With an album named after a lyric from ROXY MUSIC’s ‘True To Life’ off ‘Avalon’ and describing her music as “New Wave. New Romantic. Art Rock. Escapism.”, Suffolk based Sophie Mahon undoubtedly wishes she was in another time, another place.
Before DEPECHE MODE, SOFT CELL and the programmable technology revolution, bands who used synths like VISAGE, ULTRAVOX, JAPAN, SIMPLE MINDS and DURAN DURAN had conventional rhythm sections and it was this juxtaposition of electronics with inventive approaches to more rockist forms that created an accessible retro-futuristic sound which dominated mainstream music between 1979-82.
As with the clientele at The Blitz Club, stylish movie stars Humphrey Bogart, Cary Grant, Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly, Sean Connery and Roger Moore are also a key influence for Mahon. So it’s unsurprising that ‘Xenon Nights’ opener ‘Black Tie’ is a winner; a sophisticated slice of art pop, it glistens with synths alongside conventional backing while Mahon showcases her fine contralto voice with the occasional Ferry-ism to outline her manifesto.
No doubt borrowing the title from the DURAN DURAN instrumental which was itself influenced by the William Blake poem, ‘Tiger Tiger’ uses the first “burning bright” line from that very prose and parties like it’s 1972; with its bursts of piano and sax, it could be subtitled ‘2RM’.
Despite a gloriously swooping synth in the intro, ‘Poster Boy Smile’ nods more towards the new wave power pop like BLONDIE and TALKING HEADS. Perhaps paying tribute to ‘The Man Who Fell To Earth’, the mid-paced funk of ‘Mr Newton’ takes a diversion and is centred around an almost jazzy offbeat bass and drum jam.
Meanwhile, ‘Blue Eyes’ is punctuated by a big treated snare; a ‘Re-Make/Re-Model’ for today, it was inspired by Mahon’s unrequited childhood crush on a Simon Le Bon lookalike! But ‘The Beautiful & The Damned’ is rockier with dominant guitar and organ stabs; it actually comes over like TEXAS if the Glaswegians had been regulars at The Blitz Club.
Moving from dusk till dawn, a ballad in the shape of ‘Carousel’ recalls Roxy’s ‘A Really Good Time’ while over a shimmering bed of synths, the sparse ‘Night Circus’ offers greater air time for Mahon’s accomplished voice as the song itself moves away from the Roxy template towards the rosy prairie of TEXAS, but without the Ry Cooder aesthetics and using electronic squelches instead.
This latter phase of the ‘Xenon Nights’ sees Mahon in more like a conventional singer-songwriter territory and despite the use of synths, ‘Angel Of Stone’ does come over like a TEXAS album track in their ‘Rick’s Road’ phase, while the album closer ‘Splendid Isolation’ could be mistaken for Tanita Tikaram or Jacqui Abbott.
Sophie Mahon takes a flesh and blood approach to her influences and while some veteran fans of the New Romantic era may only find the first handful of tracks on ‘Xenon Nights’ to their liking, what cannot be denied is that she has a musical talent that has potential to shine outside of any niche.
The soundtrack of The Blitz Club was provided by its resident DJ Rusty Egan and its story is more than well documented.
This vibrant post-punk scene had a flamboyant clientele who were dubbed ‘Blitz Kids’, ‘The Cult With No Name’ and ‘New Romantics’.
It became the catalyst for several bands including VISAGE, SPANDAU BALLET and CULTURE CLUB, as well as assorted fashion designers, visual artists and writers.
Rusty Egan told ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK: “I just played as much as I could fit in, it was not all disco. It was a bar and opened after work. I’d arrive 8.30–9.00pm and played all my faves till it was packed, then I got them dancing and at the end, I slowed down”.
The dancing style at The Blitz Club often involved the swaying of arms at a distance from the face like slow motion maraca shaking so as not to spoil any carefully hairsprayed styles. Meanwhile, feet movements were often impossible as the small dancefloor was often overcrowded!
With Steve Strange as doorman and fashion gatekeeper, the concept for what was initially a “Bowie Night” came together at Billy’s nightclub in Soho in Autumn 1978 in an effort to find something new and colourful to escape the oncoming drabness in the Winter Of Discontent. After a disagreement with the owners of Billy’s, the pair moved their venture to The Blitz Club.
Although Rusty Egan had been a soul boy and an active participant in punk through a stint rehearsing with THE CLASH and then as a member of THE RICH KIDS with Midge Ure, the two friends became fascinated with electronic dance music though the Giorgio Moroder produced ‘I Feel Love’ by Donna Summer and KRAFTWERK’s ‘Trans Europe Express’ album which had been a surprise favourite in New York discos and whose title track referenced David Bowie.
“There was a couple of years of punk which Midge Ure and myself weren’t too impressed with in terms of the clubs and the environment in Thatcherite Britain, it was horrible in Manchester, Birmingham and Liverpool!” recalled Egan, “So we were just trying basically to grasp the good in life, trying to be positive in a very negative time.”
Photo by Gabor Scott
Although Egan curated an eclectic playlist of available synth works supplemented with soundtracks and relatable art rock tunes, tracks were comparatively scarce in this new innovative electronic form.
So with studio time available following the split of THE RICH KIDS, Ure and Egan hit upon the idea of making their own electronic dance music for The Blitz Club, fronted by Steve Strange. Ure came up with the name VISAGE for the project and presented the demo to his then employers at EMI Records, but it was rejected!
Undeterred, the pair recruited Billy Currie from a then-in hiatus ULTRAVOX plus MAGAZINE’s Dave Formula, John McGeoch and Barry Adamson to record the first VISAGE album at the-then newly constructed Genetic Studios of Martin Rushent.
When Billy Currie toured with Gary Numan in 1979, he and fellow keyboardist Chris Payne composed what was to become ‘Fade To Grey’; it was included on the eventual ‘Visage’ album released by Polydor Records in 1980 and the rest is history, reaching No1 in West Germany!
VISAGE was the beauty of the synthesizer played with symphonic classical overtones fused to the electronic dance beat of Neu Europa and visually styled like a cross between the Edwardian dandies and Weimar Cabaret. Midge Ure remembered “it was a major part of my life and Steve was a major part of that period”.
