For the launch of his first solo album ‘Hey Hey Ho Hum’, Ian Burden held a Q&A in the centre of London to chat about his past, present and future.
A member of THE HUMAN LEAGUE during their imperial pop years between 1981-1986, Burden was joined by his former colleague Jo Callis to answer questions put to them by music journalist David Sinclair from The Times.
To begin the evening, there was a playback of ‘Hey Hey Ho Hum’ accompanied by some specially filmed psychedelic visuals as part of Burden’s ongoing interest for music and fine arts to engage with each other. A seamless of collection of ten songs written, played, programmed, produced and mixed by Burden himself, the album reflects his love of prog and PINK FLOYD in particular, something which perhaps was not so apparent while he was in THE HUMAN LEAGUE.
Talking about his thirty year absence from the music business living out in the English countryside, Burden mentioned how he only got a Spotify account a few weeks before and that the album began when he rescued some vintage synthesizers from his attic. “I thought somebody might have some sort of use for them” he said, “so I thought I’d better check out whether they worked. They were mostly modular synths so you have connect a keyboard and route them through some software, so I just started writing up some parts”.
These riffs and chord sequences developed into an album. ‘Hey Hey Ho Hum’ also features Burden on lead vocals; “I had to get the ideas down” the bassist told everyone, “no-one has come along and said it’s terrible…YET!”
With a cosmopolitan background having been born in Cyprus and spending a part of his childhood in West Germany, Burden became fascinated with the piano at school in Cambridge before listening to DAVID BOWIE, CAN and PINK FLOYD.
The latter’s extraordinary sound template on the ‘Meddle’ album was to become a favourite but he could identify a thread running through his tastes. “If PINK FLOYD was prog rock” he declared, “then I would have said Bowie was as well!”
Asked about more recent influences, for Burden there was none: “I haven’t listened to a lot of music, I kind of switched off a bit during the 1990s, I wasn’t hearing stuff that interested me apart from MASSIVE ATTACK and THE PRODIGY”.
Naturally, THE HUMAN LEAGUE became the next topic of discussion; Ian Burden and Jo Callis between them co-wrote some of the band’s biggest hits including ‘The Sound Of The Crowd’, ‘Love Action’, ‘Open Your Heart’ and ‘Don’t You Want Me?’, but they rarely wrote together except on ‘Mirror Man’… or did they? “No, Jo put the music together” clarified Burden, “he kept playing these chords in soundcheck”
The song even had a different title then, ‘I Can’t Get To Sleep At Night’, “but that was just to get some lyrics on it as we did it live before recording it” added Callis, “everyone would come up with bits of ideas and someone else would have another part to add to it. You’d have a bit of music and Phil would have some words that fitted, it happened quite organically like that… it was competing and collaborating for the good of the whole… Phil did a song called ‘You Remind Me Of Gold’ which he wrote and programmed up, I thought it was one of the best ever songs by THE HUMAN LEAGUE, absolutely brilliant!”
On the ‘Dare’ album favourite ‘Seconds’, Callis remembered “it actually came out of a synthesizer jam!” but with regards leaving THE REZILLOS to join THE HUMAN LEAGUE, it was a case of “leaving one set of mad bastards for another! I just fancied a change from playing the guitar…”
With a vocals and synthesizers only policy, THE HUMAN LEAGUE’s ‘Dare’ was to become of a classic album loved by pop fans and electronic enthusiasts alike.
“The policy existed already from when Martyn Ware and Ian Marsh were in the original band” recalled Burden, although for the corresponding tour, Roland supplied one of the first bass guitar synths for him to use; “I had to keep resetting everything in between songs and in those days, you couldn’t store any sounds, so Roland gave me this analogue synthesizer controlled by a guitar instead of a keyboard which had foot switches on it, so you could quickly change from one sound to another”.
“Phil Oakey had a vision” said Callis, “but it was good to push at those goal posts as me and Ian were the only players in the band if you like, so we came at things from a slightly different angle”.
“It was interesting to have real restrictions because it doesn’t make sense on paper”, Burden added although the irony was “you’re a synthesizer band and you need help, so you get two guitarists! But what I learnt from Philip and Adrian Wright was because they hadn’t spent years learning to play an instrument, they would play with one finger and that meant they came up with things that I never have thought of…”
Central to the success of ‘Dare’ was producer Martin Rushent; “he understood what sort of sound it was any of us were trying to achieve and improve upon it” Burden recollected, “He really disciplined me and Jo with our playing because the rhythms were generated by computers, so you had to be much more accurate”.
Of ‘Hysteria’, the ploddy follow-up to ‘Dare’, Callis concluded “because ‘Dare’ was such an unexpected success, there was all that pressure to follow and that put a lot of stress on people. I just got really frustrated with how long it was taking, the changing of producers and the lack of direction. It needed a kind of boldness”.
In response, Burden considered the departure of Martin Rushent during the earlier part of the sessions was the main contributory factor: “It didn’t flow… Martin kept the momentum going because he managed the recording sessions and if something sparked a bit of debate, he would put that song away and get out one of the others”.
‘Louise’, one of the few highlights from ‘Hysteria’, proved to be troublesome with six sounds being considered for Callis’ chord parts; “so when you got six people with an opinion on which one is best…” pointed out Burden, “the producers Hugh Pagham and Chris Thomas didn’t know how to deal with us”.
“We started out with Martin before everyone kind of fell out” confirmed Callis, “with the benefit of hindsight, we’d put out the two singles and had an export mini-album called ‘Fascination!’ with six tunes on it including ‘I Love You Too Much’ all produced by Martin. If only we could have kept it all together and done another three or four songs, it would have done a lot better than ‘Hysteria’ because it had two hits on it anyway and come out with a year of ‘Dare’ rather than three! The longer you leave it when you’re on gaps between albums, the better people think it’s going to be, they have great expectations of it, but what you don’t realise is you’ve disappeared up your own ar*e!”
Things indeed had been promising with Burden sampling two bars of himself playing bass guitar for ‘(Keep Feeling) Fascination’, although Rushent left the recording before the song could be mixed.
Callis departed THE HUMAN LEAGUE after the lukewarm reaction to ‘Hysteria’, but Burden remained for ‘Crash’. After sessions with Colin Thurston were aborted, the band were despatched by Virgin Records to Minneapolis to record the album with Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis.
It’s a period that Burden does not have good memories of: “I spent a lot of time playing table tennis, I didn’t play anything although I did bits of vocals… it wasn’t for me. There was a point when I went up to the microphone with my headphones on for a song called ‘I Need Your Loving’ and I just thought ‘why am I singing on this?’… this is no disrespect to Jam and Lewis but it was their record and they let you know that! Although when we went out on tour, I was enjoying being on stage for the first time ever because I was actually doing something…”
After a bit of tech talk to reveal that their favourite synths were the Korg 770 and Roland Jupiter 4 respectively, Ian Burden and Jo Callis chatted informally with fans before leaving to catch up on old times over a drink with Dave Allen, the assistant to Martin Rushent on ‘Dare’ who went on to produce THE CURE’s best albums. It had been a fascinating evening with many fabulous stories.
