Gary Daly is best known as the lead vocalist and synth player of CHINA CRISIS. For the Kirkby lad, it was the ideal vehicle to creatively channel his love of Brian Eno, David Byrne and Howard Devoto.
Together with bandmate Eddie Lundon, the pair have released seven acclaimed albums in a recording career that began in 1982. At their commercial peak, they netted four Top20 singles ‘Christian’, ‘Wishful Thinking’, ‘Black Man Ray’ and ‘King In A Catholic Style’.
While CHINA CRISIS continue to tour regularly and issued their most recent long player ‘Autumn In The Neighbourhood’ in 2015, Daly has taken the plunge with a full length solo record entitled ‘Gone From Here’.
The twelve track offering is an intriguing atmospheric mix of acoustic and electronic palettes straddling pop, folk, jazz and classical with The Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra and harpist Tom Moth among the many guests on the record.
Also featuring is John Campbell of IT’S IMMATERIAL who reprises his spoken mannerisms from ‘Driving Away From Home’ on ‘Carousel Of Stars’ over a drum machine backbone and some beautiful synth ‘n’ sax. Not on the album but appearing in spirit, the artist formally known as Antony Hegarty is paid a touching tribute by Daly in a ballad called ‘Antony’.
The wonderful first single ‘I Work Alone’ acts as a statement of intent as well as an affirmation in self-belief, while the wistfulness of ‘Write Your Wrongs’ and the uptempo Scouse Soul of ‘Time It Takes’ both offer familiar aesthetics that will satisfy fans of classic CHINA CRISIS.
As reflected by ‘In The Cloudy Domain’, ‘Dead Of Night’ and the closing title song, the album sensitively deals with the themes of pain and loss as a melancholic audio diary of midlife. Richly melodic with dreamy synths and Daly’s distinctive afflicted voice taking centre stage, there is however a hopeful optimism for what remains.
While on a UK tour with Howard Jones, the CHINA CRISIS frontman kindly talked about his continuing artistic motivations, digging out his old synths and much more…
You had two solo mini-album releases before with ‘The Visionary Mindset Experience’ in 2007 and ‘How To Live & Love Your Life’ in 2008, so what inspired you to do a full-length record?
Basically I had been in the middle of making my debut solo long player when I realised there was way too much interest for a new CHINA CRISIS album for me to even consider finishing my solo album. I had recordings which featured both Kevin Wilkinson and Gazza Johnson… so it was just a matter of getting Eddie involved and then Brian McNeil… and I was of a mind, well, that’s the classic Chinas line up right there…
I’m very pleased with the way ‘Autumn In The Neighbourhood’ turned out… and most importantly the fans loved hearing us together again… so it was all worth it in the end… and it allowed me to get back to finishing my solo album. . .which I have now done and yikes! No turning back now, arrrgghh!!
Making ‘Autumn…’ involved a great many people, all determined to make the very best record we could… I think everything about it works well… from the title to the artwork to the music it contains. The fact the fans likened it to some of our very best recordings, well, that was just marvellous…
It was hard work at times and a huge learning curve, everything from the new technologies to managing budgets. It really did empower us as artists, taking control of every element of the process, very liberating… we are now, truly, indie!
So apart from the obvious, how does your solo venture differ conceptually and musically to CHINA CRISIS?
Well , it’s a very very personal record and I really don’t understand how it differs, other than when I listen back to it. I am completely connected to every single line being sung and know what exactly what I’m singing about… and the feel of every song has emanated from me. I don’t question the arrival of songs, I just go with the process and sometimes that process can last a long time and the song / idea can change / mutate as I go along. But you learn to be patient and delight in the process. Musically, I’d say it’s very much more early Chinas than it is late Chinas…
‘Gone From Here’ seems to have a more distinctly English feel than ‘Autumn In The Neighbourhood’?
Yeah, I love that fact I seem to have found my “Northern Englishness” again… when I listen to the ‘Fire & Steel’ or ‘Difficult Shapes’ albums, that music could not have been written anywhere other than the northwest of England and I love that sound soooo much.
