Tag: Berlin Blondes

A Beginner’s Guide To MIKE THORNE

Photo by JR Host

Born in Sunderland, Mike Thorne began learning to play piano at the age of 11.  

The lessons sparked a passion for music that led to him buying a tape recorder so that he could record songs off the radio. He then studied composition at The Guildhall School of Music & Drama. But despite later graduating with a physics degree from Oxford University, the music industry was where he wanted to be. His first jobs included tape op, journalist and then A&R at EMI looking after THE SEX PISTOLS during their short tenure at the label in 1976.

This led to becoming a house record producer at EMI and his first assignment involved recording 120 saxophones playing ‘The White Cliffs Of Dover’. After recording several live albums including ‘Live at The Roxy’, Thorne got his break producing French rock band TÉLÉPHONE whose eponymous debut album went gold.

New Yorkers THE SHIRTS and the Peter Godwin fronted METRO were among those followed, but it was his work on the first three albums by WIRE – a band he spotted and signed to PINK FLOYD’s label Harvest – that drew the most critical acclaim. The records demonstrated Thorne’s willingness to experiment in the studio, stripping down structures while adding electronic elements where appropriate.

Recognising that electronics and computers were the future of pop music and that a reinvention was likely by responding to new possibilities, Thorne had the foresight to purchase the first version of the NED Synclavier in 1979. A polyphonic digital sampling system and music workstation which used FM synthesis, it was to become his production mainstay and arrived in time for Colin Newman of WIRE’s first solo release and Scottish new wave quartet BERLIN BLONDES’ only long player.

Thorne moved to New York to become a freelance producer, working mostly at Media Sound Studio. But it was while in London working on the soundtrack to a Julie Christie film ‘Memoirs Of A Survivor’ that Thorne was commissioned by Phonogram Records to produce their new signing B-MOVIE. The deal had been brokered by Some Bizzare, an umbrella organisation that was more stable than label and part of the 2-for-1 arrangement was for him to work with a Northern synth duo called SOFT CELL. The rest, as they say, is history…

‘Tainted Love’, a cover of a song written by Ed Cobb and recorded by Gloria Jones, went to No1 and was the biggest selling UK single of 1981. It also spent a staggering 43 weeks on the US Billboard Hot 100. During the recording of ‘Tainted Love’, Thorne conceived a new way of producing an extended dance mix… the 12” single would be arranged and recorded first, with the 7” single version edited from sections of the longer track. Phonogram boss Roger Ames felt the track was a little slow so it was varispeeded up slightly for release!

Meanwhile, SOFT CELL were to enter an imperial phase of five successive Top4 UK hit singles with Thorne at the production helm including ‘Bedsitter’, ‘Say Hello Wave Goodbye’, ‘Torch’ and ‘What’. However, with the overwhelming success of their debut long player ‘Non Stop Erotic Cabaret’, tensions brewed during the recording of SOFT CELL’s appropriately titled second album ‘The Art Of Falling Apart’ leading to Thorne parting ways with the duo.

In 1984, Thorne was to produce one of the most important albums of his career when he was teamed up with BRONSKI BEAT for ‘The Age Of Consent’. The trio soon fragmented after its release, but Thorne followed their lead singer Jimmy Somerville to his new project THE COMMUNARDS with Richard Coles to achieve yet another No1 in a HI-NRG cover of ‘Don’t Leave Me This Way’; it was also the best-selling UK single of 1986.

Thorne’s ethos was always “to make music I liked with people I liked”. As well as working with more esoteric clients such as Marianne Faithful, Nina Hagen and Laurie Anderson, he was appreciated for his crossover potential in the mainstream with Daryl Hall & John Oates commissioning him to construct an Extended Club Mix of ‘Maneater’ in 1984 which included a breakdown clearly influenced by the middle section of the ‘Tainted Love’/ Where Did Our Love Go’ 12” segue.

Although Thorne ceased working as a hired hand from 1995, he continued as a producer for artists signed to his label imprint The Stereo Society while he issued his first his solo record ‘The Contessa’s Party’ in 2005 featuring special guests Kit Hain, Lene Lovich and Sarah Jane Morris.

