With its striking Valentina Tereshkova adorned artwork, ‘Luna Landings’, the second solo album by CHINA CRISIS’ Gary Daly was an affectionate memory of yesterday’s tomorrow and a must for synth instrumental enthusiasts.
Although well-known for his distinctive afflicted voice, Gary Daly was also the synth player of CHINA CRISIS. As well as song, understated soundscapes and passive rhythms were also part of the appeal. Using a Roland Jupiter 8, Korg Poly6, Yamaha CS10, Roland SH9, Roland TR808 and Boss Doctor Rhythm DR55, Gary Daly said the collection was “a little nod there to Brian Eno’s ‘Apollo: Atmospheres & Soundtracks’”.
Many of the tracks on ‘Luna Landings’ began as demos and sketches back in the day, with the view of being turned into CHINA CRISIS songs or used as B-sides in the manner of ‘Dockland’, ‘Forever I & I’ and ‘Watching Over Burning Fields’. Despite the age of the recordings, the air and hiss from the incumbent machinery added an endearingly earthy quality to proceedings.
With its dominant percussive snap within the windswept lo-fi ambience, the track ‘Dummkopf’ has been segued into the spacey moods of ‘And When Did You Give Up… And Why?’ to be given an absorbing colourful video treatment by Scott Spencer and John Brown.
Presented as ‘Don’t Give Up Dummkopf’, Spencer and Brown had worked together on the video ‘Ill Fit’ for the Liverpudlian art pop band WAVE MACHINES; incidentally, the former once made a bootleg CHINA CRISIS T-shirt for a home economics project at school and first met Gary Daly in 2008.
The story behind the video goes: “’Don’t Give Up, Dummkopf!’ was made as the coronavirus is shaking up the globe, throwing up everyone and everything with it. Those who can suit up to protect themselves. In the turbulence our trajectory is knocked off course, warnings are ignored, setting off a chain of system failures. Now adrift in the sea of time and space, we scramble about to chart a new course.”
It continues: “A race began to discover a vaccine. Away from the multibillion-dollar corporations, in a flat in Liverpool, scientists were reappraising Douglas Trumbull’s groundbreaking ‘star gate’ work on Californian phenotype mutations. The scientists derived new nonlinear techniques from Trumbull’s original work. In the lab they applied the new strains to sounds made by Gary Daly, producing positive results. Trials saw affect display score high. We are now able to share our results with you.”
Despite the worldwide pandemic crisis, the music industry did its best and soldiered on.
Many artists who had scheduled releases in 2020 went through with them, but other artists used the lockdown situation as creative tension and were particularly productive while stuck at home, to compensate for being unable to perform live shows.
Electronic music has always had an emotional link in particular with isolation and solitary working, so the advances in computerised recording technology meant that a number of musicians could function as before.
Worthy mentions for 2020 include AaRON, ASSEMBLAGE 23, DESIRE, DISCOVERY ZONE, FIAT LUX, JOHN FOXX & THE MATHS, GEISTE, NEW ORDER, NEW SPELL, PAGE, WITCH OF THE VALE, ZIMBRU and 808 DOT POP, while one of the most popular synthpop songs of the year was ‘Blinding Lights’ by THE WEEKND which actually slipped out almost under the radar at the back end of 2019.
A special acknowledgement also goes to ‘Future Shock’ by Marc Collin featuring Clara Luciani which came from his independently produced film ‘Le Choc Du Futur’, but only became more widely known when the fictional story of an aspiring female synth musician set in 1978 was released internationally on DVD this year.
But at the end of the day, only 30 songs could be selected as a snapshot of the calendar year. So here are ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK’s songs of 2020, presented as usual alphabetically by act with a restriction of one song per artist moniker.
TOBIAS BERNSTRUP Private Eye
Tobias Bernstrup is an electronic musician and performance artist from Gothenburg who combines sci-fi, performance art and gothic noir for a striking persona that has been exhibited at art galleries in Sweden. The club-friendly Italo flavoured ‘Private Eye’ looked at the surveillance society with hints of TRANS-X who Bernstrup collaborated with on a new version of his song ‘Videodrome’ in 2018. Already a veteran of several albums, a follow-up to his last long player ‘Technophobic’ is in the works.
Available on the digital single ‘Private Eye’ via Tonight Records
The ninth full length BLANCMANGE long player of new material since their return in 2011 with ‘Blanc Burn’, Neil Arthur’s dark ‘Mindset’ is only reflecting what many are thinking in these strange times. Thus strange pop music is just the tonic and the highlight of this collection was the marvellous KRAFTWERK meets FAITHLESS concoction of the mutant electronic disco of ‘Diagram’. In his sharp Northern lilt, our hero repeating himself like a preacher on how “I want transparency” only adds to the sinister dance.
Available on the album ‘Mindset’ is released by Blanc Check
From ‘Children of Nature’, the excellent first album by Mark Reeder and Alanas Chosnau, ‘Heavy Rainfall’ was a song seemingly having an environmental reference but actually reflecting on the world’s increasingly disturbing political climate. Like a grooving NEW ORDER disco number with Reeder’s rhythm guitar syncopating off an exquisite range of electronic patterns while some spacey magic flies within the exquisite soundscape. Chosnau solemnly announces the storm warning, yet his message to hang on remains positive as light is seen at the end of the tunnel.
‘Luna Landings’, the second solo offering from Gary Daly was the next best thing to a CHINA CRISIS instrumental album but then it sort of was, comprising of various demos and sketches that Daly originally recorded on his TEAC and Tascam Portastudios between 1981 to 1987. A highly enjoyable record that channelled a laid back demeanour to aid relaxation and escape, despite the age of the recordings, the air and hiss from the incumbent machinery added an endearingly earthy quality to proceedings. One of the highlights ‘80s Electro 2’ did exactly as the title suggested.
Hygiene strips are now common place as reminders of social distancing, so a gesture of solidarity with fellow humans, DUBSTAR presented this poignant song at the height of the 2020 UK lockdown. Working with Stephen Hague and DUBSTAR who co-produced their hits ‘Not So Manic Now’ and ‘Stars’, the writing and recording was completed remotely. There was a forlorn presence in Sarah Blackwood’s vocal but also the subtle lifting air of PET SHOP BOYS to offer some hope in the haze of melancholy.
With her long-awaited debut album ‘Mirores’, ANI GLASS had the honour of being shortlisted for Welsh Music Prize. An observational electronic travelogue based around the idea of movement and progress in her hometown of Cardiff, one of the highlights was the Euro-disco of ‘Ynys Araul’. Rich in traditional melody with a lovely high vocal register while offering a pop sensibility and a wonderful triplet bassline, it was given a subtle remix by her one-time mentor Andy McCluskey who she had worked with as a Mk2 member of GENIE QUEEN.
From the Italians Do It Better stable, home to CHROMATICS and DESIRE, the mysterious but glamourous GLÜME offered this lovely eerie ‘Twin Peaks’ styled cover of ‘Come Softly To Me’. More chilling and metronomic than the almost acapella song written and made famous by THE FLEETWOODS in 1958, the original vocal hook was transferred to synth. Her version captured the innocence of forgotten yesterdays in the pursuit of today with its hypnotic arrangement and her lush but tragic Marilyn Monroe meets Julee Cruise delivery.
