Tag: Marc Almond (Page 2 of 6)

SOFT CELL *Happiness Not Included

Coinciding with their live farewell at London’s O2 Arena in 2018, SOFT CELL surprised their fans with two new songs ‘Northern Lights’ and ‘Guilty (Cos I Say You Are)’ on an updated compilation ‘Keychains & Snowstorms – The Singles’.

What was planned to be the end became a brand new start as Marc Almond and Dave Ball embarked on a UK tour in 2021 to celebrate 40 years of their brilliant debut album ‘Non Stop Erotic Cabaret’. The show also included a preview of material from a new album for 2022 entitled ‘*Happiness Not Included’, their first since the 2002 reunion long player ‘Cruelty Without Beauty’.

Co-produced by Phillip Larsen whose credits include Andy Bell, Moby, Mylène Farmer, Claudia Brücken, Katy Perry, Lady Gaga, Britney Spears and Kylie Minogue, ‘*Happiness Not Included’ is an introspective collection of 12 new songs that mourn the passage of time, missed opportunities and life not going as planned.

Recorded remotely under the spectre of the global pandemic, ‘*Happiness Not Included’ features “Science fiction stories for the 21st century” according to Dave Ball. The cinematic drama of the not-so ‘Happy Happy Happy’ opens and sees Almond as the humble narrator expressing his strained frustrations about “state assisted dying” while Ball realises his John Barry ambitions with a series of synth string sweeps in a stylistic ident that recurs throughout this album.

“Lost in the junkie jungle”, the machine disco of ‘Polaroid’ recounts SOFT CELL’s love of The Factory pop art scene and a bittersweet meeting with Andy Warhol in 1982. Featuring speech samples from the man himself and his enclave, it is also a metaphor for life that accepts that once the end comes, one of few things that remain are photographs.

A relative of ‘Guilty (Cos I Say You Are)’, ‘Bruises On My Illusions’ covers the familiar SOFT CELL topics of pain, self-loathing and misanthropy with a sharp energy complemented by Almond’s vocal theatrics that are more convincing than on ‘Heart Like Chernobyl’, although that song’s stark Cold War lyrical analogies on the morally toxic world of today have added poignancy given recent world events. Not included on the album, the excellent B-side ‘Vapourise’ with its references to “a nuclear explosion” and “a full-on attack” proves to be even more chilling…

The catchy ‘Purple Zone’ is a slice of soaring melancholic Europop with immediate reminiscences of PET SHOP BOYS in particular.

So it is not entirely surprising that Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe make a guest appearance and plant their aesthetic, although it must be pointed out that this is a SOFT CELL composition, characterised by Almond’s darkly doomed expressionism about midlife.

A union of The Blackpool Electro Mafia as well as featuring the voices of both Almond and Tennant, ‘Purple Zone’ goes full circle as after SOFT CELL first imploded in 1984, it was PET SHOP BOYS who ran with their baton after smoothing off some of the rough edges.

Taking proceedings down a notch, the wonderful ‘Light Sleepers’ presents a glorious orchestrated ballad arranged by Ball with soprano sax from Gary Barnacle that provides a backdrop for Almond’s nocturnal demeanour that acts as sedative relief. With a sense of foreboding on the album’s title song because “the future is in a lunatic’s hands”, Dave Ball plays on more of his John Barry spy drama fantasies with virtual harpsicord over a metronomic drum machine, aided by soulful male voices and flourishes of flute.

Meanwhile, the tense Italo Noir of the ironically titled ‘Nostalgia Machine’ gets some choppy rhythm guitar and pentatonic phrasing thrown in for an album highlight that revs up proceedings with a touch of exuberant swagger.

Originally a Dave Ball instrumental issued as part of a single and CD that came with the boxed set of his autobiography ‘Electronic Boy’ and now featuring a deranged expletive laden rap from American drag performance artist Christeene, the tense industrialised pulse of ‘Nighthawks’ recalls the sweaty alternative club overtures of one-time Some Bizzare stable mates CABARET VOLTAIRE. Cellmates are even treated to the deep growly voice of Mr Ball himself repeating the title and ‘Staying Alive’ refrains from backing vocalists Bryan Chambers, Louise Marshall and Simon King.

