Paul Boddy, freelance producer, musician and writer looks back on ten years of ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK.
I had known Chi Ming Lai previously via another now defunct website which I used to contribute a variety of bootleg remixes of THE HUMAN LEAGUE and DEPECHE MODE. Once we were on each other’s radars and had moved on, I was very flattered when Chi asked me to start contributing to ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK.
One of the first pieces I did was an interview with ADAMSKI in 2012. Looking back, this was one of the most nerve-wracking things I’d done and completely out of my comfort zone at the time. This was primarily because a) he was a bit of a musical hero of mine as a previous band I was in had covered ‘Killer’ and b) I was faced with the proposition of trying to interview the guy over the phone and then record it using a mobile digital recorder (untried technology for me).
Despite his mobile signal dipping in and out (as he was ambling around London at the time I interviewing him) and the batteries running out on my recorder half-way through, the interview went well and I got a huge sense of achievement once the piece had been transcribed and eventually published.
The main enjoyment I get from occasionally contributing to the site is the ability to interview bands and people within the scene, Chi has kindly put some interviews my way including WANG CHUNG, SHRIEKBACK, KOSHEEN, CHICANE, WRANGLER and CREEP SHOW as well as two of my own personal favourites John Foxx and Ulrich Schnauss. Having the platform to interact with these kind of artists is mind-blowing for me, especially the ones who I have admired and in some places influenced my own musical development. My other approach and contribution to the site is tracking down (some may call this stalking!) artists via social media and approaching them with a view to ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK featuring them in its ‘Missing in Action’ series.
Although a bit hit and miss as some artists don’t always respond when messaged, it has borne fruit with many artists accepting and using the opportunity to reflect and look back on their tenure in the music industry.
In terms of the people I’m most proud of ‘snagging’ in this manner are Scott Simon (OUR DAUGHTER’S WEDDING), Dave ‘Dee’ Harris (FASHIØN), Jerome Froese (TANGERINE DREAM) and Rob Dean (JAPAN). Because of the big interviews already done on the site by Chi, I find that this gives a lot of traction when cold approaching these kind of artists.
However, the icing on the cake was when Chi and myself spent a glorious few hours in a Liverpool Street pub with Stephen Singleton and Mark White from ABC and VICE VERSA. Getting this interview was a long process which started when Stephen contacted me in 2015 with regards to reviewing the VICE VERSA box set; this led to linking up with Mark and after a long period of negotiation and Facebook messenger chats, a face to face interview in 2019 with lots of laughter.
For me this has definitely been my highlight of ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK and although the transcribing of the interview was one of the longest processes I’ve done (the guys LOVED to chat!), the sense of achievement upon completion was huge.
Moving away from the artists themselves and onto electronic synth music itself, Chi and myself have quite differing tastes in music, but with enough crossover that we can still happily work together. The material I favour tends to be male-fronted, often dance-inflected and also with elements of guitars thrown into the mix (see BATTLE TAPES, MAPS, MAN WITHOUT COUNTRY and SPLEEN UNITED).
If you are a reader of the site, you won’t be surprised to hear that along with the other ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK contributors, I continue to be disappointed with the lack of decent UK based synth acts and the exposure that so many second-rate bands continue to get. For a country that has such an amazing heritage of electronic music (like DEPECHE MODE, YAZOO, THE HUMAN LEAGUE, EURYTHMICS, OMD… I can go on), why is it that there are so few acts of quality which are continuing the tradition of these incredible acts?
What grinds my gears the most is the complete lack of emphasis on quality vocals that some UK synth bands have; for many it appears that once a synth backing track has been made, the process of adding vocals is treated as an afterthought. Very little attention is paid to crucial things like tuning / character / lyrics, all traits which have made vocalists such as Alison Moyet and Annie Lennox titans in their field. Whether this will improve and we will get another CHVRCHES or MIRRORS is doubtful, but I live in hope!
Although the original music that I write and produce (J-Pop / K-Pop) isn’t the kind of thing that ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK would champion, it still features a lot of electronics and I have been fortunate to have had success with some major Japanese artists including ARASHI and E-GIRLS (who covered YMO’s ‘Rydeen’).
I continue to write and produce for this market which is great fun. I continue to enjoy performing live as well in various cover bands.
Signing off, ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK has been a wonderful platform for me and has enabled me to interact with many of my musical heroes and also review some of their work too, long may it continue…
Over the last 10 years, ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK has been a voice for the discerning enthusiast of electronic pop.
With a balancing act of featuring the classic pioneers of the past alongside the emergent new talent for the future, the site has become well known for its interviews and reviews.
It asks the questions people have always wanted to ask while celebrating the continuing development of the synthesizer in popular music.
All this while holding to account those who deliver below expectations, assuring the listener that if they are perhaps not hearing the genius that some devoted fans are declaring, then ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK is there to assist in affirming or denying that assessment.
But when artists do deliver, they tend to build a strong relationship with ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK. So with the site celebrating its first 10 years, presented here are greetings and messages from some people who you might know…
Rusty Egan, VISAGE
ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK is 10 years old with the synth knowledge of a 50 year old. If I can’t remember something electronic I don’t Google, I visit ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK!
Glenn Gregory, HEAVEN 17
ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK and its wonderful leader Chi is like the League Of Super Heroes for Electronic Music. Our future is safe in his hands.
I have been involved in electronic music making for 40 years, yet one half hour conversation with Chi makes me realise how little I know. From then to now, he’s knows!
Neil Arthur, BLANCMANGE
Chi has been brilliantly supportive of BLANCMANGE, for which I am very grateful. We’ve always managed to have a good laugh during our interviews, as he would ask me about the darkness and gloom lying within a given BLANCMANGE song! I look forward to our next chat.
ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK has a very important place and a role to play, in spreading the news of electronic music, new and old, far and wide. Here’s to the next ten years. Well done and good luck.
Gary Daly, CHINA CRISIS
Thanks for all your wonderful support Chi, so glad someone has taken the time to ask some great questions…
Sarah Blackwood, DUBSTAR
I love the website. It’s a treasure trove of informative articles, both a very readable historical archive and a forward looking platform for encouraging new talent. In what can be traditionally and lazily categorised as a very male dominated scene, Chi encourages great music regardless of gender and I enjoy the updated Spotify playlist if I’m ever stuck for what to listen to whilst running.
As regards interviews, it’s always enjoyable – Chi is a bit too easy to talk to and his passion for music and synth geekery shines through – heaven forbid you try sneaking a (cleared) sample past him, he will spot it!
Is it 10 years already? Happy birthday ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK!
Chris Payne, DRAMATIS
With 18,000 likes and 12,000 Facebook followers; ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK under the guidance of its purveyor Chi Ming Lai, has become the leading place for the Electronic Music fan. Intelligent, well written and well researched journalism with a great team of writers presenting an array of brilliant fascinating new acts (and some older ones as well!), hopefully it will continue for at least another 10 years.
Tracy Howe, RATIONAL YOUTH
Congratulations to ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK on ten years of brilliant reporting of, and support to, the electronic pop scene. ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK is the authoritative publication “of record” for fans and makers of synthpop alike and is the international rallying point and HQ for our music. We look forward to many more years of in-depth interviews and probing articles, all in the beautifully written style. Happy birthday ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK!
Mark White, ABC + VICE VERSA
Chi Ming Lai and Paul Boddy are two of the most learned, nay, erudite music journalists I’ve had the pleasure of meeting, a rare experience indeed to be quizzed by a pair who know their onions. And unusual integrity. Chi promised me if we asked, he would turn off the tape recorder and it would never appear in print. And has been true to his word. This has literally never happened in my career. Also these two chaps are bloody good fun. I laughed til I cried. Go see the movie!
Rob Dean, JAPAN
10 years of ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK? Only one for me (yes, I know…), but it’s heartening to know that Chi and the crew have created a site so cutting edge for us die-hard fans of electronica. Having read the highly entertaining VICE VERSA chaps interview, I was delighted to be asked to do my own, confident that the questions would be thoughtful and intelligent and yes, a little bit probing too. Here’s to the next 10 and thank you!
Richard Silverthorn, MESH
On several occasions I have done interviews for ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK. Every time I felt like they actually cared about the music and scene and put some educated thought into the questions. It’s good to feel that enthusiasm.
Tom Shear, ASSEMBLAGE 23
Congratulations on 10 years of covering and supporting the scene! Here’s to another 10 and beyond…
Sophie Sarigiannidou, MARSHEAUX
I first met Chi at Sparrowhawk Hotel, Burnley in November 2000 for an OMD convention. It took me 13 hours to reach by train to Burnley from London due to bad weather. I saw him playing live (!!!!) with his covers band THE MESSERSCHMITT TWINS, they were having their time of their life, dancing and singing, so so happy! Us too of course!! From that moment on we became friends. Then he supported our band MARSHEAUX from the very early beginning and I thank him a lot for that!
It’s always great having Chi asking questions for interviews. We as a band had our best interviews with ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK! We spent a lot of hours talking about the history of electronic music and the future of synthpop. My favourite articles are the “Beginners Guide To…” series, you have a lot to learn from these pages!!! Happy Anniversary Chi, we’ve indeed had 10 amazing years with ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK. I hope and wish the next 10 to be even better.
Erik Stein, CULT WITH NO NAME
ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK elected not to review earlier CWNN albums, so we just had to keep making better and better records until they would finally relent. They finally gave in from album number 7 onwards, and it was well worth the wait. The writing was spot on and not a single DEPECHE MODE reference in sight.
Mark Reeder, MFS BERLIN
Congratulations and a very Happy 10th Birthday! Over the past 10 years, ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK has developed into becoming the leading website for all kinds of electronic synthpop music. It has become a familiar friend, because it is something I can personally identify with, as it is maintained by fans, for fans.
However, it is not only commendable, but can also be quite critical too, and that is a rare balancing act in the contemporary media world.
It has been a great source of regular electronic music information. I have discovered and re-discovered many wonderful electronic artists, and regularly devour the in-depth interviews and features.
Through ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK, I have been introduced to and worked with some of the wonderful artists presented on your pages, such as QUEEN OF HEARTS or MARSHEAUX and in return, it has supported my work, my label and my artists too, and I thank them for that! We can all celebrate ten years of ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK and together, look forward to the next 10 years of inspiring electronic music.
Per Aksel Lundgreen, SUB CULTURE RECORDS
ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK is a highly knowledgeable and very passionate site! They are digging out rarities from the past as well as exploring and discovering new acts, giving them attention and writing about them often before anybody else around have even heard of them.
This makes ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK a very interesting page to follow, as their in-depth stories about older bands “missing in action” as well as the latest stuff “in the scene” gets perfectly mixed together, giving you all you want basically in a one-stop-site for everything electronic. I also love the way they give attention to unsigned / self-released bands and small indie-labels, giving everybody a fair chance as long as the music is good enough. Congrats on the 10th Anniversary, well deserved!
Jane Caley aka Anais Neon, VILE ELECTRODES
When VILE ELECTRODES were just starting out, we heard through the Facebook grapevine about a new electronic music blog called ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK. We had a London gig coming up, and had recently made a promo video for our song ‘Deep Red’, so we dropped them an email about both, not expecting to hear back, since we were virtually unknown.
However it transpired they really liked our sound, likening us to “Client B born and raised in the Home Counties fronting Dindisc-era ORCHESTRAL MANOEUVRES IN THE DARK”.
ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK subsequently gave this very description to Andy McCluskey, which piqued his interest such that he checked out our music. We were invited to tour Germany with OMD as a direct result!
George Geranios, UNDO RECORDS
Chi is a really rare quality of a man. He is passionate about music which is so obvious of course while reading ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK. Through our mutual love for OMD, we discovered that we have the same musical taste. ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK helped us promote all of Undo Records projects and finally we ended collaborating and releasing this brilliant double CD compilation! Chi, I wish you health and to continue writing the best music texts in the industry!!
Adam Cresswell, HAPPY ROBOTS RECORDS
Some people say ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK doesn’t support the scene but I’ve not found that to be the case; having been a part of two gigs and the recent CD, I know how much blood, sweat and tears they put into what they do. ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK might get a few people’s back-up, but they know their stuff when it comes to synth-driven music and I’m massively grateful that they have supported so many Happy Robots artists since 2010.
Stuart McLaren, OUTLAND
It’s no secret that the burgeoning new synthwave genre shares a common history with the great synthesizer acts and pioneers of the 80s, like Dolby, Jones, Luscombe, Wilder, Daly et al who created new soundscapes with what we now define as vintage synths.
These sounds are brought back to life by pioneers in their own right like FM ATTACK, GUNSHIP, ESPEN KRAFT and BETAMAXX to name a few.
ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK and Chi Ming Lai have always been at the forefront of championing, interviewing and reviewing the luminaries of this great instrument past to present, and are likely to remain the de facto voice of the synth scene well into the future… we agree on one thing and that is FM-84’s singer Ollie Wride is deffo one to watch as a star for the future!
Paula Gilmer, TINY MAGNETIC PETS
Happy Birthday ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK. thank you for your support. You never fail to impress with your encyclopedic knowledge of synthpop. Here’s looking forward to 10 more!
Mr Normall, NUNTIUS
I’ve been following most of my favourite artists since they were brand new and often this means it’s a period of 30+ years, yet when reading articles and interviews by ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK, I have learned every time something new about of my favourites.
Following ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK have made me pay attention to several new acts that I would likely know nothing about if they hadn’t appeared on the page.
