After an excellent debut album featuring great songs such as ‘Age Of The Train’, ‘After Dark’ and ‘The Ballad Of Remedy Nilsson’, INTERNATIONAL TEACHERS OF POP bring more of their danceable synthy togetherness to the safety of your own home with some ‘Pop Gossip’.
Sheffield veterans Adrian Flanagan and Dean Honer of THE MOONLANDINGZ, along with vocalist Leonore Wheatley have added her primary school mate Katie Mason to take up the space vacated by THE HUMAN LEAGUE since Oakey, Catherall and Sulley opted for the lucrative if not artistically challenging nostalgia circuit.
Having co-produced THE HUMAN LEAGUE’s ‘Credo’, Dean Honer has steered the staff room to put into realisation the kind of album Oakey and Co should have been making in the first place. In celebration of the local Ritzy, opening tune ‘Don’t Diss The Disco’ squiggles in the bass department and wonderfully recalls handbags piled on the dancefloor with a few more energetic hooks than can be found on the latest ERASURE album.
Taking in the serious subject of misogyny and #MeToo, ‘Gaslight’ utilises a prominent offbeat and a chorus out of THE HUMAN LEAGUE songbook. With a more ironic approach on a similar gist “cos you’re an arseh*le”, the bouncy dancehall of ‘I Stole Yer Plimoles’ featuring Jason Williamson of SLEAFORD MODS may not be for everyone, but its sardonic nature encapsulates the departed spirit of YOUNGER YOUNGER 28s, a Northern English band from before the turn of the century who also owed a small debt to THE HUMAN LEAGUE.
But the moodier synth excursions of ‘Flood The Club’ recall the early avant pop phase of THE HUMAN LEAGUE set to a more metronomic beat and there’s even a subtle air of Eastern Promise attempting to break through amongst the cleverly chopped-up and manipulated vocals.
Meanwhile, the laid back approach of ‘A Change’ isn’t far off being an R n B soul ballad in the vein of ROSE ROYCE (or for younger listeners BRANDY) and it adds a new string to the bow of INTERNATIONAL TEACHERS OF POP.
Recalling the topline phrasing of ‘I Feel Love’, Katie Mason makes her lead vocal debut on ‘Prince (The Final Wheelie)’, a wonderful electronic disco tribute to The Purple One rather than Harry although HRH and his missus are the subject of the album’s closer ‘The Tower’; that provides the brilliant uptempo album closer and amusingly imagines Queen Elizabeth II telling her Beefeaters to “Take them to The Tower, it’s a beautiful day, take them away!” like a future scene from series 6 of ‘The Crown’.
On ‘The Red Dots (Dirty Mind)’ , the verse of comes over like Joanne Catherall singing lead for THE HUMAN LEAGUE for the first time, while the sub-two minute ‘Beats Working For A Living (For Martin)’ is more experimental with pulses in portamento and glitchy voices all in unison.
If you got an ‘A’ grade in German O level, then you will know ‘Ein Weiterer Stein In Der Wand’ is PINK FLOYD’s ‘Another Brick In The Wall’ sung in Deutsch before even playing it. A bold statement on the state of the nation and Brexit, Adrian Flanagan said: “I hope that statement is ‘I hate PINK FLOYD but love KRAFTWERK’ and / or – ‘I hate you but love the EU’”.
Brilliantly sparkling and thumping in keeping with its title, ‘Femenenergy’ is a younger cousin of ‘After Dark’ but there’s nowt wrong with that! A tribute to Patrick Cowley and Sylvester James via a female empowerment take on ‘Menergy’, this is a fine example of INTERNATIONAL TEACHERS OF POP continuing the fine tradition of Northern English synth.
A natural progression, if you loved the ‘International Teachers Of Pop’ debut, you will love ‘Pop Gossip’. No complaints, no issues, this record is a reminder that the halcyon days everyone has missed over the last few months will return and in the interim, acts as an aural cuddle for the masses.