The eerie vibraphone-laden swing of ‘I’m Not A Friend Of God’ is a 21st Century ‘Blasphemous Rumours’; in the face of a future with a scary face, Almond decides that “the young can deal with it instead”. Reflecting Almond’s past solo work, ‘Tranquiliser’ could be Gene Pitney with a widescreen orchestral palette counterpointed by a solemn narrative on dependency.

Ending with the grand six minute plus ballad ‘New Eden’ where “being young is not an option”, Ball’s gentle piano structure echoes Eno and his ‘On Some Faraway Beach’, before building towards its close with subtle electronics, complimentary strings and a choir. “All those plans we made in the ‘60s seem naïve now we’ve grown older” laments an impassioned Almond; now closer to the end than the beginning, this is a declaration of hope, that things can still be fine.

“In this album I wanted to look at us as a society: a place where we have chosen to put profits before people, money before morality and decency, food before the rights of animals, fanaticism before fairness and our own trivial comforts before the unspeakable agonies of others” said Almond of ‘*Happiness Not Included’, “But in the album there is also a belief that there is a utopia if we can peel back the layers and understand what really matters”.

While the album has flaws with a few of the tracks sounding underdeveloped, there are a significant number of cracking songs that make this second reunion of SOFT CELL worthwhile.

You’ve been to the shows, got the T-shirt, bought the books and heard the singles but now it is time to listen to the album; in this modern compilation era of playlists, ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK has compiled its own highly enjoyable classic 10 track version of ‘*Happiness Not Included’ from the 13 songs in the pool, you might consider doing the same.

‘*Happiness Not Included’ is released on 6th May 2022 via BMG in various formats including yellow coloured vinyl LP, picture disc LP, CD, cassette and download, pre-order now avaiable from https://softcell.tmstor.es/





Text by Chi Ming Lai
4th May 2022

SOFT CELL Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret Live In London

1981 was a sensational year for electronic pop music and along with albums from THE HUMAN LEAGUE, JAPAN, KRAFTWERK and OMD, SOFT CELL’s ‘Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret’ was among the best.

Despite a farewell show at London’s O2 Arena in 2018, Marc Almond and Dave Ball decided a 40th Anniversary tour of that classic album was in order, along with a brand new long player ‘*Happiness Not Included’ to be released in Spring 2022.

As one of the most subversive acts in popular culture, SOFT CELL found themselves part of a celebrity world after the unexpected success of their breakthrough single ‘Tainted Love’; escaping to New York to record and mix their debut album, they found themselves the toast of The Big Apple, mingling with the likes of Divine, Madonna and Andy Warhol in the city’s hedonistic club scene.

‘Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret’ is a document of that period which also contained narratives on dirty old men, prostitution, grooming, sexual deviance, personal grievance, tabloid sensationalism, political scandal, middle class entitlement and living in squalor.

But this tour was not just about 40 years of ‘Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret’ but also SOFT CELL in the present day. After opening with the 1982 No2 hit ‘Torch’, Almond and Ball showcased several songs from ‘*Happiness Not Included’.

Although ‘Bruises on All My Illusions’ and ‘Heart Like Chernobyl’ had already been premiered on streaming platforms, the new record’s promise was outlined with the cinematic drama of ‘Happy Happy Happy’ and the tense Italo Noir of the ironically titled ‘Nostalgia Machine’.

‘Monoculture’ reflected on the first SOFT CELL reunion of the early 21st Century, but the evening was also an opportunity to perform a few songs that were not part of The O2 extravaganza. Most welcome was the glorious ‘Kitchen Sink Drama’ with its tale of a bored lonely housewife and her growing dependency, while the Latin-flavoured goth of ‘L’esqualita’ and the exhilarating electro-schaffel of ‘Divided Soul’ also got deserved airings.

However, ‘Where The Heart Is’, ‘The Art of Falling Apart’ and ‘Martin’ provided points of familiarity for Cellmates to end Act 1, with Ball providing a particularly blistering Eno-esque solo to the sophomore album title song.