The fact my new album is resonating the same kind of sound / feel, that’s deffo something to do with me getting back to my synth / songwriting roots. With ‘Autumn’, I still think it’s very English sounding but I think maybe there’s a polish, a sheen there that gives it an overall AOR feel… which is no bad thing… but not really something that interests me much…
The opening song ‘Write Your Wrongs’ appears to hark back to the earlier period of CHINA CRISIS?
I must admit, I’m hearing that from lots of people, and I’ve not really the foggiest what that means…. is it the drum machine, is it the vocal? I‘ll tell yer what though, the second verse has a lyric “say what you want, but just don’t be a c**t , no don’t be that way”, I like that lots, especially in these testing times… Brexit, Trump, rise of the right etc etc… I do love ‘Write Your Wrongs’, if anything it reminds me of the band AIR which I’m very pleased about…
‘I Work Alone’ is a lovely whimsical piece of Casiotone folktronica, how did that come together?
Ha Ha! Believe it or not, I started at the piano and immediately thought “OOOOOooo lovely I’ve got a Philip Glass thing on the go”! Then of course I started singing along… then, when I got into the studio, I needed a “click” to play and sing along to and BOOM! It suddenly became a bit KRAFTWERK, it’s very much ‘Neon Lights’ meets ‘Autobahn’ and one of my very fave tracks on the album… quite simply, it’s all a bit perfect pop… I never tire of hearing it.
I had the song all finished with myself doing lead vocals and didn’t like it! So I made up an instrumental version and started to mimic John talking over it, then had the idea to actually ask John… he’s a bit of a neighbour of mine, so that’s what I did. John went away to his studio and wrote this beautiful spoken word song, I then added the chorus and yeah, it’s a beautiful thing with a lovely back story… but I’ll let John reveal that when he gets his IT’S IMMATERIAL album out which he is busy sorting at the moment.
The album features a prominent use of synths, did you dust off your Jupiter 8? Do you consider it as classic vintage instrument as a Hammond Organ, Fender Stratocaster or a Gibson Les Paul?
Absolutely my fave synth of all time bar none… I got my original JP8 just before the making of the ‘Fire & Steel’ and it was such an incredibly user friendly synth, knobs and faders , that’s what I like… we used a great many what would be called classic synths, the Juno 60, DX7 and producer David Berger had his Korg Poly Six, a Chinas classic… I’d used the Korg Poly Six on everything from ‘Christian’ to ‘Wishful Thinking’, so it was magical having all these synths back in the studio… absolute heaven and I’m hoping people will hear them and love hearing them again.
You started with a Yamaha CS10, Roland SH2 and Octave Cat, how do you view synthesizer technology now and what do you think of VSTs?
The Yamaha CS10 we got from Eddie’s mum’s catalogue and it was a revelation… add some reverb / echo delay and it sounded amazing. I’m not mad keen on the new synths, I’ve no real interest… I write at the piano, sometimes a guitar and then in the studio, get everything together I love working with. A pal even brought along a Yamaha SPX 90 effects unit, Eddie and myself both had one of these back in the day and they are wonderful, we had so much fun applying the effects. So for me now , it’s all about the song and not the soundscape… the soundscape is something that happens naturally along the way. So I keep the design of the song very simple, voice / instrument… then, once in the studio, it all becomes alchemy… MAGIC so to say!
The more acoustic ‘Of Make Do & Mend’ hints at THE ART OF NOISE ‘Moments In Love’ in its intro…
Ha Ha! Yes it does a little… but you would have to ask Tom Moth, harpist with FLORENCE & THE MACHINE about that, he played those notes , not me… ahaaa! I think the song is actually one of the most romantic songs I’ve ever written and if you replaced my vocal with Kate Bush, it could easily be off her ‘Lionheart’ album… I do like early Kate…
The reflective closing title song is very poignant, is it about any people in particular?