Despite achieving two best-selling UK singles of the year, Mike Thorne has often slipped under the radar in discussions about notable record producers who led the start of the digital era. Documenting a significant and trailblazing career, here are 20 tracks selected by ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK which act a Beginner’s Guide to Mike Thorne, listed in yearly and then alphabetical order by artist moniker with a restriction of one track per album project.


WIRE I Am The Fly (1978)

Although WIRE’s debut ‘Pink Flag’ was minimalist post-punk rock, their sophomore offering, ‘Chairs Missing,’ adopted more song structure, art rock approaches and synthesizer textures brought in by Thorne. One of WIRE’s signature tracks, ‘I Am The Fly’ had menace and provocation, prompting audiences at gigs to start lying down, waving their limbs in the air like dying flies! Musically, its influence can be heard from TUBEWAY ARMY’s ‘My Shadow In Vain’ to ELASTICA’s ‘Lined Up’.

Available on the WIRE album ‘Chairs Missing’ via Pink Flag

http://www.pinkflag.com/


BERLIN BLONDES Framework (1980)

A meeting of synthesizers, art rock and obscure vocals, Glasgow’s BERLIN BLONDES exuded the detached European cool of David Bowie during his Mauerstadt exile and were unusual at the time for using a drum machine. The quartet only made one album produced by Thorne which was recorded at Gary Numan’s Rock City Studios, ‘Framework’ was syncopated futurist disco featuring crashing electronic beats and icy flashes of synth under the influence of SPARKS and MAGAZINE.

Available on the BERLIN BLONDES album ’The Complete Recordings 1980-81’ via Cherry Red Records

https://www.discogs.com/artist/512473-Berlin-Blondes


COLIN NEWMAN Order For Order (1980)

After three albums, WIRE split for the first time. Their lead vocalist Colin Newman released his first solo album, ‘A-Z’ in 1980, featuring songs created for the anticipated fourth WIRE album. It was produced by Thorne and could be considered a sonic companion to BERLIN BLONDES. ‘Order for Order’, explored the possibilities of new wave mainstream numbers and while some compared it to Gary Numan, it had more in common with MAGAZINE.

Available on the COLIN NEWMAN album ‘A–Z’ via Sentient Sonics

http://www.coldwarnightlife.com/features/shine-on-colin-newman/


B-MOVIE Remembrance Day (1981)

Despite being alongside DEPECHE MODE, SOFT CELL, BLANCMANGE and THE THE on the now iconic ‘Some Bizarre Album’, B-MOVIE were unable to secure a hit with the poignant magnificence of the Thorne produced ‘Remembrance Day’. The struggle for success and internal tensions led to the band fragmenting by 1983. But the song gained cult status and in 2004, American band THE FAINT presented a fine interpolation in ‘Southern Belles In London Sing’ .

Available on the compilation album ‘Dawn Of Electronica’ (V/A) via Demon Music Group

http://www.b-movie.co.uk/


KIT HAIN Spirits Walking Out (1981)

Kit Hain had an international hit ‘Dancing In The City’ with Julian Marshall in 1978 but after the duo split, Hain issued her debut solo album ‘Spirits Walking Out’ produced by Thorne. While ‘Danny’ was to be a minor single success, one of the album highlights was the synthesized cabaret noir of the dramatic title song. Hain was to have a role in the SOFT CELL story as it was her Roland CR78 Compurhythm which Thorne borrowed and used as the rhythmic backbone to ‘Tainted Love’.

Available on the KIT HAIN album ‘Spirits Walking Out’ via Renaissance Records

https://kittusmusic.com/


SOFT CELL Bedsitter – Early Morning Dance Side (1981)

With direction from Thorne, SOFT CELL often incorporated extra vocal sections into their 12” extended formats as on ‘Torch’, ‘Facility Girls’ and ‘Insecure Me’. So instead of purely instrumental breakdown extensions, ‘Bedsitter’ added a marvellous rap from Marc Almond where he asked “do you look a mess, do have a hangover?” before taking a little blusher. The literal kitchen sink drama to song concept saw tea leaves pushed down the drain as the night life started all over again.

