Tag: Michael Dempsey

The Associate: An Interview with MICHAEL DEMPSEY

The Associates London 1980

Photo by David Corio / Redferns

A former member of THE CURE, bassist Michael Dempsey first became aware of ASSOCIATES when the two bands were label mates at Chris Parry’s Fiction label.

Comprising of the kaleidoscopic vocal presence of Billy MacKenzie and the driven musicality of Alan Rankine, Dempsey soon joined ASSOCIATES as a silent partner and along with drummer John Murphy.

Both played on the three albums which defined their reputation; ‘The Affectionate Punch’, ‘Fourth Drawer Down’ and ‘Sulk’. Now reissued as 2CD deluxe editions via BMG alongside ‘The Very Best of ASSOCIATES’ compendium for the more cautious listener, these collections have been supervised and produced by Dempsey. Each package includes previously unreleased tracks and 28 page booklets featuring unseen photos, rare memorabilia and extensive sleeve notes to do justice to the ASSOCIATES legacy.

Michael Dempsey kindly chatted about this new ASSOCIATES reissue campaign and the challenges of the remastering / repackaging process in the 21st century.

What did you think bonded you with Billy and Alan musically?

I often wonder that too because they came from a very different part of the country. People describe your music as belonging to the time when it came out ie the 80s in the case of ASSOCIATES. But I think their music was very much 60s and 70s, much more so than a lot of people who were out there.

I think that’s where my impressions came from. You piece it together over time and when I listen back to a lot of ASSOCIATES stuff, it’s that really exciting 60s music that seeped into their subconscious, in the same way it did for me.

When I first met them, I was amazed. I’d never come across anyone that put together music in the way that they did. It wasn’t wildly experimental or anything like that, but it was packed with these reference points that I could relate to.

Michael Demspey in The Cure

Photo by Richard Mann

It was obviously enough to make you jump ship from THE CURE. What was your creative dynamic with them like, compared with Robert Smith and Lol Tolhurst?

Billy and Alan were so different and Billy’s personality was so beguiling, the music just drew you in.

With THE CURE, we were touring intensely, there wasn’t that same sort of activity going on in ASSOCIATES.

THE CURE got their debut album out before ASSOCIATES, so we were slightly rivals on the label I guess and they were constantly vying for attention from Fiction. THE CURE were a lot easier to get going, we had a band and could tour while Alan and Bill were a duo who didn’t have a band.

It would have been easier 10 or 20 years later to understand how to put an act like that out. But at the time, it wasn’t very clear how Fiction would deal with these guys. So ASSOCIATES were always kept hanging on and they were always hanging around the studio. They were really good company so it wasn’t difficult for me.

You are quoted as saying the recording of ‘Sulk’ had the band inventing ways of recording with click tracks and overdubs to make the sound as lush as possible. What were the most unusual things you witnessed or were asked to do?

The notion of us being wildly experimental came from them changing their sound quite often. When they were a duo, they wanted to be a band.

When they were a band, they wanted to be electronic. And then came ‘Sulk’, which is hard to categorise. They didn’t do it in the same way as everybody else.

I found on reflection that they were using a lot of old school recording techniques. Half speed was a typical ASSOCIATES thing. To get it tight like a machine, you recorded at half speed, played it back at normal speed and it would sound a bit weird. That was something the kind of engineers and producers we worked with would have been well used to, because it was a typical 70s recording technique.

The experimenting started with their songwriting, the way they put things together was quite traditional in that it was voice and guitar. Also, they weren’t modish, they didn’t want to sound whatever it was in at that moment, they almost perversely wanted to sound unlike that.

Bill would often describe the sound he wanted in oblique ways like “make the bassline green”… you’d play it and he’d go “NO! That’s blue! You’ve got to play it more green!” *laughs*


Photo by David Corio / Redferns

Some of it was just for fun, why not? Let’s just do it wrong! It was a perverse streak, a bit like what we had in THE CURE too. There’s somebody telling you how to do something… when you’re 19-20 years old, you try and do it in exactly the opposite way!

Once they got hold of the controls, they would try and subvert the sound to make their music unusual. It often worked, sometimes it didn’t but more often, it worked.

We didn’t just keep it bass / drums / guitar, we would bring in any instruments that were knocking around. So if you could lay your hands on RICK WAKEMAN’s vibraphone before it was picked up, you would!

How did producer Mike Hedges help in the creative process?

Mike’s biggest contribution was indulgence. So he was happy to try anything. Lots of producers will say “C’mon guys, this is really a waste of time!” whereas Mike was quite prepared to try stuff. When you have that sort of attitude and you don’t have anyone saying “No, look at the time, we really must crack on”, it’s great. He was experimenting as much as we were. So he wasn’t a defacto producer who was calling the shots or overriding flights of fancy, he was open to ideas. THE CURE found him sympathetic too.

associates_fourhdrawerdownWhat was your approach with regards these reissues, compared with the V2 series in 2000?

I wanted it to be out there and we had various suitors. ASSOCIATES were very clever… unlike everybody else at the time, they actually licenced their material. So that gave us the opportunity every 5-10 years to re-licence it. You normally signed a contract into perpetuity. They were shrewd, but perhaps more by accident than design. With BMG, my expectations weren’t all that high, not because I had my pre-conceptions about them, but just because in the past, people would make a cursory attempt to put it out, but they didn’t try really hard.

But BMG were completely different from day one. They became almost more obsessive than I did. We had in Ian Gilchrist, a very good label manager, he wanted to go that extra mile, every mile. That meant we dug very deep. It was them that suggested putting ‘Sulk’ out on vinyl, I wasn’t expecting that. Then he suggested making everything a double and getting some really good pictures. That’s the one thing about ASSOCIATES, they were pretty chaotic in their existence. The idea that any of us would carry a camera would be unthinkable so pictures are very hard to come by, as are any moving images.

BMG were thorough and it’s taken about a year to bring them out. People generally bark loudly about their product but I’m happy to bark loudly, with an element of surprise, because I didn’t think it would come out as well as it has.

associates_affectionatepunchWhat can you do now that you couldn’t do then?