Very much so… firstly, it’s all about Mrs Weir and myself and us growing up together… and then there’s all the people I have called friends, family and they are gone… for all manner of reasons they are gone, gone from here… and I find it one of the saddest things we learn to endure… I love the middle 8 of this song and how it’s incredibly positive… like yeah, it’s sad but there’s hope, always hope… onwards, upwards…
You put a 15 minute ‘Ambient Musics’ teaser on YouTube “from and / or inspired by the album” which recalls the brilliant CHINA CRISIS instrumental B-sides like ‘Watching Over Burning Fields’ and ‘Dockland’, would you like to explore this area again as a future project?
That’s very kind of you to say… I have indeed got an album of ‘Ambient Musics’ ready for release, it’s called ‘Luna Landings’, a little nod there to Brian Eno’s ‘Apollo: Atmospheres & Soundtracks’. I will be giving it away as a free download… it’s soooo lovely, all my little recordings from the 80s. I love it sooo much and can’t wait for people to hear it .
‘Gone From Here’ has been mixed by Mark Pythian who you have worked with on your last three albums, was it important to have a familiar face for this?
Mark, in my humble opinion, is one of the most gifted people I’ve worked with, we go way back and yeah, it was always gonna be Mark mixing ‘GFH’, his ears are Grammy Award winning lug holes. We first met in ’83, when he was getting some work experience at Amazon Studios working on our ‘Fire & Steel’ sessions. It’s been so lovely handing over the tracks to Mark and seeing him take his time delivering his audio-vision of what my songs should sound like. I must admit, I’ve been in total agreement with every mix he’s done on the album… amazing man.
CHINA CRISIS have worked with a diverse portfolio of producers like Gil Norton, Peter Walsh, Mike Howlett and Walter Becker, do you have any particular memories or fun stories from working with them?
Crikey! That’s way too much question, right there… how could I possibly convey what it’s been like to work with all those great people? I will say this though, I have very very lovely memories of working with every one of them and the way they were so kind and generous to Eddie and myself and the band… every one of them. It’s usually the case, well, in my experience, that the most gifted people are usually the most generous with their time and talent… and everyone you’ve mentioned was certainly that… and if I could meet them all again, I would most deffo shake their hands and say a big big “thank you”.
‘Autumn In The Neighbourhood’ used Pledge Music to fund its recording; with the well-documented problems of Pledge Music, how did you support the recording of ‘Gone From Here’, especially as there are quite a lot of musicians involved including The Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra?
There’s a song on there you mentioned earlier, ‘Of Make Do & Mend’ and that’s exactly what I did… a favour here, a little session there, all the time believing I was asking the right people, at the right time, to do the right thing and get involved. If you’re lucky , you learn very early on there’s people in it for all the right reasons… and the best you can do, is to aspire to be one of those people… and when that happens, you really can “make things happen“ monies or no monies…
How do you find the today’s music business landscape? What are the various advantages and disadvantages for you as an independent artist?
I don’t really understand the business now, but I never really have had much understanding of “business” full stop. And why would I? Sure CHINA CRISIS would have done a lot better had we had more knowledge of the business and Eddie teaches kids in Macca’s fame school, the pitfalls etc etc.
But really, I’m more about the art of just keeping on, keeping on… and to continue enjoying it. And I must admit the indie aspect of us releasing our own records… well, that’s a little like how we started and I absolutely love it. What’s not to like, in charge of everything, from the first note recorded to the finished record posted and delivered… now that, in my book, is taking care of business.
You once described ‘African & White’ as your ‘X-Factor’ moment and here you are, still making music and touring?
Yes, please make it stop! Ahaaaa! Only messing! Well, I am in the best band to come out of Kirkby, East Lancs, Liverpool. And the writing, every step I take is a song. Music is in my head almost all of the time, I’ve written a song about it…”God knows how it works, it’s a blessing and it’s a curse, only messing, it’s much worse…”
Touring with the Chinas now is way more enjoyable than back in the day… then it sort of all got consumed with having to promote the single or album, now it’s all about us trying our best to just enjoy the concert and night, each and every place we visit.