Available on the SOFT CELL album ‘The Twelve Inch Singles’ via UMC

https://www.softcell.co.uk/


NINA HAGEN Tiatschi Tarot (1982)

Record in New York with Thorne, ‘NunSexMonkRock’ was the debut solo adventure by eccentric German singer Nina Hagen, as well as her first record with all her songs performed in English after disbanding her band after two acclaimed albums. While it was primarily a dissonant mix of punk, funk and reggae, ‘Taitschi-Tarot’ was a delightful oddball avant opera piece using piano and synths that covered the topics of Buddhism, reincarnation and yoga.

Available on the NINA HAGEN album ‘Nunsexmonkrock’ via Sony Music

https://ninahagendas.beepworld.de/


SOFT CELL Torch – 12” version (1982)

Thorne and Marc Almond agreed that ‘Torch’ was their finest moment of recording together. Punctuated by John Gatchell’s flugelhorn, ‘Torch’ came in the middle of SOFT CELL’s imperial pop phase and the 12” version was a pièce de résistance, fuelled by Almond and Dave Ball partying on the New York club scene where they met Cindy Ecstasy. In an amusing spoken middle section, her nonchalant off-key vocal counterpointed Almond’s fabulously forlorn romanticism.

Available on the SOFT CELL boxed set ‘Keychains & Snowstorms’ via UMC

https://www.facebook.com/softcell


THE THE Uncertain Smile (1982)

Still Matt Johnson’s finest five minutes as THE THE, ‘Uncertain Smile’ on its single release featured a wonderfully rigid TR808 pattern, lovely layers of synths and a variety of woodwinds including flute and sax. Produced by Mike Thorne, this fuller sounding and more emotive take far outstripped the bland and overly-long ‘Soul Mining’ album cut, which had been re-recorded by Thorne associate Paul Hardiman and included the extended boogie-woogie piano of Jools Holland…

Available on the THE THE album ’45 RPM – The Singles’ via Epic Records

https://www.thethe.com/


SEONA DANCING More To Lose (1983)

SEONA DANCING were the synthpop duo comprising of a young Ricky Gervais and his friend Bill McRae formed while they were students at University College London. With Gervais adopting a melodramatic Bowie-like persona as a doomed romantic, their first single ‘More To Lose’ produced by Mike Thorne was of its time. However, its incessant rhythms and tuneful keyboard inflections had appeal and the song became a surprise radio hit in The Philippines.

Available on the SEONA DANCING single ‘More To Lose’ via London Records

http://www.rickygervais.com/


SOFT CELL The Art Of Falling Apart (1983)

Whereas Mike Thorne had been a happy collaborator on their debut album ‘Non Stop Erotic Cabaret’, during the making of the follow-up, he was viewed as a controller and spy for Phonogram. As former art school students, pop stardom did not suit SOFT CELL so there was no option but for Marc Almond and Dave Ball to self-destruct. The imploding disposition of ‘The Art Of Falling Apart’ title song couldn’t have soundtracked a mental breakdown any better.

Available on the album ‘The Art Of Falling Apart’ via Mercury Records

https://www.instagram.com/softcellhq/


BRONSKI BEAT Smalltown Boy (1984)

When BRONSKI BEAT made their first ever TV appearance performing on BBC2’s ‘ORS’,  they were nothing short of startling, thanks to their look, their minimal synth sound and Somerville’s lonely earth shattering falsetto. The trio had sought to be more outspoken and political in their position as openly gay performers and the tale of the Mike Thorne produced ‘Smalltown Boy’ about a gay teenager fleeing his hometown made an important statement.

