Despite B-MOVIE having released their debut EP ‘Take Three’ back in 1980, their guitarist and multi-instrumentalist Paul Statham is now possibly busier than ever musically.
As well as releasing B-MOVIE new material in the shape of the excellent three song ‘Repetition’ EP featuring the superb ‘Stalingrad’, his experimental solo ambient work and the avant Americana adventure of THE DARK FLOWERS, Paul Statham has now unveiled his DJ Shadow-inspired sample-based electronica soundscape project AFTER THE RAIN.
Statham’s career has included the electropop trio PEACH who had a US Top20 hit with ‘On My Own’ in 1997, as well as collaborations with people as diverse as Peter Murphy, Jim Kerr, Billy Mackenzie, Dido, Dot Alison, Sarah Nixey, Kylie Minogue and Rachel Stevens.
Now while AFTER THE RAIN does feature vocals, the tracks are not in the conventional song vein which saw Statham become one of the quieter success stories of ‘Some Bizarre Album’.
With Moby as a ubiquitous reference point, lead track ‘Gospel Train’ uses an emotive four line sample of ‘The Gospel Train’ sung by Belleville A Cappella Choir taken from a collection entitled ‘Southern Journey Vol. 1: Voices from the American South’. Offset against a propulsive electronic framework, the two contrasting elements hauntingly and successfully combine to recall the work of not just the one-time Richard Melville Hall, but also that of Alan Wilder in RECOIL.
Also cut within a gospel backdrop, the strangely vibey ‘Black Is The Colour’ uses phrases from the traditional standard of the same name made famous by Nina Simone, vocalised for AFTER THE RAIN by London soul jazz artist Billie Black. Punctuated by atmospheric and big beat sections, it offers a rather cerebral listening experience.
Beginning with acoustic six string, ‘Waterfront’ is less synthetic, its country roots flavour providing a nod towards THE DARK FLOWERS. Given an alien outlook by vocodered phrases borrowed from the similarly titled John Lee Hooker number, the brooding combination is unusual if nothing else, coming over like some of the Brian Eno song based album ‘Another Day On Earth’ from 2005.
Constructing new music around decades old archive material can be a thorny subject, but in his introductory offer for AFTER THE RAIN, Statham does it well and respectfully. Mysterious, yet hopeful and familiar at the same time, he adds yet another string to his talented bow.
It was the document that put DEPECHE MODE into the big league.
But while ‘101’ affirmed the Basildon boys’ status into Trans-Atlantic Stadium Monsters, it also symbolised the end of the synth wars… the battle of Synth Britannia had now been won but with no fight left, the journey had come to an end.
And at the post-Live Aid roundabout, DEPECHE MODE had to take a different course to survive and maintain their new found prosperity.
So they got rockier and bluesy to fatten the sound for those huge venues while Dave Gahan’s stage gestures got more provocative and more physical as he had the cover the width of the stage. Even Fletch’s arms aloft gestures became a key part of the bigger show. This ultimately culminated with the pseudo-rock explosion of ‘Songs Of Faith And Devotion’ and its corresponding self-destructive tour. But all that was to come later…
Released 25 years ago in the UK on 13th March 1989, the ‘101’ double album and accompanying film directed by acclaimed filmmaker D A Pennebaker was aimed squarely at telling onlookers-at-large that DEPECHE MODE were no longer those fey synthpoppers in need of a good tailor, but a band with the potential to do battle with U2, who coincidentally had their own film ‘Rattle and Hum’ out in the same year.
While a popular live draw stateside in 1988, DEPECHE MODE had only previously headlined arena sized venues on America’s two coasts.
The popularity of British post-punk acts among white American teenagers thanks to the Anglophile soundtracks of John Hughes films like ‘The Breakfast Club’, ‘Pretty In Pink’ and ‘Some Kind Of Wonderful’ was at an all time high.
SIMPLE MINDS had nailed a US No1 with ‘Don’t You (Forget About Me)’ from ‘The Breakfast Club’ while OMD had hit the Top5 with ‘If You Leave’ from ‘Pretty In Pink’.
Indeed, Depeche’s American label Sire had attempted to relaunch them in this Hollywood centred environment by having their B-side ‘But Not Tonight’ as the theme to a largely forgotten teen movie ‘Modern Girls’. The song flopped which proved to be a blessing, especially when looking at the later career trajectories of SIMPLE MINDS and OMD following their initial post-John Hughes flushes of success…
To capitalise on the momentum of increasing US album sales of the album ‘Music For The Masses’ and their most successful American tour yet, they elected to play a ‘Concert for The Masses’ at the 70,000 capacity Pasadena Rose Bowl on 18th June 1988. The 101st and final show of their ‘Music For The Masses’ tour, it was a risky strategy at the time as the band had achieved only one Top 40 single ‘People Are People’ in the US.