Catrine Christensen, SOFTWAVE
An outstanding magazine supporting new and upcoming artists whom they choose carefully as they have great taste of music regarding to their huge knowledge within the synthpop genre, when it comes to their writing and promotion – there’s no one like them. Happy birthday 😘
Elena Charbila, KID MOXIE
Happy 10th birthday ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK! Your love and commitment to the synth community is unparalleled and your support has meant a lot to me on a professional but also on a personal level. Here’s to the next 10 years! 😘
Alexander Hofman aka Android, S.P.O.C.K
I’m a fan of ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK for several reasons. You showed up when I perceived the majority of the electronic scene had turned more and more harsh; as much as I can appreciate an occasional emotional outburst, I’m a happy guy and thus I’m into pop – ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK showed, and still shows me that there’s still electronic pop music being made. Good electronic pop! Which makes me glad, as I find the greater part of the generally popular darker scene to be of lower musical quality.
Moreover, ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK writes in an amazingly happy tone – remember, I’m a happy guy, so it’s right up my alley. Add the fact that ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK regularly publishes interesting articles, using intelligent and varied vocabulary, shows enormous knowledge and interest of the theme, the style, the scene – and I’m hooked. Thanks for being around – keep up the good work, it’s much needed! And congratulations – let’s grab a beer again! 🍻
Boston-born Arthur Baker began as a DJ, but aspired to be a producer following taking an engineering course at Intermedia Studios. He wanted to make music, rather than play records.
After some early experiences, Baker became wise to the swindling ways of the music industry. He eventually released his first single ‘Kind of Life (Kind of Love)’ under the name NORTH END in 1979.
But his breakthrough as a producer came after he moved to New York in 1981. Working for urban label Tommy Boy Records, where he met engineer and keyboard player John Robie, they came up with ‘Planet Rock’.
Utilising the-then new Roland TR808 Rhythm Composer, in particular its distinctive analogue cowbell, rimshot and snare sounds, its lasting effect on the future of music came about more by chance.
Baker wanted to employ a more mechanised electronic aesthetic in the vein of KRAFTWERK and YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA to the output of Tommy Boy and saw an advert in The Village Voice: “Man with drum machine, $20 a session”… the rest is history. But the programmer of the track’s iconic 808 beat pattern remained unknown, thanks insisting on cash for his services, having declined a cheque.
‘Planet Rock’ featured sampling without a sampler, its ‘Trans Europe Express’ synth parts manually recreated by Robie.
Although Baker did use a Fairlight CMI for the orchestra hits, he considered it “a $100,000 waste of space”. Released in 1982, ‘Planet Rock’ put electro, as it came to be known, on the map.
Never one to waste a good thing, Baker produced ‘Play at Your Own Risk’ for PLANET PATROL, taking unused recorded parts from ‘Planet Rock’. His midas touch continued with the similar sounding ‘IOU’ for FREEEZ, once again maximising the rigid character of the 808.
Always in touch with what was going on at street level, Baker often tried out his rough mixes at clubs like Paradise Garage, The Danceteria and The Fun House. Although missing out on THE BEASTIE BOYS, Baker achieved major worldwide success when he signed NEW EDITION to his Streetwise Records. The label also released Eartha Kitt’s Boystown favourite ’Where Is My Man?’ , while other artists on the roster included Colonel Abrams, Cuba Gooding and Loleatta Holloway.
In 1989 with THE BACKBEAT DISCIPLES, Baker gathered a diverse all-star cast of Al Green, Andy McCuskey, Martin Fry, Jimmy Somerville and Etienne Daho to sing on the ‘Merge’ album, a pop hybrid record tracing his love of soul, synthpop, disco, HI-NRG and Europop.
Reflecting his trailblazing reputation in dance music with an ear for a good tune, Baker was commissioned to provide remixes for a wide range of mainstream artists including Cyndi Lauper, Bruce Springsteen, Neneh Cherry and Tina Turner, as well as more middle of the road acts like FLEETWOOD MAC, HALL & OATES and WET WET WET.
Baker’s varispeeded treatment of ‘Spaceman’ by BABYLON ZOO was used in the 1995 Levi’s TV commercial ‘Planet’, but many were disappointed to be met with the dirge rock original when the track was released as a single.
Now based between London, Miami and Ibiza, Baker continues to DJ while he notably co-produced and appeared in the 2015 documentary film ‘808’ directed by Alexander Dunn about the machine which he helped turn into a cultural icon.
Featuring reminisces by Phil Collins, Jori Hulkkonen, Felix Da Housecat, Richie Hawtin, Rick Rubin and Norman Cook among many, Baker himself interviewed the late Roland founder Ikutaro Kakehashi who had deliberately purchased faulty transistors to create the machine’s distinctive sizzling sound. Continuing his interest in documentaries, Baker is currently making one about NEW ORDER.
With such a varied career, ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK presents a Beginner’s Guide to Arthur Baker featuring 18 tracks that cover the breadth of his influential music portfolio.
AFRIKA BAMBAATAA & THE SOUL SONIC FORCE Planet Rock (1982)
Recorded by Baker at Intergalactic Studios, the ‘Planet Rock’ synth leadline interpolated KRAFTWERK’s ‘Trans Europe Express’ while the Roland TR-808 drum machine mimicked ‘Numbers’; the track even included a chant of its Japanese count. But where there’s a hit, there’s a writ so when Baker later had to pay up for using elements of KRAFTWERK, he just put up the price of the record to fund the settlement. ‘Planet Rock’ eventually sold one million copies and paid for its debt.
More in the vein of classic soul groups like THE TEMPTATIONS, PLANET PATROL offered an electro twist on that five way vocal template and even featured a member named Melvin Franklin! ‘Play At Your Own Risk’ was made from recorded parts that did not make the final version of ‘Planet Rock’, with Baker even saying that both came from the same multitrack. Listening back, it was also the blueprint for Baker’s ‘IOU’ which became a huge hit for FREEEZ.
ROCKERS REVENGE featuring DONNIE CALVIN Walking On Sunshine (1982)
Mechanising Eddie Grant’s funky favourite in the sparkly pulsing vein of D-TRAIN, Baker’s cover of ‘Walking On Sunshine’ was specifically made for the Paradise Garage. Baker assembled ROCKERS REVENGE as a studio project with vocalists Donnie Calvin, Dwight Hawkes and Baker’s wife Tina B. While there an electronic feel, its looseness pioneered a more freestyle form that would later emerge in its own right. Continuing the covers theme, a version of Jimmy Cliff’s ‘The Harder They Come’ came out in 1983.
AFRIKA BAMBAATAA & THE SOUL SONIC FORCE Looking For The Perfect Beat (1983)
With a funky urban twist over colder European electronics, ‘Looking For The Perfect Beat’ with its freestyling and mighty breakbeats took hip-hop up to the next level. With its self-prophesising title, it was far more complex and varied than ‘Planet Rock’, with nearly a year taken in the making. It showed ‘Planet Rock’ was no fluke, but Baker later remarked that the track was motivated as a taunt at Tommy Boy’s rivals and pioneers of rap, Sugar Hill Records. “Beat Dis”!
Originally a jazz funk combo, FREEEZ had fragmented to the duo of John Rocca and Peter Maas when they became fascinated by ‘Planet Rock’. Meeting Baker in New York, he suggested recording his self-penned ‘IOU’. While there was a appearance from the ubiquitous Roland TR808, an Emulator was used for the staccato voice passages but key to the song’s appeal was Rocca’s falsetto. It was co-mixed by John Jellybean Benitez, the DJ at The Funhouse who later worked with Madonna and had a solo career.
Signing what was effectively the modern electro incarnation of JACKSON 5 to his Streetwise label, Baker hit paydirt with NEW EDITION and their sweet worldwide No1 ‘Candy Girl’. With the tune’s writers Maurice Starr and Michael Jonzun working in the studio with the young quintet, Baker was executive producer and did the final mix with Starr. Unusually for a boy band, Ralph Tresvant, Bobby Brown, Ricky Bell, Michael Bivins and Ronnie DeVoe all went on to have successful careers after the group.
Available on the NEW EDITION album ‘Candy Girl’ via Streetwise Records
With NEW ORDER’s interest in dance music, having opened the Haçienda with New York clubs in mind, a collaborative union with Baker was inevitable. But Baker wanted to make ‘Blue Monday’ while and the Mancunians wanted to make ‘Planet Rock’, so the result was quite literally ‘Confusion’! Drummer Stephen Morris in particular had admitted frustration during the recording sessions as Baker would not let him alter his Roland TR808’s already-programmed patterns, fearing he would lose his trademark sound.
Edited version available on the NEW ORDER album ‘Singles’ via WEA
For the film ‘Beat Street’, Baker helped produce its soundtrack and contributed the frantic beat and sample laden instrumental ‘Breakers’ Revenge’ to the score. The movie itself was a based around New York’s hip hop and breakdancing scene, with part of the plot based on the graffiti documentary ‘Style Wars’. Noted figures such as GRANDMASTER MELLE MEL & THE FURIOUS FIVE, THE SYSTEM, DOUG E. FRESH and THE SOULSONIC FORCE all appeared.
Available on the ARTHUR BAKER mix album ‘Breakin’ via Mushroom Records
ARTISTS UNITED AGAINST APARTHEID Sun City (1985)
ARTISTS UNITED AGAINST APARTHEID was formed by Steven Van Zandt and Baker to protest against apartheid in South Africa, while drawing parallels with the plight of Native Americans. “A song about change not charity, freedom not famine”, ‘Sun City’ highlighted the hypocrisy of the South African government allowing entertainment there that was banned in the country, with a call to reinforce the international boycott. It featured Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, Lou Reed, Miles Davis, U2 and RUN DMC.
Originally from the ARTISTS UNITED AGAINST APARTHEID album ‘Sun City’ via Manhattan Records, currently unavailable
FINE YOUNG CANNIBALS Ever Fallen In Love – Club Senseless remix (1986)
‘Ever Fallen in Love’ was a noted song of punk and disaffection written by the late Pete Shelley and performed by his band BUZZCOCKS. But FINE YOUNG CANNIBALS caused a stir with a dance friendly version co-produced by TALKING HEADS’ Jerry Harrison for the film ‘Something Wild’. With his Club Senseless remix, Baker exploited the track’s funkier possibilities, his theory being “if you had a really groovy bassline, the drums don’t have to be a straight kick, because people dance to the bassline.”
PET SHOP BOYS In The Night – Arthur Baker remix (1986)
‘In The Night’ was the B-side for the first single version of ‘Opportunities’ and saw PET SHOP BOYS reusing the same chord progression as its A-side. The lyrics referred to Les Zazous, an apolitical group in France during the Second World War who were disliked by the Nazis and the Resistance. Although Phil Harding produced, Baker did a more percussive 12 inch remix which opened the ‘Disco’ collection. This was later edited and used as the theme music for the BBC’s ‘The Clothes Show’ between 1986 and 1994.
Available on the PET SHOP BOYS album ‘Disco’ via EMI Records
Arthur Baker developed an enduring relationship with NEW ORDER, both in the studio and as friends, having co-written ‘Confusion’ and ‘Thieves Like Us’ like he was a member of the band. Working as the music supervisor for the movie soundtrack of Beth B’s parody of televangelism ‘Salvation’, NEW ORDER contributed six tracks. The best known was ‘Touched By The Hand Of God’, its title inspired by the controversial Argentine footballer Diego Maradona and mixed by Baker for singular consumption.
Will Downing had sung with Baker’s project WALLY JUMP JR & THE CRIMINAL ELEMENT on the single ‘Turn Me Loose’ in 1986. So when the New Yorker signed as a solo artist with 4th & Broadway, the US-based subsidiary of Island Records, Baker was a natural choice as producer. A cover of the John Coltrane jazz piece with additional lyrics by Downing, the arrangement made the most of a soulful deep house vibe that was emanating from the US at the time.
ARTHUR BAKER & THE BACKBEAT DISCIPLES featuring MARTIN FRY Mythical Girl (1989)
A&M Records offered Baker an album deal, but rather than facing the opportunity alone, he recruited a studio collective comprising of John Warren, Tiny Valentine, Mac Quayle, Bobby Khozouri, Philip Damien and Cevin Fisher, several of whom were to become notable in their own right. ‘Merge’ consisted mostly of dance flavoured pop; ‘Mythical Girl’ was an ABC track in all but name, involving not just Martin Fry but musical partner Mark White too, with Baker and his team producing.
Available on the ARTHUR BAKER & THE BACKBEAT DISCIPLES album ‘Merge’ via A&M Records
‘1963’ came from the 1987 sessions NEW ORDER had with PET SHOP BOYS producer Stephen Hague that also spawned ‘True Faith’. However, much to the annoyance of Peter Hook, his contributions on ‘1963’ were virtually written out, only making a brief appearance at the end of the original version. Released as a belated A-side in a 1995 remix, Baker took the opportunity to make the bassist’s presence heard throughout the song in this dreamier cinematic reinterpretation.
Available on the NEW ORDER album ‘Singles’ via WEA
TINA TURNER Whatever You Want – Massive Jungle Remix (1996)
Written by Baker with Taylor Dayne and one-time studio associate Fred Zarr who had worked with Baker on several recordings, ‘Whatever You Want’ for Tina Turner was an archetypical production from Trevor Horn in its single variant. Baker’s Massive Jungle Remix though did exactly what it said on the tin, but crucially kept Turner’s mighty vocal while also retaining the key cinematic essence that had made the song appealing within its mainstream context.