Available on the BRONSKI BEAT album ‘The Age Of Consent’ via London Records

https://www.jimmysomerville.co.uk/


THE COMMUNARDS Disenchanted (1986)

After leaving BRONSKI BEAT, Jimmy Somerville formed THE COMMUNARDS with future TV vicar Richard Coles and took Thorne with him to produce their self-titled debut. While more organic elements such as piano, brass and strings featured, there remained a HI-NRG electronic element. The brilliant ‘Disenchanted’ heavily recalled the sound of his previous band. Somerville never stuck around for long and his relationship with Coles was dissolved in 1987.

Available on THE COMMUNARDS album ‘Communards’ via London Records

https://www.facebook.com/officialjimmysomerville


HOLLYWOOD BEYOND Save Me (1987)

HOLLYWOOD BEYOND was the vehicle of flamboyant singer-songwriter Mark Rogers and he went Top10 with the Stephen Hague produced ‘What’s The Colour Of Money?’ in 1986. Mike Thorne was brought in to produce one track, ‘Save Me’, for the parent album ‘If’. Released as a single, it was an attempt to make a funkier version of BRONSKI BEAT and THE COMMUNARDS but Rogers lacked the vocal richness of Jimmy Somerville to pull it off.

Available on the HOLLYWOOD BEYOND album ‘If’ via Warner Music

https://www.discogs.com/artist/134514-Hollywood-Beyond


LAURIE ANDERSON The Day The Devil (1989)

Laurie Anderson’s fourth studio album ‘Strange Angels’ saw her attempt to move away from performance art into a more musical territory. Taking singing lessons and developing into a soprano, there was less of the spoken word that characterised her surprise No2 UK hit ‘O Superman’ and its parent album ‘Big Science’. Thorne produced four tracks on the album including ‘The Day the Devil’, a gothic art mini-opera with sinister diabolic overtones.

Available on the LAURIE ANDERSON album ‘Strange Angels’ via Warner Music

https://laurieanderson.com/


CHINA CRISIS Red Letter Day (1989)

While CHINA CRISIS had recorded their fifth album ‘Diary Of A Hollow Horse’ with STEELY DAN’s Walter Becker, Virgin Records had felt there were no potential hit singles. So the band were despatched to re-record three songs including ‘Red Letter Day’. Using a sharp piano figure reminiscent of Rupert Holmes’ one hit wonder ‘Escape (The Pina Colada Song)’ with more counterpoints, synths and vocal harmonies, the track was issued as the album’s second single but no hit was forthcoming.

Available on the CHINA CRISIS album ‘Diary Of A Hollow Horse’ via Virgin Records

https://www.facebook.com/chinacrisisofficial


BRONSKI BEAT I’m Gonna Run Away From You (1990)

Mike Thorne reunited with Steve Bronski and Larry Steinbachek when BRONSKI BEAT were rebooted in a new deal with Zomba Records subsidiary Zed Beat featuring a new vocalist Jonathan Hellyer who possessed a falsetto similar to Jimmy Somerville. The first track released was a frantic dance cover of ‘I’m Gonna Run Away From You’, a Northern Soul song made famous by Tami Lynn. Sadly, Larry Steinbachek passed away in 2017 and Steve Bronski in 2022.

Originally released as a single by Zed Beat, currently unavailable.

http://www.bronskibeat.co.uk/


INFORMATION SOCIETY Peace & Love, Inc (1992)

From Minneapolis, INFORMATION SOCIETY had their breakthrough ‘What’s On Your Mind (Pure Energy)’ in 1988. From the album of the same name on which Thorne produced 4 tracks, ‘Peace & Love, Inc’ was spikey and energetic social commentary with heavy rave influences with 808 STATE samples thrown in. Incidentally another album track ‘To Be Free’ was produced by Karl Bartos under his post-KRAFTWERK guise as ELEKTRIC MUSIC.

Available on the INFORMATION SOCIETY album ‘Peace & Love, Inc’ via Tommy Boy Records

https://www.facebook.com/informationsociety


PETER MURPHY Our Secret Garden (1992)

BAUHAUS front man Peter Murphy sought to capture the live feel of a band, having sampled musicians on his two previous works. But recording had not been straightforward and it was the longest time Thorne had worked on an album. the spacious and exotic ‘Our Secret Garden’ saw keyboards played by Murphy himself alongside the producer’s Synclavier. The ‘Holy Smoke’ album also reunited Thorne with B-MOVIE’s Paul Statham who was now acting as Murphy’s wingman.

