Tag: RRussell Bell (Page 1 of 2)

PAGE En Ny Våg

PAGE call it “Keyboardbaserad Retroromantisk Popmusik”…

The veteran Swedish duo of Eddie Bengtsson and Marina Schiptjenko are back with ten newly written songs recorded during 2022 – 2023. Having released their first single ‘Dansande Man’ in 1983, ‘En Ny Våg’ (translated as “A New Wave”) consolidates 40 years of PAGE.

Having first started a re-exploration of the post-punk synth innovations of TUBEWAY ARMY on the 2017 long player ‘Det Är Ingen Vacker Värld Men Det Råkar Vara Så Det Ser Ut’ that continued on 2019’s ‘Fakta För Alla’, Eddie Bengtsson again uses Gary Numan as a catalyst, alongside associated bands ULTRAVOX (both John Foxx and Midge Ure periods) and DRAMATIS (comprising of former Numan band members), for an opus shaped by a Moog Voyager XL and Moog Minitaur.

The driving rhythms and swimmy synths on the ‘En Ny Våg’ title song show things are business as usual but sound of piano and the mournful violin of Chris Payne from The Gary Numan Experience add a new uplifting dimension to this stage of PAGE’s Numanisation process. There’s the classic mechanised octave play on ‘Vi Kommer Tillbaka’ which ramps into a sparkle during its final quarter in the vein of Foxx-era ULTRAVOX while the frantic synth punk of ‘För Du Är Rädd’ is classic PAGE.

Photo by Jonas Karlsson

‘Stop-Vänta-Nu’ opts for more solemn overtures but the excellent jaunty robopop of ‘Det Här Är Mitt Sätt’ and its four chord progression provides catchy riffs in that imperial synth vein with fabulous vintage Moog soloing in what was originally conceived as a homage ‘Fade To Grey’. Another highlight ‘Början På Något’ is gloriously bouncy in its glam sparkle but dressed in electronics, it even provides welcome reminders of ‘Dansande Man’.

Despite the ivory intro, ‘Frusen’ morphs into something more speedy with RRussell Bell of DRAMATIS providing frenetic guitar interventions while the downbeat demeanour of ‘Förloraren’ is bolstered by sweeping synths recalling VISAGE’s ‘The Steps’. On ‘Genomskinlig’, Bengtsson gets to realise more of his Billy Currie synth hero fantasies via his Voyager XL while at the finish, the intimate ‘Korridoren’ hypnotises in its beatless aural cocoon held down by a repeating bass squelch and eerie string machines in a manner that would make OMD proud.

An immediate and entertaining poptronica journey with the occasional spike of punk and the snap of glam, if ‘En Ny Våg’ sounds familiar, then that is kind of the point. As Eddie Bengtsson said to ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK recently: “If someone tells me ‘that sounds a bit like early Numan’ or ULTRAVOX, I give them a high five. Because that means that they have understood what I’m trying to do”.


‘En Ny Våg’ is released on 29 September 2023 by Energy Rekords as a CD and vinyl LP, available from https://hotstuff.se/page/x-7640

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Text by Chi Ming Lai
26 September 2023

Lost Albums: DRAMATIS For Future Reference

Following the retirement of Gary Numan with his spectacular farewell shows at Wembley Arena in April 1981, four of his erstwhile backing band officially went solo under the moniker of DRAMATIS.

RRussell Bell, Denis Haines, Chris Payne and Ced Sharpley toured the skies with the Machine Music pioneer and had been instrumental (pun totally intended) in the success of Numan’s powerful live presentation. While success for DRAMATIS for not exactly assured, several things were in place for a smooth transition to independence.

First the quartet had signed a deal with Elton John’s Rocket Records. Secondly, they had also secured the services as engineer and co-producer of Simon Heyworth who had worked with on Mike Oldfield’s ‘Tubular Bells’. And finally, they had use of Ridge Farm Studios, one of the best residential recording facilities in the UK at the time.

DRAMATIS were a brainy bunch. Guitarist RRussell Bell had a degree in Physics / Psychology and was versatile enough to handle unusual instruments such as the Moog Liberation keytar, Chapman Stick and Vi-Tar electric violin. Drummer Ced Sharpley previously had cult success with prog rockers DRUID who were signed to EMI and had appeared on ‘Old Grey Whistle Test’; his clean, dynamic drum breaks on ‘The Pleasure Principle’ tracks such as ‘Cars’, ‘Films’ and ‘Metal’ became very influential within the US Hip-Hop community.

Handling mostly keyboard duties, both Chris Payne and Denis Haines were classically schooled; Payne had also co-written VISAGE’s ‘Fade To Grey’ and been noted for his viola playing on Numan standards such as ‘M.E.’ and ‘Complex’. He had even mastered a Medieval reed instrument called a Cornamuse. Meanwhile it was Haines who had played the piano version of ‘Down In The Park’ that made it onto the flip of ‘I Die:You Die’. However, it was exactly this type of musical background which the British music press still had total disdain for in the wake of punk.

