Tony Mansfield is perhaps one of the UK’s most underrated production and songwriting talents.
Born in London, he first found fame as the leader of NEW MUSIK who released three albums and scored three successive Top40 hit singles.
In common with Trevor Horn, Mansfield felt more at home in the studio than fronting a band and he maintained a parallel career as a producer. His innovative points deal with TMC Studios owner Bernie Proctor allowed Mansfield almost endless studio time to hone his craft.
With Clive Gates on keyboards, Phil Towner on drums and bassist Tony Hibbert, NEW MUSIK appeared on ‘Top Of The Pops’ with their first four singles ‘Straight Lines’, ‘Living By Numbers’, ‘This World Of Water’ and ‘Sanctuary’ between 1979-1980. But in their day, the band were often dismissed by the music press as a novelty act due to the comedic voices in their songs.
Mansfield’s aim was to create a sonic balance between pop and oddness; while the varispeeded and treated voices heard on NEW MUSIK tracks could be considered annoying, these acted as memorable hooks that grabbed the attention of listeners and in that respect, they pre-dated THE ART OF NOISE.
Despite the seemingly perky radio-friendly sound, Mansfield’s lyrics projected dystopian concerns and downright bleakness. ‘Living by Numbers’ summed up how life was subject to numerical identity be it age, statistics, registration, credit or wealth. Meanwhile ‘This World Of Water’ was a metaphor for drowning in the pressures of society and ‘Dead Fish (Don’t Swim Home)’ reflected the nuclear paranoia of the times. But Mansfield could get genuinely wacky too and ‘Home’ by his short-lived side-project PLANET HA HA ‘Home’ in 1982 was an ode to ‘ET The Extra-Terrestrial’.
A guitarist and self-taught keyboard player with a fascination for technological developments, the Korg 700s, Logan String Melody, Roland VP-330, Prophet 5, Yamaha CS80, Oberheim OBXa, Emulator, PPG Wave 2.2, Synclavier 2 and Fairlight CMI were among his tools during his career.
Today, his combination of gently strummed 12 string alongside pretty synth melodies and punchy electronic rhythms has highlighted a sonic connection to modern pop such as THE WEEKND, particularly on songs such as ‘Less Than Zero’ and ‘Blinding Lights’. As if to confirm the link, Mansfield did the original production on A-HA’s debut album ‘Hunting High & Low’ in 1984.
While Mansfield’s work with A-HA did not have a happy outcome with his work on ‘Take On Me’ first remixed and then replaced with what eventually became the re-recorded hit version produced by Alan Tarney, it would be fair to say that without their time with Mansfield, A-HA may not have become as driven to pave their own path so ambitiously. Despite this set back, Mansfield’s production portfolio has included many other notable artists and netted UK No1s, European Top5s and US Top10s along the way.
Notably reclusive, Mansfield withdrew from the limelight after NEW MUSIK to concentrate on the job in hand. In more recent times, the world has been his oyster with international hit productions such as the 1997 Spanish No1 album ‘Puntos Cardinales’ for Ana Torroja and ‘Online’, the 2001 “Latvian Pop Music Album of the Year” by BRAINSTORM.
With the timely announcement that the Cherry Red imprint Lemon will be issuing a 4CD NEW MUSIK boxed set ‘From A To B – The Sony Years’ on 24th March 2023, here are 18 tracks selected by ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK which act a Beginner’s Guide to the impressive and understated career of Tony Mansfield, listed in yearly and then alphabetical order by artist moniker…
AFTER THE FIRE Life In The City (1979)
AFTER THE FIRE were a London prog rock band who gradually developed into having more new wave inclinations by the time of their second album ‘Laser Love’. Notable for its fabulous synth solo, ‘Life In The City’ was re-recorded with Tony Mansfield producing for a single in late 1979 after NEW MUSIK first appeared on ‘Top Of The Pops’. AFTER THE FIRE would score a US Top 10 single hit with a cover of FALCO’s ‘Der Kommissar’ in 1983 after they had disbanded.
Originally available on the AFTER THE FIRE single ‘Life In The City’ via CBS, currently unavailable
NICK STRAKER BAND A Walk In The Park (1979)
Nick Straker had been school friends with Tony Mansfield and was even slated to become NEW MUSIK’s keyboardist; he played on ‘Straight Lines’ and ‘On Islands’ which was later covered by German trio CAMOUFLAGE. Simultaneously Straker had been working on his own songs with the members of NEW MUSIK as his band. Produced by Jeremy Paul, ‘A Walk In The Park’ was picked up by Pinnacle records and became an unexpected and huge European disco hit.
Originally available on the single ‘A Walk In The Park’ via CBS, currently unavailable
NEW MUSIK Sanctuary (1980)
Proving that the chart successes of ‘Living By Numbers’ and ‘This World Of Water’ were not flukes, NEW MUSIK scored a third Top 40 hit single taken off their debut album ‘From A To B’. Although ‘Sanctuary’ featured a similar cascading synth riff that appeared on John Foxx’s ‘Underpass’ which was released a few months before, Mansfield maintained that it was already on their demos from the previous year. He also felt that ‘From A To B’ was more a collection of songs recorded over a few years rather than a proper album.