The meeting of Ure and Currie in VISAGE led to the diminutive Glaswegian joining a relaunched ULTRAVOX who released the iconic ‘Vienna’ album in 1980. Co-produced by Conny Plank, the German always thought in terms of sound and on the title song, he imagined an old man at a piano in a desolate theatre who had been playing the same tune for forty years.
And when Billy Currie came to record his ivory parts, that was exactly the feel which Plank had engineered. It was to become a ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ for the New Romantic movement when it was released as a single, stalling at No2 despite being one of the best selling singles of 1981, gracing the UK charts at the same time as ‘Fade To Grey’.
Having started as a “Bowie Night”, the man himself became fascinated by this emergent cult with no name that he had inspired. In 1980, Jacqueline Bucknell, an assistant from his label RCA who was also a Blitz Kid, had taken Bowie down to The Blitz Club to cast extras to appear in a video for his new single ‘Ashes To Ashes’; among the chosen ones was Steve Strange.
Utilising Roland guitar synths and an ARP string machine with a final burst of ARP Odyssey, David Bowie saw ‘Ashes To Ashes’ as an epitaph for his artistic past as he lyrically revisited the Major Tom character from ‘Space Oddity’ over a decade on.
With this, The Blitz Club had now become a mainstream phenomenon as the BBC’s Nationwide programme sent an investigative team in, signalling a changing of the guard in popular culture with parallel scenes going on at The Rum Runner in Birmingham, The Warehouse in Leeds and Crocs in Rayleigh from which DURAN DURAN, SOFT CELL and DEPECHE MODE were to respectively gain their fledgling followings.
The perceived elitist exclusivity of The Blitz Club had partly become legend as a result of Steve Strange refusing entry to Mick Jagger for his sporting of blue jeans. Playing on this and adopting its electronic aesthetic to attract attention, five lads from Islington formed SPANDAU BALLET and initially only performed at special events which were by invitation only. Essentially becoming The Blitz Club’s house band, the quintet later scored worldwide success with a less radical sanitised pop soul sound.
Singer Tony Hadley said to ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK: “Our first album The ‘Journeys To Glory’ will always be one of my favourite Spandau albums, we were just young excited lads trying to make our mark on the world. There’s a rawness and energy on that album that is impossible to recreate. I love synthpop and still one of my favourite songs is SPANDAU BALLET’s first release ‘ To Cut A Long Story Short’.”
Not all enjoyed their visits to The Blitz Club; Billy MacKenzie notably highlighted the vapid nature of the scene in ASSOCIATES’ second hit single ‘Club Country’. But buoyed by its success, Steve Strange and Rusty Egan eventually vacated The Blitz Club and took over The Music Machine in 1982 and relaunched it as The Camden Palace, making it one of the UK’s first modern superclubs.
But the spirit of The Blitz Club still lives on and recently, there came the surprise announcement that Zaine Griff was to join Rusty Egan and ‘Fade To Grey’ co-writer Chris Payne to perform the songs of VISAGE in an audio-visual presentation at a number of events across Europe including W-Festival in Belgium.
Using Dave Rimmer’s 2003 book ‘New Romantics: The Look’ as an initial reference point and calling on the memories of Rusty Egan himself to verify whether he had actually played these songs in his DJ sets, here are 25 Songs Of The Blitz Club selected by ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK to celebrate the flamboyant legacy of that Blitz Spirit.
ROXY MUSIC Both Ends Burning (1975)
Following-up the hit single ‘Love In The Drug’, ‘Both Ends Burning’ was ROXY MUSIC’s second ‘Siren’ call. With Bryan Ferry’s stylised but anguished vocals, it was a track which laid down the sophisticated art pop trail that JAPAN and DURAN DURAN would later be pursuing. Featuring a prominent coating of ARP Solina string machine sweetened by hypnotic bass and squawky sax, ‘Both Ends Burning’ is probably the most under rated single in the Roxy canon.
Available on the ROXY MUSIC album ‘The Best Of’ via Virgin Records
With a title that was an anagram of TALKING HEADS, the New York art school combo were the inspiration for the frantic metallic romp of ‘Kings Lead Hat’ which became a favourite at The Blitz Club. Brian Eno aped David Byrne in his vocal delivery, while he was later to produce three of the band’s albums as he moved further away from art rock as a solo artist. The song was later covered by ULTRAVOX in their live sets during the early phase their Midge Ure-fronted incarnation.
KRAFTWERK reacted as they generally did to negative criticism by writing a song. A response to a review that said their motionless persona at live performances was like ‘Showroom Dummies’, the sparse eerie atmosphere was punctuated by a tight and rigid electronic drum sound that was completely new and alien, something Rusty Egan was looking to emulate. Incidentally, the count-in of “eins zwei drei vier” was a deadpan Germanic parody of THE RAMONES!
An Iggy Pop collaboration with David Bowie, the Vampiric glam of ‘Nightclubbing’ was the former James Osterberg’s commentary on what it was like hanging out with him every night. Utilising a simple piano melody and a cold Schaffel rhythm via the mechanical precision of a Roland drum machine, legend has it that Iggy insisted on keeping it, saying “it kicks ass, it’s better than a drummer”. Alongside ‘Lust For Life’, ‘Nightclubbing’ also featured in the soundtrack of ‘Trainspotting’.
Available on the IGGY POP album ‘The Idiot’ via Virgin Records
Utilising Warren Cann’s modified Roland TR77 rhythm machine, this was John Foxx moving ULTRAVOX! into the moody ambience pioneered by CLUSTER, away from the art rock of the self-titled first album and the punky interim single ‘Young Savage’. ‘Hiroshima Mon Amour’ had initially been premiered as a far spikier uptempo number for the B-side of ‘ROckWrok’. Incidentally, the ‘CC’ credited on saxophone is not Chris Cross, but a member of the art collective GLORIA MUNDI.
Available on the ULTRAVOX! album ‘Ha! Ha! Ha!’ via Island Records
LA DÜSSELDORF’s second long player ‘Viva’ was their most successful album and the title track was a regular staple at The Blitz Club. An oddball slice of cosmic space rock sung in French and German by Klaus Dinger, proceedings were aided by the dual motorik thud of Hans Lampe and Thomas Dinger. Performed with the same group of musicians, ‘E-Musik’ by Dinger’s previous band NEU! had also been a favourite at The Blitz Club, influencing the intro of the ULTRAVOX B-side ‘Face To Face’.
