Having treated the world with her charming cover of the Alan Wilder-penned DEPECHE MODE B-side ‘Fools’, Philadelphian songstress Angel Jefferson returns as CATHERINE MOAN with the self-composed ‘Drop It!’.
Coming from her forthcoming debut long player ‘Chain Reaction’, ‘Drop It!’ channels Angel Jefferson’s innocent sound in the manner of ELECTRIC YOUTH meeting STRAWBERRY SWITCHBLADE and MARSHEAUX via her own bedroom aesthetic. As she craves the nightlife after a year of lockdown confinement, her DIY approach carries over into the karaoke booth video for ‘Drop It!’ which illustrates the sense of fun behind CATHERINE MOAN with Jefferson happily performing to herself.
Dreamily floating over a classic four chord progression and eerily, if coincidentally, reminiscent of the great lost 1984 single ‘Summer Spies’ by FATAL CHARM, ‘Drop It!’ is the result of isolation yet is musically soothing and uplifting, despite a sombre apocalyptic understatement to “let’s keep this fire burning ‘til the record stops turning, ‘til the lights and the drugs stop working…”
While ‘Chain Reaction’ will not include ‘Fools’, as well as ‘Drop It!, the album will feature the airy CHROMATICS meets THE CURE moods of ‘Body Work’ and the punchy North American popwave of ‘The Ordinary’.
Along with DANZ CM, GLITBITER and MECHA MAIKO, CATHERINE MOAN is among the emerging crop of independent North American female synth artists who are demonstrating how modern pop can be self-produced, accessible yet artistic and considered. Not pandering to the mass market expectations of major record labels, they are projecting their own voices without interference and acting as fine role models, highlighting that reality talent shows are not the only way…
With their passion for Mittel Europa, Steven Jones and Logan Sky now have several EPs and four long players of their mannered pop noir to their name, the most recent of which was ‘European Lovers’.
Front man Steven Jones is often inspired by his passion for international travel and the inherent history it uncovers, while Logan Sky was involved in the rebooted VISAGE which delivered the ‘Hearts & Knives’ album in 2013.
The pair were introduced to each other by Steve Strange and the aura of the late Blitz Club figurehead’s neu romance looms strongly in their music. Conjuring up images of mysterious shadows and enigmatic romances, ‘European Lovers’ harks back to a Europe after the rain with an emphasis on monochromatic mood.
Steven Jones spoke to ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK, with the occasional technical interjection from Logan Sky about their love for Europe…
How did you become fascinated by the nostalgic Eurocentric romanticism that colours your music?
Steven: As a child growing up in a kind of northern suburbia, I felt that I had a kind of fantasy for Scandinavia and European cities like Stockholm and places like Berlin, in my mind they represented a sort of bohemian artistic freedom and I assumed or kind of believed that everybody who lived in these amazing European cities was far more stylish, sexy, free minded, freewheeling than anybody that lived in the bleak northern suburbia that I grew up in.
So I crystallised a lot of my fantasies around the these locations and I imagined mysterious travel via ships and night trains and occasionally flights. It was a kind of world of romantic potential, freedom, style, glamour… it felt like a place to which I could escape. So I had a kind of dream of Europe and then when I was 16 I went on a German exchange scheme to Düsseldorf and it was a very beautiful experience.
It was the spring, very sunny and I felt in my naivety I had met all these stylish and sexy people that were living in this European life and somehow that experience confirmed that my fantasy was in fact reality. So, I really felt then that the dream of freedom in this kind of dazzling fashionable stylish and sexy Europe was a reachable dream and that you could escape from airstrip one, as I thought of the UK. So, yes, I’m drawn to that kind of chic melancholic vibe.
You were introduced to each other by Steve Strange?
Steven: Yes that’s true. I used to speak to Steve a lot on the phone and many times he would mention this person called Logan Sky and he would insist that I should connect with Logan Sky and have a conversation with Logan Sky, that was a thing for Steve. He was coming from the perspective of doing something which he had always done which was to connect people. The wheel of destiny turns and I did connect with Logan with the idea of doing a cover of ‘Anyone Who Had a Heart’ with Steve Strange and also another track, ‘Burning Desire’… but neither came to fruition, for various reasons.. but hey, it’s karma.
Finally I think where we really got going was that I had recorded a track called ‘Strange Magic’ with Donna Destri, a sort of moody 80s electronic thing and then I think that caught Logan’s eye and he said he wanted to remix it and away we go. So ‘Strange Magic’ was really the first Steven Jones & Logan Sky release. But yes you are right… Steve Strange… it was his idea all along and I think he’d be very happy about it now, because in his honour, we’ve done a load of stuff.
What were the first songs you wrote together that helped you realise there was definitely a creative chemistry?
Steven: After ‘Strange Magic’, Logan sent me some demos and I think one of them was ‘Desire Lines’ and I did a vocal for it with my lyric and another ‘Falcon of the Dunes’. So then I felt I could easily find a place for myself in in the soundscape of Logan Sky. These were pointing me in the right direction and why wouldn’t we because of course I’ve been recording electronic music for years prior we share a kind of aesthetic both sonically and visually and that would be just a question of you know finally recording something together. So I think you know that was always going to happen and certainly Steve was always going to make that happen, so you know it happened.
How would you describe your dynamic, do you have set roles?
Steven: The dynamic is intriguing and creative. We have a process and usually we will begin on some ideas or demos and there might be a sense of a theme. On ’European Lovers’ we had a conversation about doing some sort of European sounding pop album.
‘The Visitors’ by ABBA also came up in our conversation; I love that album and have always had a kind of yen for recording an album like it because I think it kind of encapsulates how I feel about life. Dark, cold, bleak… with a hook!
