Tag: Heaven 17 (Page 2 of 13)

MARTYN WARE Electronically Yours Vol1

Photo by Gered Mankowitz

Martyn Ware is best known as a member of HEAVEN 17 and a co-founder of THE HUMAN LEAGUE but he also found success as a producer, helming hit singles for Tina Turner and Terence Trent Darby as well as SCRITTI POLITTI and ERASURE.

‘Electronically Yours Vol1’ is the autobiography of Martyn Ware that covers up to the end of 1992. Following his formative years pioneering the cause of the synthesizer in pop music, he was experiencing leaner times.

But thanks to a BROTHERS IN RHYTHM remix of ‘Temptation’ that was gaining traction in clubland, interest in HEAVEN 17 was re-energised and plans for what became the 1996 comeback album ‘Bigger Than America’ and their first UK tour fell into place… but that is another story intended for ‘Electronically Yours Vol2’.

Born in 1956, Martyn Ware grew up in a council house in the Socialist Republic Of South Yorkshire. His father was a devout trade unionist, so the availability of libraries, education for all, affordable accommodation, free healthcare via the NHS, loyalty to community and the security of mutual care are values that Ware stands for in the possibilities of making the world a better place for all.

Ware has often been accused of being a “champagne socialist” but why shouldn’t everyone be able to make a good life for themselves and taste the finer things, why should it only be the preserve of the greedy in their robbing pursuit of cash as part of their “divide and rule” power trip? Fair taxes provide opportunity for all, but sadly as Ware states, the “I’m all right Jack” and “Pulling the ladder up” mentality has become the dominant attitude as betrayal in the pursuit of social mobility takes hold.

This treacherous attitude is particularly prevalent in the children of Commonwealth immigrants; members of that second generation such as Priti Patel, Rishi Sunak, Kemi Badenoch, Suella Braverman, Kwasi Kwarteng, Bim Afolami and James Cleverly ignorantly forget to look in the mirror as they push forward the heinous racist policies of the current Conservative government without a hint of irony! As the song says, ‘We Don’t Need This Fascist Groove Thang’!

Photo by Gered Mankowitz

Those who proclaim that music and politics should not mix forget that music IS politics; synthpop pickers may be shocked to learn that songs like ‘Enola Gay’, ‘I Travel’, ‘African & White’, ‘Everything Counts’, ‘Blue Emotion’, ‘White China’, ‘Two Tribes’, ‘Equality’, ‘State Of The Nation’, ‘Suburbia’ and ‘The Circus’ all had political sentiments. Ware despairs at how HEAVEN 17 were seen as heroes of the vile yuppie culture that emerged as the government of Margaret Thatcher were flogging off the family silver.

The suited ponytail image was a send-up while the titles of the first two HEAVEN 17 albums ‘Penthouse & Pavement’ and ‘The Luxury Gap’ were direct statements on the emerging class divide. Meanwhile, the nuclear paranoia of The Cold War and the Wild West mentality of the US president Ronald Reagan who wasted millions on the ‘Star Wars’ project fuelled creativity no end with the stark warnings of ‘Let’s All Make A Bomb’ and ‘Five Minutes To Midnight’ among the resulting masterpieces.

To give context to the period, even BUCKS FIZZ’s seemingly innocent 1982 nursery rhyme No1 ‘The Land Of Make Believe’ was as co-writer Pete Sinfield put it “a virulent anti-Thatcher song” while ‘Mistletoe & Wine’ began life as an ironic socialist protest song from the musical ‘Scraps’ about “the unfeeling middle classes” before being tweed up by Cliff Richard for Christmas 1988. Even THE HUMAN LEAGUE were not free of political sentiment as ‘Dreams Of Leaving’ from 1980’s ‘Travelogue’ discussed the plight of refugees escaping a genocidal regime, a point sadly still in the news 42 years on and illustrated in HEAVEN 17’s live presentation of the song in 2021.

While politics looms within ‘Electronically Yours Vol1’, inspired by Peter Hook’s NEW ORDER memoir ‘Substance’, a quarter of the book is brilliantly devoted to a track-by-track analysis of every released recording that Martyn Ware was involved in by THE HUMAN LEAGUE, HEAVEN 17 and BEF, the production umbrella of Ware’s that helped relaunch the career of Tina Turner. When Ware left THE HUMAN LEAGUE to sign as BEF with Virgin Records, the option was for six albums per year and it seems almost unbelievable now that between Spring 1981 to Spring 1982, Ware together with fellow League refugee Ian Craig Marsh delivered four! In these notes, Ware is enjoyably matter of fact, celebrating his artistry when appropriate but also critical when required, especially about the ‘Pleasure One’ and ‘Teddy Bear, Duke & Psycho’ period between 1986 to 1988 where he took his eye off the ball with regards HEAVEN 17.


“We are THE HUMAN LEAGUE, there are no guitars or drums played on this record!”; with this manifesto, Ware, Marsh and striking front man Philip Oakey set out to conquer the world with their “synthesizers and vocals” ethos. But the route to success was not smooth and partly self-inflicted.

Ware is very candid about Ver League’s bloody mindedness for their art which makes for entertaining reading. So you get acclaim for your independently released debut single ‘Being Boiled’, played on Radio1 by John Peel and signed by Virgin Records, what do you do next? Issue ‘The Dignity Of Labour’, a conceptual electro-industrial instrumental EP inspired by Yuri Gagarin!?! Then for your major label debut 45, you put out a disco number under a pseudonym! Then you get the opportunity to open for TALKING HEADS in support of your first album ‘Reproduction’ but decide to outconceptualise David Byrne & Co by presenting a taped show accompanied by slides while the band will not be on stage but mingling with the audience and signing autographs!?!

This was all too much for TALKING HEADS’ management who threw THE HUMAN LEAGUE off the tour and the final two London dates featured OMD as the opening act! Later in May 1980, the two groups were to debut on the same edition of ‘Top Of The Pops’ and OMD were to steal a march with ‘Messages’ eventually reaching No13 while THE HUMAN LEAGUE’s cover of ‘Rock ‘N’ Roll’ hit a high of No46!

Tensions were running high within THE HUMAN LEAGUE with pressure from Virgin Records to get a hit, an ironic situation as OMD were signed to Dindisc, an independent boutique label that was funded by Virgin, and were to become the biggest sellers of 1980 within Richard Branson’s music empire.

Something had to change and while Martyn Ware’s split with Philip Oakey is now more than well documented, what ‘Electronically Yours Vol1’ reveals is Ware’s conflicts with THE HUMAN LEAGUE’s Visuals Co-ordinator Adrian Wright. Oakey had wanted Wright to become a full-time member and equal partner, something that Ware felt was illogical as Wright made no musical contribution and could perform his role offstage. So when Wright showcased his presentation before the planned 1981 European tour, Ware felt the images had no thematic connection with the music, leaving our hero to conclude Wright was “at least part full of Art Bullsh*t”.

