Category: Missing In Action (Page 2 of 4)

Missing In Action: HARD CORPS

HARD CORPS were like a piece of a jigsaw that didn’t quite fit.

Utilising aesthetically entrancing KRAFTWERK-like electronic minimalism, produced by the legendary Martin Rushent and Daniel Miller, but restrained by a major label record contract that meant that they never fulfilled their true potential and only belatedly released one full length album ‘Metal & Flesh’ in 1990. Clive Pierce, Hugh Ashton, Rob Doran and Regine Fetet were a candle that burned exceedingly brightly, but still left a small but none the less important legacy of synthetic music which could give their German counterparts a run for their money.

Tracks such as ‘Je Suis Passée’, ‘Dirty’ and ‘Porter Bonheur’ still remain classics of their genre with the band supporting DEPECHE MODE and THE CURE before dissolving a few years after their conception.

HARD CORPS vocalist Regine Fetet cut an enigmatic, but controversial figure by infamously disrobing during their DEPECHE MODE support slots; but tragically passed away in 2003.

Clive Pierce kindly spoke about his tenure in HARD CORPS with additional contributions from band members Hugh Ashton and Rob Doran.

What were your individual musical influences?

Hugh: The first records I recall being bought on my behalf were Neil Sedaka’s ‘Happy Birthday Sweet Sixteen’ and ‘Runaway’ by Del Shannon. This latter track featured the sound of a Musitron, an early electronic keyboard with a powerful ‘unworldly’ sound jumping out of the recording which made me aware of the emotional power of ‘sound’. Other examples of this would be ‘62’s Joe Meek produced ‘Telstar’ by THE TORNADOS which was a bit ‘cheesy’ but listen to that Clavioline, another great pre-synthesizer electronic keyboard and DELIA DERBYSHIRE and the BBC RADIOPHONIC WORKSHOP’s ‘Dr Who Theme’.

Rob: Probably my first subconscious feeling that music was powerful, was in secondary school when a cool American kid with hair down to his arse joined. He introduced me to THE DOORS and I especially loved the track ‘Unknown Soldier’ which I played over and over again. I loved its political message and even then, the blending of found sources within music which I have been a fan of ever since.

Clive: After a long time coming, when it was hand-me-down time, I found myself the proud owner of a box of 45s and an old Volmar valve record player that my brother used to own. I think I was more captivated by the machinery than by the music itself at the time, but still within that box of 45s I would as a young child be spinning tracks like ‘You Really Got Me’ by THE KINKS and ‘Telstar’ by THE TORNADOS.

Prior to the eventual meeting with Regine, how did the band members come together and what were their individual backgrounds?

Rob: I met Hugh in the 1970s in Brixton and lived in the same large Victorian house. Eventually I ran the recording studio (which we called Mekon) which was built in the basement of the house and became a sound engineer / designer with the punk group Hugh Ashton had formed called THE SKUNKS.

Clive: One day I answered an advertisement from a band based in Brixton, South London called THE SKUNKS. They described themselves as a sort of punk group, not exactly what I envisaged myself getting involved with, but I decided to give it a go because again they mentioned that they had a record deal and a connection with Pete Townsend of THE WHO. Within minutes of starting my audition, I could visualise myself quite happily being involved with them fully.

Only just recently I became aware that they chose me because of two main reasons, all of which centred around a Roland CR78 drum machine. The first was I didn’t object or feel intimidated by the use of one. A lot of drummers saw these machines as a threat to their livelihoods and considered them as just a poor imitation. Secondly, I was actually able to keep very good time alongside one.

Hugh: Having replaced our old-style rock drummer with the metronomic Clive Pierce, we changed our name to CRAZE and started incorporating a new hybrid sound. This led to a record deal with EMI and in ’79, we released the single ‘Motions’ with an instrumental B-side ‘Spartans’ which started getting played at Steve Strange and Rusty Egan’s freshly opened New Romantic hangout at The Blitz in London’s Covent Garden.

Once you had formed as an act, what did you hope to achieve together?

Clive: Speaking personally, it was a break from all that had been before. For a start, it marked the end of looking at myself as just being a drummer within a traditional group structure and the hierarchy that came with that.

Rob: We found the machines enabled us to break out of our previous musical roles. Being only a machine-based band initially narrowed our options musically, but at the same time as we developed into electronic musicians, widened our musical palette. Perhaps we were KRAFTWERK’s rough and noisy neighbours!

Hugh: So with Rob and Clive equally happy to join in this marriage with these powerful new toys, we started to evolve the working methods that would sustain us over the coming few years. It was now ‘81 and apart from seeing KRAFTWERK (whose new masterpiece ‘Computer World’ album showed they were still leading from the front) on their long awaited tour, it did not really matter what other musicians were up to. We were quite happily lost in our own bubble.

How did you go about integrating vocals into the band?

Hugh: A guy called David Porter came in to do vocals and managed to get us a support slot to play at the Marquee Club in Soho. In preparation, he brought us copies of some of the latest gay disco tracks (Patrick Cowley, Bobby O etc) which we copied and changed a bit and then he wrote new ‘songs’ on top and we were ready!

Except how could we recreate it live? This was to become a perennial challenge in the following years and not just for us but for many early 80s electronic acts.

David had hurriedly plucked the name HARD CORPS (which was a sort of opposite of SOFT CELL who had recently gone to No1 with ‘Tainted Love’) from a shortlist of possible names I had in my notebook. Thus under the gaze of a few disgruntled and confused rock fans being subjected to a weird reimagining of gay disco… HARD CORPS was born!

At the Marquee Club, David even had an open mic ‘dispute’ on stage with the giant rocker Fish from MARILLION which we by then we were able to enjoy from the audience. Although I don’t think David ever went back on to a stage again and we were more than happy to disappear from the opprobrium and back to the womb of our studio not to re-emerge without a more compelling reason to surface again. So what next?

So what did happen next??

Hugh: The answer was to arrive at a party we were giving at our HQ. Someone I did not know well came up to me and basically said “there is this girl here who you really should meet, she is looking for people to work with because she wants to sing and she is … different and I think she might suit your music!” So off he goes and back he comes with Regine. Well she was just 29 but she looked pretty fine… a gaunt figure with a fine-featured almost medieval visage below a fiery red mane of hair shaved away at the sides and a dead fox (or was it a ferret) draped across her shoulders. She spoke, suggesting she would like to revisit with a cassette of her ‘work’, with a mysterious clipped French accent with almost Germanic overtones (Une Vosgienne!).

She felt hard to refuse and so without much to lose, it was agreed she would return. So she came back to the studio and we found that a song she had already written about a lovelorn petrol-station attendant worked well with a backing track we had recently recorded and ‘Dirty’ was born. Intrigued by the way it all seemed to combine, we found we could create several more tracks that combined tracks we had already prepared with lyrics Regine had already written. So with this ‘flesh’ now added to the bones, the monster HARD CORPS was now truly born.

With Regine now on board, what made you decide to go for a completely electronic aesthetic?

Rob: It was different, a challenge, new, revolutionary, the future, a break from the pompous masturbation of endless dull guitarists and hypocritical rock music. It was two fingers to bland corporate American music. It had a vitality not seen since punk, it was European and it was pioneered by the excellence of KRAFTWERK.

Hugh: So basically we had virtually no outside influences on the music we were making at that time other than late 70s GIORGIO MORODER and KRAFTWERK. Regine was also not really influenced by other writers or singers. She was just very keen to express herself creatively to balance her life…

How did the demos you were creating around this time metamorphose into actual singles?

Hugh: So around 1983, Steve McGowan offered to take our recordings around some record companies. Having got some positive feedback, he effectively became our manager and developed the strategy that led to ‘Dirty’ being pressed as a white label and then being picked up by Survival. We then got an offer to debut at a party in June ‘84, organised by Steve Strange and Rusty Egan who still had a strong presence in London’s clubland.

Steve then secured Polydor’s interest and squeezed a complicated ‘album’ deal out of them that was supposed to give us creative control over all aspects including music production, press, artwork etc which we signed hoping we would keep some control whilst accessing the resources of a ‘major’ record company… a decision we would sooner than expected come to regret.

Whilst Polydor seemed agreeable to us self-producing ‘album’ tracks, they predictably wanted to gain exposure with a single release and wanted to find a producer who could add cache and supervise recording in a ‘proper’ studio rather than our admittedly ‘semi-pro’ basement in Brixton. We were suspicious, but when they offered up Martin Rushent, we were tempted into agreeing given his achievement producing ‘Dare’ for THE HUMAN LEAGUE a few years before. So we recorded ‘Je Suis Passée’ at his Genetic Studios in Reading, Berkshire.

How was the experience of working with Rushent?

Clive: Firstly it was a “pinch yourself” moment for me. I remember quite vividly on the final mix of ‘Je Suis Passée’ sitting alongside Martin at the mixing desk with him riding the 16th delays on a fader on the eight to the bar bass sequence part and me also riding a fader on 16th delays on my middle range sequence part and just bouncing and grooving off each other as the track exited what we affectionately called the ‘crunchy middle break bit’ and thinking to myself “what the f*** is occurring here?” There I was, Little Clive From The Block playing what was effectively duelling banjos with the oddball genius bearded bloke; the one that looked totally out of place in the pictures on the back cover of one of my favourite albums of all time ‘Love and Dancing’. Nuts. Completely nuts!