But the buzz around the band, especially from the listenership of the influential college friendly radio stations such as KROQ indicated that DM’s newly Devoted American fanbase would make the special trip to witness what was effectively their own musical Superbowl.
Recorded around backstage antics and a road trip following a group of fans on their way to the show inter-dispersed with concert footage from various shows, it was to establish DEPECHE MODE as a credible worldwide force, particularly with dissenters in the UK press who had always been resistant and cynical to their success.
The result of the release of ‘101’ was that even neutrals in the UK, who had bought the odd album or single in the past, were astonished to find synthpop classics such as ‘Everything Counts’ were now being aired to the masses in all the world’s stadiums… at least that was the perception. Jim Kerr of SIMPLE MINDS was quite bemused at their newly acquired status, retrospectively commenting to Word Magazine in 2006: “Who would’ve thought Depeche Mode plink-plonking away would play in stadiums?”
As a profile building exercise for DEPECHE MODE, ‘101’ was a big success but its legacy also had an effect on Mode’s contemporaries. Rather than opening doors, ‘101’ inadvertently shut them to others. Having been Vince Clarke’s original inspiration to take up the synthesizer and eventually launch DEPECHE MODE, main support act OMD could only watch in awe as their apprentices wowed the massive crowds night after night.
It must have been demoralising to Andy McCluskey and Paul Humphreys despite their own, not unsubstantial success in Europe. But in the rush to break America, OMD may have had a Top 5 US single to their name, but they could not (and have never been able to) attract the Devoted loyalty which Messrs Gahan, Gore, Fletcher and Wilder had steadily built and enjoyed.
They could only go one way after this and looking back, their split in 1989 was predictable!
Supporting proceedings that night in Pasadena was THOMAS DOLBY who also had to rethink his own artistic aspirations. Despite a Top 5 US hit single to his name, he had his own struggles with pressure for more hits from his various record labels.
As a solo act, he could not split with himself but after his 1992 album ‘Astronauts and Heretics’, he effectively retired from the music industry.
Working in Silicon Valley on music integration software for the brave new world of the internet with great success and developing the polyphonic ringtone engine for Nokia along the way, he only returned to music in 2006 and supported DEPECHE MODE again at London’s Hyde Park that same year.
By the time of the more organic but still primarily electro album ‘Violator’, DEPECHE MODE had overtaken all their peers, and this symbolism was highlighted when they played at Dodgers Stadium in August 1990 to conclude the North American leg of the ‘World Violation’ tour. The support act were ELECTRONIC, a supergroup made up of refugees from NEW ORDER and THE SMITHS plus both PET SHOP BOYS thrown in for good measure! Messrs Gahan, Gore, Fletcher and Wilder had now become the UK independent scene’s biggest post-punk success story.
One of the protagonists at the Pasadena Rose Bowl on 18th June 1988 was of course, Alan Wilder. In an exclusive interview for its 25th Anniversary, he kindly answered some questions about ‘101’ and discussed its legacy…
In hindsight, the ‘101’ film, while good for DEPECHE MODE’s profile at the time, appeared to focus on some of the wrong things ie there’s too much footage of the fans on the bus, not enough actual music?
Even though Don Pennebaker had previously made music concert films (David Bowie at Hammersmith Odeon for example), he is primarily a documentary filmmaker – which was appealing to us although it is debatable whether the pre-determined set-up of the group of bus people (collected and auditioned a la ‘Big Brother’) is not an inferior form, as opposed to entering an already existing situation and truly being a fly on the wall. After all, Reality television has little to do with reality.
Once commissioned and given a fairly free reign, Pennebaker looked at his options and decided to make a film about what he considered to be the most (perhaps the only) interesting factors of the DM phenomenon. The fact that Don had not really even heard of the group, let alone any of its music, gave him an outsider’s perspective and he soon realised that he wasn’t likely to glean any pearls of wisdom from the band members. As individuals, we were not deep-thinking angst-driven people with massive world insight. His decision to focus on the fans was probably the right one.
In its defence, it shouldn’t be forgotten that we’ve all been saturated with the kind of voyeurism that Reality TV has spewed forth into our consciousness for more than two decades, but in 1987 this was an unusual and precarious approach.
Nobody knew what would transpire or whether it would be of any interest at all. I’d go as far as to say the idea was somewhat groundbreaking as it clearly pre-dates all that MTV malarky which most people consider to be where the Reality craze got started.
Also, the naivety and carefree exuberance with which the bus protagonists go about their adventures has a charm which could probably not be repeated today, given the knowing self-promoting instincts from most who take part in these ventures now, along with the predictable audience consumption, moral judgements and salacious anticipation of all things about to fall apart.