Commissioned by Alan Parker for the graphic prison drama ‘Midnight Express’, the noted director wanted some electronic accompaniment to the crucial chase scene of the film in the style of ‘I Feel Love’. The bassline from Giorgio Moroder’s own 1976 cover of ‘Knights In White Satin’ was reappropriated. The fruit of their labours was this Oscar winning Hi-NRG romp bursting with VANGELIS-like keyboard melodies, driven by an intense slamming and syncopated by popping pulses.
Already a fan of German music and ‘Autobahn’ by KRAFTWERK in particular, Daniel Miller’s sense of experimentation and an adoption of punk’s DIY ethic led him to buying a Korg 700s synthesizer. Wanting to make a punk single with electronics, he wrote and recorded the stark JG Ballard influenced ‘Warm Leatherette’ as an independent single release on his own Mute Records. Meanwhile, The Blitz Kids came up with their own bizarre twisting and turning dance entering a human arch to accompany it…
The late Wolfgang Riechmann is the forgotten man in the Düsseldorf axis having been in SPIRITS OF SOUND with Michael Rother and Wolfgang Flür; had his life not been tragically cut short, he certainly had the potential to become a revered and respected cult musical figure. The opening title track of his only album chimed like a Cold War spy drama before the beautifully almost oriental melodic piece imagined PINK FLOYD meeting CLUSTER over a delicate Schaffel beat.
ZAGER & EVANS’ pessimistic ditty was perfect fodder for the first VISAGE demo. Steered by Midge Ure using his freshly acquired Yamaha synths and punctuated by Rusty Egan’s incessant Roland drum machine and synthetic percussion, ‘In The Year 2525’ was perfectly resigned aural dystopia from its vocodered intro onwards. Steve Strange’s deadpan fronted the sombre tone perfectly but Ure’s vocal backing and counterpoints added that extra slice of musicality.
Available on the VISAGE album ‘The Face’ via Universal Records
One of first Japanese bands to have a Top 20 hit single in the UK was YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA in 1980. ‘Firecracker’ was a cover of a 1959 composition by Martin Denny but actually released as ‘Computer Game (Theme From The Invader)’. Recorded in 1978, the parent self-titled album was noted for its use of the then brand new Roland MC8 Micro-Composer to control the synthesizers. The result was a clean, exotic pop sound that was unusual, even in the synthpop heartland of Europe.
Produced by Zeus B Held, ‘No GDM’ was written by androgynous art history student Gina Kikoine in honour of the “great dark man” Quentin Crisp and featured an array of ARP and Moog synths to signal the birth of a new European Underground. Unsurprisingly, the song gained heavy rotation at The Blitz Club. The nonchalant, detached vocal influence of GINA X PERFORMANCE went on to be heard in the music of LADYTRON, CLIENT and MISS KITTIN.
Working with Giorgio Moroder, David Sylvian submitted ‘European Son’ for the session in Los Angeles but it was rejected by the producer. Instead, the Italian offered several of his demos, of which, Sylvian picked the one he considered to be the worst so that he could stamp more of his own vision for the developing synthesized sound of JAPAN. Considered to be too avant-garde at its inception but ahead of its time, unbeknown to Moroder and Sylvian, they had just conceived DURAN DURAN!
Available on the JAPAN album ‘Assemblage’ via Sony BMG Records
THOMAS LEER & ROBERT RENTAL Day Breaks Night Heals (1979)
Originally released on THROBBING GRISTLE’s Industrial Records, ‘The Bridge’ album saw Scottish duo Thomas Leer and Robert Rental trading vocal and instrumental duties. With an air of FAD GADGET, ‘Day Breaks Night Heals’ showcased some of Leer’s pop sensibility that was later apparent in his Arista solo period and in ACT with Claudia Brücken, while Rental maintained a dark experimental presence in this slice of artful electronic blues. Robert Rental sadly passed away in 2000.
Available on the album ‘The Bridge’ via The Grey Area
Manipulating their influences like SPARKS and MAGAZINE with a very European austere, Glasgow’s SIMPLE MINDS were “underground, pulsating through” thanks to the rhythmic interplay of Derek Forbes’ bass with Mick McNeil’s synths. Charlie Burchill was now thinking beyond the sound of a conventional electric guitar while the precision of under rated drummer Brian McGee locked the glue. That just left Jim Kerr to throw his bizarre shapes and pontificate over this dark avant disco.
Having graced the UK Top 20 again with the tremendous ‘No1 Song In Heaven’, SPARKS continued their Giorgio Moroder produced rejuvenation and had an even bigger hit with ‘Beat The Clock’. Percussively augmented by Keith Forsey who was later to produce Billy Idol, Russell Mael’s flamboyant falsetto more than suited the electronic disco sound while the programmed backing meant that Ron Mael could stoically maintain his image of doing nothing.
Belgian trio TELEX comprised of Marc Moulin, Dan Lacksman and Michel Moers, with the intention of “making something really European, different from rock, without guitar”. Opening their debut album ‘Looking for Saint Tropez’ which also contained their funeral robotic cover of ‘Rock Around The Clock’, ‘Moscow Diskow’ took the Trans-Siberian Express to Moscow, adding a funkier groove compared with KRAFTWERK’s ‘Trans Europe Express’ excursion for what was to become a cult international club favourite.
From their third album ’20 Jazz Funk Greats’, the uncompromising THROBBING GRISTLE led by the late Genesis P-Orridge were neither jazzy or funky! Gloriously sequenced by Chris Carter via a Roland System-100M modular, ‘Hot On The Heels Of Love’ was mutant dystopian disco lento with a hypnotic rhythm punctuated by a synthetic whip-crack for that S&M twist as Cosey Fanni Tutti’s whispered vocals competed with pentatonic melodies and electronic drill noises!