Originally from the TINA TURNER 12″ single ‘Whatever You Want (The Arthur Baker Mixes)’ via Parlophone Records, currently unavailable
“I listen to The Coors behind closed doors” suggested Bernard Sumner ominously on this 21st Century NEW ORDER B-side produced by Baker. With its dark cinematics, the introspective tone of ‘Behind Closed Doors’ was very different to the more rocky tension of the ‘Get Ready’ comeback album. Sumner’s observations on domestic violence, lack of parental responsibility and chemical dependency coupled with mournful bass from Hooky made for sinister listening.
Available on the NEW ORDER single ‘Crystal’ via WEA
‘Wonderful Life’ had an epic cinematic backdrop with noirish synths and brooding woodwinds that saw singer Theo Hutchcraft telling the story of a suicidal man saved by love at first sight. The sub-six minute Arthur Baker remix took away the big compressed drums and replaced them with the tight electro snap of an 808. Adding a squelchy bassline sequence reminiscent of a 303, Baker kept the song intact and satisfied those who felt HURTS were nothing more than TAKE THAT dressed like ULTRAVOX.
ROB DEAN is best known as a member of the classic quintet line-up of JAPAN with David Sylvian, Mick Karn, Steve Jansen and Richard Barbieri which acted as the blueprint for DURAN DURAN.
Hackney-born Dean had been recruited by the four Catford boys via an advert in Melody Maker. Although he had already left the band by the time of their wider breakthrough in Autumn 1981, his six-string made a prominent contribution to some of the band’s best known singles like ‘Life In Tokyo’, ‘Quiet Life’ and ‘I Second That Emotion’. Dean was one of the first exponents of the EBow, a battery-powered hand-held monophonic electronic device which produced a powerful infinite sustain that was rich in harmonics.
It therefore allowed for a variety of sounds on a guitar not playable using traditional strumming or picking techniques; other users of the EBow included Bill Nelson, The Edge, Stuart Adamson, Paul Reynolds and Wayne Hussey.
Featuring on four of JAPAN’s five studio albums, Dean had found himself marginalised by David Sylvian’s artistic pursuit of a more minimalist keyboard based sound during the recording sessions for his final record with them, ‘Gentlemen Take Polaroids’, resulting in him appearing on just four tracks.
After JAPAN, Dean worked with GARY NUMAN, SINÉAD O’CONNOR and ABC while he was also formed the Australian connected bands ILLUSTRATED MAN and THE SLOW CLUB.
Now resident in Costa Rica, the guitarist kindly chatted at length about his time in JAPAN and his return to music with a brand new project LIGHT OF DAY…
Much had been made of your resemblance to Sylvain Sylvain, had you actually been a NEW YORK DOLLS fan?
The simple answer is no. I remember seeing them on ‘The Old Grey Whistle Test’ and thinking how they were fun to watch and decidedly trashy, but it didn’t make me want to rush out and buy their album or go and see them live. The truth is my hair (in those days at least!) was naturally very curly and so when I grew it long, which was ultimately a pre-requisite for being part of JAPAN really, obviously it had a Bolan / Sylvain look. The make-up obviously helped promote this further.
As time went on, I appreciated them a bit more. I remember I was once at Max’s Kansas City in NYC chatting with the club’s co-owner and the subject of Sylvain came up. She said he was usually around somewhere.
I thought no more about it and as I was outside the club about to leave, she emerged dragging a very drunk individual by his jacket sleeve. It was Sylvain Sylvain – she wanted so desperately for him to meet me. I’m guessing he didn’t remember our encounter!
How comfortable were you with the early look of JAPAN and being in the public eye with it?
I was fine with it. JAPAN were my first band really and therefore it was easy to get caught up in the whole image thing (we had a record deal! we played gigs!). Where I was least happy was traveling on a bus or the tube to a rehearsal or business meeting where I became (understandably) self-conscious about it. It was ok for the others, they all lived close to each other and travelled together all the time, usually in Rich’s small car, but I lived on the other side of London and so it was a bit more awkward.
When JAPAN scored their initial success in Japan with the ‘Adolescent Sex’ album and went from playing pubs in Britain to the Budokan in Tokyo, how did you find having to deal with screaming girls at your shows?
You can’t really explain the buzz of that initial reception getting off that plane in Tokyo for the first time and being greeted by a mob of screaming fans. Leaving the hotel discreetly by back exits, bodyguards accompanying you everywhere on shopping excursions…
It was nuts really, decidedly unreal. The first night we were invited by our promoter Mr Udo to see Linda Ronstadt at the Budokan. No sooner had we entered the vast auditorium, Ms Ronstadt and band already in full swing, than by our presence alone we unwittingly had caused a mini-riot and were forced to leave in order for the concert to continue.
As far as our own shows went, although somewhat otherworldly to be exchanging a couple of hundred people at the Marquee club for two 10,000 seat sold out shows at the Budokan, it never really felt that it was anything but deserved. By the end of the first tour we had become quite blasé about the whole experience. It was a huge confidence builder though.
Is it true that wrestler Kendo Nagasaki was involved in some rather bizarre UK promotion of that album?
Yes, he was hired to promote the first album, delivering it by hand to all the disc jockeys and record promoters in his full wrestler’s regalia. All that sort of guff was entirely out of our hands as was the poster campaign and the promotional phallic cardboard sword with a huge erect penis on the reverse!
What were the pros and cons of having someone like Simon Napier-Bell as a manager?
The pros? I’m not sure in hindsight. He was clearly an old school manager with all the baggage that that comes with. Initially I think we felt that having a manager with such a reputation could only be a good thing and we were so green then that we just rode along with it all and trusted that he had our own interests at heart.
The blatant Far Eastern connotations, all of that was out of our control really. We trusted that it was what needed to be done to get us noticed and recognised. Which we certainly were but perhaps initially not in the way we had hoped.
All of the press hated any act being thrust down their throats and so having our painted faces and lewd posters plastered all over London unquestionably did more harm than good, particularly in the punk era!
I don’t think for one moment we were embarrassed by it however, not then anyway. The T-shirts with the band name spelled out with people and animals f***ing did take it a bit too far though…
The other thing that has lingered with me and possibly now I feel more regrettable than the rest was the blatant lies, the fabrications about the band that placed us in a position that was virtually impossible to get out of.
The ‘Most Beautiful Man in the World’ tag on David Sylvian which had no founding in reality and was created purely to put us on the pages of The Sun newspaper for example; something to be proud of? No, I don’t think so. For a few years that promotion machine was in fabrication overdrive and ultimately it comes down to one person, Simon Napier-Bell…
Photo by Watal Asanuma
JAPAN’s first major tour was opening for BLUE OYSTER CULT in 1978, do you have any amusing memories of it, as the audiences were said to be quite hostile?
We had supported on a smaller yet no less incongruous Uni tour before that with Jim Capaldi’s band which included Alan Spenner and Neil Hubbard whose work as sidemen we would come to admire later on, not to mention the Kokomo singers, who appear on the recorded version of ‘European Son’.
As to BOC, it was our first time playing on the larger theatrical stages and our largest audiences so far, so we certainly looked forward to that. Although we weren’t playing to anything close to our own audiences, the only time they got really hostile and vocal was when we played the song ‘Suburban Berlin’.
As the tour continued, David encouraged us to lengthen the instrumental section and bring it down almost to a whisper, (which was the crowd’s opportunity to loudly voice their displeasure with us, the longer the better, which they indeed did do), before the song exploded into a huge round of final refrains.
On the last night of the tour, the road crew used that hushed silence and the explosive end to unleash all of the pyrotechnics and fireworks that they had remaining from the tour. All at once! Consequently we were all completely covered in ash, not to mention virtually deaf from the explosives. The other thing I remember was getting in the hotel lift with Buck Dharma for the first time and realizing that the lead guitarist of BOC was essentially a midget. Fond memories…
‘The Tenant’ instrumental that closed the ‘Obscure Alternatives’ album was a pivotal point in JAPAN changing their sound and saw you using an EBow for possibly the first time?
No it wasn’t an EBow; I don’t think they were actually available or that I was even aware of their existence at that point. But I did want a very Fripp-like thick sustained sound. We had been listening particularly to the ‘Heroes’ album then and so he was a strong and obvious influence on my playing moving forward.
What was it like to record ‘Life In Tokyo’ with Giorgio Moroder in Los Angeles as it was a radical new direction for JAPAN at the time?
We were all fans of the ‘Midnight Express’ film and soundtrack, which had just won Giorgio Moroder an Oscar, so the notion of flying to LA to record with him was an exciting one. I personally also really liked the work he had been doing with Donna Summer too. Combined with the heavy presence of KRAFTWERK and YMO in our album collections, it felt like the next logical step and we were banking on it causing us to break through in the pop market, which if we were to stay with our current record company, Hansa we would need to do.
So we flew over for about 5 days staying at the Beverly Hilton, no less. The song started life as an idea on a cassette that Giorgio had thought of using for the Jodie Foster movie ‘Foxes’, which David had fashioned quickly into a song.
In the studio, Giorgio had a drumkit set-up with ‘his’ sound and in fact it was a very controlled recording environment, leaving little to error.
For his trademark sequencer sound, he brought in Harold Faltermeyer who at the time was his keyboard programmer. Harold laid down the part by playing it manually with a slap delay of equal volume which I think surprised us all, as we presumed it would be an actual sequencer but that human element was actually at the core of Giorgio’s sound. He also had his trio of backing singers who had appeared on all the Donna Summer hits, amongst others.
The sessions went so quickly that all, or at least most of the instrumental parts were finished in a single day. The next day was left for final vocal and mixing. It was enjoyable, but there was no mistaking who was in control and the efficiency on display made it feel more like a demo session really.
Had the single been a hit, then I suppose it could have been possible that Giorgio would have been asked to produce the album. Had that been the case, ‘Quiet Life’ would have been a very different beast.
‘Quiet Life’ saw you moving from a recognisable and traditional lead style into something more textural, had there been any particular guitarists who influenced you?
Although there had been plenty of solos in my work in the past, I always felt that my playing was at its best when it was servicing the song rather than sticking out, in a similar way to that of most of George Harrison’s work in THE BEATLES.
At that time due to his remarkably distinctive work with DAVID BOWIE, PETER GABRIEL, DARYL HALL and BLONDIE amongst others, Fripp was my biggest influence and possibly remains so even now. I was also influenced by Phil Manzanera, Carlos Alomar, Earl Slick, Ricky Gardiner and John McGeoch during that album.
Despite the fraught tensions during the ‘Gentlemen Take Polaroids’ album sessions, ‘Swing’ and ‘Methods Of Dance’ were exemplary examples of JAPAN firing on all cylinders, can you remember much about recording those two tracks?
Both of those tracks were pretty much finalised in rehearsals leading up to the album sessions at The Townhouse and AIR. So my contributions to both tracks in the studio were executed quite swiftly and efficiently with little fuss or struggle. The most effective songs in JAPAN’s repertoire were generally executed this way. There was one song, ’Angel In Furs’ which we had rehearsed to a similarly honed degree but which when we entered the studio suddenly seemed too obvious and simplistic when compared to the rest, and so it fell by the wayside very early on.
‘Some Kind Of Fool’ is the great lost JAPAN track and was replaced on the ‘Gentlemen Take Polaroids’ album with ‘Burning Bridges’. What were your memories about the song and its non-appearance on the album?
Unquestionably, it is a beautiful song. I struggled to find parts for it that didn’t intrude on its simple flow but eventually found parts that I was happy with.
After that, Ann O’Dell’s strings were added and it was at that point that David decided not to pursue recording it further, the main reason being I believe, that with the strings, it began to resemble ‘The Other Side Of Life’ too closely arrangement-wise which actually I can see was a very valid point.
I think in David’s head he was very conscious of the possibility of ‘Polaroids’ becoming ‘Quiet Life Part II’ which none of us wanted, although recording the majority of it at AIR and having the familiar figure of John Punter in the producer’s chair didn’t help.
In some ways, we wanted that easy relaxed camaraderie but that time had passed. Ironically the JAPAN version with a couple of embellishments and a re-recorded vocal eventually found its way onto the Sylvian compilation ‘Everything & Nothing’ but under his name alone, rather unfairly. Surprisingly, the guitar parts which I struggled over remain intact too. Anyone listening to this is essentially listening to an updated version of the original JAPAN band version.
You wrote the JAPAN B-side ‘The Width Of A Room’ but perhaps surprisingly, it was recorded using keyboards rather than guitar, was this more filmic direction something you would have liked to take further had there been an opportunity?
I was always the film buff in the band. Days off would invariably find me in one art house cinema in London or another. On our first Japan trip myself and Pip, the lighting director sneaked off for a screening of ‘Raging Bull’ which was not due to be released in the UK for several months.
Photo by Nicola Tyson
During the recording of ‘Polaroids’, I would slip away for a couple of hours to catch a new film on many occasions. For the release of the two-pack single of ‘Polaroids’, it was suggested that we all come up with a suitable instrumental track as a B-side.
I wrote ‘The Width Of A Room’ on an acoustic guitar in an open tuning. When it came to the recorded version however, I was the one who was most adamant that it be exclusively a keyboard piece, even though I was encouraged to add some guitar.
I think I wanted it to fit in, rather than someone to say, “Oh that must be the guitarist’s track”. Later when I lived in LA, I did work on a film score with a friend. The movie was some dreadful Charlie Sheen B-movie whose name I have conveniently forgotten and I learned quite quickly that writing music to express emotions that I wasn’t feeling was not something I could really enjoy doing.