And with ‘Hey Hey Ho Hum’ getting unleashed to the public, Ian Burden will no doubt be asked to tell a few more.
Special thanks to Matt Reynolds at Savage Gringo PR
Although he became a noted producer during the height of punk, it was with THE HUMAN LEAGUE’s ‘Dare’ that Martin Rushent’s reputation as an electronic music pioneer was forged.
Rushent had cut his teeth as an engineer for acts as varied as SHIRLEY BASSEY and T-REX, working under the wing of their respective producers Johnny Harris and Tony Visconti.
His first major production was for CURVED AIR on their ‘Air Cut’ album which was enginnered by Paul Hardiman who was later to produce THE THE and LLOYD COLE & THE COMMOTIONS. It also featured Jim Russell on drums who became later became one of Rushent’s engineers and joined THE HUMAN LEAGUE for their ‘Crash’ tour.
He then secured a lucrative role working for United Artists, the company famously founded by Charlie Chaplin, Douglas Fairbanks Junior, Mary Pickford and DW Griffith, as an in-house producer with A&R responsibilities.
It was in this position that he found major success working with THE STRANGLERS and BUZZCOCKS. Meanwhile his freelance clause allowed him to also produce bands like GENERATION X, 999 and THE REZILLOS whose guitarist Jo Callis was later to join THE HUMAN LEAGUE.
It was in 1978 at the height of his punk success that Radar Records, an offshoot of Warners who had Elvis Costello and Nick Lowe on their roster, offered Rushent an opportunity to start his own label and production company. Radar had been founded by the team that had hired Rushent for United Artists and the offer included funding to build what was to become his Genetic Sound Studios complex at his home in Reading.
With his new office based above The Blitz Club and a desire to move away from guitar bands, Rushent became fascinated by the New Romantic movement and its electronic soundtrack provided by their resident DJ Rusty Egan. Egan had started a project with Midge Ure named VISAGE fronted by the now sadly departed Steve Strange. Their demos had been offered to EMI but were turned down…
“Martin Rushent turned punk into pop with THE STRANGLERS and BUZZCOCKS and was the hottest punk producer in 1977-78”Rusty Egan told ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK, “He had no idea about synths, he was a rock producer but knew ULTRAVOX, MAGAZINE and RICH KIDS were disbanded. But his musical hunch was ‘they must come up with something’”.
Sensing that something was in the air, Rushent invited VISAGE to use his studio to see what they came up with. These sessions, which also featured ULTRAVOX’s Billy Currie plus MAGAZINE’s Dave Formula, the late John McGeoch and Barry Adamson, intrigued Rushent.
“We came with our equipment and no drum kit” recalled Egan about that visit to Genetic Sound Studios which was still being built.
“I had the CR78 and the Simmons SDS3 prototype which Richard Burgess gave us; Midge had a Yamaha CS50, Billy had an RMI Electra Piano, Elka Rhapsody 610 and the ARP Odyssey while Dave brought his Yamaha CP30, ARP Odyssey and Yamaha string machine. We ran sequenced drums and layered, we had SMPTE timecode as MIDI did not come in for years, so we triggered and I hit drum pads and we created the sounds… Martin had never seen this type of recording”.
Despite the promising material coming from VISAGE, Warners pulled the plug on Radar and immediate plans for Genetic Records became stillborn. In hindsight, this move was extremely short sighted on Warners part as it was rumoured Rushent had been in discussions with JOY DIVISION, ULTRAVOX and SPANDAU BALLET.
Despite this set back, this experience helped Rushent realise that music production moving towards being more computer-driven, so he bought a Roland MC8 Micro-composer along with a Roland System 700 and Jupiter 4.
A strong advocate of clarity in instrument voicing and as a former drummer, how drum sounds were achieved, the availability of the Linn LM1 Drum Computer in 1981 was the final piece in the jigsaw and the set-up helped Rushent realise his vision. The rest as they say, is history and THE HUMAN LEAGUE scored a No1 with ‘Don’t You Want Me?’ on both sides of the Atlantic…
Rushent won the 1982 Brit Award for best producer and went on to produce THE GO-GO’S third album ‘Talk Show’ released in 1984. However, while recording the follow-up to ‘Dare’, a breakdown in his personal life, coupled to deteriorating relations with THE HUMAN LEAGUE led to Rushent leaving the sessions and walking out of his own studio!
Following his divorce, Rushent was forced to sell Genetic Sound Studios to avoid bankruptcy. Despite reducing his workload to more occasional studio recordings with ASSOCIATES, HARD CORPS, THEN JERICO and TWO PEOPLE, Rushent was suffering from depression; realising his heart was no longer in music, he effectively retired from the industry.
Taking time out to raise his family as a single parent, he eventually made a steady return to full album productions with HAZEL O’CONNOR in 2005 and THE PIPETTES in 2010. Buoyed by the huge developments in computer technology, he even presented his own DISCO UNLIMITED project with a track called ‘Itchy Hips’ inspired by his daughter Amy, as well as working with his son James’ band DOES IT OFFEND YOU, YEAH? But just as momentum was returning to his music career, Rushent sadly passed away in June 2011, aged 62.
Remembering working with Martin Rushent, Clive Pierce of HARD CORPS said: “Personally I felt overwhelmed when in the studio with him as it did feel at times that your precious baby was being bounced around in a manner you would never dream of doing yourself. His deft production work magnified what we were attempting to do ourselves and that’s exactly what great producers do”.
THE PIPETTES’ Ani Saunders who now makes music as ANI GLASS added: “One of the greatest lessons I learnt from Martin was to only spend your time working on music you believe in and not to be afraid to change / amend / cut parts or songs if they’re not good enough. Of course the production and engineering skills I gained working with him were invaluable but I also learnt about how to create the right atmosphere for and during recording, something which I think is often overlooked. When I’m writing pop songs I always ask myself ‘what would Martin do?’ – it helps to keep me in check”.
Focussing primarily on his work with synthesizers and technology, here is a look back at the post-punk career of Martin Rushent. With a limit of one track per album project and presented in chronological order, here is a Beginner’s Guide to the late, great man…
THE STRANGLERS Nice N Sleazy (1978)
Making his fortune producing the key tracks of THE STRANGLERS’ career such as ‘(Get A) Grip (On Yourself)’, ‘Peaches’ and ‘No More Heroes’, the mutant punk reggae of ‘Nice N Sleazy’ saw a diversion into synthesizers with Dave Greenfield’s spacey blast of swirling Minimoog during the instrumental break. At their Battersea Park in September 1978, the band typically courted controversy when they were accompanied by strippers for the song’s visual embellishment!
Recorded in March 1979, JOY DIVISION spent a day at Eden Studios in London with Martin Rushent, recording a 5 track demo with the view to signing to his Genetic Records label. But afterwards, the band headed to Strawberry Studios in Manchester to record their debut album ’Unknown Pleasures’ with Martin Hannett for Factory Records. However, Rushent always reckoned his version of ‘Ice Age’ was better than the speedier version which ended up on the posthumous ‘Still’ collection in 1981.