Martin also monitored extremely loud recording as well as mixing. I was used to working in our Brixton studio on a couple of Auratone speakers, only switching to Tannoys in short bursts to test out the energy of a track for fear of upsetting the very nice lady who lived next door. Martin would have me pinned against the back wall from the blast from the speakers with every bass drum beat hitting me square on in the solar plexus.

Over the space of a few days, it wore me completely down to the point of suffering what I can only describe as mild shellshock. I spent an afternoon in the group restroom on the sofa staring into space and physically shaking much to the amusement of Hugh and Rob, but I felt totally f**ked. I progressively got better but had to request a lower level of playback and take regular breaks from the audio barrage from then onwards. Strange really as I had previously played the drums in various groups with stage monitors pumping sound straight at me, but this was quite different and incessant. I still wince at loud music all these years on… very weird!

Rushent’s huge impact on the production of the songs of THE HUMAN LEAGUE is well documented, what do you feel he brought to the sound of HARD CORPS?

Clive: What we hoped Martin would be able do was to refine and flesh out our sound beyond the point we were physically able to manage ourselves down in our resident basement studio in Brixton and that he did. To also help coax and winkle out the best from Regine who although one of a kind, was never a vocalist in the traditional sense of the word.

She was by nature very hit or miss at the best of times but as much as this could on the one hand be intensely frustrating for us, on the other it could incredibly rewarding when a line or word would emanate from her that was not in any textbook but just sounded right within the context of the music. It was spotting them that was the skill. Martin having worked with the technical brilliance of Shirley Bassey and at the other end of the spectrum Joanne Catherall and Susanne Sulley and their “Working as a waitress in a cocktail bar” performance, I would say was a perfect choice for us.

As you started to record and produce songs for HARD CORPS, how did your relationship with Polydor develop?

Hugh: A profound problem for us was that we had signed thinking we would self–produce an album in our own studio and now we were being cajoled by Polydor into a scenario involving ‘expensive’ names to produce our music and promos. This made the whole project subject to the typical major record company ploy of promoting a single (or two if you’re lucky!) and delaying an album until you have a ‘hit’ and then making the album or otherwise if not, they just drop you.

Given how much they had just spent on one song (combined with the advance we now owed more than £100,000), their position was understandable, but we had spent some years recording enough tracks for an album which they had heard and had originally approved.

As Martin Rushent was now in the throes of a divorce, our A&R man Malcolm Dunbar scouted around for another ‘name’ and to his credit, gained Daniel Miller’s interest. This was quite something since at that time Daniel was steering DEPECHE MODE to international status and was not in the habit of working with people outside of his Mute stable of artists.

So in short, it was an offer we could not refuse and ‘Respirer’ duly ended up being completed with Daniel producing. So now we had two of the best ‘electronic’ music producers in the UK both helping on our track, not to mention Daniel was using Flood as his engineer. A stellar cast and indeed a great honour for us… the only trouble being ‘Respirer’, whilst being a ‘strong’ track was not really, in common with most of our tracks, obvious ‘hit’ single material.

It’s hard not to compare HARD CORPS with PROPAGANDA, especially with tracks like ‘Respirer (To Breathe)’, was there any kind of rivalry or kinship?

Clive: Absolutely none whatsoever in either rivalry or kinship. I only became aware of them initially when I visited a friend of mine who was an eclectic buyer of slightly alternative music, CABARET VOLTAIRE, PSYCHEDELIC FURS, NEW ORDER, FLOCK OF SEAGULLS etc. He played ‘Dr Mabuse’ to me and I immediately thought FRANKIE GOES TO HOLLYWOOD and I was right.

Now who doesn’t like FGTH in small doses, but the formulaic sound of the ZTT production machine just becomes really tiring after a very short space of time to my ears. Not enough rough edges for my taste and far too manipulated to feel any affinity towards. I can see the comparison you make with ‘To Breathe’ though.

The band did a session for John Peel in 1984, how was that experience when at the time the BBC engineers there were more used to dealing with Indie-style guitar acts?

Clive: Yes, it was a very sterile experience for both parties. The chaps at the BBC by nature were very institutionalised and it was record it and ship it out, and we felt the same. Naively, I personally thought John Peel would be popping his head in and out the studio during the recording but he didn’t. A time constraint dictated that we have some of the instrumentation pre-recorded at our Brixton studio and we would only play certain key components live on the sessions.

There was a rather funny moment when the BBC engineer, I think it was Mike Robinson said he had heard some nasty distortion on our track ‘Dirty’. We hadn’t spotted it and so he rewound the tape and ran it past us again. “There!” he gestured pointing at the monitors. Again none of us reacted as we hadn’t heard anything untoward and looked at each other quizzically.

“One more time please Mike” we asked starting to feel a bit amateurish at not having his depth of perception in the distortion spotting department. “There, there” he said again now standing up out of his chair in order to point closer to the speaker in a bid to home in more precisely to identify it for us. Again we couldn’t react to him until it then dawned on us simultaneously that the distortion he was trying to alert us to, was in fact a sound we had generated in our studio by feeding a delay back into itself and allowing it to get to the point that it started to break up.

We had lovingly crafted the distortion he was trying to point out to us as a defect. I don’t think we had the heart to tell him he hadn’t grasped the concept of the track and why should he but on a trip to the free vend coffee machine, the three of us had a good old giggle about it!

With much of Regine’s lyrics being in French, did you come under a lot of pressure to record totally in English?

Clive: For sure, albeit after we had signed with Polydor. Regine however was no Vanessa Paradis. If you put on the Bardot and sing all cutey, then you can get away with quite a lot as you pander to the stereotypical image most ignorant Brits have of the French, but Regine did not fit that model in the slightest. Her vocals and lyrics came from the scars of her life. They could not be delivered in a contrived way. What came out was what you had to work with and unfortunately working her art in the UK was always going to be an uphill struggle whilst singing in her native language.

Prior to Polydor and the “assault” on the charts, she could have sung in Martian as far as we were concerned. The language was not important to us. It was her personality, her realism and her honesty that mattered. She was flawed but in an intoxicating way to our ears to others this was not always appreciated as much.

What was the reaction when ‘Dirty’ was released as a single in 1984?

Rob: Extraordinary! We thought we were far to leftfield for that kind of interest and were totally unprepared for that amazing response.

Clive: It was very favourable, we attained record of the week in the NME and things snowballed from then onwards.

What kind of image did the band try to cultivate?

Rob: We tried to create a hard machine world with the macho men lined up along the back of the stage and the gentle flower symbolised by Regine pushing through the metaphorical concrete. As usual it became quite controversial!

Clive: The image I reflected on stage was purely a theatrical statement based on how I felt in regards my relationship to the music. I saw the musical phrases I played as having gender. Some male, others female. It felt honest and right to have both those represented in the way, I portrayed myself, a hard edge and a sensitive edge, both of which I possessed. I also think there was a degree of wanting to escape the everyday me who in reality was a rather average guy.

Hugh: I remember I had to deal with a panic at Polydor which involved being hauled in front of John Preston, the new CEO. We had performed at Islington Town Hall in London and we backline boys had decided to wear some 1950s surplus store ex-police motorcyclist’s jodhpurs as a uniform to emphasise our differences to normal casual rock band attire. They were reminiscent of those worn in Fritz Lang’s ‘Metropolis’ and seemed to us to capture in an amusing way (to us anyway), the sort of ‘retro-futurist’ vibe.

However we had not anticipated members of NITZER EBB being at the front of the audience dressed in long leather SS type overcoats. It led to a review in the music press where the reviewer was concerned that she had stumbled on some sort of ‘neo-fascist’ gathering. Preston wanted reassurance that his company had not signed something politically malodorous. I had to reassure him this was not the case and in fact the gig had been organised by Rock Against Racism which might have explained the reviewer’s sensitivity!

The band’s performance of ‘Je Suis Passée’ on ‘The Tube’ is still transfixing, can you say what happened in the lead up to this appearance and why Regine looks so stressed and distant?

Clive: Well, we missed our flight from Heathrow to Newcastle. I can’t recall exactly why, but whatever the reason, it was quite inexcusable. TV appearances when you are in your infancy as a group do not throw themselves at your feet very often. We managed to get a later flight from Heathrow to Teeside Airport a good thirty odd miles from the TV studio so had to jump into a cab and tell the driver to put his foot down to get us there. Fortunately our gear had gone up the day before and was already partly set up when we arrived to sound check.

After the sound check I (as I usually did) drifted off to have a look around ‘The Tube’ set and take as much as I could in before the show started. I really had no idea that during this time Regine had had an argument with our manager. I never knew until a long time after the show that this is why her performance looked so stressed. She was actually brooding live on TV. I just thought she was just being her normal self and took no notice of it!

The bit where Rob and yourself turn their backs on the audience, tweak the Rolands and glance at each other is probably one of the coolest things in a live electronic music performance, was that pre-rehearsed?