There are roles and there is also a space where we move outside the roles and certainly we’ve never said this is your role and this is my role but, y’know, it’s there in the subtext…
You’ve been quite prolific with three albums in four years as well as various EPs and collaborations including with Steve Strange, how do you look back on your work prior to ‘European Lovers’?
Steven: I think I’ve always had the sense that you have to move quite fast. I’m not the kind of person that wants to overcook anything and I’ve always operated from a perspective of being quite urgent in terms of putting stuff into the world because from my perspective the results of your creative process needs to be in the world soon as it can be and that’s the creative expression. I’m really interested in the creative process from the idea to the final recording and then when it lives in the world I don’t pay too much attention to it again… because by then I’m moving forward to the next thing and there’s always the next thing… something else to express.
I’m quite proud of all of our recordings and have the sense that we have created a catalogue of material and I do think that something is expressed through that… a kind of vision of the world and of life that stands in its own space, not a pastiche synthwave space where people recycle old ideas.
Which particular bodies of work stand up for each of you now?
The ‘Corrupt State’ collaboration with Steve Strange was a great sense of completion for me because I felt an affinity with Steve, his predicaments, his aesthetic, his view of the world and also because my family is Welsh and I’m also called Stephen. People used to call me Steve Strange when I was at school, so it was karmic in the echo chamber of my life… kismet.
‘European Lovers’ captures a monochromatic mood, had it been influenced by any particular films or cities or stories?
Steven: I was watching ‘Alphaville’ and that’s a kind of French dystopia and I liked that its futuristic but it’s really retro. But I’m more often influenced by books than films. ‘European Lovers’ arises out of where we’re at now, which is a sort of separation, dislocation… everything feeling off-kilter, unstable, uncertain. But I feel like that anyway so it’s entirely possible that even if we were living in the most stable of times, my mind would come up with something like ‘European Lovers’.
So cities… hmm… it’s a kind of chilly dystopian European city of our dreams, an amalgamation perhaps of Berlin, Paris, Stockholm and Düsseldorf! But you can decode it for yourself…
Musically, who were you inspired by on this album and had there been any new influences compared to your previous releases?
Steven: There’s always the sense of wanting to be fresh or to arrive at a new place but our influences are always going to be in the area of VISAGE or JAPAN or I’d like to be Bryan Ferry. My aspiration would be to mesh together the old influences and then find a spark of something which is vital now and I think that comes from what you’re seeking to express and I think it comes from peeling back the layers to find the thing that isn’t the pose.
Do I think that lyrically I have exposed aspects of myself in the lyrics of this album? Yes I do… unlike earlier albums that were less of me and more of the pose. We are using all of our influences to create a fresh alchemy.
The ‘European Lovers’ title song bookends the album in two distinct versions, had this been intended as part of the concept?
Steven: ‘European Lovers’ opens the album because it is the opening statement and it is an expression of fracturing and separation. It’s asking “what are we doing?” and “where is the meaning?”. The postscript might be the endpoint of that particular night train journey and it might be the starting point for a new exploration… It’s kind of bleak and I think it leaves the listener with a question I think it’s intended to feel uneasing…
‘Sons Of Hallucination’ with its female French voice recalls VISAGE, how did the track come together?
Steven: Logan sent me very atmospheric backing track and I was struck by its cinematic qualities and it felt to me like the theme tune to a grainy black and white European art house movie full of darkness and sex.
‘Fade to Grey’ is a genuine iconic classic and its beauty does lie in that combination of synths and French spoken bits and I always thought it would be great at some point to do something like that.
So it was just happenstance really that I happened to be about to teach yoga and a woman who was coming into my class on regular basis came into the reception where I was standing before teaching and she was speaking in a French accent and I just said right then off the top of my head would you like to record your voice and she said ‘yes’! Lyrically it all came together pretty quickly and with Charlotte Condemine’s vocals on the demo it all just felt right.
‘When The Night Falls’ is infectious electro that is comparatively abstract as well compared to the other material?
Steven: I think Logan’s demo might have been called ‘When The Night Falls In’ and I recorded the spoken lyric to that right off the top of my head just influenced by the mood of the track and I kind of liked it. It’s just a total subconscious moment. It feels a bit psychotic… it’s sinister… it has a kind of seductive element to it.. It seems to imply a seduction but it has a kind of very dark vibe to it.
It can be as abstract as the listener wants it to be. I love that it’s totally improvised there’s something naked about it. It hasn’t been overworked with loads of takes. Perhaps it implies some aspects of my shadow emerging… discuss…
In terms of production and instrumentation, is there much hardware used or is it very much in the box? Do you have any favourite vintage synths that you used on the record?
Logan: My long-term go to vintage synths are the Korg Polysix, Juno 106, Siel Cruise and the Yamaha CS20 which I under estimated for very many years until I discovered its real warmth. Sometimes I used the Polymoog and ARP Odyssey but they’ve been sold.
I also sometimes use the Korg Mono/Poly, the Crumar Trilogy and Yamaha SS30 vintage strings which I believe ULTRAVOX used on most of their classics. When I moved to Hamburg last summer, I only really had space in the car for a Korg MS-20 and R3, plus a newer Behringer Model D and a DeepMind 6 which I’ve used to embellish and fill in most of the gaps on the ‘European Lovers’ album. Of course there’s a couple of soft synths… the FM7 because it’s easier to use than the DX7 and the CS80 for its fantastic sounds.
So who is ‘The Girl On The 8:45’?
Steven: It’s a lyric written by Mr Kevin O’Dowd (Boy George’s brother) so he would know specifically who the girl is. I see this as a sort of description of what happens when you regularly see somebody who is a stranger and you never meet them and you imbue them with a load of qualities which they may or may not have.