Zaine Griff had a Bowie-esque poise was tailor made for The Blitz Club and Tony Visconti saw enough in him to produce his debut solo album ‘Ashes & Diamonds’. Featuring Hans Zimmer on synths, the title song was sitting just outside the Top 40 and earned a performance on Top Of The Pops but the episode was pulled thanks to a Musicians Union strike. Demonstrating the song’s longevity despite it not being a major hit, it was recently covered live by American alternative rockers MGMT.
‘Being Boiled’ was the first song Philip Oakey wrote with Martyn Ware and Ian Craig Marsh for THE HUMAN LEAGUE, his bizarre lyrics being the result of a confusion between Buddhism and Hinduism while highlighting the plight of silk worms. Intended to reimagine FUNKADELIC’s funky overtones as synthetic horns, this brassier re-recorded version with fatter electronic beats was included on the ‘Holiday 80’ EP and the ‘Travelogue’ album, becoming a dance staple of The Blitz Club.
Available as a bonus track on THE HUMAN LEAGUE album ‘Travelogue’ via Virgin Records
Didier Marouani wrote the worldwide hit ‘Magic Fly’ but having left the band, Roland Romanelli and Jannick Top continued as SPACE. The rousing thrust of ‘Tender Force’ was, like ‘Magic Fly’, produced by Jean-Philippe Iliesco who later invited Rusty Egan to contribute a timbale heavy remix of this synth disco tune ; he was later to begin an ill-fated business relationship with Iliesco who was named by Midge Ure in his ‘If I Was’ autobiography as responsible for putting a wedge between him and Egan in VISAGE…
Although now known as a duo, eccentric Swiss pioneers YELLO actually began as a trio of Dieter Meier, Boris Blank and Carlos Peron. Later remixed and extended, the military drum tattoo at the start of ‘Bostich’ was deceiving as an electronic throb quickly set in. This was perfect avant garde disco for The Blitz Club with a quirky range of vocal pitches from Meier while the track also included a style of speedy European rap later that was repeated on their only major UK hit ‘The Race’ in 1988.
Available on the YELLO album ‘Essential’ via Mercury Records
Electronic pop music was often seen as pretentious, LANDSCAPE had their tongues firmly in their cheeks as evidenced by ‘Einstein A Go-Go’. “The song is a cautionary tale about the apocalyptic possibilities of nuclear weapons falling into the hands of theocratic dictators and religious extremists.” said the band’s Richard Burgess, “We talked about the track conceptually before we wrote it and our objective was to make a very simple, cartoon-like track with a strong hook that would belie the meaning of the lyrics!”
Written as a B-side instrumental for The Blitz Club’s resident dance troupe SHOCK to work a routine to, ‘R.E.R.B.’ was constructed by Rusty Egan and Richard Burgess, hence the title. Burgess had been doing the linking interludes with a Fairlight on the first VISAGE album and brought in Roland System 700 modular driven by the Micro-composer while Egan triggered the brain of the synthesized drum system that Burgess had been working on with Dave Simmons for its punchy drum fills.
Available on the SHOCK single ‘R.E.R.B.’ via Blitz Club Records
Produced by Daniel Miller, one of the first SOFT CELL recordings on signing to Phonogram was the seminal ‘Memorabilia’. While not a hit, it was critically acclaimed and become a favourite at The Blitz Club. Dave Ball’s deep Roland Synthe-Bass and klanky Korg Rhythm KR55 provided a distinctive danceable backbone to accompany Marc Almond’s souvenir collecting metaphors about sexual promiscuity. After this, SOFT CELL were signed by Rusty Egan to Metropolis Music for publishing.
“When Brian Eno calls himself a non-musician, he isn’t confessing a fault or admitting a deficiency. His self-evaluation is a proud stroke against obsolete concepts in rock and roll. He is a madcap ringmaster in the centre ring, introducing an act that will not only make music sound different, but change what it means”
Brian Peter George St John le Baptiste de la Salle Eno started out as the EMS VCS3 wielding non-musician in ROXY MUSIC.
In his autobiography ‘In The Pleasure Groove: Love, Death & Duran Duran’, John Taylor remembered the man who at the time was just known as ‘Eno’: “They had this keyboard player who just turned knobs… how the hell does that work??”
Although Bryan Ferry was the art rock combo’s leader and songwriter, Eno attracted his own legion of fans and inevitably took away some of the limelight. Following two acclaimed albums, Eno left ROXY MUSIC after being told by Bryan Ferry in June 1973 that they would never share the same stage again!
Tensions had been running high at Roxy gigs with Eno’s fans gathering to the left of the stage chanting “ENO-ENO!” while Ferry’s fans were to the stage right chanting back “FERRY-FERRY!” – Ferry later admitted “I wasn’t very good at sharing” but EG Management who looked after ROXY MUSIC weren’t too unhappy, saying to Eno: “We feel you’re ready for a solo career!”
To celebrate the start of that solo career, Eno’s first four classic vocal albums ‘Here Come The Warm Jets’, ‘Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy)’, ‘Another Green World’ and ‘Before & After Science’ have been reissued as deluxe gatefold 2LP heavyweight vinyl editions mastered at half-speed for 45RPM, effectively now presenting each album as two EP mini-albums.
Using ‘simplistic keyboards’ and ‘snake guitar’, Eno’s solo debut ‘Here Come The Warm Jets’ released in January 1974 followed a thrashy, energetic style inspired by THE VELVET UNDERGROUND. Its hybrid of glam, progressive and art rock continued in a vein similar to early ROXY MUSIC.
Indeed, Phil Manzanera, Andy MacKay and Paul Thompson joined their former band mate as part of the record’s line-up of deliberately incompatible musicians which included Robert Fripp, Paul Rudolph and Chris Spedding.
Eno’s willingness to experiment and challenge conventional rock traditions only affirmed to some observers that he was the originator of the arty Roxy sound, as Ferry & Co mellowed and gradually turned into STEELY DAN!
With its humourous money shot title, ‘Here Come The Warm Jets’ was dominated by guitar-driven numbers like the neo-instrumental title track, ‘Needles In The Camel’s Eye’, ‘Baby’s On Fire’ and ‘The Paw Paw Negro Blowtouch’, although the latter’s madcap synth solo and electronic treatments provided Eno with his USP. However, alongside these noise experiments were softer, more introspective numbers like the wonderful ‘Some Of Them Are Old’. It was a good debut, but things would get even better.
