Tag: Blue Zoo

MUSIK MUSIC MUSIQUE 2.0 1981 | The Rise Of Synth Pop

1981 is the year covered by the second instalment of Cherry Red’s ‘Musik Music Musique’ series.

1980 was something of a transition year for the synth as it knocked on the door of the mainstream charts but by 1981, it was more or less let in with welcome arms. From the same team behind the ‘Close To The Noise Floor’ compendiums and the most excellent ‘Electrical Language’ boxed set, ‘Musik Music Musique 2.0 1981 – The Rise Of Synth Pop’ presents rarities alongside hits and key album tracks from what many consider the best year in music and one that contributes the most to the legacy of electronic music in its wider acceptance and impact.

Featuring HEAVEN 17  with ‘(We Don’t Need This) Fascist Groove Thang’, OMD with ‘Souvenir’ and the eponymous single by VISAGE, these songs are iconic 1981 canon that need no further discussion. Meanwhile the longevity of magnificent album tracks such as ‘Frustration’ by SOFT CELL and ‘I Remember (Death In The Afternoon)’ by ULTRAVOX can be summed by the fact that they have featured in 21st Century live sets alongside their parent acts’ hits.

Although not quite as celebrated, ‘You Were There’ from pastoral second John Foxx long player ‘The Garden’ captures the move from stark JG Ballard imagery to something almost romantic. DEVO are represented by the LinnDrum driven ‘Through Being Cool’, the opener of the ‘New Traditionalists’ album which comes as a statement that the mainstream was their next target; the Akron quintet were one of the many acts signed by Virgin Records as the label focussed on a synth focussed takeover that ultimately shaped the sonic landscape of 1981.

Then there’s TEARS FOR FEARS’ promising debut ‘Suffer The Children’ in its original synthier single recording and The Blitz Club favourite ‘Bostich’ from quirky Swiss pioneers YELLO. Another Blitz staple ‘No GDM’ from GINA X PERFORMANCE gets included despite being of 1978 vintage due to its first UK single release in 1981. The use of synth came in all sorts of shapes and FASHIØN presented a funkier take with ‘Move Øn’ while the track’s producer Zeus B Held took a more typically offbeat kosmische approach on his own ‘Cowboy On The Beach’.

Pivotal releases by JAPAN with the ‘The Art Of Parties’ (here in the more metallic ‘Tin Drum’ album version) and A FLOCK OF SEAGULLS ‘(It’s Not Me) Talking’ highlight those bands’ then-potential for mainstream success. But in the battle of the New Romantic boy bands, the sitar tinged DURAN DURAN B-side ‘Khanada’ easily blows away the SPANDAU BALLET album track ‘Reformation’ in an ominous sign as to who would crack it biggest worldwide.

The great lost band of this era, B-MOVIE issued the first of several versions of ‘Nowhere Girl’ in December 1980 on Dead Good Records and its inclusion showcases the song’s promise which was then more fully realised on the 1982 Some Bizzare single produced by the late Steve Brown although sadly, this was still not a hit.

The best and most synth flavoured pop hits from the period’s feisty females like Kim Wilde and Toyah are appropriate inclusions, as is Hazel O’Connor’s largely forgotten SPARKS homage ‘(Cover Plus) We’re All Grown Up’. But the less said about racist novelty records such as ‘Japanese Boy’ by Aneka, the better… the actual nation of Japan though is correctly represented by their most notable electronic exponents YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA with ‘Cue’ from ‘BGM’, the first release to feature the Roland TR808 Rhythm Composer.

With these type of boxed sets, it’s the less familiar tracks that are always the most interesting. As the best looking member of TANGERINE DREAM, Peter Baumann had a crack at the single charts with the catchy Robert Palmer produced ‘Repeat, Repeat’ while former Gary Numan backing band DRAMATIS are represented by ‘Lady DJ’ although its epic A side ‘Ex Luna Scientia’ would have equally merited inclusion. But BEASTS IN CAGES who later became HARD CORPS stand out with the stark dystopia of ‘Sandcastles’.

The one that “should-have-been-a-pop-hit” is the ABBA-esque ‘I Can’t Hold On’ by Natasha England and it’s a shame that her career is remembered for a lame opportunistic cover of ‘Iko Iko’ rather than this, but the delightful ‘Twelfth House’ demonstrates again how under-rated Tony Mansfield’s NEW MUSIK were, and this with a B-side!

The rather fraught ‘Wonderlust’ by THE FALLOUT CLUB captures the late Trevor Herion in fine form on a Thomas Dolby produced number with a dramatic Spaghetti Western flavour that is lushly sculpted with electronics. Over a more sedate rhythm box mantra, ‘Love Moves In Strange Ways’ from BLUE ZOO swirls with a not entirely dissimilar mood.

Mute Records founder Daniel Miller was breaking through with his productions for DEPECHE MODE in 1981, but representation on ‘Musik Music Musique 2.0’ comes via the colder austere of ‘Science Fiction’ by Alan Burnham. ‘West End’ by Thomas Leer adds some jazzy freeform synth soloing to the vocal free backdrop, while ‘Surface Tension’ from ANALYSIS is an appealing instrumental.

The strangely accessible weirdness of CHRIS & COSEY’s ‘This Is Me’, MYSTERY PLANE’s ‘Something To Prove’ and the gritty ‘Brix’ from PORTION CONTROL will delight those more into the leftfield, while AK-47’s ‘Stop! Dance!’, the work of Simon Leonard (later of I START COUNTING and KOMPUTER fame) is another DIY experiment in that aesthetic vein.

