blitz Club. Dave Ball’s deep Roland Synthe-Bass and klanky Korg Rhythm KR55 provided a distinctive danceable backbone to accompany Marc Almond’s souvenir collecting metaphors about sexual promiscuity. After this, SOFT CELL were signed by Rusty Egan to Metropolis Music for publishing.

Available on SOFT CELL album ‘Keychains & Snowstorms: The Singles’ via Universal Music

https://www.softcell.co.uk/


Approved by Rusty Egan, The Electricity Club presents the ‘Blitz Spirit’ playlist capturing the era plus a few tracks from just after at: https://open.spotify.com/playlist/0y4GXXotg4BFPZ6qMklwdx


Text by Chi Ming Lai with thanks to Rusty Egan
13th April 2020

ZAINE GRIFF Interview

Born in Auckland to Danish parents, Zaine Griff possesses a musical CV that is impressive, reading like a Who’s Who of popular music.

First a bassist and vocalist with Kiwi rock band THE HUMAN INSTINCT, he left in 1975 and moved to London where he had stints in BABY FACE and SCREEMER before going on to study mime under Lindsay Kemp alongside Kate Bush. As a result, he joined Kemp’s production of a play written by Jean Genet called ‘Flowers’.

In 1979, Zaine Griff launched his solo career with future film music composer Hans Zimmer and ULTRAVOX drummer Warren Cann among the members of his backing band for an appearance at the Reading Festival.

With his Aladdin Sane-inspired persona, he was soon signed by Automatic Records, a subsidiary of Warner Bros who brought in Tony Visconti to produce his debut solo album ‘Ashes & Diamonds’. It spawned the 1980 single ‘Tonight’ but it peaked at No54 in the UK Singles Chart, partly due to an already recorded appearance on ‘Top Of The Pops’ not being shown due to a Musicians Union strike.

It was during these recording sessions for ‘Ashes & Diamonds’ that David Bowie walked in to visit Visconti and was slightly taken aback by the resemblance between himself and Griff. Despite this, Bowie invited Griff be part of the band to record three new versions of his songs for an upcoming appearance on the 1979 Kenny Everett New Year Show.

One of them was ‘Space Oddity’ which later surfaced as the flipside to ‘Alabama Song’ while another was ‘Panic In Detroit’ that later appeared as a bonus track on the Ryko CD reissue of the ’Scary Monsters’ album; the re-recording of ‘Rebel Rebel’ has yet to see the light of day.

The second Zaine Griff album ‘Figvres’ was released in 1982 and saw Hans Zimmer stepping up to the producer role.

It ultimately laid the groundwork for the German musician’s eventual career in Hollywood. Also featuring on the album were Kate Bush and Yukihiro Takahashi from YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA.

Around this time, Griff held an art exhibition of his drawings in London’s Ebury Galley, to which his friend and contemporary artist Mark Wardel also contributed.

Meanwhile in 1983, Griff collaborated on six songs for Hans Zimmer and Warren Cann’s ambitious HELDEN album ‘Spies’ which despite the independently released duet with Linda Allan titled ‘Holding On’ being issued as a single in advance, remains officially unreleased. After recording with Midge Ure and Gary Numan, Griff returned to New Zealand in 1984.

In 2011, Zaine Griff made a comeback with his third album ‘Child Who Wants The Moon’ and returned to the live stage. While he has continued releasing albums and touring regularly, his music was being discovered by a cool young audience, thanks to American rockers MGMT covering ‘Ashes & Diamonds’ during their concerts in 2018.

Then recently, there came the surprise announcement that Zaine Griff was to join Rusty Egan and ‘Fade To Grey’ co-writer Chris Payne to perform the songs of VISAGE in an audio-visual presentation at W-Festival in Belgium and the Human Traffic Live & The Pioneers of Electronica showcase in London this Summer.

To celebrate the 40th anniversary of VISAGE, founder members Midge Ure and Rusty Egan had deliberated for months as to who could take on guitar and lead vocals in a four man line-up with a nod to their original inspiration KRAFTWERK, eschewing the format of a lead singer fronting a band. With Ure committed to his own ‘1980’ tour performing VISAGE and ULTRAVOX songs, the role was offered to Zaine Griff.

While Steve Strange was undoubtedly the flamboyant face of VISAGE and played a vital role in the collective’s international visual profile, the many layers of backing vocals on the recordings were by Midge Ure and Rusty Egan, providing a crucial musicality to support Strange’s more monotone lead voice.