First of all, you can sample at 92 KHz 48bit, that’s a very respectable sound. Even to my older ears, it makes a difference. It’s like wearing a particularly fine pair of glasses, you can hear more detail at the higher sample rate.

The idea of vinyl, ASSOCIATES’ previous attempts were always disastrous because we were experimental. Things wouldn’t be simple and often dense, so it would be hard to cut, moving forwards and backwards to the master for weeks and weeks.

There would be after thoughts of speeding things up or slowing them down as we did the cut. It was very hard at the time to get us sounding good, but we were never pleased how it sounded. It was cut quietly to err on the side of caution.

When the digital age came along, it was much more of a flexible process. Back then, you had two controls, which were treble and bass! That wasn’t going to be sufficient for ASSOCIATES! *laughs*

We used to watch all these people fiddle around, but now we’re more informed. What’s great for us is that you can make things sound appropriate to whatever medium somebody wants to listen to the music in. So it’s great having everything.

I don’t know many people who actually listen to vinyl, I’ve listened to it and thought “this is interesting”. But I also quite like listening to something that hasn’t got any surface noise on it too.

ASSOCIATES 18 carat love affairTaking all that into account, why does ‘18 Carat Love Affair’ appear to be a different mix to the original 1982 vinyl single version?

It’s interesting; what you have to understand is ASSOCIATES never made a fetish of looking after their master tapes. So when you finished recording something, that was it. You didn’t need the tape, so it stayed in the studio it was recorded in.

Maybe they got moved years later and put in a cellar which got damp when it rained! So for example, there isn’t any pure tape that says “Definitive ‘Sulk’ Master”

Also, typically, we’d go into the mastering room and someone would say “It’s a little bit like it’s dragging, shall we speed it up a bit?” – so you’re speeding up the master tape to make your vinyl… but who’s making a note of what percentage it was sped up at? It’s really hard, but we don’t have the definitive production masters of each record, so you have to piece it together.

Your record player may be running a bit slow or fast. By ’18 Carat Love Affair’, I think we’d moved over to another producer Mark Arthurworrey to finish things off, because Mike Hedges was working with SIOUXSIE & THE BANSHEES. Listening back, he didn’t actually remix, he more EQ-ed so that might be why you hear more or less of something. Again, that may have been tweaked in the final process to cut the vinyl.

All I can offer is my best approximation and I’ve decided I quite like it like that. As an exercise, it still keeps it alive.

Did you have to make any concessions to suit the download / streaming format that some favour today?

Not really, you make available your best possible master and then you hand it over to whoever. I was learning that Apple are quite fussy and use various studios to get their finished product, whereas Amazon are less fussy. Where do you stop? If I was supremely conscientious and fully employed in this, I could take it all the way but there’s a point you have to hand it over, so I surrender at a certain point.


Photo by David Corio / Redferns

How do you look back on the band imploding in the wake of the success of ‘Sulk’? Was there anything in hindsight that could have been done to keep Billy and Alan working together?

We would have had to have waited until we were 52, had wisdom and more understanding. It was stupid, the 80s were excessive and the focus was on style rather than content, ASSOCIATES kind of had both.

It was considered that ‘Sulk’ was a big sounding record and needed lots of people to recreate it live… it’s quite easy to see now that it was the completely wrong thing to do. Because Billy was an instinctive guy, he knew when something was wrong and would often judge people just from their clothes… that can be frustrating, because some people don’t dress particularly well. BUT, he kind of had a point as well, because you are the pair of shoes you wear very often. So he would size people up amazingly accurately. *laughs*

As the thing ballooned, he felt he was losing control of the situation and the only thing he could do was to say “No, I don’t want to do this!” – he’s the one person that you can’t do without, along with Alan as well.

associates_verybestofWhat should we have done? I say they should have gone out as a duo with a drum machine; Billy would have loved that because he loved SUICIDE.

The name ASSOCIATES, he was always keen to tell me time and time again, was that he liked to be associated with people, he didn’t want to carry a John, Paul, George and Ringo around with him.

It would have been much better if he and Alan had simply stripped it right back… the idea of stripping things down didn’t come to be mainstream until very much later.

I think Alan on guitar, with a vibraphone player and Billy singing would have been a nice sound. These songs are really good, they don’t depend entirely on production technique which a lot of stuff did at that time. When I first heard their entire repertoire of about 50 songs, they sat down in their bedroom and played the lot, and it was just voice and guitar. So that could have translated very simply to live and I think that would have saved them.

But back then, people didn’t have that sort of grasp or flexibility, it was a lot harder to do things. Things are a lot simpler now. Music is a bit more respectable and there are better people working in it too. If we were in that situation today, I’d know exactly what to do and there would be the possibility of everyone responding to that.

What are your personal favourites from these releases?

I’ve always loved ‘Skipping’ because I helped write it, but it also captures that exuberance and I know Billy liked that a lot as well, he felt that was a really strong track on ‘Sulk’. I also think ‘No’ is a very powerful, dark song which always works for me too.

People will no doubt criticise the extras as being just that and perhaps being a little superfluous, but they illustrate how you get to the hits. They’re stepping stones along the way; they’re not perfect but I find them very intriguing.

Perhaps one of my favourites is the track that I close ‘Sulk’ CD2 with, which is ‘Grecian 2000’. That was the last piece of music that we recorded before the ill-fated tour started up… that was the way it was going. When you listen to that, it’s really tantalising. Billy did start on a vocal, I remember him singing it but it wasn’t recorded. They were moving onto the next phase, yet this great steamroller got in the way… they should have gone back to the studio and just wrote another 10 of these and had another album.

ASSOCIATES Club CountryIs there much left in the ASSOCIATES vaults that aren’t on these reissues?

Back in 2000 when I last did it, I thought “that’s it, nothing else is going to come up”… but because the ASSOCIATES vault never seems definitive, this time, much more stuff did surface. The longest, most intense period is trying to trawl through who might possibly have something.