HILTIPOP might be a new name in electronic pop but the man behind it is something of a veteran. Magnus Johansson’s best known project internationally has been ALISON, but he began working on solo material and launched HILTIPOP with a triumphant early afternoon slot at Electronic Summer 2015. It would be 2018 before his first release ‘The Pattern’. Johansson’s sombre darker-tinged pop style fused is evident on ‘Time’, with a sample of SIMPLE MINDS ‘Theme For Great Cities’ thrown into a dynamic squelch fest.
Available on the digital EP ‘The Man’ via Hoyt Burton Records
After an excellent self-titled debut album, INTERNATIONAL TEACHERS OF POP brought more of their danceable synthy togetherness to home discos with ‘Pop Gossip’. With a sardonic twist and perhaps referring to the soap opera that is the status of HRH Prince Harry and his wife Meghan Markle, the brilliantly uptempo album closer ‘The Tower’ amusingly imagines Queen Elizabeth II telling her Beefeaters to “Take them to The Tower, it’s a beautiful day, take them away!” like a future scene from series 8 of ‘The Crown’!
Unwittingly reflecting the pandemic crisis, KID MOXIE composed the soundtrack to a film ‘Not To Be Unpleasant, But We Need to Have a Serious Talk’. The plot centred around a womanizer who finds out he is a carrier of a sexually transmitted virus, lethal only to women! She said of ‘Big In Japan’: “It didn’t feel right to necessarily use drums because I did want to take a departure from the ALPHAVILLE original. There was already a strong rhythm element with the synth bass and it takes it to a different place by having a woman sing it.”
Exploring the innocence of ‘Teenage Bliss’, the most recent singular offering from KITE was co-produced by Benjamin John Power, best known as Scared Bones artist BLANCK MASS. The dynamic uptempo combination was wonderfully hymn-like, with Stenemo telling his congregation that “Teenage bliss, there ain’t no consequences in your life and you don’t know what tragedy is” before the bittersweet revelation that “In the end, no-one wins!” as “life is not like your first kiss…”
Recalling melodic 21st Century dance-friendly acts like San Francisco’s ANDAIN, LASTLINGS are a Japanese Australian sibling duo comprising of Amy and Josh Dowdle whose debut album title ‘First Contact’ was a reference to the thrill and despair of notable life milestones like first love and first heartbreak. Capturing the anxiety of growing up and the unknown of adult independence, the ethereal electronic drama of ‘Held Under’ was one of its highlights, using subtle house influences while maximising a hauntingly treated layers of female voice.
LINEA ASPERA released their self-titled debut album in 2012. A collection of dark but danceable electronic pop, before any new listeners had an opportunity to discover and savour them, the duo had already disbanded in 2013. The duo reunited in 2019 and on the superb ‘Event Horizon’, the cutting synthesized hooks, disco drum box rhythms and supreme vocals confirmed how LINEA ASPERA have become such a highly rated and beloved duo and why their magnificent melodic melancholy had been so missed over the past few years.
In a typically NIGHT CLUB twist, the duo found their perfect co-conspirator in former SKINNY PUPPY member Dave “Rave” Ogilvie who mixed Carly Rae Jepsen’s 2011 worldwide smash hit ‘Call Me Maybe’. ‘Die In The Disco’ set the ‘Die Die Lullaby’ album off with a slice of throbbing HI-NRG disco, donning its hat to Giorgio Moroder and Bobby Orlando before asking to “take me to a place I can dance” and an unsettling ghostly pitch-shifted voice exclaims that ”This is my party and I will die if I want to…”
Much has changed for NINA. First the German songstress made some life changes and moved back to Berlin just as the world went into lockdown. ‘Runaway’ from this year’s ‘Synthian’ album declared she “searching for a way out”. So it was only natural that any new material would be influenced by the uncertainty and sombre realities of what was happening around her. The self-explanatory ‘Where It Ends’ made something of a sombre statement with the introspective tones of DE/VISION in building towards a steadfast gothic schwing and penetrating synth solo.
Available on the digital EP ‘Control’ via Lakeshore Records
A ghostly light seen by travellers at night that refers to ignis fatuus or “foolish fire”, the astute intelligence of Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe saw Medieval folk mythology referenced for ‘Will-O-The-Wisp, a fabulous PET SHOP BOYS dance tune with catchy hooks and a dry monologue. From the third of a trilogy of long players produced by Stuart Price and recorded in Berlin’s renowned Hansa Studios, the duo’s fourteen album ‘Hotspot’ maintained the duo’s position as exemplary English songsmiths.
Available on the album ‘Hotspot’ via x2 Recordings
PISTON DAMP are a new electronic pop duo based in Norway comprising of Jonas Groth and Truls Sønsterud. ‘Something In Me’ is what APOPTYGMA BERZERK or AESTHETIC PERFECTION would sound like if they were in full synthpop mode. Catchy, bubbly, melodic and rhythmic with an emotively spirited vocal, when Jonas Groth hits falsetto, it provides a most gloriously optimistic lift that is reminiscent of APOP’s more immediate work, perhaps unsurprisingly given that he is part of their live line-up in support of his brother Stephan.
Recording a collaborative album with Austria’s POWERNERD, the joyous result ‘Megawave’ was Canadian synth starlet Dean Jean Phoenix’s most sonically consistent body of work yet, reflecting her powerhouse stage persona in recorded form fully for the first time. A fun and dynamic collection, the album’s highlight ‘Fight These Robots’ was a classic funky Sci-Fi number with a dose of girly cheekiness and a reflection of a childhood watching ‘Transformers’ cartoons.
Available on the album ‘Megawave’ via Outland Recordings
Having described themselves as “Slacker synth-wave refuseniks”, POLYCHROME and their brand of filmic dreamwave as showcased on their self-titled 2018 debut album found favour with TV producers and advertising agencies around the world, particularly ‘Final Kiss’. Continuing the kissing theme, their recorded return Starts With A Kiss’ featured an unexpected but fitting guitar solo from Bjorn Agren of RAZORLIGHT but made extra special by the dreamy voice of Vicky Harrison who said “we’d finished with a kiss, so now wanted to start with one”.
For Bristol-based Finlay Shakespeare, his interest in synths came from his parents’ record collection, with music from the likes of KRAFTWERK, THE HUMAN LEAGUE and JAPAN. His second album ‘Solemnities’ was a more focussed progression from his debut ‘Domestic Economy’, making the most of a crystal clear modular synth sound coupled to his claustrophobic anxious vocals. The superb ‘Occupation’ was a metronomic squelch fest about social injustice with our hero conducting a raucous avant noise experiment in song with penetrating noise percussion and icy string machines.
With her arty but catchy electronic pop, Emilie Simon studied at the Sorbonne and her only release primarily English release was ‘The Big Machine’ in 2009. Using Martian invaders as a metaphor to the world pandemic, she felt the need to express her feelings on the ‘Mars on Earth 2020’ EP. The best track from it was the powerful ‘Cette Ombre (This Shadow)’ on which she summised “Planet Earth is under attack. Faced with an unknown invader, humanity is experiencing an unprecedented shift. What will remain of it?”
Now adding a “THE” to prefix their name, SMASHING PUMPKINS surprised many with a splendid synth friendly single entitled ‘Cyr’. With hooks very reminiscent of ‘Enjoy The Silence’, Billy Corgan & Co went synthpop with much of the track being of an electronic bent, particularly the synthetic bass. Not only that but ‘Cyr’ was also quite catchy in an almost DURAN DURAN vein! It was magnificent surprise that only highlighted the hopelessness of the more recent material from DEPECHE MODE.