What happened next is pop history and while Ware and Oakey maintained a bitter rivalry that was to last several years, both Sheffield lads did good. Ultimately the gamechanger in his life as “it’s never a bad thing to be a wingman to a better-looking friend”, Ware praises Oakey’s lyrical contribution and credits him as being a factor in pursuing a career in electronic music, thanks to his love of Wendy Carlos, Isao Tomita and Annette Peacock. Today of course, that best mate role is taken by HEAVEN 17 front man Glenn Gregory and that flag is still flying 41 years after ‘Penthouse & Pavement’.

Meanwhile Ian Craig Marsh, often the forgotten man of the period is singled out by Ware as a key conceptualist, master of bespoke synthetic rhythms and creator of weird alien noises. Ware believes Marsh’s disappearance from the public eye in 2006 had its roots in HEAVEN 17’s eventual mainstream success and that he became more and more withdrawn due to depression, something that was not apparent or talked about back in those heady days… his presence is still much missed.

As far as musician autobiographies go, ‘Electronically Yours Vol1’ is a straightforward book to consume. Using intelligent but accessible language, Martyn Ware gives an enjoyable insight onto the creative process without being too technical. Passionate and honest, if you want to gain an insight into the background of some of the greatest works from that innovative ‘Synth Britannia’ era, then look no further…


‘Electronically Yours Vol 1’ by Martyn Ware is published by Little Brown as a hardback book, e-book and audio book, available from the usual bookshops and online retailers

https://martynwareofficial.co.uk

https://www.heaven17.com/

http://www.illustriouscompany.co.uk/

https://www.facebook.com/Electronically-Yours-with-Martyn-Ware-101964588519314

https://twitter.com/martynware

https://www.instagram.com/waremartyn/


Text by Chi Ming Lai
1st September 2022, updated 20th November 2022

Vintage Synth Trumps with MARTYN WARE

You’ve heard the music, listened to the podcast, now you can read the book…

‘Electronically Yours Vol 1’ is the autobiography of Martyn Ware. From his synth innovation with THE HUMAN LEAGUE and HEAVEN 17 to productions for Tina Turner and Terence Trent D’Arby to ambient collaborations with Vince Clarke, it is the story of his humble working class origins in Sheffield, rise to acclaim and million selling records.

In between, there was his teenage friendship with former-bandmate Phil Oakey that led to the formation of THE HUMAN LEAGUE who were subsequently declared “the future of music” by David Bowie. After a Coup d’état that led to Ware leaving THE HUMAN LEAGUE, he formed BEF, a production company from which an umbrella project named HEAVEN 17 with singer Glenn Gregory and fellow League refugee Ian Craig Marsh became an international success, most notably with the huge hit single ‘Temptation’.

Ware achieved two No1 albums as the producer of ‘Introducing The Hardline According To Terence Trent D’Arby’ in 1987 and after HEAVEN 17 went into hiatus, the sixth ERASURE album ‘I Say I Say I Say’ in 1994. The latter link up with Andy Bell and Vince Clarke eventually led to HEAVEN 17 returning to the fold as the opening act on 1997’s ‘Cowboy’ tour and becoming a favourite on the live circuit to this very day.

‘Electronically Yours Vol 1’ also allows Ware to articulate his views as a proud socialist, something he considers to be a soulful, personal and moral duty. Anyone who considers politics and music should not mix have perhaps missed the point of his music; the themes of HEAVEN 17’s first two albums ‘Penthouse & Pavement’ and ‘The Luxury Gap’ highlighted the class divide that got only wider under the government led by Margaret Thatcher.

Martyn Ware chatted candidly with ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.CO.UK over a game of Vintage Synth Trumps about the history of technology, how the music industry has changed over his multi-decade career and his fruitful working relationship with Vince Clarke.

The first card is the EMS Polysynthi…

I’ve never played one of those but I’m a big fan of EMS design in general, my first band THE FUTURE featured Adi Newton who owned an EMS Synthi AKS suitcase synth. I couldn’t get any sense out of it at all but it made a fantastic racket that you couldn’t predict.

The number of people I have talked to on the ‘Electronically Yours’ podcast who have talked about EMS in fond terms, it’s the one that I covet…

The EMS Polysynthi was at our college studio and it sounded horrible… I thought it was just me but then a few years ago, Vince Clarke declared it as “the worst sounding synth ever made” *laughs*

It looks nice and colourful which is generally a good sign but how weird is that? I never saw it in his studio, maybe he didn’t have it out because he didn’t like it.

Next card is a Roland SH3a…

I had one of those! This was around 1979-80, it was a very nice synth, I liked it a lot but it wasn’t as good as the modular synths that I was more familiar with. Roland were starting to move into more mass production stuff at that point and appealing to a bigger market. They were using a lot of the same components but somehow, the filter was not as extreme so the sounds were less electro-punky like I preferred at that time. They redeemed themselves with the Jupiter 4 but it was too effete, too soft.

So did it get used on ‘Reproduction’ or ‘Travelogue’?

No, it was sort of the unloved runt of the litter. I just couldn’t get it to go far enough for my taste, it was a bit safe. I think Roland toned down the extremities of the filters to make it more usable for the average Joe.

I’m always fascinated by synths that artists don’t like, I remember Billy Currie of ULTRAVOX saying his was the Prophet T8 because it cost a fortune and was nothing like the Yamaha CS80 which he’d sold it for…

Haha! We’ve all done that! We regularly sold our old synths for whatever the latest thing was, that proved to be a massive mistake as soon as we approached the FM synthesis period which I never really got on with.

So with your book, you mentioned you started it 3 years ago, is it basically a product of lockdown? 

I’d been thinking about it for a while and then lockdown happened, I thought if I don’t do it now, I’m not going to do it. I’m one of those people that HAS to be doing something. If I’d had been locked inside during lockdown like in some countries, I would have gone insane. During lockdown, there were two things that I quickly determined; one was to start this autobiography.

My daughter was living with us then so I employed her with the research as I can’t remember a lot of it as I never kept diaries. I’ve got a sketchy knowledge of stuff and remember individual incidents. So over three months, we did solid research using a spreadsheet with a timeline but after a month, this spreadsheet took up a whole wall!

It’s like getting your ducks in a row, you’ve got to have a cogent understanding of what was connected to what happened in what time order. It can become like David Niven’s ‘The Moon’s A Balloon’ which is a series of reminiscences but I didn’t want it to feel like some old bloke’s book! Although I’m an old bloke, I wanted it to feel dynamic.

So once you’ve established the timeline correctly, you can start messing about with it or approach it from the point of view of themes. What I ended up doing was a combination of themes, chronological stuff and to break it up a bit, there are contributions from people who have been important to me throughout my career ranging from the producers I’ve worked with like Pete Walsh, Greg Walsh and Richard Manwaring to various musicians.

The final bit of the jigsaw is essentially me going through EVERY track I’ve ever recorded with BEF and HEAVEN 17 and explaining the process behind it. So for people like yourself and those who are interested in the technical and creative aspects, this will be great. I’ve never really seen that in other musical autobiographies, I was partly inspired by Peter Hook’s ‘Substance’ book so kudos to him, I’ve nicked that idea, thank you.