‘Pop Gossip’ is released via Desolate Spools in CD, vinyl LP and download formats
INTERNATIONAL TEACHERS OF POP’s 2021 UK tour includes:
Manchester Yes (12th February) Edinburgh Sneaky Pete’s (13th February), Glasgow Broadcast (14th February), Leeds Headrow House (15th February), Birmingham Hare & Hounds (16th February), London Moth Club (17th February), Bristol Rough Trade (18th February), Sheffield The Leadmill (19th February)
Marc Cerrone is best known for ‘Supernature’, a Top10 UK hit in 1978 which subsequently gained longevity thanks to its use as incidental music during the first series of ‘The Kenny Everett Video Show’.
Featuring lyrics by an uncredited Lene Lovich containing a warning about environmental catastrophe, ‘Supernature’ with its transfixing hook put Cerrone up with Giorgio Moroder in the European electronic disco stakes.
The iconic tune was subsequently covered by ERASURE and inspired the title of the fourth GOLDFRAPP album.
Having influenced the likes of DAFT PUNK and remixed THE HUMAN LEAGUE, the diminutive French maestro returns with a new album ‘DNA’, his seventeenth. Made primarily using Arturia VSTs of the MiniMoog, ARP 2600, Prophet 5 and Solina, one hardware instrument that appears is a Behringer Odyssey copy, alongside a kit of Roland V-Drums.
Harking back to the theme of ‘Supernature’, the opening ‘DNA’ track ‘The Impact’ looks at the spectre of global warming 43 years on; it’s a epic start with sparkling arpeggios and deep synthbass before building to a thudding metronomic beat and a throbbing backbone equal of Moroder.
But before getting carried too away with the mood of the dance, an excerpt of a speech by the well-known primatologist and anthropologist Jane Goodall announces “Every single day we make some impact on the planet. We haven’t inherited this planet from our parents. We’ve borrowed it from our children. If we get together, then we can start to heal some of the scars that we’ve inflicted” to outline just how grave the earth’s situation is.
With the marvellously optimistic ‘Resolution’, Cerrone presents what that many have always wanted, a Jean-Michel Jarre disco track. With layers of string machine and pulsing electronics, the mechanical feel is offset by various live drum rolls, a trademark of Cerrone’s having begun his career as a sticksman.
‘Air Dreaming’ gives the disco a breather, being more in the vein of Vangelis at its start, but it picks up the rhythm with a great brassy spacey theme to offer as well. Meanwhile, the ‘DNA’ title track tips a hat to PINK FLOYD’s ‘Shine On You Crazy Diamond’ and in particular, Richard Wright’s memorable keyboard passages.
With some great hooks, ‘I’ve Got A Rocket’ feels it is about to launch into ‘I Feel Love’ but is much less rigid and adds some complimentary vocoder, while ‘Let Me Feel’ actually could be mistaken for Moroder with its groovier stance recalling aspects of ‘E=MC2’.
But after a run of great retro-futuristic disco numbers, ‘DNA’ loses momentum; ‘Close To The Sky’ sounds like a theme to a cruise ship documentary but ‘Experience’ is slightly better, being more dramatic and Sci-Fi led. However, with the proggy overtones of the closer ‘Prediction’, the album sadly runs out of puff altogether.
For its first six tracks, ‘DNA’ is an enjoyable uptempo electronic instrumental record. So it’s perhaps no coincidence that back in the day, the classic Cerrone albums had even less on them than that.
While many of the approaches are familiar, at its highs, ‘DNA’ is much better than Giorgio Moroder’s ‘Deja-Vu’ or Jean-Michel-Jarre’s recent ‘Oxygène’ and Equinoxe’ reboots.
‘DNA’ is released in CD, vinyl LP and digital formats by Because Music
Ian Burden is best known for his tenure in THE HUMAN LEAGUE between 1981 and 1987, contributing songwriting to some of the band’s most iconic songs including the singles ‘The Sound Of The Crowd’, ‘Love Action’ and ‘Mirror Man’.
His releases since then have been sporadic to say the least, but have resulted in one solo album ‘Loot’ released in 1990 and a collaboration with another ex-League contributor Russell Dennett as DEEP DOWN CRAZY in 1995 with ‘A Swim in the Ocean’.
‘Hey Hey Ho Hum’ sees Ian Burden adventurously tackling every single musical element himself; from synths, guitar, bass and drum programming through to lead vocals. The album has also given Burden a chance to dust down some of his old League-era analogue synthesizers, but also combine these with some newer Korg equipment including their Minilogue and Volca range.
