Tag: Some Bizzare (Page 1 of 2)

25 FAVOURITE MUSIC BOOKS

Factory Records impresario and Granada TV presenter Tony Wilson once said: “When forced to pick between truth and legend, print the legend.”

Books about the trials and tribulations of the music industry come in all shapes, sizes and angles. The approach can be tricky… should they be personal accounts, encyclopaedic histories, stories based on real life but with some spin, or just snapshots of an era?

In recent years, autobiographies and memoirs have become very popular as money for old rope in the absence of physical music sales. These can range from being informative and hilarious to extremely bitter, with others coming over very dull in an attempt not to upset anybody. Meanwhile others feature so many falsehoods that they may as well be placed in the ‘Fiction’ section.

One less appealing format that has been gaining increasing prevalence is the fan memory compendium; this could be seen as a lazy and cheaper way of producing a publication as followers compete to be seen as the biggest fan. Meanwhile others, notably members of lower league bands, try to make out they were massive fans in the first place with recollections that are actually veiled attempts to promote their own music.

When writing a music book, it helps to actually read and research a few beforehand. In addition, when deciding whether a point is worthy of inclusion, the viewpoint of the reader must always be taken into consideration as they hypothetically ponder “so what?”. 

The 21st Century ubiquity of social media has proved that not everyone can string a coherent sentence together.  But where that may seem a barrier, a ghost writer can be the subject’s best friend and a number of the books listed here have taken that route.

Not a best of list, here are 25 music books that have become the personal favourites of ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK listed in yearly and then alphabetical order by title.


DEPECHE MODE: BLACK CELEBRATION Steve Malins (1999)

Steve Malins’ biography features interviews with Alan Wilder, Daniel Miller and Flood. Offering assessment on the unusual band dynamic, one story that highlights things were going south is the debauched cricket match between DEPECHE MODE and OMD during the 1988 US tour. The continually underappreciated Wilder declares how he proudly bowled out Andy McCluskey whom he intensely disliked. Meanwhile Dave Gahan hovered up a line of coke before going into bat and was inevitably out for a golden duck!

‘Black Celebration’ was originally published by Andre Deutsch Ltd with 2001, 2005 + 2013 updated editions

https://www.depechemode.com/


TAINTED LIFE Marc Almond (1999)

This is a frank but humorous autobiography by the SOFT CELL frontman about living life with art school aspirations but suddenly thrust into becoming a pop star and having false tabloid stories written about him in a homophobic world. Attempting to rebuild a career having signed to Warners in 1991, in a reality check, he is told by MD Rob Dickens that the world does not need another Marc Almond album and suggests recording a Trevor Horn produced cover of Jacques Brel’s ‘Jacky’ as made famous by Scott Walker…

‘Tainted Life’ was originally published by Pan Books

http://www.marcalmond.co.uk/


I WAS A ROBOT Wolfgang Flür (2000)

‘I Was A Robot’ was the controversial autobiographical exposé of the KRAFTWERK machine combined with Wolfgang Flür’s partying exploits. However, as his account of OMD coming backstage to meet the band after the Liverpool Empire gig in 1975 has since proved to be false while his musical contribution to KRAFTWERK recordings has been shown to have been minimal, although entertaining, parts of this book should be taken with a pinch of salt.

‘I Was A Robot’ was originally published by Omnibus Press with 2003 + 2017 revised editions

https://www.facebook.com/WolfgangFlur1


THE ENCYCLOPAEDIA OF CLASSIC 80s POP Jonathan Blythe (2002)

Written in the irreverent vein of classic Neil Tennant-era Smash Hits, the best quote in this amusing book is about DURAN DURAN: “You will have surely have wondered why the girl you fancied seemed far more interested in a slightly porky bloke with bleached-blond hair and a foppish name. The compilation ‘Decade’ contains the 80s hits, but if you want a more comprehensive overview, go for the other one ‘Greatest’. You can usually find them both in the ‘CDs for £5.99’ section, to be honest”

‘The Encyclopaedia Of Classic 80s Pop’ was originally published by Allison & Busby

https://www.goodreads.com/en/book/show/1172733.The_Encyclopaedia_Of_Classic_80s_Pop


24 HOUR PARTY PEOPLE Tony Wilson (2002)

Given the Factory Records catalogue number FAC 424 and subtitled “What The Sleeve Notes Never Tell You”, this account of the Manchester independent label is centred around Wilson’s noted ego where the narrative reads as enjoyable spin rather than factual stories about the label, its bands and The Haçienda. His alleged legendary quote that ”The musicians own everything. The company owns nothing. All our bands have the freedom to f**k off” was to prove to be his downfall…

’24 Hour Party People’ was originally published by Macmillan

https://factoryrecords.org/


NEW ROMANTICS: THE LOOK Dave Rimmer (2003)

Smash Hits writer and author of ‘Like Punk Never Happened…’ Dave Rimmer takes a look at the flamboyant New Romantics via The Blitz Club playlists and profiles of SPANDAU BALLET, VISAGE, DURAN DURAN, SOFT CELL, DEPECHE MODE, KRAFTWERK and DAF. The Myth of Berlin and Futurism are also discussed and there are plenty of glossy photos that encapsulate its spirit.

‘The Look’ was originally published by Omnibus Press

https://www.rocksbackpages.com/Library/Writer/dave-rimmer/


IF I WAS Midge Ure (2004)

With dry humour, this is a sincere and honest account by Midge Ure of his career which included being a teen pop idol with SLIK who had their own Look-In magazine comic strip. As well as accounts of his success with ULTRAVOX and VISAGE and as a solo artist, there is also his darker descent into alcoholism in the wake of low sales. Our hero is candid about the occasionally tense dynamics with his colleagues, while an insight into VISAGE’s original contract with Polydor makes very interesting reading.

‘If I Was’ was originally published by Virgin Books with 2011 revised edition

http://www.midgeure.co.uk/


PET SHOP BOYS, CATALOGUE Philip Hoare & Chris Heath (2006)

This is a superbly presented visual retrospective of PET SHOP BOYS up to ‘Battleship Potemkin’ featuring artwork, video stills, stage sets and other artefacts accompanied by insightful commentary. There is also a chronology included as well as an interview with Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe who again steals the show with the quip “We still are grumpy, actually”!

‘Catalogue’ was originally published by Thames and Hudson Ltd

https://www.petshopboys.co.uk/


BRIAN ENO: ON SOME FARAWAY BEACH David Sheppard (2008)

Credited with taking David Bowie into “a whole new school of pretension” with The Berlin Trilogy, this authorised biography on Brian Eno traces his career beginning as a self-confessed non-musician with ROXY MUSIC twisting knobs on a VCS3 to producing U2. In between, he makes synthesizers go bong, popularises ambient music, develops Oblique Strategies with artist Peter Schmidt and gets his head around programming the Yamaha DX7. But the biggest revelation in the book? “Eno was shagging more women than Ferry”!

‘On Some Faraway Beach’ was originally published by Orion

http://www.enoweb.co.uk/


SPARKS: No1 SONG IN HEAVEN Dave Thompson (2009)

An enjoyable unauthorised biography of SPARKS, Ron and Russell Mael’s endearingly witty contributions to this book come from the author’s interviews with the brothers conducted between 1985-2009. There are also press cuttings, an expansive discography and a collector’s guide alongside quotes from former backing band members. But while the stories of the various albums are detailed, those wanting gossip on personal lives will be disappointed.

‘No1 Song In Heaven’ was originally published by Cherry Red Books

http://allsparks.com/


GARY NUMAN: BACK STAGE Stephen Roper (2012)

‘A Book Of Reflections’, long time Numanoid Stephen Roper gives a comprehensive account of the imperial years of Gary Numan from 1979 to 1981 via a series of interviews and memories from band members Chris Payne, RRussell Bell and the late Cedric Sharpley as well as the man himself. OMD’s Andy McCluskey, SIMPLE MINDS’ Jim Kerr and Nash The Slash give the viewpoint of the support acts while there are also additional observations from John Foxx, Richard Jobson and Jerry Casale.

‘Back Stage’ was originally published independently with revised 2017 eBook edition available from https://back-stage.dpdcart.com/cart/view#/

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC-rRuX6k___Y4ZkTHwQg–Q


IN THE PLEASURE GROOVE: LOVE, DEATH & DURAN DURAN John Taylor (2012)

This autobiography traces the story of how a nervous bespectacled Brummie lad called Nigel became an international sex symbol as John Taylor, bassist of DURAN DURAN; “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” he recalls. As outrageous and debauched as some of these anecdotes of sex and drugs and rock ‘n’ roll are, it would have been very difficult for anyone thrust into this position aged 21 to have acted any differently.

‘In The Pleasure Groove’ was originally published by Sphere

http://www.duranduran.com/


MAD WORLD Lori Majeski & Jonathan Bernstein (2014)

‘Mad World’ delves into the spirit, the politics and the heartache behind some of the greatest songs in popular culture with an American MTV viewpoint courtesy of enthusiastic Duranie Lori Majewski, balanced by the critique of Glaswegian Jonathan Bernstein. The contrasting dynamic ensures a celebration of the era while simultaneously pulling no punches with Bernstein lobbing hand grenades in the direction of KAJAGOOGOO and THOMPSON TWINS!

‘Mad World’ was originally published by Abrams Image

https://www.facebook.com/madworldthebook


JAPAN: A FOREIGN PLACE Anthony Reynolds (2015)

With the co-operation of Richard Barbieri, Steve Jansen and Rob Dean, this book is the first of its kind about the influential enigma that was JAPAN. With detailed accounts by band members and controversial manager Simon Napier-Bell among others, notably absent is David Sylvian who appears via archive interviews while the late Mick Karn is quoted from his own autobiography ‘Japan & Self Existence’.

‘A Foreign Place’ was originally published by Burning Shed

http://nightporter.co.uk/


ELECTRI_CITY: THE DÜSSELDORF SCHOOL OF ELECTRONIC MUSIC Rudi Esch (2016)

First published in German in 2015, this history gives a fascinating insider’s account of The Düsseldorf School and its cultural significance via interview quotes. Contributors on the home side include Wolfgang Flür, Robert Görl, Gabi Delgado, Hans Lampe, Ralf Dörper and Susanne Freytag, while the Brits they influenced feature Andy McCluskey, Martyn Ware, Dave Ball and Daniel Miller among their number. As Robert Görl says: “Wir wollten lieber mit Maschinen arbeiten… We always preferred working with machines”.

‘Electri_City’ was originally published by Omnibus Press

https://www.facebook.com/Electri.city.Esch


LET’S MAKE LOTS OF MONEY Tom Watkins with Matthew Lindsay (2016)

Subtitled “Secrets of a Rich, Fat, Gay, Lucky Bastard”, this is the autobiography of the late Tom Watkins, the Svengali who managed PET SHOP BOYS, BROS and EAST 17. “A big man with a loud voice” said Neil Tennant, but he had a bolshy ability to extract favourable deals including a rumoured 20% commission on gross income while always asking “What would Edna in Huddersfield think?”. Later becoming disillusioned with the pop industry, he describes ‘The X Factor’ as being like “a Nuremberg Rally on pink drugs”

‘Let’s Make Lots Of Money’ was originally published by Virgin Books

https://www.electricityclub.co.uk/tom-watkins-lets-make-lots-of-money/


SUBSTANCE: INSIDE NEW ORDER Peter Hook (2016)

An informative in-depth look inside NEW ORDER, this huge memoir running to over 750 pages by Peter Hook was informative but not unsurprisingly tinged with bitterness and anger. But if you want to know where the band played on 9 April 1985, it’s here! There are track-by-track rundowns of each NEW ORDER album (apart from ’Republic’) and if you’ve always wanted to find out which sequencer was used on ‘True Faith’ or what Hooky’s Top16 bass cab messages are, then look no further!