So there’s a sort of projection taking place and I think it’s an interesting process so you can see somebody and because you don’t speak to them, you have no real insight into their character who they are and then you project onto them a fantasy personality. And then sometimes that narrative becomes more real than the person themself. The more you see the person but you never get to know them and they begin to inhabit that fantasy space and I think it’s useful to interrogate who the fantasy is… what qualities?
So ‘The Girl On The 8:45’ is the answer to all our questions. She’s the solution to all our problems. She’s the romantic, erotic focus, the Deus Ex-machina, the being that will rescue us from the mundane repetitions of our lives. She’s something like that and she may well be that but of course she might not be.
Photo by Marlie Centawer-Green
Guest musicians Gary Barnacle and Jan Linton feature on the album, when working with such accomplished musicians, do you just let them get on it and improvise or do you give a distinct brief?
Steven: I think that the whole Gary Barnacle thing was really amazing because he’s played on so many 80s and 90s records and so it’s fascinating that every time you hear a kind of amazing saxophone on something it might well be him.
I had this experience of synchronicity when Gary contacted me to say he had played on Sandie Shaw’s version of ’Are You Ready To Be Heartbroken?’ (the Lloyd Cole thing) that I had been obsessed with for years and which I had recently posted on social media. I never knew! It’s an honour to have Gary on our tracks and he certainly brings a special magic to those songs. for sure… it’s transcendent. Jan Linton brings a kind of texture and darkness that has really evolved our sound.
No, we don’t give a distinct brief. My view is to let the players play and see what they do. I’m never particularly controlling about how things should be. I’m kind of disconnected from what happens to the music once it’s released and so for me, it’s all about the process and encouraging playfulness and dynamism.
You have covered ‘Café Europe’ by FATAL CHARM, a quite obscure act who opened for ULTRAVOX and OMD in 1980, how did you discover them and have they heard your reinterpretation?
Steven: Logan sent me that. I had never heard of FATAL CHARM although the lyrics to ‘Cafe Europe’ is absolutely right up my street and perfectly on the money now. It was a challenge because the original song and the girl singing has a very high voice and so I did actually start by singing it and I could sing it. But in my exploration of my own voice and my struggle to not sound like a choir boy or singing curate, I thought it would be better to do it as a spoken thing and I think that was the right decision. Lyrically and atmospherically, it encapsulates what we feel now in our European fantasy which darkens by the day.
Which are your own favourite tracks and remixes on the ‘European Lovers’ package?
Steven: Well, I love the title track and we could argue that ‘Lovers & Losers’ is the best song that we’ve written and recorded. I think it’s almost perfect actually. ‘Like A Ghost’ has a very personal resonance for me and that is maybe one of my most exposed lyrics. It describes direct experience and feels like it is an authentic expression lyrically and so I’m quite proud of that.
I’m really satisfied with the whole album. I think it crystallises all of the things that we have been endeavouring to achieve in our music and aesthetic in terms of its mood, and I also get the feeling that other people think that too. I experience it as one complete artistic statement. God forbid I should sound pretentious!
There’s a distinct visual aesthetic to ‘European Lovers’, how important is the presentation in terms of artwork and videos to you?
Steven: When I’m listening to music and buying records, I’ve always loved the art and I’ve always loved the visual interpretation of the sound. I’m really old school with the idea of a liking and wanting an album and the art reflecting the theme. So we do discuss it seriously.
Logan spends lots of time editing videos, which I see as more of an ephemeral thing although they live online forever. Whereas the album art is essential.
Also, it can be puzzling to be confronted with your own image a lot, so now I tend to disconnect and avoid that to an extent. So the ‘European Lovers’ artwork has a symbolic message and that’s up to you to decode.
It’s been 40 years since The Blitz Club closed, what did think of the Sky Arts ‘Blitzed’ documentary and the spate of programmes particularly on Channel5 that have been celebrating the era? Do you ever wish as Bryan Ferry suggested that you were in ‘Another Time, Another Place’?
Steven: Let’s see… I’d like to be Bryan Ferry… I’m channelling Bryan Ferry… *laughs*
Do I wish I was at the Blitz? No… I think nostalgia is dangerous and there something artificial in it. I think that we are always where we are and I don’t ever wish that I was in the past. If I feel good about what we’ve done, Logan and I creatively, and if I see that as a body of work. Then a body of work is of the now and could only have happened because of all of the forces that have constellated around it.
I don’t want to be kind of a person that is performing something that happened 40 years ago and while I do think it’s culturally resonant and really fascinating and it has left us with tremendous music, great songs and fantastic cultural memories, I’m here now baby and I won’t be preserved in aspic!
With everything going on, what are your hopes and fears for the future?
Steven: That’s quite a question. Hope that we can get out of this and I hope that the getting out of it to a good place and to something which is recognisably the ‘old normal’ you know. I’m really hoping that my fears won’t happen, of being stuck in sort of some kind of twilight zone for years to come, endlessly circulating these issues of virus restriction control.
This landscape to me is profoundly unhealthy pathologically, so my fear would be that we get culturally stuck. We all need to collectively work out a way of not getting stuck and stop buying into flagrant propaganda and to perhaps see that there are forces in operation which would probably not acting in our interests.
Some of my fatalism can be felt in our album. I think we should be stoical, autonomous beings, sovereign of our own minds. We could conceivably argue that going through a thing like this is a karmic gift because it’s had a huge impact on everybody and we have been fortunate to have ringside seats in something so crazy! We’ve got the ringside seats, let’s make the most of them!
ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK gives its warmest thanks to Steven Jones and Logan Sky
Steven Jones and Logan Sky were introduced to each other by their mutual friend Steve Strange.
The late VISAGE front man and Blitz Club figurehead had been working with Logan Sky in the rebooted version of that band which returned with the ‘Hearts & Knives’ album in 2013. As if born into the wrong era, Steven Jones’ neu romance lyrics with their slight dystopian edge have often been inspired by a fascination for international travel and the inherent history it uncovers. Having released their debut full length long player ‘Hans und Lieselotte’ in 2018, further albums ‘The Electric Eye’ and ‘Rotating Angels’ followed in quick succession.