Available on the album ‘Cyr’ via Sumerian Records / Warner Music Group
If there was a song that captures the claustrophobic solitude of lockdown isolation, then it was the appropriately titled ‘Small World’ by SNS SENSATION, the new musical vehicle of Sebastian Muravchik, best known as the charismatic front man of HEARTBREAK. A song about self-isolation during the pandemic crisis, ‘Small World’ was a throbbing electronic number with icy rhythms, marrying the elegance of minimal synth with the melodic presence of Italo disco, reminiscent of VISAGE’s ‘I’m Still Searching’ and PET SHOP BOYS ‘Miserabilsm’.
Less than three years after ‘Hippopotamus’, SPARKS offered ‘A Steady Drip, Drip, Drip’. As idiosyncratic as ever, if there was a key track, then it was the glorious ‘One For The Ages’; with a narrative about craving artistic longevity, the lines “As I write my tome every single night, my eyes show the strain of computer light but I’m pressing on” captured the lot of the creative mind. Already very synthy, the Mael Brothers probably could have made it even synthier!
ZACHERY ALLAN STARKEY featuring BERNARD SUMNER Force
With two albums ‘DIY’ and ‘Hard Power’ already under his belt, since opening for NEW ORDER on the ‘Music Complete’ tour in 2016, Zachery Allan Starkey has been working hard on observational concept album ‘Fear City’. ‘Force’ was a powerful collaboration with Bernard Sumner featuring his signature Italo-influenced sequencing style. Starkey’s impassioned authentic vocals were a rallying call to the people with the daunting prospect of Donald Trump being re-elected on the horizon. Thankfully, the message on jointly produced track was heeded.
ULTRAFLEX are a new Norwegian Icelandic duo based in Berlin who describe themselves as “The new teen sensation” with an interest in Soviet disco, athleisure and weirdo boogie. However, Kari Jahnsen and Katrín Helga Andrésdóttir are perhaps better known by their solo monikers FARAO and SPECIAL-K respectively. ‘Olympic Sweat’ was uplifting disco lento with an organic heart, a pretty tune with an expansive sweeping resonance that was reminiscent of SIN COS TAN, PET SHOP BOYS and NEW ORDER, but with a feminine twist.
If there was a musical duo who visually symbolise the dystopian paranoia of the world pandemic crisis, then it is UNIFY SEPARATE, formally known as US. ‘Solitude & I’ was a natural progression of the material on ‘First Contact’ with Andrew Montgomery not letting up with his Jeff Buckley inspired vocal delivery, reflecting the isolation and uncertain future many are currently feeling as “There’s nobody out there, no-one but you and I”. Anthemic, uplifting and optimistic, it was a message to all about never giving up on your dreams.
Capturing a dystopian outlook on life with an appealing electronic sensibility, ‘Black Kiss’ was the best VANDAL MOON album yet. With a sound seeded from post-punk, goth and new wave, they are shaped as much by their use of drum machines and synthesizers as much as guitars and the inevitable deep baritone vocals. The superb electro-gothic aesthetics of ‘Suicidal City Girl’ recalled the enthralling tension of THE DANSE SOCIETY and a highlight of a record with many highlights.
On ‘Forever’, Greek dark synth songstress Marva Von Theo channelled the frantic tone of ‘River In Me’, the Anders Trentemøller’s collaboration with Jenny Vee of SAVAGES, into a great atmospheric art pop statement on redemption and eternity. A track from her upcoming second album ‘Afterglow’, with determined vocals and punchy beats, ‘Forever’ demonstrated, along with its singular follow-up ‘Ruins’, a significant artistic progression since her promising but unfulfilled debut long player ‘Dream Within A Dream’.
Available on the digital single ‘Forever’ via Marva Von Theo
Melodic synth trio WHITE DOOR released their only album ‘Windows’ in 1983 but despite BBC Radio1 airplay, were unable to gain wider traction. WHITE DOOR gained cult status and one young fan was Swedish synthesist Johan Baeckström who joined the band for their return. Acknowledging the theme of ’Get Carter’ but with a more brassy flair, ’Resurrection’ surprised with a bouncy Moroder-inspired stomp while Mac Austin managed to sound like a cross between Morten Harket and Chris De Burgh around some beautifully symphonic synth.
1994’s ‘Warped By Success’ was the sixth album by CHINA CRISIS and came some five years after ‘Diary Of A Hollow Horse’ which was mostly produced by Walter Becker of STEELY DAN and their last record for Virgin Records.
Despite their first three albums charting in the Top25 in the UK having yielded a hit single each in ‘Christian’, ‘Wishful Thinking’ and ‘Black Man Ray’, sales for the next two albums were disappointing, thus precipitating the end of their seven year relationship with Virgin Records. It also saw Gazza Johnson, Kevin Wilkinson and Brian McNeil leaving the CHINA CRISIS family, having been all together as a unit since 1985.
But given the opportunity to make another album again a few years later by West Coast Productions, a mysterious company that specialised in budget compilations and bizarre rock collections, Gary Daly and Eddie Lundon regrouped to make what was to be a very personal record. One of the team assisting CHINA CRISIS to realise the sound of ‘Warped By Success’ was the future Grammy Award winning engineer Mark Phythian, with a creative relationship that continues to this day.
Developing on the mature laid back feel of ‘Diary Of A Hollow Horse’, there were jazzier overtones on the opener ‘Hand On The Wheel’ while glorious blue-eyed soul could be found on ‘Wishing Time’. The cautious optimism of ‘Everyday The Same’ recalled CHINA CRISIS’ later Virgin-era singles and heralded a new dawn for the duo, although ‘Real Tears’ touchingly captured the sadness of bereavement and ‘Hard To Be Around’ reflected on a relationship coming to the end of its natural course.
Something of a follow-up to ‘Stranger By Nature’ on ‘Diary Of A Hollow Horse’, ‘Without The Love’ celebrated the joy of parenthood while the solemn orchestrated ballad ‘The Way We Are Made’ was dedicated to Derek Jarman.
Despite being a fine collection of well-written songs, ‘Warped By Success’ is very much the forgotten album in the CHINA CRISIS portfolio. But as ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK was to find out, the aftermath of its initial genesis was less than happy, perhaps indicating why it would not be until 2015 that CHINA CRISIS would release another long player in ‘Autumn In The Neighbourhood’; and while that album is being re-issued in a vinyl edition, ‘Warped By Success’ remains unavailable.
Gary Daly kindly gave a candid recollection of the background behind ‘Warped By Success’ and why for him at least, it is not among his favourites and how CHINA CRISIS eventually got back their creative mojo for ‘Autumn In The Neighbourhood’.
‘Warped By Success’ was at the time in 1994 seen as a comeback for CHINA CRISIS which seems funny now considering it had only been five years since ‘Diary Of A Hollow Horse’, compared with the timespan that occurred before ‘Autumn In The Neighbourhood’ in 2015?
I can’t imagine at the time Eddie and myself thought it was anything other than a very very different experience from being with a major label… we would have thought maybe we had come full circle, from starting out on Inevitable Records then Virgin then back to a small independent label / Stardumb. And after being responsible for soooo many people’s livelihoods, jobs etc etc, it was really quite a nice experience to be back to just Ed and myself…
How had things changed within the CHINA CRISIS camp by the time ‘Warped By Success’, both personally and creatively?