Your next card is the Sequential Pro-One…

Now then, this one’s interesting. I’ve never used one but I’ve played with one… when you were in the studio in the 80s, you had a budget to rent equipment and try out stuff. We were fairly happy with the synths we’d got, but from time to time, something wouldn’t be available from the hire company so they would suggest “X”, so the Pro-One was one of the things we tired. I like Sequential Circuits as manufacturers and I know Vince Clarke has one of these so I messed around with it then. The basic oscillators and filters are quite pokey so I like it from that point of view. I think it was more of a performance synth.

You’ve mentioned in the past that you favoured the Japanese manufacturers over the American ones…

I always thought with the American synths, I liked the roundness in their tone, I would have killed for a Moog Modular like Wendy Carlos or Giorgio Moroder had but I couldn’t afford it. But they were more performance oriented…

I’ve never been a very good keyboard player, so it wasn’t my desire to find something that would enable me to perform in a musicianly way or to imitate a sax or oboe or whatever. I was never interested in that.

I was more into textures and from that point of view, Korg and Roland were much more on that kind of odd Japanese trip. The approach that they took to the user interface for synthesis was more theoretical. But a lot of the American manufacturers, for me, were aimed at a traditional musician, so when somebody was going into a synthesizer shop to try something out, they could easily get a sound that they were familiar with out of it. I was never keen on that, I wanted something that sounded unfamiliar, so there was a philosophical difference actually.

One time you did go down the American route was for ‘Pleasure One’ with the Emulator II…

Yes, but I’m not really counting this in with that American synth ethos because we had a Fairlight which was frankly a disappointment. We used it on ‘How Men Are’ but it was quickly superseded for me by the Emulator II. Ian Craig Marsh spent £40,000 on something that rapidly became a doorstop *laughs*

Ian was gutted when I bought the Emulator II for about £3,500 plus a magneto-optical drive with the latest CD-ROM. This was state-of-the-art, not even computers had these things apart from mainframes. So for domestic use, this was almost unheard of. We had access to this gigantic library of sounds, which today, nobody thinks twice about. Back then, it gave you an advantage and the sound out of the Emulator II was miles superior, as well as its samples. It became my workhorse for a good 4 or 5 years in productions.

Stephen Hague said the Emulator II was his bread and butter for about 5 years…

It was very elegantly designed, the people who did the sound libraries for them knew what they were doing. It was very warm sounding compared to other things.

Here’s another card, the Korg Mono/Poly…

I did fall for the whole M1 thing but after the early Korgs, between 1981-85, I didn’t buy any Korg equipment because everything Roland was coming out with was so brilliant and I didn’t see any advantage in spending a lot of money on what was essentially, not that different. I’ve played with a Korg Mono/Poly more recently and it’s fine…

You’re often thought of as a Roland man, is there an unconsciously loyalty with particular manufacturers…

I think the development process and timeline of Roland felt more cutting edge than any other manufacturer. Because we were self-identified as needing to be “cutting edge”, there didn’t seem any reason to stray from that. The Jupiter 4 was incredible, I still think it’s the best sounding traditional keyboard synth, rather than modular. The Jupiter 8 was good and ahead of its time but it didn’t sound as good as the Jupiter 4 and so on and so forth. If Roland had started falling behind in the late 80s, then I might have switched. I had a Roland S-700 series sampler which because of the converters sounded better than the Akai ones.

So with your book, was there a story you had completely forgotten about that came up in research?

Yeah, quite a few. They were amazing days in the first half of the 80s, I didn’t have a holiday for 3 years! It was that time when Virgin were making so much money from the birth of CDs that it was flooding in, so we felt we had to take advantage of this good fortune… but, while we didn’t think this money was coming out of thin air, we weren’t really fully concentrated on the fact that we’d have to pay all the recording costs back for instance. We didn’t fully recoup on HEAVEN 17 until the late 90s on the recording side.

There was one major story that I’d forgotten about, I was reminded about it by Glenn. We were recording ‘How Men Are’ at Air Studios in Oxford Circus and we were getting cabin fever. The news was full of Thatcher’s government committing a huge amount of public expenditure on cruise missiles. We were absolutely terrified like the majority of people were that we were going to be blown off the face of the planet! *laughs*

There was this idea of Mutually Assured Destruction as discussed on ‘Let’s All Make A Bomb’ from ‘Penthouse & Pavement’ and it just seemed like the whole world was going to sh*t… now that sounds familiar! Back then, we were heavily involved in the anti-nuclear movement and we’ve always been activists. One day, we just said “we’ve got to do something positive” as people we’re looking up to us as a politically motivated band…

Photo by Gered Mankowitz

So what happened?

I can’t remember whose idea it was. I think it was Ian’s and he said “why don’t we do a banner and put it on the top floor above Topshop on Oxford Circus as a protest?”. We thought in our demented minds that this was a great idea so we got some canvas and painted it to say “HEAVEN 17 SAY NO CRUISE IS GOOD NEWS” with the CND logo on a 20 foot by 4 foot banner.

We wanted it on the corner to get the maximum viewing on Oxford Circus but we had not really thought this through because how do you get this thing up? There was this ledge outside the window a metre wide and I’m not that great with heights! But Glenn said “I’ll do it” while Ian was completely mad and said he WOULD do it.

Meanwhile our engineer Jeremy Allom, a crackers Australian dude, said not only would he do it but would take his bike onto that metre long ledge and rode it around the outside of the building, overlooking the street with a hundred foot drop! I was like “I AM OUT!” and went home!

So Glenn, Ian and Jeremy put it up on a summer’s evening and Glenn took a polaroid… he came round my house and said “Martyn, take a look at this, it’s f*cking amazing!”… this photo is in the book by the way. I was thinking “this is great, it’s going to be in the newspapers”. But next thing in the morning, I get this phone call from Gemma Caufield, A&R co-ordinator at Virgin Records saying “YOU’VE GOT TO TAKE THE BANNER DOWN! THE POLICE ARE THREATENING TO ARREST YOU!” The owners of the building were threatening to sue us and we were given an hour to take it down… I didn’t even put it up there! *laughs*

Here’s another card, this is a fluke, a Korg 700s!!

Now you’re talking, you fixed this! So the Korg 700s, it’s the one I’m most fond of as it was the first synth I ever owned, apart from the dual stylus Stylophone I had. I’ve started taking the 700s out on tour again to play ‘Being Boiled’, the audience can’t believe what it sounds like.

It’s a totally different experience to any digital synth. The solidity of the bottom end is incredible and the filters are amazing. It had two oscillators that you could tune against each other or make them interfere using the ring modulator function, plus it’s monophonic of course, which suits me cos I’m sh*t!

The filters are called “travellers” and it’s got really weird colourful switches saying things like “expand”, WTF does that mean? I know what these things do now because I know how synths work but back then, it was mysterious. It had a white noise oscillator, there’s delay and vibrato. That was used in THE FUTURE before THE HUMAN LEAGUE and I’m really fond of it, if it ever got destroyed, I would be heartbroken.