It’s pretty well documented that you left JAPAN due to the feeling that your guitar work was being sidelined, do you feel some kind of kinship with Andy Taylor from DURAN DURAN in this respect in terms of a band evolving and not quite fitting in?
As time went on, I was finding it harder and harder to come up with guitar parts that I could be satisfied with on the new material. The track ‘European Son’ for instance, never featured a guitar part because I was never satisfied with anything I tried, although ironically just before my tenure with the band expired, I found a live option I was content with!
But it wasn’t only my own dissatisfaction. By the time of ‘Polaroids’, I felt that myself and David just weren’t on the same wavelength. Not sure we ever were to be honest, but it was more exposed by then.
Then there was talk of the band moving to Japan to live for a spell which I was not excited about. The rest of them had each other and very few others could penetrate this circle.
I on the other hand had the group of friends who I grew up with and still enjoyed seeing when I could. I wasn’t even sure that I wanted to live in such close proximity with these four other people at the exclusion of everyone else either. So the split was on the cards and inevitable.
Having left JAPAN in 1981 was it still difficult to still be playing on ‘The Art Of Parties’ Spring tour which saw the band make the breakthrough into theatres?
Not at all. I enjoyed playing the songs as much as I ever had, and my relationship with Mick, Rich and Steve was as good as ever, in fact in some ways it might have felt even more relaxed because there was less pressure on me. The only thing I wasn’t happy with was the way David suddenly treated me like a side man. But that was David for you, if you weren’t of any use to him any more then you basically didn’t exist. I don’t doubt there have been plenty with a similar experience over the years.
Around this period, you contributed EBowed guitar to the Numan track ‘Boys Like Me’ from ‘Dance’ which also featured Mick Karn, was that an improvised jam on your part?
Yes, I was invited to the studio on the same day Mick was laying down some bass parts. The track was pulled up, I plugged in and started playing around with an EBow part. Ready to do a proper pass, I found out that Gary was happy with what I had already done! For my own satisfaction I would have preferred recording a couple more takes that Gary could choose from but he felt it wasn’t necessary. We hung around the studio for the rest of the day and I also contributed whoops and hand claps on a B-side which was basically a fretless bass improvisation.
The song ‘Quiet Life’ is probably the best known JAPAN track you played on, so what did you think when it became a Top 20 hit in September 1981 belatedly some 18 months after it first featured on the parent album?
I was living in LA at that time and was barely aware of what was being released posthumously from the Hansa catalogue. I wasn’t really conscious of the re-release or success of any of those tracks. I remember a friend of mine from Epic Records handing me the disc ‘Japan’ which was an amalgam of tracks from ‘Polaroids’ and ‘Tin Drum’ with the most god awful photo of David looking like a secretary or something on the cover. It not surprisingly failed to set the US charts alight. I was busy concentrating on attempting to create a new life for myself on a different continent. Later Mick came out for a holiday. It was nice to hang out and lark about away from the rigidness of the band. We had a blast.
You were part of Numan’s live band during his 1982 comeback tour of clubs in America, reports indicate it wasn’t a happy one, what was your take on it?
It had its ups and downs, certainly. Generally as a band we enjoyed ourselves. Playing with the likes of Pino Palladino and Roger Mason was a great experience and I think we rehearsed solidly for six weeks before the first gig at Perkin’s Palace, a theatre known for rock shows in Pasadena. ‘The Tube’ were in evidence to record Gary’s ‘comeback’ for posterity and in doing so, their crew really messed up the power in the hall and the show was a disaster, despite our last rehearsals being in that very venue! We then had a tour bus setting on fire shortly after and had to wait it out while another was delivered.
Any funny stories you can tell?
I remember playing Boston where we played a large club with a low stage. From the floor there were so many hung lights on the stage that they obscured Pino’s head completely – we had a headless bass player!
In New Orleans, we played on a riverboat which went up and down the Mississippi while we played. Unfortunately Gary’s Mum who was the wardrobe mistress had left Gary’s trademark fedora in the hotel room which was of course then unreachable and so an announcement went out over the tannoy system to see if any of the audience had one Gary could use. When one failed to surface, he opted for the boat captain’s hat instead.
We were a tight, funky band and I would say that in general, we enjoyed each other’s company on the road a lot. WALL OF VOODOO, our support act on the tour were good friends of mine from LA and so a good time was had by all really. The negative aspects really stem from it not being a success financially, not from the players failing to get on or any inherent friction.
You continued working with Australian keyboardist Roger Mason from that Numan tour afterwards in ILLUSTRATED MAN?
Yes, we became firm friends on the tour, similar music tastes being the connection. After the Numan tour, Roger returned to the UK where he was living at the time and I followed soon after, the plan being to create our own music project.
We shared a flat in Ealing Common where we would stay up all night recording on a Fostex 4-track. In those days, we barely saw daylight. We were quite productive but ultimately nothing came of the tapes because we were sidetracked by another Aussie import, Philip Foxman who had recently secured a development deal with EMI.
Soon we became a band. I brought drummer Hugo Burnham into the fold, who I’d met in LA firstly when a band I worked with, VIVABEAT, supported THE GANG OF FOUR at the Palladium and later when he drummed for ABC on a promo US tour for ‘Beauty Stab’. We started demoing songs and got a deal with EMI / Parlophone.
We recorded an album with my good friend John Punter producing, but the project was doomed to failure as neither myself, Roger nor Hugo had much confidence in Philip as our frontman.
Nonetheless, we toured the UK as support to Nik Kershaw and with Cyndi Lauper and also did our own tour in the US, promoting a 12” EP of some of the album songs, but at the end of the tour Roger and I split and Hugo did the same soon after. The album as a result was never released.
What did you do after ILLUSTRATED MAN?
Later I would relocate to Australia and form my own band, THE SLOW CLUB. We signed to Virgin and released an album on which Roger’s keyboard expertise featured quite heavily and we had a minor hit over there. I still rate him as the best all-round keyboard player I have ever worked with and we are still good friends today.
You mention ABC, there is a deeper link with them isn’t there?
Yes, I first met those charming chaps in LA when they were touring ‘The Lexicon Of Love’, of which I was and still am a huge fan. I particularly hit it off with Martin, Mark and Stephen.
We met again when they were promoting ‘Beauty Stab’ in LA a year later. I even accompanied them on their taping for American Bandstand. Later when I moved back to the UK we often saw each other socially.
Martin and I went to PRINCE’s ‘Lovesexy’ tour at Wembley together and also Bowie’s ‘Glass Spider’ show amongst others.
So it was somewhat inevitable that I would end up on an ABC recording somewhere down the line! When that time came, I played on two songs which at that point were demos I believe. They were ‘The Night You Murdered Love’ and ‘Paper Thin’. Although I didn’t play on the album recording, my parts were still used on the ‘Alphabet City’ version of the former and sometime later ‘Paper Thin’ surfaced with all my contributions on the ‘Up’ album. Obviously I haven’t seen any of the ABC boys in many years, although in the mid-2000s Martin and his family visited me here at home for a few days which was lovely.
Can you talk about the Bamboo fanzine and how this helped facilitate SINÉAD O’CONNOR’s debut UK live performance?
The Bamboo fanzine, essentially created for JAPAN’s fanbase, was run by Debi Zornes and Howard Sawyer, both at the time staunch fans of the band. After I had left the band and returned to the UK, we became close and spent a fair bit of time in each other’s company.
When I began working with Sinéad, it seemed logical that I would suggest we play a few songs together at one of the annual fanzine get-togethers at the 100 Club in Oxford Street. Thankfully Sinéad was into the idea although I’m not sure her manager at the time, Fiachra Trench was quite as positive!
At that point she had not debuted in public at all, so for our relatively modest little gathering, it was actually quite a coup.
We played three songs with myself accompanying Sinéad on electric guitar – ‘Jackie’ (from the forthcoming debut album), ‘I Fall To Pieces’ (a Patsy Cline cover) and ‘All Tomorrow’s Parties’, THE VELVET UNDERGROUND song and the only song with a strong link to JAPAN. Not surprisingly, she was well received.
Can you tell us about O’Connor’s debut album and the two different versions which were recorded?
I was working in the West Country with a band called CRAZY HOUSE who were signed to Chrysalis. For the most part, I was miserable living in Trowbridge (a dead end town if ever I saw one!) and I soon discovered that this particular band dynamic was very oppressive.
By chance I bumped into Tim Butler from THE PSYCHEDELIC FURS who invited me to his wedding nearby. There I was invited to tour with The Furs, which I declined as I still felt a commitment to CRAZY HOUSE.
Soon after however I heard a demo of Sinéad and expressed interest in working with her, although at that point she had a guitarist on board. Except I soon learned that he had been offered and had accepted the touring gig with The Furs that I had turned down, so the gig with Sinéad was mine and I hotfooted it out of Trowbridge – commitment be damned!
For the next year together with the rest of her band, we honed the material that would comprise her first album. We had a rehearsal space at Nomis studios booked solidly for months at a time.
When time came to record the album, Mick Glossop was chosen as producer. He had a strong connection to her record label, Ensign through his work with THE WATERBOYS and seemed like a logical choice.
So the sessions began in Townhouse studios. For the most part, Glossop had the entire band record live in the studio which was far from ideal, somewhat chaotic and in many ways counter-productive.
At that point the songs were quite electric / folk in feel. We finished the album, which Ensign then sent out to several producers to remix.
But due to the organic way it had been recorded and with the lack of any time codes or click tracks, it was unanimously deemed impossible to remix. So there needed to be a massive rethink. It was decided to re-record the tracks with Kevin Moloney producing in a much more pared down fashion.
The only part of the original sessions that survived were the orchestral tracks which were integral to the epic song ‘Troy’. The second incarnation was very different to the first, with Sinéad’s fiery vocals much more to the fore and a lot of the instrumental embellishments absent. There are certainly tracks from the original sessions that I wish could be heard and maybe one day they will. There’s a wonderfully unique take on THE DOORS song ‘The Crystal Ship’, for instance.
After the recording of the second album, Sinéad found herself pregnant and the album release was put back until she gave birth. In the meantime, I took a gig in Australia which led me on that different path, and so my time with her came to an end. Marco Pirroni added some guitar to two tracks closer to the release date and after I had left for Australia. Throughout it all, working closely with her during that time had been a joy. She was sweet, warm, considerate and a pleasure to be around not to mention an undeniable force of nature.
You reconnected with Jansen, Barbieri and Karn in 1993 on the ‘Beginning To Melt’ album on the ‘Ego Dance’ track, what are your recollections of this?
At the time, I had been living in a small cabin in the woods close to a beach in Costa Rica with an outside toilet and no electricity, surrounded by all manner of wildlife (yep, I loved every minute of it!).
So when I returned for a visit to the UK and was invited to record on a track with my ex-band mates, I was far from prepared.
I had barely touched an electric guitar in two years. I knew that I could do a lot better. So basically I did not feel comfortable even though I had the support of old friends and bandmates, whom it was hugely enjoyable hanging out with again after so long. The session was recorded at Steve’s flat at the time in Notting Hill. What I remember most was relaxing and laughing a lot. Steven Wilson and Theo Travis were there too, I think.
In 2016, you shared a really touching post about the late Mick Karn, what was it like with working and spending time with him in the band?
Mick was always from the day we met, a creative force. He was funny and very likeable. He was the personality in the band, the one that most people were drawn towards because he was the most approachable and I believe most enigmatic. Working with him was always inspiring as a musician and I feel grateful to have known him in that capacity. Like everyone, it wasn’t all highs – he had his down times too.
I think my favorite moments came after the band though, out of David’s controlling shadow, just hanging out as friends. I wish I had been around to spend time with him in the later years of his life, but I rarely ventured back to the UK or Europe. I often wonder if ‘missing’ someone is the appropriate term when you haven’t seen each other for decades, but I guess it’s just the reality that if you wanted to, he wouldn’t be there to hang out with anymore.
You dropped out of the industry to become a professional ornithologist and artist, but are now on the verge of releasing some new material, what made you want to get back into making more high profile music?
When I decided to move to Costa Rica, I had no plan and no idea what path I wished to take. I only knew that I needed a change.
It certainly wasn’t on the cards that I would become so enraptured with birds that I would become some sort of authority on them and subsequently illustrate field guides for a living. So music in the last almost 30 years had, by design taken a back seat and up until recently, I had absolutely no desire to rekindle the flame of musical creativity. I think it really boils down to meeting someone who was completely open to my ideas and realizing that recording new music could still be enjoyable, refreshing and inspiring after years and years of disconnect.
ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK have had a sneak preview of the new album and there is quite a diverse range of influences in it, both electronic and rock, what is the line-up and your role(s) within it?
Our project LIGHT OF DAY is essentially my collaborator Isaac Moraga and myself. We co-wrote, arranged and produced all of the material, bar one cover.
Isaac sings and plays guitars, I play guitars, EBow and loops as well as backing vocals. The rest are top rate Costa Rican musicians playing keyboards, bass, percussion and drums.
Certainly the influences are diverse and to a large extent, I would say the album ‘Dimensions’ is a result of all those years not being musically creative, as if after being bottled up inside, it all flooded out through the pieces that Isaac and I have created.
It’s quite a big sound which feels to me like a celebration – positive, propulsive, energetic and atmospheric. There are some epic soundscapes there with echoes of 80s style electronica, ambient, 70s prog rock and more contemporary elements too. At the moment we are fine tuning with a few remixes and Ed Buller is helping out in this department.