Available on the JOY DIVISION boxed set ‘Heart & Soul’ via Rhino Records
At Genetic Sound Studios, VISAGE started recording an album. Rusty Egan recalled: “we agreed to use the studio for a weekend with Martin engineering”; the first track from those sessions was ‘Tar’, a cautionary tale about the dangers of smoking. After numerous contractual issues, it was finally released as a single on Genetic Records but within days, Warners closed down his funding source at Radar Records. But encouraged by all the synthesizer technology being used in his studio, Rushent saw the future.
Available on VISAGE album ‘Visage’ via Polydor Records
Released on the relaunched Genetic Records via Island Records, ‘Homosapien’ came about after sessions were aborted for BUZZCOCKS fourth album. Rushent suggested to frontman Shelley that the two of them should work on new material using the Roland MC8 Micro-composer and System 700. Now seen as Shelley’s coming out song, a cacophony of synths and 12 string guitar combined for a wonderful futuristic snarl. However, the lyric “Homo Superior in my interior” got it a BBC Radio1 ban.
Available on the PETE SHELLEY album ‘Homosapien’ via Active Distribution Ltd
When presented with the demo of ‘The Sound Of The Crowd’, Rushent’s response was “Well, that’s going in the bin”. Phil Oakey objected but the producer snarled back: “You came to me, so I assume that’s because you want hits?”… triggering bursts of System 700 white noise from the Micro-composer for the rhythm track, the combination of obscure lyrics from Ian Burden like “Stroke a pocket with a print of a laughing sound” and a screaming chant gave THE HUMAN LEAGUE their breakthrough hit.
While Steve Severin from SIOUXSIE & THE BANSHEES produced the majority of the ‘Happy Birthday’, the job of turning the title track into the Glaswegian quintet’s breakthrough hit fell to Rushent. Tight ‘n’ bright thanks to his modern production techniques and Glare Grogan’s helium fuelled cutesy vocals and nursery rhyme lyrics, ALTERED IMAGES were denied the No1 spot for 3 weeks by Dave Stewart and Barbara Gaskin’s synth cover of ‘It’s My Party’ and then later, THE POLICE.
Combining the precision of the latest programmed technology with live instrumentation, ‘I Could Be Happy’ was close to perfection as one of Rushent’s best productions. Despite being shrouded in melancholy, it was catchy and danceable enough to be a UK Top 10 hit. Rushent produced the parent album ‘Pinky Blue’ but it was given a lukewarm reception by the music press, ultimately causing the original line-up of ALTERED IMAGES to implode.
Featuring Ross Middleton and Gary Barnacle with production by Rushent, ‘Love Cascade’ was the missing link between PETE SHELLEY and THE HUMAN LEAGUE. The vocals were virtually unintelligible as the clattering Linn Drum, pulsing synths, squawky guitar and sax merged together for a cool dancefloor friendly tune full of the decadent spirit of the times. Rushent produced the duo’s three other singles, while Barnacle went on to become one of the world’s most in-demand session saxophonists.
12 inch version available on the album ‘Retro: Active 5’ (V/A) via Hi-Bias Records Canada
“The most creative experience I’ve ever had in my life” was how Rushent described the making of ‘Love & Dancing’, an album of tracks from ‘Dare’ specially remixed and re-edited by the producer. Pre-sampling, the material was remixed from the mixing board using a multitude of effects with vocal stutters created by cutting up small portions of tape and splicing them together with the aid of his custom-made ruler. The percussive dub laden barrage of ‘Do Or Die’ was one of the highlights.
Available on THE LEAGUE UNLIMITED ORCHESTRA album ‘Love & Dancing’ via Virgin Records
Tensions were running high with creative differences during the recording sessions for THE HUMAN LEAGUE’s follow-up to ‘Dare’, with Rushent losing enthusiasm for the album project due to conflicts in the studio with Phil Oakey and in particular, Susanne Sulley. The weirdly catchy ‘Fascination’ was the last track to be recorded with Rushent, but he departed before it was mixed, despite Jo Callis’ attempts to mediate. The eventual ‘Hysteria’ album was lukewarm, audibly missing Rushent’s touch.
With Shelley and Rushent developing on ‘Homosapien’ with a more fierce sound, ‘Telephone Operator’ could be seen as an extension lyrically to the themes of its predecessor. The original parent album ‘XL-1’ had a novel bonus track in a computer program for the Sinclair ZX Spectrum which printed lyrics in time with the music and displayed graphics, there was a locking groove before the code so that its bleeps and squeaks could not be played accidentally.
Available on PETE SHELLEY album ‘XL-1’ by Active Distribution Ltd
When endorsing Korg’s PSS-50 Programmable Super Section for a magazine advert, Rushent was enthusing about a record which “apart from voice” was “all written and performed on one synth” – that album was HAZEL O’CONNOR’s ‘Smile’. From it, the moody single ‘Don’t Touch Me’ was very art school Weimar Cabaret with some very passionate vocals from O’Connor, constructed around a Synclavier with its distinct period bass and brass sounds.
Available on HAZEL O’CONNOR album ‘Smile’ via Cherry Red
Rushent worked with Billy Mackenzie on five tracks for ‘Perhaps’, the much anticipated recorded return of ASSOCIATES. ‘Waiting For The Love Boat’ was one of those songs, but the recording which stood out from the sessions was the epic string laden drama of ’Breakfast’. It is possibly Mackenzie’s greatest single moment, the melancholic piano motif setting the scene for an entire film noir in five minutes with its widescreen dramatics and mournful tension.
Clive Pierce told ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK: “HARD CORPS, having traditionally self-produced tracks at our resident studio in Brixton relished the prospect of working with Martin on ‘Je Suis Passée’ having been admirers of his work on ‘Love & Dancing’. It was difficult but never the less a total education. That’s the trouble being so close to something it’s difficult to let go. In retrospect I now listen to ’Je Suis Passée’ in awe of what he achieved for the track. The baby was fine”.
Pop rockers THEN JERICO were fronted by the handsome if volatile Mark Shaw; their debut single ‘The Big Sweep’ was recorded with Rushent and some help from his new Synclavier. However, due to the track’s anti-tabloid lyrical subject matter, the band’s label London Records initially declined to release the track. So it was self-released as a 1000 limited edition, although the track eventually resurfaced in its club mix on the 12 inch of ‘Muscle Deep’ in 1987.
Available on the THEN JERICO album ‘The Best Of’ via London Records
Jo Callis told ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK: “With ‘Heart Like A Wheel’, when The League came to thinking about the follow up to ‘Crash’ (which would become ‘Romantic?’), I thought there might be a good opportunity to try and get ‘the old team’ back together again, which I did manage to achieve for a couple of tunes at least”. With Rushent at the helm again, the result was a tune that recalled the classic pop era of THE HUMAN LEAGUE more than either of the two 1986 singles ‘Human’ or ‘I Need Your Loving’ had done.