Some tracks are interesting but not essential like Richard Bone’s ‘Alien Girl’ which comes over like an amusing pub singer SILICON TEENS, Johnny Warman’s appealing robopop on ‘Will You Dance With Me?’ and the synth dressed New Wave of ‘Close-Up’ by THOSE FRENCH GIRLS. For something more typically artschool, there’s the timpani laden ‘Taboos’ by THE PASSAGE and SECOND LAYER’s screechy ‘In Bits’.

More surprising is Swedish songstress Virna Lindt with her ‘Young & Hip’ which oddly combines showtune theatrics with blippy synth and ska! The set ends rather fittingly with Cherry Red’s very own EYELESS IN GAZA with the abstract atmospherics of ‘The Eyes Of Beautiful Losers’ although they too would eventually produce their own rousing synthpop statement ‘Sunbursts In’ in 1984.

Outside of the music, the booklet is a bit disappointing with the photos of OMD, TEARS FOR FEARS, HEAVEN 17, B-MOVIE and a glam-bouffanted Kim Wilde all coming from the wrong eras. And while the liner notes provide helpful information on the lesser known acts, clangers such as stating Toyah’s ‘Thunder In The Mountains’ was from the album ‘The Changeling’ when it was a standalone 45, “GONG’s Mike Hewlett” and “memorable sleeve designs by Malcolm Garrett’s Altered IMaGes” do not help those who wish to discover the origins of those accumulated gems.

But these quibbles aside, overall ‘Musik Music Musique 2.0’ is a good collection, although with fewer rare jewels compared with the first 1980 volume which perhaps points to the fact that those who had the shine to breakthrough actually did… 40 years on though, many of those hit making acts (or variations of) are still performing live in some form.

Was 1981 the most important year in synth as far becoming ubiquitous in the mainstream and hitting the top of the charts internationally? With VISAGE’s ‘Fade To Grey’ becoming a West German No1 in Spring 1981 through to SOFT CELL taking the summer topspot in the UK and culminating in THE HUMAN LEAGUE eventually taking ‘Don’t You Want Me?’ to No1 in the US, the sound of synth had done its job. Setting the scene for 1982 and 1983, further editions of ‘Musik Music Musique’ are planned.

‘Musik Music Musique 2.0 1981 – The Rise Of Synth Pop’ is released by Cherry Red on 15th October 2021 as a 3CD boxed set


Text by Chi Ming Lai
12th October 2021

ELECTRICAL LANGUAGE Independent British Synth Pop 78-84

From Cherry Red Records, the makers of the ‘Close To The Noise Floor’ trilogy showcasing formative and experimental electronic music from the UK, Europe and North America, comes their most accessible electronic collection yet.

Subtitled ‘Independent British Synth Pop 78-84’, ‘Electrical Language’ is a lavish 4CD 80 track boxed set covering the post-punk period when all that synthesizer experimentation and noise terrorism morphed into pop.

Largely eschewing the guitar and the drum kit, this was a fresh movement which sprung from a generation haunted by the spectre of the Cold War, Mutually Assured Destruction and closer to home, the Winter of Discontent.

As exemplified by known names like THE HUMAN LEAGUE, FAD GADGET, SECTION 25 and BLUE ZOO included in the set to draw in the more cautious consumer, this was pop in a very loose manner with melodies, riffs and danceable rhythms but hardly the stuff of ABBA or THE BEE GEES!

‘Red Frame/White Light’ by OMD was a chirpy ditty about the 632 3003 phone box which the band used as their office, while Thomas Dolby’s ‘Windpower’ was a rallying call for renewable energy sources. Then there was the dystopian ‘Warm Leatherette’ by THE NORMAL based around two noisy notes and lyrically based on JG Ballard’s ‘Crash’ with its story around car collision symphorophilia.

While those acts’ stories have been rightly celebrated for putting the electronic avant pop art form into the mainstream, with any truly great compilation or collection, the joy is in finding the lesser known jewels.

Made primarily by the idealistic outsiders and independent experimenters from the lesser known side of Synth Britannia, ‘Electrical Language’ has plenty of synthetic material to rediscover or hear for the first time. Indeed, the more appealing tracks appear to fall into three categories; forgotten songs that should have been hits, oddball cover versions and largely unknown archive wonders.

Those forgotten gems include the exotic ‘Electrical Language’ title track by BE BOP DELUXE, documenting the moment Bill Nelson went electro. His production on the gloriously emotive ‘Feels Like Winter Again’ by FIAT LUX is another welcome inclusion to the set.

But the two best tracks on ‘Electrical Language’ are coincidentally spoken word; ‘Touch’ by LORI & THE CHAMELEONS about a girl’s Japanese holiday romance is as enchanting and delightful as ever, while there is also THROBBING GRISTLE refugees CHRIS & COSEY’s wispy celebration of Autumnal neu romance ‘October (Love Song)’, later covered in the 21st Century in pure Hellectro style by MARSHEAUX.

Merseyside has always been a centre for creativity and this included synthpop back in the day. ‘I’m Thinking Of You Now’ from BOX OF TOYS was a superb angsty reflection of young manhood that included an oboe inflected twist which was released on the Inevitable label in 1983. From that same stable, FREEZE FRAME are represented by the atmospheric pop of ‘Your Voice’

Jayne Casey was considered the face of Liverpool post-punk fronting BIG IN JAPAN and PINK MILITARY; the lo-fi electronic offshoot PINK INDUSTRY released three albums but the superb ‘Taddy Up’ with its machine backbone to contrast the ethereal combination of voice and synths lay in the vaults until 2008 and is a welcome inclusion. The ‘other’ Wirral synth duo of note were DALEK I LOVE YOU whose ‘The World’ from 1980 remains eccentric and retro-futuristic.

