Tag: Information Society

Lost Albums: RED FLAG Naïve Art

Comprising of brothers Mark and Chris Reynolds, although they were originally from Liverpool, RED FLAG were based in San Diego.

The Reynolds had lived in many places across the globe due to their father’s work as a Naval Officer, but eventually the family settled in California. Acquiring a Roland Juno 60 synthesizer, the sibling duo were very influenced by DEPECHE MODE. First recording as SHADES OF MAY, their minimal synth number ‘Distant Memories’ was included on the ‘91X Local Heroes 1984’ sampler album compiled by radio station 91X.

Invitations to perform live came thick and fast as the brothers relocated to San Diego and took their music more seriously, studying computer-based music technology and eventually changing their name to RED FLAG. With accusations that they were communist sympathizers, the pair said that “red flag” was taken from the signal used on beaches by lifeguards warning of high hazards due to rough currents. The term has since become ubiquitous as a warning sign, particularly in relationships.

While performing at a party in Southern California, the pair came to the attention of producer Jon St James who had worked with BERLIN, been a member of SSQ and was now helming the solo career of their lead singer Stacey Q.

Released in Summer 1988 as a 12” single on St James’ Synthicide Records, ‘Broken Heart’ gained airplay on the influential KROQ-FM in Pasadena via DJ Richard Blade. The Bristol-born expat had championed the likes of DURAN DURAN, DEPECHE MODE, THE PSYCHEDELIC FURS, OMD and NEW ORDER on the West Coast and by coincidence, had also been the secret boyfriend of BERLIN’s Terri Nunn when Jon St James was assistant engineer on their 1982 breakthrough EP ‘Pleasure Victim’.

After the monotone heard on ‘Distant Memories’, Mark Reynolds had developed a vocal timbre similar to Martin Gore, as well stylising a look based on him. Described on the single’s sticker as “Sonically Seductive Performers A La Mode From The Grey Ambience Of Liverpool”, ‘Broken Heart’ was what DM would have sounded like if they had worked with Giorgio Moroder instead of Daniel Miller. Throbbing and energetic, there were backing vocals from Stacey Q who had also coached the singer during the recording.

Again produced by Jon St James, the next RED FLAG single ‘Russian Radio’ released by Synthicide Records was even better. With a great chorus and a romantic view of Eastern Europe, the song was full of catchy staccato voice samples, metallic beats and digital bass syncopation to give ‘The Great Commandment’ by CAMOUFLAGE a run for its money.

Just as OMD had been fascinated by the stark Cold War era of shortwave radio broadcasts from behind The Iron Curtain, so had RED FLAG. But lyrics declaring “I feel our love is only a smile away, getting so much closer to me every day” gave a more positive outlook in the era of Glasnost lead by Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. As the USSR promised more openness and transparency on the route to peace, the 12” A side was named the ‘Glasnost Club Mix’ to reflect this.

Convinced they had found the next DEPECHE MODE in the wake of their Pasadena Rose Bowl triumph, Synthicide Records’ parent label Enigma released RED FLAG’s debut album ‘Naïve Art’ in 1989. Although they were best known for releasing records by hair metal rockers POISON, they also had DEVO on their roster as well as providing an American home to more esoteric British artists such as Bill Nelson and WIRE.

Having been involved in the remixes of ‘Russian Radio’, Paul Robb of INFORMATION SOCIETY, who had found success with their Dr McCoy and Mr Spock sampling single ‘What’s on Your Mind (Pure Energy)’, was brought in to produce ‘Naïve Art’ and reshaped ‘Broken Heart’ in the process. Opening proceedings, the punchy hook-laden ‘If I Ever’ was disaffected yet euphoric HI-NRG and made a great third single.

A play the title of the John Hughes film whose white middle class teen movies were prevalent at the time, ‘Pretty In Pity’ wallowed in melancholy while playing with lighter metallic touches and melodic rings. Coming over like ‘Heart’ by PET SHOP BOYS with added orchestra stabs, ‘Give Me Your Hand’ was swathed in chromatic filmic mystery. Likely to have been inspired by DEPECHE MODE’s flop US single ‘But Not Tonight’, ‘Save Me Tonight’ was very Gore like in its tone and approach.