GRAFTON PRIMARY Relativity – Martin Rushent remix (2008)
Australian electro-noir duo GRAFTON PRIMARY balanced in the divide between art and science on their debut single ‘Relativity’. Benjamin and Joshua Garden utilised sharp synthpop hooks and solid basslines in a classic Synth Britannia vein not dissimilar to THE HUMAN LEAGUE, which naturally made the Garden brothers perfect for a remix by Martin Rushent.
Available on GRAFTON PRIMARY single ‘Relativity’ via Resolution Music
THE PIPETTES Our Love Was Saved By Spacemen (2010)
From Rushent’s final album production, ‘Our Love Was Saved By Spacemen’ was a celestial Latin flavoured pop tune by the MkII variant of THE PIPETTES, fronted by sisters Gwenno and Ani Saunders. The partnership was to prove inspirational with Gwenno’s next solo long player ‘Y Dydd Olaf’ being one of the best albums of 2014, while Ani recently tweeted a photo of project notes from recording with Rushent as she prepared to record her first solo album.
With 2013 having been one of the strongest years in electronic pop since its post-punk heyday, 2014 was always going to struggle to compete,
This was despite it being the 50th Anniversary of the Moog synthesizer’s first prototype demonstration at the Audio Engineering Society convention in October 1964.
While 2014 was nowhere near in terms of the high profile releases of 2013 or even 2011, it certainly surpassed the comparatively quiet year of 2012.
But there were still a lot of live shows as momentum continued in support of the previous year’s releases with NINE INCH NAILS, GARY NUMAN, DEPECHE MODE, CHVRCHES, FEATHERS, GOLDFRAPP, COVENANT and SOFT METALS among those doing the rounds.
Electronic pioneer KARL BARTOS began the year with his first concert tour since 2003 in Germany. His ‘Off the Record’ live presentation highlighted the best of his KRAFTWERK co-compositions alongside excellent new material.
Coincidentally, on the same night Herr Bartos opened in Cologne, Ralf Hütter picked up a Lifetime Achievement Grammy on behalf of KRAFTWERK, thus finally validating electronic music in the traditionally synthphobic territory of the USA. And by the end of the year, there was even a belated nomination for The Rock ‘N’ Roll Hall Of Fame.
Staying in Germany, cult trio CAMOUFLAGE celebrated over 30 years in the business with a lavish package ‘The Box 1983-2013’ and a best of CD ‘The Singles’.
CLAUDIA BRÜCKEN though surprised everyone by strapping on an acoustic guitar for her third solo album ‘Where Else?’, but its mix of electronics and six string proved to be well received by her fans.
And on the subject of Germanic influences, Belgian duo METROLAND returned with their Kling Klang flavoured technopop courtesy of the multi-formatted single ‘Thalys’, a tie-in with the European high speed train operator and a rather original cover of ‘Close To Me’ for ‘A Strange Play – An Alfa Matrix Tribute To THE CURE’. Meanwhile, iEUROPEAN teamed up with Wolfgang Flür for some ‘Activity Of Sound’. Flür himself delighted KRAFTWERK fans by announcing he would be playing London gigs in the New Year.
MemeTune Studio in London’s trendy Shoreditch proved to be a hotbed of electronic activity throughout 2014.
MemeTune even found time to curate its own live event ‘MUS_IIC.01’.
Well known for his connections with that stable, JOHN FOXX came back from a break (by his recent prolific standards) with the audio / visual collaboration ‘Evidence Of Time Travel’ in partnership with STEVE D’AGOSTINO.
Other Synth Britannia stalwarts were in action too. OMD celebrated their ‘Dazzle Ships’ era with a pair of concerts at the Museum Of Liverpool and SIMPLE MINDS continued their grandiose demeanour with ‘Big Music’. Meanwhile, MIDGE URE released a fine collection of songs entitled ‘Fragile’, his first of original solo material in 12 years; it also featured a great collaboration with MOBY entitled ‘Dark Dark Night’. As well as that, he worked on a track with Dutch composer Stephen Emmer for an orchestral laden crooner album called ‘International Blue’ which additionally featured his pal Glenn Gregory.
Mr Gregory wasn’t idle either, recording ‘Pray’ b/w ‘Illumination’, HEAVEN 17’s first new material since 2005’s Before After’.
He even found time to impersonate DAVID BOWIE for some special live shows performing ‘The Man Who Sold The World’ with Tony Visconti and Woody Woodmansey as HOLY HOLY.
After last year’s seasonal offering ‘Snow Globe’, ERASURE made a full return in 2014 with ‘The Violet Flame’, the marriage of Andy Bell and Vince Clarke showcasing their best work since 2005’s ‘Nightbird’. Interestingly, ‘The Violet Flame’ was launched via the crowdfunding platform Pledge Music, although this appeared to be more as a promotional tool and fan networking opportunity.
CHINA CRISIS went the Pledge Music route too, announcing their first album in 20 years entitled ‘Autumn In the Neighbourhood’ while also crowdfunded, YELLO’s Boris Blank delivered ‘Electrified’, a solo box set of unreleased material.
Not to be outdone, his YELLO bandmate Dieter Meier responded with his grouchy solo offering ‘Out Of Chaos’ which appeared to be a tribute to Tom Waits. And unexpectedly on the back of ‘Don’t You Want Me?’ becoming a terrace chant for Aberdeen FC’s Scottish League Cup victory, ex-HUMAN LEAGUE member Jo Callis launched a new project called FINGER HALO.
Also a good read was Bernard Sumner’s memoirs ‘Chapter and Verse’ which covered his career to date with JOY DIVISION and NEW ORDER.
Coincidentally, Mark Reeder, the man often credited with introducing electronic dance music to Sumner, had a career spanning compendium called ‘Collaborator’ issued containing his earlier work as a member SHARK VEGAS, right up to his more recent remixes of DURAN DURAN’s John Taylor and Sumner’s various projects with BLANK & JONES and WESTBAM.
It was a particularly active year for the industrial scene; AESTHETIC PERFECTION toured Europe with their more accessible but still aggressive ‘Til Death’ opus while ASSEMBLAGE 23 frontman Tom Shear continued developing his SURVEILLANCE side project with ‘Oceania Remixed’. Swedish trio LEGEND gained acclaim for their live performances in support of their debut album ‘Fearless’, Texan duo IRIS released a new album ‘Radiant’ and DIE KRUPPS blasted their way into the South East of England for their first UK dates since 2008.
In more contemporary circles, LA ROUX finally released a second album, appropriately named ‘Trouble In Paradise’. Singer Elly Jackson had split with silent partner Ben Langmaid due to good old fashioned musical differences and as expected, the songs were less synthpoppy than the self-titled debut. Reaching for more disco orientated leanings such as CHIC, GRACE JONES and TOM TOM CLUB, this was if nothing, a more superior offering to either what LITTLE BOOTS or LADYHAWKE managed with their sophomore albums. North of the border, MARNIE did her bit for the Scottish Independence Campaign with the rousingly anthemic ‘Wolves’.