And now the duo present their fourth in three years. As the title track, ‘European Lovers’ bookends the album, the opening variant pulsating the mood while sweetened by soothing sax from the ever dependable Gary Barnacle who himself played with VISAGE and SOFT CELL. Steven Jones ably delivers the fractured mannered baritone that could be seen to be deriving from anyone one of Scott Walker, David Bowie, Bryan Ferry or Midge Ure. Meanwhile the closing postscript provided a hypnotic arpeggio and Polymoog vox humana to accompanying a spoken word take on ‘European Lovers’.
Lost in the rainy streets of Mittel Europa, Jones ponders his ‘Survival’ over tinkling ivories like Ferry on ‘A Song For Europe’ where “the dream of dying is the dream of living”. But the album paces up with ‘When The Night Falls In’, an infectious syncopated electro set-piece accented by the occasional burst of synthetic toms.
Echoing ‘Fade To Grey’, Charlotte Condemine provides an alluring Gallic monologue to the wonderful ‘Sons of Hallucination’. Meanwhile Jones borrows some phrasing from ‘Wishing Well’, the 1987 hit by Terence Trent D’Arby which was produced by Martyn Ware of HEAVEN 17. It’s a curious mix that is ultimately satisfying for the headphones of any passing New Europeans. And when the soprano sax comes in, it all becomes reminiscent of BLACK if Colin Verncombe had into VISAGE.
‘Awaken From The Dream’ utilises an electric piano for a short intermission while the exquisite synth tones of ‘The Girl On The 8.45’ captures an inevitably doomed romance in a tale of unrequited love for a beautiful stranger on the daily commute.
With an ear for obscure jewels, a tense offbeat squelch shapes ‘Cafe Europe’, an excellent cover of a song by FATAL CHARM who supported ULTRAVOX and OMD back in 1980; the cult Nottingham duo too had a fascination inter-continental travel and their Midge Ure-produced single ‘Paris’ captured the days before The Channel Tunnel.
Both projecting a stark austere, the bubbling melancholy of ‘Lovers & Losers’ and spy drama chill of ‘All Her Things Are Gone’ mine an era of long overcoats when The Third Man could walk in at any moment. And although ‘Like A Ghost’ uses a largely similar drumless template to ‘All Her Things Are Gone’, its subtle congas provide an atmospheric backbone alongside the virtual muted guitar loop. As the penultimate statement to the main act, the mournful piano ballad ‘Past & Future Lives’ recalls CULT WITH NO NAME.
For those who opt for the CD, there are three bonus tracks and assorted remixes of ‘Lovers & Losers’ including a brooding one from American gothwavers VANDAL MOON. ‘The Shape Of Darkness’ does what it says on the tin as another electric piano spoken word piece accompanied by an eerie falsetto backing vocal, while ‘Politics & Gesture’ is a rather sombre observation on the state of the nation.
Meanwhile ‘Another Hallucination’ exhibits a threatening throb at the start of a darker alternate take of ‘Sons Of Hallucination’ that allows more room for Gary Barnacle’s soprano sax, with Jones offering another spoken interpretation alongside the feminine prose en Français.
‘European Lovers’ is exactly as it suggests and harks back to a Europe after the rain, conjuring up images of mysterious shadows and enigmatic romances.
An authentic accomplished collection, it contains some terrific moments, although its emphasis on monochromatic mood is perhaps a challenge over so many tracks.
However, what Steven Jones and Logan Sky have is a genuine understated passion for the heritage of their influences, very much the antithesis to the genre hopping style over substance posing of HURTS and la faux sincérité of other duos that could be mentioned.
Europe is the spiritual home of electronic music, inspiring it not just artistically but forming an important bond with the continent’s classical tradition through the romance of its historical imagery.
Continental Europe is defined as being bordered by the Arctic Ocean, the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea.
Often considered to be separated from Asia by the watershed divides of the Ural and Caucasus Mountains, the Ural River, the Caspian and Black Seas and the waterways of the Turkish Straits, it includes the part of Russia where Moscow and St Petersburg are located.
Mark Reeder was one of the first British music personalities to fully adopt Europe, making West Berlin his home in 1978 and subsequently releasing a number of themed compilation albums such as ‘European’ in 1995 and ‘Assorted (E For Europe)’ in 1999 on his MFS label. His fellow Mancunian and friend Bernard Sumner of NEW ORDER said to The European in 2016: “I feel European, I regard myself as a European… as a musician I’ve always been massively influenced by Europe and its people”.
From Paris to Vienna back to Düsseldorf City, Europe fascinated British musicians who having been open-minded enough to use synthesizers, now embraced many different mindsets, languages, cultures and cuisines, all within a comparatively accessible geographical land mass. Meanwhile, European instrument manufacturers such as PPG, Elka, Crumar, RSF, Jen and Siel found their products in the thick of the action too.
ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK stands proud of its Eurocentric focus. Esteemed names like Hütter, Schneider, Flür, Bartos, Moroder, Jarre, Vangelis, Plank, Rother, Dinger and Froese have more than highlighted the important debt that is owed by electronic music to Europe.
While the UK may have scored an equalizer with Synth Britannia, it was the Europeans who took that crucial half time lead. So to disengage with the European tradition would be betraying everything that ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK is all about.