Generally I am very happy with this album. Someone said that they thought it was my best work and I think they might be right. In any case I really hope it finds an audience. The plan is to release it on CD, vinyl and digitally some time soon. If anyone is interested they can check out some previews on the LIGHT OF DAY Facebook page.
Recently I also released a digital EP with Martin Birke from GENRE PEAK of ambient-style pieces called ‘Triptych’, which we plan to release on CD with extra content at some point, and I hope to record an album of ambient soundscapes some time in the near future too.
ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK gives its warmest thanks to ROB DEAN
While ABC continues today as a live entity under the captaincy of Martin Fry, that longevity might not have been possible without the band’s co-founders Mark White and Stephen Singleton.
White and Singleton had been members of the Sheffield experimental electronic act VICE VERSA who Fry joined after interviewing them for his fanzine ‘Modern Drugs’.
As they absorbed wider influences, especially ones centred around the dancefloor, they morphed into ABC, eventually releasing ‘The Lexicon Of Love’ in Summer 1982 to great critical acclaim and commercial success.
Mark White and Stephen Singleton agreed to chat about their ABC days to give another perspective to the story…
VICE VERSA were a very manifesto driven band, were ABC the same?
Mark: It wasn’t manifesto-ish, but we did have a kind of plot. We wanted to have a really strong central character who was just ‘Mr. Heartache’ so that was the kind of plot.
So was that why Martin was on the sleeves and artwork, just him in a David Sylvian in JAPAN type of way?
Stephen: We felt it was really important to have a focal point like the way that Bryan Ferry was the focal point of ROXY MUSIC. That’s the way we went with the sleeves of ‘Tears Are Not Enough’ and ‘Poison Arrow’. In the same way that on ‘The Lexicon Of Love’, there’s Martin, the girl and the gun on the stage and then the reverse of that is the engine room of that with Mark with the flowers, with me sat there like the director and David Palmer like a caretaker.
Mark: We always had a strong sense of wanting it be filmic and even with the music, we just loved John Barry’s scores for Bond and we wanted the album to have that kind of scale.
Can you tell us about the role of Anne Dudley on ‘The Lexicon of Love’?
Mark: Anne was brought in as a session keyboard player, I think she did all of Trevor’s work with THE BUGGLES.
Stephen: Yes, she came in to do some keyboards on ‘Poison Arrow’ which was the first thing that we recorded with Trevor Horn. The next one we started to record was ‘The Look of Love’ and we liked that John Barry sound and the kind of pizzicato strings on Adam Faith. We wanted to use real strings but at first, Trevor was like “oh no, string players are a nightmare” and “I don’t want to do that, we can use a string machine”. So I took down an Adam Faith album and I said it’s never going to sound like this. So he said “ok, we’ll do it” and fortunately ‘Poison Arrow’ was a big hit, so the record company said “OK, you can do strings on ‘The Look of Love’.”
Mark: That’s a fantastic experience just being in the room when an orchestra is playing your song, it’s really moving, I genuinely felt moved to tears. It was “oh my God!”
Stephen: Anne did the string arrangements for that and we were totally blown away by it. Then it was “can we put strings on this one? Can we put strings on that one?”
Mark: Well to my shame, when we’d recorded ‘All of My Heart’ and it had all been done, I was like “yeah, that sounds great!”. But Trevor said “no, Mark, strings, strings on that one”. He literally said “it’ll be a Top 10”. I was dubious and wanted it in writing so I said “OK Trevor will you sign this then?” and he said “absolutely!” and he was right!
Going from ‘Poison Arrow’ to ‘The Look of Love’, there was definitely a move towards classic pop. Of course when you started ‘Tears Are Not Enough’ probably got lumped in with that New Funk thing that was going on. There was SPANDAU BALLET with ‘Chant No.1’, HAIRCUT 100 to a lesser extent with ‘Favourite Shirts’ and the more art funk stuff like 23 SKIDOO, A CERTAIN RATIO, that kind of thing.
Mark: I call it White Scratch Funk.
However with yourselves, SPANDAU BALLET and HAIRCUT 100, it was only one-off singles. It was a sound you didn’t really touch again?
Mark: You’re right, we didn’t take that any further. We wanted to be a lot more epic and on a much greater scale, you know this filmic idea.
I mean Trevor couldn’t understand why we’d approached him at all. He was like “but you’ve got this white funk record already in the charts, what am I going to do?”; so we played him a few things and he was like “oh, I can do that”.
Stephen: We’d got into this idea that we wanted to do this kind of James Brown thing and took the inspiration from that and that was the kind of first incarnation of ABC. It was that scratchy guitar and the brass and everything and we were playing gigs round London doing that style. And then people like HAIRCUT 100 came down to see us play our early gigs and then ran away and did the same thing!
It became a bit of movement and Spandau wanted to go in that direction as well. The first Spandau thing was more synth based with Gary Kemp on synth. I think everybody then was like “oh my God, we need to get on this particular sound”. We then wanted to move away from that… we met Trevor and he was like “why do you need me to produce you?”. We said that we wanted it to sound slick, we wanted it to sound amazing. We’d moved away from that funky, simple style…
Mark: We thought we sounded like CHIC and we so didn’t!
That comes later in 1987 doesn’t it when you work with Bernard Edwards on ‘The Night You Murdered Love’? ?
Stephen: CHIC were a big influence, me and Mark went to see CHIC play at the Sheffield City Hall and at the time were doing VICE VERSA. We saw them and it was like “oh my God, that is so amazing!” We went to the gig and everybody is sat down watching. Me and Mark had bought these tickets which were at the edge of the stage but restricted view, cheapy things and we were there and we’d watched about two or three songs and we were like “oh f*** this, we’ve got to f***ing dance! We can’t sit down!” And so we got up and we were like at the front of the City Hall and people were like “Sit down! Sit down!”.
Nile Rogers came to the edge of the stage and shook our hands and said “these guys know what CHIC is all about” and let everybody get up and dance. We were there and it was like (*int Northern accent*) “Move out of way! We’re trying to watch band!”
Mark: The concert was so good, they did two shows that evening….
Stephen: We went back to see the second show as well.
Mark: We came out of it, bought a ticket at the box office and watched it all again, it was that good!
Stephen: There was another thing, there was an ULTRAVOX gig like that in Sheffield, it was on the 21st of September 1978.
Mark: At The Limit….
Stephen: I know that because there’s this guy who is an ULTRAVOX completist and he wanted to know if they had played in Sheffield, so I was thinking “yes they did, they played at The Limit”. So I consulted my diary from 1978…
Mark: That black book, it’s incredible…
Stephen: The entry said “ULTRAVOX, Limit, very good! I may now go to Manchester to see them play”. Looking back on that period, the day before, THE STRANGLERS had played at the Top Rank and THE SKIDS were going to support, but THE SKIDS got on ‘Top of the Pops’ so THE HUMAN LEAGUE stepped up and did that gig. So one night I was seeing THE STRANGLERS and THE HUMAN LEAGUE, you would have been there as well am sure. ULTRAVOX did the two gigs at The Limit because so many people wanted to see them, they were just becoming more noticed…
Stephen: Yeah. So they were scheduled to do one show, there were so many people outside that club that they filled the club, did the show and then said to everybody “you’ve got to go home to let in the second lot of people”.
I hid in the toilet so I that didn’t get thrown out! It was like (*knock, knock*) “Is there anybody in there?” and I’ve got my feet up… I’ve got a mine of information with the diaries of who we went to see. CHIC were a big influence, they said they saw ROXY MUSIC and wanted to be the black ROXY MUSIC and we saw them and wanted to be the white CHIC didn’t we?
Where do you stand on the two different versions of ‘Tears Are Not Enough”? ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK still favours the Steve Brown single version over the album version…..
Mark: I will be honest, I skip that track. It was really hard to make it fit on the album…
Stephen: We were trying to make it fit in on the album. Trevor didn’t want to re-record it, he thought that wasn’t the right thing to do. The best version of it that we did was a version that we re-recorded for ‘Swap Shop’. The weird thing was when we recorded ‘Tears Are Not Enough’ with Steve Brown, it took f***ing ages to do, we’d not been in a big studio before and we wanted it to sound perfect of course. We were in there and we didn’t have the ability to make it really sound like how we wanted it to sound.
Mark: We just wished we’d known about the Linn Drum…..
Stephen: We’d spent so long trying to record it, it took us ages and ages to get all the parts down…
Mark: It was nervous breakdown time wasn’t it?
Stephen: It wasn’t at all enjoyable. Then we got offered the chance to go on ‘Swap Shop’, re-recorded it and it took about half an hour to do and it sounded better than the 7” single version because by that time, we’d got David Palmer in on drums which made a huge difference.
We’d learned more, we’d gone through that process, that baptism of fire of being in a great big recording studio with the microscope over you and we went to RAK Studios and did it in pretty much in one take. And then had the brass players come down and do their bits. It was all done really, really quickly.
But, originally recording ‘Tears Are Not Enough’ was not a lot of fun really for all of us. Apart from Mark, he was like “I’ll do my guitar now… chhk, chhk, chhk”, one take “I’ve finished!” It was a difficult, a learning curve for us. Steve Brown wasn’t really the best producer for us.
Mark: Up to this day, I don’t why we ended up with him. Do you?
Stephen: No, I think it was a recommendation from the record company.
He was known for some of the funk pop stuff, because he ended up doing WHAM!
Stephen: He did WHAM! Because George Michael was a massive ABC fan and wanted to sound like ABC, so then he went with Steve Brown.
Mark: We get a namecheck on a George Michael album don’t we? He was talking about London in that period and he namechecks ABC and maybe THE STYLE COUNCIL or something?
Stephen: THE JAM and that kind of thing… we had a friend called Mark Dean who had actually worked with WHAM! and we were down at Mark Dean’s house in Bushey and we met WHAM! who went to London clubs and they’d seen ABC and they wanted to meet up with us.
Mark Dean said “oh, my mates are going to come over and meet you”. So me and Martin met George and Andrew at Mark Dean’s house where we’d gone down to stay the night. Andrew said “George, play them that song we’ve been working on” and there’s a piano in Mark Dean’s house and George played ‘Careless Whisper’. And I was like “have you written that?” and he said “yeah, yeah” and I was like “are you sure?”*laughs*
I was thinking it was like a COMMODORES track that I’d not heard and he was going “no, no, I’ve written it!” and I was like “is that like one of the best songs I’ve heard or absolutely sh*te?!” I couldn’t really work it out, is he a genius or am I totally wrong on this?
Mark: He was famous for working really quickly though George, I worked with a keyboard player that he used, and George would say “just leave me alone, give me an hour” and he would come back and there’s practically a finished hit record there, a phenomenal speed of working…
What about the ABC songwriting process, was there a set method?
Mark: Jamming! Because it was band based then really….
Stephen: We were doing a VICE VERSA tour in Holland as our mate Mike Pickering had moved over to Holland. We stayed at Mike’s house and we met these guys who had a record shop and studio in Rotterdam and they were like “come with us to our studio…”
Mark: This was a key moment, because we’d got some unrecorded VICE VERSA songs that we’d been playing live… it came out as a single on Backstreet with ‘Stilyagi’ backed with ‘Eyes of Christ’.
Stephen: When we first went to the studio they were going “record something!” and we were like, “erm, well we use synthesizers and we can’t really do that”. But Martin was like “oh no, come on let’s make some music”, so I’d picked up a bass guitar and there was a little drum machine there. Mark picked up the guitar and we just started jamming round….
Mark: I remember we’d heard that Bowie had done some of the ‘Lodger’ album by just suggesting that everybody swapped their instruments and we thought ok we’ll do that. So it was like, Martin, why don’t you sing? We hadn’t heard him sing before and I don’t think he even knew he could and we just went “what the hell was that?!”
Stephen: He was just ad libbing things, vocal ideas, we were like, this is fantastic! And that was the kind of inspiration for Mark to step down from doing vocals.
Mark: This has never happened in pop I resigned as the lead singer! I’m still waiting for my OBE, it’s not forthcoming. As far as I know, it’s never happened before in history! *laughs*
Ah, Vince Clarke stepped down as vocalist for Dave Gahan in what became DEPECHE MODE…
Stephen: We’d met Martin who’d come to interview us and we kind of dragged him into being in the band. It was like “don’t worry about anything Martin, you stand at the side, you don’t have to do much. Just hit the keyboard, it’s a synthesizer, we’ll set it to white noise, and you go ‘Tish! Tish!’”.
Mark: He came to interview us for his fanzine ‘Modern Drugs’ but we both just looked at each other and said “we’re doing a gig in Middleborough in ten days time Martin, would you fancy just being in the band?” To which his reply was “but I don’t play an instrument!”*laughs*
Stephen: It doesn’t matter does it?
Mark: Literally, it was the punk age and it didn’t matter. Ok, look we’ve got a little oscillator, we’ll hook it up to a WEM Copicat and just make funny noises and it’ll be great! Am so glad we did that…
Stephen: So we did this tape in Holland and then thought this is really good and interesting, let’s work along that line and we looked for a drummer and bass player. Because we thought that Martin’s voice wouldn’t really suit the synthesized sound, we wanted that more organic sound and there was a house in Sheffield that Martin lived in with a guy called Disco John who was a DJ. The house was practically derelict…
Mark: …it was like a Coronation Street row of terraces…
Stephen: …which were due to be knocked down…
Mark: …in post-Industrial Sheffield, just all falling apart and there were just loads of places to rehearse and I’m sure that’s why so much came out of Sheffield in that period. You could get the most incredible rehearsal room for nothing!