Throughout this first half of the show, the audience appeared confused as to whether to get up and dance, resulting in perhaps a more muted response than Almond would have liked. But that was all remedied for Act 2 when the curtain went up for a live run through of ‘Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret’ in its entirety and in order.

With original autobiographical lyrics by Dave Ball about his own father, ‘Frustration’ was the magnificent opener to ‘Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret’ and its embodiment of suburban middle aged angst still resonates today. The positioning of ‘Tainted Love’ though so early in the set only highlighted the brilliance of the other nine songs on the album.

The smooth sleaze of ‘Seedy Films’ was enhanced by Gary Barnacle on sax who toured with SOFT CELL back in the day and projections of Soho’s sex industry neon signs.

Billie Godfrey alluringly deputised for Josie Warden of VICIOUS PINK PHENOMENA’s role before Almond cheekily asked the remaining backing singers Louise Marshall, Bryan Chambers and Simon King “Isn’t that YOU on the screen?”

After a poignant ‘Youth’ visualised by vintage home movie footage, a mighty ‘Sex Dwarf’ blasted forth accompanied by cued crowd screams. Things were going well but it got even better with ‘Entertain Me’ and ‘Chips On My Shoulder’, both chant-friendly highlights from ‘Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret’ that got the now warmed-up crowd hoarse and allowed Almond to indulge in his performance art energetics. Then there was an ecstatic treat in the extended Early Morning Dance Side version of ‘Bedsitter’, complete with rap to start the nightlife over again.

Whether it has been John Profumo, Jeremy Thorpe, Cecil Parkinson, Jeffrey Archer, David Mellor, Paddy Ashdown or Matt Hancock, the superb Northern Soul tinged ‘Secret Life’ captured the continuing spectre of the British political sex scandal while on the same subject, the evergreen melodramatics of ‘Say Hello Wave Goodbye’ provided a magnificent Act 2 conclusion with the final chorus sung entirely by all present.

The encore allowed for another newbie in the catchy ERASURE sounding ‘Purple Zone’, by far the most convincing song from ‘*Happiness Not Included’, before ‘Memorabilia’ provided the end of night dance off with Almond joining Ball in his synth complex to wave goodbye.

Saying hello, waving goodbye and saying hello again, SOFT CELL have more than demonstrated their four decade longevity

Despite a slow start from the mature crowd, it was eventually a fine night of dancing, laughing, drinking and loving. There was no standing alone at The Pink Flamingo tonight or crying in the rain.

Special thanks to Debbie Ball at Create Spark

‘Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret’ is still available via Universal Music in various formats from the usual retailers

The new SOFT CELL album ‘*Happiness Not Included’ is released on 6th May 2022 via BMG, pre-order from https://softcell.tmstor.es/





Text and Photos by Chi Ming Lai
16th November 2021

Is SOFT CELL Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret the Best Album of 1981?

“Well! Here we are again!” Sorry, that’s actually a lyric from another band touring on the 40th Anniversary of a classic 1981 album.

Despite saying hello and waving goodbye with a final show at London’s O2 Arena in 2018, SOFT CELL have not only got a new album ‘*Happiness Not Included’ slated for release in February 2022, but they will also perform their seminal debut album ‘Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret’ in its entirety for the first time.

But as SOFT CELL celebrate the legacy of ‘Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret’ alongside their other hits, they will also be previewing tracks from ‘*Happiness Not Included’.

Although it has been four decades since the seedy personas of Marc Almond and Dave Ball, photographed by Peter Ashworth, adorned the front cover and hit the shelves of WH Smith, Boots, Littlewoods and Woolworths, the fact that ‘Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret’ was available where your parents and grandparents shopped can now be seen as being one of the most subversive acts in popular culture.

Art students who met at Leeds Polytechnic, the album title came from one of the neon signs outside The Raymond Revue Bar in London’s Soho where Almond lived, an area that at the time was full of strip clubs, sex shops and entrances saying “model upstairs”.