Named after a Peking Opera, just the influential nature of ‘Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy)’ released in November 1974 signified the importance of his sophomore offering and this was without its more cerebral approaches and observations on Chinese Communism.
OMD borrowed the templates of ‘Back In Judy’s Jungle’ and ‘China My China’ for ‘Maid Of Orleans’ and ‘Genetic Engineering’ respectively, while the bassline similarities of ‘The Fat Lady Of Limbourg’ with BLANCMANGE’s original ‘Some Bizzare Album’ take on ‘Sad Day’ are there loud and clear.
Then there was BAUHAUS later turning ‘Third Uncle’ into a goth disco favourite with only minor amendments and Manchester post-punk funksters A CERTAIN RATIO getting their name from a lyric in ‘The True Wheel’.
Musically, ‘Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy)’ was again guitar based but there was also the pretty lullaby of ‘Put A Straw Under Baby’, while a beautiful elegiac quality aided by synthesizers seeped into the album’s solemn title track closer.
However in early 1975, Eno’s life took a major turn when a car accident left him hospitalised and temporarily immobile. While convalescing, he attempted to play a record of 18th Century harp music and unable to get up to adjust the volume which was set too low, the almost inaudible soundtrack made him realise how music could be part of the ambience of its environment.
It changed Eno’s outlook and his way of making music.
Co-produced by Rhett Davies, the first fruit of labour was the experimental ‘Another Green World’ released in September 1975. Unlike his previous solo records, he had no material pre-prepared before entering the studio.
Largely gone were the guitar based numbers of the first two albums, although the art funk of ‘Sky Saw’ featuring Percy Jones on fretless bass, Phil Collins on drums and John Cale on viola must have caught the ear of a certain David Robert Jones.
Instead, there were shorter tracks, many of them evocative instrumentals dominated by keyboards and synthesizers like the iconic title track which was eventually used as the theme to the BBC2 arts programme ‘Arena.
Pieces such ‘Sombre Reptiles’, ‘Becalmed’ and ‘Spirits Drifting’ signalled where Eno was heading musically, but the album’s best track was the beautiful piano-led ‘Everything Merges With The Night’. This mournful tune, featuring a flat but honest vocal from Eno, was to become a key influence on GARY NUMAN for his ballads ‘Complex’ and ‘Please Push No More’.
The critical acclaim for ‘Another Green World’ saw Eno becoming a man in demand as a collaborator, which led to the two year gestation period for ‘Before & After Science’ released in December 1977. It was his first vocal record credited as ‘Brian’ and to be his last one for many years as he divided time working with ULTRAVOX, DAVID BOWIE, CLUSTER and TALKING HEADS. Indeed, the latter were the inspiration for the metallic romp of ‘Kings Lead Hat’; the title was an anagram of the art school combo’s name while the track itself was later covered by ULTRAVOX.
As with Bowie’s ‘Low’ and ‘Heroes’ which Eno had worked on, ‘Before & After Science’ presented its material as pop and experimental sides.
The first side included the quirky ‘Blackwater’ with its fabulous stabs of synth, while the material that formed the almost percussion-less second side was another pointer of things to come.
Adding a Yamaha CS80 to his EMS AKS and Minimoog synth armoury, a gentle sophistication manifested itself, particularly on the sumptuous nautical folk of ‘Spider & I’.
Meanwhile the album’s acknowledged highlight ‘By This River’, co-written with CLUSTER and engineered by Conny Plank, was subsequently revisited by Martin Gore of DEPECHE MODE for the second instalment of his ‘Counterfeit’ covers project in 2003.
After ‘Before & After Science’, Eno largely steered clear of conventional vocal led material for his own work and went into full ambient mode, releasing the highly regarded ‘Music For Airports’ in March 1978. There would be further lengthy ambient electronic offerings such as ‘Thursday Afternoon’, ‘The Shutov Assembly’, ‘Neroli’, ‘Lux’ and more recently ‘Reflection’.
Although today, Brian Eno might be seen within the rock sphere as the producer of U2 and COLDPLAY, this quartet of recordings chronicles his musical journey as to how it all began.
While this series of reissues is restricted to vinyl, CD and digital formats are already available. Anyone remotely interested in popular music should give these inventive albums a listen, in whatever format.
The vast career of electronic innovator and ambient godfather BRIAN ENO has crossed genres, styles and instrumentation.
Ranging from his solo work with his use of simplistic keyboards and snake guitar to major rock productions and motivational techniques such as his famous ‘Oblique Strategies’ cards, Eno’s theories and thought processes have shaped the pop, rock and avant garde worlds.
“Anything that’s strong enough will stand up to any amount of analysis” Eno said profoundly.
While starting out in art rock with ROXY MUSIC as an EMS VCS3 wielding non-musician, a car accident in early 1975 left him temporarily immobile in a hospital bed. Ever the thinker, it allowed him to explore the possibilities of environmental music.
Inadvertently, he had discovered the sub-genre of ambient. One of his best known early compositions of this type was the short instrumental title track of his 1975 opus ‘Another Green World’ which combined voxless and vocalled tracks in equal measures; the track later became the opening title theme to the BBC2 arts programme ‘Arena’. He focussed on this wordless aesthetic, producing acknowledged ambient classics such as ‘Music for Airports’, ‘Thursday Afternoon’ and ‘Neroli’. His recent album ‘Lux’ on Warp Records continued this quality tradition.
Following his acclaimed solo album ‘Before & After Science’ in 1977, he largely steered clear of conventional vocal led material until 2005’s excellent ‘Another Day On Earth’. However, he maintained a presence within the pop and rock sphere as a producer with ULTRAVOX! and later acts such as DEVO, TALKING HEADS, U2 and JAMES.
“Being a record producer is the best form of cowardice. Producers often get praised but they have to do a really bad job for anyone to criticise them” he said of his occasionally hands-off approach, “The way I work is to try to find out what isn’t being done that ought to be done. Sometimes that means somebody ought to make the tea. Sometimes it means somebody ought to re-write the whole bloody song”. Such is Eno’s magic, he even managed to steer COLDPLAY into making their most bearable track ‘Viva La Vida’!