Presented in yearly and then alphabetical order with a restriction of one track per artist moniker, here are our favourite twenty electronic tunes that were inspired, either directly or obliquely, by the legacy of Europe…
DAVID BOWIE Warszawa (1977)
‘Warszawa’ was named after the Polish capital city but accurately captured the Cold War tensions in Europe without the need for lyricism. At Hansa Studios where the sessions were being mixed, the watch towers in East Berlin could look into the windows of the building! Tony Visconti’s production only enhanced the collaborative drama between David Bowie’s enigmatic wailing over Brian Eno’s Minimoog and Chamberlain keys. This formed part of an all instrumental suite on the ‘Low’ album’s second side.
Available on the DAVID BOWIE album ‘Low’ via EMI Records
With KRAFTWERK utilising a customized 32-step Synthanorma Sequenzer and a Vako Orchestron with pre-recorded symphonic string and choir sounds sourced from optical discs, if there was such a thing as a musical European travelogue, then the romantically optimistic beauty of ‘Europe Endless’ was it. This lengthy work influenced the likes of NEW ORDER, OMD and BLANCMANGE who all borrowed different aspects of its aesthetics for ‘Your Silent Face’, ‘Metroland’ and ‘Feel Me’ respectively.
‘For Belgian Friends’ was written in honour of Factory Benelux founders Michel Duval and the late Annik Honoré. Although not strictly electronic in the purest sense, Martin Hannett’s technologically processed production techniques made Vini Reilly’s dominant piano sound like textured synthetic strings, complimenting his sparing melodic guitar and the crisp percussion of Donald Johnson. This beautiful instrumental was one of Reilly’s best recordings, originally on the compilation ‘A Factory Quartet’.
Available on THE DURUTTI COLUMN album ‘LC’ via Factory Benelux Records
Nottingham combo FATAL CHARM supported ULTRAVOX and OMD in 1980. Their excellent first single ‘Paris’ was produced by Midge Ure and could be seen reflecting the electronically flavoured new wave template of the period. Singer Sarah Simmonds’ feisty passion gave a freshly charged sexual ambiguity to the European love story written in the days before the Channel Tunnel. Instrumentalist Paul Arnall said: “we were able to use Midge’s Yamaha synth which gave it his sound”.
Available on the FATAL CHARM album ‘Plastic’ via Fatal Charm
Did you hear the one about the Japanese band impersonating a German band and doing it rather well? Influenced by the motorik backbeat of NEU! and also heavily borrowing form its guitarist Michael Rother’s solo track ‘Karussell’, IPPU DO’s leader Masami Tsuchiya was something of a multi-cultural sponge, later joining JAPAN for their final ‘Sons Of Pioneers’ tour in 1982. Meanwhile IPPU DO are still best known in the UK for their startlingly original cover version of THE ZOMBIES ‘Time Of The Season’.
Electronic pioneer Richard James Burgess said: “I think we all embraced this new direction because of our raw excitement over the new technology… We discussed it in the band and everyone was on board so I started working on the lyrics that became ‘European Man’”. Colin Thurston was the producer assisting in realising this new direction and interestingly, the rear artwork of the first issue of the single featured a very early use of the term “electronic dance music”.
“Europe has a language problem” sang Jim Kerr on ‘I Travel’, adding “in central Europe men are marching”. Aware of the domestic terrorist threats that were apparent in every city they were visiting on tour, SIMPLE MINDS captured a claustrophobic tension within its futuristic frenzy like a doomy disco take on Moroder. It was a favourite of DJ Rusty Egan at The Blitz Club where its shadier spectre was highly welcomed by its clientele, reflecting their own discontent closer to home.
TELEX’s manifesto was “Making something really European, different from rock, without guitar.” Having previously visited a ‘Moscow Disko’ and with tongues firmly in cheeks, they entered the 1980 Eurovision Song Contest with a bouncy electropop song that had deliberately banal lyrics about the whole charade itself. Performing to a bemused audience in The Hague with the sole intention of coming last, unfortunately Finland decided otherwise! Who said the Belgians didn’t have a sense of humour?!
If there was a song that truly represents ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK’s ethos, then the synth rock fusion of ULTRAVOX’s ‘New Europeans’ is it! Noting that “his modern world revolves around the synthesizer’s song” in lyrics largely written by drummer Warren Cann, it all pointed to an optimistic way forward “full of future thoughts and thrills” that would later be opened up by direct train travel across the channel with freedom of movement to and from the continent for “a European legacy and “a culture for today”.
Available on the ULTRAVOX album ‘Vienna’ via EMI Records
While in his dual role as DJ at The Blitz Club and VISAGE’s drummer, Rusty Egan had become inspired by the melodic interplay of Japanese trio YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA which had been European influenced: “I liked the album and played it along with TELEX and SPARKS. The sound was an influence on VISAGE. By the time we recorded ‘Moon Over Moscow’, that was to include Russia, Japan, Germany and France in our sound… the drummer was also using the same drum pads as me!”
Available on the VISAGE album ‘Visage’ via Alliance Import
ASSOCIATES first musical signs of a fascination towards European influenced electronic music came with the funereal pulse of ‘White Car In Germany’. The swirling electronics, cold atmosphere and treated percussion were intended to sound as un-American as possible. Billy MacKenzie’s observational lyric “Aberdeen’s an old place – Düsseldorf’s a cold place – Cold as spies can be” accurately captured post-war tensions under the spectre of the bomb.
Foxx admitted he had been “reading too much JG Ballard” and had thawed considerably following ‘Metamatic’. Now spending his spare time exploring beautiful Italian gardens and taking on a more foppish appearance, his new mood was reflected in his music. Moving to a disused factory site in Shoreditch, Foxx set up a recording complex which he named ‘The Garden’ and the first song to emerge was the Linn Drum driven ‘Europe After The Rain’. Foxx had now achieved his system of romance.
