Tag: Andy Bell (Page 1 of 5)

Always: The Legacy of ERASURE

Photo by The Douglas Brothers

It was the late Seymour Stein who said “the reason ERASURE are so great is because they make people feel good about themselves”.

Together as ERASURE, Andy Bell and Vince Clarke have been one of the most consistent British pop acts ever. Originally released in 2015 to celebrate the duo’s 30th anniversary, Mute / BMG have reissued ‘Always – The Very Best of ERASURE’ as a revised and updated double vinyl LP set for the first time.

It would be fair to say that Mute Records’ initial commercial success came on the back of Vince Clarke’s songcraft. First with DEPECHE MODE and then YAZOO with Alison Moyet, Clarke demonstrated his marvellous pop sensibilities amongst all the cult acclaim that was accorded to acts like THE NORMAL, DAF and FAD GADGET.

However, Clarke suffered from recurring disillusionment and having left DEPECHE MODE and disbanded YAZOO, his new project THE ASSEMBLY with producer Eric Radcliffe had hit a brick wall despite a 1984 hit ‘Never Never’ featuring THE UNDERTONES’ Fergal Sharkey. It had been intended to use a different vocalist on each track with BLANCMANGE’s Neil Arthur and BOURGIE BOURGIE’s Paul Quinn among those mooted to take part.

Photo by The Douglas Brothers

“I want to get back to KRAFTWERK, you know” he said to International Musician & Recording World at the time, “Synths that sound like synths, not like brass, or voices or whatever. I know it’s not hip, but I don’t care”. Having decided on a fresh start, Clarke placed an advert in Melody Maker simply stating “Versatile voice wanted for established songwriter”.

A 21 year old ex-butcher Andy Bell was one of the many applicants and was audition #36. In front of a judging panel that also included Mute supremo Daniel Miller and producer Flood, the latter noted that Bell was the only candidate who hit falsetto during one of the audition pieces ‘Who Needs Love (Like That)?’. Impressing with not only with his Moyet-esque vocal technique but his range as well, in neo-X Factor style, Andy Bell was declared the winner and ERASURE were born.

Although Vince Clarke was considered to have a Midas touch following his success with DEPECHE MODE, YAZOO and THE ASSEMBLY, ERASURE’s debut album ‘Wonderland’ was not an instant hit. Released as the lead single, ‘Who Needs Love (Like That)?’ was mistaken by some to be a previously unreleased YAZOO recording.

However, it was very immediate and although Clarke had penned ‘Who Needs Love (Like That)?’ solo, there was a special spark developing both musically and personally between the pair. Soon a collaborative aspect to composition emerged that had not been present in DEPECHE MODE and rarely occurred in YAZOO. Songs were generally written as a duo on guitar or piano before any consideration of electronic embellishment was made.

Among the album’s highlights were the joyous ‘Reunion’ and the funky ‘Push Me… Shove Me’ which also displayed some Italo disco tension. The ‘Wonderland’ HI-NRG centrepiece ‘Oh L’Amour’ also flopped as a single but undeterred, ERASURE toured the college circuit to build up a new fanbase from scratch outside of DEPECHE MODE and YAZOO. Vindicated in 1987, ‘Oh L’Amour’ became a belated hit single for DOLLAR.

The 12” release of ‘Oh L’Amour’ was to become a sign of ERASURE’s future as it contained a thrilling Boystown cover of ‘Gimme! Gimme! Gimme!’. At the time, ABBA were considered passé; but a few years before while on holiday in Tenerife with BLANCMANGE’s Neil Arthur and Stephen Luscombe, the threesome had a tape of the Swedes’ most recent greatest hits collection ‘The Singles: The First Ten Years’ on constant rotation. It was here that the idea of BLANCMANGE doing ‘The Day Before You Came’ was formulated; Clarke was also taking notes…

Following his disillusionment of playing live with YAZOO where the two Fairlights he had hired had proved so troublesome that reserve backing tapes were used as the tour progressed, technology had become more reliable and compact so that meant going on the road in a van was now much more straightforward. ERASURE’s 1986 live set-up featured an Oberheim Xpander, a three module Yamaha TX816 rack, a Sequential Pro-One and two Casios, all driven by a BBC computer using the UMI-2B MIDI sequencer with Yamaha RX11 and Roland TR727 drum machines handling the rhythms.

Clarke and Bell were still getting to know each other so could be forgiven for their tentative start but the potential in the chemistry between the two hit paydirt with ‘Sometimes’, the first new single after ‘Wonderland’. Just missing out on the No1 spot in Autumn 1986, it was released ahead of the second album ‘The Circus’ and showcased what was to become a signature ERASURE sound with bubbly infectious electronics augmented by rhythmic acoustic strums.

Again produced by Flood but given the final once over by PWL Mixmaster Phil Harding, ‘Sometimes’ marked the beginning of an imperial phase as further hits followed, continuing with the vibrant ‘Victim Of Love’. But ERASURE also took two songs into the charts with poignant political sentiments against the Thatcher era; ‘It Doesn’t Have To Be’ protested against the UK government’s apathy towards the Apartheid regime of the racist South African government while ‘The Circus’ highlighted the plight of those made unemployed in the wake of key UK industries being closed down or sold off.

Meanwhile songs on ‘The Circus’ such as ‘Spiralling’ and ‘Hideaway’ confirmed ERASURE were more than just a great singles act; Hideaway’ was ERASURE’s very own ‘Smalltown Boy’ while the elegiac ‘Spiralling’ was a masterpiece, showcasing Bell’s fine voice in sparse surroundings.