Gosh, lots… just about everything that could change, did. Our band, which had been together about 8 years, was suddenly no more. It was a mutually agreed parting of the waves, as they say but basically we had no wages for anyone and people had to make a living…
Kev got busy doing sessions and touring with bands, everyone from FISH, SQUEEZE to THE PROCLAIMERS … Gaz took over his family business and continued to play live and do sessions… Brian opened and ran his own studios up in Glasgow, Scotland.
Personally, lots of the stuff of life was happening in our lives, births deaths and marriages. And this all fed into the songwriting… Eddie singing about losing his dad on the songs ‘Thank You’ and ‘Hands On The Wheel’ and myself singing about Eddie losing his dad on ‘Real Tears’.
You were recording at Hatch Farm Studios in Surrey which was as different as you can get from Maui and Los Angeles where parts of ‘Diary Of A Hollow Horse’ had been done? Any thoughts?
Yeah, awful place, awful people! It really was a massive mistake of Eddie’s and mine to get involved with the place and the people. But it was a chance to make a record and that’s all we ever wanted to do really… it’s a definite “If I could turn back time…” moment. We have a version of the album we made with Mark Phythian, it’s a beautiful thing and we hope to release one day… I hope so.
You and Eddie were back working as a duo again. Had this been out of necessity after the full band years or had technology advanced that music could be made electronically while exuding the live performance qualities you desired?
It was basically how we found ourselves after leaving Virgin records and the band moving on, it did feel completely natural. We rented a room from Peter Coyle of THE LOTUS EATERS on Hope Street in Liverpool. Eddie and myself would make our way there each day and write and record our little instrumental demos, just like when we started out. So you can imagine after almost 10 years touring, to be back just the 2 of us demoing, it was quite lovely really.
The technology hadn’t moved on that much in the early 90s… Eddie and me would have set the room up old school, synths , drum machines, effects, portastudio, mixing desk…
Were the sessions more relaxed than before without the pressure of being on a major label? It seems to come across like that on the record…
We was enjoying ourselves lots, it was soooooo great making a record with no real producer involved, it meant Eddie and myself could properly get fully involved with guiding the tracks.
I think on reflection though, you can hear there was no-one at the helm, steering the ship, so to speak. I think there’s a lack of standout moments… most of the songs are decent, but there’s not many great performances.
I think with us making some hugely standout albums with the “band” giving the songs depth with their performances, on reflection, that’s what the songs lack… no Kev, no Brian, no Gaz, no Walter… awwwww…
‘Warped By Success’ is a great title, had that been an ironic comment on your Virgin years?
Absolutely, you have no idea what you are signing up for and then BOOM! You’ve been on the telly and suddenly you are different… not really, but you are… some more than others…
Now more than ever I think you could apply that title, just think of all the many many reality TV shows / talent shows / etc etc! Success like that really can warp your life and your mind! Success I think is something best “worked” for, but then again I’m an old Grandad now so I would say that… ahaaa!
‘Hands On The Wheel’ and ‘Every Day The Same’ appeared to reflect on the topics of the first two albums, or has ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK read that wrong?
Eddie would have to vouch for ‘Hands On The Wheel’… ‘Everyday The Same’ is basically myself singing about our new found freedom and how best to engage with that, and get positive again…
There was an element of being dropped from Virgin Records which wasn’t great, everyone losing their jobs was tough. So this album being our first post Virgin Records album… there was deffo an element of us being “Indie” again which felt right…
‘Without The Love’ and ‘Real Tears’ were classic emotive CHINA CRISIS pop tunes, you certainly hadn’t lost it?
Yeah, they are both proper lovely songs. ‘Without The Love’, that’s me being a young dad and absolutely loving being home with my girls and not away all the time touring. ‘Real Tears’, well that’s just myself being Eddie’s old school buddy and watching him go through it a bit with his dad being poorly at the time. It would be great to see the Chinas perform these songs one day, I hope so .
There were more Eddie lead vocals on ‘Warped By Success’ than on other CHINA CRISIS albums, had this partly been as a result of you both writing separately during the hiatus?
Not really, because we was actually working more together after leaving Virgin than we had previously when we was still with the label and band. I think Eddie sang / wrote more then, mainly because he had more going on in his personal life…
‘Hard To Be Around’ was very honest and emotive…
It’s a funny one ‘Hard To Be Around’, at the time I dedicated it to Kevin mainly because in lots of ways, Kevin kept the Chinas going. He just made us all feel a lot better about ourselves and whatever situation we found ourselves in. But I think I’d really felt it when I could see Kevin was sort of throwing in the towel with us, not for any other reason than it was time to “move on”… but yeah, it was a hard pill to swallow .
Was ‘Good Again’ about anything specific?
Err yeah, everything that was happening round about then felt like renewal. Relationships / making a new album, it was a very exciting time. We’d gotten over no longer being with a major label and it was time to make it “Good Again”.
‘Wishing Time’ seems to have captured CHINA CRISIS at their most soulful, those vocal harmonies, woodwinds, brass and drum machine work beautifully together…
Ah yeah, that was Eddie having his SOUL II SOUL moment, I think the drum loop is possibly from ‘Back To Life’ or similar. Bowie’s ‘Young Americans’ album was a massive influence on Eddie and myself, so if you ever hear us sounding a bit “soulful”, that’s what it is…
Oh and Eddie would have got properly involved with arranging the brass which is something he loves to do… me myself, I’m more of a woodwinds kinda guy… ahaaaa
‘One Wish Too Many’ and ‘The Way We Are Made’ appear to be musically connected, how had they emerged?
‘The Way We Are Made’… having just listened to it now, crikey ! The recordings not great at all! Hearing it now, it’s deffo a rites of passage song… again, becoming a young dad, I would have been very much of a mind… the road is indeed, just as Paul McCartney and THE BEATLES had pointed out… L O N G!
You set up your own Stardumb Records imprint to release the album, how was it for you to venture into this part of the operation?
By name only… there was no Stardumb label. The company we was working with had lots and lots of differing musical projects on the go, with our album being just one of many.
We needed something / anything to separate us from the companies other super naff projects and so we came up with the name… as I said before, it was an awful, awful situation we found ourselves in.
When ‘Warped By Success’ came out, how did you find the press and audience reaction to it?
The expression “piss poor” springs to mind… awww I do hope you can print that, because it’s true! We were, as a musical force, absolutely spent! Imagine at the time, it was OASIS , BLUR, THE STONE ROSES and… ’Warped By Success’… no, not a great time… ahaaa but thems is the breaks which you have to weather… and weather them we did… and continue to do…
How do you look back on the album now, what are your own favourite tracks?
I don’t look back at that album at all. Eddie will remind me now and then just how great some of the songs are and recently we had ‘Hands On The Wheel’ in the live show and we almost had ‘Good Again’ in there.
But as memories go, I don’t “go” there… too sad and upsetting for me. They are not any of my fave CC songs but I wouldn’t want to put anyone off having a listen. Lots and lots of China fans love this album, I’m just not one of them…
Out of all the CHINA CRISIS albums, ‘Warped By Success’ is the most difficult to one to obtain, is there any chance it ever will be back in the public domain again?
Our version, certainly… but the actual album, n , there’s too much legal stuff around it. And the future is a Big Bright and Beautiful Wonderful New World .
One thing that ‘Warped By Success’ did do was reboot CHINA CRISIS as a live entity because that is one area where there has been a demand for you…
Maybes, eventually it did…we did slowly, but surely, begin to play live again.