While JAPAN glamourised Chinese Communism on ‘Tin Drum’ and THE HUMAN LEAGUE presented working class aspiration like a synthpop ABBA on ‘Dare’, SOFT CELL told of the grit that could come with glitter in musical tales about dirty old men, prostitutes, grooming, sexual deviance, personal grievance, tabloid sensationalism, middle class entitlement and living in squalor. Only the pair of tunes by OMD about the brutal execution of a teenage girl on ‘Architecture & Morality’ were historically darker than SOFT CELL’s gutter heart take on reality.

The recent Twitter listening party hosted by Tim Burgess highlighted the worldwide love and affection for ‘Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret’. With Marc Almond and Dave Ball on hand to provide insights and memories on the making of the record, a number of interesting points of trivia were provided.

While the duo were in New York to record and mix the album with producer Mike Thorne, ‘Tainted Love’ became a hit in Germany. So with Ball otherwise engaged in working the state-of-the-art NED Synclavier and the much more basic Roland Synthe-Bass SB100 which provided SOFT CELL with a very distinct sound, Almond was despatched to perform the song on TV show ‘Disco’ with a Dave Ball lookalike who ZDF tried to keep in shadow and out of shot, but failed!

Of ‘Entertain Me’, Marc Almond said “This is about people who are just never satisfied. The pop star world we found ourselves in after the success of ‘Tainted Love’”; but of this new world they were now part of, Dave Ball recalled “it was all a big adventure. Highlights were meeting Divine and Madonna in Danceteria then meeting Andy Warhol at The Factory”

‘Secret Life’ was revealed to be a preceding song to ‘Say Hello Wave Goodbye’ about a politician’s affair with a prostitute whose other secret is that he is also a cross dresser… with sex scandals still rife in Parliament, the songs on ‘Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret’ are as relevant as ever.

‘Bedsitter’ is another case in point which despite its bittersweet ode to nightlife, on which the Roland TR808 Rhythm Composer was heard on a UK hit single for the first time, reflects on the poor quality accommodation offered by private landlords thanks to the selling off of affordable council housing in Britain; the effects of this Thatcherite policy are sadly still felt today.

Although with a lyric originated by Dave Ball about his own father, the most sinister song when applied to the present is ‘Frustration’ which could be a narrative on incels or “involuntary celibates”, the deeply unpleasant right wing faction of males who are unable to get a romantic or sexual partner despite desiring one, but whose misguided and ignorant anger spills into misogyny and racism.

The most important aspect about ‘Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret’ though is that it possessed catchy off-kilter tunes with great synth hooks and edgy lyrics over infectious machine beats. With its No1 single and a pair of Top 5s, SOFT CELL initially stole a march on DEPECHE MODE whose own debut ‘Speak & Spell’ paled in comparison. But while Almond and Ball first spilt in 1984, PET SHOP BOYS picked up their baton and although they smoothed the template out, proved that the technologically assisted pop duo format still had legs.

There is much to reasonably justify ‘Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret’ as the Best Album of 1981, but if it isn’t, then it is certainly in the Top 5 alongside THE HUMAN LEAGUE, JAPAN, KRAFTWERK and OMD in what was a sensational year for electronic pop music.

SOFT CELL’s 2021 ‘Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret’ 40th Anniversary live dates:

Glasgow O2 Academy (10th November), Manchester O2 Apollo (12th November), Leeds O2 Academy (13th November), London Hammersmith Apollo (15th November), London Hammersmith Apollo (16th November) – tickets available from https://myticket.co.uk/artists/soft-cell

The new album ‘*Happiness Not Included’’ is released on 25th February 2022 via BMG, the single ‘Bruises On My Illusions’ is available now on CD and 12″ vinyl formats from https://softcell.tmstor.es/





Text by Chi Ming Lai
Photos by Peter Ashworth
2nd November 2021

SOFT CELL Mutant Moments EP

To celebrate 40 years since the release of their very first recording, SOFT CELL have re-released their debut EP ‘Mutant Moments’ as a 10 inch transparent vinyl edition.

Originally released as limited run of 2000 7” singles in October 1980 on the band’s own Big Frock imprint, the EP sold out immediately.

Less than two years later, SOFT CELL would score five Top 5 UK hit singles in the space of just 13 months.