When THE HUMAN LEAGUE played at the original Marquee on Wardour Street in 1978, it was rammed and they couldn’t get any more people in, we thought we were hardcore electro-punk! I found out 6 months ago that some people got turned away because it was full… two of them were David Bowie and Iggy Pop! Fortunately Bowie came to see us later at The Nashville. We opened for Iggy later on the ‘Soldier’ tour when Glen Matlock was in his band.

When THE HUMAN LEAGUE opened for punk bands like SIOUXSIE & THE BANSHEES, THE STRANGLERS and PERE UBU, the audiences were initially confused but they soon came round and turned into our core support in the end. It was different time and people now seem to be more segmented in marketing terms whereas then, it was much more open.

Your ‘Electronically Yours’ With Martyn Ware podcast has gone very well, you’ve done a lot of episodes, has it got bigger than you expected?

Absolutely 100%, I did it really as a distraction over lockdown… I had about 20 or 30 people who would probably do it. I like the podcast medium and listening to audio books while walking around London. I thought “I could do that”; there was nobody really doing anything in this sector of music. The thing I like about podcasts is they are truly international, there were colleagues and friends in American who knew people who might be interested, so one thing leads to another. A friend of mine from Sheffield who was the singer in a band called SOUNDS OF BLACKNESS introduced me to Maurice Hayes who was musical director for Prince, I would never have thought about approaching these people. It’s got a life of its own now.

Are there any artists that you haven’t interviewed yet who you would like on ‘Electronically Yours’?

There’s some I’ve been chasing since the start who have said they’ll do it, but for a number of reasons, it hasn’t happened yet. The main one is Brian Eno who I know, I don’t think my career would have happened without him on every level from Roxy to his ambient stuff to his work with Bowie and Fripp etc. He’s agreed to do it but he’s so busy.

Kate Bush has turned me down for the podcast and BEF but has always been sweet, she said it’s not something she’d do, I think she’s a very delicate flower. There’s another woman Annette Peacock whose 1972 album ‘I’m The One’ I loved, I got into a long dialogue with her and she’s still doing amazing stuff in her late 70s but she wants to combine appearing on the podcast with her next release. I’d like to chat to Cosey Fanni Tutti, she said she’s happy to do it but only when she’s ready.

There’s a few who have turned me down like Kevin Rowland who’s a friend of mine but didn’t fancy doing it… some people aren’t comfortable with autobiographical long form… the other main one is Green Gartside who I’ve worked with and known for 30 years but he’s not responded.

Time for another card, and it is an ARP Axxe…

I’ve not used a lot of ARP stuff in recording terms. Vince Clarke has nearly every ARP synth on earth and duplicates of a lot of them, so I got the chance to play with them… I just think a lot of those synths sound quite similar, what would you say the characteristics of the ARP Axxe were?

The ARP Axxe is a smaller version of the ARP Odyssey, I remember when Billy Currie spoke to me, the thing he loved about the Odyssey over the Minimoog was it had sliders rather than knobs so he could almost play heavy metal on a synthesizer, it was about player controllability…

I was curious to find out what the weapon of choice was for synth-funk bands in the 70s but one day, I stumbled across a video of THE GAP BAND and they had an ARP Pro-DGX. So I started looking into it and the reason why it was the weapon of choice was it had control features like polyphonic aftertouch which other synths didn’t have. A lot of synth basslines from the period had slurs between notes using ribbon controllers, that became the funky bass synth so that’s my ARP story.

Another card and it’s the EDP Wasp…

I love the Wasp but it’s completely unusable… it’s one of the most beautifully graphic designed synths, but it sounded irritating to me, a bit like its name! It was a bit like a toy, but not in a good way.

Two more cards, this is one you wanted, an EMS Synthi AKS…

Now you’re talking, I really want one of those. If anyone wants to distort my cultural development and sell me one at a reasonable price, I am definitely up for it. I want it as a piece of design but I can’t justify it for the price it’s going for these days. It’s a thing of immense beauty, what do you think?

There was one of these at the college studio which had the EMS Polysynthi and the Roland System 100 which was the synth I took to out of all of them… I never got on with the Synthi AKS because I couldn’t get my head around it, I just wanted to make sounds straight away which you could do with the System 100…

Yes, you’ve got to know what you’re doing, the Synthi can be difficult to get it into registration with a keyboard, it’s not a simple matter of plug and play at all, what with that matrix patch bay…

With the System 100, you could almost make something out of nothing, it was like no matter what you did with it, something happened and you could make it sound like what you wanted…

As it says in the manual, “there are no illegal connections…”

So how did you discover the Roland System 100 and make it your next purchase after the Korg 700s?

That’s not true actually, I bought the 700s and Ian bought the System 100 and sequencer at the same time. So those two and a tape machine became our tools to create demos in the early days. I learnt to use it and the System 100 is fantastic as a teaching tool, it’s so clearly laid out and easy to show what happens. When I teach my students on the MA Songwriting and Production about analogue synthesis, I’ve got a digital oscilloscope that I put on the end of the output and it shows the shape of the waveform, the tones are so pure.

But the story behind my System 100 is when I produced ‘I Say I Say I Say’ for ERASURE in 1993, I had been waxing lyrical about the System 100 as Ian had sold his. Vince had one of course and two days before Christmas, there was a knock on the door and there was a bunch of boxes outside. I was thinking “what’s this?” and Vince had bought me a complete System 100 with speakers and everything! I couldn’t believe my eyes, he had been saying to me that I needed to get back to pure electronic music. Apart from being an incredibly generous gesture, it was his way of changing my cultural development back again. It’s a beautiful story.

So what was the production dynamic like between you and Vince for ‘I Say I Say I Say’?

Here’s the story, I’d never met Vince or Andy before but I was a fan and I was contacted one day out of the blue from Mute Records saying Daniel Miller would like to speak with me. I was a big fan of THE NORMAL and SILICON TEENS so next thing I know, Daniel who I had never spoken to before asked if I would produce the next ERASURE record.

It turned out he didn’t realise I did productions and I said “I’ve done Tina Turner and Terence Trent D’Arby!”; Vince said the same thing after I met him in Amsterdam later. I laid out a methodology that I thought would work which was fundamentally old school. Vince just wanted someone to bounce off.

As I read it, him and Andy work remotely, that was certainly the case for ‘I Say I Say I Say’. It’s only when we laid toplines and backing vocals that Andy would come into the studio, most of the time, Vince was on his own. I think he got bored with being on his own and that’s why he wanted different producers. Now Vince KNOWS what he’s doing, production-wise and arrangement-wise but he needed someone as a means of randomising things a bit and to confirm that he’s moving in a different direction.

I remember with Vince when we were taking about this process and he agreed. He said “you know what Martyn, I am my own biggest fan, I just think everything I do is brilliant”… it was so disarmingly honest and it wasn’t anything to do with arrogance at all, he just knew he was the master of his craft because he had all the tools at his disposal to do exactly what he wanted, to create any sound he wanted, impersonate the effect or function of anything from guitars to bass guitars, woodwind to percussion to those aleatoric weird sounds, he could do it all at the drop of a hat. So all he needs is someone to help him organise it.