I would say it took us a good couple of decades to get back to “Hey ! How good are CHINA CRISIS, must go and see ‘em live…”
Honestly , when we’d left Virgin in 1990, we had no live fans really, having only ventured out live when promoting each new record. And there’s a big big difference between having a live following and having hit records. So yeah , we properly got on with it and I’m glad to say, I can’t imagine we was ever better live than we are now… prettier, yeah, absolutely… but actually a better live act, I doubt it… ahaaa ?
The ‘Warped’ experience put you off releasing new music for a long time, but you finally did again with ‘Autumn In The Neighbourhood’ in 2015? What was the spark to get you motivated into writing new songs again?
The ‘Warped’ experience wasn’t great… it didn’t so much put us off recording as make us realise times had changed. We was properly back to being just the two of us… we did tour the album and even recorded a new live album ‘Acoustically Yours’ for Paul Humphreys of OMD’s Telegraph label which was a super lovely evening at the Neptune Theatre in Liverpool that reunited the Classic 80s China’s line up plus guest appearances from Peter Coyle and Jennifer John.
So basically the China’s got busy playing live which we felt at the time we was sort of starting from scratch, not really having a “live” reputation. I think it was all the performing live that got us writing and recording again, with us being asked at almost every show “when are yous gonna record a new record????”
What made ‘Autumn In The Neighbourhood’ a much happier and more satisfying experience?
The fact the recording had purpose, it was properly funded and the fans what made it happen got properly involved. . .every step of the way… which at times was challenging with not everybody being on the same page at the same time… ahaaa, but it did work brilliantly. All the studio sessions had a great up against the legacy… Walter Becker, Mike Howlett, Langer and Winstanley, Phil Brown, Pete Walsh… all these amazing artists we’d worked with and had such success, that was the challenge. Back in the day , our recording budgets were huge, 80s style huge and although ‘Autumn’ was properly funded, it was nowhere near what it was back in the day!
Was it about being able to have more control of the creative process from start to finish, thanks to the crowdfunding process?
Yes, it absolutely was… it felt like we was back to being “indie” which is exactly how we started, ‘African & White’ on Inevitable Records, distributed by Rough Trade.
You were back working with Mark Phythian and had Carl Brown in to produce while at various points, the old band of Gazza and Brian reappear while Kevin was also there in spirit, was making the album more like a family get-together in atmosphere?
Yes, Mark and Carl and Brian all gave so much to the project… their expertise was invaluable. Mark’s ears are “GOLD” and it would be him that was responsible for the stereo loveliness coming out the speakers.
Carl and Brian were very much hands on performing and recording, both being musicians / producers with years and years of experience. They would very much want to capture all the performances and again, would be very much of a mind that “this is a bit special”, we’ve all grown up together.
Which songs ‘Autumn In The Neighbourhood’ were highlights for you?
‘Because My Heart’ is sublime , Gazza and Kevin are completely responsible for the feel of that song; I originally wrote the song on piano and when we first played it, the feel was very much ‘How Long’ by the band ACE. It was Gaz who went home and played it on guitar and then Kevin and Gaz came back into the studio and completely changed the feel to what it is on the record, which is what I like to call “line dancing fantastic”… ahaaa
I think Eddie’s song ‘Fool’ worked out amazing; I’d heard it just as a song Eddie sang with his guitar. He then came into the studio and sang and played it to a click… and boom! Months and months and months later… wow! What an arrangement… Eddie worked with a pal of ours, Paul Mitchell Davis on the brass / wind arrangement. I could imagine Walter Becker would be very very impressed… incredible!
You’ve released two solo records since ‘Autumn In The Neighbourhood’, so will there be any more new CHINA CRISIS music?
YES! We are currently working on a “Classic Crisis” album / tour for 2021… we’ll be reworking some of our classic Crisis songs, ‘Black Man Ray’, ‘Wishful Thinking’ etc etc alongside new material. So we’ll add as many new songs as we can and all in a classical setting, strings, wind and brass, top hat, black tie and tails kinda scene… ahaaaa
ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK gives its sincerest thanks to Gary Daly
‘Warped By Success’ was released by Stardumb Records and is occasionally available via private sellers on eBay and Amazon Marketplace
Over the last 10 years, ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK has been a voice for the discerning enthusiast of electronic pop.
With a balancing act of featuring the classic pioneers of the past alongside the emergent new talent for the future, the site has become well known for its interviews and reviews.
It asks the questions people have always wanted to ask while celebrating the continuing development of the synthesizer in popular music.
All this while holding to account those who deliver below expectations, assuring the listener that if they are perhaps not hearing the genius that some devoted fans are declaring, then ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK is there to assist in affirming or denying that assessment.
But when artists do deliver, they tend to build a strong relationship with ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK. So with the site celebrating its first 10 years, presented here are greetings and messages from some people who you might know…
Rusty Egan, VISAGE
ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK is 10 years old with the synth knowledge of a 50 year old. If I can’t remember something electronic I don’t Google, I visit ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK!
Glenn Gregory, HEAVEN 17
ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK and its wonderful leader Chi is like the League Of Super Heroes for Electronic Music. Our future is safe in his hands.
I have been involved in electronic music making for 40 years, yet one half hour conversation with Chi makes me realise how little I know. From then to now, he’s knows!
Neil Arthur, BLANCMANGE
Chi has been brilliantly supportive of BLANCMANGE, for which I am very grateful. We’ve always managed to have a good laugh during our interviews, as he would ask me about the darkness and gloom lying within a given BLANCMANGE song! I look forward to our next chat.
ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK has a very important place and a role to play, in spreading the news of electronic music, new and old, far and wide. Here’s to the next ten years. Well done and good luck.
Gary Daly, CHINA CRISIS
Thanks for all your wonderful support Chi, so glad someone has taken the time to ask some great questions…
Sarah Blackwood, DUBSTAR
I love the website. It’s a treasure trove of informative articles, both a very readable historical archive and a forward looking platform for encouraging new talent. In what can be traditionally and lazily categorised as a very male dominated scene, Chi encourages great music regardless of gender and I enjoy the updated Spotify playlist if I’m ever stuck for what to listen to whilst running.
As regards interviews, it’s always enjoyable – Chi is a bit too easy to talk to and his passion for music and synth geekery shines through – heaven forbid you try sneaking a (cleared) sample past him, he will spot it!
Is it 10 years already? Happy birthday ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK!
Chris Payne, DRAMATIS
With 18,000 likes and 12,000 Facebook followers; ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK under the guidance of its purveyor Chi Ming Lai, has become the leading place for the Electronic Music fan. Intelligent, well written and well researched journalism with a great team of writers presenting an array of brilliant fascinating new acts (and some older ones as well!), hopefully it will continue for at least another 10 years.
Tracy Howe, RATIONAL YOUTH
Congratulations to ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK on ten years of brilliant reporting of, and support to, the electronic pop scene. ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK is the authoritative publication “of record” for fans and makers of synthpop alike and is the international rallying point and HQ for our music. We look forward to many more years of in-depth interviews and probing articles, all in the beautifully written style. Happy birthday ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK!
Mark White, ABC + VICE VERSA
Chi Ming Lai and Paul Boddy are two of the most learned, nay, erudite music journalists I’ve had the pleasure of meeting, a rare experience indeed to be quizzed by a pair who know their onions. And unusual integrity. Chi promised me if we asked, he would turn off the tape recorder and it would never appear in print. And has been true to his word. This has literally never happened in my career. Also these two chaps are bloody good fun. I laughed til I cried. Go see the movie!