Clive: Yes is the simplest answer to that! It was the routine that was required to carry out that part of the track. The turning of our backs to the audience was not intended as snub to them at all. The System 100M by nature is rather plain looking viewed from behind so we opted to have the modules with their flashing LED’s facing out towards the audience for the drama. Consequently when we had to change any settings, it meant having to turn our backs to the audience.

DEPECHE MODE’s Black Swarm Devotee fanbase was notoriously antagonistic towards support bands, were you aware of this prior to playing with them?

Clive: No we weren’t aware of them at all. Even if we were, it wouldn’t have bothered us in the slightest. We actually would have revelled in a bit of antagonism, but I can’t say that on the ‘Music For The Masses’ tour, we noticed any animosity from the devotee DM fans.

The worst it ever got for me on the DM tour was actually backstage at the NEC in Birmingham.

There are long periods of spare time on tour pre-concert and the chance to have a bit of a kick around with a football was a good way to while a bit of time away and stretch those legs from the tour van. Rob and I were just passing the ball around when a couple DM roadies walked by. “Wanna game lads, HARD CORPS v DM?” and I said, “Yeah alright”. So down with the jumpers for goalposts and off we went. Within a short while (which normally always happens) a few others joined in on each side including Martin Gore and we had a five a side match on our hands.

Now it was all good natured and sporting, that is until one of the DM roadies took it upon himself to tackle me so ridiculously hard that he almost broke my leg in the process. I wasn’t prepared for that level of aggression from him in what was essentially just a friendly kick around and certainly not two hours before I was due to go on stage. I thought “you complete f**king tw*t!” That tackle could have spelled out the end of my DM tour.

When he next got the ball, I made it my mission to dish out a bit of retribution and hit him twice as hard as he had hit me. He went down but immediately got up and before we knew it we had squared up to each other snarling and swearing with fists about to fly. That was until Martin Gore stepped in between us before things got completely out of hand and managed to calm it down a bit!

What was your opinion about Regine’s dress sense on the DM support tour, do you feel that there was something wilfully self-destructive about it or was it a natural kind of ‘punk’ aesthetic for her?

Clive: Regine was a law unto herself. If she wanted to do something, she would do it regardless of what anyone said or recommended to her. That was her strength as well as her weakness.

The DM tour came at a time where we were as a unit struggling to keep the momentum going and sort of had a fatalistic attitude going into it. Perhaps a few years prior to the DM tour, I might have questioned the sanity of how far she was taking it but on this tour, I thought if we go down we may as well go down in flames…. which is what happened in the end! Retrospectively looking back on it, I can fully understand how her antics rendered us a liability to both DM and their promoters.

I for one, even though I am far from being a prude would have been seriously pissed off if I had gone to a DM concert with my young son or daughter and saw the support group’s front woman with her private parts out parading around on stage. There are lines you do not cross and even though I ashamedly had no regard for that line back then, I regret having been party to Regine being allowed to cross it. It cost us the European leg of the tour and perhaps the American leg and signalled the end for us.

Hugh: The first concert was in Newport in Wales and the concert promoters were furious because parents, who had accompanied their young teenage children, were suddenly confronted with a French Stripper! We had recruited a private detective friend to manage us for the tour and he had to deal with the fall out. So Regine had to sign a letter for the tour promoters, promising specifically not to expose her nipples again. So she did the rest of the tour with a rubber band across her breasts inscribed with the word “censored”.

Did you ever at any point say to her, “look let’s tone things down a bit”?

Clive: Yes! When you have 15 minutes or so before going on stage and the promoter won’t allow you to go on unless Regine signed a disclaimer stating that she would not disrobe on stage. Regine refused to sign the disclaimer but eventually after us pleading to her, signs it with a scrawl and then goes on stage and disrobes anyway!

Hugh: We were not offered the European leg of the tour despite Martin Gore’s stage attire being remarkably similar to that which Regine revealed when she removed her orange raincoat!

You also supported THE CURE, do you have any memories of this experience?

Clive: We were very fortunate to be published by the same company as THE CURE were and as a result were offered the slot on ‘The Head On The Door’ tour. The chance to tap in to THE CURE’s following was not to be sniffed at and all of us having a healthy respect for them and their music was an amazing opportunity.

Little ole hard CORPS on the same bill as THE CURE… wow the thought blew me personally away. A lot of my mates were ardent CURE fans and I just couldn’t wait to tell them the news. It was all very exciting!

In Torino, Italy we played our set to half a crowd as most of them were still in the bar areas. I don’t remember which track we were performing but we probably weren’t being very well received by the crowd as all manner of objects were being hurled at us. I got hit on the head with a couple of coins and a boiled sweet which fortuitously bounced down on to my keyboard.

Being a boiled sweet fan (who isn’t?) I unwrapped it and popped it in my mouth and gave a thumbs up in the general direction the gift horse had originated from. Hugh was less fortunate. This whole carrier bag of something was lobbed at him. What a shot. The handle managed to impale itself on one of his drumsticks stopping him in full flow. We lost a bar or so of beats as he untangled himself from his plastic nightmare and we finished the rest of our set dodging used Tampax etc!

As I left the stage, I grabbed the bag as I was curious to see what was in it. It was a whole packed lunch. Sandwiches, a packet of crisps and an apple. So if the person who threw it at Hugh ever reads this, I hope you went home hungry that night you bastard!

The band eventually split, was there a particular straw that broke the camel’s back or a series of contributory factors to this?

Clive: We fizzled out rather than split. As touched on previously, the death warrant had been signed when we became too difficult to handle anymore after the DEPECHE MODE tour. We had effectively painted ourselves into a very bleak corner. I think any comradery we had forged since the time Regine joined forces with us had evaporated and we met less and less to work on material, eventually just naturally drifting off our separate ways.

After all of the various recording sessions and singles, the album for Polydor never saw the light of day, why was that?

Rob: If we had released an album on Polydor, they would have been obliged to enter the next year of the contract so it became economically political. In other words, it would have cost them more investment than their accountants were prepared to budget for.

With your electronic aesthetic, you seemed on paper to be an ideal Mute Records band especially with the Daniel Miller link, do you think things could have turned out differently if HARD CORPS had been on a more sympathetic label?

Clive: I really believe we should have adopted the album band model and not been so wooed by the lure of a major label. We could never have been a commodity that would have sat comfortably on ‘Top Of The Pops’ churning out catchy tunes. Polydor were throwing serious money at us and had every right to demand chart contending ditties, but we just didn’t have them in us nor the personality to carry that pop star act off.

When HARD CORPS dissolved, what kind of career did you pursue afterwards?

Clive: My father was a self-employed builder among other things and I had worked alongside him off and on ever since leaving school to help pay my way. When we split, it was really game over for me. So much time was put into the project that I was left well behind my friends’ career wise. They had become civil servants, accountants, estate agents, policemen and were already well into paying mortgages off. I had virtually nothing in comparison to them.

So I just completely turned my back on music and knuckled down working with my father. We made a very good team with me supplying the strength and he the experience. I loved every moment with him. It was around this time that I became a father myself and my focus from then onwards was to provide security for my daughter.

Rob: I wrote and produced music and sound design for Film, TV and radio commercials.

Hugh: In ’92, I joined THE SUN KINGS and using the same equipment as HARD CORPS, we had an enjoyable time through the rest of the 90s doing our take on sort of ambient-techno incorporating our love of 60s psychedelia and 70s ‘German’. We released three albums ‘Hall of Heads’ on G.P.R in 1994, ‘Soul Sleeping’ on Blue Room in 1997 and ‘Before We Die’ released on Chill Out sometime after we stopped in ‘99.

Although HARD CORPS’ body of work is pretty small in comparison with many of their contemporaries, why do you think there is an enduring interest in the band’s work?

Clive: I think we were a truffle in a forest of chanterelles. Not to everyone’s taste but never the less rare and pungent in an appealing way to those who like their musical bouquet a little different.


Dedicated to the memory of Regine Fetet

ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK gives its warmest thanks to HARD CORPS

‘Radio Sessions’ is available as a download direct from https://hardcorps.bandcamp.com/releases

‘Clean Tables Have To Be Burnt’ is also available via Minimal Wave Records as a download album from the usual digital outlets

‘Metal & Flesh’ is available from Sub Culture Records at https://subculturerecords.bandcamp.com/album/metal-flesh-remastered

http://www.hardcorps.co.uk/

https://www.facebook.com/hard-CORPS-217860235015406/

https://soundcloud.com/medora-music


Text and Interview by Paul Boddy
27th December 2018

Missing in Action: MOTORBIKES IN TOKYO

Along with VILE ELECTRODES, KATSEN and ARTHUR & MARTHA, Teeside’s MOTORBIKES IN TOKYO were among a wave of independent British acts who rode alongside more mainstream acts like LA ROUX, LITTLE BOOTS, HURTS and MIRRORS to use the synthesizer as their prime musical weapon of choice following the extended hangover after Britpop.

Comprising of two cousins Kev Oyston and Rob Boggild, MOTORBIKES IN TOKYO only released one album ‘Music & Machines’ in 2008.