“Between Denis Haines and myself, we used a Prophet 10 and Prophet 5, CP70 piano, Minimoog, ARP Axxe, Roland 330 vocoder, and Moog Taurus pedals” Payne said of the instrument armoury, “RRuss also had a Chapman stick which was sometimes heavily effected to sound synth like, and to complete the madness on the song ‘Human Sacrifice’, I played the cornamuse for that ancestral sound!”

Released after Gary Numan’s Wembley concerts, the grandiose debut single ‘Ex Luna Scientia’ showed DRAMATIS’ potential immediately. Celebrating the adventurous spirit of NASA, it coincided with the launch of the first Space Shuttle and sounded like a cross between ELECTRIC LIGHT ORCHESTRA and VISAGE.

But it was too much for the savage journalists who already had their knives resharpened following usage on their former employer. “We had a lot to prove musically because Gary Numan had been getting so much flak in the press which reflected on us”. Chris Payne remembered, “They said the music was naïve, the band couldn’t play and that was quite hurtful”. 

Unfortunately, comments like “chicken without its head” were being banded about while other writers couldn’t get their brain cells round a catchy vocodered chorus sung in Latin! Undeterred, a follow-up single ‘Oh! 2025’ was put out but this was quite pedestrian synth rock compared to ‘Ex Luna Scientia’. Incidentally, its beautiful B-side ‘The Curtain’ was later recycled by ULTRAVOX’s Billy Currie for a solo track called ‘Requiem’!

With Rocket Records still sniffing for a hit, the next single ‘No-One Lives Forever’ was swiftly issued. This was much better; the anthemic chorus, deep chanting bridge and Bell’s heavy metal guitar solo contradicting the dystopian resignation of Haines’ lead vocal.

Gary Numan said on the Radio 1 review show ‘Roundtable’ that it was “the best thing they’ve done yet”. It even got played by Steve Wright although he was unimpressed; “I know it’s deliberate but those vocals are awful” he quipped. It would be fair to say vocals were DRAMATIS’ Achilles heel and sounded strained at best. But RRussell Bell explained: “When we recorded the first DRAMATIS album, we recorded the backing tracks first, then I’d lock myself in a room and write the lyrics. Then we’d start putting the vocals down, that’s when I discovered that they were all in keys that were a bit high for my voice. Basically, I’m a baritone…”

To attract interest in their forthcoming album, Rocket Records came up with a bold strategy with the release of ‘No-One Lives Forever’… they put a one minute sample each of four songs on the B-side. The idea was ahead of its time as snippet based promotion is now standard practice on many platforms. Alas, the single wasn’t a hit and the album (which had already been advertised in the press) was now delayed.

A total remix of the album was made at the behest of the label while a new sleeve depicting the band as futuristic university lecturers was necessitated. “The initial idea was supposed to be a Victorian glass display in the British museum with us as an exhibit” recalled Bell of that photo session, “The concept of glass cases came in but it was like four glass telephone boxes with us standing in them in an empty office. There was nothing British Museum about it. We looked at the pictures and they were crap. So that idea was scrapped!”

“Oh God, it was a mess!” remembered Payne, “I never understood why we spent ages recording it in one of the best studios in England at the time, only to remix it at Marcus studios in London, which was bloody awful. All this messing around when we had perfectly good mixes drove me to despair. It took forever, cost a fortune, we had to re-do the cover of the album. Denis Haines and I thought the album lost something. Having said that, the time spent at Ridge Farm was brilliant. It was a really inspirational environment and had a great pub in the village just up the road. Needless to say where we were most evenings.”

Meanwhile while they were recording the album, Gary Numan paid a visit to his former colleagues at Ridge Farm Studios before he departed on an ambitious round-the-world flight. He particularly enjoyed the backing track of a song that had been written about their days touring together. Entitled ‘Love Needs No Disguise’, Numan asked if he could sing it. The band happily accepted.

With Sharpley’s sparse drum machine intro dressed with his timbale rolls and Haines’ stark piano chords, this was a lot barer than Numan’s own recordings although he himself had been experimenting with minimalism on ‘Dance’. Some pretty guitar and viola was the final touch and the track was released as a joint single on Numan’s label Beggars Banquet. It reached No 33 in the UK chart but not as high as many had hoped.  The parent album ‘For Future Reference’ then slipped out in December 1981 almost unnoticed. It was though Rocket had decided to pull back on it.

Overall, the album had many impressive moments but also had several flaws. Featuring all the singles, one of the highlights was ‘Turn’, voiced by Chris Payne and throwing in everything from a classical intro, progressive interludes and pounding drums to clattering rhythm box, synth solos and angry if slightly ham vocals. “I have never felt comfortable about my own voice” Payne clarified, “It was always put down whilst I was at music college and as a result I really didn’t care that much. ‘Turn’ was composed by me and I only recorded my own voice for either Denis or RRussell who were the principle vocalists on the album. But after I recorded it, everyone thought it fitted the track so we kept it.”