‘Substance’ was originally published by Simon & Schuster

https://www.facebook.com/peterhookandthelight/


RECORD PLAY PAUSE + FAST FORWARD: Stephen Morris (2019 + 2020)

Effectively a lengthy book divided into two parts, Volume I of Stephen Morris’ memoir demonstrated his abilities as an engaging storyteller blessed with an entertaining dry wit, able to convey his growing up in an amusing and relatable manner. In the NEW ORDER dominated Volume II, readers cannot help but laugh out loud when our hero discovers that the 10 mile shooting range of his newly acquired ex-British Army Abbot FV433 self-propelled gun will make Bernard Sumner’s house in Alderley Edge an easy target!

‘Record Play Pause Rewind’ + ‘Fast Forward’ were originally published by Constable

https://twitter.com/stephenpdmorris


ELECTRONIC BOY: MY LIFE IN & OUT OF SOFT CELL Dave Ball (2020)

The quiet half of SOFT CELL, Dave Ball attended the same Blackpool school as Chris Lowe from PET SHOP BOYS but they never met. There was obviously something in the sea and the accounts of the Northern Soul scene point towards how that influence, along with the affordability of synthesizers, was to seed a long and successful music career which later included THE GRID. The Electronic Boy is honest about his various demons, but there is also humour and an equipment list appendix plus plenty of technical talk.

‘Electronic Boy’ was originally published by Omnibus Press

https://www.facebook.com/daveballofficial


ADVENTURES IN MODERN RECORDING Trevor Horn (2022)

Chaptered around 23 significant pieces of music in the life of Trevor Horn, the producer provides an insight into the making of his greatest moments. Music industry politics are discussed, notably with his ZTT signings FRANKIE GOES HOLLYWOOD, PROPAGANDA and THE ART OF NOISE. Among the revelations are getting bassist Mark Lickley fired from ABC but in all, this is a fun read with lots of name dropping… so imagine sitting in a van with Grace Jones and Jackie Chan that has no seat belts!

‘Adventures In Modern Recording’ was originally published by Nine Eight

https://www.facebook.com/trevorhornofficial


ELECTRONICALLY YOURS Vol1 Martyn Ware (2022)

An autobiography that covers up to the end of 1992, a quarter of the book is brilliantly devoted to a track-by-track analysis of every released recording that Martyn Ware was involved in by THE HUMAN LEAGUE, HEAVEN 17 and BEF. Politics looms within ‘Electronically Yours Vol1’ but without this socially conscientious drive , there would be no ‘Penthouse & Pavement’ or ‘The Luxury Gap’. With the recent passing of Tina Turner, Ware’s accounts of working with her now have added poignancy.

‘Electronically Yours Vol1’ was originally published by Constable

https://martynwareofficial.co.uk/


LISTENING TO THE MUSIC THE MACHINES MAKE Richard Evans (2022)

Focussing on “inventing electronic pop”, ‘Listening To The Music The Machines Make’ tells the story of the Synth Britannia generation by referencing archive material rather than via new interviews with the protagonists of the period. The end result is a more accurate picture of how synthesized forms were derided by a hostile music press back in the day, contrasting the rose tinted view projected by some cultural observers and fans today. But over 40 years on, this music has won the fight with many of the acts still performing today.

‘Listening To The Music The Machines Make’ was originally published by Omnibus Press

https://inventingelectronicpop.com/


THE SOUND OF THE MACHINE: MY LIFE IN KRAFTWERK & BEYOND Karl Bartos (2022)

A detailed autobiography of Karl Bartos about his time in KRAFTWERK and more, his optimistic disposition is a key aspect of this story. But although rising to the ranks of co-writer for ‘The Man Machine’ album, some members were more equal than others as Ralf Hütter bagged himself 50% of the publishing for the lyrics of ‘Spacelab’ and ‘Metropolis’ despite those tracks containing one word, thus reducing Bartos’ musical share! Bitterness is largely absent from this book, but it is no “sex, synths und schlagzeug” romp either.

‘The Sound Of The Machine’ was originally published by Omnibus Press

http://www.karlbartos.com/


THEMES FOR GREAT CITIES: A NEW HISTORY OF SIMPLE MINDS Graeme Thompson (2022)

Featuring new interviews with original members Jim Kerr, Charlie Burchill, Mick MacNeil and Derek Forbes, this biography focuses on the SIMPLE MINDS era of 1979-1985 when they were at their imperial and imaginative best. So where did it all go wrong? The book reveals what ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK has thought since buying the album in 1984 and that Jim Kerr himself now confirms… the second half of ‘Sparkle In The Rain’ is not particularly good! So who agrees? “LET ME SEE YOUR HANDS!”

‘Themes For Great Cities’ was originally published by Constable

https://www.simpleminds.com/


CONFORM TO DEFORM: THE WEIRD & WONDERFUL WORLD OF SOME BIZZARE Wesley Doyle (2023)

The story of Some Bizzare was always going to be a grand undertaking but Wesley Doyle managed to assemble Marc Almond, Dave Ball, Matt Johnson, Daniel Miller, Steve Hovington, Neil Arthur, JG Thirlwell, Stephen Mallinder, Anni Hogan, Stevo Pearce and his long suffering personal assistant Jane Rolink to document the rise and fall of the label that got into bed with the majors. Opting for a chronological quotes narrative, the book captures the personality of the characters involved and the tensions between them.

Conform To Deform’ was originally published by Jawbone Press

https://twitter.com/WesleyDoyleUK


Text by Chi Ming Lai
13 June 2023

Vintage Synth Trumps with DAVE BALL

Although he began with a Fender Telecaster, twin stylus Stylophone and second hand Akai reel-to-reel tape recorder to compose primitive ambient experiments, when a young Dave Ball bought a MiniKorg 800DV duophonic synthesizer, he never looked back.

On his first day as a fresher on the Fine Art degree at Leeds Polytechnic, he asked for directions from a second year student wearing a leopard skin printed shirt and gold lame jeans; that student was Marc Almond and the pair were make history as SOFT CELL…

Over four decades on, SOFT CELL have proved to be one of the most influential electronic pop acts ever with BRONSKI BEAT, PET SHOP BOYS, FRANKIE GOES TO HOLLYWOOD, PSYCHE, NINE INCH NAILS and even DEPECHE MODE owing more than a debt of gratitude to Messrs Almond and Ball for the doors they opened. During their imperial Some Bizzare phase between 1981-1982, SOFT CELL scored no less than five Top4 UK hit singles with ‘Tainted Love’, ‘Bedsitter’, ‘Say Hello Wave Goodbye’, ‘Torch’ and ‘What’ in little more than 12 months.

After SOFT CELL first disbanded in 1984, Marc Almond would go onto long and varied solo career while Dave Ball found success as a member of the dance duo THE GRID with Richard Norris. Almond and Ball would reunite to co-write three songs for the former’s ‘Tenement Symphony’ album, but a full SOFT CELL reunion would not take place until 2001. A comeback album ‘Cruelty Without Beauty’ was released in 2002 supported by extensive touring but behind the scenes, tensions were lingering. Following Marc Almond’s near-fatal motorcycle accident in 2003, the pair did not speak for many years.

But in 2018, SOFT CELL surprised the world by announcing what was intended to be a final concert at London’s O2 Arena. Having also recorded an excellent new single ‘Northern Lights’ b/w ‘Guilty Cos I Say You Are’, the special magic between Almond and Ball could not be denied. In 2022, their fifth SOFT CELL studio album ‘*Happiness not included’ was released with a number of its songs having been previewed during the duo’s 2021 live celebration of their debut album, now released as the concert film ‘Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret… And Other Stories: Live’.

However, Dave Ball was to have his own brush with mortality, spending part of 2022 in intensive care in a London hospital after seriously damaging his lower vertebrae. Placed in an induced coma, he had to miss SOFT CELL’s North American concert dates. Steadily regaining his health and fitness, Dave Ball is vowing to be on top form again for SOFT CELL’s series of outdoor live shows in 2023.

And it was a chipper Dave Ball who accepted ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK’s invitation to chat over a round of Vintage Synth Trumps and talk about SOFT CELL’s past, present and future…

So the first Vintage Synth Trumps card is an EMS VCS3…

The first time I saw one of those was Brian Eno using one with ROXY MUSIC and Dave Brock from HAWKWIND had one as well. So there’s a few legendary rock stars that have had them but I’ve never actually owned one. I had a quick play with one once at Guildford University, they have a big music college there so had a Moog System 55 and a VCS3. I was messing around with all the little pins and making weird echoey noises. I’ve always wanted to have one, they look like a lot of fun!

The next card by coincidence is the EMS Synthi AKS which is the compact suitcase version of the VCS3…

These EMS synths are the sort of synths I dream about, I’ve seen them but had no experience recording with them. I always get these two mixed up though, they were based in Putney weren’t they? I think there’s someone still making them but the originals cost a fortune and go for thousands now.

How do you feel about these remake synths, like the Korg ARP Odyssey which you have used live?

I think they’re alright y’know, I’ve got a Behringer 2600, that sounds pretty good… the one that I’m interested in at the moment is a rack mounted Wasp remake which they’ve done. There’s a connection to EMS isn’t there?

Yeah, Chris Huggett who did the original EDP Wasp worked on the Akai S1000 alongside David Cockerell who was at EMS…

…so I’ve bought one, they look like a lot of fun and I really like the sound of them as well. It actually sounded like a wasp, really thin and nasty! *laughs*

You were using the new Korg ARP Odyssey for basslines like on the live version of ‘The Art Of Falling Apart’ that is featured on the ‘Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret…And Other Stories: Live’ film, how you find it compared to the Korg Synthe-Bass SB100 or other synths like the Minimoog?

A lot of the stuff live is programmed to computer and I’m just beefing things up and adding to them. I do like the Korg ARP Odyssey, it’s got a very distinct sound. When I hear one of those, I always think of Billy Currie, especially the early ULTRAVOX stuff, he got that machine sounding fantastic. Also, a lot of early KRAFTWERK videos, you see one as well. That famous ‘Tomorrow’s World’ clip, they had a Minimoog and an Odyssey. I’ve never actually played an original authentic Odyssey so I wouldn’t be able to compare although the keys are smaller… I just take it as what it is. It IS a Korg version.

How do you find those small keys cos you’re a big fella? *laughs*

Yeah, I’ve got big fingers but I’m quite nifty with them. At home when I’m just messing about, I sometimes use one of those Akai MPK things and they have little keys on them. You get used to them and I’m quite nimble with my big fingers! *laughs*

So with the ‘Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret…And Other Stories: Live’ film, what are your memories of those shows and revisiting material like ‘Entertain Me’, ‘Chips On My Shoulder’, ‘Seedy Films’ and ‘Secret Life’ which hadn’t been aired in concert since 1982?

It was great because I’m not in the habit of listening to my old material at all, but as I knew the shows were coming up, I had to check the first album again. It was really refreshing to hear it and listen to how much we’ve changed and stuff. But what was really good about doing the shows was for a lot of people who have great memories of that album, it was the first time they’d ever heard us live, so I think it was great for them to hear the whole album being done live. It was actually the first time we’d done it, we’d never performed the album in its entirety in sequence before.

When we first made it, we used some of the tracks off it but not all of them. It was good to hear it as a whole peace. We are thinking of maybe doing the same thing with ‘The Art Of Falling Apart’, cos that could be quite a good show because a lot of people really love that album as well…

I think that would be a brilliant idea Dave…

We’ve got quite a few possibilities and options after these upcoming outdoor shows and ‘Let it Rock’… is it called ‘Let It Rock’?