This kind of format has not only become hugely popular but also the centre of heated discussions about tabloidisation, media ethics, privacy and the representation of the real.
At the time, I felt short-changed by ‘101’ as I wanted the band itself to be explored more profoundly, preferably by someone who had knowledgeable insight into the music, our working practices and what we (albeit sometimes clumsily and naively) were generally trying to do. Pennebaker didn’t pretend to understand the band at all – he made no bones about that fact – but, with hindsight, he did manage to make a piece which says something about the era and I think, allied to the fact that it holds no pretentions (unlike some rock docs of the period – err… hummm… ‘Rattle and Hum’), it stands the test of time. Having said that, I find the film at best curious rather than ‘deep’.
The fanbase connection with the band appeared to be what was trying to be highlighted on ‘101’. For example, the crowd has been mixed in very loudly on the live footage and audio whereas a good number of live albums of the time would neutralise the audience noise?
I feel to highlight the fanbase connection was fair enough.
After all, this is the real crux of the DM fascination – how “four Walters from Basildon” (to quote an early single review) could form the source of nothing short of a worldwide phenomenon, the nature of which is quite perplexing, way out of proportion for a pop band – a strange, bizarre and enduring religion which has been demonstrated again more recently in Jeremy Deller’s film ‘The Posters Came From The Walls’.
Is that right about the crowd levels? I haven’t listened for a long time to the album but the film soundtrack may be even more that way.
Again, I haven’t watched the film for many years and it’s possible that the Pennebaker crew had some extra control over that music-to-crowd balance. My memory though is that we controlled the music mixes and so the album balance would have been the decision of those of us who mixed the tracks.
‘101’ symbolises DEPECHE MODE’s entry to the wider international stage but perhaps also, the end of Synth Britannia as of those support acts who played that day in Pasadena, OMD split up soon after while THOMAS DOLBY retired from the music industry a few years later. It was as if DM had set a bar that their peers couldn’t hope to reach… any thoughts on that?
I’m not sure that DM’s ‘success’ would have had any negative bearing on other electronic artists. If anything, the expectation of positive reverberations and opening of doors would have been more likely.
A lot of it was luck for DM though, coupled with plenty of donkey work touring in the US leading up to the big (and unexpected to such a degree) explosion. It seems the timing was right for that kind of music where genres were being choked by mainstream rock radio as a huge cult level of other music listeners were being shafted.
We benefited from a kind of breaking of the dam which finally gave way, resulting in those stations almost being forced into recognising and playing the newer UK artists of the time – such as The Cure, The Smiths, New Order, DM and many other groups which had been, up until then, considered ‘alternative’ or ‘cult’ in the states. I can’t hazard a guess about the examples you cite or speculate as to why some acts may have failed to capitalise. I do know that there is never a correlation which one should assume between the quality of a band / artist compared to the amount of people who turn up to their concerts. It’s a funny old game…
With that in mind and with DEPECHE MODE established publically with ‘101’ as a ‘stadium act’, had the development into a more organic, rock / bluesy sound to suit those types of venues been a conscious move in order for DM to maintain that position with ‘Violator’ and ‘Songs Of Faith And Devotion’?
Subconsciously there may be an element due to the nature of the venues and larger (more distant) crowds needing to be serviced. Dave, I’m sure, would have welcomed the more ’rocky’ approach to release and enhance his own stage performances.
But ‘Violator’ is still a very electronic album when you listen to it now, and its less electronic elements, rather than derived from stadium experiences, were mainly influenced by the wave of hip hop and rap music which permeated the scene at that time. The methods of those artists employing more left-field sampling techniques left a significant mark on both myself and Flood.
We were attracted to the inherent feel of played drum loops for example rather than precisely programmed rhythm from machines or individual drum samples. This ‘looping’ was taken much further with ‘SOFAD’ of course – an album style conceived mainly because we didn’t want to just repeat ‘Violator’ despite its success. That would have been seen as stagnation and some of us at least were very wary of that.
You did not appear in the interviews or commentary for the bonus features on the ‘101’ DVD reissue, why was that?
A surprising amount of pressure was put on me to take part in the ‘director’s commentary’ idea, mainly from Daniel Miller and Pennebaker himself, but I didn’t feel I had some exciting anecdotes or anything particularly insightful to add for the reissue.
I’ve never enjoyed the commentary concept – frequently empty and often unnecessarily demystifying (I like to retain something for the imagination). The ‘101’ film is not exactly complicated and doesn’t contain any technical issues which needed explaining either. It speaks for itself.
