Released in 1991, ‘Ripe’ was the only album by BANDERAS.
The pairing of Caroline Buckley and Sally Herbert met in 1987 when they were in the live band of THE COMMUNARDS, the duo comprising of Jimmy Somerville, formally of BRONSKI BEAT and Richard Coles, now a BBC TV vicar and more recently, a ‘Strictly Come Dancing’ contestant.
THE COMMUNARDS had HI-NRG hits with covers of the disco classics ‘Don’t Leave Me This Way’ and ‘Never Can Say Goodbye’, so were in demand on the concert circuit.
Buckley filled the big shoes of Sarah-Jane Morris who had moved on to pursue a solo career while Herbert was in the string section which also included Audrey Riley, Jocelyn Pook and Anne Stephenson. After THE COMMUNARDS disbanded and Jimmy Somerville loaned the pair a Yamaha DX7 and a sampler, Buckley and Herbert became BANDERAS, the Spanish word for “flag”. Adopting a striking shaven headed image, they began writing songs and gigging, eventually coming to the attention of producer Stephen Hague’s manager.
THE COMMUNARDS’s second and final album ‘Red’ featured contributions from Buckley and Herbert, so having worked with Stephen Hague in his capacity as its producer, the American was an obvious and natural choice to helm BANDERAS’ debut long player. And to keep things in THE COMMUNARDS’ family, they also signed to their label London Records.
Things looked promising for BANDERAS and this was outlined by the cast of players on the album; special guests included Bernard Sumner, Johnny Marr and old pal Jimmy Somerville while there were noted sessioners on board such as Luís Jardim, Guy Pratt and Stevie Lange as well former band mates Audrey Riley and Jocelyn Pook.
The album’s ace was the magnificent ‘This Is Your Life’, one of the last songs written and recorded for ‘Ripe’. Using a sample from Grace Jones’ ‘Crack Attack’, it had a distinct Pet Shop Girls behavioural vibe to it. Meanwhile there was also the added bonus of Johnny Marr and Bernard Sumner on rhythm guitars plus a terrific middle eight section featuring Sumner’s vocals before an emotive synth solo. “There is no rehearsal, no second chance” sang Buckley and Sumner together but rather prophetically, despite ‘This Is Your Life’ reaching No16 in the UK singles charts, there were no more hits for BANDERAS.
With a banging drum mantra and a catchy riff, the more uptempo second single ‘She Sells’ was a shopping list song that just missed out on a Top40 chart entry. But despite lyrics attacking the advertising industry’s use of sexist stereotypes, the message proved to be less appealing than the melancholic but uplifting YOLO stance of ‘This Is Your Life’.
The third BANDERAS single ‘May This Be Your Last Sorrow’ fared even worse, but despite being inspired by a scene from a film in Arabic where the mourners were reciting to a bereaved family, the funereal trip-hop with its dub-laden backdrop foresaw the likes of ONE DOVE, THE ALOOF and PORTISHEAD.
Alongside the singles, ‘Ripe’ had other highlights. It was not difficult to imagine either Neil Tennant or Jimmy Somerville singing on ‘The Comfort Of Faith’, a song questioning unconditional religious devotion that came with a typically classic Stephen Hague production while with an orchestral arrangement that undoubtedly seeded Herbert’s future career as a film score composer, ‘Why Aren’t You In Love With Me?’ was BANDERAS’ take on Philly soul with Buckley’s emotive resignation in harmony with a comparatively understated falsetto from Jimmy Sommerville.
Most striking was ‘It’s Written All Over My Face’, a bare self-produced song which despite its countrified acoustic guitar recalled the pulsing electronic arrangement of Marianne Faithfull’s version of ‘The Ballad Of Lucy Jordan’. Also quite stripped down was ‘Too Good’ featuring a stark percussive groove augmented by fretless bass runs while the album’s closer ‘Never Too Late’ saw the duo offer their take on Patsy Cline.
Interestingly in the booklet notes, neither Buckley nor Herbert express any great enthusiasm for ‘First Hand’ or ‘Don’t Let That Man’ but while these do not hit the heights of the album’s highlights, they are not bad but sound very much of their time.