The multi-tracks of ‘Club Country’ and ‘Party Fears Two’ were lost a long time ago and miraculously, I don’t know where it came from, we finally found ‘Club Country’.

We still don’t have ‘Party Fears Two’, so somebody has got that somewhere or it’s at the bottom of the River Tay. So next time somebody asks me to do this, who knows?

I knew they existed but we only just got the masters for the John Leckie produced tracks; one is ‘Australia’ and the other is an early version of ‘Arrogance Gave Him Up’ called ‘Me, Myself & The Tragic Story’. ‘Australia’ is interesting because it’s a completely different production so had we gone down the John Leckie road, ‘Sulk’ would have sounded very different.

What’s your take on the continual interest in ASSOCIATES?

It doesn’t surprise me. I find it hard, then and now, to describe what they sound like. They were outsiders, and that’s sort of where I came from with THE CURE, we were on the edges of lots of things, but never sounded like anybody.

While other bands managed to get a contemporary sound and prosper, I don’t think ASSOCIATES ever got a contemporary sound, and so didn’t prosper! But long term, that makes it more fascinating for a lot of people. It’s that ultraplicity of references that you hear in the music which draws disparate people in, but it’s not a particular sound. That’s why I think people still find them very intriguing.

You’ve got a great singer, me and Alan were talking about this today and about who around at the time would really have stood up against Billy… some kept it simple and pulled it off, but Billy didn’t keep it simple. He often tried too hard, but he worked it beyond the call of duty sometimes, particularly live.

He could do things no-one else could do with his voice; everybody recognised that at the time and people still recognise that now.

It was the combination of him and Alan; as Billy was a brilliant singer, Alan was a brilliant musician who could play anything, and did play anything. Between the two of them, they were great songwriters too, they really loved music.

When you’ve got that collision of positives, then you’re going to come up with something different and outstanding.

ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK gives its warmest thanks to Michael Dempsey

Additional thanks to Stuart Kirkham at Hall Or Nothing Independent Publicity

‘The Affectionate Punch’, ‘Fourth Drawer Down’, ‘Sulk’ and ‘The Very Best of ASSOCIATES’ are available now as 2CD packages via BMG


Text and Interview by Chi Ming Lai
21st May 2016


Photo by Sheila Rock

Like their contemporaries JAPAN, Scotland’s ASSOCIATES are a band that burned briefly but brightly.

Fronted by the mercurial Billy MacKenzie and driven musically by multi-instrumentalist Alan Rankine, the group’s entire back catalogue has been remastered, accompanied by a new compilation.

The MacKenzie / Rankine era albums ’The Affectionate Punch’, ‘Fourth Drawer Down’ and ‘Sulk’ have been supervised by silent partner and bassist Michael Dempsey.

These 2CD deluxe editions include previously unreleased tracks and 28 page booklets featuring unseen photos, rare memorabilia and extensive sleeve notes to do justice to the ASSOCIATES legacy.

Alan Rankine

Photo by David Corio / Redferns

The young Alan Rankine grew up in Linlithgow, a town that was stuck between Glasgow and Edinburgh in more than just the geographical sense.

The way he and MacKenzie came together seemed almost predestined, with the pair forming a live covers band to keep themselves afloat as a sustainable entity, while demoing their own material.

Courted by a number of labels, they decided to take control of the situation and independently released a cover of ‘Boys Keep Swinging’ only weeks after the Bowie original came out. As if by magic, Fiction Records offered a deal and their first album ‘The Affectionate Punch’ came out in 1980.

However, they were unhappy with their time on a conventional label and opted thereafter to licence their material, first with Situation 2 for their second album ‘Fourth Drawer Down’ and WEA for their commercial breakthrough ‘Sulk’. During their run of three chart hits in 1982, it would be fair to say ASSOCIATES gave SIMPLE MINDS a run for their money in the art rock stakes.

Photo by Antoine Giacomoni

But stardom was not really something that suited ASSOCIATES, particularly MacKenzie. Sadly after the cancellation of a world tour, the pair parted ways, leaving SIMPLE MINDS to head for the stadiums while A-HA took up the mantle left vacant for melancholic cinematic multi-octave synthpop.

With the upcoming reissues soon to be released, Alan Rankine kindly spoke about his time with ASSOCIATES and the legend of Billy MacKenzie.

You and Billy played in a covers band which seems miles away from the usual route to the way bands at the time. Is the cover ‘Eloise’ on the ‘Very Best of ASSOCIATES’ indicative of the material were you playing?

Bill and I had a real affection for these kinda big sounding singles from the ‘67-‘68, we’re talking about things like ‘Rainbow Valley’ by LOVE AFFAIR, horns and strings and stuff. So we ended up doing a punk version of ‘Eloise’ by BARRY & PAUL RYAN, it was at breakneck speed!

As his catalogue has shown, Billy was very comfortable with doing covers?

We were both very keen on doing the occasional cover version. When we were in the studio or even at soundchecks, we would start playing ‘Brown Sugar’ or ‘Let’s Spend The Night Together’ by THE ROLLING STONES, or a Bowie or Roxy song. And then we would go onto ‘The Look Of Love’ by DUSTY SPRINGFIELD.

Associates-duoYou and Billy bonded over a shared love of ROXY MUSIC, DAVID BOWIE and SPARKS. Was it a gradual process coming up with that Venn diagram which became your sound?

I know exactly what you mean… it’s a Venn diagram with a few circles crossing over, but central to a lot of it was Bowie, a bit of Roxy, a bit art of art rock a la THE TUBES maybe and a bit of zaniness like THE REZILLOS. There was always an element of cheekiness in there. Anyone that was into music at that time just could not help be influenced by Bowie, but I think we had a more cinematic approach.

We loved our film themes, how they could hug your emotions and pull you this way and that way, just with a change of a chord here and the introduction of a different instrument there.

The cover of ‘Boys Keep Swinging’ forced Fiction’s hand and led to the recording of ’The Affectionate Punch’. You seemed to almost immediately find your own sound.