While the duo quietly disbanded afterwards, their songs on dystopian themes such as surveillance and artificial intelligence have become scarily prophetic… “machines have eyes” indeed as the smart phone and voice-control systems like Alexa embed themselves into society without a flinch.

Ten years on from ‘Music & Machines’, Kev Oyston kindly took time to chat about his time with MOTORBIKES IN TOKYO, his continuing admiration for GARY NUMAN and his new more unorthodox musical project THE SOULLESS PARTY…

MOTORBIKES IN TOKYO was something of a family affair?

It certainly was. I teamed up with my cousin Rob who is something of a whizz on the synths. We grew up quite close. Almost like brothers. He had a loft conversion which was built in the early 80s to house his nifty collection of synths. He had a college band with his best mate and they spent many an hour composing tracks or doing covers. I was a tad younger, so when I visited, I’d lurk around the loft ladders listening in to all the strange and wonderful synthy noises. I had already become fascinated in that sound at quite a young age. I’d already been taken in by KRAFTWERK, JEAN MICHEL JARRE, VISAGE and of course GARY NUMAN.

As time wore on, I got older and started buying my own synths and tried to create my own sounds throughout the 90s which were a little bit experimental.

By early 2000s, I’d started writing actual songs and this is when Rob caught on to what I was up to and wanted to share in writing duties too. The ‘Myspace’ era was taking off and it was then we decided to take what tracks we had out on the road.

What artists were you particularly influenced by?

As mentioned already, I was a huge fan of early Numan and of course KRAFTWERK. It was the usual late 70s – early 80s synth crowd really. However, from the late 80s and even till now, I still regard JOHN FOXX’s first seminal album ‘Metamatic’ as one of my favourite albums of all time.

When I heard the album for the very first time in the early 80s, I hated it. It didn’t make for comfortable listening to my, probably, very young tastes. However, as I got older, I revisited it, almost by mistake. My thoughts and tastes had obviously completely changed. I was completely blown away by it. He was far ahead of his time and I just love the cold, concrete sounds and effects that he uses to which his voice perfectly complements in such an eerie way. A sublime atmospheric album. It was an album never to be repeated though, in my opinion, as I don’t think he could quite capture that feeling in the same way with his future offerings.

What sort of synths were you using and what do you think of these remakes like Korg’s APR Odyssey and MS20-mini?

Back then, SH101, Korg Microkorg, Access Virus, Alesis Micron – even a Stylophone. I very much welcome the retro synths that are coming out now. Those original sounds are still the best and sound just as warm and juicy as they did originally. I’d like to get my hands on an original Moog of course! Wouldn’t we all?!

‘Think Like You’ had a few Numanesque mannerisms…

Yeah, you could say that. I think Numan had always been a bit of an influence for my MIT stuff. I don’t have the best singing voice, but I did try to bring in different and ‘familiar’ inflections that were reminiscent from singers in the 70s and 80s. Not a direct mimic, but a similar tone to say, Numan, Midge Ure and even a bit of Oakey. Not sure if it came out that way.

Just out of interest, what do you think of Numan’s recent creative rebirth with ‘Savage’, which appears to have finally achieved more of a right balance between synths and rock?

It’s nice to see. I’ll always try to catch a Numan gig where I can. It’s lovely to hear him do the classics of course, but his new stuff is also up there with being quite catchy and riffy. I know he hit some rough patches musically for many years, but he’s turned it around for the better.

I know from what I’ve seen and read, he’s a true family man and they have played a big part in encouraging him to keep going and getting stronger. He’s achingly lovely and humble in interviews and to hear how he’s coped with personal battles is inspiring stuff. He could have easily given it up I’m sure, but with that support he’s had, its brilliant to see him bouncing back in a big way and signing up to a large label.

‘What’s The Matter With You? featured KID MOXIE way before the profile she has now within music? How did the collaboration come about?

It was really a favour for a favour as I’d already done a couple of little remixes for Eleni and we’d always be talking and sharing ideas. It was a pleasure to have her do the backing on that particular track. It was a bit of a tongue-in-cheek humorous number. I think with Eleni’s vocals, it worked pretty well.

‘Dance To The Record Machine’ had that electro Schaffel stomp which GOLDFRAPP popularised…

Yes, it was rather a cheeky nod to them, I think. I just liked that glammy sound at the time and wanted to utilise something similar.

Of course, always been a huge GOLDFRAPP fan since their ‘Felt Mountain’ album, so it was obviously another influence at the time.

‘Machines’ is more than relevant today, especially in the context of the internet and social media?

Well, it was kind of written with the internet in view and bearing in mind it was the early days of social media as, again it was the ‘Myspace’ thing that was happening back then when it was written, there was a general feeling of being ‘watched’ or looked at by lots of strange people. I think it was with that paranoia in mind that the track was written.

Now everyone can be looked at and watched or judged by millions of strange people without your knowing!

MOTORBIKES IN TOKYO were doing quite a bit of remix work for acts like KID MOXIE and RED BLOODED WOMEN…

Yes, I really enjoyed working with lots of different artists. Again, it was the early ‘Myspace’ days and a lot of musicians would talk and support each other in many different ways. For me, remixing was a way to try and grow my own knowledge, technical ability and experience. It was an opportunity to experiment with music that wasn’t my own and to see what I could do to make a track sound interesting and different from its original form.

It was nice of the artists I worked with to let me run free, so to speak, on their tracks. I listen back now to some of those mixes and I can detect a lot of naivety and very rough edges on my part as I tried to do different things. It was a big learning curve.

You were playing a lot of concerts in 2007 and 2008 around the UK, plus the mainstream press were catching onto that LITTLE BOOTS and LA ROUX thing, did you think your time might be coming?

Not at all. I never viewed what we were doing as a meal ticket to huge success. My view was and always has been – As long as you enjoy what you do and the music you make, and you don’t set any unreal expectations, you’ll be fine. You never know what might happen.

But if you put too much pressure on yourself to be seen in all the right places or trying to make the most ‘current’ music just because you desperately want to be heard by a label, then it becomes too much of a chore and unenjoyable. It can all end abruptly and with an empty feeling.

But after a London gig in late 2008, MOTORBIKES IN TOKYO sort of disappeared, what happened?

Life stuff happened really. I got married and we’ve now got 2 lovely little boys. My hair rapidly turned grey over night with a few wrinkles and a nicely nurtured Dad bod! I’m not sure I would cut a dash as the lead singer of a pop band these days! So nowadays I keep a low profile behind the safety of a synthesizer and laptop. I’m now writing under the guise of THE SOULLESS PARTY where the sounds are slightly darker and sinister compared to MIT.

However, I still like to keep up to press with the latest electronic releases thanks to you guys at TEC and Electronic Sound mag. I try to keep my ear close to the ground and regularly listen to music on Bandcamp and Soundcloud to find something new and different. I even have a regular radio slot on BBC Tees where I talk about latest electronic releases.

How do you look back on that period now, what might you have done differently on ‘Music & Machines’ and with MOTORBIKES IN TOKYO in hindsight?

I’m really quite happy with what we achieved. Admittedly, I think we were an amateur act that were trying to experiment and get things to sound right. We did okay. We also seemed to be a little bit on the cusp of being in the right place at the right time.

There were a lot of similar or likeminded synth acts about at the time and the London scene was seeing a nice little resurge in live electronic acts and it was lovely to be a part of that. The best show I think we played at was Bedsitland hosted by Tracy McKenzie and the lovely Wiggy who sadly passed away. It just seemed to be the right atmosphere and crowd for us that night. I guess more nights like that would have suited us.

Possibly the best MOTORBIKES IN TOKYO song ‘A Soulless Party’ wasn’t included on the album; why was that?

Do you know, I don’t know? I can’t remember if we were going to use it as a B-Side to a potential CD single release thing that never happened. I’m pleased you liked it. I’m seriously thinking about doing a little re-issue of Music and Machines and will probably get it put on there.

KATSEN did a great cover of it…

Yes, it was a nice little boppy version they did of it with Chris Blackburn running the vox. I think it suited their vibe pretty well. I was actually very flattered they did it and have always liked what Chris does. We originally clicked by having similar interests and I asked if I could mix an old KATSEN track called ‘I’m A Doctor’ which I had fun doing. He asked me to mix a few more tracks from then on. Many years had passed, and it was a nice surprise to be asked to do a remix again for him.

Of course, this song inspired the moniker of your current project THE SOULLESS PARTY, how does this musically differ from MOTORBIKES IN TOKYO?

Massively different. I think as I’ve gotten older and slowed down a bit, I’ve started to appreciate the wider field of music and what it has to offer. I’m heavily into Jazz and classical music. My heart still beats for the electronic sound though.

You’ve continued your association with KID MOXIE via THE SOULLESS PARTY and there was this striking track on her ‘1888’ album called ‘Blackberry Fields’?

Yes, we really like Eleni from KID MOXIE. She was such a sport to let me remix for her in the past etc. It was equally lovely that she asked if she could take an existing track that that was written for my ‘Tales From The Black Meadow’ project and do a version of it for her album. It’s testament to how versatile she is as an artist and how willing she is to try different things and experiment with her music. I think it suited the album’s theme really well.