Stephen: Martin lived there with John and in the dining room, there was his sound system and decks and we’d go into the other little room. And the way we started was just by going in there every day and just jamming around on ideas and learning to play whilst John would be practicing his DJ stuff.
Mark: The neighbours must have hated us! And then we’d go and watch THE HUMAN LEAGUE on ‘Top Of The Pops’ doing ‘The Sound Of The Crowd’… and we were like “Ooh! They’ve done alright haven’t they actually…..”
Stephen: That’s how it was. It was that kind of learning curve of playing around with ideas and thinking “this is quite a good idea, this could be a chorus” and then we’d write something else. It was like “hang on, the chorus of this song, this could be a verse” and we’d be like chopping and changing and fusing them together. We’d write lots of different things and go through this process of elimination; it was a learning process…
Mark: Teaching ourselves how to do it….
Stephen: We listened to a lot of Motown, the way they would put things together and Martin was a big fan of Smokey Robinson.
Mark: Around that time, we must have been crazy, we thought we’d be able to do both concepts at the same time; like continue VICE VERSA and the other side project that we’d already started calling ABC.
Stephen: We had different names, the first was RADICAL DANCE FACTION and there actually is a band called that now. I think it’s possible they stole that! Then Martin had this idea of music being a drug: “don’t take drugs, listen to music, don’t drink, don’t smoke, music should be the drug, music is a vitamin”, then we were thinking VITAMIN Z but there’s also a band that came out called VITAMIN Z.
Funnily enough, the singer of VITAMIN Z is now the manager of ARCTIC MONKEYS!
Stephen: We were kind of like selling off these names to different bands so it was “let’s call it VITAMIN ABC”. And I was thinking, “it’s ok but why don’t we just call it ABC?”, then we’re not saying we’re a dance faction or whatever. We’re saying it’s just a name that would fit everything. Then we added the three stars to it, so it’s ABC, it’s got a logo, there’s three little stars, that’s the bands’ name and then it could be all encompassing, that’s how we did it.
The first gig we did was at Psalter Lane Art College, our friends came to see us and we’d been rehearsing the new band so we didn’t know what people would think.
But we knew when we did that first gig that it must be good, because our friends who before when we were VICE VERSA had being going “oh yeah, I like what you do”, were going “f*** me, this is f***ing amazing! It’s f***ing brilliant!”.
There were people screaming at the first gig. People were talking, “oh my God, they’re doing something different now and they’re playing guitars and it’s funky…”
Mark: Then all the record companies were chasing us, which is just the best situation you can have. You get the ridiculous situation of a massive black limo turning up, and it was the boss of CBS and Muff Winwood was there as well…
Stephen: …Dave Betteridge and Muff Winwood…
Mark: …outside this tiny little Coronation Street tumbling down house and this limo strolls up!
Stephen: At that point we’d got absolutely nothing, we were on the dole, no money whatsoever.
Mark: We would pay ourselves in cash, remember those old little brown envelopes? Where you got your wages. What were we on? £35 a week?
Stephen: When we signed the deal, we were like “we’ve got to make the money last…”
Mark: When we were on ‘Top Of The Pops’, we were getting £35 per week. Even when we went on tour after a couple of hits, we couldn’t afford the room service! *laughs*
Stephen: Yeah, we were on £50 a week then…
Mark: We gave ourselves a pay rise up to £50!
Stephen: When Muff Winwood came up to Sheffield and we played him ‘Poison Arrow’, he was saying “that’s a hit, that is, amazing!”, that’s we thought we’re really onto something.
Ok, so you’ve got your songs written for ‘The Lexicon of Love’ and you’re working with Trevor Horn. It was a happier time than working with Steve Brown?
Mark: Oh, absolutely fantastic… well I think Trevor would be the first to say that he needs songs to work with and I think that’s why he took the project on. He could hear things we couldn’t hear. But at that point, he’d not got into the habit of recording the whole thing and scrapping it and starting again. It wasn’t like that was it?
There’s a video of THE BUGGLES performing ‘Lenny’ with ABC as the backing band, how did that come about?
Mark: ‘Tears Are Not Enough’ had already been a hit and we were recording ‘Poison Arrow’ at that time. Trevor said “I’ve got a single out in Holland and they’ve asked me to appear, would you like to be a Buggle for a day?” and we were just up for a laugh. Stephen was doing a brilliant Mick Karn on that, check that out, the Mick Karn moves are all there! *laughs*
Mick Karn was your boy crush wasn’t he Stephen?
Stephen: Yeah, yeah, definitely, one of them! The song was called ‘Lenny’, the reason why it was a hit is because there’s a DJ in Holland called Lenny who made it his theme tune. I think we all wore sunglasses or something; that was a lot of fun. I don’t think the bass was plugged in though and what I was doing would bear any relation to the song! *laughs*
Mark: A short while ago by pure chance I met a girl singer, she said “Mark, we’ve got a connection! I sang on ‘Video Killed The Radio Star’”; I said are you the “woah, woah, woah” girl? She said “no, the other bit” when it all breaks down and she sings “…star, a radio star…”, so we were all sat on a sofa three ex-BUGGLES all in the room at the same time, it’s one for the books!
Trevor Horn is notorious, so how much does it become his album and how much control did you guys have?
Stephen: We’d got a lot of songs which we thought were going to make up the album and Trevor refused to work on them. There were a lot of songs that we’d been playing live and he was like “You know what? This just isn’t good enough”. We were going like “F*** you! What do you mean it’s not good enough?”.
But it inspired us and I remember him saying “You know what you need on this album, you need a ballad”. And we were going “A ballad? What do you think we are? We’re not going to do a ballad”. But we were inspired to go back… we were back in Sheffield for the weekend. We went down to our rehearsal room, then Mark came into the rehearsal room saying “You know he was going on about like he wants to write a ballad for us, well I’ve got this idea…”
Mark: ‘All of My Heart’…
Stephen: It was just the first little bit of ‘All of My Heart’, so we wrote it and went back to Sarm East and said “right, you wanted a ballad, we’ve written one”. There were a lot of things in the studio that were written and created in the studio.
‘Valentine’s Day’ was an entirely different song, it was called ‘Surrender’ and that went through a major overhaul. It was written in the studio and Martin heard the different direction of the way the music was going and wrote a totally different set of lyrics.
So it was very fresh and Trevor’s thing was the quality control on the songs. He pushed us up that notch, but things weren’t done over months, it was quick. Things changed for Trevor later on when he started spending a lot more time doing things.
With us, it was like “we’re going to put the piano on it, it’s done. We’re going to put some percussion on it, it’s done. We’ll do the vocals, they’re done”. It wasn’t a massively laborious process. It couldn’t, be there wasn’t much of a budget and time to do it.
The gestation time for all of this, from ‘Tears Are Not Enough’ to ‘The Lexicon Of Love’ coming out, it’s only about four months, something like that? That’s nothing today!
Stephen: The album was recorded over a period of about three months…
Mark: Mostly at Sarm East……
Stephen: And at that time when we were recording it, we were also promoting ‘Tears Are Not Enough’.
Mark: Everybody we were working with then was on top of their game, the studio team became THE ART OF NOISE; Trevor, Anne, Gary Langan and JJ Jeczalik the Fairlight programmer.
Stephen: The thing that Trevor could do… we’d say to him “we want to sound like something you’d hear in the American charts, like a DARYL HALL & JOHN OATES. We want it to sound incredible, we don’t want it to sound like some indie funk band, we want to take it further”.
Trevor as a producer knew these people who he could draft in. We didn’t know anybody did we? We didn’t know who the best person to play keyboards on it…
Mark: He knew really top quality musicians, he’d go “you want congas? Oh yeah, I know a guy!”
Stephen: In a way. it was a first for all of us because it was the first album apart from ‘Adventures in Modern Recording’ which was his own, he produced that album, that’s where he said how he learned his craft. It was a kind of a Trevor solo album in a way.
Mark: Before us, all he’d done was THE BUGGLES and DOLLAR…..
Stephen: …and he’d done THE JAGS…. ‘Back of My Hand’ was another one that he’d worked on, that he was very proud of. So it was a first for a lot of people and everybody was excited. These things happen where everybody is in the right place at the right time… boom!
Mark: We’d also had a really good A&R man, Chris Briggs, he just got it….
Stephen: Another important person at time was Jill Sinclair, who was Trevor’s wife. She would go in to Phonogram and say “look, you’ve got to do a video for this, this is going to be huge”.
Mark: She could kick butt…
Stephen: She kicked ass on behalf of us and on behalf of Trevor of course. I’d be going in there asking “can we have some badges made?” and they’d be saying “Hmmm, I don’t know, I don’t know if there’s a budget for that…” The problem was we were trying to manage ourselves at that time and we were going into Phonogram, seeing if we could get a budget to get a nice photographer or do a promo tour or whatever. So that was extremely useful.
The band very much embraced the video promo era, for ‘All of My Heart’, the director was more well known for his photography wasn’t he?
Mark: It was a guy called Brian Duffy who took the picture for Bowie’s ‘Aladdin Sane’ cover….
What are your memories of that video, Centre Point is in it a one point?
Mark: That’s the star of the show really! *laughs*
Stephen: I think that video was pants, crap! *laughs*
The idea that we had was that we would perform the song on a revolving stage and that would be it. Duffy wanted to use it as a showreel for getting into commercials, so there’s a plug being pulled out of the wall and blood coming down and a rose…
Mark: The trouble is, it’s so bloody expensive to make film and we never had the budgets really.
Stephen: Duffy was a great person, a great personality, really interesting but I just thought it wasn’t very good…
Mark: The difference between video and film is with video, when you record it, if you don’t like it, you go “oh, wrong idea, let’s try again”. With film, you’re committed to it and often they’re coming up with these incredible treatments and oh boy, can they sell them! They make it sound like it’s going to be ‘Gone With The Wind’ and it never is! *laughs*
‘The Look of Love’ video is awful! What are your thoughts on that?
Mark: I think that caused Trevor to nearly have a nervous breakdown. In fact he’s on record as saying “oh, f***ing hell, I’m going to have to start my own record company!”.
Stephen: I thought ‘Poison Arrow’ was great…
Mark: Julian Temple did that one…
Stephen: That fitted in with the whole concept of the band, had a story to it and was executed correctly, the kind of Technicolor aspect to it, the whole style. It had some humour in it. With ‘The Look of Love’ it was like everybody was taking us really seriously, let’s do something that’s a bit fun and it turned out like an outtake from a Benny Hill show, and as Mark said, you’re committed, you do this stuff and then you see it and you think… oh, ok!
Mark: The way the treatment was presented to us, it made it sound like it was going to be like ‘An American In Paris’, that’s how it was sold to us.
Stephen: Martin loved ‘An American In Paris’ and he was going, “that will be great!” and it ended up being a joke…
Mark: It’s deeply upsetting and you can’t do anything about it, because it’s done and already cost you a fortune.
Stephen: The Brian Duffy one ‘All of my Heart’, I thought was going to be a little bit like THE POLICE one where they had all the candles and everything…
‘Wrapped Around Your Finger’?
Stephen: Yeah, the revolving dias, with us there, Mark playing piano and I think I was going to be playing tubular bells. That’s in there for like a millisecond and then it’s back to Martin walking under the bridge, and then some girl there holding a box of chocolates. It’s like “What the f***! What the f*** is this?”*laughs*
But that’s what happened. I think that what we did when we appeared on television programs for ‘The Look of Love’, we did the dance routine, we said “let’s do this, let’s give it THE FOUR TOPS treatment”, we loved all that stuff. That was more in keeping with what we were about and it probably worked better as a video. At the time, the costs of those videos, was like “I can buy a semi-detached house for that”.
OK, let’s talk about ‘Mantrap’? We’ll get our coats? *laughs*
Mark: Ok, turn the tape off! Can you shut them up? *laughs*
Was the link into ‘Mantrap’ as a result of Julien Temple working on ‘Poison Arrow’?
Mark: ‘Mantrap’ should have been left as a live video, simple, just film the concert… no, everybody’s got these, want to be a movie director ambitions. It’s my personal project, I’m trying to buy up all the copies!
Unfortunately it’s on YouTube in six parts…
Mark: The acting in that is so wooden, it should have a fire warning on it! It’s terrible! *laughs*
Stephen: We got a budget to film a concert at Hammersmith Odeon and then somebody had this idea, “I know let’s do a little story to go with it…”
Mark: You guys like Bond, let’s come up with some sort of absurd spy theme… it looks like I spend the entire concert tuning my guitar. It was an oscilloscope back in the day, that’s what they looked like.
Stephen: I don’t know how long it takes to write a film script normally, but the script for ‘Mantrap’ was written after a concert we did in Oxford, in a pub in half an hour. “We’ve cracked it now, I’ll get somebody to work out all the dialogue”. I still get people coming up to me and reciting my lines from the film, they come up and go “Oh Stephen, why don’t we try those string players? Oh yes, I’m sorry about that Tony, come on, get on the stage! Martin, it’s the first song, ‘Show Me’”. *laughs*
Mark: Oh dear, some things can’t be undone… sadly!
Stephen: Mark doesn’t like it, I like it…
Mark: You don’t!