The delightfully eccentric IMOGEN HEAP showcased her innovative collaborative developments in music technology via her new album ‘Sparks’ and even squeezed in a collaboration with pop princess TAYLOR SWIFT for the latter’s million selling album ‘1989’.
ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK commented in 2012 about how CHVRCHES‘ ‘The Mother We Share’ sounded like “Taylor Swift gone electro”, so in a give some, take some back move, the young songstress came up with ‘Out Of The Woods’, a ditty quite obviously influenced by the Glaswegian trio and a synth laden tune entitled ‘New Romantics’ on the bonus edition.
By coincidence with her slight passing resemblance to Miss Swift, QUEEN OF HEARTS launched her debut musical charter ‘Cocoon’ after several years in the making to confirm that pop was indeed not a dirty word.
In the leftfield electronica arena, Warp Records issued ‘High Life’, a collaboration by KARL HYDE and BRIAN ENO while there was also the long awaited new album from APHEX TWIN entitled ‘Syro’. And former MASSIVE ATTACK producer DAVIDGE released an impressive debut collection of songs ‘Slo Light’ that featured SANDIE SHAW, CATE LE BON and EMI GREEN among its vocalists.
One act establishing themselves as major players in the modern electronic scene were Canada’s TR/ST. Led by the polarising “Eeyore gone goth” moodiness of Robert Alfons, the ironically titled ‘Joyland’ was an excellent second album that captured the sleazy nature of a 21st Century SOFT CELL and attached it to the grumpiness of Leonard Cohen.
Meanwhile, Brooklyn minimal duo XENO & OAKLANDER gave the world ‘Par Avion’, possibly their most accessible and colourful work yet. Also from the area came the shadowy huskiness of AZAR SWAN and the alternative mystique of REXXY. Over in LA, NIGHT CLUB showed further promise with their best offering yet in their third EP ‘Black Leather Heart’ while in San Antonio, HYPERBUBBLE launched an ‘Attack Of The Titans’.
Baltimore’s FUTURE ISLANDS however divided opinion; their fans included Andy McCluskey, Vince Clarke, Martyn Ware, Rusty Egan and Jori Hulkkonen, but their unintentionally amusing live appearance on ‘The David Letterman Show’ performing ‘Seasons’ came over to some observers like a ‘Saturday Night Live’ skit on the 80s. However, with two sold out dates at London’s Roundhouse in March 2015, Samuel T. Herring and Co are the ones having the last laugh.
The Nordic region proved itself again to be the centre of electronic creativity. The dream partnership of ROBYN and RÖYKSOPP reconvened after the success of 2010’s ‘The Girl & The Robot’ to ‘Do It Again’ while RÖYKSOPP themselves released what they announced to be their last album, appropriately titled ‘The Inevitable End’.
Also featuring on that album was Nordic vocalist of the moment SUSANNE SUNDFØR who has her own new eagerly awaited long player ‘Ten Love Songs’ out in 2015.
KARIN PARK and MARGARET BERGER provided another united Scandinavian front when they performed together at Norway’s Melodi Grand Prix while Finnish duo SIN COS TAN delivered their third long player in as many years with a concept album called ‘Blown Away’.
From Sweden came the welcome return of KLEERUP with ‘As If We Never Won’, the first of two new EPs before an album to follow-up the brilliant self-titled debut from 2008. Meanwhile, EMMON delivered her fourth album ‘Aon’ as well as a baby. There was more glacial oddness from IAMAMIWHOAMI with her second album ‘Blue’ while the brooding Nordic Noir pop of stunning identical twins SAY LOU LOU started to gain a foothold in readiness for their first long player ‘Lucid Dreaming’.
Nordic friendly music blog Cold War Night Life curated possibly the best electronic event of the year with ‘An Evening With The Swedish Synth’ at London’s 93 Feet East. In a bill supported by the promising TRAIN TO SPAIN and synth rock duo MACHINISTA who delivered a great debut album in ‘Xenoglossy’, the event was headlined by synthpop veterans PAGE. Incidentally, Eddie Bengtsson of PAGE’s solo project SISTA MANNEN PÅ JORDEN produced some interesting covers of OMD and DEVO, both reworked i Svenska.
And all this while ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK bore witness to a puzzled British musician who actually asked with a straight face “What’s so special about Sweden then?”!! ‘An Evening With The Swedish Synth’ was a fine example of what could be achieved when an electronic event was actually curated by electronic music enthusiasts, as this was not always the case in several instances during 2014.
Following a four year hiatus, CLIENT rebooted and released ‘Authority’ with new singer Client N doing a fine impersonation of MARNIE on the single ‘Refuge’. After a long gestation period, Anglo-German collective TWINS NATALIA released their debut long player ‘The Destiny Room’ and pleasantly wallowed in the neu romance of classic synthpop, dressing it with the vocal styles of GRACE JONES and ABBA.
TWINS NATALIA’s ‘The Destiny Room’ was released on Anna Logue Records who in 2015 will issue ‘Signs Of life’, the debut album from enigmatic South East Asian combo QUIETER THAN SPIDERS. Possibly the best new synthpop act to emerge in 2014, as befitting their name, they made their music, edited some videos and just discretely got on with it, thus proving the theory that those who shout loudest are not always necessarily the best…
MARSHEAUX celebrated ten years in the business with a compilation called ‘Odyssey’ on the prestigious Les Disques Du Crépuscule label. They also announced an unusual project for 2015, an album covering DEPECHE MODE’s ‘A Broken Frame’ in its entirety. Also on Undo, KID MOXIE released her second album ‘1888’ featuring a collaboration with acclaimed film score composer Angelo Badalamenti to compliment her new cinematic pop approach. Meanwhile, one-time Undo label mates LIEBE started getting traction on MTV Europe and MIKRO maintained their position as Greece’s premier power pop band with their seventh album ‘New’ despite the departure of singer Ria Mazini following its unveiling.
From Dublin came the filmic ambience of POLYDROID while cut from a similar cloth, there was the haunting soundscapes of Trans-Belgian pairing MARI & THE GHOST. There were also several other promising female led talents ranging from the sugary pop of PAWWS and the quietly subversive electro of I AM SNOW ANGEL to the soulful moodiness of HUGH and the mysteriously smoky allure of FIFI RONG.
VILE ELECTRODES confirmed their position as the best independent electronic act in the UK currently when they snared not just one, but two Schallwelle Awards in Germany.
Miss Blackwood gave spirited live vocal performances of several songs from her own career as part of a singing DJ set including ‘Justice’, her recent collaboration for the FOTONOVELA album ‘A Ton Of Love’. There was additionally the bonus of her duetting with SPEAK & SPELL on ‘A Question Of Time’ during their ‘101’ performance celebrating the film’s 25th anniversary.
Possibly the best independently released album of 2014 came from Glasgow’s ANALOG ANGEL who freed themselves of their industrial shackles to produce a collection of sophisticated synthpop entitled ‘Trinity’.