Fast forward to today, and distributing music to retail via digital is more straightforward as well as more independent radio stations and bloggers on the web; so is this a blessing or does that mean there’s an even bigger sea of varying quality to wade through to be noticed?

It’s nice to be able to sell on digital platforms like Bandcamp who are massively fair to hard working artists and musicians. You can also use Bandcamp to sell your own CDs and vinyl, and again, they are fantastically fair on how you get paid as an artist for your product.

On the other hand, and this may sound a bit like a rant – it’s quite a kick in the teeth if you’re trying to get heard on popular platforms such as Spotify or iTunes as the rewards for plays or purchases are astonishingly miniscule and insignificant. It almost feels pointless to place yourself on these platforms as there isn’t any good way to be found or categorised properly and you’d be instantly lost in the melee of other artists. On top of that, we are poorly paid due to the fat cat owners of these platforms taking ginormous chunks for themselves. There’s always someone who is going to profit. It’s like you’re paying them a huge sum, simply to have the privilege of being on their site.

Any thoughts on the current wave of UK independent electronic artists, anyone you like?

There’s plenty of things happening out there now as the creation of electronic music has become even more easier thanks to advances in technology. I’m pretty excited about a new act who are starting to hit the mainstream music media already and they are INTERNATIONAL TEACHERS OF POP; a fabulous blend of late 70s disco, Moroder and KRAFTWERK sensibilities. Just great to hear. I’m probably going to sound biased (because he’s a mate), but CONCRETISM is another artist who grabs my attention due to the fact that he creates electronic music that completely evokes the Cold War era and sounds like old mangled tapes and Public Information Films set to beautiful synthesizer tunes.

So what’s happening with THE SOULLESS PARTY and future releases?

Well THE SOULLESS PARTY is really myself writing the music and my friend Chris Lambert who writes stories that basically are borne out of the music I write. The main project I’ve been working on with Chris is entitled ‘Tales from the Black Meadow’ and is basically a concept album based on a created universe taking in real life and folkloric stories that take place on the North York Moors.

I try to blend electronic and synth sounds with orchestral sounds and instruments. I suppose in someway it can be described as ‘haunting’ or ‘radiophonic’.

It was originally released in 2013 and I was a bit shocked at the response it got. For the first time, I started to get radio plays, magazine reviews and articles on the project and was even asked to take it out on the road for live shows. There’s still quite a following for it and I’m happy to say it always sells pretty well on re-release.

So, call us unoriginal, but we’re about to release a sequel album and book in 2019 entitled ‘The Black Meadow Archive: Volume 1’ and we’re proud to say that it’ll be initially released on vinyl with the brilliant Castles in Space label.

Any advice you would give to an aspiring independent electronic musician?

I can probably echo what I mentioned earlier in this interview and encourage anyone who is aspiring to do this or are just starting out, to really enjoy what they’re doing. Get in to it and don’t pressure yourself to make music just to please others. Make the sounds you enjoy, and you’ll never know who may just pick up on it.

Use a platform like Bandcamp because it’s for real independent artists and musicians who are passionate about their sound!Use Soundcloud to demo your sound to the world and Tweet about it! I think Twitter massively outweighs Facebook as a great way to talk about your music. Also, think about uploading your stuff on places like BBC Introducing and try not to fret about how bad or good it may sound!


ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK gives its warmest thanks to Kev Oyston

MOTORBIKES IN TOKYO ‘Music & Machines’ can be downloaded for free from Bandcamp at https://motorbikesintokyo.bandcamp.com/album/music-and-machines

THE SOULLESS PARTY ‘Tales From The Black Meadow’ is available direct from https://thesoullessparty.bandcamp.com/

https://myspace.com/motorbikesintokyo

https://www.facebook.com/The-Soulless-Party-122914134421887/

https://twitter.com/soullessparty


Text and Interview by Chi Ming Lai
20th December 2018

Missing in Action: FASHIØN

Photo by David Bailey

Of all the acts from the Synth Britannia-era that were deemed as “most likely to make it” FASHIØN were surely a safe bet to succeed.

With an image that could rival JAPAN, they certainly looked the part and latterly with album/single covers featuring the work of iconic photographer David Bailey, they had the design aesthetic nailed too.

With their second incarnation featuring vocalist / guitarist Dave “Dee” Harris, synth player Mulligan, Martin Rechi on bass and Dik Davis on drums, the band evolved from an indie / post-punk sound into a far more electronic and potentially commercial proposition.

Zeus B Held handled production duties on their second album ‘Fabrique’ and helped cultivate a more electronic sheen with the band. Although the album cracked the 1982 UK Top 10, singles from ‘Fabrique’ didn’t fare so well, with the tracks ‘Love Shadow’, ‘Streetplayer (Mechanik)’ and ‘Move On’ all failing to dent the Top 40.

Shortly after the release of the album, Harris left the band and was replaced by Troy Tate, formerly of THE TEARDROPS EXPLODES.

So why didn’t FASHIØN achieve their full potential? With the UK music-buying public now fully embracing more pop-oriented and teen friendly marketed bands such as TALK TALK and fellow Birmingham residents DURAN DURAN, it could be argued that with their sophisticated blend of funk and electronics that the band was just too ahead of their time.

Regardless of the circumstances surrounding their lack of commercial success, FASHIØN left behind some real quality Simmons drums-driven funk electronica and with some of their vocoder usage, even gave KRAFTWERK a run for their money.

Also notable was the band’s embracement of the 12” remix format; FASHIØN were certainly one of the pioneers of the extended single format and their alternative versions are definitely worthy of investigation. Anyone searching for a recommendation to check out the band’s back catalogue should look no further than a comment on the Discogs website which says: “Decadent techno-funk just made for cruising the slick, night streets of Berlin at 4:00am in your DeLorean”.

Dave Harris kindly spoke about his experiences playing in the band, working with Zeus B Held and also subsequent projects including a link-up as ZEE with the late Richard Wright from PINK FLOYD.

What was your musical background prior to joining FASHIØN and who were your formative influences?

Prior to joining FASHIØN, I had various bands, starting with an acoustic band in the early 70s called INDIAN RUNNER; we won the folk side of the ‘Melody Maker’ Rock / Folk contest in 1974, from there I formed various funk and R&B bands like BUMPERS & FERRARI featuring Jaki Graham on vocals.

After that I joined THE ITALIANS and this happened to be where I met Dik and Mulligan at a Birmingham gig. Musical influences right from the start have always been mainly R&B artists, apart from THE BEATLES (of course), JIMI HENDRIX, STEVIE WONDER, RUFUS & CHAKA KHAN, MARVIN GAYE, BB KING, JONI MITCHELL and many more…

FASHIØN existed in an earlier incarnation before you joined, how did you go about hooking up the band?

As mentioned, Dik and Mulligan, turned up at an ITALIANS gig and after playing we were chatting and they explained that they were starting a punk band, I was the dinosaur at that point!

I said good luck and within 6 months they were supporting THE POLICE on an American tour… a few months later there was an ad in the Melody Maker looking for a front man guitarist, I recognised by the wording that it was FASHIØN, so I thought, I would go along.

We got on great! We both had something the other party wanted, I needed something more electronic and out of the norm, and they wanted a singer, writer and player. So it worked, kind of strange at first but we knew we could make something out of it.

Being Birmingham based, how much of a rivalry (if any) was there at the time between you and DURAN DURAN?

None really, the other guys knew them pretty well because DURAN DURAN used to rehearse at The Rum Runner too. I came from across town and until then didn’t hang with those guys. I met them a few times afterwards and it was always cool.

The band’s striking imagery / design played a huge part in how they were perceived, how did working with David Bailey occur and what was it like being photographed by such an icon?

Mulligan was a really good artist so we had control of our marketing in that side of the field, and it was very distinctive. Bailey came about when the Arista marketing department came up with a competition which hooked us up with Olympus cameras (who Bailey was promoting); so a camera shoot arose from that.

I was a major fan and it was a fantastic opportunity to work with him, and there was an amazing amount of work that day. He seemed to think I resembled an American Indian and referred to me as “Oi! F***ing Geronimo”… how could you dislike him…

THE HUMAN LEAGUE Mark II and their producer Martin Rushent tend to get all the kudos for the alternative / remix versions of their songs eg the ‘Love & Dancing’ album, yet FASHIØN were at the spearhead of this too. Whose idea was it to embrace the 12” format to such a degree?

I would have to put the initial idea down to Zeus, but it was something that evolved.

From recording the original track, to eventually mixing a single and an album version and then whilst the mix was still up on the desk (full recall was not available then, by any means), we would run through a few times to get a rough idea of what we were going to do and then we would go for an all hands on mix.

Panning, muting, delay and reverb FX etc, all straight to ¼” tape and finally edit the ¼” tape or not if it worked out ok. It sounds like mayhem and it is hard to recollect exactly. Zeus and I have had many a conversation recently about how good some of them turned out, considering the equipment available at the time! It’s hard to pick a favourite, possibly ‘Do You Wanna Make Love (at 4am)’?