Eno’s influence in the studio has been significant, even when not actually behind the desk.
While often miscredited as the producer of DAVID BOWIE’s Berlin trilogy ‘Low’, ‘Heroes’ and ‘Lodger’, he was paramount in directing Bowie’s train of thought towards a new school of pretension beyond conventional rock ’n’ roll.
The result was half instrumental tracks such as ‘Sound & Vision’ and doomy neo-classical electronic pieces such as ‘Sense Of Doubt’, while both the ‘Low’ and ‘Heroes’ albums were conceptualised into vocal and instrumental sides.
Other Eno collaborators have included HARMONIA, LARAAJI, ICEHOUSE, JOHN CALE, JAH WOBBLE, SUEDE, LEO ABRAHAMS, JON HOPKINS and KARL HYDE among many. Scouse pranksters HALF MAN HALF BISCUIT even sent up this artistic rite of passage in a song called ‘Eno Collaboration’. Eno’s catalogue is far too extensive to summarise in a short synopsis.
So what material would serve as an introduction to his varied career as a recording artist, producer, remixer and collaborative muse? Here are eighteen affectionately chosen examples. As with all previous Beginner’s Guides by ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK, the list is not definitive, presented in chronological order and limited to one track per moniker, project or artist. The intention is to act as an oblique strategy to inspire further investigation…
ROXY MUSIC Ladytron (1972)
‘Ladytron’ was a gloriously arty adventure; the inclusion of otherworldly sonic manipulations on Andy MacKay’s oboe and sax alongside Eno’s striking VCS3 sourced electronics signalled a futuristic vision that was later to reveal itself in the New Romantic scene. But Eno’s tenure in ROXY MUSIC wasn’t to last; tensions had been running high at Roxy gigs.Following Roxy’s second album ‘For Your Pleasure’, Eno was gone!
While Eno’s solo debut ‘Here Come The Warm Jets’ followed a trashy, energetic guitar led style inspired by THE VELVET UNDERGROUND, his sophomore offering took in more esoteric approaches and an interest in Chinese Communism. The skippy waltz of ‘Back In Judy’s Jungle’ with percussion played by Phil Collins headed towards the 38th Parallel as a wonderfully infectious guitar melody (borrowed from a Korean folk tune) took hold alongside various whistles and electronic effects.
Prog rockers KING CRIMSON shared management with Roxy and Eno; their guitarist Robert Fripp made his first collaboration with Eno in 1973 on ‘(No Pussyfooting)’. Comprising of two long spiky improvisations, it used a live tape loop technique christened Frippertronics which allowed Mr Toyah Wilcox to layer guitar sounds. This was put to good use on ‘Evening Star’ which had more accessible melodic components compared with ‘(No Pussyfooting)’ and gentle harmonics.
‘Warszawa’ was named after the Polish capital city but accurately captured the post-war tensions in West Berlin without the need for lyricism. At Hansa Studios where the sessions were being mixed, the soldiers in the East Berlin watch towers could look into the windows of the building! Tony Visconti’s production only enhanced the collaborative drama between Bowie’s enigmatic wailing over Eno’s Minimoog and Chamberlain keys. This formed part of an all instrumental suite on the ‘Low’ album’s second side.
Available on the DAVID BOWIE album ‘Low’ via EMI Records
Using Eno’s Minimoog with a knob marked with a sheep sticker to indicate it made woolly sounds, Billy Currie’s classical sensibilities combined with John Foxx’s detached dissatisfaction to effectively invent Gary Numan on ‘My Sex’. Despite being accorded joint billing with Steve Lillywhite and the band in the ‘Ultravox!’ album’s production credits, drummer Warren Cann later revealed that Eno had only worked on four tracks and had not been quite the accomplished studio technician the band hoped he would be!
Available on the ULTRAVOX! album ‘Ultravox!’ via Universal Music
While the 1976 sessions with cult German band HARMONIA featuring Michael Rother of NEU! remained unreleased until 1997, collaborations with two of the collective Dieter Moebius and Hans-Joachim Roedelius aka CLUSTER proved to be more successful. With a wonderful ambient collection ‘Cluster & Eno’to their name, their second album ‘After The Heat’added Eno’s contemplative voice to the experimentation, the best of which was the gentle sequencer led beauty of ‘The Belldog’.
With ‘Music for Airports’, No1 in his Ambient series, the concept had been to create soothing pieces for inducing calm in those who had a fear of flying. Unlike ‘Music For Films’ which consisted of short musical fragments, ‘Music For Airports’ comprised of four extended sketches utilising piano, synths and vocal tape loops. Very much a product of the studio and the possibilities opened up due to quality improvements of public address systems, ‘1/1’ was a magnificent 17 minute calling card that was “ignorable as it is interesting”.
Strangely enigmatic, Hassell’s muted avant garde trumpet playing and use of Prophet 5 processing in partnership with Eno on ‘Delta Rain Dream’ from ‘Fourth World Vol 1 Possible Musics’ provided a backdrop for a type of percussive primitive futurism where it was envisaged what indigenous tribes would have done if a solar powered synthesizer had been dropped in at the beginning of time and become their instrument of choice. ‘Dream Theory in Malaya: Fourth World Vol 2’ was recorded by Hassell solo in 1981.
Eno had produced and issued Budd’s ‘Pavilion Of Dreams’ on Obscure, but didn’t directly collaborate on a full album project with the American self-taught pianist until ‘The Plateaux Of Mirror’; ‘First Light’ was typical of an Eno collaboration where the musician of the partnership was allowed to breathe and build tension before Eno’s magical layers of synthesizer appeared in the final quarter. The approach could be compared to Eno choosing a tie for Budd’s shirt and suit…
‘Once In A Lifetime’ may have been the hit but ‘Crosseyed & Painless’ was the key track from ‘Remain In Light’, TALKING HEADS’ third album with Eno. Incorporating funk rhythms alongside assorted instrumentation modulating around a very basic repetitive chord structure, there was tension within the dance as David Byrne preached like an inebriate evangelist. The credit “All songs written by David Byrne, Brian Eno and Talking Heads” said it all as Eno tried to turn TALKING HEADS into his backing group.