The following ‘Take Me Home’ had the drama of a vintage silent movie with Chaplin-esque piano and strings heart wrenching as Haines cried like a disturbed teenager, repeating the title over and over again. Haines’ Peter Gabriel impression could grate and was not to everyone’s taste but his ‘On Reflection’ was another musical highlight on the second half of the LP, a sad lament about lost friendships. With a more conventional if limited rock oriented vocal, RRussell Bell had his moment with the incessant ‘I Only Find Rewind’ while ‘Human Sacrifice’ possessed aggressive tribal synthetics and an LFO squence from the Moog Liberation but was spoiled by a weak chorus.

DRAMATIS’ only album so far showcased the band’s virtuoso abilities and while the use of four different lead vocalists confused the continuity of the album, instrumentally, there was much to enjoy. Chris Payne certainly agrees: “I think it’s a really good album. My only regret was that we didn’t have just one person who could have sung everything to make it more of a cohesive album. We had Gary as a guest which was fair enough but me singing a track… c’mon? We should have stuck to one singer, that was a big mistake… but musically, it stands up.”

Very much the outsider even when he was in Gary Numan’s band, Haines left DRAMATIS after he declined to tour the album and embarked on a solo career. He released a Numan-esque 12” single in Germany called ‘It Spoke To Me Of You’ and an ambient album entitled ‘The Listening Principle’ which featured versions of ‘The Curtain’ and ‘Take Me Home’ retitled ‘In Loving Memory’.

But at the start of 1982, the remaining trio released a great 7 inch pairing featuring the ULTRAVOX-like ‘Face On The Wall’ backed with the neo-classical jig of ‘Pomp & Stompandstamp’. They then topped it with ‘The Omen’ Goes Disco magnificence of ‘The Shame’ a few months later although further chart action didn’t materialise.

RRussell Bell thought it was one of their best songs and in a 2007 interview with NuReference amusingly recalled: “the line ‘train crash killed the heroine’ was about a starlet who died in a train crash. But the music press thought it was about heroin, which shows how bad their spelling is and also how f*cking stupid they are to even think I’d write a song about the most evil, insidious drug in the world. However, the guitar solo was pretty cool.”

Following an appearance on ‘The David Essex Showcase’ (a short lived BBC talent showcase which also featured TALK TALK amongst others!), their final John Punter produced single ‘I Can See Her Now’ reached No 57 in late 1982. But just as they were about to make a breakthrough with a second album on the way, the politics of the music biz had worn the threesome down.

While losing interest in their own band, Gary Numan meanwhile had got the bug back for touring and played clubs in the US during the summer of 1982 with a new backing band which featured Rob Dean, ex-JAPAN and soon-to-be-in-demand fretless bassist Pino Palladino. However, for his forthcoming ‘Warriors’ assault, Numan decided to call up his former band. With the prospect of more secure employment, DRAMATIS were no more.

Fast forward to 2000 and with Gary Numan getting critical reappraisal for his imperial years, ‘For Future Reference’ was rather misleadingly reissued and promoted as a lost TUBEWAY ARMY album under the title ‘The DRAMATIS Project’ by Castle Select. The CD was pressed from a vinyl cutting master while the seamless join between ‘Turn’ and ‘Take Me Home’ was spoiled by the atmospheric intro of the latter being faded out and then restarting again on its chilling ivory motif after a gap!

Meanwhile, the clueless booklet notes also implied that Messrs Bell, Haines, Payne and Sharpley were actually members of TUBEWAY ARMY… most Gary Numan fans knew the band effectively didn’t exist when ‘The Blue Album’ was released in 1978! RRussell Bell was dismayed when asked about this reissue: Oh don’t! The DRAMATIS ‘project’, it was never a project, it was a band!” But he had good news: “I’ve recently got back control of the album and bought back the rights, so we now own it again. And DRAMATIS is back together and releasing the second album”.

So a properly remastered ‘For Future Reference’ finally gets its first official resissue on CD thanks to Cherry Red Records and the three post-album singles make their belated digital debut too with the B-sides ‘Lady DJ’, The Curtain’, ‘Pomp & Stompandstamp’  and ‘One Step Ahead’ also appearing. The BBC In Concert recorded at the Paris Theatre in 1982 featuring the unreleased ‘Sand & Stone’ and all the extended 12 inch versions are additionally included in the plethora of bonuses.

Photo by Chi Ming Lai

Looking back recently on the period, Chris Payne said: “Personally the standout for me is and always will be ‘The Shame’. It started with the chord patterns whilst rehearsing at the old Nomis rehearsal studios in Earls Court and gathered pace from there with RRussell adding his parts with melody and lyrics, plus a brilliant guitar solo in the middle eight. I seem to remember that we recorded that at the old Trident studios in London, and it was a shame (excuse the pun) that we didn’t continue there as I found this to be the perfect studio sound for DRAMATIS.”

DRAMATIS were undoubtedly finding their feet as a solo proposition in 1982 but their tenure was cut short. Sadly, Cedric Sharpley passed away in 2012 but with a new single ‘A Torment of Angels’ and a live return in 2021, DRAMATIS can now finally reference their past for a future.