It’s called ‘Let’s Rock’ but I do think is the weirdest possible name for a heritage pop festival brand… *laughs*

‘Let’s Rock’, it sounds it could be SHOWADDYWADDY on the bill! *laughs*

Yes! EXACTLY! That’s my point! It’s easy to understand the brand concepts of ‘Rewind’, ‘Here & Now’ and ‘Forever Young’, but ‘Let’s Rock’ when there’s no rock? It is head scratching but they are doing the business…

I’d never heard of them until we were approached… my only problem at the moment with playing gigs is my mobility; I’ll probably have to use a wheelchair to get on stage! It doesn’t really matter because I sit down when I play anyway. So getting on and off stage is my only primary concern at the moment, never mind the 10,000 people that are going to be watching us! Once I’m on stage and I’m locked in, so long as I don’t start wheeling backwards, I’ll be fine! *chuckles*

Here’s another card, and it’s an Oberheim OBXa…

There were two schools, those who went for the OBX and people like me who went for the Prophet 5, it was a very similar sort of synth in terms of the way it worked and the polyphony of it but I was always a Prophet 5 man. But I did buy an Oberheim DMX drum machine which was part of that kit series that included the DSX sequencer and OBX.

Was the DMX more cost effective than the LinnDrum?

When we recorded ‘The Art Of Falling Apart’, we used the Linn 1, the Linn 2 and the DMX so it wasn’t to do with cost, it was just sonics. The Linn was a better machine in terms of it being easier to trigger with a click track, whereas the DMX wasn’t quite as simple, but it was being used on a lot of early hip-hop and electro records so I liked the sound of it more, it was a bit more punchy I thought.

Here’s something I’ve always wanted to ask you Dave, you used the Synclavier on the first two albums but bought a PPG Wave 2.2 for ‘This Last Night In Sodom’, so why did you pick that over the Synclavier or Fairlight?

This was to do with price! I never bought the sequencer for the PPG though because I always used to play everything by hand. I liked the sound of it, it was a big machine and I wanted something that sounded quite modern and metallic. The Fairlight and Synclavier had dated by then and everybody had used them on everything, so it was nice to break away from that really.

So no Fairlight, no Synclavier, that album was PPG and the DMX although my favourite drum machine would probably be the Roland TR808 out of all of them. That’s the one we used on the first album, I think we got one of the first ones off the production line. Mike Thorne also had it when we got to New York, he had a Synclavier and TR808 set-up ready to go so that was great, so we didn’t do it totally fresh *laughs*

The next card I’ve pulled out is a Roland Juno 60 and I know you used this at the O2 show in 2018…

I had one for a short while, a friend had one second-hand so I got it off him. The thing about all Roland synths is they all have a fantastic sound, you can’t really beat them. Gary Barnacle who plays sax for SOFT CELL, he has a Roland Jupiter 8 in mint condition and he said the asking price for them now is £30,000 which is crazy! I wouldn’t pay that even though it’s a wonderful synth, I might give you three and a half grand! *laughs*

How do you feel about the software emulations of these classic synths?

They’re not bad, because it’s electronic sound, it’s easier to emulate that than it is a natural sound. The drum sounds, they’ve got nailed. The thing about the original synths is the oscillators, sometimes they drift a bit and you get that lovely fadey thing, but they’ve probably got that built into some of these reproduction VST plug-ins so that they drift in amongst themselves.

‘Monoculture’ was the launch single off the first comeback album ‘Cruelty Without Beauty’ in 2002, so had your approaches to making music for SOFT CELL changed by then?

‘Monoculture’ was sort of conceived for live and mixing purposes, I made it so that it was the same tempo as ‘Memorabilia’ and it’s in the same key. So when we used to start the show with ‘Memorabilia’, it would segue straight into ‘Monoculture’, it was almost like a DJ mix to get everybody dancing with the same groove on a familiar and new track. It was a looking backwards and facing forwards kind of thing, looking back at what we’d done before and projecting what we were going to do next, recreating our own past in a way, future retro, whatever you want to call it *chuckles*

The show saw the premiere of songs from ‘*Happiness Not Included’, one of them was ‘Purple Zone’ and at Hammersmith Apollo, PET SHOP BOYS were in attendance…

On the second night at Hammersmith, we knew that PET SHOP BOYS were on the guest list so I told Marc, he was like “oh great” and pretended to be nervous as they had front row seats. Funnily enough, they were sitting next to Richard Norris, my other half in THE GRID… he said they were taking loads of photographs which is quite flattering *laughs*

After the show, my manager Chris Smith came to say that Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe were backstage and did I want to say hello? I did of course, but Marc doesn’t stay around at gigs and he’d already gone, so they came into my dressing room and we had a few beers. We chatted for about an hour and they asked about ‘Purple Zone’; Chris Smith then enthusiastically suggested to them about doing a remix and they were like “Yeah! We’d love to do it”.

Neil then asked if he could sing on it and I thought that would be fantastic so we let them do what they do best. They came back with the PET SHOP BOYS version of SOFT CELL. Neil and Marc’s voices work so well together and it was a really good record for both PET SHOP BOYS and SOFT CELL, the profile we got, I think it was the most played record on radio at the time and it No1 in various dance charts and No7 in the Music Sales chart, whatever that means. It did us all a lot of favours and a lot of good.

But then…

The weird thing was that while that was all going on, I was in hospital. Normally if I got this kind of news, I’d be out with my mates celebrating with champagne… but not in hospital I’m afraid! Chris Lowe had been chatting to me after the gig about how it was going to be a weird year in pop in 2022! I thought “what does he mean?”, but it turned out to be a weird year for me! So it was like having a third year of lockdown! But I’m out and on the loose again, not quite on the streets yet but I’m raring to go! I’ve not quite got my dancing shoes on yet! *laughs*

Another card and it’s an OSCar, I don’t know if you’ve ever used one?

No, a friend of mine had one of those, it had a great cutting sound but the designed was quite weird wasn’t it, it looked like a bit of Lego! They’re very sought after those, I don’t know much about them, most of the synths you’ve picked out, I’ve never actually owned! That’s quite remarkable really *laughs*

So there’s an extended version of ‘*Happiness not included’ coming out later this year entitled ‘*Happiness now extended’?

Yes, this was done in my absence, so I can’t take any responsibility for the artistic input for it. In the past, we used to do the longer version first and then edit it down; so this is kind of the other way round. For the early SOFT CELL stuff, we’d put a longer arrangement down for a 12” version.

Marc would do the vocal and ad-lib sections and then we’d get it down until we got the single. That was when we had to use razor blades and tape, we didn’t have digital editing which is so much easier. People who have grown up with digital and can just splice tracks together and move vocals around, they don’t know they’re born! *laughs*

I’m sounding like an old bloke cos I am, but it’s so much easier to do stuff now with computers. Back in the olden days, you had to do it physically. You could sort of fly things in but it was a lot more tricky.

I’m looking forward to hearing the extended version of ‘Nighthawks’ which was a stand-out on ‘*Happiness not included’… but that started as a solo track?

I put that together in my kitchen initially, I used just one Roland synth and a couple of little Korg sequencers to have these two patterns going. I then went to Warner Brothers Studio, I just recorded the MIDI off the two sequencers and tidied it all up on the Mac and re-ran it to the Roland and did various overdubs of that with different filter settings and stuff, decays, delays and what have you. There a bit of real piano reversed and I did the original voice on it.

It was just a bonus instrumental on a CD compilation for the deluxe box of my book ‘Electronic Boy’ but then Marc heard it and loved it. It was quite different to everything else, it was very sequencey. He did a vocal and got this New York drag performance artist Christeene to do this weird mad voice on it that sounds fantastic, it was very scary sounding. We kept the music and the original title ‘Nighthawks’ after the famous Edward Hopper painting that reminds you of loneliness and isolation, it’s what the original track was inspired by.

Was the stylisation of the sequencers on ‘Nighthawks’ influenced by any of your work with CABARET VOLTAIRE on ‘The Crackdown’ in 1983?

I never thought of that until you said it but I suppose it does have that CABARET VOLTAIRE static funky sequence about it, but you’re right, it is!

I don’t if you’ve heard it but there’s a remix of ‘Nighthawks’ by Chris & Cosey, I love that. When they asked for the brief, I just said “dirty disco”, I think it’s one of my favourite SOFT CELL remixes of the last period of work we’ve done, it doesn’t bear much resemblance to the original but it still sounds fantastic.

There is also going to be a ‘*Happiness now completed’ companion album featuring unreleased mixes, remixes and B-sides as well as covers of Giorgio Moroder, X-Ray Spex and Fad Gadget?

‘Back To Nature’ by Fad Gadget we did a while ago but Marc’s done a new vocal. X-Ray Spex ‘The Day The World Turned Day Glo’ was recorded with my friend Dave Chambers who has a Pro-Tools set-up at his home and we took the music over to Marc who did his vocals at Dean Street studios.

And the Giorgio Moroder thing ‘First Hand Experience Of Second Hand Love’ was recorded with Rick Mulhall, we sequenced that up at his place in Richmond; that’s the track that Marc and I always wanted to do because we’d bought the album ‘From Here To Eternity’ when it came out in 1977. We both had vinyl copies of that, with Giorgio and his wonderful bristling moustache, the dark sunglasses and curly perm on the front cover, it was a classic look for a synth wizard at the time. We’d recorded it once before with Ingo Vauk but that recording got lost, it had disappeared into the electronic ether so to speak! It’s probably on a hard drive in a skip! Who knows? *laughs*

Marc suggested we should do it again, it’s such a great song and a perfect one for SOFT CELL. Marc did the lead vocals and Philip Larsen did the vocoder bit as I was not able to attend. I think it sounds great, my manager Chris Smith said they’d sent a copy to Giorgio Moroder’s office in Los Angeles so we’re just waiting to see if we get a thumbs up from Da Maestro. Hopefully, he’ll be pleased that we’ve covered one of his songs.

OK, we’ve got your final Vintage Synth Trumps card and it’s a Powertran Transcendent 2000…

I know that JOY DIVISION had one which Bernard Sumner built from a kit, the synth sounds they had were fantastic, very haunting and I really liked that. My only experience of this was a guy at my art college bought one, but he made it into an art piece! He built it but had taken off the original control panel and drilled out a new one that was made of Perspex. He put all the knobs back on so there was no way you knew what any of them did! Then he had it wall-mounted with two speakers and set up a basic sinewave tone and it was up to the person looking at it to twiddle a knob and see what it did, it was like Dada synth and totally random, it was brilliant!

Was there ever a synth you bought that didn’t meet expectations?

I bought a lot of synths in my time but all of them made at least one good sound. Even if I buy a synth and only use sound, it always pays for itself. Every synth I’ve ever bought has been used on a record. I don’t think I’ve ever really wasted money on a synth. But there was this Akai sequencer which I could never get working properly. I’ve actually had trouble with Akai sequencers before to be honest. I used to love the Akai samplers, I still have an S1100 which was a great machine but I never got on with Akai sequencers, I’ve never really liked those MPC things… I can’t get my head around the architecture, that’s probably the only time I’ve spent money and regretted it. They’re my only “bête noire” I suppose, Akai sequencers! *laughs*

What are your future plans?

I‘m working with Richard Norris on new tracks for THE GRID, we’ve put a new spin on the way we’re doing THE GRID which is sounding fantastic so very pleased about that. We’ve got no guaranteed release yet, but we’re talking to a number of record companies and things are looking positive in all that respect. We’re very excited.