Meanwhile, a fair number of tracks like ‘The Dancer’, ‘Moon Over Moscow’, ‘Whispers’ and the dance mix of ‘Frequency 7’ were instrumentals.

So as an associate of the New Romantic movement with connections to many key figures of the period, Zaine Griff is just the man for the job. He kindly spoke to The Electricity Club from his home in New Zealand to talk about his music career and the upcoming VISAGE 1980 x 2020 shows.

Your debut solo album ‘Ashes & Diamonds’ was produced by Tony Visconti, how did that come about?

Tony Visconti was brought in to produce my debut album ‘Ashes and Diamonds’ by my record company MD Nick Mobbs at Automatic Records which was part of Warner Bros. When Tony heard my demos, he wanted to work with me.

It was during the recording of the ‘Ashes & Diamonds’ album that you were introduced to David Bowie and he had a proposal?

I was introduced to David Bowie by Tony at Good Earth studios. David had just returned from recording the Berlin trilogy and was wanting Tony to produce some tracks for a TV show. He had heard what I was doing and asked me if we could back him.

How did you run into Hans Zimmer and his batcave of synths?

Colin Thurston introduced me to Hans Zimmer when Colin brought Hans into Utopia studios to play keyboards on some demos I was recording there. Everything from that session onwards, Hans played on. As Hans said to me only last year: “I was your keyboard player”.

In fact, he was much more than that. All the live work, studio work, Hans was with me, as I was with him during his HELDEN project.

You were frequenting The Blitz Club, what appealed to you about its atmosphere and how did you find the characters you met there?

I met Steve Strange at Legends night club. My manager Campbell Palmer owned Legends. I met so many amazing artists at Legends, we would dance and hangout till day break, often we would go to The Blitz Club or The Embassy. Everyone seemed to know each other and were supportive of each other. This is how I met Rusty Egan and Midge Ure, Boy George, Marilyn and so on.

Did it take much to persuade Rusty Egan to appear in your ‘Ashes & Diamonds’ video for the single?

I wanted at the time for Rusty to drum for me and Gary Tibbs to play bass. Well, they performed in the video of ‘Ashes & Diamonds’ and then they both were doing other projects. I tried!!

How do you feel about the American indie rock band MGMT covering ‘Ashes & Diamonds’ on their 2018 live tour?

Fantastic! I would love to meet them one day. It’s so cool when a younger generation plays your music in respect of the song and the composition. I was thrilled to say the least, I have followed them ever since.

Hans Zimmer had moved up to the producer role on ‘Figvres’ and it was to prove inspiring for his later soundtrack career?

I had to convince Nick Mobbs of Automatic Records to allow Hans Zimmer to produce my second album ‘Figvres’. So much so that Nick allowed Hans to co-produce and Nick would allow us to complete the album based on the first two weeks of recording. He loved what he heard and gave us his blessing to finish.

Up until then, Hans had only produced a single for THE DAMNED. ‘Figvres’ was his first album production. And indeed he is entitled to a full production credit for everything he put into ‘Figvres’ and of course Steve Rance, Hans’ engineer… what a team!

You had a good friendship with Warren Cann from ULTRAVOX who played drums on the ‘Figvres’ album too?

I heard ULTRAVOX on the John Peel show. I went out and brought ‘Systems Of Romance’ only because of the drummer. I had to meet this guy and work with him.

I wanted Warren so much, I called Island Records, got his number, went to his flat and convinced him to play at the Reading Festival with me, and that’s how Hans and Warren met in rehearsal for Reading Festival.

The song ‘Flowers’ was dedicated to the late Lindsay Kemp and had Kate Bush singing backing vocals, what was it like working with her?

Working with Kate Bush was beautiful. She and I had studied under Lindsay Kemp, so it was easy for her to understand the ‘Flowers’ song and the emotion of the composition.

‘Flowers’ the show was a massive inspiration. Nothing comes near ‘Flowers’. So powerful, so dramatic and a huge inspiration to us both.

Hans Zimmer and Warren Cann formed HELDEN and you sang on the single ‘Holding On’, but the album on which you sang another five songs has never had an official release, do you consider it to be a lost classic?

I spent a whole year, most days and nights with Hans and Warren on the HELDEN project mainly at Snake Ranch Studios. I did a radio promotional tour with Hans. By then he was swept off his feet by film directors. Alas Hollywood.

What was the idea behind you recording a cover of ULTRAVOX’s ‘Passionate Reply’ with Midge Ure?