Available on the PETER MURPHY album ‘Holy Smoke’ via Beggars Banquet Records

https://www.petermurphy.info/


MARC ALMOND We Need Jealousy (1996)

During Thorne’s reunion with Marc Almond in 1993, the singer was dismayed that the producer was still using his Synclavier. A change in record labels led to Thorne’s productions being remixed by THE BEATMASTERS and BIZARRE INC. Mixed by Gregg Jackman, ‘We Need Jealousy’ featured some great bassline programming augmented by ‘Motorbiking’ guitar by Chris Spedding. The experience drained Thorne, who withdrew from working as a hired hand.

Available on the MARC ALMOND album ‘Fantastic Star’ via Mercury Records

http://www.marcalmond.co.uk/


For personal commentary by Mike Thorne, archive articles and information on releases by The Stereo Society, please visit https://stereosociety.com/


Text by Chi Ming Lai with thanks to Simon Helm
20th February 2023

MUSIK, MUSIC, MUSIQUE 1980 | The Dawn Of Synth Pop

1977 is often seen as Year Zero for synthpop, thanks to hit singles by DONNA SUMMER, SPACE and JEAN-MICHEL JARRE.

But it was not until 1979 with TUBEWAY ARMY reaching No1 with ‘Are Friends Electric?’ that the sound of synth truly hit the mainstream.

Although ‘No1 Song In Heaven’ by SPARKS had actually been a hit a few months earlier, ‘Are Friends Electric?’ was the beginning of the synth being accepted as a worthy mode of expression, rather than as a novelty. But as synths became more affordable, they became the perfect tool of youthful expression.

From Cherry Red, makers of the excellent ’Electrical Language: Independent British Synth Pop 78-84’ 4CD boxed set, comes ‘Musik Music Musique’; subtitled ‘1980: The Dawn Of Synth Pop’, this 3CD 58 track collection explores the arrival of synth pop and the dawn of a new musical era. This was the year before the synth became the rule rather than the exception with the success of SOFT CELL and DEPECHE MODE.

The set starts appropriately with OMD and ‘Messages’, one of the first tunes showcasing the warmer side of electronics following the colder wave led by Messrs Numan and Foxx. But as if to counter this next generation of youngsters, ‘Messages’ is immediately followed by the collection’s vocoder laden title song ‘Musik Music Musique’ from Zeus B Held and the superb proto-industrial ode to loveless sex ‘Coitus Interruptus’ by the much missed FAD GADGET.

Zeus B Held was later to make his impression on popular culture remixing ALPHAVILLE and SIMPLE MINDS as well producing the likes of FASHION, DEAD OR ALIVE, SPEAR OF DESTINY and TRANSVISION VAMP, but his wider breakthrough came as part of GINA X PERFORMANCE in 1979 with The Blitz Club favourite ‘No GDM’; on this compendium, the lesser-known but just as worthy ‘Vendor’s Box’ from their second album ‘X-Traordinaire’ is deservedly provided a platform.

The best producers often earn their spurs as artists and realising their limitations, use their accumulated studio nous to subvert the mainstream via pop. ‘Astroboy’ by BUGGLES sees Trevor Horn develop his sonic architecture to prove that he had another song that wasn’t ‘Video Killed The Radio Star’. Meanwhile the welcome inclusion of NEW MUSIK’s other hit ‘This World Of Water’ allows Tony Mansfield to showcase the crafted sparkle that would later go on to adorn records by CAPTAIN SENSIBLE, VICIOUS PINK, A-HA and NAKED EYES.

It may seem strange to see SPANDAU BALLET as part of this package but when they first appeared, they were considered a synthesizer band; ‘Glow’ was a UK double A side single with ‘Musclebound’ in 1981 and while it was the last synth-led track they did, their funk soul aspirations were there for all to hear. In fact, songwriter Gary Kemp had conceived ‘Glow’ with a brass section in mind, so it is now something of a curio that could be seen as a precursor to ‘Chant No1’.