However, the rest of ‘Naïve Art’ did not quite hit the highs of the first three singles or ‘Give Me Your Hand’. There was the more steadfast mid-paced ‘All Roads Lead To You’ while much speedier, ‘Count To Three’ suffered from an over long hi-hat breakdown at its conclusion. ‘I Don’t Know Why’ was not particularly adventurous lyrically, repeating the title several times over in the chorus.

Perhaps in an attempt to show that RED FLAG were more than just DEPECHE MODE clones, after the very European approach of the first nine songs, the album took an about turn with the soul ballad ‘Rain’; sounding like it wouldn’t have been out of place on a Paul Young album, there were even echoes of the Phyllis Nelson smooch slowie ‘Move Closer’. To close, there was a pleasant if almost incongruous classical piano piece ‘Für Michelle’.

Mixed by Joseph Watt of specialist remix service Razormaid whose edits and mixes were very popular in the alternative clubs of New York and Los Angeles, ‘Naïve Art’ was a promising debut that showcased the potential of RED FLAG’s songcraft. An enjoyable if derivate long player, although their music was melancholic, RED FLAG had less of the pessimistic doom that had hung over DEPECHE MODE’s output since ‘Black Celebration’ and more akin to their fourth album ‘Some Great Reward’.

Although electronic pop with danceable beats and industrial sounding samples was booming in the US at this point, a backlash in the shape of grunge was just round the corner. RED FLAG would go on to open for DEVO, BOOK OF LOVE and REAL LIFE, but with Enigma folding, the Reynolds brothers would move onto an unhappy period with IRS Records for the single ‘Machines’ in 1992. Forming their own an independent record label Plan B Records, RED FLAG issued their laid back second album ‘The Lighthouse’ in 1994, before heading towards a much darker direction by 2000’s ‘The Crypt’ and sharing live bills with emerging European acts like MESH and DE/VISION.

Releasing albums prolifically, after ‘Codebreaker t133’ which set all its songs at 133BPM, Mark Reynolds sadly took his own life in 2003. After a period of grieving, Chris Reynolds returned as RED FLAG in 2007 with ‘Born Again’ which exuded more gothic overtones and included a song called ‘Doom & Gloom’. The final RED FLAG album to date came with ‘Serenity’ in 2012.

In 2020, ‘Naïve Art’ was reissued by Pylon Records as an expanded edition. While not groundbreaking, as one of the first releases from a DEPECHE MODE influenced act (of which today there are far too many!), ‘Naïve Art’ retains a melodic and rhythmic charm that captures a much more innocent time in music that is worthy of revisiting.

The Reynolds brothers handily sounded the way they looked during this period and had credible American producers to realise their initial vision. ‘Naïve Art’ was never officially released in the UK and for that reason alone, RED FLAG remain relatively unknown in their country of birth, even among electronic pop enthusiasts.

So, if you have never heard of RED FLAG before and are curious, you know what to do…

‘Naïve Art’ is available via Pylon Records as a 30th Anniversary double vinyl LP edition from https://pylonrecords.bandcamp.com/album/naive-art-2lp-30th-anniversary

An expanded 2CD featuring radio edits and Razormaid remixes is available at


Text by Chi Ming Lai
Photos by Alex Remlin
22 November 2023

A Beginner’s Guide To MIKE THORNE

Photo by JR Host

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WIRE I Am The Fly (1978)

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

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


BERLIN BLONDES Framework (1980)

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

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


COLIN NEWMAN Order For Order (1980)

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

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


B-MOVIE Remembrance Day (1981)

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

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


KIT HAIN Spirits Walking Out (1981)

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

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


SOFT CELL Bedsitter – Early Morning Dance Side (1981)

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

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


NINA HAGEN Tiatschi Tarot (1982)

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

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


SOFT CELL Torch – 12” version (1982)

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

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


THE THE Uncertain Smile (1982)

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

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


SEONA DANCING More To Lose (1983)

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

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


SOFT CELL The Art Of Falling Apart (1983)

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

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


BRONSKI BEAT Smalltown Boy (1984)

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

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


THE COMMUNARDS Disenchanted (1986)

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

Available on THE COMMUNARDS album ‘Communards’ via London Records



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

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


LAURIE ANDERSON The Day The Devil (1989)

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

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


CHINA CRISIS Red Letter Day (1989)

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

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


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

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

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


INFORMATION SOCIETY Peace & Love, Inc (1992)

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

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


PETER MURPHY Our Secret Garden (1992)

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

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


MARC ALMOND We Need Jealousy (1996)

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

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


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

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