Stephen: I like sh*t like that I really do. I watch Talking Pictures Television and there are loads and loads of films that are like that! *laughs*
Mark: It’s YouTube! I don’t get that…
Stephen: You’re going to have to complain and get it taken down Mark…
What do you think the enduring appeal of ‘The Lexicon of Love’ is after 37 odd years?
Mark: Well, all the songs are quality and it was groundbreaking production at the time. And there’s just something about that era, it struck a chord. That whole period now is a golden one isn’t it? It seems bizarre, it seemed to capture a spirit at that time, I think that’s why. We weren’t they only ones, a lot of other people did it.
Better than ‘Dare? ?
Phil Oakey thinks ‘Dare’ is the best album of the 80s, he’s so wrong! Jonathan Ross puts him straight on that when he was on his show, did you see that? Phil says “well, we did make the best album of the 80s” and Ross says “not even Phil, you know it was ‘The Lexicon of Love’”. That must have stung! *laughs*
John Taylor of DURAN DURAN was absolutely petrified of ABC and thinking “what are they going to come up with next?” There was this story about him buying ‘The Lexicon of Love’, taking it home…..
Mark: Doing voodoo on it! *laughs*
He literally saw you as a bigger threat than SPANDAU BALLET…
Stephen: I think that at the time, we were ambitious and there was a lot of competition out there and the idea was that we wanted to be the best, that was it. We wanted to make the best album, we wanted to be the best band, we wanted to write the best songs. We knew people, we knew SPANDAU BALLET, because there was that whole scene going on…
In Sheffield there were clubs. In London there was the club scene, we’d met up with Spandau and Steve Dagger. We’d been to play the Rum Runner, we’d met DURAN DURAN. We were all around the same age and influenced by the same people, you know Bowie, Bolan, Roxy. We were the next generation, we were inspired to form bands and it was very competitive…
Mark: Have you heard the Bowie and ABC story? Ok, well, we were recording ‘The Look of Love’ in Tony Visconti’s Good Earth studio. We were down in the basement recording and the phone rings “oh, hello, would you mind if David sits in on the session?” And we were like, “David who?” And it was Bowie! *laughs*
Stephen: He kind of blessed the whole thing…
Mark: He made a suggestion for the middle of the record, because at that point, there was just a big hole, nothing going on and he said “oh, how about having someone dialling an answerphone, you could have that in the middle”. But we couldn’t really tell him that we’d already done something very similar in the middle of ‘Poison Arrow’…
Stephen: We don’t like your idea! *laughs*
Mark: This is how utterly stoked I was. We bumped into him again coming in and out of the studio and apparently I had a very erudite conversation with Bowie about Bertolt Brecht.
He’d just put out the ‘Baal’ EP and I said, “oh, I studied Bertolt Brecht for A-Level German” and we apparently had this amazing conversation, but the trouble is I can’t remember anything about it! I was so nervous and I still don’t know whether Steve’s made the whole thing up!
Stephen: I was sat there nodding my head and thinking “what are you talking about? Bertolt who?”; Bowie was going “…that was his first play” and Mark was like “ha, ha, ha, yes, you can tell, ha, ha, ha!” and they were having these in-jokes about Brecht and Weill…
Mark: I probably did say that, but I have absolutely no memory of it! He was there at the door, I was talking to him, but I blanked out for like half an hour… no memory at all, tragic, that’s fandom! *laughs*
Stephen: Another funny thing about meeting David Bowie was that he did a great Sheffield accent. I remember him hearing me speak in my Sheffield accent and he said “Ohhh or, reight thas from Sheffield are tha?”
Mark: Didn’t Bowie reply “Me fatha wo from Donneh?”
Stephen: Yes ! Hahaha…
Mark: To translate. that means “my father was from Doncaster!” …anyway, he then came to see us at Hammersmith Odeon, thank God the roadies didn’t tell us until after. Bowie came and asked to sit with the sound engineer, imagine? I would have wet myself!
Stephen: My brother and sister had to the Hammersmith Odeon show and I’d arranged to get them tickets. We were just about to go on the stage and somebody came backstage and said “somebody claiming to be your brother has been trying to get into the venue and he’s not got a ticket”. And I was like, “was he with a little girl?” thinking “f***, that’s my brother and sister, they should have had tickets” and he said “they’re outside”.
So five minutes before I’m meant to go onstage, I’m running round the streets of Hammersmith in a glittery suit looking for my brother and sister! Then I find them and I’m like “where are the tickets?” and they go “we never got given them”, so I got them in and they stood at the side of the stage. I remember playing and then looking across and Bowie was watching the gig with my brother and sister. I was still so p***ed off that my brother and sister didn’t get their tickets for the concert.
Years later my brother was up in Sheffield and we were talking about ticket scalpers and he said “yeah, I remember when you played Hammersmith Odeon and you got us tickets and I sold them for so much money”. And I was like “What? You sold the tickets? Where’s the f***ing money then!”. So he’d sold the tickets and then tried to blag his way into the concert! *laughs*
Mark: Brothers eh? F*** ‘em! You know who else was at that gig? Debbie Harry! And she came to the afterparty. My brother was trying to chat up Debbie Harry, I was very proud of him! *laughs*
Moving onto the follow-up album ‘Beauty Stab’, it’s now rather unfortunately put into the category of career suicide and self-sabotage along with works such as FLEETWOOD MAC’s ‘Tusk’, OMD’s ‘Dazzle Ships’ and THE CLASH’s ‘Sandinista’….
Mark: Rock ‘n’ roll suicide…
If you could turn back the clock, and make a different follow-up, would you? You turned into SAXON didn’t you? *laughs*
Mark: I can’t remember why, but it just seemed the most natural thing on earth at the time. Trevor was down to produce it, but had already started work with YES and then moved onto working with FRANKIE GOES TO HOLLYWOOD. He had already started and scrapped about four different versions of ‘Relax’ and after about a year, we just went “look, we can’t wait”.
Gary Langan produced it, so it was still in the family?
Mark: I know, but Trevor is a different kettle of fish. Gary was a brilliant sound engineer and mix engineer.
But I honestly don’t know the answer to that, I don’t think we had a choice, that’s how it turned out.
I mean, you’re a guitarist, it’s quite natural for you. But for a saxophonist going rock is not so easy?
Mark: Well, ROXY MUSIC had a sax…..
Bowie too… I think of that as a kind of ‘art’ thing… you had the ROXY MUSIC rhythm section of Alan Spenner and Andy Newmark involved on ‘Beauty Stab’, but it didn’t quite have that kind of sound…
Mark: I’ve never been good at formulas, I can’t do them. God knows why, it might have been the influence of being on tour and playing live, possibly….
Did Martin want to rock out?
Was America a factor, because Billy Idol had become popular. That was always Rusty Egan’s excuse as to why VISAGE went rock as they were listening to too much Billy Idol!
Mark: I mean, Rusty Egan has done a lot of rock, hasn’t he? He was in the flippin’ SKIDS… yeah, it’s a strange period…
Were there other distractions?
Money or drugs or things like that?
Mark: No, never… we were all really clean living boys…
Despite all this, ‘S.O.S.’ is an absolutely sensational song. Can you remember the genesis of that because it does stand out like a sore thumb on the album?
Mark: Well I think the roots of that are very much in ‘Sexual Healing’. I mean it’s got an 808 drum machine pattern all through it and I just came up with some chords and it came out.
Stephen: The thing was, when we first started out as VICE VERSA, we were an electronic band. We then mutated into ABC.
Mark: Out and out pop…
Stephen: Yeah, before that there was the scratchy funky ABC. Then there was the sophisticated polished pop of ‘The Lexicon of Love’ and being kind of followers of the David Bowie school of philosophy which would go from one thing to another. We’d toured the world playing the tracks from ‘The Lexicon of Love’ over and over again and we reconvened to start on new songs and I think that we were then caught up in the music industry.
The first set of songs you write in your own little space, there’s no pressure. You do that, you get better at writing songs, so ‘The Lexicon of Love’ is distilled from lots of different songs and then you’re in a situation where you’ve had a No1 album, you’ve been on the tour, the record company are saying “we need the new album”.
Mark: It’s kind of second album syndrome, you put twenty four years into your first album and then you have six months to write the next one.
It’s a huge amount of pressure….
Stephen: Probably even less than six months… it was the next set of songs which were written. We weren’t David Bowie, people expected more of the same, but different… that’s what we did, we went in, we did those songs. We were in there with a brilliant engineer, we weren’t in there with a producer who would say “hey, let’s put the reins on this, let’s rein it back into some other place”. But I think when we were doing it, we believed in it.
Stephen: We did it and we liked those songs and that’s what we were feeling like what we wanted to do at that time…
Mark: I do sometimes think about the multiverse thing, somewhere out there, there was a version of ABC that did a ‘The Lexicon of Love’ follow-up….
Stephen: Called ‘More Of The Same’…
Mark: …and we ended up being like DURAN DURAN and playing stadiums *laughs*
There’s often the question of how band dynamics get altered if just one person leaves. So did David Palmer leaving affect things?
Mark: Absolutely. He was a songwriter as well and always really into the next big thing and embracing technology as well.
Stephen: David is an incredible musician, that’s what he’s interested in, he’s interested in playing the drums. That was him and yeah, the dynamic does change if there’s four people, it’s different to there being three people.
Were you over-compensating in terms of you’re missing someone so much, you’re pushing boundaries, because you feel, “oh right, we almost need to prove ourselves more”?.
Stephen: When we were writing those songs and demoing them in Sheffield, David played on the demos and nobody was saying “oh, I don’t like what we’re doing now”. We wrote lots of different songs, we wrote songs in a country and western style, you know, songs which were more extreme pop songs…
Mark: When that album came out, we got a letter from Bono, a personal handwritten one and the gist of it was “you’re going to get ripped to shreds, but I think it’s really good and a really brave move”, which I thought was really nice at the time…..
When ‘That Was Then This is Now’ came out, there was a more expensive 12” single with a sticker which said “This record is exactly the same as the 7”. The choice is yours.” Who’s idea was that?
Mark: I think that would be our idea….
Stephen: The song didn’t really lend itself to be extended, it was as it was, that was the thing. It was like “buy whichever one you wanted”. We liked to play around with things like that, we were artists, a lot of what we did was artistic and the idea was “change is stability, change is strength, try different things”. That’s what we were about.
Mark: It doesn’t necessarily do your bank account any favours though! But I comfort myself with the multiverse idea, that in some other universe there’s an ABC that went on… *laughs*
Like a really good ‘Black Mirror’ episode where you have different pathways….
Stephen: Yeah, I’d be living in John Taylor’s house in Malibu or in Wiltshire, he’s got a very nice house I’m rather jealous of! *laughs*
Mark: What were you saying about Roger Taylor earlier?
Stephen: QUEEN’s Roger Taylor listened to THE HUMAN LEAGUE album and then wrote ‘Radio GaGa’….
Mark: How do you know this?
Stephen: Somebody told me! But I can’t really name names, it’s not fair on that person. It was a personal friend of Roger Taylor, but that’s what happened! *laughs*
Mark: I can see the connection…
Stephen: I thought Martyn Ware would know that? I thought everybody knew it, but obviously they didn’t!
Mark: I nearly dropped me phone when I heard about that…
Stephen: I left the band after ‘Beauty Stab’ and then Mark and Martin went off in a different direction with ‘Zillionaire’. In fact they didn’t go “hey, you know ‘Beauty Stab’ hasn’t really sold as many as the first album, let’s go back and do ‘Lexicon of Love Part Two’. Let’s do something different”.
Mark: You have to do something that means something to you as an artist…
Stephen: That’s how we were as people….
Mark: You may as well be working in a fish finger factory…..
So Stephen what were you reasons for leaving?
Stephen: I preferred the other universe… slightly. I went off and lived in that and the fell back to it a few years later, there’s lots of reasons… *laughs*
And Mark, how did you feel about it when he went?
Mark: It was a very stressful time. I really blame the tour, because I think we all individually went mad in our own ways. It’s what a friend of mine refers to as ‘altitude sickness’, you think you really want to be there, but when you are, it’s a different matter to deal with it. It’s tough!
Stephen: Why I left is, it wasn’t as much fun anymore. David Palmer had gone and to me it didn’t really feel like a band anymore, it felt like three individuals that through no fault of anybody’s, we’d been through so much.
You know, one minute we were rehearsing in a little room in Sheffield, working in one particular way and then we’d become famous and then we started earning some money. It changes things, fame changes people, money changes people, it can’t be helped. David had gone, the dynamic of the whole thing had changed…
Mark: In retrospect, I wished we’d all taken a year off, because we were f***ing knackered primarily and just to recharge, think about getting excited about influences and music again.
But then you got into doing ‘How To Be A Zillionaire’ quite quickly, comparatively after ‘Beauty Stab’?
Mark: I don’t know, chronology is all very blurred in my mind… I did take a bit of time off and I was going to America on holiday. I was very influenced by what I was hearing on the radio then and that’s how it percolated through. I remember hearing ‘Blue Monday’ and it was life-changing to me, I was in Austin Texas, I can remember it clearly…
You got immersed into your Arthur Baker and Shannon which comes out in ‘How To Be A Millionaire’…
Mark: Absolutely, the beginnings of freestyle…
How did you first come across that style of music then?
Mark: Because we’d always, all separately been interested in dance music from Motown through to CHIC, it just evolved into that. I remember when we played New York, putting the radio on WBLS, a really crucial dance music station back then. They were playing ‘Planet Rock’ by AFRIKA BAMBAATAA and ‘Scorpio’ by GRANDMASTER FLASH and then they played ‘The Look of Love’ remix, and I was like “oh my God, they’re actually playing it!”. I didn’t think that would really happen. Out of all that music, ‘Planet Rock’ was just so good.