Scotland was in on the action too despite many local musicians preferring THE BYRDS and STEELY DAN; although both ‘Mr Nobody’ from Thomas Leer and ‘Time’ by Paul Haig were detached and electronic, they vocally expressed minor levels of Trans-Atlantic soul lilt compared with the more deadpan styles of the majority gathered on ‘Electrical Language’.

Under rated acts form a core of ‘Electrical Language’ and while THE MOBILES’ ‘Drowning In Berlin’ may have come across like a ‘Not The Nine O’Clock News’ New Romantic parody on first listen, its decaying Mittel Europa grandeur was infectious like Hazel O’Connor reinterpreting ‘Vienna’ with The Master of Ceremonies at the Kit Kat Klub in 3/4 time!

NEW MUSIK’s ‘The Planet Doesn’t Mind’ probably would have gone Top 20 if had been done by Howard Jones, although band leader Tony Mansfield had the last laugh when he later became a producer working with the likes of A-HA and NAKED EYES. The brassy arty synthpop of ‘XOYO’ from Dick Witts’ THE PASSAGE was immensely catchy with riffs galore, while POEME ELECTRONIQUE’s ‘She’s An Image’ offered stark European electro-cabaret.

Cut from a similar cloth, one-time ULTRAVOX support act EDDIE & SUNSHINE inventively (and some would say pretentiously) presented a Living TV art concept but they also possessed a few good songs. The quirkily charming ‘There’s Someone Following Me’ deserved greater recognition back in the day and its later single version was remixed by one Hans Zimmer.

Meanwhile, the 4AD label could always be counted on more esoteric output and COLOURBOX’s ‘Tarantula’ was from that lineage, but then a few years later perhaps unexpectedly, they became the instigators of M/A/R/R/S ‘Pump Up the Volume’.

These days, modern synth artists think it is something an achievement to cover a synthpop classic, although it is rather pointless. But back in the day, as there were not really that many synthpop numbers to cover, the rock ‘n’ roll songbook was mined as a kind of post-modern statement. The synth was seen as the ultimate anti-institution instrument and the cover versions included on ‘Electrical Language’ are out-of-the-box and original, if not entirely successful.

Take TECHNO POP’s reinterpretation of ‘Paint It Black’ which comes over like Sci-Fi Arthur Brown while the brilliant ‘My Coo Ca Choo’ by BEASTS IN CAGES (which features half of HARD CORPS) is like PJ Proby with his characteristic pub singer warble fronting SILICON TEENS with a proto-GOLDFRAPP stomp.

Having contributed a T-REX cover for the ‘Some Bizzare Album’, THE FAST SET recorded another. Whereas ‘King Of The Rumbling Spires’ on the former was frantic electro-punk, ‘Children Of The Revolution’ is far more sombre and almost funereal. Least desirable of the covers though is ‘Happy Xmas (War Is Over)’ by HYBRID KIDS.

Of the obscurities worth checking out, the rousing standout is ‘Lying Next To You’ by Liverpool’s PASSION POLKA. A brilliant track akin to CHINA CRISIS ‘Working With Fire & Steel’ but with more synths and drum machine, it was recorded in 1983 but never actually saw the light of day until 2011 via a belated release on Anna Logue Records.

Delightfully odd, the VL Tone and organ infused ‘Bandwagon Tango’ from TESTCARD F is swathed with metallic rattles and possesses a suitably mechanical detachment. But with piercing pipey sounds and a hypnotic sequence, the metronomic ‘Destitution’ by cult minimal wavers CAMERA OBSCURA with its off key voice is one of the better productions of that type. Cut from a similar cloth, the perky ‘Videomatic’ by FINAL PROGRAM throws in some lovely string synths to close.

Swirlingly driven by Linn and her sisters, ‘Baby Won’t Phone’ by QUADRASCOPE comes from the Vince Clarke school of song with not only a great vocal, but also the surprise of a guitar solo in the vein of ECHO & THE BUNNYMEN!

‘The Secret Affair’ from JUPITER RED is a great ethereal midtempo synthpop song also using a Linn, while ‘Surface Tension’ from ANALYSIS is an appealing club friendly instrumental that was largely the work of the late Martin Lloyd who later was part of OPPENHEIMER ANALYSIS.

Produced by Daniel Miller, ALAN BURNHAM’s ‘Science Fiction’ from 1981 takes a leaf out of DALEK I LOVE YOU, while tightly sequenced and bursting with white noise in the intro, ‘Feel So Young’ by LAUGH CLOWN LAUGH has bubbling potential but is spoiled by some terribly flat vocals.

One of the weirder tracks is ELECTRONIC ENSEMBLE’s filmic ‘It Happened Then’ which recalls Parisian art rockers ROCKETS; backed by a brilliant ensemble of synths, it sees the return of the cosmic voice from Sparky’s Magic Piano and remember in that story, it could play all by itself!

Of course, other tracks are available and may suit more leftfield tastes… packaged as a lavish hardback book, there are extensive sleeve notes including artist commentaries, archive photos and an introductory essay by journalist Dave Henderson who cut his teeth with ‘Noise’, a short-lived ‘Smash Hits’ rival that featured a regular ‘Electrobop’ column covering the latest developments in synth.

While worthy, the ‘Close To The Noise Floor’ trilogy could at times be very challenging, but ‘Electrical Language’ provides some accessible balance, allowing tunes and beats in. It captures an important developmental phase in music, when technology got more sophisticated, cheaper and user friendly, that can be directly connected to ‘Pump Up the Volume’. Yes, this story is the unlikely seed of the later dance revolution, like it or not! And at just less than twenty five quid, this really is an essential purchase.