In memory of Ced Sharpley 1952 – 2012

ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK gives its sincerest thanks to RRussell Bell and Chris Payne

Special thanks also to Stephen Roper at The Numan Arms

‘For Future Reference’ is reissued as a 2CD set by Cherry Red Records on 22nd April 2022, pre-order from https://www.cherryred.co.uk/product/dramatis-dramatis-2cd-digipak/

The Numan Arms YouTube channel featuring an interview with Chris Payne and an archive audio only chat with the late Ced Sharley is located at https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC-rRuX6k___Y4ZkTHwQg–Q/videos


Text and Interviews by Chi Ming Lai
Photos by Brian Aris except where credited
14th April 2022, reworked from an article originally published 19th April 2012

DRAMATIS Interview

DRAMATIS were a band of Gary Numan sidemen who toured the skies, but came into being as their own entity after their boss prematurely formalised his retirement from live performance at Wembley Arena in April 1981.

Their debut album ‘For Future Reference’ released later that year did not sell well despite the Numan voiced Top40 hit single ‘Love Needs No Disguise’, but it became something of a cult favourite.

After Denis Haines departed over disagreements about touring, the remaining trio of RRussell Bell, Chris Payne and Ced Sharpley played a series of live dates and issued a trio of singles ‘Face On The Wall’, ‘The Shame’ and ‘I Can See Her Now’ which were exhibiting a musical progression and a potential breakthrough. However, a combination of frustrations with their label Rocket Records and their former boss’ desire to return to touring led to DRAMATIS being put in hiatus, as Bell, Payne and Sharpley returned to the Numan fold.

In 2012, there had been plans to DRAMATIS to reunite but the untimely passing of Sharpley led to a period of uncertainty as Bell and Payne grieved for their bandmate.

2019 saw RRussell Bell and Chris Payne make their belated solo debuts but for the start of the new decade, there was the unexpected announcement of a new DRAMATIS single entitled ‘A Torment of Angels’. Written by Bell and with a prog synth template likely to satisfy fans of ULTRAVOX, Payne said: “RRuss is a very clever composer. He has always managed to create incredible memorable tunes but not in a standard way. His construction of chords and melody are very ‘angular’ and never follow convention. This is what makes him so unique as a writer.”

With work now progressing on a second DRAMATIS album, RRussell Bell kindly chatted about why it has taken so long to follow-up ‘For Future Reference’ and the possibility of live dates…

After the various false starts, it was a pleasant surprise to hear there was a new DRAMATIS single to start the decade?

Yes, we finally got it together. To be honest, losing Ced was a massive blow that seriously knocked us back.

Even now, whenever I program a drum track, I always try to imagine what Ced might have played and attempt that.

Also, with Chris living in France, it was difficult for us to get together regularly and our studio software isn’t entirely compatible so working purely online is difficult.

You recently released your debut solo EP ‘Like-A-Human’, so what inspired you to head down the DRAMATIS route?

I totally updated my studio a little while ago and that was the impetus to start recording a backlog of songs I’d written, as well as writing new stuff. I really enjoyed recording the ‘Like-A-Human’ EP and it was a big learning curve getting the whole thing ready for release, doing the artwork for the CD, organising worldwide distribution, filling in tax forms for the US and packing and posting merchandise from home.

We used to have record companies to do all that crap but it’s more than worth the effort to be independent. Getting the EP out gave me enough confidence to then look at finishing the second DRAMATIS album with Chris. We were both ready for it.

What were DRAMATIS’ original influences and what have you been listening to recently to help point out a direction?

Everyone seems to be obsessed with influences and genres these days. My influences comprise the sum total of everything I’ve ever heard and learnt throughout my life but I don’t listen to music, not at home and not in the car because I really don’t want to be influenced by what other people are doing. If you try to follow a trend you’re always going to be behind it.

For me it’s important to write and record music that I like, regardless of whether other people like it. I think you have to be true to yourself and when you’re an independent artist you don’t have a record label saying, “Quick! Jump on this bandwagon” so you can follow your own path. That kind of freedom is wonderful.

Of course, it also gives you plenty of opportunities to fall flat on your face. I like that. However, going back to the original question, Gary has obviously been a big influence on me because he was a major part of my musical life for a decade, so I’ll happily and gratefully put my hands up to that one.

How would you describe the new DRAMATIS material?

Personally, I’m aiming for the musical equivalent of a barely controlled explosion, with epic synths, wailing guitars, orchestral strings and horns, multiple tribal drum tracks and soaring melodies. That’s what I’m aiming for. It’s not for me to decide if I’m anywhere near achieving that. It might sound like a wet fart to some people but you can’t please everyone.

How has writing and recording for this new music differed from when you last wrote as DRAMATIS?

I’m not aware of having changed the way I write songs. Recording is easier now in my own studio with modern equipment.

In fact, recording is so easy now that anyone, even someone tone deaf with no sense of rhythm can put together something that sounds a bit like a proper song, because the software gives you the rhythm and tunes and all the bum note.

But that doesn’t mean anyone can write a good song! I constantly have to fight the urge to rely too heavily on software, it can sap your creativity and make you sound anodyne and derivative.

