Following the ‘Technique’ album released in early 1989, NEW ORDER were in something of a state of flux.
Bernard Sumner had already opted for what was planned as a solo album but became ELECTRONIC after meeting up with Johnny Marr, then a free agent having left THE SMITHS. Peter Hook responded with the fittingly named REVENGE.
Even the band’s manager Rob Gretton had his own adventure with Rob’s Records. But what of Stephen Morris and Gillian Gilbert, THE OTHER TWO?
Having soundtracked the BBC’s comedy drama ‘Making Out’ and youth culture show ‘Reportage’, the NEW ORDER couple had been composing and stockpiling various sketches and instrumentals pieced together at their home studio near Macclesfield in the event of future commissions, as happened later with ‘America’s Most Wanted’.
However, following the Italia 90 World Cup song ‘World In Motion’ which was supposed to start the process towards making the follow-up to ‘Technique’, Gilbert and Morris found themselves with time to kill having turned down a film soundtrack to accommodate the now false start. ‘World In Motion’ had actually mutated from the ‘Reportage’ theme which Gilbert had mostly written, so Factory Records’ Alan Erasmus suggested that some of this stockpiled material could be released as an album.
In a 2011 interview, Stephen Morris told ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK: “They start off as these things for TV, you get really attached to them and you twist one or two of them into being songs. Some of them never turn into songs but you get persuaded by the record company or someone that you have to get a singer! So we tried to get a singer and then Gillian ended up doing it which is great, she’s really good at it.” – that singer they tried to get was actually Kim Wilde! But when that idea never got beyond a meeting, Gilbert took on the role of lead vocalist, helped along the way with some singing lessons.
The brilliant debut single ‘Tasty Fish’ released in late 1991 was superbly catchy and had the Kylie Factor. But with the ongoing problems at Factory Records, the single never made it to many shops and stalled at No41 in the singles chart.
The subsequent album which had actually already given a catalogue number of Fact 330 never got released on Factory as planned, while the couple’s attentions were turned to NEW ORDER for what was to become ‘Republic’, produced by Stephen Hague. In the fallout that came with talk of London Records buying Factory out, the iconic Manchester record label collapsed and NEW ORDER signed with London direct.
THE OTHER TWO ‘& You’ finally appeared in late 1993 on London Records seven months after ‘Republic’ and had been tweaked from its original Factory configuration by Stephen Hague. Opening with a new version of ‘Tasty Fish’, although Hague’s additional production neutered the dynamics of the original Pascal Gabriel single mix, the song still stood out, a well-deserved hit if ever there was one, but not to be.
Following it was the dancey DUBSTAR of ‘The Greatest Thing’, a joyous music statement about the power love. Its sampled acoustic guitar lines could easily have been represented by Peter Hook’s bass and highlighted the couple’s contribution to NEW ORDER, despite some reports to the contrary.
‘Selfish’ made it three in a row for the start of THE OTHER TWO ‘& You’, a Hague production rich in synthetic strings and lively but unobtrusive machine driven rhythms. Gilbert’s resigned vocal about “someone I hate” reinforced to the inherent melancholy in a fabulous song with an exquisite understated quality.
On the moodier electro-acoustic strum of ‘Movin’ On’, it wasn’t difficult to imagine Sarah Blackwood and the usual cup of tea, with Gillian Gilbert’s singing lessons proving effective and highlighting her as actually the best technical vocalist in NEW ORDER.
With soundtracks having been their main compositional forte during this period, there were naturally instrumentals; the uptempo pulse of ‘Ninth Configuration’ wouldn’t have sounded out of place as a NEW ORDER B-side circa ‘Technique’, ditto ‘Spirit Level’, although the eerie interlude ‘Night Voice’ pointed more towards filmic ambience.
Meanwhile the widescreen synthpop of ‘Feel This Love’ foresaw a future Stephen Hague produced act called TECHNIQUE; a female electronic pop duo comprising of Xan Tyler and Katie Holmes, they were to name themselves after the NEW ORDER album and later morphed into CLIENT featuring Sarah Blackwood! The charming ‘Innocence’ with its lovely OMD-styled string melody embraced a subtle Italo house staccato, but closing the album was the brilliant ‘Loved It (The Other Track)’.
With its hypnotic digital slap bass and club friendly vibes, it had been composed to celebrate the opening of The New Factory, a building in Charles Street which became a white elephant and ultimately contributed to Factory Records’ collapse. Featuring cut-up speech from the likes of the late label co-founder Tony Wilson shouting “Any one of you miserable musicians want any more pills?” as well members of NEW ORDER deadpanning “Not my idea!” and “Are you sure?”, time has made the track an amusingly ironic musical document of that carefree Factory period.
Better than REVENGE but not consistently soaring to the heights of the ELECTRONIC debut, THE OTHER TWO ‘& You’ did however show that Gilbert and Morris had often been overlooked in the NEW ORDER story.
Over the following years, work continued on THE OTHER TWO’s second album ’Super Highways’. It eventually surfaced in 1999 and was perhaps less immediate than its predecessor.
The realisation of their original guest female vocalist idea came to fruition with Melanie Williams from Rob Records signings SUB SUB on the excellent ‘You Can Fly’ and the very DUBSTAR sounding title track.
Gilbert sang on the lovely orchestrated electropop of ‘The River’ while there were also various experiments in drum ‘n’ bass like the mighty ‘One Last Kiss’. However, the record had been overshadowed by the reunion of NEW ORDER with their triumphant comeback gigs at Manchester Apollo and the Reading Festival in 1998.
Family matters led to Gillian Gilbert departing NEW ORDER before the guitar heavy ‘Get Ready’ was released in 2001. The void left the band in a much tenser masculine environment and the sad untimely death of Rob Gretton in 1999 left the now well-documented conflicts between Bernard Sumner and Peter Hook without a referee. Fast forward to today, Gillian Gilbert is back in NEW ORDER and the electronics have returned in style on 2015’s ‘Music Complete’ released on Mute Records. “I’m on all the best records” she amusingly quipped to Q magazine on her return.
But if NEW ORDER hadn’t made a return in 1998 and THE OTHER TWO had been able to be a full-time occupation, could they have been as successful as DUBSTAR or SAINT ETIENNE? “No, we’re completely the wrong kind of people!”, Stephen Morris said adamantly. “I’ve tried but it never works… we’d never be popstars!”
‘THE OTHER TWO & You’ + ‘Super Highways’ are reissued by Factory Benelux in double coloured vinyl LP and CD formats on 3rd April 2020 with ‘The Other Disc’ bonus CD featuring rare tracks and remixes by FACTORY FLOOR available as an exclusive optional extra via FBN mailorder copies of either album, pre-order direct from https://www.factorybenelux.com/the_other_two.html
Text by Chi Ming Lai
29th February 2020