Recorded as a JAPAN demo for the 1979 Giorgio Moroder sessions that produced ‘Life In Tokyo’, this sequencer heavy number was rejected by the Italian disco maestro. Left dormant in the vaults of Ariola Hansa, the song was finished off under the supervision of John Punter and later given a single remix by Steve Nye with redone parts by Mick Karn. ‘European Son’ showed David Sylvian’s vocals in transition from the catty aggression of earlier albums to the Ferry-ish croon most now associated with the band.
THE MOBILES’ were from the sleepy shores of Eastbourne; while ‘Drowning In Berlin’ may have come across as 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. And like ‘Vienna’, ‘Drowning In Berlin’ was inspired by a holiday romance, in this case one that singer Anna Maria had while visiting the divided city.
Inspired by acts like ULTRAVOX and KRAFTWERK, Californian band BERLIN with their approach to synthesizers were a far cry from the way they were being used Stateside within rock. And in ‘The Metro’ with its frantic motorik drum machine and Teutonic pulses, songwriter John Crawford aimed to capture the tense filmic romance of Paris despite never having visited the city, a vibrant but detached feeling ably projected by partner and singer Terri Nunn in a similar fashion to FATAL CHARM.
Available on the BERLIN album ‘Best Of’ via Geffen Records
Radio Luxembourg broadcasted pop music to the UK using the most powerful privately owned transmitter in the world. But when DEPECHE MODE played the country in early 1982, they were booked to perform in a small town called Oberkorn. With a glorious ambient instrumental on the B-side of the then soon-to-be-released single ‘The Meaning Of Love’ requiring a title, Martin Gore needed no further inspiration, unconsciously capturing the air of the Grand Duchy’s countryside and oceanic climate.
Available on the DEPECHE MODE boxed set ‘DMBX1’ via Columbia Records
Before the days of the Channel Tunnel, young York based New Romantic trio THE MOOD noted the how long it took by boat and train to get to the French capital. ‘Paris Is One Day Away’ was the hit that got away; reaching No. 42, it secured a slot on ‘Top Of The Pops’. However, it was the 1982 World Cup and a match heading into extra time meant that a hasty edit was made. And it was THE MOOD’s performance as the new and unknown act that ended up on the cutting room floor!
After ‘Dancing On The Berlin Wall’, RATIONAL YOUTH mainman Tracy Howe turned his attention towards Poland. “What was it like to be young person behind the Iron Curtain? What did they do on a Saturday night anyway?” he told ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK, “Did they have clubs to go to? Probably underground ones. They’d probably break down the door. Apart from the fact that there are no ‘navy docks’ in Silesia, this record makes a jolly racket and may well be the first recorded instance of a Roland TR-808.”
Fascinated by the likes of Thomas Dolby and Gary Numan, JETHRO TULL frontman Ian Anderson went synth in 1983. Assisted by Peter John Vitesse, ‘Different Germany’ embraced both the electronic and progressive sides of Anderson’s career perfectly with a marvellous middle section featuring a bristling keyboard solo. The end result sounded not unsurprisingly like Tull fronting ULTRAVOX; of course, the circle was completed when Midge Ure covered ‘Living In The Past’ in 1985.
Born to French parents in Notting Hill, THE STRANGLERS’ bassist Jean-Jacques Burnel was a loyal European, even releasing a 1979 solo album entitled ‘Euroman Cometh’ where “a Europe strong, united and independent is a child of the future”. Taking lead vocals for the beautiful ‘European Female’, it possessed an understated quality with subtle Spanish guitar from Hugh Cornwell alongside Dave Greenfield’s sparkling synths and Jet Black’s electronic percussion to celebrate the allure of continental mystery.
MIDGE URE needs no introduction as one of the UK’s most highly regarded songwriters and musicians.
Best known for his involvement in ULTRAVOX’s ‘Vienna’, voted “the UK’s favourite No2 of all time” in a BBC Radio2 poll in 2013, the diminutive Glaswegian first found fame as the front man of SLIK when their single ‘Forever & Ever’ became a UK No1 in 1975 and turned Ure briefly into a teen idol. Luckily, SLIK could play their instruments and write their own material so in 1977 under the name PVC2, they released ‘Put You In The Picture’ on Zoom Records, a punkish single that sold more than anything by SIMPLE MINDS during their tenure on the label.
Having become fascinated by KRAFTWERK when they hit the UK charts with ‘Autobahn’ in 1975, he purchased his first synth, a Yamaha CS50 in 1977. So when Ure joined RICH KIDS and met drummer Rusty Egan, it was to change the course of his career when he subsequently founded VISAGE and joined ULTRAVOX.
VISAGE had been started in 1978 by Ure and Egan as a project to make up for the shortage of suitable European styled electronic dance music to play at The Blitz Club where the latter was the resident DJ. Needing a front man, they turned its doorman Steve Strange to act as Pied Piper to the colourful clientele who were later to be dubbed the New Romantics. Ure would subsequently help to deliver the movement’s signature song ‘Fade To Grey’.
Others involved in VISAGE included MAGAZINE’s John McGeoch, Dave Formula and Barry Adamson but also crucially Billy Currie, taking a break to heal his wounds from a recently fragmented ULTRAVOX following the departure of leader John Foxx. At the suggestion of Egan, Ure joined the band and the rest is history.
The classic ULTRAVOX line-up of Ure, Billy Currie, Chris Cross and Warren Cann had a run of twelve consecutive Top 40 hits singles in the UK before they imploded due to good old fashioned musical and personal differences, in the wake of Ure’s parallel solo career and his charity work with the Band Aid Trust.
But Ure was always been happiest in the studio and during his first ULTRAVOX phase, he also produced tracks for FATAL CHARM, PETER GODWIN, RONNY, PHIL LYNOTT and MESSENGERS, as well as working on the second VISAGE album ‘The Anvil’.
The last ten years have been particularly busy for Ure. A regular on the live circuit with his endearingly intimate acoustic gigs featuring career highlights in stripped back form, he also undertook a number of key musical collaborations with European producers. But his most high profile project was the reformation of the classic ULTRAVOX line-up in 2009.