Having been around since 2009 and with two albums already to their name, the Scottish trio put their money where their mouths were. Their decision to avoid crowdfunding and invest in their own music was an applaudable decision, especially when other bands, who were still yet to prove themselves, were out with the begging bowls.
Indeed, 2014 was a strange year in which ego appeared to overtake ability and none more so than on the live circuit, where that old adage about needing to learn to walk before running ran true. Wanabee promoters with no notable experience bit off more than they could chew by playing Fantasy Festival, as was proven by the Alt-Fest debacle.
Despite a much publicised crowdfunding exercise, the simple use of a pocket calculator would have shown that an event of such magnitude could not be underwritten by such a comparatively small amount of cash and anticipated ticket sales. When rumours abounded that Alt-Fest was to be cancelled due to a lack of funds, the organisers’ silence and lack of resolve caused much resentment. Risk is all part of the game, but live ventures require solid finance, spirited commitment and an attempt at least to get in the black.
However, a few promoters appeared to want to make life difficult for themselves from the off. In its investigations, ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK found that with one poorly attended event back in 2013, there was no way the event could have balanced its books, even if it had sold out its ticket capacity!
Meanwhile, there was another gig in 2014 publicised so covertly with restricted social media and bizarre pricing structures, it was as if the promoters didn’t want anyone to attend! Of course, there was also that tactic of announcing an event almost a year in advance without confirming any of the acts for several months, as if the event was more important than any of the music!
As Whitby Goth Weekend’s Jo Hampshire pointed out:“Alt-Fest had put its tickets on sale while still booking acts including headliners, which is potentially disastrous”! Despite the general feeling that independently curated live initiatives should be anti-corporate, everything is about business at the end of the day.
However, a number of promoters at this end of the market failed to realise this. Any artists performing must be paid their expenses and fees as per any agreement, regardless of the final ticket sales unless terms such as door percentages or ticket sale buy-ons have been arranged.
But as one-time TECHNIQUE singer Xan Tyler pointed out: “Musicians get ripped off at every turn, online stores take a huge cut, Spotify don’t remunerate artists properly, venues expect you to play for bugger all (and in some case they expect you to pay to play). If you want to make money from the music industry, don’t be a musician!”
ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK is coming into its fifth anniversary and continues to maintain a readership of discerning music fans, despite protestations in some quarters to the contrary.
The site’s manifesto has always been about celebrating the best in new and classic electronic pop music.
It has never made claims about supporting unsigned acts or any music that happens use a synthesizer.
As Client A put it franklyin the Autumn: “in the electronica age, anyone can be a musician but that also makes it a free for all with every tom, dick or curly clogging up the internet with their crap music…”
Meanwhile, NIGHT CLUB added: “People forget about things so quickly these days because the internet is so inundated with crap…”
So ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK considers what music it features very, very carefully. it may not manage to be first, like many so-called buzz blogs try to be, but it has always had longevity in mind, even if that is difficult to predict.
ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK Contributor Listings of 2014
Best Album: TODD TERJE It’s Album Time
Best Song: RÖYKSOPP & ROBYN Do It Again
Best Gig: NINE INCH NAILS at Nottingham Arena
Best Video: MAPS You Will Find A Way
Most Promising New Act: TODD TERJE
Best Album: RÖYKSOPP The Inevitable End
Best Song: RÖYKSOPP featuring JAMIE IRREPRESSIBLE Something In My Heart
Best Gig: COVENANT + LEGEND at Gothenburg Electronic Summer Festival
Best Video: PRINCESS CENTURY Das Schlimmste
Most Promising New Act: LEGEND
Best Album: MIDGE URE Fragile
Best Song: MIDGE URE Dark, Dark Night
Best Gig: THE RADIOPHONIC WORKSHOP at Glasgow Quayside
Best Video: IMOGEN HEAP The Listening Chair
Most Promising New Act: WRANGLER
MONIKA IZABELA GOSS
Best Album: ERASURE The Violet Flame
Best Song: ANALOG ANGEL Drive
Best Gig: DEPECHE MODE at Strasbourg Zénith
Best Video: DIE KRUPPS Robo Sapien
Most Promising New Act: PAWWS
Best Album: RÖYKSOPP The Inevitable End
Best Song: RÖYKSOPP featuring JAMIE IRREPRESSIBLE I Had This Thing
Best Gig: GARY NUMAN at Hammersmith Apollo
Best Video: KID MOXIE Lacuna
Most Promising New Act: TWINS NATALIA
CHI MING LAI
Best Album: MIDGE URE Fragile
Best Song: ANALOG ANGEL The Last Time
Best Gig: KARL BARTOS at Cologne Live Music Hall
Best Video: LIEBE I Believe In You
Most Promising New Act: QUIETER THAN SPIDERS
Best Album: ERASURE The Violet Flame
Best Song: SISTA MANNEN PÅ JORDEN Stadens Alla Ljus
Best Gig: ANDY BELL in ‘Torsten The Bareback Saint’ at London St James Theatre
Best Video: ANDY BELL I Don’t Like
Most Promising New Act: PULSE
Best Album: ERASURE The Violet Flame
Best Song: POLLY SCATTERGOOD Subsequently Lost
Best Gig: PET SHOP BOYS at Brighton Dome
Best Video: JOHN FOXX B-Movie
Most Promising New Act: PAWWS
Without doubt, Jo Callis is one of the unsung heroes of the Synth Britannia era. The Rotherham born guitarist first found fame during the post-punk era with THE REZILLOS.
Formed in Edinburgh where Callis was studying at the local college of art, they scored a Top 20 hit ‘Top Of The Pops’ in 1978.
THE REZILLOS fragmented after one album so Callis formed SHAKE and then joined BOOTS FOR DANCING before releasing a solo single ‘Woah Yeah!’ in 1981.
His manager when he was in THE REZILLOS was Fast Records supremo Bob Last who also looked after THE HUMAN LEAGUE.
Following the well documented split between Phil Oakey and Adrian Wright with Martyn Ware and Ian Craig Marsh in 1980, the former pair continued as THE HUMAN LEAGUE with Ian Burden recruited as an additional musician plus Joanne Catherall and Susanne Sulley as backing vocalists.
Despite this line-up recording the band’s first Top 20 hit in ‘The Sound Of The Crowd’ under the production supervision of Martin Rushent in 1981, THE HUMAN LEAGUE felt they could benefit from the input of an experienced songwriter… enter Jo Callis!
He joined just in time to record the Top 5 breakthrough single ‘Love Action (I Believe in Love)’ although he did not feature on the single’s cover photo.
His first public outing as a songwriter for THE HUMAN LEAGUE was with the psychedelic synthpop hit ‘Open Your Heart’. The parent album ‘Dare’ was released shortly after and has since being hailed as an iconic recording of the period.