SPANDAU BALLET were produced by Richard James Burgess who co-designed the Simmons SDSV; his electro-jazz combo LANDSCAPE figure with the Colin Thurston helmed ‘European Man’ which was actually designated “electronic dance music” on its single artwork some three decades before it was appropriated and abbreviated to become EDM…

Many of the usual suspects from the period like VISAGE, JAPAN, THE HUMAN LEAGUE and OUR DAUGHTER’S WEDDING are all present and correct with familiar recordings, but interestingly (although not for the better), it’s the original version of Phil Lynott’s ‘Yellow Pearl’ without the Rusty Egan drums or the Midge Ure remix that gets the nod!

One of the main beauties of these thoughtfully curated collections is to be able sway away from the obvious and feature a known-name with a lesser-known work; in the case of ULTRAVOX, it’s the occasionally Eno-inspired and Conny Plank produced ‘Waiting’ which was the B-side to their first Midge Ure fronted single ‘Sleepwalk’. Meanwhile, SUICIDE are represented by the excellent Ric Ocasek produced ‘Diamonds, Fur Coat, Champagne’ and YELLO with ‘Bimbo’, the oddball opener of the Swiss trailblazers’ debut long player ‘Solid Pleasure’.

SILICON TEENS get to feature with something other than ‘Memphis Tennessee’ and it’s the Daniel Miller‘s self-penned instrumental ‘Chip N Roll’ that has the honour, while the Mute Records founder gets another track in with ‘Brushing Your Hair’, a gloriously vibrant instrumental production and co-write for Alex Fergusson of ALTERNATIVE TV.

There’s additionally tracks by lesser known international acts or those bands that faded from view after effectively being one hit wonders. The entire career of M may have been overshadowed by the ubiquitous ‘Pop Muzik’ but Robin Scott did go on to release three albums and work with Ryuichi Sakamoto; the sombre ‘Official Secrets’ may not really have much of a hook but it contains some percolating bleepy sections that pre-date KRAFTWERK’s ‘Home Computer’ by one year.

‘A Circuit Like Me’ from Australian combo, THE METRONOMES actually sounds very 21st century with its detached female vocal and charming monosynths, while the gallop of ‘Drawn & Quartered’ by THE KORGIS is a worthy find. Now while ROCKETS found fame with a catchy robotic flavoured cover of ‘On The Road Again’ with the help of Zeus B Held, the silver faced Italians found that the vocoder suited their performance art poise and reapplied it for the self-penned space rocker ‘Galactica’.

Also possessing a bit of a gallop is LORI & THE CHAMELEONS’ wispy Morricone-influenced single ‘The Lonely Spy’ although with its acoustic strum, it is quite different from the understated electronic disco of their best known track ‘Touch’. Cut from a similar melodic post-punk cloth, the Martin Hannett produced ‘Sympathy’ from PAULINE MURRAY & THE INVISIBLE GIRLS is a reminder of how women were coming to the fore after punk in synth-assisted new wave, a fact borne out on ‘Musik Music Musique’ by the inclusion of more obscure works from TOYAH, KIM WILDE and HAZEL O’CONNOR.

‘Musik Music Musique’ is also an opportunity to become reacquainted with lost tunes of yore and ‘The Eyes Have It’ by KAREL FIALKA will be remembered by those who owned the 1980 Virgin Records compilation ‘Machines’, as will the octave driven ‘Destiny’ by DALEK I LOVE YOU. Some enjoyably avant pop adventures come courtesy of XYNN’s ‘Computed Man’ and SCIENCE’s ‘Tokyo’, while one of the more bizarre but successful experiments included is ‘I’m A Computer’ by THE GOO-Q.