Available on the NEW MUSIK album ‘From A To B’ via Lemon Records
NEW MUSIK Changing Minds (1981)
With the second NEW MUSIK album ‘Anywhere’, Mansfield aimed to be less pop and more experimental. With a long instrumental intro and his lead vocal not coming until close to the 2 minute mark, ‘Changing Minds’ provided a snappy highlight laced in rigid beats, strums and synth heaven. A sign of Mansfield’s quirky sense of humour, the album featured a song called ‘This World Of Water’ which was totally unconnected with the 1980 hit. But there were to be no hits with of the album’s singles.
Available on the NEW MUSIK album ‘Anywhere’ via Lemon Records
YUKIHIRO TAKAHASHI Drip Dry Eyes (1981)
Tony Mansfield had publicly cited YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA as his favourite band in 1980 and on ‘Drip Dry Eyes’ where he contributed keyboards to their drummer Yukihiro Takahashi’s 1981 solo album ‘Neuromantic’, the glistening synth melodies made it NEW MUSIK in all but name. 1982’s ‘What Me Worry’ saw Mansfield duet with Takahashi-san on ‘Disposable Love’; incidentally both songs featured Andy Mackay of ROXY MUSIC on sax.
Available on the YUKIHIRO TAKAHASHI album ‘Neuromantic’ via Sony Music Direct Japan
PHILIP JAP Total Erasure (1982)
‘The David Essex Showcase’ was a bizarre BBC talent contest involving the major labels; the winner was performance artist Philip Jap who fought off TALK TALK, DRAMATIS and Thomas Dolby to win. Mixed by Tony Mansfield, ‘Total Erasure’ was a slice of synthesized art funk in the vein of Zaine Griff that provided the victorious performance. Jap’s self-titled 1983 album featured ‘Save Us’ produced by Trevor Horn as well as tracks helmed by Colin Thurston and Mansfield, but mainstream success was not to be.
Originally available on the single ‘Total Erasure’ via A&M, currently unavailable
NEW MUSIK The Planet Doesn’t Mind (1982)
The 1982 NEW MUSIK album ‘Warp’ was a more experimental and mostly electronic affair that confusingly had two songs called ‘All You Need Is Love’ including THE BEATLES one with ‘Greensleeves’ tagged onto the end! But ‘The Planet Doesn’t Mind’ was proof that they could still produce excellent singles although this too failed to chart. However, seeing a brighter future in record production, Mansfield had disbanded NEW MUSIK by the end of the year.
Available on the NEW MUSIK album ‘Warp’ via Lemon Records
SEARCH PARTY Urban Foxes (1982)
SEARCH PARTY comprised of Londoners Lee Jacob and Alan Rear, the pair respectively had an eccentric duet singing and talking style of expression. Having met Tony Mansfield at TMC studios and provided backing vocals on ‘Anywhere’, it was unsurprising that when he produced ‘Urban Foxes’, it sounded a bit too much like NEW MUSIK. Their second and final single ‘All Around The World’ was produced by Mansfield’s chief engineer Pete Hammond who later went on to work for PWL. Rear continued working with Mansfield, notably on the 1988 Miguel Bosé album ‘XXX’.
Originally available on the single ‘Urban Foxes’ via Magnet, currently unavailable
MARI WILSON Just What I Always Wanted (1982)
The self-styled “Neasden Queen Of Soul” scored her first biggest hit with this classic beehive pop pastiche produced by Tony Mansfield. Despite its brassy big band image and presence, ‘Just What I Always Wanted’ was laced with the latest studio technology, featuring voice samples, subtle synths and big electronic drums. The parent album ‘Showpeople’ also mostly produced by Mansfield featured other variations on the theme. Coincidentally, Mari Wilson was also one of the acts who took part in ‘The David Essex Showcase’.
Available on the MARI WILSON album ‘The Neasden Queen Of Soul’ via Cherry Red
AZTEC CAMERA Walk Out To Winter (1983)
Roddy Frame’s early AZTEC CAMERA singles on Postcard had led to the young Scot being signed by Rough Trade. So who better than to handle acoustic guitars while adding a modern sheen than Tony Mansfield. The original 7” single version of ‘Walk Out To Winter’ saw a lovely synth intro while Emulator voices were brought in to add a then state-of-the-art texture. But it wasn’t what was wanted and the song was reworked with a six string start for the eventual album version.