Jo Callis’ three year tenure with THE HUMAN LEAGUE directly contributed to their imperial phase; classic numbers in The League’s catalogue such as ‘Seconds’, ‘Darkness’, ‘Hard Times’, ‘Mirror Man’, ‘(Keep Feeling) Fascination’, ‘The Lebanon’, ‘Life On Your Own’ and ‘Louise’ were all co-authored by him. But his most famous song with the Sheffield electronic pioneers was ‘Don’t You Want Me?’ which reached No1 in both the UK and US charts.
However, after a difficult gestation for ‘Hysteria’, the follow-up album to ‘Dare’, Callis left THE HUMAN LEAGUE in 1984 to concentrate on his own songwriting.
Post-League, Callis co-wrote FEARGAL SHARKEY’s ‘Loving You’ before partially returning to THE HUMAN LEAGUE in 1990, penning two songs ‘Heart Like A Wheel’ and ‘Get It Right This Time’ for the ‘Romantic?’ album. Another Callis co-write ‘Never Again’ appeared on 1995’s ‘Octopus.
More recently, Callis has been in the news in his adopted homeland as a result of ‘Don’t You Want Me?’ being adopted as a football crowd anthem by the supporters of Aberdeen FC. The song was given a boost in download sales as a result of The Dons victory in the 2014 Scottish League Cup.
With his profile at its highest since his HUMAN LEAGUE days, Callis is about to return to the live circuit with his new band FINGER HALO, playing alongside ANALOG ANGEL at Glasgow’s Classic Grand on FRIDAY 15TH AUGUST 2014. Now well and truly “back-Back-BACK”, he kindly chatted to ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK about his career.
THE REZILLOS made it into the Top 20 with ‘Top Of The Pops’ in 1978 but briefly, what happened that led you into becoming a free agent in 1981?
THE REZILLOS split up (mid tour) around 1979, probably at my instigation more than anything else. From there, I formed SHAKE along with former REZILLOS rhythm section Ali Paterson and Simon Templar, and remained signed to Sire, THE REZILLOS’ former label. With the addition of Troy Tate (later of TEARDROP EXPLODES fame) on guitar, we released a four track EP followed by a single ‘Invasion Of The Gamma Men’ and gigged quite consistently.
The initial EP was pretty well received and the lead track ‘Culture Shock’ garnered a fair amount of Radio1 airplay. But with little record company support, things eventually just fizzled out. Broke, we eventually parted company with Sire.
From there, I joined local indie leftfield punk / funk outfit BOOTS FOR DANCING, whom I really enjoyed playing with. They could have been contenders, but bottled out of going for gold so to speak, so there was no future there for myself. Around the same time I had also been making in-roads into The League camp, who were in the process of re-inventing themselves after a split up scenario of their own, with a view to help them with new material.
What did you think when you were first offered THE HUMAN LEAGUE job by Bob Last and told you’d have to play a synth?
My memory of events here is that I simply got together with Adrian Wright, whom I was friendly with at the time, in order to do a bit of writing, which led on to my quite significant contributions to THE HUMAN LEAGUE’s canon of tunes. Although, with hindsight, I guess that the ‘svengali’ Bob Last would have certainly been pulling a few strings and making some subliminal suggestions behind the scenes, and certainly encouraging my association with Adrian.
Around that time I was also feeling a little jaded with the guitar, particularly as an instrument for composition, and felt that a change was in order. I wasn’t exactly sure what kind of change, but the opportunity of The League, synths and moving with the times certainly appealed.
Is it true Martyn Ware showed you how to use a synth at Monumental Pictures studio?
Yep, with the then fledgling HEAVEN 17 / BEF still sharing the same studio space as the ‘new’ League, Martyn Ware kindly spent a day running me through all the basics of subtractive synthesis, and also pointing me in the direction of the keyboard playing equivalent to Bert Weedon’s legendary guitar tome ‘Play In A Day’ (in another move encouraged by the venerable Mr. Last no doubt). I had soon purchased a second hand Roland SH09 synth, and began patching away when at home in Edinburgh.
Did you have a favourite synth?
I still have a great love for the old SH09, its big Bro’ the SH2 and its progeny the SH101. But the Roland Juno 106 is still hard to beat. I do still have (hopefully) working examples of ’em all. Although primarily a vintage Roland fan, I do have the odd bit of Korg and Yamaha kit, and of course the wonderfully proletarian Casio VL Tone… required equipment in my League days, we all had one in our make up bags!
Did you ever feel the tension between the two parties as the shifts changed at the studio?
Oh yes, but more in general. We would all hang out together in my early days with The League whilst in Sheffield writing the material that would ultimately comprise ‘Dare’ etc. It all seemed quite light hearted initially, but I was aware of quite deep rooted competition and rivalry between Philip and Martyn. But there was a mutual degree of respect all round.
I had to laugh really, having come out of a fairly similar situation myself recently and being aware that Bob Last had carefully handled THE HUMAN LEAGUE split with the benefit of knowledge gained from the chaotic split up of THE REZILLOS, Bob having managed both bands. So there were no handbags at twenty paces, unlike the biliousness of THE REZILLOS’ break up which was arguably fuelled by the divisive music press of the day – I did feel I was somewhere between a rock and a hard place on occasion though.
What was the creative dynamic between you, Phil Oakey, Adrian Wright and Ian Burden?
With Adrian, I would generally pick out the best of his formative ideas, develop them with him and add parts etc.
Phil and I would often find that we could graft together independent ideas we had, which would compliment each other… or else Phil would add lyrics and melody to one of my backing tracks which would just have a working title – ‘The Lebanon’ for example, came about in this way, even retaining the original title in the finished article.
With Ian, himself being a (very good) bass player and myself a guitarist, we could plug into amps and jam out ideas old school stylee sometimes.
And when Jim Russell (originally Martin’s engineer, then later a band member), a seasoned drummer who’d played with the like of CURVED AIR and MATTHEWS SOUTHERN COMFORT was around, we’d have a power trio and just jam all day…
Joanne and Susanne contributed to the quality control, they were very down with what was happening in the clubs and what ver kids were digging at the time, so if they liked what they heard, then it was definitely worth persevering with. They were total Duranies then, and had previously been BAY CITY ROLLERS fans (a fine Edinburgh band – check out their version of ‘Rock & Roll Love Letter’). But their big love was JAPAN.
Strangely, we seemed to listen to a lot of GRACE JONES and JUDAS PRIEST during the writing of ‘Dare’.
What was the first song you wrote for THE HUMAN LEAGUE?
‘Open Your Heart’, if memory serves – originally started on the guitar and provisionally entitled ‘Women & Men’.
Legend has it that Phil freaked when he saw you brandishing a guitar during the recording of ‘Don’t You Want Me?’?
Ha! Axeophobia I believe it’s called, a rare condition and one most unusual in the case of a JUDAS PRIEST and SAXON fan!
I remember Phil once saying: “I’d happily have you play the guitar on tour Jo, so long as the jack lead is only six inches long”. Classic! I feel he probably suffered from the much more common complaint; ‘Callisophobia’.
The main riff of ‘Don’t You Want Me?’ was appropriated from the guitar line of ABBA’s ‘Eagle’? Discuss!