‘In Those Dreams’ kicks of the album with some analogue synth sweeps before settling into a jangly guitar synth rock hybrid track; Burden’s vocals are very much in the mould of Syd Barrett and reinforces his love of all things English Prog Rock.
Continuing in this vein, the album is mixed as a continuous listening experience with each track having a bridge into the next.
‘Let The Devil Drown’ starts with a filtered sequencer part and some downswept synths and is probably the most catchy earworm track here; the “It’s Raining” vocal part soon lodges itself in your head despite the vocal being mixed a bit on the low side.
‘Stand Down’ showcases Burden’s love of dub reggae with a skanking guitar vibe and a descending piano part. ‘Hanging Around’ (not THE STRANGLERS song) and ‘Where To Start’ reinforce the concept album feel with their repeated “Hey, hey, ho…” lyrics which re-appear throughout. ‘Where To Start’ has an almost waltz feel but combined with a lush atmospheric cycling synth pad which is one of the stronger musical elements here.
Another reggae-influenced piece ‘Another Day’ starts off like a MADNESS out-take before soaring synth pads thankfully take the track into a more stripped down direction with some nice TANGERINE DREAM-style Juno textures throughout. ‘Stay in Tune’ enters with a Floydian VCS3-style synth sequence and some minimal vocals; “Stay in tune, it’s not the end…”
The album ends with ‘Thy Kingdom’ which is arguably the strongest musical track here, Burden’s characteristic bass drives the song along at full pelt with some Gilmouresque guitar gliding over the top.
The main charm (and falling down) of ‘Hey Hey Ho Hum’ is that exists in a total vacuum; at the album launch Burden admitted that he’s not followed contemporary music for ages and as a result the album doesn’t try to reference any musical trends from the last 30 years, which is not necessarily a bad thing.
Burden must be given credit for doing a PRINCE and taking on all of the musical roles here, but with this element of control and lack of an external producer, it has exposed some failings. In the hands of the right producer, Burden’s vocals could have been showcased more, but in most tracks they are buried in the mix. This is a shame as there is an appealing world-weary Englishness to the lyrics and delivery, but this hasn’t hit its full potential here.
There are some nice synth textures throughout, the musicianship is uniformly excellent and much fun can be had in searching out the almost subliminal touches of THE HUMAN LEAGUE. All in all, a brave album, maybe not what you would expect, but certainly worth a listen and investigating if you like a bit of Progressive Rock with electronic textures.
With thanks to Matt Reynolds at Savage Gringo
‘Hey Hey Ho Hum’ is released by Rutland Artspace Limited in continuous and tracked CD formats as well as a download
Behind every classic album there is always a diverse set of characters and talents that contribute to its success and there is often a synchronicity involved when the so-called “planets align” and amazing things transpire against all odds.
On paper, certain albums just shouldn’t work and THE HUMAN LEAGUE’s ‘Dare’ is certainly one of those instances.
Without Ian Burden, it certainly wouldn’t have sounded the same due to his synth work and pivotal songwriting involvement on ‘The Sound Of The Crowd, ‘Love Action’ and ‘Do Or Die’.
During the imperial phase of THE HUMAN LEAGUE, Burden was to also have a share in the writing of ‘Mirror Man’, ‘I Love You Too Much’ and the amusingly titled ‘Don’t You Know I Want You’!
Ian has now dipped his toe back into the music industry with the forthcoming release of his new solo album ‘Hey Hey Ho Hum’ and he took time out to kindly speak about his early influences, his time in THE HUMAN LEAGUE and the gestation of his new release.
What first piqued your interest in electronic music?
The very first episode of ‘Doctor Who’, not long after my family got our first TV receiver in 1963.
As well as being musical, you are also into the visual arts and your Pledge Music page has some paintings which are available, how did this come about?
I was always drawing and painting throughout childhood. And also building things with Lego bricks. When I got into music as a teenager I was always intrigued by the artwork on album packaging. I later went to art school, and also studied art history at degree level. It’s a lifelong interest.
You played everything on ‘Hey Hey Ho Hum’, how were the songs developed and put together?
Mostly by improvising with the piano or acoustic guitar, and singing along and scribbling words on a notepad. Two songs came from rhythmical ideas and some analogue-synth ‘jamming’, with chords and words being added later.
What were the advantages and disadvantages of working completely solo on this album?