Extended Version available on the AZTEC CAMERA deluxe album ‘High Land, Hard Rain – Expanded Edition’ via Warner Music
CAPTAIN SENSIBLE Glad It’s All Over (1983)
Best known as the guitarist with THE DAMNED, Captain Sensible caused something of a shock by reaching No1 with a synthesized novelty cover of ‘Happy Talk’ produced by Tony Mansfield. The connection had been made by The Captain’s NEW MUSIK fan girlfriend. While there has another novelty hit in the Croydon rap of ‘Wot!’, things took a more serious turn with the poignant anti-Falklands War anthem ‘Glad It’s All Over’ co-written by Mansfield. The B-side featured a parody medley entitled ‘Damned On 45’.
Available on the CAPTAIN SENSIBLE album ‘The Power Of Love’ via Cherry Red Records
NAKED EYES Voices In My Head (1983)
Hailing from Bath, Pete Byrne and Rob Fisher were NAKED EYES. Although their Simmons drums heavy Bacharach & David cover of ‘Always Something There To Remind Me’ didn’t trouble the UK Top 40, it reached No8 in the US. The parent album ‘Burning Bridges’ was produced by Tony Mansfield and it opened with the catchy ‘Voices In My Head’. Rob Fisher later had hits with Simon Climie but sadly passed away in 1999 while Peter Byrne continues performing as NAKED EYES.
Available on the NAKED EYES album ‘Burning Bridges’ via Cherry Red Records
A-HA Living A Boy’s Adventure Tale – Early mix (Recorded 1984, released 2015)
Tony Mansfield had done the original production on A-HA’s debut album ‘Hunting High & Low’, but the band had been unhappy with the Fairlight-assisted results so remixed the sessions with their manager John Radcliff. The 2015 30th Anniversary Edition saw a number of Mansfield’s original mixes publicly emerge for the first time. Apart from having much louder drum machine, ‘Living A Boy’s Adventure Tale’ was not that much different in vision from the final album version.
Available on the A-HA album ‘Hunting High & Low – 30th Anniversary Edition’ via Warner Music
VICIOUS PINK Cccan’t You See (1984)
Formally known as VICIOUS PINK PHENOMENA, Josephine Warden and Brian Moss had begun as SOFT CELL backing vocalists, appearing prominently on ‘Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret’. Their debut single ‘My Private Tokyo’ had been produced by Dave Ball, but having shortened their name and got a deal with Parlophone, Tony Mansfield was at the helm of their best song ‘Cccan’t You See’. Sultry and sexy, it was the luscious pop hit that never was and deserved far better than its UK peak of No67.
Available on the VICIOUS PINK album ‘Vicious Pink’ via Cherry Red Records
THE B-52’S She Brakes For Rainbows (1986)
Produced by Tony Mansfield, ‘Bouncing Off The Satellites’ was the last album featuring founder member Ricky Wilson who passed away aged 32 during its recording. Although released a year later, promotional was low key as the band were still in mourning and declined to tour. Meanwhile the material perhaps not unexpectedly had a darker and more melancholy atmosphere. The album closer ‘She Brakes For Rainbows’ utilised a range of synthetically flavoured tones.
Available on THE B-52’S album ‘Bouncing Off The Satellites’ via Island Records
JEAN PAUL GAULTIER How To Do That (1989)
Developing a French connection, Mansfield co-wrote and co-produced this appealing Euro house track with flamboyant fashion icon Jean Paul Gaultier which was first debuted as a single sided laser etched single in the UK and France. Meanwhile he also co-composed the majority of the parent album ‘Aow Tou Dou Zat’ which featured remixes by Norman Cook, JJ Jeczalik, Tony Moran, Mantronik, CJ Mackintosh and Dave Dorrell. Gaultier would go on to present Channel 4 TV show ‘Eurotrash’ with Antoine de Caunes.
Available on the JEAN PAUL GAULTIER single ‘How To Do That’ via Mercury Records
MADER En Résumé… En Conclusion
Releasing his first single ‘Les Bandes Dessinées’ in 1978, Toulouse singer-songwriter Jean-Pierre Mader scored his biggest domestic hit ‘Macumba’ in 1985. Adopting a heavy synth-based sound, he turned to Tony Mansfield to work on his fourth album ‘Midi À Minuit’ from which, the highlight was ‘En Résumé… En Conclusion’. A song co-written for him by French superstar Françoise Hardy, she recorded her own version with David Bowie producer David Richards and guitarist Erdal Kizilcay.
Available on the MADER album ‘Midi À Minuit’ via Polydor
MIMORI YUSA Kotori (1994)
Tony Mansfield brought his distinctive synth and strums sound to two tracks on Mimori Yusa’s seventh album ‘Aluhi-Halenohi’. The Japanese singer had made her nationwide TV debut aged 6 reciting a nursery rhyme. ‘Slowly’ saw original NEW MUSIK bassist Tony Hibbert return while the bittersweet ‘Kotori’ featured a melancholic Mansfield declaring “all you need is a cage”. Around this time, she was also in supergroup LOVE, PEACE & TRANCE which also featured Haruomi Hosono of YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA.
Available on the MIMORI YUSA album ‘Aluhi-Halenohi’ via Sony Music Direct Japan
Text by Chi Ming Lai
4th January 2023