Even though, on paper, the idea of a group and director ‘talkover’ maybe could have worked – i.e. jogging each other’s memories etc – I just knew that putting four rock band members together in a room to randomly comment would result in silly giggling, talking over each other and the spouting of mainly nonsense. And that filled me with dread.
ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK gives its sincerest thanks to ALAN WILDER
Special thanks to Michael Rose
The DEPECHE MODE ‘101’ film and uninterrupted Pasadena Rose Bowl concert highlights are available as a 2DVD package via Mute Records. The ‘101’ 2CD live album is still available
Following a successful series of worldwide screenings, RECOIL ‘A Strange Hour In Budapest’ had the first of its UK Cinema premieres at Everyman’s Screen On The Green in Islington.
Its comfortable surroundings provided the ideal setting for this lavish high definition film directed by Attila Herkó. Released earlier this year exclusively on Blu-Ray, in Alan Wilder’s words it was “to supply the most accurate experience of being at the concert”.
Intercut with picturesque views of the Danube city, live footage filmed at the venue and the special projections directed by Steve Fabian, Igor Dvorský & Dmitry Semenov, ‘A Strange Hour In Budapest’ is a powerfully resonant audio/visual document that presents many highlights from Alan Wilder’s career in a concert setting.
In addition to bespoke computer generated graphics, there are illustrations ranging from monochromatic erotica, abstract space photography and austere footage of crashing aircraft. The latter are particularly poignant as they reflect Wilder’s own near death experience when an RAF Tornado jet crashed in front of him while he was on a driving holiday in Scotland back in 1994. Although those shocking memories are musically captured in the track ‘Black Box’ from 2000’s ‘Liquid’ album, that trauma is highlighted in the live presentation with the pulsing Shotgun rendition of ‘Prey’, the tension exasperated by its disturbing images.
Trippy grooves as on the haunting Siobhan Lynch vocalled ‘Drifting’ and the cosmic vibes of the Tangerine Dream sampling ‘Allelujah’ dominate the first part of the show but inevitably, it is the song based material such as ‘Faith Healer’ featuring Nitzer Ebb’s Douglas McCarthy and the reworkings of Depeche Mode that get the Szikra audience into a frenzy, particularly with the Aggro Mix of ‘Never Let Me Down Again’ and the late Johnny Dollar’s superbly powerful Jeep Rock take on ‘In Your Room’.
Incidentally, the sound reproduction throughout the film is outstanding and at times in the cinema, it was actually difficult to distinguish between the applause in the film and that of the audience watching!
Other highlights of ‘A Strange Hour In Budapest’ include the grainy projections of Wilder’s live partner Paul Kendall practicing robotics during a great cover of ‘Warm Leatherette’ and a superb mash-up of ‘Jezebel’, the Grungy Gonads Mix of ‘Walking In My Shoes’ and ‘Are Friends Electric?’.
Asked about it by ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK during the post-film Q&A, Wilder replied: “It was when we did the American leg of the tour, I wanted to make a few changes to the set to keep it more interesting having learnt from the first leg of the tour that there was a dip that needing picking up…so I came up with the idea of using ‘Walking in My Shoes’ . At the same time, we were going to play a gig with Gary Numan in Chicago so I thought it be fun to throw that track in and see if he noticed…and he didn’t!!” The cinema cracked up with laughter.
“He watched the set but he didn’t even notice his bit of music in it… ‘Cloth Ears’ I call him,” Wilder affectionately quipped. He added: “’Jezebel’ and ‘Walking In My Shoes’ just happened to fit tempo-wise, I had to change ‘Jezebel’ by a semitone to make it work with the ‘Walking…’ key signature but it worked well”.
Alan Wilder’s Q&A was an entertaining experience with him superbly articulating his thoughts and views. “No! I’m not going back to Depeche Mode!” he announced, setting the scene. On the subject of the loudness war, he was also forthright: “Just turn the volume knob up!” But on the future of RECOIL though, he was less specific: “All I know is I want to make some new music but whether it’s for an album, I’m just not sure because the concept of albums seems to be something people are losing interest in and they way people are listening to music is changing…I would like to work with film, a couple of people have approached me about that”.
When Keith Trigwell from Depeche Mode tribute band SPEAK & SPELL mentioned how 2011’s auction sharing Wilder’s memorabilia connected with the fans, he candidly answered: “Shared?!? I’d like to share my stuff with you…for this much!”
Wilder’s honesty is one of his many traits that have made him such a revered and respected figure in the music scene. However, some present seemed rather perturbed when Wilder gave answers that perhaps they didn’t want to hear.
On BECK’s new album campaign where fans have been recording their own backing tracks via sheet music provided online, he observantly commented: “It’s up it’s a*se isn’t it? How easy a life does he want?” However, he did concur that he is always open to exploring innovative ways for musicians to connect with their fanbase.