Rob Dean, JAPAN
10 years of ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK? Only one for me (yes, I know…), but it’s heartening to know that Chi and the crew have created a site so cutting edge for us die-hard fans of electronica. Having read the highly entertaining VICE VERSA chaps interview, I was delighted to be asked to do my own, confident that the questions would be thoughtful and intelligent and yes, a little bit probing too. Here’s to the next 10 and thank you!
Richard Silverthorn, MESH
On several occasions I have done interviews for ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK. Every time I felt like they actually cared about the music and scene and put some educated thought into the questions. It’s good to feel that enthusiasm.
Tom Shear, ASSEMBLAGE 23
Congratulations on 10 years of covering and supporting the scene! Here’s to another 10 and beyond…
Sophie Sarigiannidou, MARSHEAUX
I first met Chi at Sparrowhawk Hotel, Burnley in November 2000 for an OMD convention. It took me 13 hours to reach by train to Burnley from London due to bad weather. I saw him playing live (!!!!) with his covers band THE MESSERSCHMITT TWINS, they were having their time of their life, dancing and singing, so so happy! Us too of course!! From that moment on we became friends. Then he supported our band MARSHEAUX from the very early beginning and I thank him a lot for that!
It’s always great having Chi asking questions for interviews. We as a band had our best interviews with ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK! We spent a lot of hours talking about the history of electronic music and the future of synthpop. My favourite articles are the “Beginners Guide To…” series, you have a lot to learn from these pages!!! Happy Anniversary Chi, we’ve indeed had 10 amazing years with ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK. I hope and wish the next 10 to be even better.
Mark Reeder, MFS BERLIN
Congratulations and a very Happy 10th Birthday! Over the past 10 years, ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK has developed into becoming the leading website for all kinds of electronic synthpop music. It has become a familiar friend, because it is something I can personally identify with, as it is maintained by fans, for fans.
However, it is not only commendable, but can also be quite critical too, and that is a rare balancing act in the contemporary media world.
It has been a great source of regular electronic music information. I have discovered and re-discovered many wonderful electronic artists, and regularly devour the in-depth interviews and features.
Through ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK, I have been introduced to and worked with some of the wonderful artists presented on your pages, such as QUEEN OF HEARTS or MARSHEAUX and in return, it has supported my work, my label and my artists too, and I thank them for that! We can all celebrate ten years of ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK and together, look forward to the next 10 years of inspiring electronic music.
Per Aksel Lundgreen, SUB CULTURE RECORDS
ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK is a highly knowledgeable and very passionate site! They are digging out rarities from the past as well as exploring and discovering new acts, giving them attention and writing about them often before anybody else around have even heard of them.
This makes ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK a very interesting page to follow, as their in-depth stories about older bands “missing in action” as well as the latest stuff “in the scene” gets perfectly mixed together, giving you all you want basically in a one-stop-site for everything electronic. I also love the way they give attention to unsigned / self-released bands and small indie-labels, giving everybody a fair chance as long as the music is good enough. Congrats on the 10th Anniversary, well deserved!
Jane Caley aka Anais Neon, VILE ELECTRODES
When VILE ELECTRODES were just starting out, we heard through the Facebook grapevine about a new electronic music blog called ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK. We had a London gig coming up, and had recently made a promo video for our song ‘Deep Red’, so we dropped them an email about both, not expecting to hear back, since we were virtually unknown.
However it transpired they really liked our sound, likening us to “Client B born and raised in the Home Counties fronting Dindisc-era ORCHESTRAL MANOEUVRES IN THE DARK”.
ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK subsequently gave this very description to Andy McCluskey, which piqued his interest such that he checked out our music. We were invited to tour Germany with OMD as a direct result!
George Geranios, UNDO RECORDS
Chi is a really rare quality of a man. He is passionate about music which is so obvious of course while reading ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK. Through our mutual love for OMD, we discovered that we have the same musical taste. ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK helped us promote all of Undo Records projects and finally we ended collaborating and releasing this brilliant double CD compilation! Chi, I wish you health and to continue writing the best music texts in the industry!!
Adam Cresswell, HAPPY ROBOTS RECORDS
Some people say ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK doesn’t support the scene but I’ve not found that to be the case; having been a part of two gigs and the recent CD, I know how much blood, sweat and tears they put into what they do. ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK might get a few people’s back-up, but they know their stuff when it comes to synth-driven music and I’m massively grateful that they have supported so many Happy Robots artists since 2010.
Stuart McLaren, OUTLAND
It’s no secret that the burgeoning new synthwave genre shares a common history with the great synthesizer acts and pioneers of the 80s, like Dolby, Jones, Luscombe, Wilder, Daly et al who created new soundscapes with what we now define as vintage synths.
These sounds are brought back to life by pioneers in their own right like FM ATTACK, GUNSHIP, ESPEN KRAFT and BETAMAXX to name a few.
ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK and Chi Ming Lai have always been at the forefront of championing, interviewing and reviewing the luminaries of this great instrument past to present, and are likely to remain the de facto voice of the synth scene well into the future… we agree on one thing and that is FM-84’s singer Ollie Wride is deffo one to watch as a star for the future!
Paula Gilmer, TINY MAGNETIC PETS
Happy Birthday ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK. thank you for your support. You never fail to impress with your encyclopedic knowledge of synthpop. Here’s looking forward to 10 more!
Mr Normall, NUNTIUS
I’ve been following most of my favourite artists since they were brand new and often this means it’s a period of 30+ years, yet when reading articles and interviews by ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK, I have learned every time something new about of my favourites.
Following ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK have made me pay attention to several new acts that I would likely know nothing about if they hadn’t appeared on the page.
Catrine Christensen, SOFTWAVE
An outstanding magazine supporting new and upcoming artists whom they choose carefully as they have great taste of music regarding to their huge knowledge within the synthpop genre, when it comes to their writing and promotion – there’s no one like them. Happy birthday ?
Elena Charbila, KID MOXIE
Happy 10th birthday ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK! Your love and commitment to the synth community is unparalleled and your support has meant a lot to me on a professional but also on a personal level. Here’s to the next 10 years! ?
Alexander Hofman aka Android, S.P.O.C.K
I’m a fan of ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK for several reasons. You showed up when I perceived the majority of the electronic scene had turned more and more harsh; as much as I can appreciate an occasional emotional outburst, I’m a happy guy and thus I’m into pop – ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK showed, and still shows me that there’s still electronic pop music being made. Good electronic pop! Which makes me glad, as I find the greater part of the generally popular darker scene to be of lower musical quality.
Moreover, ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK writes in an amazingly happy tone – remember, I’m a happy guy, so it’s right up my alley. Add the fact that ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK regularly publishes interesting articles, using intelligent and varied vocabulary, shows enormous knowledge and interest of the theme, the style, the scene – and I’m hooked. Thanks for being around – keep up the good work, it’s much needed! And congratulations – let’s grab a beer again! ?
While CHINA CRISIS scored four Top 20 hits during their Virgin Records imperial phase, the instrumentally strong Kirkby duo possessed a subtle atmospheric side.
On their B-sides, and usually the ones from singles that weren’t hits, there were some exquisite instrumentals like ‘Dockland’, ‘Watching Over Burning Fields’, ’96.8’ and ‘Little Italy’ that demonstrated Gary Daly and Eddie Lundon’s love of Brian Eno and his esoteric ambient work in particular, both solo and in collaboration with the likes of David Bowie and Harold Budd.