1988’s ‘The Innocents’ produced by Stephen Hague was symbolic in that it was the first time that Vince Clarke had reached the third album milestone with a project… he had finally settled down! As with ‘The Circus’, further political observations came with the excellent ‘Ship Of Fools’ which surprised as the lead single with its maturer pace. But ‘Chains Of Love’ provided more of what was expected, as did the brass punctuated ‘Heart Of Stone’ while ‘Phantom Bride’ took a more serious turn in a commentary on forced marriage.

But the album’s opening song ‘A Little Respect’ was perfection from the off with its combination of Vince Clarke’s pulsing programming and strummed acoustic guitar As the busy rhythmical engine kicked in, Andy Bell went from a tenor to a piercing falsetto to provide the dynamic highs and lows that are always present in all great pop songs. It was deservingly nominated in the ‘Best Contemporary Song’ category at the 1989 Ivor Novello Awards.

To consolidate their best year to date, ERASURE ended 1988 with the seasonally themed ‘Crackers International’ EP. The lead track was ‘Stop!’, a throbbing Giorgio Moroder-inspired disco tune that borrowed counter-melodies from Donna Summer’s ‘Love’s Unkind’. Also featuring ‘Knocking On Your Door’ and ‘The Hardest Part’, the EP helped ERASURE’ maintain their profile while they were preparing their next plan of action. And as it was dropping out of the charts at the start of the new year, ERASURE won the ‘Best British Group’ accolade at the 1989 BRIT Awards,

With Gareth Jones and Mark Saunders at the production helm, 1989 saw ERASURE release their most ambitious album yet in ‘Wild!’ with a tour and accompanying stage set to match. ‘Blue Savannah’ imagined Roy Orbison doing electropop with a rousing sense of optimism to become one of ERASURE’s most universally loved songs, while the surprising Latin romp of ‘La Gloria’ saw Bell realise his Carmen Miranda fantasies. ‘Piano Song’ and ‘How Many Times?’ were the minimally structured ballads while ‘Star’ and ‘Drama!’ provided the hits with the latter displaying a previously unheard turn of aggression.

Amidst the success of the ‘Wild!’ campaign which culminated in a huge open air party at the Milton Keynes Bowl, Clarke was however less sonically satisfied. It had become apparent to him that there were technical limitations in the now dominant MIDI standard when sequencing, known as “MIDI slop”. In order to achieve the tighter feel of his earlier work with YAZOO on the ‘Upstairs At Eric’s’ album in particular where the various synthesizers were controlled using the Roland MC4 Micro-composer and ARP 1601 sequencer, the next ERASURE album ‘Chorus’ eschewed MIDI completely. The restriction of using only analogue synthesizers and no drum machines was applied to its production, save the occasional sampled cymbal crash. The sequenced monophonic nature of the equipment meant there would be no traditional chords either.

With this return to analogues, KRAFTWERK was crossed with Gloria Gaynor on ‘Love To Hate You’ and the energetic vintage thrust of ‘Breath Of Life’ recalled DEPECHE MODE’s ‘Speak & Spell’ album. The superb emotive ballad ‘Am I Right?’ was a surprise hit single while amongst the album highlights were ‘Waiting For The Day’ and ‘Perfect Stranger’.

Announced a year in advance at the time of the ‘Chorus’ album’s release was a theatrical spectacular entitled the ‘Phantasmagorical World Tour’ which took up residencies in London, Edinburgh and Manchester, the latter leg of which was immortalised in ‘The Tank, the Swan and the Balloon’ concert film.

Clarke wanted to take his vintage tech philosophy onto the stage and a special hydraulically controlled caterpillar tracked tank was constructed to house his various pieces of equipment. The engine room was an MC4 acting as the main sequencer controlling via CV / Gate, a Minimoog for bass sounds, a Roland Juno 60, a Prophet 5 alternating with a Roland Jupiter 8 dependent on the song programme and the Oberheim Expander with an Akai MPC-60 and Akai Linn synced up to provide the drum sounds pre-sampled from assorted synths. The data for the MC4 was precariously pre-loaded using a high end Maxell cassette to break the sound barrier.

With the choreographed presentation featuring a flamboyant sexy dance troupe and Andy Bell’s infamous sequinned cowboy outfit with no backside, it also included a bingo interval and Clarke dancing as part of a routine during a meaty sounding ‘Voulez-Vous’! And it was with a 4 song EP of ABBA covers entitled ‘ABBA-Esque’ that ERASURE scored their only No1 single in Summer 1992.

One key legacy of ERASURE during this time was that they planted the seeds of an ABBA revival. Not only was there a new compilation ‘Gold’ released after the profile of the Super-Swedes was boosted by ‘ABBA-Esque’ but around the same time, the Australian tribute act BJÖRN AGAIN released ‘ERASURE-ish’ which had Agnetha, Björn, Benny & Anni-Frid styled versions of ‘A Little Respect’ and ‘Stop!’ in time for the party season.

ERASURE’s cover version success also led to PET SHOP BOYS postponing the release of ‘Go West’ which had been due to be available for Christmas 1992; Neil Tenant and Chris Lowe made the decision after it was pointed out doing a VILLAGE PEOPLE cover would look like the duo were aping their rivals’ ‘ABBA-esque’! ERASURE ended 1992 with their first singles compilation ‘Pop! The First 20 Hits’ featuring all of the band’s singles to date. It reached No1 and has since given PET SHOP BOYS ‘Discography’ a run for its money as one of the best greatest hits collections ever.

To take the pre-MIDI analogue path planted during ‘Chorus’ to the next level, Martyn Ware who had used such synthesizers as a member of THE HUMAN LEAGUE and also used the Roland MC4 Micro-composer on HEAVEN 17’s ‘The Luxury Gap’ was recruited as producer for ERASURE’s next album ‘I Say I Say I Say’. Featuring the hits ‘Always’ and ‘I Love Saturday’, Ware laid out a methodology that was fundamentally “old school” to allow Clarke to bounce ideas off him in the studio.

