A No1 album in 1982, ‘The Lexicon of Love’ was ABC’s debut album which many have said defined a decade.

Produced by Trevor Horn, it was a widescreen mix of soul, funk, disco, new wave and electronic pop that spawned the hit singles ‘Poison Arrow’, ‘The Look Of Love’ and ‘All Of My Heart’. Featuring the classic ABC line-up pf Martin Fry, Mark White, Stephen Singleton and David Palmer, among the studio team were keyboardist and arranger Anne Dudley, engineer Gary Langan and Fairlight programmer JJ Jeczalik who would go on to become THE ART OF NOISE.

Remaining founder member and ABC frontman Martin Fry toured ‘The Lexicon of Love’ in 2022 with a full symphonic orchestra conducted by Anne Dudley to celebrate the 40th anniversary of its release. The home town gig at Sheffield City Hall was recorded for the imminent release of ‘The Lexicon of Love Live’.

Martin Fry spoke to ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK via Zoom from Barbados about the making of ‘The Lexicon Of Love’, the various changes in direction of ABC, the good times, the bad times and living in the here and now…

Did you think you’d still be performing ‘The Lexicon Of Love’ 40 years after it was released?

I never thought I’d be performing 15 minutes later! Andy Warhol said 15 minutes was a long time in fame, I dunno… four decades on! *laughs*

Originally all those years ago, The Lexicon Of Love’ came out and on it was ‘Poison Arrow’, ‘The Look Of Love’ and ‘All Of My Heart’; we did have a good run for our money, it was on the charts for pretty much a year and we continued to have pop hits throughout the 80s but there’s a spell where it all goes quiet isn’t there? I’ve realised subsequently that’s what happens to Mick Jagger and Elton John… anybody that’s going to have a long career, there’s a downtime.

I remember in the Britpop days thinking “ABC in the shiny tuxedos? NO!”, there’s THE PRODIGY, there’s SUEDE, there’s OASIS, we were from a different era. But in 1998, I was asked to do a tour with CULTURE CLUB and THE HUMAN LEAGUE, so ABC took to the road and we played in sold out arenas! We realised there was a public thirst and hunger for the 80s pop again. So I’ve never really looked back.

About 10 years ago, we started playing shows with the full orchestra and Anne Dudley conducting, those shows really went well. it’s nice to play with a band, it’s nice to play track dates but it’s great to play with the orchestra. That generated a whole new career, people would come to the shows and that’s why we recorded the live album from Sheffield, it was a gig we about 12 months ago now to celebrate that fact. So it has been a long and winding road.

Fame’s a fleeting thing anyway, there are many different types of fame and I kind of like it the way it is now, it’s a great honour and a great privilege to stand on stage under the spotlight to sing those songs.

You did the ‘Steel City’ tour in 2008 with THE HUMAN LEAGUE and HEAVEN 17 as part of a package, but was there a moment when you realised ABC could headline again?

Yeah, I liked playing on those festivals but in 2001, I did this thing in Germany called ‘Night Of The Proms’ and it was with a big orchestra and choir.

They had Chris De Burgh and Meat Loaf and you all live in a hotel, it was one of the first things I did where I was part of the scenery, just a small part of the show, it was like joining the circus, and it felt good. So from that, I learnt that when it came to the orchestra, ABC could be the headline act and play for 2 hours. We played the hits, had an intermission and played ‘The Lexicon Of Love’ so it all grew out of that.

Did you take a look at Trevor Horn’s memoir and in particular about the making of ‘Poison Arrow’ and ‘The Look Of Love’ in particular?

I’ve not read Trevor’s book, I saw him about 12 months ago when we played a cruise ship in Florida. It was great to go for dinner with him. We worked together long time ago but I’ve run into him a lot through the years. I should read his book, but in a way I’m a little bit scared to because we had a great time making ‘The Lexicon Of Love’ and I would like the memory to remain like that.

What I found interesting about Trevor’s account of making ‘The Lexicon Of Love’ was how he used his tracing method…

Yes, making the record was 50% us, 50% Trevor. We didn’t want to make a record where you made 28 takes and picked the 28th take and put it out. No, we loved KRAFTWERKVICE VERSA was the band we were in before ABC with three synthesizers and because we were grew up in Sheffield, it was in the outré of THE HUMAN LEAGUE and CABARET VOLTAIRE, we’d have a little 2 track machine and overdubbed different parts. So when it came to working with Trevor, we said “how come these dance records we are listening to like Quincy Jones productions on Michael Jackson solo stuff and Grace Jones with Sly and Robbie, how do they sound so good?”, the timing was very different to raw sound of a lot of English records at the time.