‘Electrical Language’ is released as 4CD boxed set on 31st May 2019 and can be pre-ordered from https://www.cherryred.co.uk/product/electrical-language-independent-british-synth-pop-78-84-various-artists-4cd-48pp-bookpack/


Text by Chi Ming Lai
23rd May 2019


Oscillate Mildly

The world found itself in a rather antagonistic and divisive state this year, as if none of the lessons from the 20th Century’s noted conflicts and stand-offs had been learnt.

Subtle political messages came with several releases; honorary Berliner Mark Reeder used the former divided city as symbolism to warn of the dangers of isolationism on his collaborative album ‘Mauerstadt’. Meanwhile noted Francophile Chris Payne issued the ELECTRONIC CIRCUS EP ‘Direct Lines’ with its poignant warning of nuclear apocalypse in its title song. The message was to unite and through music as one of the best platforms.

After a slow start to 2017, there was a bumper crop of new music from a number of established artists. NINE INCH NAILS and Gary Numan refound their mojo with their respective ‘Add Violence’ and ‘Savage (Songs From A Broken World)’ releases, with the latter recording his best body of work since his imperial heyday.

But the first quarter of the year was hamstrung by the anticipation for the 14th DEPECHE MODE long player ‘Spirit’, with other labels and artists aware that much of their potential audience’s hard earned disposable income was being directed towards the Basildon combo’s impending album and world tour.

Yet again, reaction levels seemed strangely muted as ‘Spirit’ was another creative disappointment, despite its angry politicised demeanour.

Rumours abounded that the band cut the album’s scheduled recording sessions by 4 weeks. This inherent “that’ll do” attitude continued on the ‘Global Spirit’ jaunt when the band insulted their loyal audience by doing nothing more than plonking an arena show into a stadium for the summer outdoor leg.

Despite protestations from some Devotees of their dissatisfaction with this open-air presentation, they were content to be short-changed again as they excitedly flocked to the second set of European arena dates with the generally expressed excuse that “it will be so much better indoors”.

By this Autumn sojourn, only three songs from ‘Spirit’ were left in the set, thus indicating that the dire record had no longevity and was something of a lemon.

Suspicions were finally confirmed at the ‘Mute: A Visual Document’ Q&A featuring Daniel Miller and Anton Corbijn, when the esteemed photographer and visual director confessed he did not like the album which he did the artwork for… see, it’s not just ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK 😉

Devotees are quick to say all criticism of DEPECHE MODE is unfair, but the band can’t help but make themselves easy targets time and time again. But why should the band care? The cash is coming, the cash is coming…

Luckily, veteran acts such as OMD and Alison Moyet saved the day.

The Wirral lads demonstrated what the word spirit actually meant on their opus ‘The Punishment Of Luxury’, while the former class mate of Messrs Gore and Fletcher demonstrated what a soulful, blues-influenced electronic record should sound like with ‘Other’.

As Tony Hadley departed SPANDAU BALLET and Midge Ure got all ‘Orchestrated’ in the wake of ULTRAVOX’s demise, the ‘Welcome To The Dancefloor’ album directed by Rusty Egan, to which they contributed, became a physical reality in 2017.

Now if DM plonked an arena show into the world’s stadiums, KRAFTWERK put a huge show into a theatre. The publicity stunt of 2012, when Tate Modern’s online ticket system broke down due to demand for their eight album live residency, did its job when the Kling Klang Quartett sold out an extensive UK tour for their 3D concert spectacular.

No less impressive, SOULWAX wowed audiences with their spectacular percussion heavy ‘From Deewee’ show and gave a big lesson to DEPECHE MODE as to how to actually use live drums correctly within an electronic context.

Mute Artists were busy with releases from ERASURE, LAIBACH and ADULT. but it was GOLDFRAPP’s ‘Silver Eye’ that stole the show from that stable. LCD SOUNDSYSTEM returned after seven years with their ‘American Dream’ and it was worth the wait, with the most consistent and electronic record that James Murphy’s ensemble has delivered in their career.

To say Neil Arthur was prolific in 2017 would be an understatement as he released albums with BLANCMANGE and FADER while Benge, a co-conspirator on both records, worked with I SPEAK MACHINE to produce ‘Zombies 1985’ which was one of the best electronic albums of the year; and that was without the JOHN FOXX & THE MATHS stage play soundtrack ‘The Machines’.

Despite JAPAN having disbanded in 1982, solo instrumental releases from Steve Jansen and Richard Barbieri were particularly well-received, while David Sylvian made a return of sorts, guesting on ‘Life Life’ for ‘async’, the first album from Ryuichi Sakamoto since recovering from his illness. On the more esoteric front, Brian Eno presented the thoughtful ambience of ‘Reflection’, while THE RADIOPHONIC WORKSHOP had ‘Burials In Several Earths’.

2017 was a year that saw acts who were part of the sine wave of Synth Britannia but unable to sustain or attain mainstream success like BLUE ZOO, B-MOVIE, FIAT LUX and WHITE DOOR welcomed back as heroes, with their talent belatedly recognised.

Germany had something of a renaissance as veterans Zeus B Held and ex-TANGERINE DREAM member Steve Schroyder came together in DREAM CONTROL as another TD offshoot QUAESCHNING & SCHNAUSS offered up some impressive ‘Synthwaves’, while there actually was a new TANGERINE DREAM album, their first without late founder member Edgar Froese.

Eberhard Kranemann and Harald Grosskopf offered up some KRAUTWERK as other veterans like RHEINGOLD, DER PLAN, BOYTRONIC and DJ HELL also returned. Comparatively younger, 2RAUMWOHNUNG and KATJA VON KASSEL both offered up enticing bilingual takes on classic electronic pop.

The Swedish synth community again delivered with DAILY PLANET, PAGE, REIN, VANBOT, ANNA ÖBERG, 047 and LIZETTE LIZETTE all delivering fine bodies of work, although KITE were missed, with their German tour cancelled and release of their ‘VII’ EP postponed due to vocalist Nicklas Stenemo’s illness; ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK wishes him all the best in his recovery.