Another technique was to allow Bell to lay down all his vocals first, so that the music could be worked around him to allow more air in the finished recordings. Ware got on well with Clarke and they were to found Illustrious to explore the possibilities of immersive 3D sound design. “I remember with Vince when we were taking about this process and he agreed” remembered Ware, “He said ‘You know what Martyn, I am my own biggest fan, I just think everything I do is brilliant’… it was so disarmingly honest and it wasn’t anything to do with arrogance at all, he just knew he was the master of his craft because he had all the tools at his disposal to do exactly what he wanted…”

The closing ‘I Say I Say I Say’ track ‘Because You’re So Sweet’ was a pretty ballad representative of the mature approach on the album taken by Andy Bell and Vince Clarke although the frantic energy of earlier ERASURE was not forgotten on ‘Run To The Sun’. But at Ware’s suggestion, a choir was brought in for the glorious ‘Miracle’ to provide an eerie contrast to the electronic proceedings. Meanwhile ‘Man On The Moon’ and ‘Blues Away’ outlined how Bell and Clarke were in the classic songsmith mould, regardless of the synthesized backing behind them. Cited by many as ERASURE’s best album, I Say I Say I Say’ was yet another No1.

But ERASURE’s run of five UK album chart toppers ended with their self-titled seventh album in 1995. ‘Erasure’ was Vince Clarke’s attempt at prog synth or as Andy Bell referred to it, the duo’s own ‘Dark Side Of The Moon’ or ‘Bright Side Of The Sun’; produced by Thomas Fehlmann who was best known for his work in THE ORB, it was an ambitious if flawed opus with extended intros and the sub-10 minute numbers like ‘Rock Me Gently’.

But there were also emotive neo-classical moments such as ‘Grace’ which recalled the atmospheric drama of prime OMD. The brilliant ‘Fingers and Thumbs (Cold Summer’s Day)’ though was its most accessible offering and remains possibly their most under rated single. The experimentation of the period also led to B-sides such as the delightful KRAFTWERK homage ‘Chertsey Endlos’.

Produced by Gareth Jones and Neil McLellan, 1997’s ‘Cowboy’ brought back the 3 minute pop tunes, with the superb ‘Reach Out’ and ‘Rain’ among the highlights along with the two contrasting singles ‘In My Arms’ and ‘Don’t Say Your Love Is Killing Me’. Clarke declared the album his favourite although Bell felt it lack passion and was too linear. However, ERASURE played the biggest arena tour for quite some time with a promising new live act HEAVEN 17 opening for them…

However, ERASURE then entered a quiet period but it wasn’t until later that it was learnt that there had been more serious concerns to deal with. But when the ‘Loveboat’ album emerged in 2000, it was considered a disappointment all round with discontent in the ranks. Despite production by Flood, Andy Bell admitted how shocked he was when he heard the “weird and indie” final mix by Rob Kirwan that emphasised the more guitar driven dynamics.

The ‘Loveboat’ album lacked the usual ERASURE charm and even its one potentially great song ‘The Moon & The Sky’ was missing an uplifting chorus, something which was only fixed with the Heaven Scent Radio Rework version by Jason Creasey that was later released on an EP. Fans were confused but in the face of poor sales, Clarke quipped on Channel 4’s Electro Pop Pioneers Top 10 show in 2001 that the ‘Loveboat’ album had “a couple of holes in it” while Bell added with a smile, “we’ll just do another one!”.

Fortunes only slightly improved with their mid-career crisis covers record ‘Other People’s Songs’. In a creative rut, what began as an Andy Bell solo covers exercise became an ERASURE one with Vince Clarke proposing Peter Gabriel’s ‘Solsbury Hill’ and THE BUGGLES ‘Video Killed The Radio Star’. Bell’s choices were more from the classic songbook including True Love Ways’, ‘Ebb Tide’, ‘You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’’ and ‘Walking In The Rain’ while a take on Steve Harley’s “Make Me Smile (Come Up and See Me)’ with a Stylophone solo provided another Top 20 hit.

2003 saw a new ‘best of’ compilation called ‘Hits! The Very Best of ERASURE’ but a year later, Andy Bell was in a confessional headspace with his health. Making his 1998 HIV diagnosis and a hip replacement public, this was to affect the mood of the next ERASURE album ‘Nightbird’ although this was to be their best body of work since I Say I Say I Say’. Released in 2005, ‘Nightbird’ was something of a departure as it comprised entirely software synths, enforced partly by Clark’s move to the US, leaving him unable to work with his analogue armoury for a period.

Introspective in its demeanour, ‘Nightbird’ was more layered than anything they had undertaken before. Although ‘No Doubt’ was about riding the storm through tough times, ‘Let’s Take One More Rocket Ship To The Moon’ offered a hopeful “live for today” message. ‘Breathe’, ‘Here I Go Impossible Again’, ‘Don’t Say You Love Me’ and ‘I Broke It All In Two’ were among the many highlights in a brilliantly cohesive work. It was proof if that if you’ve got it but have lost it, the redeeming consequence is you can get it again back if you keep trying…

Issued in 2006, the interim ‘Union Street’ was a collection of previously released album tracks re-interpreted in an acoustic and countrified style. But in the opposite direction, the next ERASURE long player was the more dance-oriented ‘Light at the End of the World’. Produced by a returning Gareth Jones, while the entire album was played on its accompanying 2007 tour, it proved to be lukewarm, sparking more mixed fortunes for Clarke and Bell both creatively and commercially.