One of the lesser known acts featuring with the eccentric ‘Money’ is MOEBIUS, not the member of German duo CLUSTER but an American art rock band with a penchant for DEVO. ‘Doctor …?’ by BLOOD DONOR is another wonderful discovery while of the more experimental art pieces included, NINI RAVIOLETTE’s ‘Suis-Je Normale’ delightfully comes over like a collaboration between Jane Birkin and Laurie Anderson.

Düsseldorf is often seen as the spiritual home of electronic music and there is worthy representation from DER PLAN and ‘Da Vorne Steht Ne Ampel’ illustrating how there were other dimensions to German electronic music other than that engineered by KRAFTWERK. But closing the set is the band named after the Electri_City itself, LA DÜSSELDORF with the light-hearted ‘Dampfriemen’; a quirky slice of synth “Oompah” with comedic chants and a kazoo section, it sums up the manic oddball nature of the former NEU! drummer Klaus Dinger.

There are many other tracks that have merit, but textures which reoccur on ‘Musik Music Musique’ to date stamp the period are the icy chill of the affordable ARP Quartet string machine and squawky sax, although not in an overblown jazz funk way.

Despite ‘Musik Music Musique’ comprising of a carefully researched tracklisting, a few errors do slip through; as well as the SPANDAU BALLET track being released in 1981 as already mentioned (although it was available on a very scarce Japanese-only promo sampler in late 1980), the version of ‘Kebabträume’ by DAF is the 1982 Conny Plank version from the Virgin album ‘Für Immer’ and not the Bob Giddens produced Mute Records five piece band recording which actually came out in 1980.

Then in the booklet, the Foxx fronted 1977 line-up of ULTRAVOX! gets illustrated as opposed to the New Romantic suited Midge Ure one, while LA DÜSSELDORF’s Hans Lampe is referred to as a “Keyboard Whizz” when he is actually a drummer and now performs with Michael Rother who was Klaus Dinger’s partner in NEU!; in fact Dinger handled keyboards himself under the pseudonym of Nikolaus Van Rhein.

Those are minor quibbles though, because this set is very good value and acts as a great music history lesson as well as offering the chance to hear some new vintage synth. While many may have heard of BERLIN BLONDES, THE PASSAGE, THE FALLOUT CLUB and EYELESS IN GAZA, only a few will have heard their music.

‘Musik Music Musique’ offers something of a low risk opportunity to make some new friends while becoming reacquainted with a few old and lost ones. Here’s to the 1981 follow-up set…


‘Musik Music Musique – 1980: The Dawn Of Synth Pop’  is released on 31st July 2020 as a 3CD boxed set by Cherry Red Records

https://www.cherryred.co.uk/product/musik-music-musique-1980-the-dawn-of-synth-pop-various-artists-3cd/


Text by Chi Ming Lai
13th July 2020

Lost Albums: BERLIN BLONDES Berlin Blondes

BERLIN BLONDES were a post-punk band who formed in Glasgow during 1979.

The original line-up comprised of Steven Bonomi (vocals), Robert Farrell (guitar + synth), Jim Spender (keyboards + synth) and David Rudden (bass).

But as the quartet signed to EMI in 1980, Rudden left to form ENDGAMES who signed to Virgin Records and went on to have a minor German hit ‘Waiting For Another Chance’ in 1983. Rudden’s replacement on bass was Nick Clark from THE CUBAN HEELS.

THE CUBAN HEELS were an offshoot of punk band JOHNNY AND THE SELF ABUSERS whose members included Jim Kerr and Charlie Burchill of SIMPLE MINDS; they famously split up on the day their debut single ‘Saints & Sinners’ was released!

BERLIN BLONDES only ever made one self-titled album, recorded at GARY NUMAN’s Rock City Studios in Shepperton and produced by Mike Thorne, best known for his work with WIRE, SOFT CELL and BRONSKI BEAT. This combination meant that not only was Numan’s Polymoog present on the record, but also the first version of the Synclavier which SOFT CELL later used to such great effect on ‘Non Stop Erotic Cabaret’ under Thorne’s direction.