Chris O’Donnell suggested I do some recording with Midge. He played me ‘Passionate Reply’ on an acoustic, I had not heard it before and I just loved it. We recorded in his Chiswick studio. We recorded enough material for an album and the masters were stored at Rock City Studios with Gary Numan’s mum.

I loved working with Midge. I had known Midge from when he was in SLIK. The band I was playing with at the time were the support to SLIK. I knew then just how good he was. Looking back, we were so naive to it all. ULTRAVOX was managed by Chris O’Donnell and Chris Morrison, they were my production management company and production company to VISAGE. See how close knit we all were? And of course they managed THIN LIZZY.

There was that TV appearance performing ‘Passionate Reply’ on ‘The Freddie Starr Show’? What can you remember about that?

I was told I was to go to Manchester and do this show. All I wanted to do was not do it. Hated the whole tacky production. Still I stood up there alone and did it.

You recorded ‘This Strange Obsession’ with Yukihiro Takahashi and Ronny, that’s quite an international combination?

I had worked with Ronny on one of my songs ‘It’s A Sin’ with Hans producing her and Yukihiro approached me to write for him. I asked Ronny to join us. That was amazing working with Yukihiro. The translation barrier was understood with music.

Although you never recorded together, there’s a photo of you with Steve Strange and Mick Karn, what was the occasion?

That photo of Mick, Steve and I was at my art exhibition at the Ebury Gallery Victoria.

Gary Numan invited you to duet with him on ‘The Secret’ from ‘Berserker’, it has a good chemistry, how did you find working in the studio with him?

Gary Numan called me asked me to work on ‘Berserker’ just out of the blue. He was great to work with, I remember him doing takes faster than what I was used to; if he liked that take, that was it. Midge was like that as well. They knew what they wanted.

You returned with your third album ‘Child Who Wants The Moon’ in 2011, what was behind what appeared to be a lengthy hiatus?

It was a lengthy hiatus because I was burnt out, exhausted, not well, I had to go. I was not in a great space. I decided to try and get well again and stop wanting the moon… you know wanting the impossible.

You’ve released the albums ‘The Visitor’ and ‘Mood Swings’ since then and have returned to performing live again. Was that aspect something you’d missed over the years?

My problem is I cannot stop composing. I recorded ‘The Visitor’ and ‘Mood Swings’ purely for composition fulfilment. In the liner notes of ‘Mood Swings’, you can see the album is dedicated to Steve Strange.

How did the upcoming VISAGE 1980 x 2020 gigs with Rusty Egan and Chris Payne come about?

I had a call from Rusty late last year. He had spoken to Midge and Chris Payne, and asked if I would be interested in the VISAGE 1980 x 2020 shows. I find this an honour and a privilege. This project is about the music of VISAGE, not the front man or side man, it is about the music VISAGE produced and created.

These VISAGE shows from my perspective are a celebration of 40 years since the VISAGE debut was released. For me, it will also be a 40 years celebration of my debut album ‘Ashes & Diamonds’. It is also a celebration to Steve’s life, Rusty, Midge, Chris and everyone involved in the making of VISAGE and all their incredible fans and followers.

Which are your own favourite VISAGE songs?

Songs like ‘The Damned Don’t Cry’ are classic compositions of that time. Again, I love the energy they put in the studio, I don’t believe they ever performed live. I have spoken to Chris but I haven’t seen him since I sang on Gary Numan’s ‘Berserker’ album… I can’t wait to work with Chris and Rusty again.

What are your plans after these VISAGE 1980 x 2020 dates?

I will be doing some live shows later this year in London.


The Electricity Club gives its warmest thanks to Zaine Griff

Special thanks to Rusty Egan

‘Ashes & Diamonds’ and ‘Figvres’ are still available via Mig Music on the usual digital platforms

Zaine Griff, Rusty Egan and Chris Payne perform the music of VISAGE 1980 x 2020 at W-Festival in Belgium on Friday 22nd May 2020 – tickets are available from https://w-festival.com/en/

There will also be a performance as part of Human Traffic Live & The Pioneers of Electronica on Thursday 4th June 2020 at London Printworks which will also feature DJ sets from William Orbit and Wolfgang Flür – tickets are available from https://www.alostweekend.com/event/04-06-20

https://www.zainegriff.com/

https://www.facebook.com/Zainegriff.officialnews/

https://twitter.com/ZaineGriffOffic

https://www.instagram.com/zainegriff/


Text and Interview by Chi Ming Lai
13th February 2020