In my home studio, I’ve been getting some new rough ideas for backing tracks for SOFT CELL, should there be another album. Marc seems to want to do another one and I do. I hope there may be another SOFT CELL album but you’re going to have to wait a while, it probably won’t surface until the back end of next year so it will be 2025 when it actually comes out… 2025, its sounds so futuristic that doesn’t it? *laughs*


ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK gives its warmest thanks to Dave Ball

Special thanks to Debbie Ball at Create Spark

‘*Happiness now extended’ is released on 28 July 2023 as a double vinyl LP, for tracklisting and pre-order, please visit https://www.softcell.co.uk/product/happiness-now-extended-double-black-vinyl

The companion CD edition ‘*Happiness now completed’ is also out on the same day, for tracklisting and pre-order, please visit https://www.softcell.co.uk/product/happiness-now-completed-cd

The concert film ‘Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret… And Other Stories: Live’ is available now as a bluray or DVD with separate accompanying live soundtrack as 4LP + 2CD sets from LiveHereNow at https://liveherenow.co.uk/pages/soft-cell

SOFT CELL perform in the UK and Europe throughout Summer 2023, dates include:

Rochester Castle (7 July)**, Let’s Rock Southampton (8 July), Let’s Rock Shrewsbury (15 July), Barcelona Poble Espanyol (23 July), Saffron Walden Audley End (11 August )*, Steyning Wiston House (9 September)***

* with special guests OMD + HEAVEN 17
** with special guests PETER HOOK & THE LIGHT
*** with special guests HEAVEN 17 + ABC

Vintage Synth Trumps is a card game by GForce that features 52 classic synthesizers, available direct from
https://www.juno.co.uk/products/gforce-software-vintage-synth-trumps-2-playing/637937-01/

http://www.softcell.co.uk

https://www.facebook.com/softcellband/

https://twitter.com/softcellhq

https://www.instagram.com/softcellhq/

https://www.facebook.com/daveballofficial

https://twitter.com/daveballelectro

https://www.instagram.com/daveballelectro/


Text and Interview by Chi Ming Lai
Live Photos by Roger Kamp
20 May 2023, 6 July 2023

A Beginner’s Guide To MIKE THORNE

Photo by JR Host

Born in Sunderland, Mike Thorne began learning to play piano at the age of 11.  

The lessons sparked a passion for music that led to him buying a tape recorder so that he could record songs off the radio. He then studied composition at The Guildhall School of Music & Drama. But despite later graduating with a physics degree from Oxford University, the music industry was where he wanted to be. His first jobs included tape op, journalist and then A&R at EMI looking after THE SEX PISTOLS during their short tenure at the label in 1976.

This led to becoming a house record producer at EMI and his first assignment involved recording 120 saxophones playing ‘The White Cliffs Of Dover’. After recording several live albums including ‘Live at The Roxy’, Thorne got his break producing French rock band TÉLÉPHONE whose eponymous debut album went gold.

New Yorkers THE SHIRTS and the Peter Godwin fronted METRO were among those followed, but it was his work on the first three albums by WIRE – am art-punk band he spotted and signed to PINK FLOYD’s label Harvest – that drew the most critical acclaim. The records demonstrated Thorne’s willingness to experiment in the studio, stripping down structures while adding electronic elements where appropriate.

Recognising that electronics and computers were the future of pop music and that a reinvention was likely by responding to new possibilities, Thorne had the foresight to purchase the first version of the NED Synclavier in 1979. A polyphonic digital sampling system and music workstation which used FM synthesis, it was to become his production mainstay and arrived in time for Colin Newman of WIRE’s first solo release and Scottish new wave quartet BERLIN BLONDES’ only long player.

Thorne moved to New York to become a freelance producer, working mostly at Media Sound Studio. But it was while in London working on the soundtrack to a Julie Christie film ‘Memoirs Of A Survivor’ that Thorne was commissioned by Phonogram Records to produce their new signing B-MOVIE. The deal had been brokered by Some Bizzare, an umbrella organisation that was more stable than label and part of the 2-for-1 arrangement was for him to work with a Northern synth duo called SOFT CELL. The rest, as they say, is history…

‘Tainted Love’, a cover of a song written by Ed Cobb and recorded by Gloria Jones, went to No1 and was the biggest selling UK single of 1981. It also spent a staggering 43 weeks on the US Billboard Hot 100. During the recording of ‘Tainted Love’, Thorne conceived a new way of producing an extended dance mix… the 12” single would be arranged and recorded first, with the 7” single version edited from sections of the longer track. Phonogram boss Roger Ames felt the track was a little slow so it was varispeeded up slightly for release!

Meanwhile, SOFT CELL were to enter an imperial phase of five successive Top4 UK hit singles with Thorne at the production helm including ‘Bedsitter’, ‘Say Hello Wave Goodbye’, ‘Torch’ and ‘What’. However, with the overwhelming success of their debut long player ‘Non Stop Erotic Cabaret’, tensions brewed during the recording of SOFT CELL’s appropriately titled second album ‘The Art Of Falling Apart’ leading to Thorne parting ways with the duo.

In 1984, Thorne was to produce one of the most important albums of his career when he was teamed up with BRONSKI BEAT for ‘The Age Of Consent’. The trio of Jimmy Somerville, Larry Steinbachek and Steve Bronski soon fragmented after its release, but Thorne followed Somerville to his new project THE COMMUNARDS with Richard Coles to achieve yet another No1 in a HI-NRG cover of ‘Don’t Leave Me This Way’; it was also the best-selling UK single of 1986.

Thorne’s ethos was always “to make music I liked with people I liked”. As well as working with more esoteric clients such as Marianne Faithful, Nina Hagen and Laurie Anderson, he was appreciated for his crossover potential in the mainstream with Daryl Hall & John Oates commissioning him to construct an Extended Club Mix of ‘Maneater’ in 1984 which included a breakdown clearly influenced by the middle section of the ‘Tainted Love’/ Where Did Our Love Go’ 12” segue.

Although Thorne ceased working as a hired hand from 1995 following , he continued as a producer for artists signed to his label imprint The Stereo Society while he issued his first his solo record ‘The Contessa’s Party’ in 2005 featuring special guests Kit Hain, Lene Lovich and Sarah Jane Morris.

Despite achieving two best-selling UK singles of the year, Mike Thorne has often slipped under the radar in discussions about notable record producers who led the start of the digital era. Documenting a significant and trailblazing career, here are 20 tracks selected by ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK which act a Beginner’s Guide to Mike Thorne, listed in yearly and then alphabetical order by artist moniker with a restriction of one track per album project.


WIRE I Am The Fly (1978)

WIRE’s sophomore offering adopted more song structure, art- rock approaches and synthesizer textures brought in by Thorne. In what became one of WIRE’s signature tracks, ‘I Am The Fly’ had menace and provocation. It even prompted their audiences at gigs to start lying down, waving their limbs in the air like dying flies! Its influence can be heard from TUBEWAY ARMY’s ‘My Shadow In Vain’ to ELASTICA’s ‘Lined Up’.

Available on the WIRE album ‘Chairs Missing’ via Pink Flag

http://www.pinkflag.com/


BERLIN BLONDES Framework (1980)

A meeting of synthesizers, art rock and obscure vocals, Glasgow’s BERLIN BLONDES exuded the detached European cool of David Bowie during his Mauerstadt exile and were unusual at the time for using a drum machine. ‘Framework’ was syncopated futurist disco featuring crashing electronic beats and icy flashes of synth under the influence of SPARKS and MAGAZINE.

Available on the BERLIN BLONDES album ’The Complete Recordings 1980-81’ via Cherry Red Records

https://www.discogs.com/artist/512473-Berlin-Blondes


COLIN NEWMAN Order For Order (1980)

WIRE lead vocalist Colin Newman pursued a solo career and his first album featured the songs created for their anticipated fourth album. Produced by Thorne,it could be considered a sonic companion to BERLIN BLONDES. While tracks such as ‘Order for Order’ could be compared to Gary Numan due to its sombre synth lines, it had more in common with MAGAZINE.

Available on the COLIN NEWMAN album ‘A–Z’ via Sentient Sonics

http://www.coldwarnightlife.com/features/shine-on-colin-newman/


B-MOVIE Remembrance Day (1981)

Despite being alongside DEPECHE MODE, SOFT CELL, BLANCMANGE and THE THE on the ‘Some Bizarre Album’, B-MOVIE were unable to secure a Top40 chart entry with the poignant magnificence of the Thorne produced ‘Remembrance Day’. But the song gained cult status and in 2004, THE FAINT presented a fine interpolation in ‘Southern Belles In London Sing’ for their ‘Wet From Birth’ album.

Available on the compilation album ‘Dawn Of Electronica’ (V/A) via Demon Music Group

http://www.b-movie.co.uk/


KIT HAIN Spirits Walking Out (1981)

Kit Hain had an international hit ‘Dancing in the City’ with Julian Marshall in 1978 but after the duo split, Hain issued her debut solo album ‘Spirits Walking Out’ produced by Thorne. One of the highlights was the synthesized cabaret noir of the dramatic title song. Hain had a role in the SOFT CELL story as it was her Roland CR78 Compurhythm which Thorne used as the rhythmic backbone to ‘Tainted Love’.

Available on the KIT HAIN album ‘Spirits Walking Out’ via Renaissance Records

https://kittusmusic.com/


SOFT CELL Bedsitter – Early Morning Dance Side (1981)

With direction from Thorne, SOFT CELL often incorporated extra vocal sections into their 12” extended formats. ‘Bedsitter’ added a marvellous rap from Marc Almond where he asked “do you look a mess, do have a hangover?” before taking a little blusher. The literal kitchen sink drama to song concept saw tea leaves pushed down the drain as the night life started all over again.

Available on the SOFT CELL album ‘The Twelve Inch Singles’ via UMC

https://www.softcell.co.uk/


NINA HAGEN Tiatschi Tarot (1982)

Recorded in New York with Thorne, ‘NunSexMonkRock’ was the debut solo adventure by eccentric German singer Nina Hagen, as well as her first record in English. While it was primarily a dissonant mix of punk, funk and reggae, ‘Taitschi-Tarot’ was a delightful oddball avant opera piece using piano and synths that covered Buddhism, reincarnation and yoga.

Available on the NINA HAGEN album ‘Nunsexmonkrock’ via Sony Music

https://ninahagendas.beepworld.de/


SOFT CELL Torch – 12” version (1982)

Punctuated by John Gatchell’s flugelhorn, ‘Torch’ came in the middle of SOFT CELL’s imperial pop phase and the 12” version was a pièce de résistance, fuelled by Almond and Dave Ball partying on the New York club scene where they had met Cindy Ecstasy. In an amusing spoken middle section, her nonchalant off-key vocal counterpointed Almond’s fabulously forlorn romanticism.

Available on the SOFT CELL boxed set ‘Keychains & Snowstorms’ via UMC

https://www.facebook.com/softcell


THE THE Uncertain Smile (1982)

Still Matt Johnson’s finest five minutes as THE THE, ‘Uncertain Smile’ on its single release featured a wonderfully rigid TR808 pattern, lovely layers of synths and a variety of woodwinds including flute and sax. Produced by Mike Thorne, this fuller sounding and more emotive take far outstripped the bland overlong ‘Soul Mining’ album cut.

Available on the THE THE album ’45 RPM – The Singles’ via Epic Records

https://www.thethe.com/


SEONA DANCING More To Lose (1983)

SEONA DANCING were the synthpop duo comprising of a young Ricky Gervais and his University friend Bill McRae. With Gervais adopting a melodramatic Bowie-like persona as a doomed romantic, their first single ‘More To Lose’ produced by Mike Thorne was of its time. However, its incessant rhythms and tuneful keyboard inflections had appeal and the song became a surprise radio hit in The Philippines.

Available on the SEONA DANCING single ‘More To Lose’ via London Records

http://www.rickygervais.com/


SOFT CELL The Art Of Falling Apart (1983)

During the making of ‘The Art Of Falling Apart’, Thorne was viewed as a controller and spy for Phonogram. As former art school students, pop stardom did not suit SOFT CELL so there was no option but for Marc Almond and Dave Ball to self-destruct. The imploding disposition of title song couldn’t have soundtracked a mental breakdown any better.

Available on the album ‘The Art Of Falling Apart’ via Mercury Records

https://www.instagram.com/softcellhq/


BRONSKI BEAT Smalltown Boy (1984)

BRONSKI BEAT were nothing short of startling, thanks to their look, their minimal synth sound and Jimmy Somerville’s lonely earth shattering falsetto. The trio had sought to be more outspoken and political in their position as openly gay performers and the tale of the Mike Thorne produced ‘Smalltown Boy’ about a gay teenager fleeing his hometown made an important statement.