Following the winding down of ULTRAVOX after an arena tour opening for SIMPLE MINDS in late 2013, Ure returned to the acoustic format for two live tours backed by INDIA ELECTRIC COMPANY. But Autumn 2017 sees Ure returning to synthesizers and electric guitars with his ‘Band Electronica’ tour.
He said on his website: “I want to revisit some material that I’ve not really been able to perform with the recent acoustic line-up, so you can expect to hear songs that haven’t been aired for a while as well as the classics and a couple of surprises! I’ve really enjoyed touring with a band and now I want to expand back to a four piece and return to a more electronic based format”
With that in mind, here is a look back at the career of MIDGE URE and his great adventure in electronic music via this twenty track Beginner’s Guide, arranged in chronological order and with a restriction of one track per album / project…
RICH KIDS Marching Men (1978)
Fresh from being ousted out of THE SEX PISTOLS, Glen Matlock offered Ure a place in his new power-pop combo RICH KIDS. An anti-Fascist anthem produced by the late Mick Ronson, ‘Marching Men’ was notable for Ure’s first use of his Yamaha CS50 on a recording, much to the dismay of Matlock, whose idea of a keyboard player was Ian McLagan from SMALL FACES. Eventually, the band imploded with Matlock and Steve New thinking guitars were the way to go, while Ure and Rusty Egan felt it was electronics.
Despite the rejection by EMI, the first VISAGE demo of ‘In The Year 2525’ attracted the attention of producer Martin Rushent who wanted to release the collective’s music via his Genetic imprint through Radar Records. ‘Tar’ was a cautionary tale about smoking dominated by John McGeoch’s sax and Billy Currie’s ARP Odyssey. Alas, Radar Records had funding pulled from its parent company Warners just as the single was released, stalling any potential it had. As the album was put on hold, Ure found yet another lifeline.
Available on the VISAGE album ‘Visage’ via Spectrum
Ure joined ULTRAVOX to record the now classic ‘Vienna’ album, although it was testament to Conny Plank’s faith in the band that he continued to work with them after John Foxx left. On ‘All Stood Still’, Ure put his live experience with THIN LIZZY to good use on this fine barrage of synthesizer heavy metal about an impending nuclear holocaust. Driven by Chris Cross’ triggered Minimoog bass and Warren Cann’s powerhouse drums, the interplay between Ure’s guitar and Currie’s ARP Odyssey was awesome.
Available on the ULTRAVOX album ‘Vienna’ via EMI Music
German music formed a large part of Rusty Egan’s DJ sets at The Blitz Club and even Irish rocker Phil Lynott frequented it. ‘Yellow Pearl’ was a LA DÜSSELDORF inspired co-composition with Ure, while Rusty Egan later played drums on the remix which became the ‘Top Of The Pops’ theme in 1981. A VISAGE track in all but name, ‘Yellow Pearl’ was so draped in the involvement of Ure and Egan that it was almost forgotten that the figurehead of the song was the frontman of THIN LIZZY!
Nottingham combo FATAL CHARM supported ULTRAVOX and OMD in 1980. Their excellent first single ‘Paris’ was produced by Ure and their sound could be seen reflecting the synth flavoured new wave template of the period. Singer Sarah Simmonds’ feisty passion gave a freshly charged sexual ambiguity to the long distance love story written in the days before the Channel Tunnel. Instrumentalist Paul Arnall said: “We were able to use Midge’s Yamaha synth which gave it his sound”.
Available on the FATAL CHARM album ‘Plastic’ via Fatal Charm
Co-produced by Conny Plank, with the Motorik thrust of NEU! and a marvellous symphonic pomp, ‘The Voice’ was a fine example of the creative tension that had now emerged between Ure and Chris Cross on one side, and Billy Currie on the other. Characterised by the swimmy Yamaha SS30 string machine, a magnificent middle eight ARP Odyssey solo and piano run was the icing on the cake. The song took on a life of its own in a concert setting with an extended closing percussive barrage.
To the public at least, it was business as usual with the second album ‘The Anvil’ and its launch single ‘The Damned Don’t Cry’. Very much in the vein of ‘Fade To Grey’, it was full of synthesized European romanticism. But with Steve Strange and Rusty Egan now finding success with their club ventures and ULTRAVOX becoming ever more popular, it was unsurprising that ‘The Anvil’ lacked the focus of its predecessor. Internally, things had gone awry and tensions with Egan led to Ure bidding adieu to VISAGE.
Available on the VISAGE album ‘The Anvil’ via Rubellan Remasters
MIDGE URE & CHRIS CROSS Rivets (1982 – released 1984)
Midge Ure and Chris Cross worked together on an eccentric synthesized spoken word album with eccentric British poet Maxwell Langdown entitled ‘The Bloodied Sword’. But their involvement in ‘Rivets’ came about when Levi’s® were about to launch their expensive new TV advertisment… an executive, unhappy with the soundtrack shouted “What we need on there is ‘Vienna’”! The campaign was a successful one and Ure was commissioned to submit music for the next commercial entitled ‘Threads’; however his ’633 Squadron’ inspired electronic tune was subjected to demands for rewrites by the paymasters so tired of the politics, Ure withdrew the track… that piece of music became ‘Love’s Great Adventure’. Levi’s® sponsored ULTRAVOX’s ‘Set Movements’ tour and ‘Rivets’ was part of a cassette that came with the souvenir programme!