Meanwhile the more guitar-based ‘Performing Seals’ and ‘Forever I & I’ pointed towards Vini Reilly, best known as the man behind Factory Records act THE DURUTTI COLUMN.
But as CHINA CRISIS developed and adopted more conventional colours, expanding to include Kevin Wilkinson (drums), Gazza Johnson (bass) and Brian McNeil (keyboards) in the line-up from ‘Flaunt The Imperfection’ onwards, their artier approach with regards instrumentals took a back seat.
Most of these notable instrumentals were the work of Gary Daly, the CHINA CRISIS synth man and lead vocalist.
And now, he has released a solo collection of 23 such tracks entitled ‘Luna Landings’ in a nod to Eno’s own ‘Apollo: Atmospheres & Soundtracks’.
Comprising of archive recordings made between 1981 to 1987, it is a beautiful work that is a worthy addition to the tradition.
These tracks had all been composed with CHINA CRISIS in mind, so are very much part of the band’s history, albeit only revealed decades later.
So in a new interview with Gary Daly, it made sense to discuss the creative dynamic within CHINA CRISIS, as well as their earlier synthfluences like JAPAN, YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA, OMD and THE HUMAN LEAGUE…
You started off as being more of a bass player in CHINA CRISIS, so how did the drift into keyboards begin?
Believe it or not, Eddie’s mum, Katie, had a catalogue at the time circa 1980 / 81 which could be found in most working class homes. So basically you could order and pay on a weekly basis, all manner of goods, everything from clothing to children’s toys, gardening to electrical goods and wow! There it was… a Yamaha CS 10 monophonic keyboard and Katie very kindly ordered it for us.
So yeah, Eddie and myself would have delighted soooo much in being able to experiment with a synth… it did help that the CS 10 was monophonic, one key / note at a time… hahaaa! We had been listening to so much Eno / Bowie / early HUMAN LEAGUE that we knew and understood you could actually make and play bass notes / sounds on a synth. So it was never a matter of “being a bass player” and drifting into keys, Eddie and myself would have been fearless in exploring any and all instruments / machines. We’d read enough Eno song credits to realise experimentation was “the key”.
Can you remember the first electronic instrumental you liked or that made an impression?
TANGERINE DREAM and their 1975 album ‘Rubycon’, it was ‘Rubycon Part One’. A friend had this album back in the day, 1975 / 76. Everybody would loan each other’s albums, I very clearly remember Eddie lending me his copy of Bowie’s ‘Low’ album… nobody owned more than a few albums, never more then 15 / 20. So sharing each other’s records was essential really. None of us had headphones and would improvise… most record players were sporting separate speakers so it was easy to set up a stereo headspace, on the floor, a speaker either side of your noggin. And boom! The stereo picture was complete!
Was there a particular moment when got you into more “ambient musics”?
Yes, that would be side two of Bowie’s ‘Low’ album, the mostly Instrumental side. That in turn led to me buying Eno’s ‘Before & After Science’ album, which led to me hearing Eno’s ‘Discreet Music’ album and that was a complete and utter revelation! I never knew music could be so “slow moving” and yet so completely engaging… the fact it had a diagram of how to set up a “tape loop” recording session was brilliant, it was exactly the kind of recording info I was wanting to see, read and learn from…
When you and Eddie decided to start making music together, did you start by creating instrumentals or were you songwriting from the off?
Always instrumentals, we only began writing words and singing over these little tunes because nobody else was going to do it for us… like we didn’t have a singer and we certainly didn’t consider ourselves as “singers”, but as much as we loved all our instrumental endeavours, it did feel the most natural thing in the world to start singing along… and when you are in your late teens, getting creative , there’s soooo much to sing about!
On ‘Difficult Shapes & Passive Rhythms’, you got quite into bass synth sequencing like on ‘Some People I Know To Lead Fantastic Lives’, what were you using to achieve this effect?
We mostly triggered from the Roland TR808 drum machine. We didn’t actually have a Sequencer, so we would trigger the arpeggiator on the Korg Poly 6. For bass synth sounds on ‘Difficult Shapes…’, we mostly used the Roland SH09 or the Yamaha CS10.
In hindsight, the first two singles ‘African & White’ and ‘Scream Down At Me’ are not really indicative of what CHINA CRISIS were to end up sounding like. Can you remember what your mindset may have been at the time as both tracks are very rhythmic?
TALKING HEADS… Eno’s work on their ‘Fear Of Music’ and then ‘Remain In Light’. Also people like A CERTAIN RATIO with their single ‘Shack Up’, ABC with ‘Tears Are Not Enough’ and JAPAN with ‘Quiet Life’, especially JAPAN’s ‘Quiet Life’… hearing the two songs now, ‘Scream Down At Me’ and ‘Quiet Life’, you could easily make a great “Mash Up” with those two…
While you were getting into producing possible pop songs, these gentle instrumentals like ‘Jean Walks In Fresh Fields’ and ‘Watching Over Burning Fields’ started appearing, what had been the thinking behind these?
I had always been a fan of instrumental music, everyone from Mike Oldfield to ELP. Once I’d heard Bowie’s ‘Low’ and then Eno’s albums ‘Before & After Science’, ‘Another Green World’ and then his ‘Music For Films’.
That was it! I just fell in love with making “soundscapes”, I think it helped shape and define our sound, our musical horizons became a whole lot broader and we could apply atmosphere and effects to all our musical endeavours…
Your first hit ‘Christian’ is effectively a type of ambient pop and combined your two interests, what was the song inspired by?
Eddie has reminded me, ‘Christian’ was originally called ‘WW1’; I’d seen images from the First World War, the devastation of trench warfare. I would have written some words relating to what I’d seen and once we had the music written and recorded, I would have spent some time listening repeatedly, over and over and sung along any and all of the words I’d been busy writing…
The actual ‘Christian’ of the title was the name of a little boy, who was friends with a nephew of mine… I’d never heard of anyone having that name. And when recording the track in Strawberry South, Dorking with Pete Walsh producing, we had nothing happening in the middle eight. Pete asked if we had any ideas and I would have just sang “Christian” at the point where the music changes and it worked beautifully.
Was it the Korg Poly6 that gave you the keys to exploring ambient textures more effectively?
I completely love the Korg Poly 6 and in fact , got to work with one again on my ‘Gone From Here’ album.
It’s such a lovely , warm , easy to use keyboard… ADSR… ATTACK, DECAY, SUSTAIN, RELEASE … cut off frequency, portamento.
It’s everything you could want for making great synth sounds and always with an echo / effects unit… always!
Was there ever an example of one of these ambient experiments morphing into a CHINA CRISIS song?
All the time, Eddie and myself worked separately and together. This always led to us being impressed and inspired by what the other was doing. If Eddie was busy playing guitar, then that meant I could get involved with his sound, messing with our effect units, especially our Roland Chorus Echo unit and sorting the actual recording, using the TEAC 144 and later the TASCAM 244.
Eddie would do likewise when I was busy on the synths, this helped with our recording experiences once in the studio. It was like we was in training for when there would be a lot of people involved in our records being made, like we was learning to “produce”.