We did the recording of ’The Affectionate Punch’ very quickly in about three and a half weeks including mixing and mastering. Then we went into rehearsals and only played three songs from the ten track album which didn’t please the record company very much. But we just said “F*** YOU”, we just played what we felt was good. ’The Affectionate Punch’ has a lot of keyboards on it and we wanted to go out as just guitar / bass / drums / vocals. We played ‘Gloomy Sunday’ as well, which didn’t surface on record until 1982, so it was a bit of a mish-mash.

associates - message oblique speechHow did you get back into using synths again?

When you’re out there playing live to 600-700 people, it’s really fun to have a post-punk aesthetic but when you start recording again, it’s a luxury and you’ve got to have this sound. So we had five keyboards all lined-up ready to go, five different guitars and five different amps.

We would work at breakneck speed, not because there was a time pressure, but because we had so many ideas coming into our heads at the same time. We wanted sumptuousness and for it to be dripping with silk and satin, we didn’t want cotton! *laughs*

Which keyboards where you using?

Digital-wise, we used the Synclavier. These geeky guys used deliver this thing which we hired by the day and it had floppy discs. It was fairly primitive, but it worked. Apart from that, we used Oberheims, Solinas, Yamaha CS80s, that sort of thing… there was another one starting with a ‘P’ but I can’t remember what it was! *laughs*

We liked to try and do different things; very seldom did we just use a preset sound and not put an effect on it in some way. Sometimes, we would just play a sound and hold down the notes of a chord and changed positions as the chord progression changed, and the sound would open up as the snare drum would hit. So it was like a Wah-Wah effect which was in time with the snare. The snare drum triggered off the sound, so it would open up and immediately shut.

‘White Car In Germany’ was an obvious nod to KRAFTWERK and LA DÜSSELDORF, but I seem to remember Billy saying he was really into THE HUMAN LEAGUE?

Yes, I can remember when we were in Ashley Newton of RSO Records’ BMW and he was playing THE HUMAN LEAGUE when he drove us to the studio. We thought it was great; I wouldn’t call Phil Oakey a vocalist, I would call him a vocaliser and there was brilliant songwriting from Jo Callis who was in THE REZILLOS. He wrote ‘Don’t You Want Me?’ so yeah, it was just the sheer pop of it. To us, it was really no difference between that and ‘Dancing Queen’ by ABBA, that’s bloody genius!

You and Billy popped down to The Blitz Club occasionally and you documented your experiences on ‘Club Country’…

We were definitely there fairly early on when it was in Great Queen Street. Yes, it was a bit exotic and yes, it was a bit pretentious but it was a young animal finding its feet; sometimes it did feel a little bit elitist and I think that was the nature of the beast, it was what it was.

I don’t think we really fitted in; I think SPANDAU BALLET fitted in there but I think we fell between two points. We were not New Romantics, we were not post-punk… were we new wave? I don’t know! The closest I can think of, if there was a category called Barking Mad, that’s where we would lie! *laughs*

associates-kitchen personWhat was the approach to recording Billy? Do you remember any particular quirks you can remember?

Recording Bill was such a luxury. After I went on to produce other people, I thought everyone was like that, I thought they all got it in one or two takes!

God, how wrong I was! I found myself thinking “this is sh*t” and they’re on like their 40th take in the studio and it’s still not right!

So you’re having to make up composites of five different takes!

On ‘White Car In Germany’ and ‘Kitchen Person’, Bill did sing through greaseproof paper and a comb. And into the bargain, on ‘Kitchen Person’ he was singing down the hose of a vacuum cleaner before it got to the mic.

‘Party Fears Two’ hit the top 10 in early 1982. The instrumental version included on CD2 of ‘Sulk’ brought a tear to my eye for a number of reasons. It revealed a lot of layers and each instrument has its own voice, but ultimately, Billy is missing…

You’re exactly right there; it’s like a great big hole. Yes, the instrumental sounds good and you can hear things more clearly in a more defined way. But yes, the lyrics, the vocal expression and the colour of the human voice, Bill had it all.

Looking back, you weren’t ones for following the usual script. With the subsequent success of ‘Sulk’, it set you on the path that led to implosion of the band.

We recorded ‘The Affectionate Punch’ in the Spring of 1980 but promptly ditched most of the album and did new songs, some of which would appear on later albums and played in Scotland.

I’ve looked up our gigography and we were up there for about two and a half months, playing maybe thirteen or fourteen gigs. So there was no tour laid out in front of us, it was more “oh, have we got a gig this week?”

Then we moved down to London and it was slightly more structured there. We’d play a month of Sundays at The Marquee etc but still, not like a world tour. But having your life mapped out for the next fifteen months, where you’re going to be, who’s going to meet you, how many radio stations you’re doing, how many press interviews you’re doing, that to Bill was just an anathema… that would freak anyone out, but it freaked Bill out because he was being boxed in. All we really wanted to do was be creative. Or if he was going to do a concert or two or three, that would be enough… ten days into the future was enough for Bill to take.

’18 Carat Love Affair’ is often considered the anomaly in the ASSOCIATES’ cannon and has been described as “quasi Neil Sedaka”… how do you look back on it? In retrospect, it was quite subversive to have a perfect pop song about a secret gay relationship in the charts in 1982.

Yeah, that’s another one. With ‘Party Fears Two’, the piano motif was written by us in 1977… we stared at each other hungover one Sunday morning and said “this is good but we can’t use this right now”. And indeed, we didn’t until five years later, the market just wasn’t there for it.

Similarly with ’18 Carat Love Affair’, to me it’s like 60s pop song, the melody, the feel of it. I like the fact it’s got an agony aunt in the lyrics, Evelyn Home who was in ‘Woman’ magazine and it was about a secret gay affair.


Photo by Richard Haughton

Is there anything you could have done differently in retrospect to keep the partnership together with Billy?

I really don’t think so, because Bill needed to stretch his legs creatively and work with other people… I get that now. At the time, yes I was mad as hell and all the rest of it, but that’s what he needed to do. He needed to work with YELLO and write the lyrics and melody to ‘The Rhythm Divine’; he needed to not be with me. I don’t think there was anything we could have done about that.