You were an early advocate of the Roland guitar synthesizer, how did you integrate this into your sound?

It came about, because of its being. There is only so much you can do with guitar FX so when it was offered to me, it made complete sense. It was pretty limited in what it did, but when combined with the Sennheiser Vocoder (which Zeus introduced me to), the possibilities were opened up, though that was something that had to be on tape when playing live.

ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK recently interviewed Zeus B Held, how important was he in the overall sound of ‘Fabrique’?

For me, he became a major part of the sound of the band. It was great to have a strong, experienced keyboard player / producer. I found a soul mate as soon as we started work in the studio, which meant that I could expand the compositions and Zeus could cover it.

The band’s production and use of electronics (including vocoder and extensive Simmons drums usage) was hugely technical sounding, how did this translate into your live performances and did it cause any problems?

There were 2 hugely different stages, gigs before the album and after… before we realised the album, the sound was pretty raw, a couple of sequencers and the rest live (no MIDI), but we still managed to create the crossover of funk and the music style of the time.

This was quite fitting, coming out of the punk era.

After the album everything changed (still no MIDI), so we did have to rely on a 4 track tape machine, that had the sequences, vocoder etc and in the end some backing vocals, which I had hit heavily on the album. The Simmons was no problem, Dik played to a click track. Hard work but I think worthwhile, so the audience got a good reproduction of the album.

‘Love Shadow’ is a superb lost single of its era, why do you think it underperformed in the charts?

Thank you very much for that. I loved the track and felt it was perfect for the time, especially with Gina X doing the spoken vocal in the Mid 8. There are a lot of factors that might have caused this. I can’t go too deeply into what was going on. We had a small advance but a large recording budget from Arista which is what we requested, because we knew the album was going to take more than the normal time and expense of a band’s first album. Therefore we didn’t have the finance available to do what record companies did at that time, and I think they had lost faith in our management…

Zeus B Held gave his opinion on why FASHIØN never quite hit the heights that they were feted to reach, what is your personal viewpoint on this?

Very hard to answer. I do think that FASHIØN had more of a cult, rather than teenage girl fan base. Also I didn’t and still don’t compose in a pop style à la DURAN DURAN. I think that comes from growing up when bands could survive on selling albums, and so you used to look to the second or third album before you started recouping. That time had gone. Plus you needed confident management to back you.

ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK remembers hearing a FASHIØN Radio 1 ‘In Concert’ and being really surprised / shocked to hear a new vocalist (Troy Tate), was this the general reaction by the band’s fans?

I had no idea at the time, it’s only in the last few years that I have seen a couple of videos of that line-up, but now having met people on social media, they seemed to be quite surprised at the new members and sound of the band.

What are your best memories of being in FASHIØN?

Well I think signing a worldwide recording deal with Arista was pretty amazing and my publishing deal with EMI, something I had worked for, for many years. The first major gig we did was in the Botanical Gardens in Birmingham, we had set it up so the staff of Arista London could all come and see their latest signing. It was very pleasing. And of course when we played the Birmingham Odeon, a gig I used to go to as a youngster growing up.

Photo by Peter Ashworth

The one-off project you did with the late Rick Wright from PINK FLOYD as ZEE and the album ‘Identity’ is an intriguing one. How did you link up with him?

FASHIØN was doing a small tour of East Coast America. I met up with Raff Ravenscroft (sax player of ‘Baker Street’) in New York and he mentioned that Rick was looking to start a band and record an album. I knew I was ready to split from FASHIØN. So when I got back to London, Rick and I got together and after a few meetings with other players, we decided to do the album together as a duo.

Being a primarily a synth-based album, this must have been a risk to undertake for Wright?

For both of us! I was amazed to be working with a musical icon, and we both were excited at the prospects of what we might come out with. We started by demoing with piano and acoustic guitar and we were going along ok, when the elephant in the room (that of using synthesizers) was brought up.

In retrospect, although it didn’t achieve commercial success, do you think in places ‘Identity’ sounds ahead of its time with its extensive Fairlight usage?

Yes, the Fairlight was still fairly new to the industry and not used to its full capacity except for Orchestra stabs, pan pipes and some vocal samples. We managed to form a connection with Syco systems, who were the agents in Britain. It was at this time we were given a Beta version of Page R, Fairlight’s sequencing software, which gave us a complete new way of composing.

Yes we did use it extensively, I would have to say a little too much, but I would agree, that the album sounded ahead of its time apart from the Floyd fans who weren’t going to like it, however it turned out!

It seems now though thanks to social media and the world being so much smaller, there are a lot of Floydians who did like it at the time and still do. Which brought me to thinking about digitising and tweaking the masters of ‘Identity’,to be called ‘Identity 2017’ when it is released in the near future.

What other musical projects did you pursue post-FASHIØN and ZEE?

After ZEE, I started record production along with my good friend Tim Palmer. We had met during the ‘Fabrique’ recordings and had got along great to the point that we would go into studio one in Utopia studios and record sections and even complete tracks to get the album finished. ‘Let’s Play Dirty’ being one.

We next produced LIMAHL’s first solo album after him leaving KAJAGOOGOO and various other bits and pieces, before I met up with Paul Fishman who was in RE-FLEX); we formed a working partnership writing recording and producing other artists, which goes on to this day.

Are there any acts that you rate at present?

I rarely listen to the charts right now, but a couple of bands that spring to mind are KING GIZZARD & THE LIZARD WIZARD and KNOWERS.

You are currently working with Zeus B Held again and a ‘Fabrique’ re-release has been mooted, what does this entail?

Yes, very excited to be back together and planning a new album and hopefully live work.

The FASHIØN album is going to be all the tracks we released and the dub versions, again digitised, so we could get a little more control over the masters.

Zeus and I may do a couple of remixes on that as well; it depends on the legalities, now that Sony owns the catalogue. That aside we have started to work on a project that will be called FABRIQUE, it’s a move way from FASHIØN and we wouldn’t use that name because of the other FASHIØNs that have gone before, but it might be a nod to how FASHIØN 1981 may have sounded in the present. We shall see in 2018!


ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK gives its warmest thanks to Dave Harris

The compilation ‘The Height Of FASHIØN’ which includes tracks from the ‘Fabrique’ album and various remixes from the Dave Harris era is released by Cherry Red and available on CD via the usual retailers

The ‘Fabrique’ 4CD deluxe boxed set including the original album, extended mixes, dub versions and a 2019 live performance by Dave Harris and Zeus B Held at Birmingham Global plus photos plus signed certificate of authenticity and 60 page booklet is released on 31st Janaury 2021, pre-order from https://www.musicglue.com/fashion-fabrique-deluxe/products/fabrique-deluxe-box-set

https://www.facebook.com/fabrique1981/

https://www.discogs.com/artist/47966-Fashion


Text and Interview by Paul Boddy
16th November 2017, updated 26th December 2020

Missing In Action: WHITE DOOR

Hailing from Stoke-on-Trent, WHITE DOOR formed from the ashes of prog rock combo GRACE.

Led by the sensitive vocal presence of Mac Austin, he was ably backed by the Davies brothers Harry and John on synths.

Coinciding with the sinewave of Synth Britannia, the trio began to gain artistic momentum and signed to Clay Records, the independent that had put out GRACE’s swansong live album.

WHITE DOOR released one critically acclaimed album ‘Windows’ in 1983, produced by Andy Richards who was later to find fame and fortune working with the likes of FRANKIE GOES TO HOLLYWOOD, GEORGE MICHAEL, PROPAGANDA, GRACE JONES and OMD.

Despite press support and national radio airplay, being signed to an indie label with limited financial resources meant that any initial promotional momentum was unable to be sustained.

The record also proved to be difficult to find in the shops. In a competitive market, WHITE DOOR thus suffered the same fate as other new acts of the period such as THE MOOD, FIAT LUX, B-MOVIE and FATAL CHARM, reaching only a limited audience despite the quality of their music.

Although sounding of its time, with songs such as ‘Love Breakdown’, ‘Jerusalem’ and ‘School Days’, ‘Windows’ still stands up as a long player, so much so that in 2015, Swedish synthesist Johan Baeckström covered the latter two tracks as B-sides to his solo single releases.

Baeckström went one step further when he and DAILY PLANET bandmate Jarmo Olilia invited Mac Austin to provide lead vocals on ‘Heaven Opened’, a tune from their new album ‘Play Rewind Repeat’.

With renewed interest in WHITE DOOR, Mac Austin kindly chatted about the band’s brief flirtation with the pop charts and more.

GRACE were a prog rock band before things mutated into WHITE DOOR becoming a synth based ‘New Romantic’ act? What led to you heading in this direction?

Myself and Harry studied Graphics at Art College together where we formed a band called JIM CROW and spent most of our time learning to play our instruments and how to write songs until we finally finished college and all went our own ways.

We then went on to form a second band called GRACE with some of our musical friends. GRACE was a massive leap up from our first band and was after a few years of playing the circuits signed by MCA Records and released a debut album ‘Grace’. The band was put in the prog rock or folk rock categories, I think because our songs were long and like GENESIS while like JETHRO TULL we had a flute player.