‘A Torment Of Angels’ and your solo track ‘Like A Human’ saw you changing your vocal style and singing in a much lower key?

Yes, the funny thing is, when we recorded the first DRAMATIS album, we recorded the backing tracks first, then I’d lock myself in a room and write the lyrics. Then we’d start putting the vocals down, that’s when I discovered that they were all in keys that were a bit high for my voice. Basically, I’m a baritone. The verses of ‘I only Find Rewind’ are at a comfortable level for me and that’s around the pitch I write songs at now.

There was a song called ‘Retro Alien Thing’ that previewed in 2014. What was that about and will it be part of the new album?

That was an early song that Chris came up with, I wrote a totally different set of lyrics with a different melody, so now we have two songs with the same backing track. One of them might be on the album. Basically, we’re going to record as many songs as possible and then pick the best ones for the album.

Is ‘Sand & Stone’ which was played live during your tour in 1982 going to part of this new album?

A properly recorded studio version of ‘Sand & Stone’ is a contender for the album. I’ll let you know if it makes the cut as soon as we’ve decided.

Lyrically many of DRAMATIS’ songs reflected the dystopia of the times, and that all seems to have come full circle?

Yeah, it’s basically the same old sh*t happening to different people, which pretty much sums up the history of the human race. We never seem to learn anything from history.

So we’re just doomed to make the same mistakes over and over again. At least it gives us songwriters something to whinge about.

Are there any songs from the DRAMATIS reboot that you can tell us apart and how they’re coming together?

Today I’m working on a track called ‘Time Flies’. It has a floaty ethereal chorus, a slightly edgy verse and a weird bit in the middle that might well get the boot and be replaced by something with less oddness.

You and Chris have been appearing with and as support for your former boss at various points over the last ten years, what has that been like?

Playing with Gary is always fun. He’s so easy to work with and also, I finally got to play at the Albert Hall, even if it was just one song. Brilliant.

There was talk of a remastered ‘For Future Reference’ with its associated Rocket-era tracks coming out, what’s the state of play there?

Yes, that’s part of the plan but we still need to track down the original tapes. We also need them to assemble some backing tracks for live gigs as there’s only two of us now, so we obviously can’t play everything live. If we can’t find them, we’ll have to re-record them, which will be a major pain in the arse. If anyone knows where they are please get in touch with me via Chi, it would be massively appreciated.

What are your favourite DRAMATIS songs from that first phase? Are there any particular memories, either personal or during recording attached to them that you can recall?

I think my favourites from that era are ‘I Only Find Rewind’, ‘The Shame’ and ‘Love Needs No Disguise’. I also have a soft spot for ‘I Can See Her Now’.

You played a Chapman Stick on ‘For Future Reference’, did you ever get the hang of it because it looks a bugger to play?

Yes, it was good for bass parts because it went down to bottom C and the left hand fingering was pretty easy for a guitarist but the upper register tapping with the left hand was tricky and also sounded like a weedy clavinet. It needed quite a few effects to make it sound half decent. I wasn’t using it very much, so I chopped it in for a drum machine and a microphone.

Do you still have your Moog Liberation?

Yes, I still have the Moog Liberation. It’s in the attic in London. God, that was a heavy bit of kit to lug around the stage. I haven’t used it for years because I lost the 16 core lead that attaches it to the rack unit.

Is DRAMATIS playing live a possibility in the future?

Yes, DRAMATIS playing live is a very distinct possibility in the not too distant future.


ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK gives its warmest thanks to RRussell Bell

‘A Torment of Angels’ is available as a download single from https://dramatis.bandcamp.com/

‘For Future Reference’ is reissued as a 2CD set by Cherry Red Records on 22nd April 2022, pre-order from https://www.cherryred.co.uk/product/dramatis-dramatis-2cd-digipak/

https://twitter.com/RRussellBell


Text and Interview by Chi Ming Lai
14th January 2020, updated 28th February 2022

2019 END OF YEAR REVIEW

2019 was a year of 40th Anniversaries, celebrating the synth becoming the sound of pop when ‘Are Friends Electric?’ reached No1 in the UK chart in 1979.

While GARY NUMAN opted for ‘(R)evolution’ and two of his former sidemen RRussell Bell and Chris Payne ventured solo for the first time, OMD offered a 7 disc ‘Souvenir’ featuring a whole album of quality unreleased material to accompany a concert tour to celebrate four decades in the business. That was contrary to DEPECHE MODE who merely plonked 14 albums into a boxed set in a move where the ‘Everything Counts’ lyric “the grabbing hands grab all they can” became more and more ironic… MIDGE URE partied like it was 1980 with the music of VISAGE and ULTRAVOX, while SIMPLE MINDS announced an arena tour for 2020 so that their audience could show Jim Kerr their hands again.

HEAVEN 17 announced some special showcases of the early material of THE HUMAN LEAGUE and got a particularly warm reception opening on tour for SQUEEZE as a trailer ahead of their own ‘Greatest Hits’ jaunt next year.