You continued to record with other artists like PAUL HAIG and WINSTON TONG. Would the recordings you did with them be an indicator of how ASSOCIATES might have sounded if you’d continued to work with Billy?

They’re different in that Paul’s a great vocalist, but he’s not Billy; he’s not got a four octave range and Paul really can’t sing unless it’s through microphones, he needs his voice to be electrified for him to feel comfortable.

Winston? Not the greatest singer! You had a forty-five minute window to try and get a performance out of him before he fell over, he was taking a little too much heroin although I’m glad to say he’s clean now. But he was having a real bad time when he was recording the ‘Theoretically Chinese’ album with me.

Again, with Paul and Winston and with whoever else, everything was done very quickly and it was always a great laugh and good fun.

AlanRankine-She loves me notAfter several solo records on Les Disques du Crépuscule and Virgin, you got back together with Billy in 1993 but he didn’t follow it through with the pressure for live shows. Was there no-one willing to take ASSOCIATES on as a studio-only band?

No, all the record companies were interested, but they were saying “PROVE IT!”… that was like a red rag to a bull for Bill, he just said “I’m not f***ing proving myself to anyone! Get real!”

Would the environment of today with self-releasing been better for him?

It probably would have suited Bill right down to the ground.

Are you surprised by people’s continual fascination with the band?

I think there’s a great deal of good will with regards the memory of ASSOCIATES and the memory of Bill, plus a certain amount of frustration because a lot of people that heard us in ‘81 and ‘82 hadn’t seen us play live in 1980-81, so you never know… *laughs*

What are your personal favourites from these releases?

On ‘The Very Best Of ASSOCIATES’, it’s got to be ‘International Loner’ and ‘Edge Of The World’. These were both done in the 1993 sessions; I see and hear them as a much more mature sound. I suppose ‘Skipping’ is probably my all-time favourite, although really, it’s ‘Party Fears Two’ because it gets played a lot.

But also, if you go back to the cover versions, ‘Long Hangover’ because I can remember being in Moulin Rouge Studios and Bill did that in two takes. There’s something about doing a cover version because you’re not in any way insular or self-conscious. Just watching and listening to Bill in full flight without a care in the world, there’s something very special about that.

What does the future hold for yourself?

I’ve done everything from perfume adverts to wet your panties teen pop. I just write and write whatever comes into my mind.

associates_verybestofELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK gives its warmest thanks to Alan Rankine

Additional thanks to Stuart Kirkham at Hall Or Nothing Independent Publicity

The expanded 2CD deluxe edition reissues of ‘The Affectionate Punch’, ‘Fourth Drawer Down’ and ‘Sulk’ are released by BMG on 13th May 2016

The 2CD anthology ‘The Very Best Of ASSOCIATES’ is available now via Union Square through the usual retailers


Text and Interview by Chi Ming Lai and Ian Ferguson
28th April 2016

It’s Better This Way: The ASSOCIATES Legacy

associates_verybestofThe timely release of ‘The Very Best of ASSOCIATES’ featuring their hits ‘Party Fears Two’, ‘Club Country’ and ’18 Carat Love Affair’ creates an opportunity for the work of Billy MacKenzie and Alan Rankine to be re-evaluated and re-discovered.

With a partnership covering a period of just three albums, this anthology is only a part of the story.

It’s an artistic legacy that has influenced the likes of CLAUDIA BRÜCKENHEAVEN 17, A-HA, BJÖRK and SIN COS TAN.

Thus, the new 2CD slipcased deluxe editions of the MacKenzie / Rankine era ASSOCIATES albums ‘The Affectionate Punch’, ‘Fourth Drawer Down’ and ‘Sulk’, supervised by bassist and silent partner Michael Dempsey, delve even further with a treasure trove of previously unreleased tracks, accompanied by 28 page booklets featuring extensive sleeve notes, unseen photos and rare memorabilia.

With Billy MacKenzie’s otherworldly four-and-a-half octave range on top of Alan Rankine’s intricate instrumentation, ASSOCIATES were a majestic and outlandish new pop take on Weimar cabaret in a newly emerging electronic world. But MacKenzie’s eccentricity could make him difficult to work with and led to the pair eventually parting ways in late 1982. MacKenzie continued sporadically with the ASSOCIATES name and as a solo artist, but always a troubled soul, he sadly took his own life in 1997 a year after the death of his mother.

Very much Bowie fans, ASSOCIATES opened their account with a not particularly good cover of ‘Boys Keep Swinging’ in 1979, released not long after the original. MacKenzie was very much into reinterpretation and despite this lacklustre debut, history has shown he could be highly adept at it. On the second CD of extras, an unreleased take on Barry Ryan’s ‘Eloise’ explores heavier rock templates and points as to where ASSOCIATES could have headed instead of the kaleidoscopic sound they became known for.

associates_affectionatepunchPoignantly, ‘The Very Best of ASSOCIATES’ includes a live cover of ‘Gloomy Sunday’, a suicide song composed by Hungarian pianist Rezső Seress in 1933 and said to have cursed every artist who has ever performed it.

ASSOCIATES’ first long player was the guitar dominated ‘The Affectionate Punch’ with its great ‘Low’ pitched title song opener on Fiction Records.

But the duo were quickly dissatisfied with it, so they requested to end their deal and reworked a number of tracks for its subsequent 1982 re-release; this reissue campaign reinstates the original 1980 album.

Aspiring to expand their sound with a wider palette, the first musical signs of a fascination with European electronic music came with the funereal pulse of ‘White Car In Germany’. The swirling electronics were intended to sound as un-American as possible and accurately captured post-war tensions under the spectre of the atomic bomb.

associates_fourhdrawerdownIt was part of a singles deal with the Beggars Banquet subsidiary Situation2 which eventually formed ASSOCIATES’ second album ‘Fourth Drawer Down’ in 1981.