Available on the BRONSKI BEAT album ‘The Age Of Consent’ via London Records

https://www.jimmysomerville.co.uk/


THE COMMUNARDS Disenchanted (1986)

After leaving BRONSKI BEAT, Jimmy Somerville formed THE COMMUNARDS with future TV vicar Richard Coles and took Mike Thorne with him to produce their self-titled debut. The brilliant ‘Disenchanted’ heavily recalled the sound of his previous band. Somerville was never able to never stuck around in his bands for long as his relationship with Coles was dissolved after a second album ‘Red’ in 1987.

Available on THE COMMUNARDS album ‘Communards’ via London Records

https://www.facebook.com/officialjimmysomerville


HOLLYWOOD BEYOND Save Me (1987)

HOLLYWOOD BEYOND was the vehicle of the flamboyant Mark Rogers and he went Top10 with the Stephen Hague produced ‘What’s The Colour Of Money?’ in 1986. Mike Thorne was brought in to produce one track, ‘Save Me’, for the parent album ‘If’. Released as a single, it was an attempt to make a funkier version of BRONSKI BEAT and THE COMMUNARDS.

Available on the HOLLYWOOD BEYOND album ‘If’ via Warner Music

https://www.discogs.com/artist/134514-Hollywood-Beyond


LAURIE ANDERSON The Day The Devil (1989)

Having emerged from New York’s avant-garde scene, Laurie Anderson’s fourth studio album ‘Strange Angels’ saw her attempt to move away from performance art into a more musical territory. Taking singing lessons and developing into a soprano, Thorne produced four tracks on the album including ‘The Day the Devil’, a gothic art mini-opera with sinister diabolic overtones.

Available on the LAURIE ANDERSON album ‘Strange Angels’ via Warner Music

https://laurieanderson.com/


CHINA CRISIS Red Letter Day (1989)

While CHINA CRISIS had recorded their fifth album with STEELY DAN’s Walter Becker, Virgin Records had felt there were no potential hit singles. So the band were despatched to re-record three songs including ‘Red Letter Day’. Using a sharp piano figure reminiscent of Rupert Holmes’ one hit wonder ‘Escape (The Pina Colada Song)’ with more counterpoints, synths and vocal harmonies.

Available on the CHINA CRISIS album ‘Diary Of A Hollow Horse’ via Virgin Records

https://www.facebook.com/chinacrisisofficial


BRONSKI BEAT I’m Gonna Run Away From You (1990)

Mike Thorne reunited with BRONSKI BEAT whne they rebooted with a new vocalist Jonathan Hellyer who had a falsetto similar to Jimmy Somerville. The first track released was a frantic dance cover of ‘I’m Gonna Run Away From You’, a Northern Soul song made famous by Tami Lynn. Sadly, Larry Steinbachek passed away in 2017 and Steve Bronski in 2022.

Originally released as a single by Zed Beat, currently unavailable.

http://www.bronskibeat.co.uk/


INFORMATION SOCIETY Peace & Love, Inc (1992)

From Minneapolis, INFORMATION SOCIETY had their breakthrough with ‘What’s On Your Mind (Pure Energy)’ in 1988. From the album of the same name on which Thorne produced 4 tracks, ‘Peace & Love, Inc’ was spikey and energetic social commentary with heavy rave influences with 808 STATE samples thrown in.

Available on the INFORMATION SOCIETY album ‘Peace & Love, Inc’ via Tommy Boy Records

https://www.facebook.com/informationsociety


PETER MURPHY Our Secret Garden (1992)

For his fourth solo album, BAUHAUS front man Peter Murphy sort to capture the live feel of a band, having sampled musicians on his two previous works. The spacious and exotic ‘Our Secret Garden’ saw keyboards played by Murphy himself alongside the producer’s Synclavier. The ‘Holy Smoke’ album also reunited Thorne with B-MOVIE’s Paul Statham who was now acting as Murphy’s wingman.

Available on the PETER MURPHY album ‘Holy Smoke’ via Beggars Banquet Records

https://www.petermurphy.info/


MARC ALMOND We Need Jealousy (1996)

Mike Thorne’s reunion with Marc Almond proved to be tense with the singer dismayed that the producer was still using his Synclavier. A change in record labels led to Thorne’s productions being remixed by THE BEATMASTERS and BIZARRE INC. Mixed by Gregg Jackman, ‘We Need Jealousy’ featured some great bassline programming but the experience drained the producer.

Available on the MARC ALMOND album ‘Fantastic Star’ via Mercury Records

http://www.marcalmond.co.uk/


For personal commentary by Mike Thorne, archive articles and information on releases by The Stereo Society, please visit https://stereosociety.com/


Text by Chi Ming Lai with thanks to Simon Helm
20th February 2023

CONFORM TO DEFORM: THE WEIRD & WONDERFUL WORLD OF SOME BIZZARE Interview

“There is no musical barrier of peoples acceptance, the only musical barrier is the media. (music press, radio & television.) Remember what people cannot see or hear, they cannot think about.”: Some Bizzare ‘?’

Along with Factory and Mute, Some Bizzare was one of the focal points of independently minded music and culture. It can be credited with launching the careers of SOFT CELL and THE THE while DEPECHE MODE, BLANCMANGE, B-MOVIE, CABARET VOLTAIRE, EINSTURZENDE NEUBAUTEN, FOETUS and PSYCHIC TV have also been part of its story.

At the centre of it all was Stevo Pierce, a Dagenham lad who ran club nights playing electronic music and was bolshy enough to approach rock paper Sounds about publishing his Futurist chart.

Having helped get his charges SOFT CELL to No1 with ‘Tainted Love’ in the summer of 1981, Stevo caught an unsuspecting music industry on the hop. “I’ve got you by the boll*cks” he once declared and he could name his price as he shopped his roster to the major labels. His methods could be unconventional and there were legendary stories about teddy bears being sent to meetings with cassettes stating his demands including supplies of sweets for a year.

Stevo’s ace was often to get the major labels to underwrite recordings while still keeping ownership of them himself. And the majors loved dealing with him… for a while at least. But next to the million-selling singles, there were raids by the Vice Squad, sex dwarves, death threats, ecstasy parties and meltdowns with one notable incident when Stevo and Marc Almond trashed the offices of Phonogram Records in Spring 1983.

Wesley Doyle traces the weird and wonderful world of Some Bizzare in his new book ‘Conform To Deform’. It features new contributions from many of the major players in the story including Marc Almond, Dave Ball, Matt Johnson, Daniel Miller, Steve Hovington, Neil Arthur, JG Thirlwell aka Clint Ruin / Jim Foetus, Stephen Mallinder, Anni Hogan, Michael Gira and long suffering personal assistant Jane Rolink, as well as Stevo himself.

Documenting the rise and fall of Some Bizzare, Wesley Doyle chatted to ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK about how his excellent book came together as well as answering some hypothetical questions of interest…

What inspired you to document the story of Some Bizzare?

I’ve been a fan of the label since my early teens, and it was a really important part of my growing up and development. I’d been waiting for years for somebody to write a book, because I wanted to see all those stories collected in one place, but it seemed no writer or publisher wanted to take it on. So I thought I’d do it myself. I wrote a feature for Record Collector, a kind of top 20 Some Bizzare releases, which in the back of my mind I thought I could use as part of a book pitch. Which I did, and Jawbone picked it up.

With ‘Conform To Deform’, you’ve opted for a chronological quotes narrative?

I like oral histories – everyone has their own truth, and I think juxtaposing people’s recollections in their own words is a really interesting way of finding out what actually went on. But initially I started writing the book as a third person narrative, mainly because I didn’t think some of the key players would be willing to talk. It soon became apparent most people were happy to share their recollections, so I shifted it to the oral history format.

I think it works well, and it captures the personality of the characters involved. Some of the characters were so larger-than-life and their voices so strong, and there was a lot of humour that may have been lost otherwise. Stevo’s way of communication is famously unique, and people like Marc Almond, Dave Ball, Anni Hogan and Jane Rolink are all Northerners, so they have this innate sense of humour that wouldn’t have come across if I’d had been pontificating in some kind of flowery prose. Matt Johnson as well is a very funny man, which might surprise some people.

Compared with Mute and Factory, Some Bizzare was more stable than label… see what I did there! *laughs*

That’s good, I wish I’d thought of that!

I guess it’s in the book’s title, ‘Conform To Deform’; Stevo wanted to get in bed with the major labels so that he had their clout. He worked closely with Daniel Miller at the beginning but Mute were a small operation and at the time Daniel wanted to keep it that way. Stevo always thought big – from the very beginning Some Bizzare wasn’t aiming for a minority audience. There were no little independent releases, the first album came out on Phonogram, as did the first run of singles from SOFT CELL and B-MOVIE. Stevo really wanted to hit a big audience, although I don’t think it did him any favours in the long run. As Daniel says in the book, knowing what Stevo’s taste in music was, it was only going to end in tears.

But you can’t deny the success of ‘Tainted Love’. It’s hard to make a comparison now, what with success being measured in billions of streams. In 1981 over a million people in the UK left their homes, walked into their local record shop and handed over money to own that song. And that gave Stevo carte blanche to go to the major labels with bands like THE THE, EINSTÜRZENDE NEUBAUTEN and PSYCHIC TV and they would take a punt on them.

I don’t know if you remember a quote from Marc Almond and I think it was in NME; he said that an artist can only truly be subversive if they have access to the mainstream…

I think it’s true – again, ‘Conform to Deform’. I found out about FOETUS because Marc brought him on TV when SOFT CELL covered SUICIDE’s ‘Ghost Rider’ on Channel 4’s ‘Switch’ show – which was on a teatime on a Friday! I was speaking to Karl O’Connor aka Regis and we both had the same response to that appearance, it totally changed us. So in that respect, getting music like that on mainstream television was a truly subversive act. It was all well and good when CABARET VOLTAIRE were on Rough Trade or Crépuscule and their music reached a few thousand people in trench coats, but it’s only when they were on Some Bizzare and had access to Virgin’s money that people paid real attention. If you want reach people, you’ve got to go though the most popular channels, you’re just in an echo chamber otherwise. Which is fine, but you’ll never change anything.

It’s amazing to think that a lot of the stuff that we were into around that time was being featured in a so-called teen pop magazine like Smash Hits. But talking about the serious music press, it’s interesting that Sounds, at the time known for being more of a rock and heavy metal music paper, published Stevo’s Futurist chart and employed Beverley Glick aka Betty Page to interview these new acts using synths, rather than say the NME?

I remember Sounds being the most open minded of the big four papers generally. They were always seen as the lesser of NME, Melody Maker and Record Mirror, so they really had to fight for their place at the table. Editor Alan Lewis wanted to reach as many people as possible, so you had Garry Bushell writing about the Oi! movement, Geoff Barton writing about heavy metal, Jon Savage writing about post-punk, and Beverley Glick writing about what became the New Romantics. In retrospect it was far more open minded than the other papers.

Your book discusses the Futurist / Blitz Kid divide when New Romantic was not actually a thing yet, which is something the media, fans and record labels have forgotten…

In 1981 I was 12 years old and buying Smash Hits, so New Romantics and Futurists were the same thing to me, I wasn’t aware that there was a perceived difference. But Beverley and Stevo in particular were quite clear that New Romantics DID NOT exist in 1980, it was a retrospective thing.

Rusty Egan was on the Blitz Kid side and Stevo was on the Futurist side, and what surprised me was how visible both were when it came to the press. Stevo was so embedded in Sounds, he was a big character in that paper.

Having spoken to the people that were there, no-one said anything about New Romantics, it was Futurists and Blitz Kids. Blitz Kids were ULTRAVOX, SPANDAU BALLET, DURAN DURAN and VISAGE while Futurists were slightly edgier stuff like SOFT CELL, BLANCMANGE, FAD GADGET and CLOCK DVA. And never the twain would meet!

The whole thing got put on a pedestal when the ‘Some Bizzare Album’ came out in early 1981, it’s now become iconic and prescient but how do you think it stands up today?