Celebrating 20 years in music, there was the welcome return of LADYTRON with a self-titled comeback album, while Swedish evergreens LUSTANS LAKEJER performed the ‘Åkersberga’ album for its 20th Anniversary and similarly GOLDFRAPP announced a series of shows in honour of their magnificent cinematic debut ‘Felt Mountain’.

Cult favourites FIAT LUX made their intimate live comeback in a church in Bradford and released their debut album ‘Saved Symmetry’ 37 years after their first single ‘Feels Like Winter Again’.

As a result, their fans were also treated to ‘Ark Of Embers’, the long player that Polydor Records shelved in 1985 when the band were on the cusp of a breakthrough but ended with a commercial breakdown.

Modern prog exponents Tim Bowness and Steven Wilson got back together as NO-MAN for their dual suite electronic concept record ‘Love You To Bits’, but an even more ambitious undertaking came from UNDERWORLD with their boxed set ‘Drift Series 1’.

Also making live returns were one-time PET SHOP BOYS protégé CICERO with a charity gig in his hometown of Livingston, WHITE DOOR with JOHAN BAECKSTRÖM at Synth Wave Live 3, ARTHUR & MARTHA and Mute Records veterans KOMPUTER.

After a short hiatus, the mighty KITE sold-out three gigs at Stockholm Slaktkyrkan and ended the year performing at an opera house, while GIORGIO MORODER embarked on his first ever concert tour where his songs were the stars.

Although their long-awaited-as-yet-untitled third album was still to materialise, VILE ELECTRODES went back on the road in Europe with APOPTYGMA BERZERK and THE INVINCIBLE SPIRIT. Meanwhile, Chinese techno-rock sextet STOLEN opened for NEW ORDER on their Autumn European tour and EMIKA performed in a series of Planetariums.

Despite the fall of The Berlin Wall 30 years ago, there were more evident swipes to the right than there had been for a long time, with the concept of Brexit Electro becoming a rather unpleasant reality. So in these more sinister times, the need for classic uplifting electronic pop was higher than ever.

To that end, three superb debut albums fitted the bill. While KNIGHT$ offered quality Britalo on ‘Dollars & Cents’, the suave presence of OLLIE WRIDE took a more MTV friendly direction with ‘Thanks In Advance’.

But for those wanting something more home produced, the eccentric Northern electronic pop of the brilliantly named INTERNATIONAL TEACHERS OF POP continued the artistic lineage of THE HUMAN LEAGUE.

QUIETER THAN SPIDERS finally released their wonderful debut album ‘Signs Of Life’ which was naturally more understated and Denmark had some worthy synthpop representation with SOFTWAVE producing an enjoyably catchy debut long player in ‘Game On’.

On the shadier side of electronic pop, BOY HARSHER achieved a wider breakthrough with their impressive ‘Careful’ long player but as a result, the duo acquired a contemporary hipster element to their fanbase who seemed to lack manners and self-awareness as they romped around gigs without a care for anyone around them. But with tongues-in-cheeks, SPRAY continued to amuse with their witty prankelectro on ‘Failure Is Inevitable’.

Photo by Johnny Jewel

Italians Do It Better kept things in house as CHROMATICS unexpectedly unleashed their first album for six years in ‘Closer To Grey’ and embarked on a world tour. Main support was DESIRE and accompanied on keyboards by HEAVEN singer Aja, the pair took things literally during their cover version of ‘Bizarre Love Triangle’ with a girl-on-girl kiss in front of head honcho Johnny Jewel.

Other ITIB acts on the tour dependent on territory included DOUBLE MIXTE, IN MIRRORS and KRAKÓW LOVES ADANA. But the best work to appear from the stable came from JORJA CHALMERS who became ‘Human Again’.

There were a variety of inventive eclectic works from FAKE TEAK, MAPS, FINLAY SHAKESPEARE, ULTRAMARINE, TYCHO, THE GOLDEN FILTER, FRAGRANCE. and FADER. Meanwhile VON KONOW, SOMEONE WHO ISN’T ME and JAKUZI all explored themes of equality while BOYTRONIC preferred ‘The Robot Treatment’.

But expressing themselves on the smoother side of proceedings were CULT WITH NO NAME and notably SHOOK who looked east towards the legend of YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA.

Dark minimalism reigned in the work of FRAGILE SELF and WE ARE REPLICA while no less dark but not so aggressive, WITCH OF THE VALE cemented their position with a well-received opening slot at Infest.

Touring in Europe with OMD and MIDGE URE, TINY MAGNETIC PETS unleashed two EPs ‘The Politburo Disko’ and ‘Girl In A White Dress’ as fellow Dubliner CIRCUIT3 got political and discussed ‘The Price Of Nothing & The Value Of Everything’.

2019 was a year of electronic instrumental offerings galore from NEULAND, RICARDO AUTOBAHN, EKKOES, M83, RELIEF, FEMMEPOP and OBLONG, although ERIC RANDOM’s dystopian offering ‘Wire Me Up’ added vocoder while BRIAN ENO celebrated the 50th anniversary of the first moon landing ‘For All Mankind’.