Also featuring the almost out-of-tune ‘The Associate’, the quirky instrumental showcased their sense of fun with MacKenzie’s distorted screaming making its presence felt. Meanwhile ‘Q Quarters’ and ‘Tell Me Easter’s On Friday’ were produced by a young Flood, later to work with DEPECHE MODE on ‘Violator’ and ‘Songs Of Faith & Devotion’. The resultant press exposure led to a deal with Beggars Banquet’s distributor WEA.

Throughout this period, Rankine and MacKenzine were almost holding themselves back, fighting against the poppier instincts that had come from their love of early ROXY MUSIC, SPARKS and Philadelphia soul. In the interim, they produced yet another cover ‘Kites’ for RSO Records, under the pseudonym of 39 LYON STREET with Christine Beverage on lead vocals. Originally recorded by SIMON DUPREE & THE BIG SOUND, it featured a more post-punk disco template and prepared for ASSOCIATES’ brief entry into the big league alongside fellow Scots SIMPLE MINDS in Spring 1982.

With its iconic jangle piano line, ‘Party Fears Two’ was the first time that many had heard the neo-operatics of Billy MacKenzie. Dealing with the perils of schizophrenia, it also kick started the brief imperial phase when ASSOCIATES subverted the UK charts with an outlandish approach that fitted in with the concurrent New Romantic movement. They felt a slight affinity with The Blitz Club crowd, but noting the scene’s vacuous nature, MacKenzie and Rankine opted to attack it in the magnificent ‘Club Country’.

Produced by Mike Hedges, the parent ‘Sulk’ album, featuring different versions of ‘Party Fears Two’ and ‘Club Country’, was a triumph.

From the frantic instrumental ‘Arrogance Gave Him Up’ to the chromatic overtures of ‘Skipping’ to the evocative drama of ‘No’, the music had the basis for being more accessible, but was still challenging and inventive.

Although MacKenzie’s more bonkers instincts couldn’t be masked on tracks like ‘Nude Spoons’ and ‘Bap De La Bap’, the brilliant ‘It’s Better This Way’ was art and pop in perfect unison.

ASSOCIATES’ imperial phase closed in the summer of 1982 with ’18 Carat Love Affair’; it was their most commercial offering and described by MacKenzie as their “quasi-Neil Sedaka” song. While the narrative was subversive in the extreme, being about a gay affair that MacKenzie was trying to hide, Rankine was uncomfortable with its overt poppiness. So unhappy was Rankine, that the song was instrumentalised to become the ‘Sulk’ album closer ‘nothinginsomethingparticular’.

Whatever, ’18 Carat Love Affair’ possessed one of the greatest synthesizer riffs ever. Released as single, after it charted, it was eventually flipped for the B-side, a joyous art funk cover of disco-era Motown standard ‘Love Hangover’ which Rankine was more satisfied with.


Photo by Sheila Rock

Sales of ‘Sulk’ meant a demand for touring and a nine-piece live band featuring notable musicians such as Martha Ladly and Stephen Emmer was assembled by Rankine for a world tour. But in the cocaine frenzy that was now seriously affecting the partnership, MacKenzie pulled out of the tour, disillusioned by the expectations of success.

The duo reconvened in 1993, demoing six songs including ‘Stephen, You’re Really Something’, MacKenzie’s response to THE SMITHS ‘William, It Was Really Nothing’.

But any label interest came with the pre-requisite of live shows; for MacKenzie, that was unacceptable and sadly that was that.

ASSOCIATES’ strength and weakness was their refusal to play the record industry game, but it led to both triumph and tragedy. In that respect, the most tearful moment in this series of deluxe reissues is the previously unissued instrumental of ‘Party Fears Two’ found on CD2 of ‘Sulk’… while the marvellous subtle layers of Rankine’s arrangement are now more revealed, what ultimately is missing is the voice of Billy MacKenzie 🙁

Dedicated to the memory of Billy MacKenzie 1957-1997

With thanks to Stuart Kirkham at Hall Or Nothing Independent Publicity

‘The Very Best of ASSOCIATES’ is released by Union Square / BMG as a 2CD digipak set and download

The expanded deluxe edition reissues of ‘The Affectionate Punch’, ‘Fourth Drawer Down’ and ‘Sulk’ are released on 6th May 2016 in a variety of formats

A 500 edition green vinyl 7 inch version of ‘Party Fears Two’ backed with ‘Australia’ is available for RSD2016



Interview by Chi Ming Lai
9th April 2016

A Beginner’s Guide To BILLY MACKENZIE

Photo by Richard Haughton

When ASSOCIATES appeared on ‘Top Of The Pops’ in March 1982 with ‘Party Fears Two’, it was the first time that many had experienced the kaleidoscopic vocal of Billy Mackenzie.

With the passion of an otherworldly Orbison crossed with David Bowie and Russell Mael, Mackenzie’s outlandish operatics with a four-and-a-half octave range made him a stand out character during the post-punk era, especially with his love of whippets.

With influences like early ROXY MUSIC, SPARKS, Philadelphia soul and jazz, he sounded like Mario Lanza on amphetamines with a modern majestic take on Weimar cabaret. But as his ASSOCIATES founding partner Alan Rankine experienced, Mackenzie’s personality quirks could make it difficult for him to channel his obvious talent.

With his notorious eccentricity and mercurial temperament, this inevitably led to the pair parting ways in late 1982 after just three albums. It could be argued that if Mackenzie had been prepared to play the pop game, could ASSOCIATES have been as big as A-HA?

Martyn Ware, who worked with Mackenzie on both BEF and post-Rankine ASSOCIATES recordings, said in 2011: “Everybody knows he was bonkers and had a particular take on things but musically, we fitted together very well. He lacked a little in terms of understanding the production process and how sound fitted together but what he lacked in that respect, he made up for in his arrangement ideas”.

Photo by Sheila Rock

Always a troubled soul, Mackenzie sadly took his own life in 1997 less than a year after the death of his mother.

But his legacy has lived on as a key musical influence on Nordic acts such as BJÖRK and SIN COS TAN while songs such as ‘Club Country’ and ‘Party Fears Two’ have remained in the public consciousness, courtesy of covers by ONETWO and HEAVEN 17 respectively. Also, an upcoming single ‘Untouchable’ by Glenn Gregory and Stephen Emmer has been conceived as a tribute to him.