On the move away from hardware synths to software, he replied: “I’m not that nostalgic… we were struggling to get clicks to synch together and would spend three days on something that you can do in five minutes on a computer now…some of these plug-ins are amazing and stay in tune! Let’s not get over nostalgic about the past…but there are some great bits of vintage gear of course”.
On the studio process and how adversity can produce great music, he remembered ‘In Your Room’ as being “a tough track to record”, eventually being a combination of three different versions. By the opposite token though, ‘Enjoy The Silence’ “came together (like that) within a couple of hours”, the bassline achieved simply by playing around with a sequencer.
What was less enthralling during the evening however were some of the more inane lines of questioning by some attendees who seemed to be more interested in talking as much as possible while NOT actually listening to the replies of the evening’s humble host.
Wilder rightfully called it “random crap”. There is an etiquette to these things and sorry, “’Construction Time Again’, how exciting was that!” is NOT really a great question!
But despite this, there was a warm family atmosphere with Wilder being the consummate professional, answering questions intelligently and with humour throughout.
Figures from the DM fan community such as Deb Danahay and all four members of SPEAK & SPELL mingled alongside fans while Mr Wilder gave his time to everyone readily and happily. It was a memorable evening for all concerned and a fascinating selected event to boot…
ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK gives its warmest thanks to Alan Wilder
‘A Strange Hour In Budapest’ is released on Blu-ray by Shunt Production in conjunction with Umatik Entertainment. Please see www.store.recoil.co.uk for full product details.
Following a 52 city world tour to celebrate 25 years of the RECOIL project and an auction of memorabilia from his career including his time with DEPECHE MODE, he got straight into production for his RECOIL concert film ‘A Strange Hour In Budapest’, released exclusively on the Blu-ray format. Directed by Attila Herkó, it captures the final 2010 show of the Selected Events tour as a full HD production with a DTS-HD 5.1 surround sound and stereo audio soundtrack, mixed by Alan with Paul Kendall.
Intended “to supply the most accurate experience of being at the concert”, ‘A Strange Hour In Budapest’ is a powerfully resonant audio/visual document that presents many highlights from Alan Wilder’s career in a concert setting.
Alan Wilder took time out from his schedule preparing the Recoil Blu-ray to chat about his live concert document.
The RECOIL ‘A Strange Hour In Bupapest’ film is on the way.
The film project, like most things, really came together more by chance than design.
I never planned to make a concert film but when we arrived for the second show in Budapest, our local promoter had already arranged for Attila and his crew to be there, in order to discuss whether they might be able to film the event. It was something they themselves wanted to do and I saw no reason to object.
I guess it was a mutually beneficial idea – they could try to promote their own production company while I got a film made for RECOIL.
This is being released exclusively on Blu-ray so how will this be different from a standard live DVD?
I only really considered a format for it that would be capable of representing the film in the best possible way – to supply the most accurate experience of being at the concert. If you want a great memory of having seen and heard the show, then anything less would not be doing it justice.
Blu-ray is the nearest one can get to the full experience. I don’t want to see the film dumbed down to a (dying) DVD format, and nor do the filmmakers. Also, these days, people expect much higher quality audio/visuals – and so they should.
High resolution audio seems to be very slow in becoming widely available. People want it, and frankly deserve it. We have been accepting 16bit CD technology for too long now (I won’t mention MP3!) which really doesn’t cut it any more. Many on the cutting edge (the likes of Peter Gabriel. Trent Reznor, Kate Bush etc.) already offer their audio in full 24bit resolution.
For the visuals, same applies to DVD – people are starting to expect higher resolution, with HD TV easily outshining DVD. Technically, bringing it all to a conclusion has been the hardest part for me – and a big learning curve as to how best to prepare for and author a Blu-ray disc. We are still working on that aspect now in fact, although it is 98% complete.
As I write this, I have STILL not seen the whole film in full HD myself! I have also listened to the response from some fans who demand higher end products. And I have therefore adapted the proposed formats to reflect their desire for a standalone soundtrack (as 24bit wav) which will be available on a USB stick.
What are you up to next musically?
Some brand new RECOIL music I hope, rather than more remixes which people keep asking me to do – although the whole idea of making a complete album in this day and age feels a bit like a futile exercise, especially as we witness the demise of the (album) concept, coupled with a general decline in CD sales and the expectation from most that music should be free and largely disposable.
I’m not against high resolution audio downloads as a way forward (as long as combined with desirable tangible objects) but I really wonder about the best way to move now in terms of how to release new music. I want to see a return to real value put on the output of all artists with the work made available in formats which make most sense in the current climate. Besides all this of course, I have a busy life with a new daughter and many personal commitments, which means I have to consider working in a smarter, easier to manage and more lucrative way.
ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK gives its grateful thanks to Alan Wilder
‘A Strange Hour In Budapest’ is released on Blu-ray by Shunt Production in conjunction with Umatik Entertainment. The first 1000 copies come in a deluxe digipack with 16-page booklet and are individually hand-stamped / numbered. For more details and how to pre-order, please visit: http://store.recoil.co.uk/
Alan Wilder has been acting as the musical and production supervisor for ‘Spirit Of Talk Talk’, a double tribute album celebrating the visionary band who released a series of highly regarded albums.
Led by the enigmatic Mark Hollis and also featuring Paul Webb on bass and Lee Harris on drums, TALK TALK were originally dismissed by the press for being DURAN DURAN copyists… they shared a label in EMI, producer in Colin Thurston and even had a repeated word name!
However, their first album ‘The Party’s Over’ was an impressive synth flavoured collection that indicated they had more in common with artistically thoughtful collectives such as JAPAN and ULTRAVOX.
Following the departure of their original keyboardist Simon Brenner and an excellent interim single ‘My Foolish Friend’ produced by Rhett Davies of ROXY MUSIC fame, their acclaimed second album ‘It’s My Life’ was released in 1984. This was the first time they had worked with producer Tim Friese-Greene; he was to become Hollis’ future creative partner. Although the album sold well in Europe, it was largely ignored in the UK.
However, this overseas success allowed EMI to provide a bigger budget for their third long player ‘The Colour Of Spring’. Hollis had insisted around this time that he hated synthesizers apart from their use in live work and the band had only used them because they couldn’t afford traditional instruments or the session musicians to play them. So with the benefits of extra finance, they went in pursuit of a more organic sound. This was expanded further with the release of the more freeform ‘Spirit Of Eden’ in 1988 which eventually led to the dissolving of their relationship with EMI.
Sensing the band were indeed ahead of their time, EMI released a Top 3 compilation ‘Natural History’ in 1990 which led to ‘It’s My Life’ belatedly becoming a Top 20 hit and a remix album ‘History Revisited’ which was issued against the band’s wishes.
The story goes that EMI commissioned a series of new remixes and then charged the band for the privilege from their unexpected boost in royalties.
TALK TALK sued EMI and won, leading to remaining copies of this blot in the band’s catalogue to be destroyed. TALK TALK released one more album ‘Laughing Stock’ via the jazz label Verve revived by Polydor Records before disbanding.
Due for release by Fierce Panda in September 2012, ‘Spirit Of Talk Talk’ features acts as diverse as WHITE LIES, ZERO 7, TURIN BRAKES, JOAN AS POLICE WOMAN and of course, RECOIL. There are also contributions from Ian Curnow, David Rhodes, Gaynor Sadler and Martin Ditcham, all of whom worked with TALK TALK.
The double CD package has been designed by original TALK TALK graphic artist, James Marsh, using his cover created in 1983 for a prospective album ‘Chameleon Hour’ which was never released. There will also be a richly illustrated, accompanying book by Chris Roberts, tracing TALK TALK’s evolution and reflecting on their unique journey from synthpop to near-silence.
Alan Wilder took time out from his schedule preparing the RECOIL Blu-ray to chat about one of his favourite bands..
Can you remember how you first discovered the music of TALK TALK and what your initial impressions were at the time?
By default I was exposed to the band’s music from the time of their very first singles and appearances on TV and radio in the early 80s. I liked the sound of the singles ‘Today’ and ‘Talk Talk’ but never heard the first album. In fact I still haven’t heard that album in full.
When their first album ‘The Party’s Over’ came out in 1982, you had not long been in DEPECHE MODE. As both acts were perceived initially as synthpop, did you consider them rivals or comrades-in-arms?
Neither rivals nor comrades, just one of many bands who were around during that period. It was a heady time for us, running about like headless chickens, rolling into town for endless promotion, live shows, guest appearances etc.
We did encounter Mark Hollis a couple of times. A seemingly more miserable person I couldn’t really imagine as we, as young Moders, would be met with a complete blank stare whenever we tried to make conversation. We would typically bump into each other at a European TV studio – I guess they would be miming to ‘Today’ or ‘Life’s What You Make It’ while we pranced around to ‘Stripped’ or ‘People Are People’ on the next stage.
One night I asked the other two why Mark never showed up to any of the clubs we would frequent after those appearances. Paul replied that he was in his room “thinking”. He said that Mark does a lot of ‘thinking’ and added that he himself also ‘thinks’ a bit, while the drummer Lee doesn’t ‘think’ at all 🙂
‘It’s My Life’ showed the band were ahead of their time, especially when the title track only became a hit single belatedly in 1990. Considering ‘synthesizer’ music was still very much in vogue in 1984, why do you think brilliant pop songs like ‘It’s My Life’ and ‘Such A Shame’ weren’t given the recognition they deserved at the time?