The King of Glum Rock LLOYD COLE surprised all with an electronic pop album called ‘Guesswork’ just as PET SHOP BOYS set an ‘Agenda’. HOWARD JONES released his most synthy work for years in ‘Transform’ and while CHINA CRISIS acted as his well-received support on the UK leg of his 35th Anniversary tour, their front man GARY DALY ventured solo with ‘Gone From Here’.

Among the year’s best new talents were IMI, KARIN MYGRETAGEISTE and ALICE HUBBLE with their beautifully crafted avant pop.

And with the media traction of artists such as GEORGIA, REIN, JENNIFER TOUCH, SUI ZHEN, THE HEARING, IONNALEE, PLASMIC, ZAMILSKA, IOANNA GIKA, SPELLLING, KANGA, FIFI RONG and I AM SNOW ANGEL, the profile of women in electronic music was stronger than ever in 2019.

Sweden continued to produce quality electronic pop with enjoyable releases from the likes of MACHINISTA, PAGE, COVENANT, OBSESSION OF TIME and LIZETTE LIZETTE. One of the most interesting acts to emerge from the region was US featuring the now Stockholm-domiciled Andrew Montgomery from GENEVA and Leo Josefsson of LOWE, with the catalyst of this unlikely union coming from a shared love of the late country legend Glen Campbell. Meanwhile, veteran trio DAYBEHAVIOR made the best album of their career ‘Based On A True Story’.

However, Canada again gave the Swedes a good run for their money as ELECTRIC YOUTH and FM ATTACK released new material while with more of a post-punk slant, ACTORS impressed audiences who preferred a post-post-punk edge alongside their synths.

DANA JEAN PHOENIX though showed herself to be one of the best solo synth performers on the live circuit, but artistically the best of the lot was MECHA MAIKO who had two major releases ‘Okiya’ and ‘Let’s!’.

Despite making some good music in 2019 with their ‘Destroyer’ two-parter, the “too cool for school” demeanour of TR/ST might have impressed hipsters, but left a lot to be desired. A diva-ish attitude of entitlement was also noticed by ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK to be disappointingly prevalent in several fledgling acts.

Synthwave increased its profile further with the film ‘The Rise Of The Synths’ narrated by none other than John Carpenter. MICHAEL OAKLEY released his debut album ‘Introspect’, BETAMAXX was ‘Lost In A Dreamworld’, COM TRUISE came up with a ‘Persuasion System’ and NEW ARCADES were ‘Returning Home’.

Scene veteran FUTURECOP! collaborated with PARALLELS, COMPUTER MAGIC and NINA prior to a hiatus for the foreseeable future, while there were promising new talents emerging in the shape of POLYCHROME, PRIZM, BUNNY X and RIDER.

However, several of the sub-genre’s artists needed to rethink their live presentations which notably underwhelmed with their static motions and lack of engagement.

While promoters such as Outland developed on their solid foundations, others attempted to get too big too soon like the musical equivalent of a penis extension, leaving fans disappointed and artists unpaid. Attempting to turnover more than 10 acts during in a day with a quarter of an hour changeover has always been an odious task at best, but to try 15?!? One hopes the headliners were well paid despite having to go on at midnight when most of their supporters went home so as not to miss the last train…

Now at times, it was as if a major collective midlife crisis had hit independent electronic music in the UK during 2019. It was not unlike how “born again bikers” have become a major road safety risk, thanks to 40somethings who only managed Cycling Proficiency in Junior School suddenly jumping onto 500cc Honda CMX500 Rebel motorcycles, thinking they were Valentino Rossi.

Something similar was occurring in music as a variety of posturing delusional synth owners indulged in a remix frenzy and visions of grandeur, forgetting that ability and talent were paramount. This attitude led to a number of poorly attended events where attendees were able to be counted on one hand, thanks to clueless fans of said combos unwisely panning their video footage around the venue.

Playing at 3:15pm in an empty venue is NOT performing at a ‘major’ electronic festival… “I’ll be more selective with the gigs I agree to in the UK” one of these acts haplessly bemoaned, “I’ve played to too many empty rooms!” – well, could that have been because they are not very good?

Bands who had blown their chance by not showing willingness to open for name acts during holiday periods, while making unwise comments on their national TV debut about their lack of interest in registering for PRS, said they were going to split a year in advance, but not before releasing an EP and playing a farewell show in an attempt to finally get validation for their art. Was this a shining example of Schrodinger’s Band?

Of course, the worst culprits were those who had an internet radio show or put on gigs themselves so that they could actually perform, because otherwise external promotors were only interested in them opening at 6.15pm after a ticket deal buy on for a five band bill. Humility wouldn’t have gone amiss in all these cases.

It’s a funny old world, but as ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK comes up to concluding its tenth year as an influential platform that has written extensively about not one or two or three or four BUT five acts prior to them being selected to open on tour for OMD, luckily the gulf between good and bad music is more distinct than ever. It will be interesting to see if the high standard of electronic pop will be maintained or whether the influx of poor quality artists will contaminate the bloodline.

So ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK ends the decade with a complimentary comment by a punter after attending two of its live events: “You don’t put on sh*t do you…”

May the supreme talent rise and shine… you know who you are 😉


ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK Contributor Listings of 2019

PAUL BODDY

Best Album: UNDERWORLD Drift Series 1
Best Song: MOLINA Venus
Best Gig: RAMMSTEIN at Milton Keynes MK Bowl
Best Video: SCALPING Chamber
Most Promising New Act: SCALPING


IAN FERGUSON

Best Album: NO-MAN Love You To Bits
Best Song: NO-MAN Love You To Shreds
Best Gig: RAMMSTEIN at Stadion Slaski Chorzow
Best Video: RAMMSTEIN Deutschland
Most Promising New Act: IMI


SIMON HELM

Best Album: PAGE Fakta För Alla
Best Song: PAGE Fakta För Alla
Best Gig: LAU NAU at London Cafe OTO
Best Video: LAU NAU Amphipoda on Buchla 200 at EMS Stockholm
Most Promising New Act: THE HIDDEN MAN


CHI MING LAI

Best Album: KNIGHT$ Dollar & Cents
Best Song: OMD Don’t Go
Best Gig: KITE at Stockholm Slaktkyrkan
Best Video: NIGHT CLUB Your Addiction
Most Promising New Act: IMI


RICHARD PRICE

Best Album: KNIGHT$ Dollar & Cents
Best Song: OMD Don’t Go
Best Gig: MIDGE URE + RUSTY EGAN at The London Palladium
Best Video: IMI Margins
Most Promising New Act: PLASMIC


MONIKA IZABELA TRIGWELL

Best Album: MECHA MAIKO Let’s
Best Song: KANGA Burn
Best Gig: DANA JEAN PHOENIX, KALAX + LEBROCK at London Zigfrid von Underbelly
Best Video: IONNALEE Open Sea
Most Promising New Act: PRIZM


Text by Chi Ming Lai with thanks to Ian Ferguson
16th December 2019, updated 29th Janaury 2021

RRUSSELL BELL Like-A-Human EP

It’s been a long time coming but one-time Numan guitarist and sideman Richard Russell Bell (hence the RRussell spelling!) releases his first EP ‘Like-A-Human’.

Russell Bell joined Chris Payne, Cedric Sharpley, Paul Gardiner and Billy Currie’ for Numan’s ‘The Touring Principle’ in 1979.

This was during the electronic pioneer’s imperial phase, playing to sold-out crowds in the UK and then the world after Billy Currie left to rejoin ULTRAVOX, replaced Denis Haines.

But Bell wasn’t just required for duties on his chosen instrument as he told ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK in 2012: “I was the guitarist and I had five synths!! I had a Polymoog, two Minimoogs, Moog Taurus pedals, Synares and a Roland guitar synth!”

On ‘The Teletour’, he would be required to play violin while when he formed DRAMATIS with Payne, Sharpley and Haines, he would add saxophone, Chapman Stick and a Moog Liberation to his armoury.

DRAMATIS only released one album ‘For Future Reference’ in 1981. Haines left shortly after so the remaining trio of Bell, Payne and Sharpley soldiered on to issue a further three singles before disbanding and rejoining their former boss for the ‘Warriors’ tour.

Decades later, DRAMATIS announced they were reforming but sadly Cedric Sharpley passed away in 2012. A new track featuring Bell and Payne called ‘Retro Alien Thing’ had radio play in 2014 but since then, there has been something of an are they or are they not going saga with DRAMATIS. Chris Payne issued a solo album ‘The Falling Tower’ this year while the pair performed ‘Fade To Grey’ together at the Royal Albert Hall in 2018 opening for Numan on his string laden tour with The Skaparis Orchestra.

The title song could easily be retitled “Like-A-Numan”, with Bell adopting the verbal mannerisms of the former Gary John Webb in a touching homage that will be enjoyed by long-standing card carrying Numanoids. Meanwhile on guitar, Bell turns into Robert Fripp!

On ‘Haunted By You’, Bell springs a another vocal surprise in a duet with the fabulous feminine allure of Charlie Jones, while the man himself offers a deeper vocal resonance away from the strained larynx heard on the work of DRAMATIS. The straightforward rhythmic backbone is perfect for the song’s cinematic surroundings.

Cut from a similar cloth, ‘We Drown In Bars’ is exotically Eastern and airy, especially within its guitar motif with Bell offering another confident low register vocal with some Numanesque overtones. To end the EP, the gothic prog of ‘Cold Zero’ maintains the baritone while there is some fabulous frantic drum programming and a full-fat guitar solo emerging from the haunting choir filled soundtrack.

Russell Bell says there will be new DRAMATIS material and it appears that the ‘Like A Human’ EP is a welcome first step in sparking such a possibility.


‘Like A Human’ is released as a digital EP, available now from https://rrussellbellslike-a-human.bandcamp.com/

https://www.rrussellbell.com/

https://twitter.com/RRussellBell


Text by Chi Ming Lai
19th April 2019

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