Across the Baltic Sea, Finnish producer Jori Hulkkonen released his 20th album ‘Don’t Believe In Happiness’ while nearby in Russia, a duo named VEiiLA showcased an unusual hybrid of techno, opera and synthpop and ROSEMARY LOVES A BLACKBERRY offered a ‘❤’.

One of the year’s discussion points was whether Synthwave was just synthpop dressed with sunglasses and neon signs but whatever, Stateside based Scots but Michael Oakley and FM-84 made a good impression with their retro-flavoured electronic tunes.

It wasn’t all about the expats and in a territory as big as North America, there came a number of up-and-coming home grown electronic artists with LOST IN STARS, PARALLELS, PATTERN LANGUAGE, SPACEPRODIGI, COMPUTER MAGIC and BATTLE TAPES all gaining traction.

Canada’s PURITY RING infuriated some of their fanbase by working with KATY PERRY on three tracks for her album ‘Witness’. AESTHETIC PERFECTION’s new singles only policy was paying dividends and the Electro Mix of ‘Rhythm + Control’, which featured the promising newcomer NYXX, was one of the best tracks of 2017.

Female solo artists had strong presence in 2017 as FEVER RAY made an unexpected return, ZOLA JESUS produced her best work to date in ‘Okovi’ and Hannah Peel embarked on an ambitious synth / brass ‘Journey to Cassiopeia’. Meanwhile, SARAH P. asked ‘Who Am I’ and MARNIE found ‘Strange Words & Weird Wars’ as ANI GLASS and NINA both continued on their promising developmental path.

Other female fronted acts like KITE BASE, SPECTRA PARIS, BLACK NAIL CABARET, AVEC SANS, EMT and THE GOLDEN FILTER again reinforced that electronic music was not solely about boys with their toys.

Respectively, Ireland and Scotland did their bit, with TINY MAGNETIC PETS and their aural mix of SAINT ETIENNE and KRAFTWERK successfully touring with OMD in support of their excellent second album ‘Deluxe/Debris’, while formed out of the ashes of ANALOG ANGEL, RAINLAND wowed audiences opening for ASSEMBLAGE 23.

A bit of smooth among the rough, CULT WITH NO NAME released a new album while other new(ish) acts making a positive impression this year included KNIGHT$, MOLINA, ANNEKA, SOFTWAVE, THE FRIXION and KALEIDA.

Despite getting a positive response, both iEUROPEAN and SOL FLARE parted ways while on the opposite side of the coin, Belgian passengers METROLAND celebrated five years in the business with the lavish ‘12×12’ boxed set

Overall in 2017, it was artists of a more mature disposition who held their heads high and delivered, as some newer acts went out of their way to test the patience of audiences by drowning them in sleep while coming over like TRAVIS on VSTs.

With dominance of media by the three major labels, recognition was tricky with new quality traditional synthpop not generally be championed by the mainstream press. With Spotify now 20% owned by those three majors, casual listeners to the Swedish streaming platform were literally told what to like, as with commercial radio playlists.

It is without doubt that streaming and downloading has created a far less knowledgeable music audience than in previous eras, so Rusty Egan’s recent online petition to request platforms to display songwriting and production credits was timely; credit where credit is due as they say…

While ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK does not dismiss Spotify totally and sees it as another tool, it should not be considered the be all and end all, in the same way vinyl is not the saviour of the music industry and in physics terms, cannot handle the same dynamic range as CD.

Music is not as emotionally valued as it was before… that’s not being old and nostalgic, that is reality. It can still be enjoyed with or without a physical purchase, but for artists to be motivated to produce work that can connect and be treasured, that is another matter entirely.

However, many acts proved that with Bandcamp, the record company middle man can be eliminated. It is therefore up to the listener to be more astute, to make more effort and to make informed choices. And maybe that listener has to seek out reliable independent media for guidance.

However, as with the shake-up within the music industry over the last ten years, that can only be a good thing for the true synthpop enthusiast. And as it comes close to completing its 8th year on the web, ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK maintains its position of not actually promoting new acts or supporting any scene, but merely to write about the music it likes and occasionally stuff it doesn’t… people can make their own mind up about whether to invest money or time in albums or gigs.

Yes, things ARE harder for the listener and the musician, but the effort is worthwhile 😉

ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK Contributor Listings 2017


Best Album: QUASCHENING & SCHNAUSS Synthwaves
Best Song: BATTLE TAPES No Good
Best Gig: SOULWAX at O2 Ritz Manchester
Best Video: SOULWAX Is it Always Binary?
Most Promising New Act: MARIE DAVIDSON


Best Album: OMD The Punishment of Luxury
Best Song: SPARKS Edith Piaf (Said it Better Than Me)
Best Gig: SPEAK & SPELL at Glastonbury
Best Video: ALISON MOYET Reassuring Pinches
Most Promising New Act: MICHAEL OAKLEY


Best Album: PAGE Det Är Ingen Vacker Värld Men Det Råkar Vara Så Det Ser Ut
Best Song: LAU NAU Poseidon
Best Gig: PAGE at Electronic Summer 2017
Best Video: PSYCHE Youth Of Tomorrow
Most Promising New Act: ANNA ÖBERG


Best Album: I SPEAK MACHINE Zombies 1985
Best Song: AESTHETIC PERFECTION Rhythm + Control – Electro Version
Best Gig: OMD + TINY MAGNETIC PETS at Cambridge Corn Exchange
Best Video: I SPEAK MACHINE Shame
Most Promising New Act: MICHAEL OAKLEY


Best Album: FADER First Light
Best Song: OMD Isotype
Best Gig: MARC ALMOND at London Roundhouse
Best Video: GOLDFRAPP Anymore
Most Promising New Act: NINA


Best Album:  OMD The Punishment of Luxury
Best Song: DUA LIPA Be The One
Best Gig: HANNAH PEEL at Norwich Arts Centre
Best Video: PIXX I Bow Down
Most Promising New Act: PIXX


Best Album: ZOLA JESUS Okovi
Best Song: GARY NUMAN My Name Is Ruin
Best Gig: ERASURE at London Roundhouse
Best Video: GARY NUMAN My Name Is Ruin
Most Promising New Act: ANNA ÖBERG

Text by Chi Ming Lai
14th December 2017

BLUE ZOO Interview

BLUE ZOO are best known for their No13 UK hit with ‘Cry Boy Cry’ in Autumn 1982.