However, one of the more memorable tracks that emerged from these sessions was track on ‘The ‘Storm Chaser’ EP entitled ‘Early Bird’. An enjoyable duet between Cyndi Lauper and Andy Bell, it was a soulful slice of Trans-Atlantic synthpop that coincided with Ms Lauper heading towards a career renaissance with her enjoyable ‘Bring Ya To The Brink’ album in 2008.

As the duo took an extended break, Clarke reunited with Alison Moyet for the YAZOO ‘Reconnected’ tour while Bell worked on a second solo album which following aborted sessions with Stephen Hague, eventually saw the light of day in 2010 produced by Pascal Gabriel under the title of ‘Non-Stop’.

ERASURE headlined the closing night of the Short Circuit Presents Mute event in Spring 2011 with guest appearances from Alison Moyet and Fergal Sharkey as another new album ‘Tomorrow’s World’ was pencilled in for the Autumn. However, things were not promising as the severely over rated Frankmuzik was recruited to apply his modern dance production aesthetic.

The first single ‘When I Start To (Break It All Down)’ sounded like a rather anodyne TAKE THAT ballad and Bell’s voice was strained to an auto-tuned flatness, lacking power and soul. The joyous ‘Be With You’ was a good second single choice from the album but still came over as dispassionately mechanised. But much more enjoyable and classic was the Vince Clarke produced ‘Be With You’ B-side ‘Never Let You Down’ which was free of the auto-tune treatments that Frankmusik had applied when helming ‘Tomorrow’s World’.

2013 gave ERASURE the opportunity to finally make ‘Snow Globe’, the Christmas record they had wanted to do since including ‘God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen’ for the CD edition of the ‘Crackers International’ EP. As well as traditional seasonal tunes and new songs such as the joyous ‘Make It Wonderful’, the centre-piece was the haunting Ecclesiastical Latin carol ‘Gaudete’. Taken from its 16th Century origins and thrown into the new millennium with a precise electronic backbeat, there was even a cheeky ‘Ice Machine’ reference thrown in for good measure.

Following the disappointment of ‘Tomorrow’s World’, 2014’s ‘The Violet Flame’ produced by Richard X saw ERASURE return to form and express an infectious zest for the future. Following his VCMG techno project with former DM band mate Martin Gore, the songs began with Clarke’s pre-recorded dance grooves. Bell vibed instantaneously with these faster pace backbones and the end result was a much more immediate and uptempo album.

‘Dead Of Night’ was the collection’s euphoric, uplifting opening number while despite the cutting rave stabs and thundering rhythms, ‘Sacred’ did bear a rather striking resemblance to GUNS ‘N’ ROSES’ ‘Sweet Child O’ Mine’! But the best number from the sessions was ‘Be The One’ in its remixed treatment by Paul Humphreys who added some of the beautiful Synthwerk magic that characterised OMD’s brilliant ‘English Electric’. With ‘The Violet Flame’, ERASURE returned to the Top 20 album charts for the first time since 2003.

But following their 30th anniversary, ERASURE returned in a more pensive mood for the self-produced ‘World Be Gone’ album. The percussive lead single ‘Love You To The Sky’ sounded uninspired and while ‘A Bitter Parting’ ably communicated its anguish, it sounded laboured in its execution. It was a departure but it was not particularly easy listening for ERASURE fans.

Photo by Chi Ming Lai

The first trio of UK shows that came not long after ‘World Be Gone’ was released were oddly paced too. Possibly due to a run of high profile dates opening for Robbie Williams coming straight after, the first hour of the set more or less comprised of hit after hit like a dress rehearsal for those support slots before a run of three songs from the new album found themselves slotted in at the end. This undoubtedly inhibited the expected concert climax before the welcome encore of ‘Victim Of Love’ and ‘A Little Respect’.

ERASURE’s eighteenth studio long player ‘The Neon’ came in the middle of the 2020 lockdown. Described by Bell as “going back to the beginning” with Clarke in love with analogue synthesizers again, songs such as ‘Hey Now (Think I Got A Feeling)’, ‘Diamond Lies’, ‘Nerves Of Steel’ and ‘Fallen Angel’ captured a vibrant immediacy that offered some much needed escapism.

Unable to promote the album in a conventional manner, Bell and Clarke instead held endearing ‘Staying In With ERASURE’ online broadcasts where Clarke and Andy Bell talked about some of their favourite records and answered questions from fans while at the end of the year, they held a Virtual Christmas Party. It was this personable effort to connect compared with some of their contemporaries that highlighted why ERASURE have been so adored by their dedicated following around the world.

With ‘The Neon’ reaching No4 in the UK album charts, their highest placing since ‘I Say I Say I Say’ in 1994, their 2021 tour came just as the world started allowing live events again post-pandemic; it saw ERASURE headline London’s O2 Arena for the very first time. But just as further 2022 arena shows were announced in the UK with BLANCMANGE as the support act along with dates in Europe, North America and South America, the next leg of the tour was cancelled due to unexpected family circumstances.

Aside from ‘Day-Glo (Based on a True Story)’, an experimental record based on reconstructions using parts of ‘The Neon’, ERASURE have been quiet of late but Andy Bell recently emerged to perform solo at various festival events the UK and Ireland. He has also returned to the ABBA cover fold with Claire Richards of STEPS for a stomping version of ‘Summer Night City’.

ERASURE’s enduring legacy is great emotive pop songs but with an openly gay front man, Andy Bell has been a trailblazer for equality and acceptance with Vince Clarke as his loyal ally. Continuing the good work laid down by SOFT CELL, ERASURE have along with PET SHOP BOYS furthered the cause of the synth duo as the most practical format to make quality pop for outsiders that has also managed at times to crossover into the mainstream.