Aha! The passage to which you refer to is definitely ABBA inspired and was originally the bassline to the bridge section of ‘DYWM’ – the “Don’t, Don’t You Want Me, You know I don’t belieeve it! Etc” bit. Martin Rushent picked it up and turned it round and made it into the top line of the intro passage… so it’s all his fault, ‘onest Guv!
How do you look back on the ‘Dare’ album now?
With my head tilted to the right, and squinting with one eye. ‘Dare’ was the result of a unique coming together of an unlikely bunch of switched on, eccentric, bloody minded individuals who, against all odds and with no great ‘industry’ expectation, created a truly wonderful work of electro glam pop – timeless, wonderfully sparse, most influential, and a true combined vision, very much the sum of its parts.
How were those ‘Dare’ tour dates, especially with those temperamental synths and taking the Linn Drum Computer out live?
Tours can be the absolute best and worst times of your life condensed into a relatively short period of time – so, careful what you wish for sometimes.
We fortunately had a terrific tech and road crew on the ‘Dare’ tour which eased a lot of the potential pain, no MIDI or computer sync in them days.
We had to have the Linn Drum reloaded (by cassette tape) half way through the set as its memory could not contain the entire show, we switched to the Roland TR808 for one song during the reboot! The synths all seemed to perform reliably and well, despite the abuse I would give mine on occasion. Made from Tiger tank and Me262 parts them Roland Jupiter 8s!
Things seemed to be going swimmingly for the follow-up album with the releases of ‘Mirror Man’ and ‘(Keep Feeling) Fascination’, but it all started falling apart around the recording of ‘Hysteria’?
That’s right, it was all taking far too long and frustration was setting in. We had to try and follow the unexpected success of ‘Dare’ and I think a fear of failure began to loom. The pressure maan!
The two versions that were released of ‘I Love You Too Much’ indicated there was some confusion in the band over direction?
That track actually had a synth playing back through a guitar Wah Wah pedal on it – which was my idea.
As I recall the first version on the ‘Fascination!’ import EP was produced by Martin Rushent and the ‘Hysteria’ version was by Chris Thomas… or was it Hugh Padgham?
‘The Lebanon’ had a bit of a mixed reaction didn’t it?
I love a bit of contention, it was pretty much guitar driven, which is down to me again, but I think it sat okay in The League repertoire and Phil was actually quite enthusiastic about the style and direction it took. It went down well with the BIG COUNTRY / SIMPLE MINDS / U2 crowd of the time, almost a bit of a crossover track. The music press of the day, particularly the NME were fond of ripping the pish out of the lyrics, but in a very affectionate and ‘onside’ way. I still think it’s possibly the strongest tune on ‘Hysteria’, and one I’m very satisfied with personally.
Martin Rushent left the sessions apparently over something Susanne said… what was the straw that broke the camel’s back in your case?
I tried so hard to keep everyone together at that time, we weren’t too far away from having a follow-up album finished with Martin, I thought I’d managed to patch the ship up so to speak at one point, but things soon fell apart again.
Do you look on the ‘Hysteria’ period with much affection?
When THE HUMAN LEAGUE said they wouldn’t tour ‘Hysteria’ because they couldn’t perform your songs without you, what that just an excuse on their part?
Never heard that one before… dunno really.
You sort of returned for ‘Romantic?’ in 1990… how did you come to contribute ‘Heart Like A Wheel’? and ‘Get It Right This Time’ ?
I’d always left things open ended, and had said I’d always be happy to contribute to writing at any time.
I did initially offer them a song called ‘One For The Angels’ for ‘Crash’, the album after ‘Hysteria’, but they didn’t take it – perhaps not quite enough water had passed under the bridge by then, but I’d had such a good response from publishers etc.
With ‘Heart Like A Wheel’, and having been working a lot myself on various projects with Martin Rushent at Genetic Studios around that time, when The League came to thinking about the follow up to ‘Crash’ (which would become ‘Romantic?’), I thought there might be a good opportunity to try and get ‘the old team’ back together again, which I did manage to achieve for a couple of tunes at least. I was kind of middle man there, having a foot in both camps – helping The League out with a bit of writing now and then, and working on various production / writing projects with Martin.
I also co-wrote ‘Never Again’ with Phil for the ‘Octopus’ album, and will be revisiting ‘One For The Angels’ with my new band FINGER HALO!
With Martin Rushent on board, it looked like there was an attempt to recapture the magic of ‘Dare’. But why did things not really work out with that album as a whole either? Any thoughts?
As an addendum to the previous question; I had hoped to resurrect ‘The Old Brigade’, for the entire album, but I think Phil wanted to experiment with different producers, doing a couple of tracks with each. ‘Heart Like A Wheel’ did well for all concerned I think, so it often pays to not burn bridges… and ‘Never Say Never Again’.
Mention must go to Martin Rushent, now sadly departed. A true maverick, a passionate if headstrong fellow and one of the greatest cutting edge producers of all time. He always followed his gut instincts which invariably led him in the right direction. I learned so much from Martin and he was great fun to work with.
Noddy Holder describes ‘Merry Xmas Everybody’ as his pension, is it like that for you with ‘Don’t You Want Me?’?
As a huge SLADE fan, Noddy is seldom wrong, These days, I tend to view ‘Don’t You Want Me?’ more as a kind of capital investment, to trade with. In basic, cynical economic terms, ‘DYWM’ to me is something akin to what Cornflakes are to The Kellogg company.
You are still active in music, what are your upcoming plans?
What would you consider your proudest achievement?
An old acquaintance of mine who served with The Royal Marines during The Falklands campaign told me that he had The League song ‘Seconds’ running through his head all through the conflict, which helped him keep focus and get through serious life or death circumstances.
That instance in particular, and other, albeit rare, occasions when somebody has remarked that your music has had a positive impact on their lives, are moments when I realise that what we do, we happy band of wandering minstrels, really can have great value to humanity, and it’s not just about self indulgently fannying about, having more control over our lives and never having to grow up, as I might have previously thought. I speak for all performers, entertainers, composers, authors and artists. I think we oil the wheels of life in many respects.
And as the Big Man Winston Churchill once said: “If you find a job you love, you’ll never work again” – now there’s an achievement in itself! These are the things that dreams are made of (and nightmares sometimes but…)
And finally, why do you think guitar synths never really caught on?
Quite simply Chi, I think that the technology had moved so rapidly then that you could use a regular guitar, with a few ‘bolt ons’, and pretty much do anything that a dedicated synth guitar could do. Also a lot of guitar players who loved the ‘Synth Guitar’ idea didn’t really think that the instruments themselves were particularly good as guitars. That Roland G-77 looked really cool though, but they never made a left handed version, the c***s!
ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK gives its warmest thanks to JO CALLIS
Special thanks to Ian Ferguson
FINGER HALO featuring JO CALLIS play the Classic Grand, 18 Jamaica Street, Glasgow G1 4QD on FRIDAY 15TH AUGUST 2014 alongside ANALOG ANGEL