GRACE played live constantly, did some TV with TOYAH and released a live album which was very well received but the band was caught in the massive punk movement which was sweeping the country at the time. The record companies signed bands with little ability but loads of attitude and ditched the old school bands like GRACE etc who were out of fashion and a lot more expensive to produce and record.

We were all frustrated with the lack of support and PR from MCA and they said only punk was selling now so GRACE folded.

We had been listening to some of the new electronic bands which were coming through from the introduction of new synths and drum machines been invented by Roland etc. John, Harry’s brother had a synth and so we got together and started to write songs with this new sound.

Were there any acts that were specifically influencing WHITE DOOR?

I particularly liked OMD, TALK TALK, JAPAN, TEARS FOR FEARS, PROPAGANDA, JOHN FOXX and CHINA CRISIS. These were the influences on WHITE DOOR plus we still loved the big melodic sounds coming from GENESIS, YES, ELP, JETHRO TULL etc.

I have always loved the songs and melodies of 10CC, THE MOODY BLUES and THE BEATLES. Like
these bands, I feel WHITE DOOR produced songs with good melodies which could be reproduced on an acoustic guitar and still be a good song.

Of course, when you listen to say OMD, JAPAN, ULTRAVOX, THOMAS DOLBY or TEARS FOR FEARS, there is a link to prog aesthetics don’t you think?

Absolutely, there is the dressing up, dramatic chorus, keyboard heavy sound and showmanship that was a big part of prog. It was a progression from prog rock and glam rock. Holly Johnson from FRANKIE GOES TO HOLLYWOOD said the best live concert he ever saw was GENESIS’ ‘The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway’, I think there was a big influence on the New Romantics from the progressive bands, though some may say there wasn’t.

Bands from the New Romantic movement became closely associated with the use of synthesizers to create rock and pop music. This synthpop was prefigured in the 1960s and 1970s by the use of synthesizers in progressive rock, electronic art rock, Roxy, Bowie etc.

Did of you ever get into Ian Anderson of JETHRO TULL’s synth heavy ‘Walk Into Light’ album?

JETHRO TULL was a massive influence on us all from the GRACE days, we all saw the live ‘Aqualung’ tour and were amazed. Harry was a particular fan with playing the flute so his writing, playing etc always leaned to a ‘Tull‘ feel.

‘Walk Into Light’ was as you say a very heavy synth sounding album and strong instrumentally, though I don’t think it was his best lyrically, I think he had been influenced by the new synth bands around at the time. Still a very album good though.

You had the benefit of Andy Richards producing and Julian Mendelsohn engineering ‘Windows’ which does explain the high quality of the production. How did this come about because both became quite ubiquitous not long after they worked with WHITE DOOR?

Memories differ on how Andy became to be involved in the project. He was a friend of the band having been playing in bands at the same venues as GRACE and living close to us in Stoke.

He had played in SAD CAFÉ, a fairly successful Manchester band and THE STRAWBS taking the keyboards where earlier Rick Wakeman and Blue Weaver had sat, quite a responsibility.

We would turn up at Andy’s house with very basic demos and spend long days with him on his mini grand piano working out the arrangements and programming. Once the melodies were in place, Andy would add his magic to it. We also did the same with the ‘Flame in Your Heart’ single which was recorded twelve months after the album.

‘Windows’ the album was recorded in Manchester, then Andy insisted we use Sarm studios for mixing and post-production where Julian Mendelsohn, an Australian record producer, audio engineer and mixer who worked with Elton John, Jimmy Page, Bob Marley, INXS, LEVEL 42, Nik Kershaw and Paul McCartney took the album to another level. A good decision for WHITE DOOR and Andy, who after impressing everyone at Sarm with his skills became a regular there, assisting them on FRANKIE GOES TO HOLLYWOOD and many more great artists.

Andy, I believe, has been involved with film scores of the last 10 years including a few Tim Burton ones. Julian was the house producer at the great Sarm West so for the next few years after they produced music for big artists from different styles, never really having a genre of their own.

The pace that technology was moving at during this time was staggering, so what sort of synths and instruments were WHITE DOOR using?

The synth on the WHITE DOOR album was the Jupiter 8… the drum machine was an Oberheim DMX. I don’t know the sequencer, I just know it was analogue.

I recall a Fender Rhodes piano on one track. There was Simmons drums and various bits of acoustic percussion like tablas and shakers. Fretless bass of course, alto and tenor sax… flute. I don’t know if there was anything else used at Sarm, but I am sure stuff was added there which I have forgotten. It was state of the art technology then, so we thought it was amazing, but it’s a lot better now I think.

The ‘Windows’ single got BBC Radio1 airplay but wasn’t a Top40 hit. How do you look back on how that all played out?

All the singles got some BBC airplay, but ‘Windows’ the single was picked as the Simon Bates show’s ‘Record Of The Week. It was the top BBC Radio 1 show, so it got played every morning at 10am, getting it to 60-something in the UK charts. It was amazing exposure from which we got interviews, magazine write-ups, and fan mail and with a couple more weeks of plugging would we believe have easily made the Top 40.

Unfortunately Clay Records had run out of money so could not carry on plugging the single so the airplays stopped. We were told we needed a major label and a couple were very interested and we were about to sign to one major label when it was revealed that Clay had signed us to an American label, Passport Records, for a couple of years, so the deal was off because major labels always want worldwide rights.

The beautiful synthpop of ‘Jerusalem’ is almost choir boy like, what inspired that?

‘Jerusalem’ was written after I saw a small film of young Jewish children praying for the return of their sister who was being held in Palestine.

Is the subject matter of ‘School Days’ veiled in metaphor?

‘School Days’ was inspired by a classic British book ‘ Goodbye Mr Chips’ by James Hilton, the story of a tutor in private boys school during the years of the First World War. Boys in their black gowns and ties seeing their older friends leaving to go to war and most never returning was a very emotional but true story.

‘Where Do We Go (From Here)’ was quite a frantic and inventive take on synthpop, might that have made a good single?

Yes Chi, I agree ‘Where Do We Go’ is a very catchy instant tune and it would have made a good single. I think it would have been the next single after ‘Windows’ if we had carried on.

‘Windows’ only had eight tracks on it, but WHITE DOOR recorded a host of non-album singles and B-sides that seem to explore a variety of styles. ‘New Jealousies’ sounds like SPARKS and ‘Kings Of The Orient’ recalls a more synthy ROXY MUSIC. Did it take a while to settle on a sound or was it your intention to be as diverse as possible?

I don’t think it was our intention to be that diverse, it was a bit of finding our sound from all the influences that we were listening too.

You did one more single ‘Flame Of My Heart’ with Andy Richards which sounded like BLANCMANGE running into FRANKIE GOES TO HOLLYWOOD. It’s quite mighty but just as WHITE DOOR were finding their stride, you disbanded. Do you have any regrets?

Yes, a few regrets but Clay Records closed and we were without a record company with no-one wanting to sign a band who were tied to a contract in America, so could not offer world rights. We thought let’s start again and GRACE was reformed, producing 4 albums in the ‘90s.

How do you look back on WHITE DOOR now? Is there anything you would have done differently in hindsight?

Our one regret is if we had received better advice before we signed that American contract, that major deal would have been signed and who knows?…

‘Windows’ has attained cult status over the years and got a CD reissue on Cherry Red in 2009. But when did you first get the impression that the album might have reached a bigger audience than you first thought?

The feedback on the album was mostly very, very good so we knew it was a good product, we lacked the investment to promote it the way it needed so we hoped that word of mouth and reviews would get it out there. Maybe if we could have toured the album, it may have gone more mainstream, but unfortunately we did not have the backing for that.

I remember being told by some record producer that Andy Warhol’s famous New York club Studio 54 were heavily playing ‘Love Breakdown’ which gave me hope that it may become a cult album and grow to a bigger audience. In the last 10 years, we have had more feedback on the album and WHITE DOOR than ever, obviously the Cherry Red release helped.

So what did you think when this Swedish guy Johan Baeckström starting covering your songs?

We’ve had quite a few people doing remixes and alternate versions of the songs but when Johan messaged me about covering our song and played the track, it was “wow this is more like White Door than White Door”. Johan had got this off so well, it brought tears to my eyes… then when I heard Johan and Jarmo’s own material as DAILY PLANET, I realised these guys were real talented people and into the kind of melodies and music we were into with WHITE DOOR. I was so pleased, it re ignited the flame (in my heart).

You sang ‘Heaven Opened’ on the new DAILY PLANET album ‘Play Rewind Repeat’, how was it to work with Johan and Jarmo?

It was a real honour to be part of this album with these lovely guys and ‘Heaven Opened’ is such a great song, I can’t thank them enough. This is such a great album and everyone I play it to loves it, I have a couple of WHITE DOOR fans who swore it was WHITE DOOR.

Has there been any renewed interest in WHITE DOOR since ‘Heaven Opened’ appeared on the DAILY PLANET album? Would you ever consider doing anything under that name again?

There are people now asking about WHITE DOOR reforming, we are working on new material and with the help of Johan and Jarmo, there will be a White Door product next year.

What else have you been up to musically?