Beginning as MODERN JAZZ, Andy Overall (vocals), Tim Parry (guitar), Mike Ansell (bass) and Micky Sparrow (drums) morphed into BLUE ZOO with a new wave sound sprinkled with the new pop of acts like ABC and ASSOCIATES plus a dash of Romo fairy dust.

Their 1983 debut album ‘2 By 2’ released on Magnet Records also included the near hits ‘I’m Your Man’ and ‘Forgive & Forget’. It was produced by Tim Friese-Greene, later to become Mark Hollis’ writing partner in TALK TALK. But despite their potential, other than a long player entitled ‘For All I Really Care’ which mysteriously appeared in the former Yugoslavia in 1984, there was to be no official second album…

BLUE ZOO reformed in 2010 sans Tim Parry, but added two new recruits in Tom E Morrison (guitars) and Graham Noone (keyboards). With a brand new single ‘Funganista’ about to be launched and a zest to perform more live dates, Andy Overall chatted to ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK about the past, present and future of BLUE ZOO…

What was the impetus to return as BLUE ZOO?

Micky and myself had a psychic mind blast and messaged each other via Facebook to say “isn’t it about time we got back together?” *laughs*

We all met up including Tim Parry at The Ship in Wardour Street, we hadn’t seen each other for goodness knows how long! We felt like the moment was right, although Tim didn’t want to join because he’s not at all interested anymore in playing music. I asked him if he would be involved musically and he replied “WHAT? You’re joking?”, this is because he’s involved in management, he joined Big Life with Jazz Summers who managed BLUE ZOO. They’d been involved in some huge acts over the years like THE VERVE, SNOW PATROL and LA ROUX!

To be perfectly honest with you, I never thought BLUE ZOO would be back in a million years, but stranger things have happened. We never fell out, we had disagreements and stuff but I have to say that I felt at times we were coming from different places. I was coming from a more punky / new wave / Bowie kind of direction while Tim Parry was at the more poppy end. But he was really into TALKING HEADS and so was I, so it worked ha ha. Possibly our differences actually help make it work for a while. But there were moments when he came up with songs that I thought “I can’t sing that!”. Most of the songs I did manage to write the lyrics for, but some unfortunately made their way in, like ‘Forgive & Forget’! *laughs*

You have ‘Funganista’, your first new single since 1984. Was recording new material an important requisite to reform the band?

No it wasn’t actually! There was this album that we completed toward the end of MODERN JAZZ and the beginning of BLUE ZOO that was shelved by Magnet Records. It was full of songs that we all loved but the label told us it wasn’t commercial enough; it included songs like the original ‘Love Moves In Strange Ways’ produced by Lawrence Diana and the seeds of ‘Cry Boy Cry’, then called ‘Turn & Face The Wall’. So when we got back together, I really wanted to play out that album. And when we did, it felt really good, a catharsis.

So ‘Funganista’, what’s it all about?

The Funganista represents the hunter/gatherer which resides in all of us, he/she is that primal spirit of the hunter/gatherer, this is the reason for the white painted face in the video and when the song is performed live, portraying the spirit. The Funganista, which has risen to the surface and shown its face in recent years via the recent wild food foraging phenomena, is currently enduring much castigation from various opposed bodies. This song conveys the broad themes of that story.

At the time of the reformation, your debut long player ‘2 by 2’ had not yet been reissued. How do you look back on the original vinyl album?

I talked to Mike, the bass player about this the other day… I never really felt we did a ‘proper’ album because that ‘first’ album never came out, which was for me a crucial piece of the BLUE ZOO story, missing. We took a few of those songs, wrote some others and came up with ‘2 By 2’.

The album is ok in bits and there’s some nice songs like ‘Something Familiar’ but as an album, I didn’t find it cohesive. But that unreleased first album was cohesive, it had a sound and flavour of what we were at the time… and we missed that. ‘2 By 2’ was missing that crucial part.

When ‘2 By 2’ did get a re-release on Cherry Red, it came with a significantly altered track listing.

That was my fault! Cherry Red wanted all these B-sides on there and I chose what I thought were the best ones. ‘Love Moves In Strange Ways’ was the biggest kick back as I always felt that the original single was better than the album version.

So were you trying to put something right?

Not really, but ‘Love Moves In Strange Ways’ was a bit of a statement, I wanted the original to be on there, although loads of people love the album version… so there was a bit of a hoo-hah about it!

The original version of ‘Love Moves In Strange Ways’ is rightly hailed as a lost classic, but the re-recorded album version was produced by Tim Friese-Greene and featured Danny Thompson on double bass. It was almost as a precursor to TALK TALK’s eventual sound… any thoughts?

Yes! I loved TALK TALK and I think they liked what Tim was doing with us and that was where TALK TALK entered the frey with Tim. I’d have loved to have taken that direction with Tim, that would have been fantastic. I listened to TALK TALK just the other day in the car and I sent him a message spontaneously about when we did the album at CBS. He used to drive me home after recording.