I didn’t need to debate or argue with anyone. And I didn’t have to fit in with anyone else’s template. But sometimes, I had to overcome a lack of self-confidence.
How liberating are the advances in technology now and the fact that albums can realistically be recorded at home without the expense of a major studio?
It’s totally excellent! The same applies to all forms of art. Nobody should be excluded from creativity because of financial limits. And now creative people have greater opportunity to been seen and heard, and to expose their work to a very wide audience. Money is no longer a filter. I make my videos with software bundled into the cost of my hardware. I use expensive music software, but could also make something with free apps.
‘Let The Devil Drown’ with its combination of guitars and synths sounds like a combination of TALK TALK and PINK FLOYD, which musicians had the most influence on you as a musician?
DAVID BOWIE, PINK FLOYD, KRAFTWERK, TANGERINE DREAM were things I latched onto as a teenager. I subsequently became appreciative of much more, of course.
‘Thy Kingdom’ is another superb track, what’s that one all about?
We all live on the same planet. We have the ability to move towards unity. Contemporary politicians continue to apply the medieval concept of divide-and-conquer. The song is a simple exhortation to ignore them, to get to one’s own true feelings and come together honestly. I don’t personally know anyone who thinks otherwise, so I’m just adding my voice to it.
The drums on the album have a combined live / electronic feel to them, were they recorded on a MIDI kit or were they programmed?
They’re programmed, but were constantly revised as the song arrangements developed. I programmed some elements of feel.
Your vocals appear to recall those of DALEK I on their 1980 ‘Compass Kumpas’, any thoughts?
I think there’s an Englishness with DALEK I that I can identify with, along with a sense of reserve. There’s no attempt to emulate American roots or to be ebullient, as per Mick Jagger for example.
The album works extremely well because all of the tracks blend together seamlessly in a suite, how much of a challenge was this to accomplish? Would you ever consider touring it?
It wasn’t a challenge because I worked it that way from the outset. I just had to find ways of connecting between songs in different key signatures and different time signatures. Playing it live would mean recruiting a lot of musicians, but not impossible. MIKE OLDFIELD managed it with ‘Tubular Bells’, but for only two shows. Who knows? Anything is possible!
You dusted down some of your old analogue synths for ‘Hey Hey Ho Hum’, what kind of condition were they in and do you have a favourite?
They just worked, mostly! I got them plumbed into a MIDI loop and discovered a few problems here and there. I know an electronics engineer who was able to service them. They all have their characteristics, and therefore serve different uses.
In the video promo which accompanied your live album launch there was a Korg Volca and a Minilogue synth, what was it that attracted to you about these newer generation devices?
The newer analogue pieces which Korg have developed use the same filter design as the Korg 770, which I used a lot on THE HUMAN LEAGUE songs – and that was a favourite.
You joined THE HUMAN LEAGUE initially to help complete a contractually arranged tour, how was this experience being on the road in a new untested live act?
I was focused on programming synths between songs, and remembering all the keyboard parts. I also had to start / stop a Revox tape machine that carried the rhythm / percussion track.
Most of the shows were in Germany and the Netherlands, so it was a revisit to my childhood territory. Very nostalgic for me. I hadn’t any thoughts about where it was all leading, if anywhere.
In your website biography, you make the observation: “On paper it didn’t make much sense: two guitarists in a synthesizer band; two schoolgirls with no musical experience; a baritone lead-vocalist; and a producer with a reputation for recording ‘punk’ bands.” This was hardly a blueprint for success, were you surprised when ‘Dare’ started to take off?
Everyone involved was surprised. We all liked what we’d done, but had no idea it would become so widely enjoyed.
What was the genesis of ‘The Sound Of The Crowd’ which you co-wrote with Philip?
Philip Oakey had programmed a very strange rhythm on the Roland System 100. I played some riffs on the Korg 770 and he seemed enthusiastic, so we recorded them. I took away a rough mix and listened again, and got some vocal ideas.
You actually wrote some of the lyrics to ‘The Sound Of The Crowd’, what was on your mind at the time?
I didn’t want to explain the vocal ideas by singing “la la la” etc, so I jotted down some stream-of-consciousness words to demonstrate the ideas to Philip. He surprisingly kept the verse words, and then wrote alternative words for the chorus sections. I hadn’t intended to write lyrics for actual use.