The first three CHINA CRISIS albums ‘Difficult Shapes & Passive Rhythms’, ’Working With Fire & Steel’ and ‘Flaunt The Imperfection’ were given the deluxe reissue treatment in 2017, how do you look back at that period on how the band developed from post-punk to getting ‘Smash Hits’ front covers?
The first three albums or as I like to call them “The Trilogy” are my fave China albums and in that order, ‘Shapes’, ‘Fire &Steel’ and ‘Flaunt’… we were so fearless and got to work with some amazing people and chime with the times, that just doesn’t happen every day. I’m not too keen on living in the past, so don’t really pay it much mind.
I would like to think we made each and every transition, musically, because we made the right choices and worked with the right people and really made the most of every opportunity. After all, when we worked in places like the Manor Recording Studio in Oxford, all the time I’d be thinking “Crikey! ‘Tubular Bells’, ‘Rubycon’! We are here in the most magical of music making places…”
Which CHINA CRISIS album means the most to you and why?
‘Difficult Shapes’… I love all the songs, I love the way Ed and me from the off were not a “band” and we made the most of every musician who contributed to our songs. And just everything about the making of that record was a bit mental, we kept firing producers, top flight people. But like I said, we was fearless and trying to make a record as great as the ones we loved, we failed but we certainly tried…
Have you been surprised about the musical impact that CHINA CRISIS have had in modern electronic pop acts like MIRRORS and VILLA NAH?
MMmmmm! Well, yes… I liked a quote I once heard that said if there was no CHINA CRISIS, there would be no BELLE & SEBASTIAN… I think that’s fair to say… as for “impact”, I’m not sure that’s the right word.
1994’s ‘Warped By Success’ was an excellent CHINA CRISIS album that is under rated and kind of got lost, will that ever hit the public domain again?
Yes, I hope so… Eddie and myself demo’d that album with Mark Phythian… I should imagine we’ll release that version, it’s well better than the actual record that was put out.
The CHINA CRISIS ‘Synthpop Quartet Fun & Laughter Show’ continues at selected venues this Autumn, so for those who are not aware, what is the format?
Well, it’s a four piece, Jack Hymers on keys, programming and vocals, Eric Animan on sax and percussion, Eddie and myself… and we like to have a bit of a fun time on stage which helps make every gig a bit of a one off…
I can’t really describe it other than you’d have to bop along and check it out… it’s quite electronic, so we get to play lots of our early electronic tracks which we don’t really get the chance to perform with the full band.
What’s next and will there be solo dates to go with ‘Gone From Here’?
Touring with the Chinas a lot and I mean a lot… and no, no solo shows… I’m not keen!
ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK gives its warmest thanks to Gary Daly
Special thanks to Julie Eagleton
‘Gone From Here’ is released on 31st May 2019 in CD and vinyl LP formats, available direct from https://www.musicglue.com/gary-daly where there is also a link for a free download of ‘Carousel Of Stars’
The CHINA CRISIS ‘Synthpop Quartet Fun & Laughter Show’ 2019 dates include:
The Picturedrome (12th July), Darwen Library Theatre (20th July), Wigan The Old Courts (6th September), Reading SUB89 (13th September), Leamington Spa Zephyr Lounge (20th September), Southampton Engine Rooms (27th September), Worcester Huntingdon Hall (3rd October), Torrington Plough Arts Centre (10th October), Portishead Somerset Hall (11th October), Birmingham PizzaExpressLive (18th October), Cardiff Acapela (19th October), York Fibbers (2nd November), London Holborn PizzaExpressLive (8th November), St Neots Town FC (9th November), Tunbridge Wells Forum (16th November), Wolverhampton Robin 2 (17th November), Derby The Flowerpot (30th November), Kinross Backstage (7th December), Dundee Clarks (8th December), Liverpool Cavern (13th December), Glasgow Oran Mor (14th December), New Brighton Floral Pavilion (21st December)
Text and Interview by Chi Ming Lai
30th May 2019