What I found interesting was that Stevo did ask lot of established bands to be on it, like CABARET VOLTAIRE, THROBBING GRISTLE and CLOCK DVA. He wanted it to reflect what he was playing out as a DJ rather than a showcase for new acts. But those bands didn’t want to do it, so by default it became a compilation of new artists. It’s a weird one, when you listen to the ‘Some Bizzare Album’ now, there’s a lot of very strange stuff on there. You’d be hard pushed to listen to even the BLANCMANGE or THE THE tracks and think “Ooh, they’re going places!” *laughs*

ILLUSTRATION’s ‘Tidal Flow’ is one of the most commercial things on it but they didn’t do anything else. B-MOVIE’s ‘Moles’ is pretty strong, but even SOFT CELL’s ‘The Girl With The Patent Leather Face’, although a highlight, you still wouldn’t think, “This is a multi-million selling act we have here”.

But the ‘Some Bizzare Album’ does have DEPECHE MODE on it, one of the biggest bands in the world and ‘Photographic’ is one of their best songs, and I think a lot of the album’s reputation rests with that. So it’s a real curio, if you listen to the other label compilations around the time like Virgin’s ‘Methods Of Dance’ and stuff like that, they were probably a bigger indicator of what people were actually listening to.

On the ‘Some Bizzare Album’, what do you think are the best tracks outside of the “BIG 5” of DEPECHE MODE, SOFT CELL, THE THE, BLANCMANGE and B-MOVIE, I nominate ILLUSTRATION and THE FAST SET?

The ILLUSTRATION one is good and THE FAST SET’s cover of ‘King Of The Rumbling Spires’ is OK, but the single ‘Junction 1’ which they put out on Axis / 4AD is a better song I think. I really like the BLAH BLAH BLAH one, I’m a big fan of Tom Waits so when I think back to my own musical development, something like ‘Central Park’ would have teed me up for stuff like that.

A purely hypothetical question, what would have happened if DEPECHE MODE had been on Some Bizzare and SOFT CELL had been on Mute?

That’s a great question. Well for a start I think Dave Gahan would have had to go into rehab sooner! *laughs*

Seriously though, I don’t think either band would’ve been as successful, either creatively or commercially. You only have to listen to the demos SOFT CELL did with Daniel to hear that the regimented, sequenced production that worked so well for DEPECHE MODE didn’t for them, the exception being ‘Memorabilia’ of course. Plus SOFT CELL wouldn’t have gone to New York and had the experiences they did, which changed not only their creative direction but so many of their label mates too.

And with his more leftfield musical tastes, Stevo would’ve grown tired of Depeche’s early poppier stuff pretty quickly. And I don’t think he would’ve been emotionally mature enough to support them through Vince leaving and encouraging them to carry on. I think they would’ve have gone the way of B-MOVIE had they signed Some Bizzare.

Although Paul Statham from B-MOVIE could be considered Some Bizzare’s silent success story with his later co-writes for Peter Murphy, Dido and Kylie, why do you think out of the “BIG 5” that the band did not break into the mainstream?

Like lot of people, the first time I heard B-MOVIE was on the Flexipop flexidisc when ‘Remembrance Day’ was paired with SOFT CELL ‘Metro MRX’. If you follow the threads, then there were the singles ‘Marilyn Dreams’ and ‘Nowhere Girl’ plus there were two EPs before that, which positioned them as a perfect post-punk band. Personally, I always thought B-MOVIE had more in common with THE TEARDROP EXPLODES, THE SOUND and ECHO & THE BUNNYMEN. And Rick Holliday’s keyboard playing was very accomplished, much more musical and didn’t really fit in with that one-fingered synth thing. B-MOVIE’s singer Steve Hovington speaks very openly in the book about how at the time B-MOVIE thought they were geniuses and felt they should have been given a lot more respect than they got. And people at Phonogram genuinely thought they had a rival to DURAN DURAN on their hands. But it soon became apparent they weren’t that kind of band.

Rick Holliday was the last to join B-MOVIE and the first to leave when he went off with Cindy Ecstasy so I think the chemistry and group mentality of the band got really altered…

With most bands the chemistry is unique, and once you start to tamper with it, you lose something. As soon as Rick left, they changed the line-up and got session players in to re-record and re-re-record those early songs. By the time they finally released an album, they really weren’t the same band and they’d kind of lost what made them great. They were signed to Sire by that point and maybe weren’t really in control. Sometimes limitations are better and working within those parameters becomes part of the end result. Other times, you can give musicians access to big studios and big money, but they just lose what was good about them. I actually think B–MOVIE are a much better band now than they were during that mid-80s period.

Which version of THE THE ‘Uncertain Smile’ is your favourite, ‘Cold Spell Ahead’, the single version produced by Mike Thorne or the ‘Soul Mining’ one?

I’m going to be pedantic and say it’s actually none of those, it’s the 10 minute 12 inch version with the flute and sax produced by Mike Thorne. Outside of his work on ‘Untitled’, that was the first thing I heard by Matt Johnson. And taken with the two B-sides – ‘Three Orange Kisses From Kazan’ and ‘Waitin’ For The Upturn’ – it’s simply some of the best music ever recorded in my opinion.

I always thought it was a shame Matt Johnson didn’t stay working with Mike Thorne…

Yeah, that was a Stevo thing…

Some Bizzare’s union with CABARET VOLTAIRE’s club-oriented era now seems obvious but at the time, it wasn’t because they were known to be uncompromising and independent on their own?

I didn’t really know anything about CABARET VOLTAIRE before their Some Bizzare period, ‘Just Fascination’ was the first thing I heard by them. As far as I was concerned, they were like a new band who had just signed to Some Bizzare. Mal (Stephen Mallinder) told me they felt they had gone as far as they could go with Rough Trade and wanted to move onto bigger budgets and bigger studios. I was astounded to find they had nothing prepared when they made ‘The Crackdown’, they went into Trident Studios for a week, having never worked with a producer before, and just made it from scratch. Flood was engineering, Dave Ball played some keyboards and Stevo shopped the end result to the major labels.

What do you think was the seed of it going wrong for Some Bizzare?

That’s a tough one… I think Stevo wasn’t able to find another SOFT CELL, a big-selling pop act which could balance out his more left-field artists. So he didn’t have a contingency when bands wanted to leave. Also, this amazing idea of getting leftfield bands to be treated as bona-fide unit shifting pop stars, soon fell apart when the amount of money that the majors were spending on the records wasn’t being reflected in the amount of money being made. It was the cold hard facts of business that bit them on the arse in the end. I agree with Jim Thirwell aka FOETUS that the A&R decisions went out of the window. Maybe if Stevo had signed YELLO, who he was after at one point, things may have been different. But he signed TEST DEPARTMENT instead… which kind of sums it up! *laughs*

Some Bizzare had a great visual identity, so what was your favourite artwork?

The childish part of me wants to say, “the w*nking devil” on the cover of the ‘Infected’ 12”. I have the design on a T-shirt which I’ve only wore out once and even then kept it covered up! *laughs*

I love Andy Dog Johnson’s stuff for THE THE; I interviewed Matt a couple of times for the book and he was super generous. The second time I went to see him, he let me look at some of his brother’s sketchbooks… the guy was astounding, the colour palettes he used were incredible. I love Val Dehnam’s stuff although I know that’s not to everyone’s taste, but the cover of ‘Torment & Toreros’ is amazing. And I love the cover to the second compilation album too.

I’ve always loved SOFT CELL ‘Say Hello Wave Goodbye’ by Huw Feather…

Of Huw Feather’s work it would be ‘Torch’ for me, such an incredible, confusing, vibrant image. There was a lot of one-off bits of artwork produced for the label, and over the years I’ve tried to track down all the fan club stuff and merch flyers that were produced. There were some brilliant single-use magazine adverts, too. In particular one for ‘Bedsitter’ from Sounds – a line drawing of what a bedsit would look like looking up from a bed. It didn’t appear on anything else, it was unique piece of artwork for the music press. I had far too much visual material to include in the book so a lot of it got left out. I’m aiming to get some of it up on my Instagram feed around the time of publication so people can see it.

What is the ultimate Some Bizzare record?

I think THE THE’s ‘Infected’ project is the ultimate crystallisation of what Stevo was trying to do. It’s a challenging piece of work – both musically and lyrically – and visually very strong. And there was an accompanying film which was incredibly expensive and again very cutting edge for the time. And of course Stevo got it bankrolled by a major label who lost their shirt on it – there was no way it was going to recoup. Yet it still stands up to this day – you can watch the film now and still be impressed by its production values, and the music is still incredible. The Some Bizzare ethos runs all the way through ‘Infected’.

What about the legacy of Stevo and Some Bizzare?

Stevo would disagree, but I think there are still people doing what he tried to do. DJ Food in the book mentions James Lavelle which I thought was a good example. Also Wiley too, who uses mainstream channels when they suit him, and goes underground when they don’t. A lot of legacy artists who now own their own means of production make their albums and then shop them to whichever label that gives them the best deal. People like Damon Albarn, Paul Weller and Nick Cave who retain artistic control but use the clout of a major, that’s definitely a Stevo thing.

As far as trying to push boundaries and change people’s minds about artistic expression, I don’t know. Things like the ‘Sex Dwarf’ video would be seen as relatively tame and facile now, I don’t think it would shock anybody…

…it’s not RAMMSTEIN’s ‘Pussy’ is it? *laughs*

No, it’s not, thank god! *laughs*

I don’t really know what sort of boundaries stuff like that is pushing to be honest, it doesn’t seem to have a point. The thing about Some Bizzare and what Stevo was trying to do, whether he knew it or not, was he allowed people who would not have access to that kind of platform to be heard. For a while, you could find out about bands like EINSTÜRZENDE NEUBAUTEN or SWANS, read about what they were trying to do, and then decide for yourself if you wanted to pursue their music further.

Your website is testament that the early-to-mid 80s period was a golden age for leftfield artists moving into the mainstream, which was great for the most part. But a lot of those acts adjusted their music to make it more palatable. THE FUTURE changed to THE HUMAN LEAGUE who signed to Virgin, and then split into THE HUMAN LEAGUE MKII and HEAVEN 17, and both made concessions to ongoing commercial success, for better or worse. But Neubauten always sounded like Neubauten, and Stevo’s attitude was, “Why shouldn’t they be on Virgin too? Get the music out there, and let people make up their own minds.”


ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK gives its warmest thanks to Wesley Doyle

‘Conform To Deform: The Weird & Wonderful World Of Some Bizzare’ is published by Jawbone Press on 14th February 2023 as a 392 page softback book with 16 page of photos, signed copies available from https://www.roughtrade.com/gb/product/wesley-doyle/conform-to-deform-the-weird-and-wonderful-world-of-some-bizzare

A live event celebrating the release of the book takes place on Tuesday 28th February 2023 at Rough Trade East, The Old Truman Brewery, 150 Brick Lane, London E1 6QL, tickets available from https://dice.fm/event/ygl6p-conform-to-deform-the-weird-wonderful-world-of-some-bizzare-live-28th-feb-rough-trade-east-london-tickets

http://jawbonepress.com/conform-to-deform/

https://twitter.com/WesleyDoyleUK

https://www.instagram.com/wesleydoylewrites/


Text and Interview by Chi Ming Lai
12th January 2023

LISTENING TO THE MUSIC THE MACHINES MAKE Interview

‘Listening To The Music The Machines Make’ is a new book that tells the story of the Synth Britannia generation, an unlikely melange of outsiders, pioneers and mavericks who took advantage of affordable music technology to conquer the pop charts in the UK, Europe and even America.

Written and assembled by Richard Evans, his high profile roles have included the establishment of the This Is Not Retro née Remember The Eighties website and working with ERASURE on their internet and social media presence.

He has conducted years of extensive research to document the synthpop revolution that began from a British standpoint in 1978 with THE NORMAL and THE HUMAN LEAGUE before TUBEWAY ARMY took this futuristic new sound to No1 with ‘Are Friends Electric?’.