‘Do Or Die’ sounds essentially like a dub reggae track recreated electronically, can you talk about how this track came to fruition?
Our demo recording of ‘The Sound Of The Crowd’ led to Virgin Records being enthusiastic about it as a single release. Vinyl formatting meant we had to have a ‘B-side’ to go on the reverse. I suggested to Philip and Adrian that we deconstruct the song and rework it as an instrumental, as per dub reggae.
Philip was unresponsive, and Adrian just said that he “hated reggae”. But by the time we’d recorded it with Martin Rushent, the idea of a dub version had become the strategy, somehow. ‘Do Or Die’ was put together after we’d already done some dub remixes. Then other songs got the same treatment, and all the dub remix versions were compiled into the ‘Love & Dancing’ album.
‘Love & Dancing’ is now rightly acknowledged as a classic ‘ahead of its time’ remix style album, how involved were you and the rest of the band or was it very much Martin Rushent’s baby?
I was certainly there enjoying the process and being asked to assist with Dave Allen according to Martin Rushent’s directions. My memory is of the mixing console and all the outboard equipment etc etc. Martin was having immense fun with it, and it was a joy to be asked to push a few buttons here and there. Mostly we just watched him get on with it.
How disappointed were you when the partnership with Martin Rushent dissolved while recording the ‘Dare’ follow-up?
Totally! I thought it was all going extremely well with the next album. Even better, to my mind. We’d had another two hit singles, and were advancing boldly into the emerging technology. I took a very rare break from the studio (to buy AA batteries and toothpaste), then returned to our hotel and discovered all the other members of the band sitting in the bar, decamped from the studio. I was informed that we “were no longer working with Martin”. I don’t know what happened.
It is well documented now that the ‘Crash’ sessions weren’t a happy time for you, in hindsight could you see this happening or was it a surprise when it became apparent that this was to all intents and purposes going to be a Jam & Lewis album?
I’ve a box of cassette tapes containing song ideas dating from that time, with ideas from Philip and myself, Adrian and Jim Russell. I listened to them a few years ago. I’m not sure why those ideas were abandoned, or why there was a sense that we needed other writers.
My favourite song on the ‘Crash’ album is ‘Love On The Run’ which was written by League members. I was singing some bits on a track called ‘I Need Your Loving’ and realised that I had no empathy with it. It was certainly a Jimmy Jam / Terry Lewis album, fronted by Philip’s voice. They also added a girl session singer.
So what actually happened during the first ‘Crash’ sessions before that in 1985 with Colin Thurston, were the results really that unworthy of release?
Colin Thurston couldn’t fully adjudicate and keep the momentum. Maybe we were being difficult? I recall an absence of genuine enthusiasm amongst the band, but Colin certainly tried his best with us. I don’t think he was to blame.
Did you gain any satisfaction yourself when ‘Human’ hit the top spot in the US?
I sensed that the band had become a trademark fronted by Philip, Joanne and Susan. I was very happy for them having a number one hit in the USA. I wriggled easily out of being in the video. I maintained my obligations and toured with them, enjoying playing after doing nothing much on ‘Crash’.
Unfortunately there are very few live clips remaining from your tenure in the band, however the one of THE HUMAN LEAGUE on The Tube in 1986 is an interesting one. Is it true that Philip threw a strop right before going on stage?
That line-up was strong in the theatres, but seemed to weaken on The Tube. I recall some contention about being invited to headline the show, but then being supplanted by Alison Moyet. Maybe the performance suffered from that? I’m not sure. But I recall a negative vibe floating around, within a failed attempt to revise the running order of the show.
What is the best memory of being part of THE HUMAN LEAGUE for you?
Recording ‘Dare’ and the various forms of humour that infused the atmosphere in the studio.
On your Pledge Music website it states that you have already started a follow-up album, what can we expect from that?
I’m curious about that myself! Obviously there’s more songs which I’ve been writing, and my approach is much the same. I’ll find out when I get back to it.
ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK gives its warmest thanks to Ian Burden
Additional thanks to Matt Reynolds at Savage Gringo
‘Hey Hey Ho Hum’ is released on 18th May 2018 by Rutland Artspace Limited in continuous and tracked CD formats as well as a download