I contributed some arrangement ideas and record the vocals which he didn’t really want to get involved in, so I was the vocal specialist; I learnt about vocal stacking techniques from Greg Walsh who did ‘The Luxury Gap’, he worked with HEATWAVE and Geoff Emerick who worked with THE BEATLES. These are the dark arts that transform things from average into multi-national hits.

ERASURE had not really had that kind of producer before, in the past it was perhaps kind of more vibey electronics with Flood. There were all great producers, but it was a different approach. On one side I know all about electronics while on the other, I’m more like an old school traditional auteur producer if you like with a 70s vibe… that worked brilliantly with them I thought. Andy has since told me that as far as he’s concerned, the vocals and arrangements on ‘I Say I Say I Say’ are the best that ERASURE have ever done.

What’s your favourite track on ‘I Say I Say I Say’?

I do really like ‘Always’, we worked so hard on that. Right from the outset from the sketch before we fleshed it out and made it really something unique, it sounded like a hit. I was really thrilled when the album went to No1. They are such amazing people to work with, so creative and innovative, they are so self-effacing and open to suggestions, but they also know when the to stop; I know a lot of artists who constantly doubt themselves and aren’t happy even when it’s all done.

The story that sticks with me with Vince is when I went in the studio one day and he asked me what I thought of a track he did overnight. It sounded really good and I suggested 3 or 4 amendments in terms of sound to open out the spectral thing to make it sound bigger. I went to have a cup of tea and when I came back 20 minutes later, he had changed every single element and it was much better. It was everything! Can you imagine, the command that any person has of… he’s got like 50 synths that are all CV or gate connected in his studio, a series on MC4s that he programmes in with numbers and BBC Micro UMI which at that point he used to use as well plus Logic… this is a man who has complete command of his craft.

What are your thoughts on songwriting and production in modern synth music? This site has been criticised for not supporting enough new electronic music… I thought I was just being an old git thinking that songwriting is not as good as it used to be. But over lockdown, I listened to a lot of old stuff to lift me up and it seems to generally be true. Also with production and I don’t know if it’s because of software and DAWs, many artists are not crafting their sound anymore…

I think you’ve hit the nail on the head, I can’t really add very much to that. There are many reasons for it, the workflow is entirely different now, it’s so quick to get something up to a reasonable standard… the temptation is to fall in love with that “reasonable standard”, the old thing would have been falling in love with a cassette demo. But you can take that reasonable standard and just put a topline on it and then its “OK, that’s done”. I think a lot of the time is because they don’t know…

When I teach songwriting at MA standard, there are some super talented individuals in traditional music terms but the vast majority of them who are in their 20s and don’t have the thematic or cultural context that our generation grew up with.

I love contemporary dance music and avant garde, but I’m against mediocrity. My general theory is if it doesn’t evoke any emotion in me, then I’m not that interested. If it’s exciting or people have a unique take on contemporary songwriting or instrumentals or whatever, I’m down with that. My worry is that everything is becoming more homogenised. I think a lot of it is due to following an economic model and that is a self-defeating mechanism ultimately because people chase the tail.

Honestly, some students of mine have told me “Well, I’ve watched lots of YouTube videos and I’ve done what it says and made a song with four chords and rotated it…” – they’re not doing it to be clever or lazy, they just DON’T KNOW! They’ve not studied great songwriting, they’re not paying attention to the stuff that we grew up with by default. We grew up through the main periods of some innovative artists like Kate Bush, David Bowie, Peter Gabriel etc who were always pushing the boundaries.

I’d like to think people like HEAVEN 17 and DEPECHE MODE were doing the same, but the whole landscape shifted in the late 80s towards marketing and then the whole music scene got steamrollered by the dance fraternity. I love dance music but a lot of it is a bit facile I find, it’s just too easy!

In my opinion, dance music ruined everything…

Here’s a story, when I first met Vince in 1992, he was living in a flat in Amsterdam above a small recording studio. There were these friends of his who we said hello to and what they did every day was do incremental variations on house music. At the end of the week, they would do some vinyl white labels and distribute them among the clubs in the city and see what ones were popular. Literally, they would change 10% of it and I was thinking, if this is the future of dance music, then I’m not interested.

Fortunately there are great artists at all points but what I’m saying is that economically, a lot of that oxygen was sucked up by the dance fraternity up to the 2000s, then it was given to the singer / songwriter cohorts who frankly, unless they are very good, are immensely dull. So we are here now, there is some innovative stuff going on, particularly in the hip-hop scene internationally, but it’s a problem.

I do honestly believe there is no shortage of exceptional interesting stuff as much as there ever was, it’s just harder to find, that’s all. Now there is 50 times more stuff out there than there was in the early 80s.

Recently I got a new iPad so as a test case, I thought I’d see if any idiot could knock up a reasonable sounding dance track on GarageBand… I managed it in about an hour!

I’ll tell you a funny story about GarageBand. When my son was 12 and in the Scouts, he thought he’d do some badges and one was “Creativity”. So I asked him what he was going to do and he said he was going to do something on GarageBand. He did it in 2 hours and it sounded as good as a lot of stuff that comes out now. But he was literally just doing “drag and drop” and I was thinking, this is not good. So I explained to him that if you have an easy way of doing something, the likelihood is that you’ll do that. The stuff that makes things special and engagement is the final 10%. But if you are not encouraged to get there, you don’t know what you don’t know. So that’s why we’re at where we’re at.

The final card Martyn, and it is a Multimoog, this came after the Minimoog when they were trying to be more mass market and cheaper…

Yeah, normally when that happens, the components they use aren’t as good so they don’t so sound as good and so on and so forth. Moogs generally sound great with a round bottom end, I’ve often used the virtual Moog Modular and I’ve got used to adjusting things on the screen… I’ve got f*cking hundreds of sounds…

Yes, this was something you talked to William Orbit and Richard X about in your podcast, there’s just far too many options these days… so when you make music now, how much of it is software versus hardware?

It’s mainly software. I do lots of stuff that’s not straightforward pop music like installations, effects and sound design so that isn’t really about performance in the sense of playing a keyboard, it’s more about assembling things that one finds interesting and engaging.

I’ve got a totally different perspective on all this stuff now since I’ve been doing Illustrious with Vince since 2000, I am much less precious about the ingredients, I am more interested in the content.

So what are your hopes and fears for the book, will there be a Volume2?

There will only be a Volume 2 if Volume1 sells *laughs*

It’s 130,000 words, that’s a lot. I’ve never written that much in my life, I never went to university so I didn’t do a dissertation or anything. It’s been really hard work but I can honestly say that I am happy with the book so that’s a tick. I’m happy with the design. I’m happy with the support I’m getting from the publishers Little Brown. I’ve recently had to read the audio book version that will bring it to life even more.