Using the subtitle ‘Inventing Electronic Pop 1978 – 1983’, while the book primarily sources period archive material, additional input comes from Neil Arthur, Dave Ball, Andy Bell, Rusty Egan, John Foxx, Gareth Jones, Daniel Miller and Martyn Ware. Meanwhile, Vince Clarke contributes the foreword while a third verse lyric from the ULTRAVOX song ‘Just For A Moment’ provides the book’s fitting appellation.

A conversation between two kindred spirits, Richard Evans and ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK spent an afternoon talking by the window as the light fades about electronic pop’s musical impact and enduring cultural influence, despite the massed resistance to it back in the day.

For this book, you’ve focussed on 1978 to 1983, some might say it should be 1977 to 1984?

I knew roughly what I wanted to cover and my lofty ambition for the book was to create a document of all the most important records, artists and events that created this shift in pop music. Until this specific generation of people started messing around with keyboards without any musical knowledge, adopting that punk rock attitude with this new instrument, it wasn’t until that point that I felt that this story really started.

I looked at all the records I wanted to talk about and at the beginning, there’s relatively few. But the important ones for me were THE NORMAL ‘TVOD’ / ‘Warm Leatherette’ and THE HUMAN LEAGUE ‘Being Boiled’. In fact, ‘Being Boiled’ was my key one and an early version of the book had the subtitle ‘From Being Boiled To Blue Monday’; I thought that sounded quite snappy and explained what the book covered. But then Daniel Miller said to me “You do know ‘TVOD’ / ‘Warm Leatherette’ came out before ‘Being Boiled’?” *laughs*

So the book had to be specific and start around 1978. Then at the other end, it was because of ‘Blue Monday’. By the time late 1983 comes around, the electronic pop that I have been writing about over this 5-6 year period starts to become indistinguishable from everything else in the charts. All the pop stuff, all the soul stuff, all the American stuff that was coming in, it all had the same sequencer and drum machine sounds, the same production techniques… you could almost not quite work out what was electronic and what wasn’t electronic anymore and ‘Blue Monday’ worked well as a track that was pointing forwards to everything that came next.

By starting at 1978, you are specifically highlighting the start of that British wave because before that, it’s international with bands like KRAFTWERK and SPACE as well as Giorgio Moroder and Jean-Michel Jarre…

That’s absolutely right. There is a brief section at the beginning within the context of the whole book that joins together some of the dots, things that people were taking in their early electronic experiments. Things that Vince Clarke was listening to like SPARKS, things that OMD were listening to like Brian Eno, things that THE HUMAN LEAGUE were listening to like Giorgio Moroder.

Although punk was a driving force for this, the actual punk music wasn’t that interesting to any of them because it felt like music they already knew, whereas they felt these new sounds were something that were unknown to them at that point. The tapestry of their influences  was so broad that they would bring in elements of progressive rock, Jean-Michel Jarre and even ELP, putting that in with disco, the German stuff and even the quirky little novelty records like ‘Popcorn’, to create this whole new melting pot.

I’m old enough to have lived through this era, what about you?

This was the first music that felt like it was mine. I grew up in a household where there wasn’t any music, my parents weren’t fans of pop music at all. In a way, that was really important because any music that I found was mine, it wasn’t handed down to me or curated for me. I am the oldest of my siblings so I didn’t have anyone playing stuff in their room that I could hear. Sometimes I would find stuff that was terrible because you make those mistakes.

I started senior school in 1979 so it was really at that point where I became aware of music and its possibilities. But earlier than that in 1977, I was brought up in Chelmsford in Essex and I can remember being in town on a Saturday, seeing the punks hanging around in the shopping centre and I thought they looked brilliant. It was so exciting, they were like scary but otherworldly and I thought they were amazing. When I started senior school, some of those punks were in my school, they were actually kids… in my perception, they weren’t that and were completely ‘other’! I realised I was not so distant from these things *laughs*

You’ve mentioned ‘Being Boiled’, ‘TVOD’ and ‘Warm Leatherette’, but which was your epiphanal moment were you realised you were an electronic pop fan? For me although I had bought ‘The Pleasure Principle’ by Gary Numan as my first album, it wasn’t until I heard OMD ‘Messages’ that I considered electronic music to be my thing…

I don’t know if I have an actual moment to be honest… I realised quite late that I’ve never particularly characterised myself as an electronic music fan, certainly not in the 80s. Looking back, I can see that the things I was listening to and responding to, always had a really strong electronic core. Even if they were rock things like ’Owner Of A Lonely Heart’ by YES which was produced by Trevor Horn, I was obsessed. I was listening to things like ‘The Message’ and that sort of hip-hop stuff… it wasn’t quite electronic music but it had element of precision running through it. Everything I was liking had this common electronic genesis.

One thing that your book does unashamedly focus on which I am pleased about, is that it focusses on the “pop” in electronic pop… other books about electronic music in the past have been a bit “too cool for school”

Absolutely, that’s completely true. I find it really strange because only quite recently has it been ok to be into “pop music”. Like you say, there’s a stigma towards it, that it’s not “proper music”, that you are not a proper music fan if you listen to it, but a victim of some sort of a commercial heist! *laughs*

I think that electronic pop in this period is so crucial in the development of music, and it was just time for someone to tell the story. I’d been working on the book for a few years and the whole time I thought “someone is going to do this, someone is going to do this before me!” *laughs*

With this book, you opted to reference archive material rather than talk to the stars of the period in the present day?

My idea for the book was to tell the stories of all the bands and releases of that synthpop generation who took music in a whole new direction. Because of what I do in my working life, I am very fortunate in that I have access to a lot of people who were the original protagonists in this story. So I thought I could get in touch with them and job done. I also have a shelf full of music autobiographies and I’m sure you have too! *laughs*

There are loads out there but it was while reading those that made me realise that those stories didn’t always quite marry up. There are two reasons for it; one is this period started 45 years ago, you’re not going to remember these details. Two, these stories have been told so many times that they lose their resonance and the facts just change a little bit to make everything look better or to fit with someone else’s narrative.

Ah yes, legend now accepted as truth like Wolfgang Flür saying OMD came backstage to meet KRAFTWERK in 1975 when they didn’t actually exist at the time…

It’s really easy to say in 2022 that DEPECHE MODE were always going to be a huge band, but in 1981 when there was none of the weight of that knowledge. They were a brand new thing being judged entirely on their first forays into electronic music, it’s a very different way of looking at the music and the people who made it. I realised it wasn’t going to be particularly useful to go to the original people and say “tell me that story again” because they’ve told it that many times that they probably aren’t really feeling it and it gets reshaped over the tellings.

So what I decided to do was go back to the music press of the day. I went to The British Library which is a fantastic resource, it’s one of my favourite places. I looked at all the NME, Sounds, Melody Maker, Record Mirror, Smash Hits, The Face, New Sounds New Styles from 1978 to 1983, everything I could lay my hands on that was music or popular culture related.

I went through all these things, page after page after page and every time I saw something that I attained to this story like a news item, review or interview, I took a photo of it on my phone. I ended up with thousands of photos and it was like a box of jigsaw pieces. Each of these photos was part of a story. Then the writing bit came in stringing these things all together and turning them into this story from all those different perspectives layered on top of each other. Hopefully, that would give it a rounder and more accurate picture because they were the opinions of the time and what the people who made the music were saying about it, without the weight of history that they carry today.

What this book captures and reminds people of, is the viciousness and hostility towards electronic pop from the music press during the period, which perhaps contradicts the rose-tinted view that some fans have of the time now…

It’s really quite strange to read through these original accounts of what was happening, but it’s not so strange in retrospect. At that point in time, punk had just happened and had been quite profitable for the music industry and press, the whole black and white aesthetic fitted very well with the way they presented their material.

There was also this new generation of journalists like Nick Kent and Julie Burchill who were quite vicious with this punk rock attitude which was probably quite exciting at the time. Punk was a very short-lived thing, so they found themselves having to move in different directions and I think there was a resentment that it happened from the media. I think there was a snobbishness which we’ve already touched on that this really wasn’t “proper music” because it was machines, these bands hadn’t paid their dues, they hadn’t picked up the guitar, they hadn’t done the toilet circuit playing to 3 people and a dog, being spat on and having their van stolen, all that kind of thing that supposedly makes you a worthy musician.

So none of these things had quite happened with these electronic pop bands and the music press didn’t know what to make of it. So they could choose to either embrace it as the next big thing, or they could reject it, and many rejected it roundly so…

Can I tell you some irony about Nick Kent’s then-stance? His son is PERTURBATOR, the synthwave star!! But in amongst all this journalistic antagonism, there was one bright light and that was Beverley Glick who wrote as Betty Page in Sounds, a female journalist championing the likes of DEPECHE MODE, SOFT CELL, DURAN DURAN, SPANDAU BALLET, VISAGE and JAPAN in a male-dominated profession…

She absolutely was and she was the voice that was the breath of fresh air throughout all of this. She was young and she interested in “the new”. In the same way the older journalists were looking for something to call their own, so was she; but her frame of reference was markedly different from theirs. She found it in what they were rejecting and it probably didn’t do her many favours within the profession to be this person until the tipping point happened. The success started to happen with people going “oh, all the Betty Page bands ARE the new wave, they ARE the new pop royalty…”

I hope it was a nice moment for her. In 1982 I think, she changed papers and went to the short-lived Noise magazine and then Record Mirror… hopefully, that was in recognition of her being a leading light in this particular movement.

You’re right to say she was probably among the first journalists to talk to DEPECHE MODE, certainly one of the first to talk to SPANDAU BALLET, to SOFT CELL and JAPAN… she was very vocal and very reasoned. Also reading her, I liked her… I’ve never met her or anything but I liked her style, she wrote a lot like a fan so she wasn’t out there grinding her axe in attempts to look clever, lofty and intellectual. She was reporting the way she was responding to the things she was exposed to and that felt much more interesting and real to me.

The SPANDAU BALLET versus DURAN DURAN thing has been well documented, but what about SOFT CELL versus DEPECHE MODE?  They were both on the ‘Some Bizzare Album’ but in 1981, SOFT CELL were rated higher than DEPECHE MODE, any thoughts?

The ‘Some Bizzare Album’ was incredibly prescient and also not quite, because in the increasingly chaotic and strange world of Stevo who was behind it, he was very opinionated but also very passionate. He was playing these sorts of records before anyone else, he was pre-Rusty Egan in terms of the electronic records on the decks. He was interested enough to start his Electronic Party nights at the Clarendon in Hammersmith, putting on people like FAD GADGET.

So he came up with this idea to do the ‘Some Bizzare Album’ and reached out to 12 bands; his hit rate was so great, he had DEPECHE MODE, SOFT CELL and BLANCMANGE on there, the three of them alone were enough to shape the new generation.

I think SOFT CELL had more of an edge, their image was a lot more together, they looked meaner and a little bit more credible I suppose. Because they had a more credible background and came from art school, in that journalistic way that you have to pay your dues, you have to go through a cycle of things before you’re allowed to call yourself an artist, I think SOFT CELL had more of that. They had more of a concept, they were more artistic and harder edged. DEPECHE MODE came along and were err, just quite sweet…

Yeah, well, they’d just come from Christian camp… apart from Dave! *laughs*

That’s right, their Boys’ Brigade uniforms were probably still hanging in their wardrobes when they were off to do ‘Top Of The Pops’! So they had come from a very different place, they were a little bit younger, they didn’t have that art school background, they’d met at school and messed around in bands. Vince Clarke decides he wants to put this band together who would be a bit like THE CURE, and when Vince starts to put together the bones of what becomes DEPECHE MODE, it seems he’s incapable of writing songs like THE CURE; his aesthetic and musical vibe is entirely pop so he churned out what people termed “bubblegum”.

This term “bubblegum” is in almost every review of DEPECHE MODE’s early works, especially the ‘Speak & Spell’ album. Because of that, they appealed because they were SO pop, but because they were SO pop, they weren’t in the same credibility bracket as someone like SOFT CELL.