Scattered across more than ten full length albums, various collaborations and one-off recordings, what songs deserve to be on an imaginary compilation as an introduction to Mackenzie’s work?

Here are 18 songs which ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK have chosen to gather the sporadic genius of Billy Mackenzie. They are in the majority his most accessible recordings and also include a significant number of covers; but there are no apologies for that. The aim is to prompt further investigation into his vast catalogue by being simultaneously populist and elitist 😉

ASSOCIATES White Car In Germany (1981)

ASSOCIATES debuted with a fairly guitar dominated album ‘The Affectionate Punch’ on Fiction Records. But the first signs of a fascination towards the Neu! musik aus Deutschland came with the funereal pulse of ‘White Car In Germany’. The swirling electronics, cold atmosphere and treated percussion were intended to sound as un-American as possible. The lyric “Aberdeen’s an old place – Düsseldorf’s a cold place – Cold as spies can be” accurately captured post-war tensions under the spectre of the bomb.

Available on the ASSOCIATES album ‘Fourth Drawer Down’ via BMG

ASSOCIATES Party Fears Two (1982)

With its iconic honky tonk piano line and sophisticated arrangement, ‘Party Fears Two’ was a magnificent song about dealing with the perils of schizophrenia, made all the more resonant by Mackenzie’s operatic prowess . It also kick started a brief period when ASSOCIATES subverted the UK charts with an avant pop approach that fitted in with the Synth Britannia template of the times. A Top10 hit and emotive to the nth degree, the original single version is still the best and total perfection.

Available on the ASSOCIATES album ‘Singles’ via WEA Records

BEF The Secret Life Of Arabia (1982)

A highlight from the ‘Heroes’ album, Mackenzie’s version of ‘The Secret Life Of Arabia’ with BEF was even more eccentric and histrionic than Bowie’s original which now seemed straightforward in comparison. Featuring Britfunk exponents Jo Dworniak of I LEVEL and Neville ‘Breeze’ McKreith of LIGHT OF THE WORLD syncopating to Martyn Ware’s thunderous Linn Drum program and Roland VP-330 textures, it was one of two Mackenzie voiced tracks that formed the original ‘Music Of Quality & Distinction Vol1’ opus.

Available on the BEF album ‘1981-2011’ via Virgin Records

BEF It’s Over (1982)

This eccentric cover of the Roy Orbision evergreen ‘It’s Over’ closed ‘Music Of Quality & Distinction Vol1’ and featured among its guitarists Hank Marvin and John Foxx whose studio The Garden was the venue for the recording. Operatic extremes with a pop heart, Mackenzie was on top form as Martyn Ware’s beloved Linn Drum led an orchestral arrangement by John Barker that gave him plenty of room to indulge in his big theatrics without overplaying the emotion and despair.

Available on the BEF album ‘1981-2011’ via Virgin Records

ASSOCIATES Club Country (1982)

ASSOCIATES felt a slight affinity with the New Romantic movement but following a night out in The Blitz Club, Mackenzie and Rankine opted to note their perceptions of the scene’s vacuous nature via a musical outlet. ‘Club Country’ threw in vicious synthesizer lines, manic rhythm guitar and crashing treated drums. Mike Hedges’ layer-upon-layer production was key to the song’s impact. Kind of reflecting CHIC’s experiences at Studio 54, ‘Club Country’ was Synth Britannia’s very own ‘Le Freak’.

Available on the ASSOCIATES album ‘Singles’ via WEA

ASSOCIATES Gloomy Sunday (1982)

From ASSOCIATES’ debut single ‘Boys Keep Swinging’ onwards, Mackenzie was very much into reinterpretation and he was highly adept at it too. Poignantly, ‘Gloomy Sunday’ was a suicide song composed by Hungarian pianist Rezső Seress in 1933. With English lyrics by Sam M. Lewis, it was made famous by Billie Holiday in 1941. Brought up to date with some synthesized seasoning and a hypnotic bass backbone from Michael Dempsey, its genius lay in retaining the original’s impending doom.

Available on the ASSOCIATES album ‘Sulk’ via BMG

ASSOCIATES 18 Carat Love Affair (1982)

Described by Mackenzie as a “quasi-Neil Sedaka song”, ’18 Carat Love Affair’ was a fine example of ASSOCIATES’ supreme avant pop. Martha Ladly’s girlie shrill went hand-in-hand with the incessant synth riff in this tale about a gay affair that Mackenzie was trying to hide. But Rankine was uncomfortable with its overt poppiness, so it was instrumentalised as ‘nothinginsomethingparticular’ to end the original version of the ‘Sulk’ album. It ended up on the US version of ‘Sulk’ with a revised tracklisting.

Please note, the rare 1988 CD of ‘Sulk’ based on the US Edition is the only way that the original single version can be obtained digitally as the version on the ‘Popera’ collection, the remastered V2 edition of ‘Sulk’ and the later ‘Singles’ compilation is an inferior mix with half the synths and backing vocals missing!

Available on the ASSOCIATES album ‘Sulk (US Edition)’ via WEA Records

ASSOCIATES Those First Impressions (1984)

Continuing where BEF had left off but with more obvious use of synths, Martyn Ware produced this single for Mackenzie’s solo return as ASSOCIATES. It had the classic ASSOCIATES sound despite the absence of Alan Rankine who had left in late 1982 following Mackenzie’s refusal to tour the ‘Sulk’ album. But although it was a good song, some of the magic was missing. It could have been why ‘Those First Impressions’ narrowly failed to crack the UK Top40.

Available on the ASSOCIATES double album ‘Perhaps / The Glamour Chase’ via WEA

ASSOCIATES Kites (1984 – released 2003)

Originally a surreal psychedelic number by SIMON DUPREE & THE BIG SOUND, this was first recorded by ASSOCIATES in 1981 under the pseudonym of 39 LYON STREET with Christine Beverage on lead vocals. Mackenzie recorded a new version with himself on lead vocals in a more frantic arrangement for a BBC Radio 1 session in 1984 as part of a getting back on the horse process for ‘Perhaps’. These recordings  captured an interesting interregnum in Mackenzie’s career.