Undoubtedly these tunes were underrated, as the band themselves always have been.
They didn’t court publicity and I guess often fell under the radar. I can remember sitting in Hansa’s mix room listening to ‘Such A Shame’ with Daniel Miller and the others – and we were really knocked out with the sound and atmosphere created using sampled animal sounds mixed with synths, sequencers and so on. It was an unusual sonic blend even then – quite different to anything else around at the time, especially with the tense Hollis voice adding to the effect.
Then there was an artistic jump with ‘The Colour Of Spring’ where they ditched most of the synthesisers for more organically derived keyboard sounds and sporadic use of jazz based players and guitars; very modern but traditional at the same time. How did this affect your thinking musically about a ‘keyboard’ player’s role in a band?
I was always bemused by this great need to differentiate between ‘types’ of instrumentation one could use to make records. In DM, we would employ ridiculous ‘no guitar’ rules which, thankfully, went out the window later. I think the directive was installed mainly through fear of being regarded as ‘rock’, or perhaps just ending up sounding like everyone else.
‘The Colour Of Spring’ album wasn’t specific in influencing me/us in this aspect but it was an extremely confident and focused record, with the emphasis still firmly on the songs, and with Mark’s voice maturing with its unique character.
Perhaps subconsciously we could see a group growing rapidly in its sophistication while still retaining a great pop sensibility, all of which would have rubbed off and encouraged the feeling that experimentation is okay, and can still produce commercial results at the same time.
‘Living In Another World’ and ‘Time It’s Time’ are just epic aren’t they? Did ‘The Colour Of Spring’ have any influence in inspiring you to start RECOIL?
No – I don’t really see a link to that. At that point, TT still very much felt like a band, although I was aware of the influence of Tim Friese-Greene and the important partnership which was obviously developing between Tim and Mark.
For ‘Spirit Of Eden’, the jazz influences came to the fore along with a chamber orchestra and Nigel Kennedy. The intro of ‘The Rainbow’ sounds like Miles Davis and conventional song form had all but disappeared. It wasn’t what EMI wanted and it sounds like a completely different band to one from 1984, let alone 1982. What were your first thoughts on this album?
As I said, ‘The Colour Of Spring’ was an excellent but transitional album where one could visibly see the band mutating from well-crafted, intelligent pop into something much deeper and more thought provoking. However, the revelation presented by ‘Spirit Of Eden’ was still totally unexpected.
My first reaction was astonishment to be honest – initially at the use of space and silence, and then at the sheer audacity of an approach which went so far against the grain. It was brutally non-conformist. This has to be one of my all-time favourite albums. Mind-blowingly brilliant in its diversity, atmospherics, musicianship and topped off with ‘that’ voice again which found its true position floating painfully over the top (in the best possible way). Whenever I’m stumped for something to listen to, I reach for this album to restore my faith in all that is good about modern music. It encompasses so many of the things I enjoy about sound, post-modernity, sophisticated arrangements, and eclecticism. Frankly, I’m jealous that I have never been able to make a record which has the confidence to be so exposed.
‘Laughing Stock’ must have confused the few listeners the band would have gained from ‘It’s My Life’ being a hit?
Sadly, ‘Laughing Stock’ was the last TT album (aside from one Hollis solo offering which appeared after). There was a direct correlation between the quality increase and the popularity decrease which says a lot about your average music listener. It was clear that Mark Hollis in particular was never comfortable wearing the cloak of pop stardom. We can all see, with hindsight, where his aspirations lay having now heard the later, definitive albums.
Here was a man clearly very frustrated working within the confines of the format – something I appreciate myself and which led me to start my own RECOIL project in order to alleviate the very same limitations – to explore other musical avenues. Sad to see that in the case of TALK TALK, there was obviously much less understanding of this creative need from their record company who must have panicked as the sales started to decline. I am given to understand that (apart from very recently) relations between Talk Talk and EMI never recovered, with disillusionment and bitterness the inevitable result.
What would you say are your favourite TALK TALK songs?
There are many but, off the top of my head: ‘Wealth’, ‘Inheritance’, ‘Living In Another World’, ‘Such A Shame’, ‘I Believe In You’.
How did you become involved in the ‘Spirit Of Talk Talk’ project?
My involvement began with a quote provided for the book and escalated quite quickly towards the music part of the project, to the point where over the last year I have become executive music producer, offering feedback and advice to many of the artists and to Toby Benjamin, our project leader. Toby kept asking my view on things so I said you’d better employ me as supervisor!