Recorded simultaneously during the ‘Remain In Light’ sessions, ‘My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts’ was the playroom that nearly drove TALKING HEADS apart. This influential album used taped speeches by personalities of assorted faiths effectively as lead vocals. Featuring the found voice of Lebanese mountain singer Dunya Yusin, ‘Regiment’ was mildly funky and its assortment of rhythmical clarity, synthetic atmospheres and sustained guitar textures proved to be a forerunner of JAPAN’s ‘Tin Drum’.
BRIAN ENO, DANIEL LANOIS & ROGER ENO Deep Blue Day (1983)
The ‘Apollo’ album was recorded as a soundtrack to a documentary film about the mission to the moon. Its intention was to react against the newsy manner of space travel presented by most TV programmes of the day with its fast cuts and speeded up images. Feelings of weightlessness were captured among the collection’s aural clusters and atmospheres. ‘Deep Blue Day’ with its accessible countrified twang from Lanois was used in the infamous ‘toilet’ scene of the film ‘Trainspotting’.
Available on the BRIAN ENO album ‘Apollo’ via Virgin Records
It seemed a most ludicrous union at the time… the flag waving over earnest rock group teaming up with the thoughtful, ambient egghead! With Bono and Co doing their best ‘New Gold Dream’ period SIMPLE MINDS impression, ‘The Unforgettable Fire’ captured the harrowing trauma of Hiroshima in layers of Yamaha DX7 and Fairlight as Eno pushed the Irish quartet into a more esoteric mind process to counter their naturally bombastic tendencies. He continues to work with them today.
Brook was a studio engineer who could see the possibilities of stretching out the timbres and textures of the electric guitar. His experiments led to his development of the Infinite Guitar. Co-produced by Eno, ‘Hybrid’ was the first album to fully exploit this instrument and the title track very much followed the percussive possible musics of Eno’s ‘Fourth World Vol 1 Possible Musics’ collaboration with Jon Hassell. This wasn’t entirely surprising as Brook had played live with the duo in 1981.
Available on the MICHAEL BROOK album ‘Hybrid’ via Virgin Records
After their ‘Seven’ album, JAMES were accused of heading down the U2 route so in a replicant move, Booth and Co secured the services of Eno for ‘Laid’, which was released in Autumn 1993. While driven by frantic acoustic guitar, the lead single ‘Sometimes’ benefitted from Eno’s input by steadily building and adding glistening ambient synths. A most gloriously harmonic vocal section towards the conclusion appeared for yet another lift when it was least expected… pure Eno!
Available on the JAMES album ‘Laid’ via Mercury Records
Using the percolating bass sequence and chilling stabs from the original album version plus slices of Martin Gore’s backing vocal, Eno’s Apex Mix of this highlight from ‘Songs Of Faith & Devotion’ was almost Zen-like in its meditative qualities. Legend has it that while Martin Gore was playing this version in his car, he had to turn it off as it was sending him to sleep! In true Eno style, the backing built slowly and made the most of the song’s inherent tension, something which Butch Vig’s rocked up single mix failed to do.
Available on the DEPECHE MODE CD single ‘In Your Room’ via Mute Records
The first co-write between the two former sparring partners with perhaps some nostalgic lyrical reference to the fledgling days of ROXY MUSIC, ‘Wildcat Days’ was the best track from Ferry’s arduous ‘Mamouna’ project, the original sessions of which had started as far back as 1989 under the working title of ‘Horoscope’. Lots of weird noises, detuned swoops and a seasoned supporting cast including Andy MacKay, Chester Kamen and Steve Ferrone combined for this marvellous slice of electronic art funk.
Available on the BRYAN FERRY album ‘Mamouna’ via Virgin Records
BRIAN ENO & J PETER SCHWALM From This Moment (2001)
For his project with German DJ and percussionist Schwalm, Eno took a more rhythmically colourful approach to his ambient philosophies that coincided with the emergence of chill-out rooms within the club scene. Certainly, ‘Drawn From Life’ possessed more accessible entry points for those who maybe found works such as ‘Music For Airports’ too sedate. The album’s opener ‘From This Moment’ was great soundtrack music, bolstered by live percussion and strings.
Available on the BRIAN ENO & J PETER SCHWALM album ‘Drawn from Life’ via Virgin Records
Some have questioned ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK’s endorsement of DURAN DURAN but the bottom line of their appeal is simply great timeless pop songs.
While that essential element has been crucial to their massive worldwide appeal, it has also been their fusion of influences such as ROXY MUSIC, DAVID BOWIE, KRAFTWERK, CHIC, SEX PISTOLS, GIORGIO MORODER, JAPAN and THE HUMAN LEAGUE that have made them more appealing than the average boy band and allowed them to cross over into the hearts of synth aficionados.
DURAN DURAN particularly took the arty poise of JAPAN, who had been wooing teenage girls in Japan itself, and toned down their androgynous outré to make it more accessible.
Keyboardist Nick Rhodes was essentially a David Sylvian clone and within his role, it was the burgeoning movement in post-punk Britain involving affordable synthesizers that was to prove crucial to the development of the band he founded with bassist John Taylor.
In his new autobiography ‘In The Pleasure Groove: Love, Death and Duran Duran’, John Taylor remembers: “Seeing THE HUMAN LEAGUE for the first time was a turning point. Nick and I saw them supporting SIOUXSIE & THE BANSHEES at the Mayfair Ballroom in the Bullring shopping centre and watched in amazed silence. They had no drummer. No guitars. They had three synthesisers and a drum machine instead. So Nick’s mum, Sylvia, made a £200 investment: the first Wasp synthesizer to arrive in Birmingham…”
Of course, this synthfluence went the full hog on their ‘Red Carpet Massacre’ tour in 2007-2008 with a mid-show electronic interlude. Performed in the style of KRAFTWERK, the set included covers of ‘Warm Leatherette’ and ‘Showroom Dummies’ as well as a Klingklang rework of their own ‘Last Chance On The Stairway’ and their most RFWK inspired number ‘All She Wants Is’. When ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK asked John Taylor about this and commented it was a refreshing change from acoustic sets, his swift reply was: “Yes, exactly… fun wasn’t it. Nick and I really hate those ‘oh so sensitive’ acoustic sets!”