As with many acts of the more artistically inclined post-punk period, ROXY MUSIC and Berlin-era DAVID BOWIE were both key influences on BERLIN BLONDES. They differed by using a drum machine, which gave them a stark rhythmic sound unusual at the time, as the acts they were often compared to like SPARKS, WIRE, MAGAZINE and SIMPLE MINDS used live drummers.

A meeting of synthesizers, art rock and obscure vocals, BERLIN BLONDES had the air of a Highland FAD GADGET, with a very European detached cool.

Beginning the album with what was their second single, ‘Framework’ was the sort of syncopated futurist disco featuring crashing electronic beats and bursts of string machine that SPANDAU BALLET and DURAN DURAN were to initially make their fortune with.

Densely produced, it failed to be a hit and could be considered one of the great lost songs of 1980.

But then in that same year, SIMPLE MINDS ‘I Travel’ and THE HUMAN LEAGUE’s reissue of ‘Empire State Human’ also failed to trouble the chart return shops, so even the best were having it hard.

BERLIN BLONDES’ debut 45 ‘Science’ was more in touch with new wave, although on the album rework, the addition of live drum beats from Danny Frankel and more prominent synths added some qualities that were absent from the original single version.

The waltzy ‘Astro’ was entertainingly SPARKS-lite, reminiscent of ‘Falling In Love With Myself Again’ from ‘Kimono My House’, but coming over like a less accomplished version of SIMPLE MINDS’ similarly influenced ‘Kaleidoscope’.

Smothered in a macabre cocoon of intensity, ‘Romance’ made the most of its horror film soundtrack synths, chilling string machine and a brilliant bassline.

Meanwhile ‘Trail To Istanbul’ with its John McGeoch-like guitar over a distorted mechanical backbeat provided a skeleton for Eno-esque guitar treatments to imitate bursts of sax.

The claustrophobia of ‘Secret Days’ recalled MAGAZINE coupled to elements of SIMPLE MINDS ‘Premonition’, while ‘Mannequin’ possessed some New Romantic swagger and swirling electronics, although things got a bit overbearing towards the end with cries of “dummy-dummy-dummy”!

The over-driven drum machine and icy synths attached to a harsh arpeggio on ‘Neon Probe’ came over like JOHN FOXX, while suitably eerie with doom laden bass guitar saw ‘Zero Song’ progressing into a steadfast easel of screeching synth.

BERLIN BLONDES had everything in place, a major label deal and a top producer directing the operation but with no hit singles, it wasn’t to be in terms of sales success. Shortly after the album’s release, Jim Spender reverted back to his real name McKinven and left the band to find fame and fortune with ALTERED IMAGES.

Meanwhile, BERLIN BLONDES left EMI and released a single ‘Marseille’ on the independent Scratch Records. But it sank without trace and the band were no more. Looking back, it’s easy to see how BERLIN BLONDES became lost among acts like WIRE, MAGAZINE and SIMPLE MINDS; while derived from the same school as Russell Mael and Howard Devoto, Steven Bonomi was less convincing vocally in an era where Bowie-esque mannerisms were almost compulsory.

It took several years for SIMPLE MINDS to make critical and commercial headway, so it would have been interesting to see how BERLIN BLONDES might have evolved. The original nine track debut album has now been reissued as a CD by Cherry Red Records as ‘The Complete Recordings 1980-1981’. The package includes eight bonus tracks to including ‘Marseille’, its B-side ‘The Poet’ plus an assortment of single mixes, extended remixes and instrumental versions.

‘Berlin Blondes’ wasn’t the greatest album of the period, but it had some cracking tracks. As a fascinating time capsule piece on how music north of Hadrian’s Wall was developing outside of the Glasgow School jangle of bands like AZTEC CAMERA, ALTERED IMAGES and ORANGE JUICE, the debut album from BERLIN BLONDES is an intriguing listen, a history lesson in the emergent synthetic sonics of the period within post-punk.


‘The Complete Recordings 1980-1981’ is released as a CD by Cherry Red Records, available from https://www.cherryred.co.uk/product/berlin-blondes-the-complete-recordings-1980-81/


Text by Chi Ming Lai
13th October 2018