Could BLUE ZOO have developed into a band like TALK TALK?

I don’t think so, TALK TALK were a different sort of band, making a different sound, I remember them in their early days with the single ‘Talk Talk’ I could hear something a little special back then. There was opportunity like you said in your live review for BLUE ZOO to have been much bigger. I remember the singer from THE HUMAN LEAGUE, Phil Oakey saying that he thought BLUE ZOO were going to be massive, it was all kind of in place to be so, wasn’t it? But when people ask me why BLUE ZOO ended, I always say it was because of songs like ‘Forgive & Forget’, I always felt it was going in the wrong direction.

It’s interesting that a track such as ‘Forgive & Forget’ has now become a bonus track rather than a feature within the main album. Do you feel more detached from that song today?

I never liked it, I don’t like the words and the whole idea of the song… those words make me crawl! It was written by Tim Parry, so I was singing someone else’s words and I didn’t like the sentiment. It sounded a lot like ‘Cry Boy Cry’ as well, but without the edge! *laughs*

Did ‘Cry Boy Cry’ end up being a bit of a millstone around BLUE ZOO’s neck?

Not at all, I’m proud of the song and it was produced really well. I love the backing vocals by Stevie Lange, I don’t know how many harmonies she did, Tim Friese-Greene layered up her voice to get the effect that he got on the “CRY”. I still love singing it and I think we’ve brought a whole new life to it live, it sounds rockier now with our new guitarist Tom.

You shared the same management as JAPAN and WHAM! What was BLUE ZOO’s relationship with Simon Napier-Bell like?

My time with Simon was fleeting, I spent more time with Jazz Summers. Jazz and Simon got together over WHAM! But BLUE ZOO were doing well at the point when they came on board. Simon was a lovely guy, but I never always hit it off with Jazz! There were a few run-ins with him! *laughs*

One time, I recall doing a gig without his go-ahead. I set up a gig at The Moonlight Club in West Hampstead, it was an important live venue at that time and everyone was playing there from U2 to DEPECHE MODE. ‘Love Moves In Strange Ways’ was out and because I lived just round the corner and I knew the guys who ran it, I said we’d love to do a show and they said yes. It sold out, there were 400 people there but Jazz went bananas! He didn’t like that! In hindsight I think well, he was my manager but I just gave him something a little extra to manage….

I also remember riding down Baker Street in Simon Napier Bell’s gold Rolls Royce, with him trying to convince me to stop dying my hair every 5 minutes, to try stick with something for a while…not my style…Ha Ha Ha Ha…

How come BLUE ZOO’s second album ‘For All I Really Care’ only got released in Yugoslavia?

Well, the Yugoslavs took it upon themselves to do so! I’ve only seen the cover online, I don’t own a copy! It’s nuts! I don’t even know what’s on it! *laughs*

I don’t even know if it was official, I don’t think it is to be honest! I’ve been in contact with people who’ve talked about this album and it’s a weird mystical thing, it’s odd!

Which BLUE ZOO or MODERN JAZZ songs hold the most affection for you?

Good question… I love ‘John’s Lost’ which is a Mickey Sparrow song and ‘Could It Ever Happen’, which we still play now. ‘Love Moves In Strange Ways’ is another great song and the good thing for us is we can pull things in and out of the live set, because there’s a whole load of songs that we’d written.

From ‘2 By 2’, ‘Something Familiar’ has got something about it when we play it live, I really like that. But the other tracks like ‘Can’t Hold Me Down’ and ‘(You Can) Count On Me’, I’m not a big fan of them. But a French guy has just done a remix of ‘Forgive & Forget’ and he messaged me about it. I was thinking “oh my god” but I listened to it and IT’S FANTASTIC! I told him “You’ve made my day cos I hate that song and it’s the best version I’ve heard of it!”. He wanted me to sign him off on it but I couldn’t as I didn’t write it! *laughs*

There’s also these German guys HEIN+KLEIN who did four separate remixes of ‘Somewhere In The World There Is A Cowboy Smiling’ and that was pretty cool. They had this club called ‘The Sunrise’ and they had these ‘Somewhere In The World There’s A Cowboy Smiling’ nights, we went to one after a German show we did! They said they loved the 12 inch versions of the songs we did!

We need to do a 12 version of ‘Funganista’, I think that would make a very good dance track. I did speak to Cherry Red recently about maybe doing a CD of just the 12 inchers or boosted with the BBC radio sessions, but I’m not sure they’re so keen.

People won’t be surprised that you performed a cover of ‘All The Young Dudes’ live recently. How big an influence was David Bowie on you?

He was the beginning… for me it was the early Ziggy period, it was just enthralling. The whole essence was instilled inside me and I just basically took it into new wave and punk. When I was in my first band THE RAVE, we used to play ‘Hang On To Yourself’, but also songs by THE JAM like ‘Down In The Tube Station At Midnight’.

Where artistically do you want to take BLUE ZOO today, does the lucrative nostalgia circuit interest you?

Not really, we’re more interested in rebirthing BLUE ZOO. We’ve got to the point where we’ve played out those songs we wanted to get out of our system… that said, I’d love to get them released if any of the masters still exist and are out there. It was a natural occurrence that we would start writing new songs.

What’s next for BLUE ZOO?

I want to build towards an album and BLUE ZOO to produce a complete work that is in the flow and rounded, of the essence rather than a pick ‘n’ mix. There’s lot of ideas ready to pull into shape.

ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK gives its grateful thanks to Andy Overall

The reconfigured reissue of BLUE ZOO’s debut album ‘2 By 2’ released by Cherry Pop is still available digitally



Text and Interview by Chi Ming Lai
2nd March 2017

BLUE ZOO + B-MOVIE Live at Dingwalls


London’s Dingwalls played host to a fabulous double header featuring two veteran cult bands who emerged from the post-punk era.