I hope to do a series of signing events and talks associated with the book. I never thought I’d ever had a physical book, it’s quite something to be an author. And I wrote every word apart from the other people’s contributions. There’s no ghost writing, if anybody doesn’t like it, that’s fine. Someone actually said to me “well, I can’t wait for this but I don’t know if I can deal with your lefty views”… err, that’s who I am mate! I’m not telling you what to think, so don’t buy it then, I don’t care! *laughs*


ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK gives its electronic thanks to Martyn Ware

‘Electronically Yours Vol 1’ by Martyn Ware is published by Little Brown as a hardback book, e-book and audio book, available from 25th August 2022 via the usual retailers, signed copies can be pre-ordered from https://www.roughtrade.com/gb/martyn-ware/electronically-yours-vol-1-my-autobiography/hardback-plus

The ‘Electronically Yours With Martyn Ware’ podcast can be listened to at https://anchor.fm/martyn-ware

https://www.heaven17.com/

https://martynwareofficial.co.uk/

https://twitter.com/martynware

https://www.instagram.com/waremartyn/

Vintage Synth Trumps is a card game by GForce that features 52 classic synthesizers

https://www.juno.co.uk/products/gforce-software-vintage-synth-trumps-2-playing/637937-01/


Text and Interview by Chi Ming Lai
12th July 2022, updated 20th November 2022

2021 END OF YEAR REVIEW


As the world steadily emerged from a painful pandemic that put many lives on hold, nostalgia appeared to be the commodity most in demand as the music industry took steps to recover.

No matter which era, anything musically from the past was more desirable that anything that reminded the public of the past 20 or so months. The first escape destination in the summer for many restricted to staying on their own shores were the established retro festivals.

Meanwhile television provided an array of documentaries ranging from chart rundowns of past decades and informative classic song analysis on Channel 5 to Dylan Jones’ look at ‘Music’s Greatest Decade’ on BBC2 and Sky Arts’ ‘Blitzed’ with all the usual suspects such as Boy George, Philip Sallon, Marilyn, Gary Kemp and Rusty Egan.

SPARKS had their own comprehensive if slightly overlong film ‘The SPARKS Brothers’ directed by Edgar Wright, but the Maels’ musical ‘Annette’ starring Adam Driver was a step too far. Meanwhile the acclaimed ‘Sisters With Transistors’ presented the largely untold story of electronic music’s female pioneers.

It was big business for 40th anniversary live celebrations from the likes of HEAVEN 17, THE HUMAN LEAGUE, OMD and SOFT CELL, while other veterans such as NEW ORDER and ERASURE returned to the live circuit with the biggest indoor headlining shows of their career.

Meanwhile for 2022, Midge Ure announced an extensive ‘Voices & Visions’ tour to present material from the 1981-82 phase of ULTRAVOX.

Also next year and all being well, GOLDFRAPP will finally get their belated 20th Anniversary tour for their marvellous debut ‘Felt Mountain’ underway while there are rescheduled ‘Greatest Hits’ live presentations for PET SHOP BOYS and SIMPLE MINDS.

Always money for old rope, but also giving audiences who missed them at their pioneering height an opportunity to catch up, ‘best of’ collections were issued by YELLO and TELEX while JAPAN had their 1979 breakthrough album ‘Quiet Life’ given the lavish boxed set treatment. Meanwhile, while many labels were still doing their best to kill off CD, there was the puzzling wide scale return of the compact cassette, a poor quality carrier even at the zenith of its popularity.

“Reissue! Repackage! Repackage! Re-evaluate the songs! Double-pack with a photograph, extra track and a tacky badge!” a disgraced Northern English philosopher once bemoaned.

The boosted market for deluxe boxed sets and the repackaging of classic albums in coloured vinyl meant that the major corporations such as Universal, Sony and Warners hogged the pressing plants, leaving independent artists with lead times of nearly a year for delivery if they were lucky.

But there was new music in 2021. Having achieved the milestone of four decades as a recording act, DURAN DURAN worked with Giorgio Moroder on the appropriately titled ‘Future Past’ while not far behind, BLANCMANGE took a ‘Commercial Break’ and FIAT LUX explored ‘Twisted Culture’. David Cicero made his belated return to music with a mature second album that was about ‘Today’ as Steven Jones & Logan Sky focussed on the monochromatic mood of ‘European Lovers’. Continuing the European theme but towards the former Eastern Bloc, Mark Reeder gave a reminder that he was once declared ‘Subversiv-Dekadent’ and fellow Mancunians UNE became inspired by the ‘Spomenik’ monoliths commissioned by Marshal Tito in the former Yugoslavia.

For those who preferred to immerse themselves in the darker present, Gary Numan presented ‘Intruder’, a poignant concept album produced by Ade Fenton about Mother Earth creating a virus to teach mankind a lesson! Meanwhile ITALOCONNECTION, the project of Italo veterans Fred Ventura and Paolo Gozzetti teamed up with French superstar Etienne Daho to tell the story of ‘Virus X’! The video of the year came from UNIFY SEPARATE whose motivation message to ‘Embrace The Fear’ despite the uncertainty reflected the thoughts of many.

Despite the general appetite for nostalgia, there was some excellent new music released from less established artists with the album of the year coming from Jorja Chalmers and her ‘Midnight Train’ released on Italians Do It Better. The critical acclaim for the UK based Aussie’s second long playing solo offering made up for the disbandment of the label’s biggest act CHROMATICS, as it went into its most prolific release schedule in its history with albums by GLÜME, JOON, DLINA VOLNY and LOVE OBJECT as well as its own self-titled compilation of in-house Madonna covers.

As Kat Von D teamed up with Dan Haigh of GUNSHIP for her debut solo record ‘Love Made Me Do It’, acts like DANZ CM, CLASS ACTRESS, GLITBITER, PRIMO THE ALIEN, PARALLELS, KANGA, R.MISSING, I AM SNOW ANGEL, XENO & OAKLANDER, HELIX and DAWN TO DAWN showed that North America was still the creative hub as far as electronically derived pop songs went.

Attracting a lot of attention in 2021 were NATION OF LANGUAGE, who with their catchy blend of angst, melody and motorik beats welcomed synths as family in their evolving sound while also providing the song of the year in ‘This Fractured Mind’, reflecting the anxieties of these strange times. At the other end of the spectrum, DIAMOND FIELD went full pop with an optimistic multi-vocalist collection that captured the spirit of early MTV while BUNNY X looked back on their high school days with ‘Young & In Love’.

ACTORS delivered their most synthy album yet while as LEATHERS, they keyboardist Shannon Hamment went the full hog for her debut solo effort ‘Reckless’. FRONT LINE ASSEMBLY released a new album and some of that ‘Mechanical Soul’ was brought by their Rhys Fulber into his productions this year for AESTHETIC PERFECTION.

In Europe, long playing debuts came from PISTON DAMP and WE ARE REPLICA while NORTHERN LITE released their first album completely in German and FRAGRANCE. presented their second album ‘Salt Air’. There was also the welcome return of SIN COS TAN, KID KASIO, GUSGUS, MARVA VON THEO, TINY MAGNETIC PETS and MAN WITHOUT COUNTRY.