So the tracing method he refers to, our drummer at the time David Palmer who plays with Rod Stewart, he was really good at programming drum machines and this would make the kick drum and snare very precise. Trevor would add a programmed bass and then we would play along to this. So it was like tracing really and it gave a very modern sound to ‘Poison Arrow’ and ‘The Look Of Love’. We were into the electronic side of things and it was a lot of fun.

What are your favourite memories?

After we had a couple of hit records, the label said we were allowed to have some strings on our record. So we went to Abbey Road and that was an incredible day standing in the room, feeling the orchestra play ‘All Of My Heart’. Another time was we went to Dean Street Studio which Tony Visconti owned and David Bowie walked in and hung out for a couple of hours.

He sat in on the sessions, making suggestions at the back, having a cup of tea. At the time, we were blown away by that, we loved Bowie. So I think he put a bit of his magic dust on those sessions.

One of the things Trevor Horn mentions in his book is that Bowie had an idea to put the end of ‘The Look Of Love’?

Yeah, as I remember it, we were adamant that we didn’t want a guitar solo, so there was an eight bar section, then third chorus, an eight bar space and then there’s another chorus ramping it up to the end of ‘The Look Of Love’… so Bowie was interested in the idea of leaving messages on an answering machine for somebody that is never going to reply, he thought that would be a great pathos and a funny thing to put on. We did try an answering machine but in the end, I just did that mad freeform mumble that “maybe one day you’ll find true love” which was inspired by Iggy Pop and the song ‘Turn Blue’ which was on the album ‘Lust For Life’ which Bowie produced. Iggy would always speak to himself like James Brown, I love it when singers just start rambling on their own records, Lou Reed does it as well.

Were you channelling your inner Tom Jones on ‘The Look Of Love’?

That’s nice of you to say that, we played a show with Tom Jones once on a racetrack in Ireland, it was fantastic. Well, Tom Jones always attacked everything… years later, a guy named David Arnold made this James Bond Themes covers album and asked me to sing ‘Thunderball’ which was originally sung by Tom Jones. It’s a real tough song to sing, Tom just slayed it so maybe there’s some truth in that. But I like always liked the way that at the end of a Tom Jones song, you want to sit down, there’s an energy there, it peaks and you want to take breath.

How did you feel when Trevor Horn recycled a section of ‘Date Stamp’ for FRANKIE GOES TO HOLLYWOOD’s ‘Relax’?

It’s funny, every time I play ‘Date Stamp’, I always think of ‘Relax’, the bassline! A good bassline is a good bassline! ‘Date Stamp’ was made in May 1982. I’ve got to admit, I loved the Frankies… when we were doing our second album ‘Beauty Stab’, we ran into Paul Rutherford, Holly, Ped, Nash and Mark O’Toole and they sang on it… they were sitting in Sarm West waiting for Trevor to finish ‘Relax’ I suppose looking back on it! *laughs*

‘Beauty Stab’ was considered a disappointment in 1983 when everyone wanted ‘The Lexicon Of Love II’ but you delivered that finally in 2016, did that feel like exorcising a ghost at all?

Yes, absolutely Chi… we had the sophomore jinx, with the ‘Beauty Stab’, we wanted to strip it all back and be raw and authentic. It was successful and ok but not as successful as our first record.

We changed the style of the band each time and with ‘How To Be A Zillionaire’, we wanted to be really electronic. But for years, people would go “I love ‘Poison Arrow’, can you go back to that?”

So playing with the orchestra live really brought it how to me. So with ‘The Lexicon Of Love II’, we decided to make it a very big orchestral album like ‘Viva Love’ and ‘Flames Of Desire’ over-the-top vibe to provide something that looked familiar whilst brand new, but it looks like it should have come out as the sister album to ‘The Lexicon of Love’. It was good way of getting it done and people liked it, I was very relieved.

I tell you what inspired me, Neil Young did a follow-up to ‘Harvest’ and was impressed by how Bowie used on ‘The Next Day’, the old ‘Heroes’ sleeve where he’s recycled his own stuff. So I started to think “Why can’t I do that?”; I mean, when you go to Netflix and there’s a series you like, you’re happy to watch 12 episodes or 6 seasons of something. People are used to things being more elongated now. So that’s while I felt comfortable doing ‘The Lexicon Of Love II’.