I took on more responsibility just to help him along while he juggled with so many artistes and their management people. I kept out of most of the direct communication and reported my musical findings to Toby, particularly about where versions could be improved, tweaked or edited, and then how they might all fit together to form a cohesive album. Not an easy task with so many to keep happy. He and I didn’t always see eye-to-eye and, personally, I would have included less tracks. Or maybe we could have spread the contributions over 3 discs instead of 2 – which would have reduced the fatigue factor of listening to all in one go. It was an intricate process, and being a charity record, Toby wanted to be ‘charitable’ and keep everyone happy as far as possible. We also had to be aware of costs and assure that the project was affordable and workable for all.
RECOIL has recorded covers of ‘Dum Dum Girl’ and ‘Inheritance’, why did you choose those two songs in particular and what was your approach?
When I was first presented with the cover version idea, ‘Dum Dum Girl’ just kept popping into my head – which I took as a sign – and I could immediately hear a way it might be re-fashioned.
In fact Toby tried to talk me out of that choice and suggested other songs. He wanted me to tackle ‘Time It’s Time’ but I didn’t have any thoughts on that track, or to be more accurate, I couldn’t really imagine a way to re-work it. It can be quite a daunting prospect attempting to do justice to some of the most inspirational music ever produced. I felt ‘DDG’ offered greater scope for re-interpretation (with a female voice this time).
A group of musicians all connected with TALK TALK were placed on hand to help out, so it almost felt like a collective even though I was in charge of the production. Shara Worden came on board and sent me her vocal stems after I provided a quick demo of my initial idea, and then I went about collecting various performances from others in order to put it all together.
With ‘Inheritance’, this came about when Toby suggested getting Linton Kwesi Johnson involved in the project. He asked me how we might incorporate Linton’s voice on the album, so I started thinking about it. It was a pretty left-field idea which I was unsure about for a long time, but I said I would try a few ideas (with no promises) to see if I could make it work. Again – a real challenge. No-one had come up with a decent version of that song at that point, so I dived in.
We recorded Linton up at RAK studios – in record time. He wasn’t actually interested to hear what I had prepared musically but just preferred to recite the words in solo – so I extracted as many variations from him as possible before he shot off to find some sushi for his lunch (LKJ was distracted by hunger that day!). I still have no idea what he thinks of the results but he gave his blessing for the inclusion. The problem was I also needed a voice for the chorus – someone who could really carry off the soaring melody for those sections. I’d already heard Paul Marshall’s voice on ‘Wealth’ and was determined to get him involved on this one. Luckily he was up for it and did a great job…
Was there one you wanted to do but couldn’t because someone else was already down to record it?
I feel we are missing a great cover of ‘Such A Shame’. It was attempted by one artist but rejected (rightly). That is a key song which should have appeared ideally.
One of the biggest names apart from yourself on the album are WHITE LIES who have covered ‘Give It Up’. How has that one turned out?
Kind of electronic pop, if you like that sort of thing…
What are your own favourites on the ‘Spirit Of Talk Talk’ album?
My personal favourites are by Feiner / Dangerfield / Wilson, Jack Northover, Joan As Police Woman, Nils Frahm / Peter Broderick and ZERO 7 – all of whom thought really carefully about how to re-interpret the originals in a completely fresh and exciting way. This is the approach I tried to take with my own submissions too. I am also a big fan of Lone Wolf’s haunting cover of ‘Wealth’.
Have Mark Hollis, Paul Webb or Lee Harris said anything about this project?
Not that I know about. I think they are all aware of it. Mark apparently gave it his blessing but that’s about it.
Do you think this tribute CD and book might go some way into reviving interest in TALK TALK’s music?
One would certainly hope so – this is a really interesting and impressive collection of heartfelt covers, submitted with genuine affection and respect for the TALK TALK legacy. As such, despite any flaws it may contain, it is well worth exploring and seeing how the influence spreads far and wide. It also makes you realise what a great singer Mark Hollis was (is) and how difficult it can be to emulate that aspect. In fact the best versions don’t really attempt to copy the originals in any way but rather re-interpret them.
ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK gives its grateful thanks to Alan Wilder
‘Spirit Of Talk Talk’ is released as a 2CD set and download by Fierce Panda on 3rd September 2012. All proceeds from the release will be going to The Rare Bird Club charity.
A 2019 reprint of the ‘Spirit Of Talk Talk’ book by James Marsh, Chris Roberts & Toby Benjamin will be available in July – featuring a preface by Simon Brenner, additions include new interviews with Paul Webb and Lee Harris; it can be pre-ordered from direct from http://spiritoftalktalk.com/