Featuring second generation members of NEW ORDER and SECTION 25, SEA FEVER released their eclectic debut ‘Folding Lines’ as fellow Mancunian LONELADY added sequencers and drum machines to her post-punk funk template. But Glasgow’s CHVRCHES disappointed with their fourth long player ‘Screen Violence’ by opting to sound like every other tired hipster band infesting the land.

The most promising artist to breakthrough in 2021 was Hattie Cooke whose application of traditional songwriting nous to self-production and arrangement techniques using comparatively basic tools such as GarageBand found a wider audience via her third album ‘Bliss Land’. In all, it was a strong year for female synth-friendly artists with impressive albums from Karin My, Laura Dre, Alina Valentina, Robin Hatch and Catherine Moan while comparative veterans like Fifi Rong, Alice Hubble, Brigitte Handley and Alison Lewis as ZANIAS maintained their cult popularity.

In 2021, sometimes words were very unnecessary and there were fine instrumental synth albums from BETAMAXX, WAVESHAPER, КЛЕТ and Richard Barbieri, with a Mercury nomination received by Hannah Peel for ‘Fir Wave’. But for those who preferred Italo Noir, popwave, post-punk techno and progressive pop, Tobias Bernstrup, Michael Oakley, Eric Random and Steven Wilson delivered the goods respectively.

With ‘The Never Ending’ being billed as the final FM ATTACK album and PERTURBATOR incorrectly paraphrased by Metal Hammer in a controversial “synthwave is dead” declaration, the community got itself in a pickle by simultaneously attacking THE WEEKND for “stealing from synthwave”, yet wanting to ride on the coat tails of Abel Tesfaye, misguidedly sensing an opportunity to snare new fans for their own music projects.

With THE WEEKND’s most recent single ‘Take My Breath’, there was the outcry over the use of a four note arpeggio allegedly sampled from MAKEUP & VANITY SET’s ‘The Last City’. But as one online observer put it, “Wow, an arpeggiated minor chord. Hate to break it to you but you might want to check out what Giorgio Moroder was doing 50 years ago. We’re ALL just rippin’ him off if that’s how you think creativity works”. Another added “If a four note minor key arpeggiated chord can go to court on the basis of copyright law, we are in for a hell of a few years my synthy friends”. It outlined once again that there are some who are still under the impression that music using synths was invented by Ryan Gosling in 2011 for ‘Drive’ soundtrack ??

There were also belated complaints that 2019’s A-HA inspired ‘Blinding Lights’ had a simple melody and needed five writers to realise it… but then, so did UTRAVOX’s ‘Slow Motion’ and DURAN DURAN’s ‘Rio’! Collaboration, whether in bands, with producers or even outsiders has always been a key aspect of the compositional process. If it is THAT simple, do it yourself! As Andy McCluskey of OMD said on ‘Synth Britannia’ in 2009 about the pioneering era when Ryan Gosling was still in nappies: “The number of people who thought that the equipment wrote the song for you: ‘well anybody can do it with the equipment you’ve got!’ “F*** OFF!!”

Over the last two years, THE WEEKND has become the biggest mainstream pop act on the planet, thanks to spectacles such as the impressive gothic theatre of the Super Bowl LV half time showcase while in a special performance on the BRITS, there was a charming presentation of the ERASURE-ish ‘Save Your Tears’ where he played air synth in a moment relatable to many. But everything is ultimately down to catchy songs, regardless of synth usage.

So ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK would like to present a hypothetical case to consider… if someone uses the arpeggio function with a sparkling patch from a Juno 6 synth in a recording, does Cyndi Lauper sue for infringing the copyright of ‘All Through The Night’ or the original songwriter Jules Shear or even the Roland Corporation themselves as they created it? More than one producer has suggested that THE WEEKND’s soundbite came from a hardware preset or more than likely, a software sample pack, of which there are now many.

However, sample culture had hit another new low when Tracklib marketed a package as “A real game-changer for sample based music. Now everyone can afford to clear samples” with rapper and producer Erick Sermon declaring “Yo, this is incredible. They’re trying to put creativity back into music again. By having samples you can actually pay for and afford”.

Err creativity? How about writing your own songs and playing or even programming YOUR OWN instrumentation??!? One sampling enthusiast even declared “I might go as far as to say you don’t really like dance music if you’ve got a problem with adding a beat to a huge (even instantly recognizable) sample”… well guess what? ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK LOATHES IT!!! ?

In 2021, music promotion became a bit strange with publicists at all levels keen more than ever to have their clients’ press releases just cut ‘n’ pasted onto online platforms, but very reluctant to allow albums to be reviewed in advance in the event of a potential negative prognosis.

While cut ‘n’ paste journalism has been a disease that has always afflicted online media, in a sad sign of the times, one long established international website moved to a “pay to get your press release featured” business model.

The emergence of reaction vloggers was another bizarre development while the “Mention your favourite artist and see if they respond to you” posts on social media only added more wood to the dumbing down bonfire already existing within audience engagement.

It was as if the wider public was no longer interested in more in-depth analysis while many artists turned their publicity into a reliance on others doing “big ups” via Twitter and Facebook. But then, if artists are being successfully crowdfunded with subscriptions via Patreon, Kickstarter, Bandcamp and the like, do they need a media intermediary any longer as they are dealing direct with their fanbases?

However, it wasn’t all bad in the media with ‘Electronically Yours With Martyn Ware’ providing insightful artist interviews and the largely entertaining ‘Beyond Synth’ podcast celebrating its 300th show. Due to their own music commitments, Steven Wilson and Tim Bowness were less prolific with their discussion show ‘The Album Years’ but it was still refreshing for commentators to be able to say that a record was sh*t when it actually was, rather than conform to the modern day adage that all music is good but not always to the listener’s taste!  And while various programmes came and went, other such as ‘Operating//Generating’, ‘KZL Live’ and ‘Absynth’ came to prominence.

Post-pandemic, interesting if uncertain times are ahead within the music industry. But as live performance returns, while the mainstream is likely to hit the crowd walking, will there be enough cost effective venues to host independent artists? Things have been tough but for some, but things might be about to get even tougher.

However, music was what got many through the last 18 months and as times are still uncertain, music in its live variant will help to get everyone through the next year and a half and beyond.


ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK’s year in music is gathered in its 2021 Playlist – Missing U at
https://open.spotify.com/playlist/4rlJgJhiGkOw8q2JcunJfw


Text by Chi Ming Lai
17th December 2021

MUSIK MUSIC MUSIQUE 2.0 1981 | The Rise Of Synth Pop

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

https://www.cherryred.co.uk/product/musik-music-musique-2-0-the-rise-of-synth-pop-3cd-clamshell-box/


Text by Chi Ming Lai
12th October 2021

HEAVEN 17 Reproduction + Travelogue Live at The Roundhouse

Photo by Simon Helm

Having been mooted for several years and postponed twice, HEAVEN 17 finally delivered their 40th anniversary celebration of THE HUMAN LEAGUE albums ‘Reproduction’ and ‘Travelogue’.