Was ‘Singer Not The Song’ from ‘The Lexicon Of Love II’ autobiographical?

Yeah, I want Harry Styles to cover that one! I think he’d do a great job! The lyrics of ‘Singer Not The Song’ are about a lot of things, but people ask me what I do for a living and I’m always a bit embarrassed to say I’m a singer, they kind of think you’re in a choir or something *laughs*

So I thought, the drummer’s got a drumstick, the bass player is over there, what do I do? I’ve usually got a Sharpie and I’m wandering around daydreaming, there’s some humour in that song.

The song ‘How To Be A Millionaire’ was a hit in the US but failed to get in the UK Top40, do you feel it deserved greater recognition at home or had the music scene moved on considerably back home by 1984?

Yeah, the funny thing was after ‘Beauty Stab’, it was all REM and THE SMITHS but by then, we were gone and listening to ‘Let The Music Play’ by Shannon and hearing great dancefloor tunes like ‘encore’ Cheryl Lynn; we approached Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis to make this electronic hybrid dance record. We self-produced it in the end and were able to reinvent ourselves as a cartoon group, it was ABC’s most successful record in America.

We go obsessed with doing the long 12 inch mixes and we got to No1 on the Billboard Dance Charts with it and Top 20 in the US charts. ‘Be Near Me’ was a big tune off that album but in England, no… it was popular in the clubs but it didn’t really take off. I think that’s a product of our success, people wanted to see the gold suit and ‘The Lexicon Of Love’!

Of course, you made a great song with the pioneer of New York electro Arthur Baker called ‘Mythical Girl’, what are your recollections of that one-off collaboration with his Backbeat Disciples. That’s like the lost ABC track…

It is in a way… I loved NEW ORDER and the work Arthur Baker did with them as well as Afrika Bambaataa, he looks like a pirate! He showed up in Manchester and we ran into him. He owned a place called ‘The Elbow Room’ in London Westbourne Grove and we’d hang out with Arthur. One day he said he was making a record so me, Mark White and Dave Clayton, we got together one weekend to make that track ‘Mythical Girl’. Then Arthur took it away and it kind of had a cast of thousands and showed up again on his ‘Merge’ album. It was only about 6 hours work but it was so nice to work with him.

You’ve got gigs coming up at Forever Young with BLANCMANGE and CHINA CRISIS as well as Rewind with THE ART OF NOISE, but an interesting one is the Silverstone Festival which is a race meeting featuring vintage F1 cars from the classic ABC era, were you ever into motor racing back then and did you have a favourite driver or team?

No, I’ve never been a major F1 fan. At Silverstone, it’s great though because you show up, go into the centre, you soundcheck and then the cars start tuning up and go around you so you can’t leave… we’re doing the Friday night. It’s insane the number of people that come for the cars, out of which, some of them are music fans… and some of the drivers have got bands of course. It’s always the way, a lot of tennis players want to play guitar! And a lot of musicians want to be tennis players *laughs*

Was tennis your thing or was it another sport?

Football I suppose but I knew from an early age I was never going to make it as a professional player but that would have been fun!

What is next for you?

It’s feels nice to put out the live album from Sheffield as it showcases where ABC are at now. I’m going to Pasadena to play a Festival with Siouxsie and Billy Idol, it’s quite a big one and we’ll be playing some other shows. But it will be nice to make a new record.

We probably will play an orchestra tour in the early part of next year, it will be great to go back out on the road with Anne Dudley again. Other than that, just enjoying life.

Is a book on the horizon ?

Yes, I was talking to a guy called Andrew Harrison about it, we were perhaps going to make a high-end book. It would be nice to trace the story of ABC and my life through the lyrics amongst other things. It’s nice to entertain on different levels when you write a book isn’t it? And I don’t know for how much long I can remember those early 80s! *laughs*

ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK gives its sincerest thanks to Martin Fry

Special thanks to Sacha Taylor-Cox at Hush PR

‘The Lexicon Of Love Live’ is released on 19th May 2023 by Live Here Now Recordings as a 2CD, sparkly purple vinyl 3LP + 3CD collector’s edition book, pre-order from https://liveherenow.co.uk/pages/abc





Text and Interview by Chi Ming Lai
Photos by Richard Price
17th May 2023