A second album was in the works to be produced by Alan Moulder but London Records lost interest and BANDERAS quietly disbanded. In the past 5 years, both Caroline Buckley and Sally Herbert have worked independently with Jimmy Somerville on various projects, so it is apt that the wee Scotsman conducts the short interview with them for the reissue of ‘Ripe’.
Anthologised by Cherry Red on their 90/9 imprint, ‘Ripe’ has been remastered as a double CD edition with the album plus B-sides coupled with a collection of remixes, many of which actually seem to feature the structures of the various songs, documenting a period just before the club DJ remix madness went into overdrive.
‘This Is Your Life’ may be considered something of a one hit wonder but to have written such a timeless song that resonates with the public, even if it is for a limited moment in time, is a gift to any composer. Regardless of that, based on the evidence of ‘Ripe’, BANDERAS delivered an album that was worthy of the supporting cast that helped embellish it.
If you missed ‘Ripe’ first time round, now is a good time to catch up 30 years on…
Portland born Stephen Hague first came to musical prominence in 1984 with his production of Malcolm McLaren’s ‘Madam Butterfly’, an incongruous blend of opera, soul, hip-hop and electropop.
Although an experienced hand having already notched up a hit with the breakdancing novelty record ‘(Hey You) The Rock Steady Crew’ in 1983, the cinematic arthouse resonance of ‘Madam Butterfly’ allowed Hague to be taken more seriously musically.
As one of the first advocates of digital recording, he was seen as someone who could helm a modern polished sound to maximise the dynamics of the then new compact disc medium.
Two acts who were listening closely were OMD and PET SHOP BOYS. Hague’s first full album production was OMD’s ‘Crush’ in 1985 but it was with his re-recorded version of ‘West End Girls’ that PET SHOP BOYS hit No1 in both the UK and US in 1986.
Interestingly, the character of its distinctive bass synth was achieved by Hague coercing a reluctant Chris Lowe into hand playing the riff while the track fulfilled Neil Tennant’s concept of the duo sounding “like an English rap group”. Hague’s work on ‘West End Girls’ made him a producer-in-demand and started an imperial phase which mirrored that of PET SHOP BOYS themselves.
Although Hague was not involved in OMD’s massive American hit ‘If You Leave’ from the John Hughes teen flick ‘Pretty In Pink’, he was the music supervisor of Hughes’ next film ‘Some Kind of Wonderful’ which included PROPAGANDA and FURNITURE in the soundtrack. He then went through a particularly prolific period with a variety of synth flavoured acts such as NEW ORDER, ERASURE and COMMUNARDS, while also working with artists as diverse as PUBLIC IMAGE LIMITED, ONE DOVE, BROTHER BEYOND and THE MODERN.
One of the main criticisms of Stephen Hague’s sound was that his wash of digital synths and smoothed over percussion lacked edge. But as Hague would argue, pop music “carries certain traditions of structure and expectation”. Thus his work made considerations to the placement of instruments and voices, while giving any new technology an organic touch that still sounded positively futuristic.
Hague later got his foot in the door occasionally during the Britpop era with productions for DUBSTAR, BLUR, JAMES and even MANIC STREET PREACHERS. But it is electronic pop that Hague is best known for and his best work has certainly pointed to an affinity with synthetic textures.
So quite why REM asked him to produce a demo, only for them to then complain that the results were too synth heavy, remains a mystery.
When ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK first acquired a car, a mix tape conceived around Hague’s various productions was the first cassette created for its incumbent entertainment system. In effect, this was a various artists compilation but with a wonderfully cohesive sonic core.
So what eighteen songs would go on an imaginary compilation today as an introduction to the work of this under rated, but very gifted producer? Listed in chronological order with a restriction of one song per artist moniker, here are our choices…
MALCOLM McLAREN Madam Butterfly (1984)
Based on Puccini’s iconic work, ‘Madam Butterfly’ became Stephen Hague’s production showcase with DX slap bass and a reverberating drum machine sitting next to haunting synth motifs and a highly emotive aria. With the late McLaren in the role of Colonel Pinkerton, the beautifully soulful vocal of Deborah Cole as Cho-Cho San and operatic stylings from Betty-Ann White provided a refreshing sound that was in its way, quietly subversive as one of the most beautiful records from the early digital era.