Photo by Richard Price

ERASURE is a long standing pop marriage that only PET SHOP BOYS can equal. Compared with PET SHOP BOYS, while Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe may have scored more UK No1 singles, Andy Bell and Vince Clarke come out on top with more UK album No1s over the same period.

One of the other reasons ERASURE have been able to achieve longevity is that Bell and Clarke have given each other space and allowed the flexibility to undertake side projects. The first Andy Bell solo album came out after ‘Nightbird’ in 2005 and saw collaborations with Claudia Brücken and Jake Shears. Since 2014, he has been involved in the ‘Torsten’ trilogy with a series of theatre shows written by Barney Ashton and Christopher Frost.

Meanwhile, Clarke produced a wealth of instrumental material with Martyn Ware which was collected as the 8CD boxed set ‘House Of Illustrious’ as well as doing remix commissions, running his own label VeryRecords and presenting The Synthesizer Show with Reed Hays of REED & CAROLINE on Maker Park Radio in New York..

In the expanded ‘Total Pop! The First 40 Hits’ deluxe boxed set booklet issued in 2009, Andy Bell said “Some people like the records and some can’t stand them I guess”. But as Vince Clarke dryly said back then: “We’re just going to keep making records. We’ll never split, sorry folks!”

‘Always – The Very Best of ERASURE’ is released by Mute / BMG as a double vinyl LP on 18 August 2023






Text by Chi Ming Lai
15 August 2023


While ‘World Be Gone’ brought a somewhat sombre mood to the ERASURE stable, the expectations for the opus number 18 were mixed.

To the hardcore fans of the Bell / Clarke combo, ‘The Violet Flame’ remained the best contemporary production from the twosome with many not too appreciative of the more reflective offerings contained on the 2017 album.

The newest studio long player ‘The Neon’ comes about at the right moment to celebrate the achievements of Vince Clarke who received the Special Recognition Award from the Association of Independent Music.

Recorded in Brooklyn and Atlanta and mixed in London, ‘The Neon’ refreshes the pair’s love for great pop, which is what they have relentlessly been offering for decades, never letting down, never disappointing. With 2020 certainly being the year that will go down in history, it needs a strong pick me up and that’s where the shiny sparkler comes in.

The album is heralded by ‘Hey Now (Think I Got A Feeling)’ which, while not being the strongest ever single, does a great job introducing the newest material, harking back to the quintessential ERASURE sounds. ‘Hey Now’ has enough passion and positivity to lift the moods and set the stage for more colourful offerings and the following song ‘Nerves Of Steel’ does not disappoint.

Accompanied by superb video featuring 20 LGBTQIA+ stars, some known for their appearance on ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’, the song oozes positivity and love. Andy Bell claims this to be his favourite track on ‘The Neon’ and it is plain to see why.

Beautifully composed and expertly written, with a superbly executed bridge which slides seamlessly into the catchy chorus, the songwriting genius shines through, reminiscent of some chosen gems from the ‘Cowboy’ era. ‘Fallen Angel’ ushers in an urgent, bumpy synth, rhythmically canvassing the beauty of Bell’s vocals, who’s trying “all of the things that give (him) love”. 

Faster and fuller, ‘No Point In Tripping’ is a positivity pill necessary to survive the bizarre times we live in, while ‘Shot A Satellite’ is a memory lane journey through the years of ERASURE. Bell sounds as fresh as ever, proving his singing prowess once again.

The more demure, slow paced ‘Tower of Love’ layers haunting vocals over magnificent synth lines brooding to explode into big chorus. A faster tempo returns on the analogue driven ‘Diamond Lies’.

This is a stance that is continued on ‘Careful What I Try To Do’ with its melodic bass and magical synth play; Clarke is at his best here for sure. Some haunting piano on ‘New Horizons’ paints the picture of hope and positivity in love, a ballad that Bell sings to a lover and not that dissimilar to their massive ‘Home’ from ‘Chorus’, but stripped down and adapted to the new reality.

The opus closes with poignant synth gem of ‘Kid You’re Not Alone’ which sees Bell playing with his vocals over a gentle melody, enveloping the listener into a warm summer embrace of hope, love and freedom from judgement.

With Clarke finally recognised for his genius and Bell continually proving to be one of the best vocalists and songwriters, 35 years later, the duo still provide the magnificent sonics and sparkling electricity laced with the voice of an angel.

If you need a pick me up entwined with a trip down memory lane, look no further; ERASURE have got you.

‘The Neon’ is released by Mute Artists in a variety of formats





Text by Monika Izabela Trigwell
Photos by Phil Sharp
22nd August 2020

ANDY BELL Torsten In Queereteria

As described by Andy Bell himself, Torsten has been “the biggest challenge of (his) career so far”.

Having released solo projects before, 2014 saw the birth of an age-defying polysexual in a stage production that bent genres and shook values, shocking as well as eliciting love and empathy towards the wounded figure of a hedonistic individual who endlessly looks for love and acceptance.

The first in the series, ‘Torsten The Bareback Saint’, was “sporadic, psychotic, quite confusing to people” according to Bell, describing the hero’s early days, his time as a schoolboy, the first jobs, the first loves of both sexes as well as Torsten’s fragile mental state.

‘Torsten The Beautiful Libertine’ painted a clearer picture of his character, delving deeper into the past and showing the cracks in his existence. It’s the tale of a man who “finds himself in extraordinary circumstances” and simply trying to continue his endless being.

Written as a collaboration between Andy Bell, poet playwright Barney Ashton-Bullock and the musical genius of Christopher Frost, the Torsten productions enjoyed viewings during The Edinburgh Fringe Festival and a four week run at Above The Stag Theatre in London respectively. And now Torsten returns ‘In Queereteria’, which covers four acts depicting various aspects of the semi-immortal’s life story and his self-realisation.