On the striking self-produced artwork, SOFT CELL were credited as David Ball (Synthesizer, Tapes, Electronics), Marc Almond (Vocals, Synthetic Scratch) and Steve Griffith (Visuals). Meeting as art students at Leeds Polytechnic, Almond needed music for his performance art so with his Korg 800DV synthesizer, Ball had the avant-garde credentials that the flamboyant vocalist was looking for.

“‘Mutant Moments’ was very homemade” Dave Ball told ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK in 2018, “very lo-fi and made on no money, done at art college”. On this reissue, he has personally supervised the remastering process to ensure a vast improvement on the original pressing, declaring it as “A vintage slice of lo-fi Polytechnic synthpop, lovingly remastered for you”.

Gloriously gritty, ‘Potential’ began the four song set with a metronomic buzzfest while the wonderful ‘L.O.V.E Feelings’ was a melodic sign of things to come with some basic but beautiful synth sounds and an air of John Barry’s ‘Midnight Cowboy’.

Photo by Paolo Di Paolo

Although ‘Metro MRX’ was to sonically improve later when produced by Daniel Miller for a Flexipop giveaway, the ‘Mutant Moments’ version was scarier, especially when Almond eerily announced “he’s my favourite mutant!” over a heavily processed otherworldly rhythm box.

While ‘Frustration’ ended up on SOFT CELL’s subsequent 1981 debut long player ‘Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret’, it was barely recognisable in its earlier incarnation with its synth hooks yet to be part of the song.

Meanwhile Almond’s distorted cries of “I WANNA DIE” were deadly sinister while Ball creepily deadpanned that “I’m an ordinary bloke”!

The wider breakthrough on the ‘Some Bizarre Album’ with ‘The Girl With The Patent Leather Face’ was to come in early 1981 as SOFT CELL duelled with DEPECHE MODE over whose track was the stand out. Rated higher at the time than the Basildon boys, Ball and Almond were signed by Phonogram and the rest is history.

It’s amazing to think how much of an impact SOFT CELL were to have in popular culture and everyone from FRANKIE GOES TO HOLLYWOOD, BRONSKI BEAT, ERASURE and PET SHOP BOYS to NINE INCH NAILS, PSYCHE, FISCHERSPOONER, TIGA and HERCULES & LOVE AFFAIR owe them a debt of gratitude for paving the way.

The do-it-yourself art school aesthetic of ‘Mutant Moments’ importantly enabled it all to begin with its dysfunctional gutter pop and primitively wayward electronic backdrop.

‘Mutant Moments’ is reissued as a 10 inch transparent vinyl EP by Big Frock, available now direct from https://www.softcell.co.uk/record-store-day/

‘Electronic Boy: My Life In & Out of SOFT CELL’ by Dave Ball is published by Omnibus Press on 11th June 2020, pre-order from https://www.lexermusic.com/dave-ball/dave-ball-electronic-boy-hardback-book






Text by Chi Ming Lai
Photo by Paolo Di Paolo
22nd May 2020

SOFT CELL To Show You I’ve Been There…

Photo by Paolo Di Paolo

SOFT CELL may have played their last show with a lavish adieu at London’s O2 Arena last September, but Marc Almond and David Ball continue to maintain their legacy with the publication of a luxury limited edition photo book.

Published as a 1300 limited edition high quality 21 x 28 cm hardback, ‘To Show You I’ve Been There…’ is the ultimate piece of memorabilia featuring over 150 images.

Spanning the whole of SOFT CELL’s’s glorious career, the photos range from when Almond and Ball were unknowns sitting in various locations at Leeds Polytechnic and their first shoot with Gucci photographer Paolo Di Paolo to the iconic portraits by Peter Ashworth where the pair’s hair gets increasingly longer in the run up to ‘Soul Inside’.

For synth geeks, there is even two pages devoted to Dave Ball’s gear, including a Minimoog, Yamaha CS-5, Roland SH101, Korg 800DV, SCI Prophet 5, Korg MS10, Roland CR78, Alesis HR16, Oberheim DMX, Roland TR707, Yamaha QS330 and the distinctive core of the classic SOFT CELL sound, the Roland Synthe-Bass.