Available on the album ‘Fans’ via Charisma Records
Inspired by the steadfast groove of Grace Jones’ ‘Slave To The Rhythm’, ‘(Forever) Live & Die’ had been written alone by Paul Humphreys about missing his then wife Maureen who was away working on a ballet. A hit in both the UK and US, while the song pointed more towards the Trans-Atlantic aspirations of OMD following the success of ‘If You Leave’ in America, it still possessed elements of their Kling Klang inspired roots with KRAFTWERK’s melodic sensibilities and Vako Orchestron derived choirs looming in the mix.
PET SHOP BOYS & DUSTY SPRINGFIELD What Have I Done To Deserve This? (1987)
Originally slated for ‘Please’, ‘What Have I Done To Deserve This?’ sounded like three songs morphed into one, but that was because it actually was. Chris Lowe and Neil Tennant did their respective pop art sections while Allie Willis who co-wrote ‘Boogie Wonderland’ came up with the rather blissful chorus. The song went into another sphere once Dusty Springfield was brought out of semi-retirement to add her voice and ad-libs. The smoothness of Hague’s production provided the perfect backing.
‘True Faith’ was a superb indicator of how Hague could transform a band without necessarily hindering their ethos. During recording, Hague insisted that Bernard Sumner laid down his lead vocal early on in the session so that the instrumentation could be built around his voice. The result was that there was a more subtle dynamic space in the finished track with the occasionally messy wall of sound effect that had been a characteristic of NEW ORDER’s self-produced recordings reduced.
If a young Rod Stewart had joined PET SHOP BOYS, what would the end result have sounded like? It might probably have been like CLIMIE FISHER. The late Rob Fisher had Stateside success in NAKED EYES while Simon Climie had proved his worth with his No1 song ‘I Knew You Were Waiting’ for Aretha Franklin and George Michael. ‘Love Changes (Everything)’ continued that latter tradition, but with slightly more synthesized backing.
Probably Hague’s best known production worldwide, ‘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 omnipresent in all the great pop songs like ‘Dancing Queen’, ‘The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore’ and ‘Careless Whisper’.
The former FRANKIE GOES TO HOLLYWOOD front man’s first hit ‘Love Train’ had been mixed by Hague but the producer was fully involved in the recording of ‘Heaven’s Here’, a stand out track from the ‘Blast’ album which also later came out as a single. A lush love ballad, ‘Heaven’s Here’ took a leaf out of ERASURE’s vocal sensitivity to allow Johnson to present a less in-yer-face vocal style that perhaps he had not really visited since ‘The Power Of Love’.
Available on the album ‘Blast’ via Cherry Red Records
Having worked on COMMUNARDS’ ‘Red’ opus which spawned a rather fabulous cover of ‘Never Can Say Goodbye’, Stephen Hague was often a willing conspirator in aiding Somerville’s reputation as a falsetto Karaoke machine. However, ‘Heaven Here On Earth’ was a beautifully sumptuous layered self-composition from Somerville that was one of the best tracks on his debut solo offering ‘Read My Lips’. The staccato voice samples towards the song’s conclusion provided an enticing lift.
With an epic orchestration and the ghost of Brel deep within its arrangement, ‘A Lover Spurned’ could only have been a single by Marc Almond. A forerunner to the Trevor Horn assisted second side concept of ‘Tenement Symphony’ that was to come a year later, ‘A Lover Spurned’ was Almond at his narrative best with ‘The Life & Loves Of A She-Devil’ actress Julie T Wallace giving a stern spoken cameo as the title character that added a ‘Fatal Attraction’ menace to proceedings.