Act one, entitled ‘Remembrance, Youth and Beauty’ ushers the sadness that defines Torsten’s existence, the eternal fight that goes on in his mind, the realisation that his “beautiful libertine” times will pass, and ‘A Hundred Years Plus Today’ he may or may not be here. While ‘You Stampede An Open Wound’ of a “broken man”, this bossa nova deepens the melancholy further, leading “so far from home” on ‘Lowland Lowriders’.

The nautical sounds of ‘I Am Of The Sea’ float ominously over the storms of life, fighting the tempest of survival over the “seven seas from home”.

The second act, ‘The Hedonism And The Hurting’ brings back the city lights in ‘Cabaret Awayday’; a highly melodic piece which crudely describes the random sexual encounters “in a toilet cubicle” under “flickering strip lights” performing the chosen “subtle perversion”. But it is the ‘Queereteria’ club with its “musical diarrhoea” where the debauchery reigns above all, even ‘If We Want To Drink A Little’, while duetting with Hazel O’Connor.

‘Bitter Regrets’ is Act Three, where ‘Thou Shalt Be My Vibe’ portrays an intoxicated Torsten, who’s realised he’s hit the bottomless hole. The rent boy status of ‘Money With Menaces’ doesn’t seem to suit him anymore, while he tries to deny the fact his drinking is beyond control in ‘Let’s Be Sober Another Time’, even inviting his remaining acquaintances to ‘Come And Taste My Breakdown’. Like in a dark circus of “insanity and breakdown”, Torsten seems to lose himself thoroughly.

Some balance is restored in Act Four ‘To Mourn And To Miss’, seeing an older Torsten who’s trying to distance himself from the years of partying and loose lifestyle. ‘To Know Good Men From Perverts’ is a lesson of being able to distinguish between those who wish one harm and those whose intentions are pure. The leading single from the album, ‘We Haven’t Slept For Twenty Years’, describes the crazy times of constant over indulging “cruising for kicks” and “not giving a toss years” with a romantic approach, as if watching one’s life like a series of slides. Incidentally, the song has also been separately remixed by the Welsh duo SHELTER, with frontman Mark Bebb providing additional backing vocals.

A tribute to an aged lover recently lost is presented in ‘Silence Is Golden’. The closing ‘Not Opting Out’ brings the realisation that Torsten’s life may be coming to an end, yet he’s still adapting to the changes it’s bringing, even if it’s becoming harder and harder to keep up.

‘Queereteria TV’ is scheduled to open to audiences at Above The Stag Theatre in London, where Torsten finds himself in post-apocalyptic Britain, wanting to reinstate live TV transmissions from ‘Queereteria’ cruising club. This time joined by Peter Straker of ‘Hair’ and ‘Doctor Who’ amongst others, alongside Barney Ashton-Bullock and Christopher Frost, Andy Bell is likely to bring Torsten to life again, signing his heart out, portraying the melancholy and sadness of Torsten’s long existence.

‘Torsten In Queereteria’ is released by Cherry Red as a CD and download on 12th April 2019; available from https://www.cherryred.co.uk/product/andy-bell-torsten-in-queereteria-cd/

Andy Bell stars in ‘Queereteria TV’ at Above The Stag Theatre from 10th April to 28th April 2019, this is a musical comedy set in a post apocalypse Britain where three egotistical misfits attempt to reinstate live TV transmissions from the infamous ‘Queereteria’ cruising club. It also stars Peter Straker alongside the other two members of ‘Andy Bell is Torsten’ collective, Barney Ashton-Bullock and Christopher Frost – tickets available from: http://www.abovethestag.com/vxl/whatson/torsten/




Text by Monika Izabela Trigwell
9th April 2016

A Short Conversation with ANDY BELL

Andy Bell is Torsten again!

Introducing the third part of Torsten’s highs and lows, the celebrated ERASURE frontman tackles the task described previously as the biggest challenge of his career. ‘Torsten In Queereteria’ wraps up the triptych, following ‘Torsten The Bareback Saint’ and ‘Torsten The Beautiful Libertine’, where the story of the age defying polysexual is sung with the angelic Bell’s voice.

Written as a collaboration between Bell, poet / playwright Barney Ashton-Bullock and the musical genius of Christopher Frost, the Torsten productions enjoyed viewings during The Edinburgh Fringe Festival and a four week run at Above The Stag Theatre in London respectively.

ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK had the pleasure to chat to Andy Bell again to discover what the Torsten plays brought into his artistic life…

The first Torsten shows back in 2014 were presented to very limited audiences, with many not knowing it was ERASURE’S Andy Bell, ‘The Beautiful Libertine’, however, picked up a wider crowd?

I think perhaps the word had started to spread that is was something completely different from what people associated me with, it’s quite hard to break away from the pop mould and takes perseverance but once I’d signed up to the project you must see it through Barney and Chris are very talented and Above the Stag have been very generous with their time!

After the first shows, did you have a feeling you did something very right?

I wouldn’t say whether it was right or wrong but I have faith in the songs and the concept.

And then came the continuations, with the latest being the third in the series… will this be the last part of Torsten’s story?

I don’t imagine this will be the last we’ve heard of Torsten as long as Barney keeps him alive.

A couple of years ago we spoke about the braveness of the content of Torsten’s songs, and the fact some people were quite uncomfortable with the “close to the bone” references. Do you feel the audiences will have come to accept the highs and lows of Torsten’s by his third outing?

I think the state of the world has become a lot open as if with the internet the genie has been let out of the bottle so to speak so people are less afraid to discuss intimate subjects.

Inevitably many see Torsten in you, and maybe that’s what’s making it harder?

Well, I suppose there is some of him in me but I still wouldn’t like to discover the “fountain of youth”!