Available on the ASSOCIATES album ‘The Radio One Sessions Vol. 2 1984 – 1985’ via Strange Fruit Records; 39 LYON STREET version available on the ASSOCIATES album ‘Singles’ via WEA

ASSOCIATES Waiting For The Love Boat (1984)

Mackenzie obviously loved THE HUMAN LEAGUE so as well as working with Martyn Ware, he roped in ‘Dare’ producer Martin Rushent to handle duties on a couple of the tracks from ‘Perhaps’. ‘Waiting For The Loveboat’ was the last song Mackenzie and Rankine actually wrote in their first phase together but it was solely credited to Mackenzie as part of their eventual divorce deal when they split in late 1982. ‘Waiting For The Love Boat’, though more glossy in sound, could have easily come off ‘Sulk’.

Available on the ASSOCIATES album ‘Singles’ via WEA

ASSOCIATES Breakfast (1985)

‘Perhaps’ was a comparative disappointment as an ASSOCIATES album after the wondrousness of ‘Sulk’, with many of the tracks suffering from being too long and too smooth. But one song which stood out was the epic string laden drama of ‘Breakfast’ produced by Martin Rushent. 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.

Available on the ASSOCIATES double album ‘Perhaps / The Glamour Chase’ via WEA

YELLO featuring BILLY MACKENZIE The Rhythm Divine – Version Two (1987)

Written in collaboration with YELLO, this immense brooding ballad became a European hit for the Swiss duo featuring the vocals of Dame Shirley Bassey. ‘The Rhythm Divine’ had originally been written as part of an ambitious project about Marilyn Monroe under the working title of ‘Norma Jean’. Mackenzie’s own vocalled version had been released as a 12” single in its own right, while it was also due to be included on ‘The Glamour Chase’ album which WEA then refused to release for being uncommercial.

Available on the ASSOCIATES double album ‘Perhaps / The Glamour Chase’ via WEA

ASSOCIATES Fire To Ice (1990)

If there was a computer programme to produce a composite ASSOCIATES hit single, then it probably would have come with up ‘Fire To Ice’. With Mackenzie now free from all the hassles at WEA and finding a new home in Circa Records, ‘Fire To Ice’ acquitted itself well as a potential hit single following ‘The Glamour Chase’ debacle. But despite the fresh approach to a classic sound, ‘Fire To Ice’ failed to capture mass sales recognition needed to re-establish Mackenzie to a wider audience.

Available on the ASSOCIATES album ‘Wild & Lonely’ via Circa Records

YELLO Capri Calling (1991)

A smooth, sunset romance in collaboration with old friends YELLO, the title said it all. ‘Capri Calling’ was a most beautiful set piece that captured a gentle Mediterranean spirit. From YELLO’s ‘Baby’ album, a fair number of Mackenzie best songs post-Rankine were with Boris Blank and Dieter Meier. So it was a shame he never did a full album with the duo. The soaring ‘Baby’ title track which Mackenzie also did with YELLO did not appear on the album, but later featured on his first solo long player ‘Outernational’.

Available on the YELLO album ‘Baby’ via Mercury Records

APOLLO 440 Pain In Any Language (1997)

Widely known to be the last song Mackenzie recorded, ‘Pain In Any Language’ was a sombre collaboration with APOLLO 440 which sounded fittingly like a lost ASSOCIATES track. This was an air of ethereal Cold War chic with synthetic cimbalom and windy sweeps for that epic Eastern European feel that Marc Almond often liked to strive for. Fittingly, APOLLO 440 played at the 2007 tribute gig at London’s Shepherds Bush Empire alongside BEF and ONETWO.

Available on the APOLLO 440 album Electro Glide In Blue via Epic Records and the BILLY MACKENZIE album ‘Auchtermatic’ via One Little Indian

HAIG / MACKENZIE Transobsession (1999)

Posthumously released, this midtempo dance number was from a joint album Mackenzie had been working on with Paul Haig, another under rated Scottish talent. Lyrics such as “calling all nations, station to station” harked back to Mackenzie’s love of Bowie while the rhythmical groove proved that his voice still had relevance in a modern club orientated world. Also from these sessions was a recording of EURYTHMICS’ ‘Here Comes The Rain Again’ which surfaced on the 2004 electro collection ‘Auchtermatic’.

Available on the HAIG / MACKENZIE album ‘Memory Palace’ via Rhythm Of Life

BILLY MACKENZIE Never Turn Your Back On Mother Earth (2001)

Part of the ‘Wild Is The Wind’ covers EP issued by Rhythm Of Life, this heartfelt version of ‘Never Turn Your Back On Mother Earth’ was certainly superior to Martin Gore’s version on ‘Counterfeit’ and close to equalling the fabulous SPARKS original. Stripped down to piano and strings with Mackenzie’s haunted falsetto at the centre, this was a fine reinterpretation. The posthumous ‘Transmission Impossible’ selection issued in 2004 ensured that more people could hear it.

Available on the BILLY MACKENZIE album ‘Transmission Impossible’ via One Little Indian

BILLY MACKENZIE Boltimoore – Original JiiHoo Bootmix (2011)

The vocal from Mackenzie’s stark cover of Randy Newman’s ‘Baltimore’ from the ‘Wild Is The Wind’ EP was flown into a hypnotic bootleg dance track by ace producer Jori Hulkkonen, best known for his work with John Foxx and as part of SIN COS TAN. With deliberate incorrect spelling of our hero’s name to mask its illegal nature, this was a haunting ghostly return from the heavens to the dancefloor. Mackenzie would have loved it and had he been alive today, he would have almost certainly been working with Hulkkonen.

Available on the 12 inch vinyl release ‘Boltimoore’ b/w ’Ghouls’ via Kojak Giant Sounds

In memory of BILLY MACKENZIE 1957 – 1997




Text by Chi Ming Lai
24th March 2014, updated 16th June 2019