Originally released on ULTRAVOX ‘Set Movements 1984 Interview’ cassette, currently unavailable
‘After A Fashion’ was a blistering sonic salvo that crossed the best of JAPAN’s rhythmical art muzak with ULTRAVOX’s ‘The Thin Wall’. However, it stalled at No39 in the UK singles charts and sadly, there was to be no album. But Mick Karn later played on ‘Remembrance Day’ in 1988 and Ure briefly joined JBK, the band formally known as JAPAN sans David Sylvian for an aborted project in 1992. Sadly Karn passed away in 2011 after losing his battle against cancer.
Glaswegian duo MESSENGERS were Danny Mitchell and Colin King whose only album ‘Concrete Scheme’ as MODERN MAN in 1980 was produced by Ure. The pair toured with ULTRAVOX as support during the ‘Quartet’ tour, as well as joining them on stage to augment their live sound. MESSENGERS’ debut single ‘I Turn In (To You)’ was also produced by Ure but criticised for being ULTRAVOX lite, although the song held its own with its dramatic widescreen passages.
Originally released as a single via Musicfest, currently unavailable
An electro Celtic melodrama in four and a half minutes, the magnificent ‘Man Of Two Worlds’ was the highlight from ULTRAVOX’s self-produced ‘Lament’ long player. Featuring an eerie female Gaelic vocal from Stock Aitken & Waterman backing vocalist Mae McKenna, the doomed romantic novel imagery capturing a feeling of solitude with haunting synths, programmed Motorik rhythms and manual funk syncopation was an unusual template, even for the period.
Available on the ULTRAVOX album ‘Lament’ via EMI Music
‘No Regrets’ had been a big solo hit in 1982 so with ULTRAVOX on break, Ure took a busman’s holiday and recorded his first solo album ‘The Gift’. A song demoed by Danny Mitchell of MESSENGERS for their aborted long player, while there was a big anthemic chorus and vibrant string synth interludes, ‘If I Was’ was a very different beast from ULTRAVOX in that this was a love song. Featuring LEVEL 42’s Mark King on bass, it became a UK No1 single in the Autumn of 1985.
Available on the MIDGE URE album ‘The Gift’ via EMI Music
As a reaction to the pomp of ULTRAVOX, Ure went back to basics with his ‘Out Alone’ tour in 1993 which featured acoustic renditions of his own songs and covers assisted by a pre-programmed keyboard. One song he performed was Peter Green’s ‘Man of the World’, a bittersweet song about a man who has everything he wants, except the companion he craves. A live recording ended up as a bonus track on the ‘Guns & Arrows’ single, but a studio version appeared on 2008’s ’10’ covers album.
Live version available on the MIDGE URE double album ‘Pure + Breathe’ via Edsel Records
For Jam El Mar and Mark Spoon’s attempt at a ‘pop’ album, the German dance duo featured vocals on all the tracks and among those recruited were Dolores O’Riordan of THE CRANBERRIES and SIMPLE MINDS’ Jim Kerr. For his return to full blown electronica, Midge Ure’s contribution ‘Something To Remind Me’ was big on beats. Recording coincided with preparations for the ‘Sampled Looped & Trigger Happy’ tour which saw Ure use a more technologically driven format for live shows for the first time in many years.
X-PERIENCE Personal Heaven – Desert Dream radio mix (2007)
Thanks to his continued popularity in Germany, Ure was much in demand as a guest vocalist and was persuaded to record a song he had written with HEAVEN 17’s Glenn Gregory by dance production team X-PERIENCE. Duetting with Claudia Uhle, who provided her own sumptuous vocals to compliment the electronics and muted synthetic guitars, the punchy Desert Dream radio mix was particularly effective.
Named after the German poet and dramatist Friedrich Schiller, Christopher von Deylen’s domestically popular ambient electro project recruited Ure to sing on the dramatically widescreen ‘Let It Rise’; he said: “SCHILLER’s got his very own, very good and distinctive style which is much more of a laid back, trip-hop dance thing”. Ure revisited the track for his own ‘Fragile’ album in a more stripped back arrangement.
Available on the SCHILLER album ‘Atemlos’ via Universal Music
In 2009, the impossible happened and the classic line-up of ULTRAVOX reunited for the ‘Return To Eden’ tour. Things went well enough for a new album to be recorded and writing took place at Ure’s retreat in Canada, Produced by Stephen J Lipson, several of the tracks like ‘Live’ and ‘Satellite’ recalled former glories while with this take on Giorgio Moroder, the percolating sequences and rhythmic snap of ‘Rise’ could be seen a robotic 21st Century update of ‘The Thin Wall’.
Available on the ULTRAVOX album ‘Brilliant’ via EMI Music
LICHTMOND is an ambitious audio-visual project led by sound architects Giorgio and Martin Koppehele to “Experience Dreamlike Time”. Very progressive in its outlook with “A magic triangle of electronics, ethno and rock songs”, Ure featured on lead vocals and said on the album notes: “For me LICHTMOND is a unique combination of music, visuals and brilliant imagination. All coming together to make one great big piece of art. Enjoy it!”
Although Ure had been regularly touring and playing festivals, there was a gap of 14 years between the ‘Move Me’ and ‘Fragile’ long players. The ULTRAVOX reunion was the spark he needed to get his sixth solo album of original material finished. The lead single was ‘Become’, a romantic and less abrasive take on ‘After A Fashion’. With a danceable metronomic beat, it had a classic synthpop sound that Ure admitted he was “kind of harking back to early VISAGE”.
Available on the MIDGE URE album ‘Fragile’ via Hypertension Music
‘Glorious’ not only reunited our hero with Rusty Egan but also Chris Payne who co-wrote ‘Fade To Grey’; Ure said: “I liked the music, Chris Payne and Rusty had done a great job but I didn’t think the song / melody / lyrics were strong enough… I stripped the demo down to the basic track, edited it down into a more ‘song like’ format and started working on a glorious melody. I added the main melodic synth line and layered guitars over it, ending with the ‘hopefully’ uplifting solo over the outro”.