What did Vince think of the Torsten plays?

I’m not sure if he’s ever seen the stage version but he describes me as fearless… he doesn’t know how much I quake underneath.

And in the meantime, ERASURE rose to greater heights with the superb ‘World Be Gone’… unusually so, you showcased the album in its entirety alongside some of the top hits during your live performances, a very brave move…

I think we never want to be a cliché and try different things you have to take the long route and go against the grain, it’s harder work sometimes but well worth the effort.

Would you say the world has moved on since the first Torsten and his character would be more understood now, in 2019?

Definitely but probably in either direction its more extreme now.

The latest Torsten is divided into four acts, what was the idea behind this particular approach?

That’s just the running order to make the songs more palatable and understood.

All three productions don’t shy from flowery, at times vulgar and obscene language. Torsten’s story is as real as it gets…

I think it’s probably very reminiscent of medieval London.

After the first instalment of Torsten, you felt you wouldn’t be able to get on with someone like him in real life. Having now completed the cycle, would you say you know and understand the character deeper?

I think he’s a lot more knowing and considerate than I gave him credit for you’d say that life’s too short but for him it’s the opposite way round.

The talents of Andy Bell don’t end there, though. What’s next for you?

More writing with Vince and some retro ‘Lets Rock’ solo shows.

As with the previous shows, the soundtrack is being released as an album, will there be a remix version too? As a little birdie tells me you invited Mark and Rob from SHELTER to do a remix of one of the tracks?

I think there will be!

Maybe it’s time for another solo pop project now?

I can’t decide whether to do something more orchestral or Northern Soulish. X

ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK gives its warmest thanks to Andy Bell

Special thanks to Sharon Chevin at The Publicity Connection and Matt Ingham at Cherry Red

‘Torsten In Queereteria’ is released by Cherry Red as a CD and download on 12th April 2019; pre-order at https://www.cherryred.co.uk/product/andy-bell-torsten-in-queereteria-cd/

Andy Bell stars in “Queereteria TV” at Above The Stag Theatre from 10th April to 28th April 2019, this is a musical comedy set in a post apocalypse Britain where three egotistical misfits attempt to reinstate live TV transmissions from the infamous ‘Queereteria’ cruising club. It also stars Peter Straker alongside the other two members of ‘Andy Bell is Torsten’ collective, Barney Ashton-Bullock and Christopher Frost – tickets available from: http://www.abovethestag.com/vxl/whatson/torsten/





Text and Interview by Monika Izabela Trigwell
1st April 2019

SHELTER Interview

Last year, Welsh duo SHELTER “ascended” onto the hungry synthpop fans with a bang, following their debut ‘Emerge’.

Oh, and did they emerge; with a larger than life frontman in Mark Bebb and the equally adept producer Rob Bradley in charge of musical execution. Andy Bell himself chose the boys to work with him on his ‘iPop’ adventure and ERASURE invited SHELTER to support them during ‘The Violet Flame’ tour.

And now the Welsh duo are known far and wide for providing the synth loving boys and girls with catchy tunes and exuberant live shows. ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK caught up with Mark and Rob over a glass of red…

SHELTER are now quite popular with fans of easy listening electronica. But how did it all start?

Mark: We’ve been working and writing together since 1999. Rob had a studio and I was in a boyband looking for a studio. My brother recommended Rob. We shared a love of electronic music and hit it off immediately. We started making music and quickly achieved success as finalists in Future Music’s national ‘Undiscovered Originals’ song writing competition and we’ve just continued from there.

JOHAN BAECKSTRÖM is doing ERASURE-like synthpop in Sweden as is MATTHIAS in Canada, was your choice of musical style deliberate, or did things just happen?

Mark: We are both massive ERASURE fans but we don’t try to emulate them. Our style has evolved organically due to our love of all things synthpop and electronica and we are not afraid to experiment a little. We do try and keep the sound consistent though, with the fact that we are an electronic two piece band.

Talking about MATTHIAS, how did the collaboration on ‘Code’ come about?

Mark: Our artwork is created by Canadian music video producer and good friend Stephano Barberis. Stephano manages Matt Danforth aka MATTHIAS and connected us. Since then Matt has remixed one or our tracks ‘Figaro’ and Rob has produced a remake of Matt’s FRONT & CENTRE single ‘Everytime’. Matt asked if we would get involved in his project but Rob was busy, so I worked directly with Matt.

How do you both feel about working on non-SHELTER related products?

Rob: I’m always glad to have a bit of peace and quiet! On a serious note though, I take on paid production work from time to time and I think it helps to challenge me to try and learn new things.

Andy Bell and ‘iPop’, who approached whom?

Mark: ‘iPop’ never started life as an album. We approached Andy privately and sent him an early demo of ‘Beautiful’. We’d written the song with Andy in mind and within minutes he rang us excitedly saying he absolutely loved the song and that he’s gonna fly over early in the New Year and stay for a week to record his vocals at our studio.

Rob: We recorded ‘Beautiful’ quite quickly and spent the rest of the week going through lots of our demos and picking ones he liked. We recorded 11 tracks in 7 days, 8 of which made it to the ‘iPop’ album. Voila, ‘iPop’ was born.

And then came your support slots on ‘The Violet Flame’ Tour…

Mark: Yes, amazing, ‘The Violet Flame’ and ‘iPop’ were truly life-changing turning points for us as a band. Vince Clarke very kindly worked with us on the track ‘Lift Me Up’ from ‘iPop’, so we think Andy and Vince maybe put in a good word for us to their manager in New York.