We are still playing occasional gigs with GRACE, who still have a good following, while also I am also doing some semi-acoustic sessions with Harry, John and Dave Edge (GRACE guitarist) which we really enjoy.

The new WHITE DOOR material is sounding great so hopefully that will open up some live shows next year.

I’m looking forward to going over to see Johan and Jarmo when we finally finish this project.

And what sort of music are you into now?

I’m into all music really but I do love melody and good lyrics, from folk to heavy rock… if it has a good tune and lyric, I will listen to it. Peter Gabriel, Bob Dylan, George Harrison, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, David Bowie, OMD, Paul Simon… these are some of the people that inspired me to be in music.


ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK gives its grateful thanks to Mac Austin

Special thanks also to Johan Baeckström

‘Windows’ is still available as a CD from Cherry Red Records at https://www.cherryred.co.uk/product/windows/

https://www.facebook.com/whitedoorband/


Text and Interview by Chi Ming Lai
5th July 2017

Missing In Action: YOUNGER YOUNGER 28s

Combining musical template of THE HUMAN LEAGUE with lyrical wit of PULP, YOUNGER YOUNGER 28s were the shining light in synthpop during an era full of dour landfill indie like TRAVIS following the fallout from Britpop.

Released in March 2000, their only album ‘Soap’ was a cutting tongue-in-cheek satire on class aspirations and dreams.

Fronted by a Teddy Boy version of Phil Oakey in Joe Northern aka Ashley Reaks, YOUNGER YOUNGER 28s were a terrifically entertaining live act.

Backed by his very own Joanne and Susanne in Andie and Liz who were recruited from the Academy of Contemporary Music, there was a bizarre twist with instrumentalist Jimmy Dickinson formally being a member of heavy rockers LITTLE ANGELS!

17 years on, ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK managed to trace Ashley Reaks somewhere in the city of London; he kindly chatted about the period when he “was nearly a crap pop star…”

Despite time passing, the concept of YOUNGER YOUNGER 28s still seems quite bizarre, how did it formulate? A strange story of course!

Strange indeed! Me and Jim played together in post-LITTLE ANGELS band B.L.O.W. and when that finished, we tried writing together. He was writing music for computer games under the name YOUNGER YOUNGER 28s and was into THE PRODIGY. I was writing punk and post-punk type songs so initially we were a sort of punky dance act.

We did a cover of ‘A Forest’ by THE CURE and we wrote our own song around it ‘Sugar Sweet Dreams’, which kick-started a whole new direction.

Why did Jimmy want to do synthpop all of a sudden?

At some point Jim played me some demos he’d done pre-LITTLE ANGELS and they were synthpop-esque, so it was always waiting to come out.

Who were the key influences on YOUNGER YOUNGER 28s?

Well obviously THE HUMAN LEAGUE were the template. I remember asking Jim to make ‘Teenage Mum’ sound like THE COMMUNARDS or ERASURE when I brought the song to him. Stock Aitken and Waterman and Trevor Horn were in there somewhere! As a teen, I liked the bleak Northern bands like CLOCK DVA and CABARET VOLTAIRE as well as the miserable lyricists of punk.

Was having two female vocalists alongside your comedic Northern droll always part of the plan?

No – neither me nor Jim were singers so we needed all the help we could get. Liz and Andie sang on the early demos of ‘Julie’ and ‘Teenage Mum’ and it worked well, so they stayed!

When did you realise the concept of YY28s might actually have legs?

When we started gigging… very quickly we had celebrities and music business people at our gigs. I think they liked the comedy of the live act after all the seriousness of Britpop.

You got signed to Richard Branson’s new label V2 and had STEREOPHONICS as label mates, what was it like being on the label?

Personally I think it was a bad choice and I’m not sure V2 really wanted us on the label (though they did want our manager to sort out some problems they were having at the time). We’d have been better going with one of the smaller labels that were interested in us at the time

The first single ‘We’re Going Out’ attracted some attention and radio play…

Putting ‘We’re Going Out’ out as the first single was a bad move in hindsight. The band all wanted ‘Sugar Sweet Dreams’ to be the single, but V2 and the industry were convinced ‘We’re Going Out’ would be a huge hit. It wasn’t!

‘Sugar Sweet Dreams’ was a brilliant album opener, sort of PULP FICTION meets THE HUMAN LEAGUE’s ‘Sound Of The Crowd’?

Musically I definitely remember referencing ‘Sound Of The Crowd’ and ‘A Forest’ by THE CURE on ‘Sugar Sweet Dreams’. It was probably the first track we did and we should have continued down that musical path a bit more but got seduced by POP!

‘The Next Big Thing’ was a wry observation of reality TV talent shows and wannabe culture a few years before Pop Idol / X-Factor etc?

The idea that being famous, in itself, will somehow make us feel good and paper over all the cracks is such a seductive belief and has almost become the new drug of choice. Personally, I was always interested in the life that was falling to bits alongside the illusion, including my own.

Was ‘Gary’ based on a true story?

Let me have a listen and I’ll get back… ‘Gary’ was another figment of my imagination but based loosely on some of the characters I’d come across whilst playing the Northern Working Men’s Club scene over the years in various bands. There was one particularly rough club in Wigan where the DJ was a ‘butch-as-hell’ transvestite and we shared the dressing room with the female strippers, their ‘fanny spray’ and their very protective ‘boyfriends’

There was a dispute with V2 about the ‘In Between Days’ cover being included on the album against your wishes. But how did you come to record it anyway?

‘In Between Days’ was never intended to be on the album as it was a ‘concept’ album and didn’t fit.

V2 persuaded us to record a cover as a last ditch attempt at a hit but they dropped us before it ever went out as a single.

I assume they thought that as they’d paid for the recording, they would add it to the album.

In hindsight, it’s a shame the superb B-side ’Karaoke Queen’ wasn’t on the album in place of ‘In Between Days’? Was that another true story or your imaginative mind?

‘Karaoke Queen’ would have fitted well onto ‘Soap’, but for one reason or another didn’t make the cut. Again it was loosely based on an ex-girlfriend of mine who would get ‘hit on’ by both sexes in dodgy clubs whilst I hovered around uncomfortably.

You ended up on open air bill in Nottingham with THE CORRS, E17 and JIMMY NAIL in Summer 1998, playing second from bottom-of-the-bill. It was quite surreal occasion cos I witnessed it, what are your memories of the day and how do you think YY28s went down?

I enjoyed that gig and seem to remember us going down ok though you might tell me otherwise! My main memory was I gave a backstage pass to a guy we’d met on our travels and he proceeded to get very drunk on the free beer and was kicked out for trying to get into THE CORRS dressing room. I denied any knowledge!

Was there a moment when you perhaps realised that things weren’t happening for YY28s and people didn’t get it, that some found the lyrics too condescending?

I remember a meeting at V2 where the marketing team had absolutely no idea what we were about and had been telling the radio shows that we were “a step up from STEPS”!

When ‘We’re Going Out’ didn’t chart, the whole buzz around the band seemed to disappear immediately and it became pretty clear that the label weren’t going to continue to push us.

I didn’t realise how many people thought I was condescending in my lyrics and looking down on the less fortunate. I’d spent years wasting away on the dole in haze of dope smoke in a small town, so I was writing about myself and my life and the desperation I (and my friends) felt on a daily basis.

There was a letter in the Melody Maker or NME one week accusing me of patronising the emotionally damaged in the song ‘Valerie’, where a lonely man seeks refuge in porn and is only capable of a fantasy relationship with one of the models in an ‘adult magazine’. That could easily be me! I think people assume that if you’re in the public eye, you must be happy and emotionally balanced – nothing could be further from the truth, in my case at least!

‘Two Timer (Crap in Bed)’ was issued as a promo but was never officially released and that appeared to be the end of YY28s. What actually happened?

‘Two Timer’ was actually one of the earliest songs we wrote and recorded – an electro re-write of the punk one-hit-wonder ‘Jilted John’. I don’t know why it was never released or on ‘Soap’…

How do you look back on the ‘Soap’ album now and its context in the grander scheme of popular culture?

I haven’t listened to ‘Soap’ in a long time, but I’m glad we made a brave record that was completely out-of-step with everything, which seems to be my forte.

Do you have any favourite songs from the album?

I always liked ‘Dirty Harry’ and ‘Sugar Sweet Dreams’

So what are you all up to today?

I’m making music and art at a rate of knots… 10 albums in the last 5 years!

Jim is teaching music production at Bath University and works with new artists.

Liz is running her own PA business, working with dogs as a trainee trainer and has her first baby on the way.

I don’t know what Andie’s up to…

If you had your time again, is there anything you’d have done differently with YY28s?

Signed to one of the smaller indie labels that were chasing us early on, and released ‘Sugar Sweet Dreams’ as the first single.

Cheers for this, Ashley 🙂


ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK gives its warmest thanks to Ashley Reaks

‘Soap’ was released on CD by V2 and can be occasionally found for sale on eBay and Amazon

http://www.ashleyreaks.com/

https://www.facebook.com/ashleyreaksart/


Text and Interview by Chi Ming Lai
22nd April 2017, updated 12th May 2019

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