The colourful BLUE ZOO, managed by the JAPAN and WHAM! svengali Simon Napier-Bell, achieved a No13 hit with ‘Cry Boy Cry’ in 1982. Meanwhile, B-MOVIE appeared on the ‘Some Bizzare Album’ alongside DEPECHE MODE, SOFT CELL, BLANCMANGE and THE THE.

However, the Stevo managed B-MOVIE were sadly unable to secure a major chart entry, despite being on the cusp with the magnificent singles ‘Nowhere Girl’ and ‘Remembrance Day’. B-MOVIE reformed in 2004 with their original line-up of Steve Hovington (vocals + bass), Rick Holliday (keyboards), Graham Boffey (drums) and Paul Statham (guitar) and released a poignantly titled new album ‘Climate Of Fear’ in 2016.

Opening with a track from it called ‘Feeling Gothic’, it was perhaps a nod to Paul Statham’s career in between the two phases of B-MOVIE as a sideman to Goth icon Peter Murphy of BAUHAUS fame.

Indeed, Statham maintained a successful musical career co-writing and producing songs for a variety of diverse acts including Dido, Dot Allison, Kylie Minogue, Rachel Stevens, Sarah Nixey and Jim Kerr. As well as that, he was part of synthpop trio PEACH who released their only album ‘Audiopeach’ on Mute in 1997, a long player which also featured some of the last vocal recordings made by the late Billy MacKenzie.

Next came ‘Moles’ from the ‘Some Bizarre Album’ followed by one of B-MOVIE’s best songs ‘Polar Opposites’. Although both were delivered at a less frantic pace than the original versions, the band were tight with Hovington’s simple, repetitive basslines locking in with Boffey’s drums and Statham’s rhythmic six string while Holliday displayed a fabulous display of ivory gymnastics which at times verged on Rick Wakeman.

While B-MOVIE were often seen by their first major label Phonogram as a band to do battle with DURAN DURAN, ‘Welcome To The Shrink’ showed that perhaps they had more in common with ECHO & THE BUNNYMEN, only more synth laden.

Meanwhile ‘Another False Dawn’ dedicated to Donald Trump was a reflection of how B-MOVIE continue to be in touch politically, just as they had been with earlier songs like ‘Mediterranean’ and ‘Blind Allegiance’ . The band took a short break to rest Paul Statham’s broken shoulder (occurring during an accident while jogging!) so Steve Hovington treated the audience packed into Dingwalls to a solo acoustic take of the 1980 vintage ‘Swinging Lights’.

Returning to play some of their newer material, the marvellous ‘Corridors’ captured the classic template of B-MOVIE as a prototype of THE KILLERS, with Hovington’s voice as resonant as ever. An extended ‘Nowhere Girl’ gave Holliday another chance to flex his fingers while the evergreen ‘Remembrance Day’ wrapped the set nicely with a song that is still sadly relevant, 35 years on. Just quite how these two songs were never massive hits remains a mystery and evidence that chart success is certainly no indicator of quality.

While B-MOVIE have actually marginally slowed down the tempo in a live setting, BLUE ZOO seemed all set to make up for lost time and partied like it was 1982. Reforming more recently in 2011, the vivacious and colourful Andy O was joined by two of the original band Mike Ansell (bass) and Micky Sparrow (drums) plus two new recruits Tom E Morrison (guitars) and Graham Noone (keyboards). Sparrow in particular kept the audience entertained with his Essex boy banter while sipping on a can of Carlsberg.

Beginning with ‘Funganista’, one of their first new songs in 33 years, it was a lively set from BLUE ZOO that comprised one part Ziggy and two parts Thin White Duke with a sprinkling of Romo fairy dust. The band even went back to their origins as an art pop combo named MODERN JAZZ with an airing for their first single ‘In My Sleep (I Shoot Sheep)’, while ‘In Love & In Life’ from their Yugoslavian only second album ‘For All I Really Care’ also got dusted off.

Meanwhile Andy O was if nothing, a passionate and charismatic performer. Still in fine voice, there was still that suitably raspy Bowie-esque timbre to add a darker edge. Taking time for a breather, Andy O sat on a stool for an atmospheric rendition of ‘Love Moves In Strange Ways’ while ‘Cry Boy Cry’ inevitably instigated a heightened level of crowd participation with the frontman reprising variations of his ‘Top Of the Pops’ moves from back in the day.

Finishing the main set with the funky ‘I’m In Reverse’, another track from the MODERN JAZZ days, it was a brilliant synth assisted funk-out recalling KING’s ‘Won’t You Hold My Hand Now’, a fine indicator of the greater fame BLUE ZOO could have achieved. Returning for an encore with the ASSOCIATES flavoured near hit ‘I’m Your Man’, BLUE ZOO concluded with a congregation singalong cover of ‘All The Young Dudes’ “for Dave…”

On the weekend of what would have been David Bowie’s 70th birthday, it was all highly appropriate and very touching.

It was a well attended evening so for BLUE ZOO and B-MOVIE, it was an opportunity for some people to recognise what they might have missed back in the day… most people embrace the opportunity to catch-up with lost friends and tonight was a wonderful opportunity to get re-acquainted again and make new connections.

The reconfigured reissue of BLUE ZOO’s debut album ‘2 By 2’ is released by Cherry Pop, available from http://www.cherryred.co.uk/product/2-by-2-expanded-edition/



B-MOVIE’s new album ‘Climate Of Fear’ is released by Cleopatra Records, available from https://b-movie.bandcamp.com/album/climate-of-fear



Text by Chi Ming Lai
11th January 2017