‘Dockland’ is one of the tracks that many fans cite as being one of the best CHINA CRISIS instrumentals, it has this fabulous widescreen feel…
It’s almost like you could include it on that album and I doubt very much anyone would bat an eye lid! *laughs*
Even when CHINA CRISIS had changed direction into a more band oriented sound on ‘Flaunt The Imperfection’, there were still tracks like ’96.8’ being released as B-sides, but around the time of ‘What Price Paradise?’, you’d stopped playing keyboards in the studio to concentrate on singing and the instrumentals appeared to take a back seat?
Yeah, I am deeply sad about my absence on the keys. I was still very much writing on the keyboards and would have added my parts. But the band had been evolving, as all artists do if they are lucky enough to be given the time to. CHINA CRISIS had changed, Eddie and myself involving Brian, Gaz and Kevin in the writing which was, in it’s own way, a great thing. But it did mean I suddenly got more involved in melodies and lyrics for song ideas that were no longer just Gary and Eddie musical ideas. Some great songs, absolutely, but the “instrumentals” took a back seat, unfortunately.
So what was the spark that had you going back to this archive of instrumental work for ‘Luna Landings’?
Oh, it was always my intention to compile and release these tracks, ever since way back in the day.
I would have always thought they would make a great record… maybe not for everyone, but yeah, I love these tracks as much as anything I’ve done and I would have made them thinking people would get to hear them.
There are two pieces named after your trusty Jupiter 8, could these have turned into songs?
Yes, that’s deffo how it worked, some ideas developed into songs and some didn’t, some I would show and finish with Eddie and others I didn’t. I learnt very early on to do multiple versions of the same idea, this again was Eno inspired. His ‘Music For Films’ featured a track called ‘Sparrowfall 1 / 2 / 3’ which was three mixes of the same track, this I felt was a great way of developing a musical idea… keep changing… finding new approaches. It worked great and is still something I do to this day…
Are ‘Evángelos’ and ‘Yellow Magic’ tributes respectively to VANGELIS and YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA?
Yes they are… YMO, when we first heard and saw these guys, they was off-the-scale cool and VANGELIS, his work on the ‘Blade Runner’ soundtrack is just so utterly beautiful, especially the version with some of the original dialogue… immense!
Was the ‘Luna Landings’ track ‘80’s Electro 2’ indicative of CHINA CRISIS’ uncertainty about whether to join in the Virgin finishing school of synth that was very much doing the business at the time with THE HUMAN LEAGUE, JAPAN, OMD and SMPLE MINDS?
Hahaaa oh, I don’t believe Eddie and myself ever thought we belonged to any “school” of music. We obviously were very very inspired by everyone’s work, especially early HUMAN LEAGUE / OMD… but always, we was very very singular minded and not really part of any “scene”, we just didn’t have the time or inclination… or dare I say it , the “right” look! *laughs*
There’s one called ‘Pipes Of Man Ray Times’, had this been originally part of a song suite like OMD had with ‘Joan Of Arc’?
This track was written and recorded the same week I did the ‘Black Man Ray’ demo, hence the title. This is a good example of ideas I would and wouldn’t have played to Eddie, ‘Black Man Ray’ / yes… ‘Pipes of the Man Ray Times ‘ / no… and for no other reason than I would have thought ‘Black Man Ray’, I was more pleased with the recording and could envision it becoming a CHINA CRISIS “song” which it wouldn’t have been at the time of recording the demo; ‘Black Man Ray’ would have been just another instrumental track…
CHINA CRISIS could come up with some witty if long titles like ‘King In A Catholic Style’ or ‘A Golden Handshake For Every Daughter’, did these often come after a track was composed or were they actually the inspiration?
Never the “inspiration”, the music and lyrics always came separately. All our early China songs came from little instrumentals, over which we would then sing lyric ideas, words we had collected, written in a pad, anything and everything…
There are some guitar based instrumentals which sound like cousins of ‘Forever I & I’ and recall THE DURUTTI COLUMN, how would you judge your own six string prowess?
Mostly awful… hahaaa! It’s a bit better now… but yeah, recording Eddie’s guitars gave me a bit of insight into how Vinnie Reilly was getting his sound. So when I had the chance to play and record some of my own guitar ideas, I was deffo inspired by Eddie’s guitar playing and Vinnie’s, especially his album ‘The Return of The Durutti Column’ which I played non-stop and still do.
‘Magnifique Lune’ does sound like it could have come off Brian Eno’s ‘Apollo: Atmospheres & Soundtracks’?
It’s very much another Eno inspired track… a simple refrain, repeated, added to and then returning to the original refrain. I think this was something I would have first noticed on Eno’s ‘Discreet Music’ album, a simple pattern on repeat and the challenge is to add something without taking away from the simplicity. It was all done on the wonderful Roland Jupiter 8 synth…
‘Shopping For Excuses’ appears to be the beginning of a more Trans-Atlantic approach that is more indicative of where you headed on ‘Flaunt The Imperfection’, had this development evolved naturally?
The funny thing is, I was deffo in a ‘Betty Blue’ soundtrack frame of mind, when writing and recording this, I can’t listen to it without thinking of that film’s soundtrack which I actually loved and played so much, I thought I must have written it… hahaaa! It most certainly has a different feel about it, which I think mainly comes from the fact it’s one of the later recorded tracks, circa ’87.
You pay tribute to the late CHINA CRISIS drummer Kevin Wilkinson on ‘Swimming With Kevin’, what was he like to work with and have as a friend?
Well, he certainly was a great friend and anyone who found themselves lucky enough to be in his company, working or otherwise, I’m sure would say the same…
I always found Kevin to be so easy to work with, I never once thought I couldn’t show him any of my ideas.
I always felt he was so much more than a drummer and this is not something I’ve overthought, it’s just something you feel… I suppose “chemistry” is the word and that’s the magical part. I always knew he could only improve whatever it was I was trying to do with a track.
The title comes from a day off we had on the CHINA CRISIS ‘Tragedy & Mystery’ tour in 1983; we had a hotel with a pool and decided to go swimming. I would have written and recorded this as part of the China’s ‘Fire and Steel’ sessions, around about the time of writing and recording ‘The Gates Of Door To Door’…
The fact that this material is recorded on Portastudios gives ‘Luna Landings’ a really earthy airy quality don’t you think, despite the vintage of the recordings?
The quality of the recordings is testament to the people what made those little tape recorders and the people behind “chrome cassettes”… I did make it my business to always record to the very highest standards. I did it all the best I could.
It was completely thrilling, mostly all of the time I spent recording ideas. It was a really amazing time, learning and discovering and having fun…
There are a lot of tracks on ‘Luna Landings’, but do you have a favourite?
I do absolutely love some of them… ‘Luna Bop’ is so happy sounding and delightfully light and positive while ’80’s Electro 2’ never fails to make me smile.
‘Dummkopf’ is me thinking I’m Mick McNeill from SIMPLE MINDS circa ‘New Gold Dream’. The China’s supported SIMPLE MINDS on their ‘New Gold Dream’ tour and I was blown away by the band and the sound they made which I thought came a lot from Mick’s keys. The fact he was using the JP8 just inspired me loads, I would have come home off the tour and started to record and try and find out how Mick was creating such “atmospheric” sounds. I think anyone seeing them around this time and then hearing my ‘Dummkopf’ will know exactly what I was trying to do…
Do you think you will do another ambient instrumental album in the future?
Yes, but I’m very much of a mind to do a “piano pieces” album, I mostly compose on the piano now and have been for quite a number of years. Two of my fave ambient albums are Eno’s ‘Music for Airports’ and his collaboration with Harold Budd on the album ‘The Plateaux Of Mirror’…
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