Stephen: ‘Planet Rock’ was out when we were touring ‘The Lexicon of Love’, after gigs we would go to clubs in different places and that track was just starting to happen and it was so f***ing good, then GRANDMASTER FLASH with ‘The Message’ and ‘White Lines’ came out. I think we’d been in America promoting ‘Beauty Stab’, we were in New York watching the kids breakdancing on the streets and thinking this was so happening;
Mark: We saw it happening in Times Square, there were B-Boys doing that whole thing to KRAFTWERK which was just amazing.
Stephen: We went to The Paradise Garage with AFRIKA BAMBAATAA DJing and all those other heavyweight characters. That’s why I think ABC (although I wasn’t in it anymore) moved on and went in that direction; get the drum machines out, get the synthesizers out and get the samplers going.
Mark: Also, we’d worked with the Fairlight on the first album and it was obviously the future. Mind you, the minute the Emulator II came out, we bought one. No need to pay a Fairlight programmer £750 a day!
Stephen: We had the Emulator on tour along with its own roadie to repair it at every gig *laughs*
Mark: Five inch floppy disks…
Stephen: There was a lot of Emulator on the demos for ‘Beauty Stab’, Mark had played the guitar and putting it through the sampler, making the sounds up. It was primitive… did we have a Linndrum?
Mark: No. We had an 808, we also had the 303s. We bought three 303s…
Did they all get nicked? *laughs*
Mark: I repatriated them, I sold one to a German teenager for £500 or something, which looking back now is insane…
You mention NEW ORDER, there is a connection between you both. The opening track on ‘Zillionaire’ is ‘Fear of the World’, how did you do the rhythmical passage on it?
Mark: That was Fairlight…
Did you know ELECTRONIC sampled that for a B-side called ‘Lean To The Inside’?
Mark: No! David Palmer was in ELECTRONIC…
‘Get The Message’ sounds very much like ‘All Of My Heart’ if you compare the two verse parts…
Mark: I’ve heard through our Manchester connections but we’ve not been told directly that Gillian from NEW ORDER was a bit of an ABC fan.
Stephen: We were all roughly around the same age and had the same influences and stuff…
Mark: Stephen, you used to go over to Manchester a lot….
Stephen: I used to go to the original Factory club in Hulme. One night I was out in Sheffield and there used to be a band called MANICURED NOISE. I’d been to see them play in Manchester and then I was on this street in Sheffield, there was these lads there and then this girl from MANICURED NOISE and I was like “oh hang on, I saw you play in Manchester, last week, you’re in that band MANICURED NOISE!” And the other lads were laughing going “ooh, she’s got recognised but we’ve not!”.
And I went, “well, who are you?” and they were like “we’re in a band, we’re playing Sheffield tonight, we’re called JOY DIVISION, we’re playing at The Limit Club…” , so I went down to see JOY DIVISION play there with about twelve other people, although since there’s been about twelve thousand that said they were there!
Mark: Like the infamous SEX PISTOLS at the Manchester Free Trade Hall. Everybody was at that…
Stephen: Martin Fry was at that and Mike Pickering. There was people in that era, all going to the same kind of clubs. I used to go across to Manchester to Pips and The Ranch. There was a great scene in Sheffield and this was like when I originally met up with Mark, we used to go to a club called The Crazy Daisy and The Top Rank Suite. It would be us, THE HUMAN LEAGUE and HEAVEN 17, a very small number of people… all the people that then formed bands. The same thing happened in Manchester with JOY DIVISION, THE SMITHS, MAGAZINE and BUZZCOCKS.
Mark: I was too young to be going over to Manchester then, he’s a bit older than me!
Stephen: I’m slightly older than Mark and I was a completely bad influence on him when we actually met. I steered him down another path of life really….
Mark: When you’re that age, just a few years can seem an immense difference…
Stephen: THE HUMAN LEAGUE were older than us and I remember when we first met them, Phil Oakey was married and I was a f***ing virgin! It was like totally different…Martyn Ware had a beard! *laughs*
Mark: More importantly, they had jobs, could afford to buy very expensive Roland synths…
Stephen: We had Korg MS20, a Micropreset and a Minipops drum machine and we were influenced by the same things. But we were younger and poorer and they had jobs and wives and girlfriends and things! *laughs*
Mark: I was still school!
Stephen: He was still at school with his copy of ‘Warm Leatherette’ and Thomas Leer’s ‘Private Plane’…
Mark: There was a book that came out ‘Beats Working For a Living’ by Martin Lilleker and he interviews Jarvis Cocker in it, well he went to the same school as me.
There’s a bit where Jarvis says:“I remember going past the sixth form block and the strangest electronic noises coming out, I later discovered it was Mark White playing ‘United’ by THROBBING GRISTLE”*laughs*
Stephen: Jarvis was from the next generation and a little bit younger than us.
Mark: PULP were playing gigs when VICE VERSA were playing gigs….
Stephen: They started when they were really young!
Are we on ‘Alphabet City’ now? At this point there seems to be a conscious decision to do an ABC pop album again…how calculated was it?
Mark: The lead song on it was ‘When Smokey Sings’, we enjoyed writing that and even just from the demos people were going “that is a hit”, so we did more like that….
So Stephen, were you missing it when the guys started having hits again? Did you ever feel like “I wish I was part of this again”? What was your feeling?
Stephen: What kind of happens is you leave a band, but you’re not going to NOT listen to what they’re doing, you can’t avoid that. I thought ‘When Smokey Sings’ was great, I really liked the ‘Zillionaire’ album as well. I’m a music fan, I am not going to go “Oh, I don’t like that” because I was once in it and now I’m not. I didn’t think “Oh my God, I want to rejoin ABC!” or whatever because I was just doing my stuff at that time.
I didn’t really think about it that much. I was happy to be working in studios and doing things, productions, writing and stuff. Doing my thing as it were.
Mark: Mr Singleton, I wish to inform you that your interview to work in the diplomatic service has been successful! *laughs*
Stephen: Put it this way, I don’t think Mark and Martin would have been going “Oh my God, what’s Stephen up to?”.
Mark: I mean you wouldn’t if had been like all Top 10 records all the way, I’m sure I’d have a thing to say about it as well!
Stephen:“Oh hi Mark, how you doing? I’ve just done a song for MADONNA”. That’s the way it was, I was doing a different job, you know, you change your job or whatever, your vocation.
You don’t then go “I wish I was I back at this place doing that job”, you’re in a new job, you’re living in that particular moment.
Mark: But, factually with ‘How To Be A Zillionaire’, it totally bombed in England, but was quite successful in America. ‘How To Be a Millionaire’ was a Top 40 hit, ‘Be Near Me’ is still the biggest ABC hit in America we ever had. So that took away the pain of that a little bit, I couldn’t believe it.
You know this thing that people say “Ooh, you’ve got to slog around America playing live”, you don’t! We just got a phone call, “guys you’ve got to come to L.A. They’re playing your record on the radio, it’s a top 10 radio hit”. I had no idea and that was good. There was a bit more continuity to it for me, it was really nice that the Americans liked ‘When Smokey Sings’ as well.
So you’re high on all of this and of course there’s a game changer in the world, which is House Music and effectively you dump your guitar for this new form….
Mark: I loved all the really seminal early stuff, it was so minimal…
What were your views on things like Acid House?
Mark: It was just Year Dot, it was Year Zero and it came along. The North was playing this stuff a lot before the South and there were great clubs in Nottingham, The Haçienda in Manchester and Jive Turkey in Sheffield. They were playing all this stuff in ‘85/’86 and it was quietly bubbling away.
It was actually David Palmer who said there’s this great club called ‘Shoom’, “You’ve got to go! It’s in a fitness centre in Southwark”. So I was into that in the beginning, it was incredible scene, the energy in it was fantastic. It changed everything for me and it’s really when I stopped listening to pop music completely.
But the 90s rather passed me by, I call it my musical coma period. I didn’t get Britpop at all, was never into any of it and the Indie sort of stuff.
Did you like the House thing Stephen?
Stephen: I’m into dance, going out dancing and clubbing. I think that scene though is like you had to be there, that’s what it was about. I think if you were listening to it on the radio, it doesn’t quite work quite the same. You had to be in those clubs and taking those drugs, whatever, to appreciate it and feel it. It was a movement…
Mark: I think it was the last movement really. We’ve gone into complete stasis and stagnation, I don’t really understand…
What is your opinion on the music industry now, positive and negative?
Mark: It’s over, the big mistake is very little new talent is getting signed and developed.
Worse than that, it’s actually now messages from accountants and focus groups in the head offices of wherever to the A&R department saying “create that for us, we want something that sounds a bit like Taylor Swift or whatever, who’s this age and is going to appeal to that”. It’s literally the accountants have taken over.
Pop music by algorithm or design committee…
Mark: It is, when we were signed it was because somebody got to hear about you. “There was a hot new band in Manchester, there’s a lot happening in Sheffield at the moment” and the word would get out and it was real and people found out about it. I don’t think that’s happening…..
Stephen: Well the world’s changed beyond recognition….
Mark: It’s the internet isn’t it?
Stephen: When we were making music, we did that because there was nothing else to do. There was like three television channels, television would go off air, like goodnight, here’s the national anthem. On Sunday, shops in the cities were closed. It was a totally different thing, and that’s what we did, we created our own world and that world was between us.
We were like a little gang and other people in bands were like that too. ECHO & THE BUNNYMEN, ASSOCIATES, all little gangs making their own peculiar version of what they saw as being pop music, the image… we were the people that came up with the ideas, it wasn’t the record company saying “hey now guys I think you should etc…”
When we first were doing ABC, we were into cycling gear and sportswear. PET SHOP BOYS came to see us at The Embassy, their idea was to wear cycling gear and they came to see us and then just went “we’ll have to forget that idea!”*laughs*
We then dropped the cycling gear and went for the showbiz look with the gold lame suits and all that, these were ideas that didn’t come from the stylist or the record company. When Martin first had the gold lame suit made by Colin Wild just off Carnaby Street, the record company Phonogram were kind of like horrified… “you’re not going to wear that on Top of the Pops! What the f***?!”
They didn’t understand it, but they did understand it the next day when everybody was phoning up to do an interview with the guy who wore the gold lame suit. We were the people that came up with those ideas and concepts and sleeve designs.
Mark: I don’t think that’s happening now.
Stephen: We don’t know do we?
The creativity is spread thin, you made music to be your escape to create. The idea of creation for kids now is for them to have an Instagram account and do selfies…
Stephen: I also think in a record company nowadays that if they’ve got an act and they delivered a big hit album, they’re not going to let that act then go off in a completely different direction and say “we’ve done this now and the sleeve is going to look like that”. They wouldn’t allow it! It would be like, “no you’re not, you’re going to work with these people”.
When record companies were making enough money through the new acts that would emerge, they’d go “hey, you know what? Let them do what they want, they’re the artists”. And sometimes those off the wall projects would hit big. The world just isn’t like that anymore.
Mark: Also, the money’s gone out of it. Because everybody thought, “oh right, it’s all going to be about streaming”. Now, the amount of money I see from streaming… a friend of ours told me that ‘The Look of Love’ got five million plays one year on Spotify. So I got in touch with the accountant and said “what are the Spotify royalties?” and he said “Mark, we’ll look into it for you but it won’t be as much as we’d have to charge you for investigating it”.
In other words, Taylor Swift put it perfectly when she said that her Spotify royalties wouldn’t pay for a Sushi dinner once a month and she’s one of the most played artists out there. So, it’s not sustainable that, is it? We’re being ripped off!
Kids these days are expecting music for free and that’s quite sad….
Mark: My nephew who likes music, I was shocked to find that he’s never bought a record in his life. I said “what do you do then?” and he said “oh, I just make a YouTube playlist and stream it”.
Stephen: It’s the same with my boy, he doesn’t buy records, some of his friends do.
They’re buying vinyl like kids would build a kind of train set or whatever. It’s like a little hobby, it’s not the way when people do it and interact with music and artists anymore. It’s changed beyond all recognition.
Mark: It really has, I’m really worried about it. It’s not sustainable anymore as a career, so people will not be going into it, they’ll be choosing something else. You know, we were at least getting regular money weren’t we? It was a job…
Stephen: Yeah, that’s the way it worked and now it’s a different thing. Now a record company isn’t going to take a chance on a new act, they’re going to say “let’s do a fortieth anniversary edition of this and we’ll plonk it out on blue vinyl and we know how many fans this band has got. So we will press up a thousand and we know we’ll sell that, that’s it”. It’s nothing, it becomes something totally different to what it was. We’re dinosaurs, it’s sad to say…
On a more cheerful note, are you two into creating any music now that you’re sort of back in each other’s life again.
Mark: Absolutely! We’ve re-booted VICE VERSA and we’ve been writing. We do it because we love it.
What ultimately would you like to do with it to get it out to the public?
Mark: That is the problem, I don’t even know what constitutes a hit record these days? What do you look at? Which is the chart? It’s not clear anymore….
So you’re recording stuff and it may see the light of day at some point?
Stephen: We work just like we worked when we first met and we’re excited about making music. We’re the same people aren’t we?
Mark: The same funny old buggers as we were! I met Steve when I was sixteen, it’s incredible! *laughs*
ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK gives its sincerest thanks to Mark White and Stephen Singleton