Talking of “synthesizer image”, was that important to you as in the equipment that was used and the way it looked on ‘Top Of The Pops’, like when John Foxx appeared with four Yamaha CS80s for ‘No-One Driving’ or ULTRAVOX doing ‘The Thin Wall’ with two Minimoogs, an ARP Odyssey, an Oberheim OBX and much more or Gary Numan’s first TV performances? This was a thing for a while although there would be a backlash later on, like when OMD appeared with a double bass, sax and xylophone for ‘Souvenir’!

I think it was, but in a different way to you. I’m much less technology focussed, I don’t play music, I’ve never picked up a synthesizer, I don’t know my Korg from my Moog from my Wasp. I could never do Vintage Synth Trumps for example *laughs*

Having said that, the aesthetic was really important to me because it felt so different and new. It surprised me in the preparation for this book when looking at the line-ups for ‘Top Of The Pops’ around this period and seeing how unbelievably straight and staid and dull so many of the bands that were coming through from the 70s still were… glam rock aside, they were almost imageless…

Like RACEY and THE DOOLEYS? *laughs*

Yes! Lots of terrible clothes, bad beards and long hair, it all seemed very soft and safe! Now when the electronic bands started coming through, they came with this aesthetic with the keyboards and it looked fantastic. But they also had this new look, they were smarter, had these interesting haircuts and they looked so different. For me, the thing that was most marked about their performances was the sound itself. It was something that I’d never heard before, those noises were SO new and SO modern!

One of the best things about this era was how these weird avant pop songs could enter the charts, they were classic songs but presented in a strange way with these sounds and boundaries were pushed… as much as I embrace this period of music, I always felt when it all crossed over into the mainstream in 1981, I don’t think it was on the cards and kind of a fluke…

I don’t think it was on the cards either… I think everyone was surprised and backfooted by it, particularly the major labels who struggled to keep up with it, in exactly the same what they had struggled to keep up with punk! They came to the party too late and signed all the wrong bands and were saddled with this legacy that they had an obligation to support what was going on, and that’s the point when everything started to become much less interesting.

In terms of the avant pop, I think it was to do with perspective. I think being of the generation that we are of, I think because we were coming of age at that time, it felt we were like a new generation and new things were happening at the time, not just in music but also politically and technologically with computers. So all of these things were happening at once and suddenly the future felt possible and then this music happened at kind of the same time and it felt like the perfect soundtrack to this possible future.

So, I’m going to throw a controversial question at you, in the context of 1978-1983, which is the most important record label out of Virgin and Mute? *laughs due to pause*

… I think creatively, it’s Mute but commercially it’s Virgin.

When I get into this discussion with anyone, I always say Virgin because although they were more established and successful commercially later in this period, they did actually take chances with acts like THE HUMAN LEAGUE, JAPAN and SIMPLE MINDS…

They were both incredibly important and I wouldn’t know who to back in a fight! *laughs*

This is why I wanted to talk about this in the context of 1978-1983 because thanks to some of the business choices that Richard Branson has made over the years which have upset people, the Virgin name has been tarnished as far as their contribution to music is concerned. Meanwhile history has seen Daniel Miller come out smelling of roses. An interesting thing about Virgin in 1980 was that they were close to bankruptcy.

I have heard that and was aware that Virgin did have all sorts of money problems at that time.

One of the things that irked Branson in particular was how OMD were the biggest selling act in the Virgin group in 1980 via the Dinsdisc subsidiary. This had embarrassed him so ultimately he was keen to see Dindisc fall apart so that he could get OMD for the parent company…

Yes, this situation impacted on the bands that we are talking about, there were pressures on people to be more commercial when one of the reasons that they were attracted to Virgin in the first place was so that they could be less commercial should they choose to be.

But then, those pressures were happening within the bands themselves, THE HUMAN LEAGUE are a great example of this. They went in to be wilfully uncommercial and yet they always had that commercial edge, they stated their intent to be a combination of disco and KRAFTWERK. Although they loved being the conceptualists and the renegades with their Machiavellian feeling that they were infiltrating the music industry from the inside, they were starting to feel dissatisfied that their efforts so far hadn’t really crossed over in the way they felt that they deserved to.

So the two things in tandem, the bands wanting to make more of a mark and wanting the recognition that came with that, plus Virgin’s financial situation which meant they needed bands to step up and start making more commercial records, was actually a very powerful moment in shaping some of the most important records in Virgin’s catalogue I would say.

In this 1978-1983 period which you cover in the book, is there a favourite year and if so, why?

Good question! I don’t specifically, it hadn’t occurred to me until you asked, but I think from a writing point of view, the earlier years were the most interesting to me because in 1978, I was 10 so I wasn’t really aware of these things. Lots of these records, I didn’t really hear until later and some much later… one or two of them, and I’m not confessing which ones, I didn’t even listen to until I started writing the book.

So from my point of view as a fan of this music, then 1978 would probably be the most interesting year because it provided me new material to listen to that I hadn’t heard before.

The book talks about a lot of acts who are basically canon now and many of them are still performing in some form or another. But is there an underrated act for you from this period?

For me, I would say YELLO; they were making really challenging and innovative records, they were visually interesting, they had all the bases covered. They gave great press but for whatever reason, it took quite a long time for them to break through into the mainstream and even then, it was only because their music was used in other contexts like films. They were a band who I had underappreciated previously, but have got to know much better through the course of writing the book. They should have been much bigger than they were.

Your book cuts off at 1983 and that’s for the context reasons rather than stopping liking music. But Simon Reynolds said in ‘Synth Britannia’ that it was Howard Jones that made him feel that electronic pop was now no longer special and part into the mainstream… was there a moment when this music changed for you?

I don’t think I have a moment for that, my musical church is quite broad and I’ve never been very over-intellectual about my music tastes, it’s like “I do or I don’t”. Howard Jones came in with a different take on the form and actually, I loved Howard Jones so from my point of view, my love of electronic pop did continue. It blurs and like we talked about earlier, lots more things were interesting in different directions and also taking some of this electronic sensibility into it. They may well have been more interesting to me at the time. However, I was perfectly prepared to accept Howard Jones and the later electronic acts.

After 1984 and then into the new decade, a lot of people were trying to kill off electronic pop, especially around Britpop but was there a point later, and this might tie in with Remember The Eighties, when you thought “this stuff has value and people are liking it again”, that there might actually be a legacy?

You are kind of right that the start of Remember The Eighties came from that.

The site was born of a conversation I had with an 80s artist; in my working life, I build fan bases and work for bands, I’ve done this for quite a long time. This artist came to me and said “I’m thinking of doing some new material but I don’t know if I have an audience anymore. If I do have an audience, I don’t know how to reach them”… the reason I’m saying “an 80s artist” is I felt that this particular person didn’t really have an audience anymore, and to find that audience if it was there at all, would be very time consuming for very limited return.

But I started thinking “wouldn’t it be great if there was one place that people could go, people like me who remember the 80s (*laughs*) fondly and could find out what all these people are doing today?”. The strange thing was I was never really interested in it being retro, it was always about today’s news from those bands, I thought “that’s a good idea”. I was learning to build websites at the time and it was early days in all that. I had some time so I just decided to do that, put up some stories and waited to see what happened.

It became something quite successful and partly that was because the whole 80s rediscovery hadn’t happened. Like you said, the 80s came with a bad rep at that point in time and imploded quite messily with lots of non-credible aspects emerging and dominating it. It had eaten itself almost. But the timing just happened to be right and all of a sudden, there were PR companies coming to me saying “Thank goodness you’re there!” because they had nowhere to go with these artists they were representing. So they were asking if I would like to interview then and I was like “Yeah! Great!” *laughs*

That was how the website started so yes, I guess that was the moment for me in 2001-2002. It suddenly felt like these bands had a new cache. I’d invested so much of my myself and spent so much of my money in my teens in their music, that it wasn’t such a big jump to continuing that support of them 10-15-20 years later. The investment was already done, it was more like picking up the story.

For me, it was like 1998, DURAN DURAN had the ‘Greatest’ CD out and were touring, OMD had a new singles compilation and CULTURE CLUB had reformed for shows with THE HUMAN LEAGUE and ABC supporting… but I think it took a long time for something to develop. I don’t think it was until DURAN DURAN reformed the classic line-up with the three Taylors in 2004 and then the OMD classic line-up reunion in 2007 that things got properly kick started… I think it took a while because of the age of the audience, people had mortgages and kids in primary school!

You’re right, it was like a stage of life, you need time to reconnect with the person you used to be.

Your book captures a period, I don’t know if you listen to much modern day pop, but do you think there is an electronic pop legacy today, whether direct or indirect from this 1978-1983 era? The act I’m going to highlight is THE WEEKND…

I definitely do think there is a legacy. I’m not great on contemporary electronic music, the things I hear about, I tend to hear about from ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK and that’s fantastic. I use Spotify a lot and the suggestions function is quite powerful as well. From a sonic musical point of view, I can totally see these bands are referencing things that happened during the period I have written about in the book.

Everything seems to go on cycles but at the moment, in the last year or so, it feels like there’s been a return to a starkness, a certain simplicity of sound. I’m not denigrating it because I think it’s a very effective way of presenting sound. It feels there’s been a period where everything and the kitchen sink has gone into electronic music and its gradually being pared away to a point where the instruments and sounds are getting a bit of space to breathe. It feels like the same sort of sounds that I started responding to on ‘Top Of The Pops’ when we first saw DEPECHE MODE and SOFT CELL.

Although THE WEEKND isn’t strictly an electronic pop artist and more of a one man compilation album who dips in an out of styles like Ed Sheeran (whose own synthpop track ‘Overpass Graffiti’ incidentally is very good even though it rips off ‘The Boys Of Summer’), there was this song THE WEEKEND did called ‘Less Than Zero’ which is exactly what you’ve just described. We mentioned underrated bands and I would say this track sounds like NEW MUSIK…

That’s a great choice actually…

NEW MUSIK have been popping up on these Cherry Red boxed set collections and its obvious now with the passage of time that they were pretty good! They were dismissed as a novelty act back in the day because they had silly voices in the songs, but there’s a crucial connection with that track by THE WEEKND in that there’s gently strummed guitar alongside all the pretty synth stuff. NEW MUSIK’s leader Tony Mansfield went on to produce most of A-HA’s debut album ‘Hunting High & Low’… although A-HA are outside of the scope of your book, they can be seen as the bridge between your book and modern electronic pop like THE WEEKND’s ‘Blinding Lights’…

That’s true, I think A-HA are a really important band and yes, they are not in the scope of the book but if they could have been, I would have been delighted to include them because their canon is quite ambitious and wide-ranging.

Is there another book of this type to cover the later period on the cards at all?

No, I don’t have another book project at the moment. I only actually finished writing this book in July. Naively, I thought you just hand your book in and six months later they hand you a copy. But the process of going through all the edits, the photos, getting the artwork and style right, it’s been quite intense. It’s been quite a challenge to balance it with what I’m doing workwise.

Are there any ideas for a future book?

There are a couple of people who I have come to recognise that they played much bigger roles in this story and in some other stories as well than they are given credit for. But it’s going to take a bit more research in those directions to find out whether there’s a book’s worth of material.

Is an ERASURE book an ambition?

Obviously I work with ERASURE and individually or together, they are probably approached by publishers 2 or 3 times a year with offers to write or be involved in books. At this point, neither Vince nor Andy feel it’s the right time for them to be telling their story. I think they feel so much of what they have to say is already available and they don’t necessarily want to talk about the things that aren’t, because they are the personal things. So at this point, there is not a specific plan. If at any point, there is an official ERASURE book, then I hope I would be involved in some way.


ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK gives its warmest thanks to Richard Evans

Special thanks to Debra Geddes at Great Northern PR

‘Listening To The Music The Machines Make’ is published by Ominbus Press, available from the usual bookshops and online retailers, except North America where the book will be on sale from 26th January 2023

https://inventingelectronicpop.com/

https://www.facebook.com/inventingelectronicpop

https://www.instagram.com/inventingelectronicpop/


Text and Interview by Chi Ming Lai
3rd December 2022

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