BANDERAS were vocalist Caroline Buckley and instrumentalist Sally Herbert and ‘This Is Your Life’ with its sample from Grace Jones ‘Crack Attack’ had a distinct Pet Shop Girls behavioural vibe to it. There was also the added bonus of Johnny Marr on rhythm guitar plus a terrific middle eight section featuring Bernard Sumner on backing vocals before an emotive synth solo. “There is no rehearsal, no second chance” sang Buckley and Sumner rather prophetically as there were sadly to be no more hits…
It seemed a strange pairing but what Stephen Hague brought to The Banshees was an exotic Middle Eastern sheen driven by synthesizers that was complimented by some sparkling rhythm guitar. Long standing fans were outraged but ‘Kiss Them For Me’ possessed an accessibility that prised away some of the perceived threatening spectres of their previous work. Siouxsie Sioux may have been unhappy with the ‘Superstition’ album overall, but it yielded a huge US hit.
The join between NEW ORDER and PET SHOP BOYS became totally blurred with this Europop styled number inspired by the French pop hit ‘Désenchantée’ by Mylene Farmer. The nucleus of Bernard Sumner and Johnny Marr were joined by occasional member Neil Tennant on lead vocals for this interim single. The effect of Stephen Hague’s input can be heard markedly on the two versions offered on the CD single; ELECTRONIC’s original mix was effectively a high quality demo. However, Hague’s pop sensibilities transformed ‘Disappointed’ into a fully functioning hit single.
From the side project of NEW ORDER’s Gillian Gilbert and Stephen Morris, ‘Selfish’ was another exquisite Stephen Hague production with its rich synthetic strings and lively but unobtrusive machine driven rhythms. Gilbert’s resigned vocal about “someone I hate” added to the inherent melancholy. Meanwhile the simulated acoustic guitar solo could easily have been represented by some Hooky bass had this number been a NEW ORDER recording, such was its melodic but understated quality.
Imagine Marc Almond impersonating Anthony Newley with a Gallic twist? Like some obscure monochromatic Nouvelle Vague movie theme, the esoteric nature of ‘To The End’ needed a lusher orchestrated treatment than for BLUR’s usual mockney Britpop, so Hague was recruited to produce it. Given added authenticity by Laetitia Sadier from STEREOLAB’s sanguine “Jusqu’a la fin – En plein soleil” and Hague’s accordion playing, ‘To The End’ was popular with many casual listeners.
Glorious string synths, rich bass and contemporary beats accompanied Sarah Blackwood’s girl-next-door vocal on DUBSTAR’s biggest UK hit single. The lyrical kitchen sink dramatics fitted well with the lush backing of ‘Stars’ as the trio stood on the bridge between synthpop and Cool Britannia. Hague produced a second album ‘Goodbye’ for DUBSTAR while he also continued his association with Blackwood later on when she formed CLIENT.
The brainchild of multi-instrumentalist Kate Holmes, TECHNIQUE were a female interpretation of PET SHOP BOYS crossed with NEW ORDER’s post-punk edge. The usual Hague poptastic trademarks were present on ‘You & Me’ and while not a hit in the UK, it was in the Far East via a cover version by Coco Lee. TECHNIQUE were booked to support DEPECHE MODE in Europe but when singer Xan Tyler went left, DUBSTAR’s Sarah Blackwood was recruited… that duo morphed into CLIENT…
A-HA were undergoing a career renaissance following ‘Minor Earth:Major Sky’. Stephen Hague produced four tracks on the follow-up ‘Lifelines’, the best of which was ‘You Wanted More’. Morten Harket had actually worked with Hague previously on a cover of ‘Can’t Take My Eyes Off Of You’ for the ‘Coneheads’ soundtrack. So with A-HA’s lush melancholic pop drama, the artistic union with Hague was particularly apt. Harket hit his marvellous falsetto in the chorus while a gospel sample added a strange twist.
One of two tracks Hague co-wrote and recorded for Ms Brücken’s ‘ComBined’ retrospective collection, ‘Thank You’ was like a Bond Theme reimagined by MASSIVE ATTACK, held together by a sumptuous percussive mood. The fruitful partnership led to a full album of reinterpretations entitled ‘The Lost Are Found’ which came out in 2012. Interestingly, it saw Hague revisit two of his original productions ‘Kings Cross’ and ‘The Day I See You Again’ for PET SHOP BOYS and DUBSTAR respectively.
Available on the album ‘ComBined’ via Salvo / Union Square Music