Out of the blue one day we got an e-mail which quite literally read “How about these 8 dates guys?” with 8 dates spanning UK, Germany and Denmark ie The European leg of the tour. I needed to read the e-mail numerous times to believe it, then rang Rob and asked him if he was sitting down! Rob suffice-to-say didn’t believe me as he naturally would find such news difficult to swallow!

Rob: I asked him to send me the e-mail. I rang him back and we were quite literally fit to burst with excitement and immediately accepted the offer of course.

Your approach to live gigs seems like an elaborate affair, with all the vibrant costumes and such…

Mark: Yes, we think it’s important to take what you do seriously, but not to take yourselves too seriously. We try to always put on reasonably elaborate and flamboyant live stage performances.

This is primarily why Rob uses a keytar, to enable him to be more animated and mobile on-stage.

Rob: Convincing me to get a little more experimental with outfits took a number of years longer! *laughs*

Mark: I have to say he’s actually very open minded to creative things and pushing boundaries for someone a lot quieter and more reserved than me! Seeing Rob step out supporting DE/VISION in a silver LED light suit was a really highlight for me. I’ve always kinda just worn what ‘feels right’ for me to wear in a kinda non-binary / gender fluid approach. It’s less about orientation or gender for me and more about what best suits what we’re doing musically and visually at any given time, without feeling stifled or guided by the hand of convention.

As a band, how do you take criticism?

Mark: We take criticism on the chin simple as. Whenever you put anything you’ve created out there into the public domain, you are by default open to criticism. If you ‘invite’ or ‘volunteer’ your work out into the public domain, you have to expect feedback and opinion good, bad and indifferent. I think if you can’t take criticism, you’re clearly in the wrong game frankly. You’re always going to be judged in some way or other, no matter what your outputs concern themselves with. We do always listen to people’s feedback though.

What are your musical influences?

Mark: Again simply too many to list really, but I guess my historical constants would have to be ERASURE, DEPECHE MODE, KRAFTWERK, DEAD OR ALIVE, BRONSKI BEAT, NEW ORDER, FRONT 242, OMD etc. More recently, I tend to also add in lots more independent acts such as ASSEMBLAGE 23 (Tom Shear), VNV NATION, IAMX, MARSHEAUX, AESTHETIC PERFECTION etc.

In my car right now though almost on permanent repeat is ‘Metanoia’ by IAMX which, in my humble opinion is quite frankly a complete work of musical and production genius.

Rob: I basically love all music, apart from maybe thrash metal and opera *laughs*

But my real passion is for electronic 80s music like THE HUMAN LEAGUE, HOWARD JONES, HEAVEN 17, YAZOO, THOMPSON TWINS etc. I love the music that these early synth pioneers made and I just try to make new music in a similar, but evolved style in order to fill a gap that I feel they left behind. I’m obviously a massive ERASURE fan too, but thankfully they’re still delivering awesome new music in their same classic style. I do love to venture and experiment into different production styles though, but it’s always the retro electro stuff that tends to stay on my car playlist.

You’ve already “emerged” and “ascended”, what’s to come next?

Mark: Next comes ‘Soar’ – our debut trilogy of album releases were originally based on the metamorphosis and life-cycle of a butterfly. We’ve got to finish writing and recording our ‘difficult 3rd album’ first though before our beautiful butterfly takes to the sky.

Your most recent single ‘Karma’ is quite poignant. What’s the subject matter behind it, apart from the obvious?

Mark: No catch or hidden meanings with ‘Karma’, it does exactly what it says on the tin. “You can’t put out something, without a string that ties you back to it”; the opening line eloquently summarises the whole intent of the track. When I was younger, I always remember seeing a Snoopy and Woodstock sketch where Snoopy had a tennis bat and hit the ball and it bounced back and was hurtling back towards poor Snoopy.

The caption beneath it said; “… for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction!” – that stayed with me and I think ‘Karma’ pays homage to that life principle. ‘Karma’ also embraces SHELTER’s darker, edgier side which Rob and I love doing from time-to-time.

Mark, your voice seems to have blossomed lately, you must look after it well…

Mark: That’s all down to Rob’s production mastery and studio trickery. He’s very good at making me sound very good. Not revealing any of our bag of tricks or our trade secrets here! *laughs out loud*

Thank you though, that’s such a lovely thing to be told as a singer, and I will very graciously accept that lovely compliment and quit while I’m ahead 😉

Any plans to produce other artists?

Rob: My immediate priority is to finish our next SHELTER album. Mark and I are getting a real buzz from writing new songs at the moment, so I want to keep focused on SHELTER as much as possible. I do however have a couple of production jobs for some clients to work on outside of SHELTER and I think after the album is done I’d like to have a crack at doing a one-off solo single. I doubt it will ever happen but I’ve always wanted to have a go.

Coming back to live performances, SHELTER do gig extensively…

Mark: We do try to gig where and when we can, as it’s where we get a chance to reach out and directly connect with people who enjoy our music. Also it allows us to ‘road-test’ our music and see what works best in a live environment and see which tracks people respond more favourably to.

It goes without saying that our extensive and growing wardrobe also gets a bit of an airing. Rob and I always make a real effort for our live gigs with lots of behind-the-scenes debate regarding set lists, costume co-ordination etc.

Rob: Performing will always remain pivotal for a band to better connect with and understand those who like your music and also keeps you on the edge with adrenaline in terms of your performance prowess as gigging is instantaneous and unforgiving in terms of whether you can still ‘cut it’ as an artist.

Mark: We’re looking forward to playing back in Denmark shortly. Denmark has become our second home for playing live which is amazing.

ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK gives its warmest thanks to SHELTER

Additional thanks to Si Skinner

‘Karma’ is released by Ministry Of Pop as a digital single and available from the usual platforms




Text and Interview by Monika Izabela Trigwell
30th October 2017, updated 9th February 2018

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