The David Beckham of the New Romantic movement launched his book at London’s Leicester Square Theatre with a sold-out book reading and signing, where he was met by applause and cheers from ladies of a particular demographic who were quite clearly dumbstruck at being face-to-face with someone who had adorned their bedroom walls in their teens. There was excitement and anticipation, but it was quite apparent that these ladies were also into the music, something that is not always obvious with female fans of some bands.
But of course, it was this adulation that ultimately sent JT off the rails into a well documented misadventure of sex, drugs and rock’n’roll!
The book gives him a chance to tell his side of the story and to be honest, as outrageous and debauched some of these anecdotes are, it would have been difficult for most red-blooded men, thrust into the position he was at the age of 21, to have acted any differently…
John Taylor was a lanky bespectacled music geek called Nigel when he formed DURAN DURAN in 1978. He changed his name to the cooler John, while his pal Nicholas Bates felt the surname Rhodes (after the fashion designer Zandra and THE CLASH’s manager Bernie) would be slightly more aesthetically pleasing… after all, it’s not very nice to be called “Master Bates”.
Anyhow, they loved ROXY MUSIC, whose lavish aspirational demeanour was key to their appeal… the message being that an ordinary man, like son of a miner Bryan Ferry, really could attain and get to date Kari-Ann, the glamorous model who was the first ROXY MUSIC cover girl. JT also joked to the audience about Roxy’s peacock synthesist Brian Eno: “They had this keyboard player who just turned knobs… how the hell does that work??”
Despite Nick’s Wasp and latterly accquired Crumar Performer, a number of line-ups featuring clarinets and various lead singers proved fruitless although one girl who auditioned, Elayne Griffiths, suggested JT should wear contact lenses after he took off his glasses for a video shoot.
Luckily, the owners of the legendary Birmingham club The Rum Runner, the Berrow brothers believed in their potential. Michael Berrow even sold his flat to finance the band, such was his commitment. Drummer Roger Taylor had joined, but the turning point was the recruitment of guitarist Andy Taylor who was to become JT’s party partner–in-crime and drama student drop-out Simon Le Bon as vocalist.
Le Bon may not have had the greatest voice in the world but he had swagger and he had lyrics. He gave the fledgling band focus and the rest would become history. The albums ‘Duran Duran’ and ‘Rio’ would become big sellers with singles such as ‘Planet Earth’, ‘Girls On Film’, ‘Hungry Like The Wolf’ and ‘Save A Prayer’ while crucially, the band toured like there was no tomorrow, unlike their arch rivals SPANDAU BALLET.
The other advantage they had over them was their songwriting prowess. In fact, ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK asked JT what was the particular moment when he realised DURAN DURAN were going to blow away the Islington quintet; he gleefully answered: “To Cut A Long Story Short!”
A bit like in that scene at the start of ‘The Inbetweeners Movie’, when ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK left school, the Deputy Headmaster warned everyone to “beware of slow horses and fast women”… JT most definitely ignored the latter and reaped all that was on offer; he was like a kid in a sweet shop.
In one of the evening’s book reading segments, JT told everyone over their smirks of laughter: “I had been a nerd at school, never had a regular girlfriend. Now, I had only to wink in a girl’s direction in a hotel lobby, backstage or at a record company party, and have company until the morning.” Over time though, enjoying The Hokey Cokey, fast cars and even faster women took priority over the music… the book includes a recollection of JT having a hissy fit when asked to redo a bass part in Sydney for ‘Seven & The Ragged Tiger’, their multi-million selling but disappointing follow-up to ‘Rio’.
Is it any wonder that the quality of a band’s output diminishes once they find the trappings of success? Incidentally, the ‘Seven’ of the album’s title was the five band members plus the Berrow brothers (in case you thought they couldn’t count!) while ‘The Ragged Tiger’ was fame!
DURAN DURAN fragmented in 1986 following THE POWER STATION and ARCADIA side projects… there was even a JT solo single ‘I Do What I Do’! Eventually despite a 1993 renaissance, the band was left with just Le Bon and Rhodes and no Taylors when JT himself departed in early 1997.
But in 2000 following the disastrous ‘Pop Trash’ album, a social meet-up in LA with the three of them at JT’s pad led to the definitive line-up reuniting for a triumphant world tour in 2004. When you’ve got it, you might lose your way but if you can re-focus and get your demons conquered, you can get it back.
However, the below expectations comeback albums ‘Astronaut’ and ‘Red Carpet Massacre’ followed and although they lost Andy Taylor again and a record deal with Sony on the way, their persistent efforts bore artistic fruit with the superb 2011 album ‘All You Need Is Now’ released on Nick Rhodes’ Tape Modern imprint. JT admitted it took three albums to get it right and was gracious in his regret that Andy Taylor was not still in the band to make his distinct contribution.
Observing JT on stage without his bass and his bandmates was strange at first. But reading from a lectern in the style of a presidential address, he was articulate and came over as charming, humourous, and humble. He was also thankful he was still around to tell the tale. He talked about the passing of his parents and how the book had been inspired by the enormous family archive he had found when clearing up his childhood home.
He gamely accepted questions from the evening’s compere, book co-writer Tom Sykes and also the audience, some of whom endearingly could not contain themselves when actually speaking to their hero!
Entertaining and witty, this thoroughly enjoyable and well organised event was carried off with charisma and fun.
Meanwhile, the book itself is a very good, easy read. With a more than generous selection of archive photos, it provokes laughter, sadness, affection and raised eyebrows in equal measure. One of the ingredients to a male popstar’s success is to make female fans fall in love with them and make male fans want to be them.
While some observers may complain about how some bands fail to get recognition over others they consider less deserving, a lot of it can be pinned down to lack of engagement on the band’s part… consider the fact that a number of the bands from that New Romantic / Synth Britannia era did not really tour much back in the day, if at all.
John Taylor may have been excessive in his pursuit of the fringe benefits that came with success but he, like the rest of DURAN DURAN, pursued their dreams and made some very good records on the way.
As Simon Le Bon once remarked on the ‘Top Ten New Romantics’ documentary back in 1999: “Decadent DURAN DURAN? We weren’t, we were just hard working!”