“We’re not pretending we were reforming THE HUMAN LEAGUE, all the publicity states this is HEAVEN 17’s interpretation of those two albums” said Martyn Ware, “As you well know, I was the major writer on most of those tracks. I always felt they deserved a wider audience, hence why we’ve played a lot of those songs live with HEAVEN 17 anyway.” Although it was Fast Product that released the first version of ‘Being Boiled’ in June 1978,  Virgin Records, under the A&R directorship of Simon Draper, had the foresight to see the wider potential of THE HUMAN LEAGUE’s sound containing synthesizers and vocals only.

But how important are these two records in the development of pop music using synthesizers? Using the Roland System 100, Korg 700s, Roland Jupiter 4 and Korg 770, ‘Reproduction’ and ‘Travelogue’ are certainly up there with landmark British albums such as ‘Replicas’, ‘The Pleasure Principle’, ‘Metamatic’ and ‘Vienna’, while a case can definitely be made that they are on a par with international works such as ‘No1 In Heaven’ and ‘Die Mensch-Maschine’.

Former member of both THE HUMAN LEAGUE and HEAVEN 17 Ian Craig Marsh once imitated the deep voice of Seiko watches on an early demo and declared “THE HUMAN LEAGUE, one day all music will be made like this…” and it all turned out to be rather prophetic. Deputising tonight at The Roundhouse for the long absent Marsh, alongside Ware and HEAVEN 17 front man Glenn Gregory, was keyboardist Flo Sabeva, while acting as Director Of Visuals in place of Adrian Wright was Assorted iMaGes design director Malcolm Garrett.

Using a four screen ‘Reproduction’ of the album’s inner bag as the stage set, synths-wise, Ware had his Roland trusty V-Synth GT at his disposal alongside a vintage Roland System 100, mini-Korg 700s and a Jupiter 4 on loan from Irish synth artist CIRCUIT3. Meanwhile, Sabeva kept the tech up-to-date with her Fantom 6 and System 8 arsenal from Roland.

The aggressive synth-punk of ‘Almost Medieval’, naturally opened proceedings while the harrowing ‘Circus Of Death’ followed, both displaying their percussive System 100 dynamics. A rallying call to rebel against conformity, ‘The Path Of Least Resistance’ was as relevant as ever while fun came on ‘Blind Youth’, summing up another sad observation that could be applied today, especially with its known anti-Covid vaccine elements.

The Schaffel nursery rhyme of ‘Empire State Human still came over as the mighty hit it never was, illustrated by world monuments and the achievements of the US and Soviet space programmes. Using the System 100 for its lonely sequence, ‘Morale’ segued seamlessly into the ring modulated tick-tock of ‘You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling’ with Gregory and Ware doing their familiar Righton Brothers duet, to convey the eerie soundtrack’s desolate emptiness.

As the fierce acceleration of ‘Zero As A Limit’ climaxed the ‘Reproduction’ section of the show, the ‘Travelogue’ part was introduced by the harsh screeching frequencies of ‘The Black Hit Of Space’ as it all went up another gear with this still entertainingly humorous Sci-Fi story about an infinite chart topper. Meanwhile, the minimal synth rendition of Mick Ronson’s ‘Only After Dark’ prompted an audience chantalong while the under-rated ‘Life Kills’ proved to be something of an electronic pop evergreen.

But it was all hush for the poignant prog synth of ‘Dreams Of Leaving’; with a narrative about the traumatic escape of refugees who then try to settle into a new home, the alignment of sad, happy, fast, slow with its uplifting pipe-pitched climax was proof that 40 years on, emotional responses can still come from the machines of Roland and her sisters.

For the instrumentals ‘Toyota City’ and Jeff Wayne’s ‘Gordon’s Gin’, Gregory took his place on a Sequential Prophet 6 but as backing singers Rachel Meadows Hayley and Hayley Williams joined in and danced to the vicious backbone of ‘Crow & A Baby’, it wasn’t difficult to imagine this number as a prototype of ‘The Sound Of The Crowd’; squinting from the balcony, it could even have looked like “Phil, Joanne and Susan” were on stage!

An epic synth reimagination of PARLIAMENT and FUNKADELIC, the reworked ‘Being Boiled 2.0’ with Phil Oakey’s surreal lyrics about the extermination of silk worms never sounded so glorious and further memories of the mature audience were triggered by the incongruous but effective use of slides featuring characters from Gerry Anderson’s iconic Supermarionation shows ‘Fireball XL5’, ‘Stingray’, ‘Thunderbirds’, ‘Joe 90’ and ‘Captain Scarlet’.

A dystopian song about the mechanisation of radio stations which inadvertently predicted the Spotify playlist, ‘WXJL Tonight’ closed the ‘Travelogue’ section with Gregory adding the tones of Neil Diamond to his delivery.

But the evening was not over yet as tracks from the companion ‘Holiday 80’ EP were aired. The stupendous ‘Marianne’ with its three part vocal counterpoint and multiple harmonies over its crashing rhythmic barrage was worth the ticket price along while Iggy Pop and David Bowie’s ‘Nightclubbing’ somehow got an even more sinister funereal treatment.

But then things went disco as ‘I Don’t Depend On You’, the 1979 that was released prior to ‘Reproduction’ under the alias of THE MEN, took its place in the set but importantly, highlighting how THE HUMAN LEAGUE might have mutated into how HEAVEN 17 eventually sounded even if there hadn’t been a split.

Photo by Chi Ming Lai

Ever the raconteur, Gregory jokingly threatened a performance of ‘Dare’ but settled on stories about the formation of THE HUMAN LEAGUE and HEAVEN 17. But an unexpected HEAVEN 17 encore reminded the sold-out crowd that we don’t need Fascists, especially that nasty little race traitor Ugly Patel and her scruffy bumbling posh boy mate! But ultimately, all anyone in life really desires is ‘Temptation’ with dimes in that hot slot!

Prior to these shows, THE HUMAN LEAGUE faithful inevitably questioned the validating of HEAVEN 17 performing these albums without Phil Oakey, but is ‘Fade To Grey’ any less valid sung by its co-writer Midge Ure than it is by the late VISAGE front man Steve Strange? By using many of the original synth sounds, this celebration of these two seminal albums was both authentic and appealing.

Sometimes celebrations can actually be more entertaining than modern day incarnations of an original act, as proven with DEPECHE MODE and their various tribute bands showing more spirit and respect for their legacy. At the end of the day, the stars of this evening were the songs themselves, a collection of pioneering electronic adventures that have been forgotten by the mainstream who largely think THE HUMAN LEAGUE appeared by magic with ‘Don’t You Want Me?’.

Those who want to see THE HUMAN LEAGUE performing the ‘Dare’ album can do so at the end of 2021. But for those who preferred to recall the excitement prevalent at the start of the Synth Britannia era, tonight at The Roundhouse was the place to be… the way it was in the past, a long long time ago!


‘Reproduction’ + ‘Travelogue’ were released by Virgin Records and are still available in the usual formats

https://www.heaven17.com/

https://www.facebook.com/heaven17official/

https://twitter.com/heaven17bef

https://www.instagram.com/heaven17official/


Text by Chi Ming Lai
Photos by Richard Price except where credited
6th September 2020

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