Photos by Peter Ashworth

Featuring commentary from Ball and Almond courtesy of new interviews with Mark Paytress, the story begins in 1979 around the Winter Of Discontent.

“Imagine how heavy it was back then. Leeds was full of National Front supporters and there was a lot of intolerance around.” reflects Ball on the state of the nation back then, sadly sounding like it is now, “SOFT CELL must have seemed revolutionary – a duo, one guy with a synth and a reel-to-reel tape recorder, and out front a gay bloke covered in eyeliner. F*cking hell, no one had seen anything like that!”

As SOFT CELL found fame, Almond recalls how naïve they were when they did their first major music press interview with Paul Morley for NME. As was par for the course, the scribe used his pseudo intellectualism to nastily and hypocritically look down on Ball and Almond for their Northerness; “Some time later, I bumped into him and pretended I didn’t hold a grudge but I kind of did!”

The SOFT CELL story is one against adversity, about how two working class boys shot to No1 and became a UK chart fixture, achieving five Top 5 UK hit singles in the space of 13 months during 1981-82 in a strike rate that neither THE HUMAN LEAGUE, DEPECHE MODE, OMD, JAPAN or ULTRAVOX ever managed and of their contemporaries, only GARY NUMAN even came close.

Each book is accompanied by an exclusive bonus 7 inch vinyl EP called ‘Magick Mutants’ containing four completely re-recorded tracks from the band’s early song archive highlighting how SOFT CELL saw themselves as the pop version of SUICIDE.

Best of the bunch is ‘Bleak Is My Favourite Cliché’ which has only been heard previously in distorted demo form on ‘The Bedsit Tapes’ and has since reappeared on the ‘Keychains & Snowstorms’ boxed set. The haunting reverberant electronic bass and doomy synthetic choir sounds provide an appropriate balance of glitter and grit to bring the song up to date, while a declaration that “It’s so European, bleak, it’s very bleak today” is strangely poignant and down with the zeitgeist.

Photo by Paul Cox

Driven by a solid synthbass triplet, ‘Science Fiction Stories’ is gloriously danceable and minimal, characterised by its spacey synth theme. Another demo from ‘The Bedsit Tapes’ sessions, like with ‘Bleak Is My Favourite Cliché’, its potential gets more fully realised and is deservedly as Almond himself sings “not to be forgotten”.

Originally one of the highlights on the ‘Some Bizarre Album’ compilation, the revisit of ‘The Girl With The Patent Leather Face’ is interesting if only to compare the vocals of the wayward energetic student Almond of 1981 with the battle-hardened abstinent artiste of today. The synths are as menacing as ever if missing the hiss and noise of vintage recording but on this one, the recklessness of youth has gone.

In a recognition of their art school roots at Leeds Polytechnic, Marc Almond and Dave Ball play tribute to fellow student and inspiration Frank Tovey with an authentic cover version of FAD GADGET’s ‘Back To Nature’. While remaining as detached as the original with deep dual voices for a schizophrenic quality, albeit with one part in a more torchy manner, as the sombre mood piece comes to its conclusion, Almond adds it’s all “For Frank”.

With artwork created by Dave Ball as on SOFT CELL’s debut EP ‘Mutant Moments’, the tracks on this 7 inch vinyl (with corresponding traceable downloads via an exclusive individual code) will ONLY be available by purchasing this book.

Full of “Postcards, pretty pictures and little bits of plastic”, this artefact is a must for SOFT CELL fans, but for popular culture observers too because without Marc Almond and Dave Ball paving the way, life might have been that bit more difficult for BRONSKI BEAT, ERASURE and of course, their most obvious successors PET SHOP BOYS.

ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK gives its warmest thanks to Stuart Kirkham

‘To Show You I’ve Been There…’ including the exclusive 7 inch ‘Magick Mutants’ vinyl EP is available from 1st May 2019, pre-order from https://www.lexermusic.com/deluxe/soft-cell-to-show-you-ive-been-there-hardback-book

Book content previews at http://www.softcell.co.uk/book




Text by Chi Ming Lai
26th April 2019

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