Tag: Spandau Ballet (Page 1 of 4)

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

MUSIC FOR NEW ROMANTICS

The phenomenon of the New Romantics can be said to have begun in Autumn 1978 with the foundation of a “Bowie Night” by Steve Strange and Rusty Egan at Billy’s nightclub in London’s Soho.

The youth movement that emerged aimed to find something new and colourful to escape the oncoming drabness in The Winter Of Discontent. Like Edwardian dandies meeting the Weimar Cabaret with extras from ‘Barbarella’ in between, they did a strange swaying arms dance, so as to not mess up their theatrical bouffanted hair. But after a disagreement with the owners of Billy’s, the pair moved their venture to The Blitz Club in Holborn.

Despite names such as Futurists, The Blitz Kids and The Movement With No Name, it was the term “New Romantics” coined by producer Richard James Burgess that became the widely used press description for this flamboyant group of outsiders. It was to eventually stick on anything from synthpop, art rock and peacock punk to Latin grooves, jazz funk and cod reggae provided the artist wore make-up, zoot suits, frilly blouses, smocks, headbands or kilts. Parallel club scenes developed at The Rum Runner in Birmingham, Crocs in Rayleigh near Southend and The Warehouse in Leeds from which DURAN DURAN, DEPECHE MODE and SOFT CELL respectively emerged.

To celebrate this era in popular culture, Cherry Red Records release an eclectic boxed set entitled ‘Music For New Romantics’. But while it contains some fantastic music, the tracklisting is a confused affair, having been originally conceived around comings and goings of The Blitz Club. It was here that Steve Strange acted as doorman and fashion policeman, while Rusty Egan was its resident DJ providing the soundtrack for a scene which became the catalyst for several bands including SPANDAU BALLET, CULTURE CLUB and VISAGE as well as assorted fashion designers, visual artists and writers.

Everything was centred around fashion-obsessed and some would say self-obsessed individuals; while the story about turning away Mick Jagger is well documented, one of the ironies of Steve Strange’s gatekeeping antics was that he refused entry to Chris Payne, then a member of Gary Numan’s band in 1979; Strange was to have his biggest hit with a song that Payne co-wrote entitled ‘Fade To Grey’ while another refused entry that evening was Ced Sharpley who played the drums on it!

Contrary to legend, the playlists of the various New Romantic establishments did not comprise exclusively of electronic music as those types of tracks were comparatively scarce at the time. So international synthworks from the likes of KRAFTWERK, YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA, SPARKS, SPACE and TELEX sat alongside soundtracks, punk, disco and relatable glam rock tunes by David Bowie, Brian Eno and Bryan Ferry.

Rusty Egan declined to be involved in the collection after initial discussions led to conceptual differences. In the absence of The Blitz Club’s resident DJ who is now planning his own curated collection, one of the regulars Chris Sullivan, who himself ran a similar but less electronically focussed night at Le Kilt in Soho, steps in to provide commentary while the set was put together by the team behind Cherry Red’s ‘Musik Music Musique’ synthpop series and ‘Electrical Language’ boxed set.

‘Music For New Romantics’ comes with three loosely themed discs with CD1 focussing on glam, art rock and early electronic disco while CD2 covers Synth Britannia and new wave. CD3 though is a hotch-potch of soul, funk and electro with SISTER SLEDGE and LIPPS INC being rather incongruous inclusions; with their hit songs being readily available on any ‘Night Fever’ type compilation, there were many more suitable alternatives that could have been considered.

But it is CD2 that most will revel in and the tracklist has no fault as a listening experience. Standards such as the eponymous song by VISAGE, SIMPLE MINDS ‘Changeling’, OMD’s ‘Electricity’, ‘Moskow Diskow’ from TELEX, THE NORMAL’s ‘Warm Leatherette’, JAPAN’s Giorgio Moroder produced ‘Life In Tokyo’, ‘Bostich’ by YELLO, ‘Being Boiled’ from THE HUMAN LEAGUE and THROBBING GRISTLE’s ‘Hot On The Heels Of Love’ are present and correct. But it was SPANDAU BALLET’s ‘To Cut A Long Story Short’ and LANDSCAPE’s ‘Einstein A-Go-Go’ that were to confirm that the New Romantics were able to hit the charts in their own right after Steve Strange’s cameo in Bowie’s ‘Ashes To Ashes’ video.

CD1 features scene heroes such as Iggy Pop, Lou Reed and Mick Ronson, but heroines come in the avant cabaret glamour of Nina Hagen with ‘TV-Glotzer’ and Grace Jones’ reinterpretation of Édith Piaf’s ‘La Vie En Rose’. The most welcome track on this disc though is RAH BAND’s ‘The Crunch’ which all but invented the sexy electro-Schaffel of GOLDFRAPP, while one obscure jewel is ‘The Ultimate Warlord’ by THE WARLORD. And when today’s synthwave fanboys go on and on ad nauseam about how influential the ‘Drive’ soundtrack is, then just throw ‘Chase’ by Giorgio Moroder from ‘Midnight Express’ at them!

Despite being a mess of styles, the highlights of CD3 are Marianne Faithfull’s terrorism commentary ‘Broken English’ and Gina X with the Quentin Crisp tribute ‘No GDM’ which both fit into the avant cabaret category. Although ‘M Factor’, the B-side of M’s ‘Pop Muzik’ was regularly played at The Blitz Club, ‘Everything’s Gone Green’ by NEW ORDER sticks out like a sore thumb… Peter Hook would likely scoff at being considered a New Romantic!

The move towards funk in the New Pop of late 1981 is reflected in ABC with ‘Tears Are Not Enough’ (full marks for using the CORRECT Steve Brown produced single version), HEAVEN 17’s ‘We Don’t Need This Fascist Groove Thang’ (in a rare radio version with the lyric “fascist god” changed to “cowboy god”) and TOM TOM CLUB’s ‘Genius Of Love’. But those who consider New Romantics to be discerning studious types into synth and new wave will find the likes of Coati Mundi and Don Armando extremely alienating; after all, it was THE HUMAN LEAGUE’s Phil Oakey who said to Smash Hits around this time “I hate all trends like all this Ze Stuff”! 

When the New Romantic magazine ‘New Sounds, New Styles’ launched as a monthly publication in Summer 1981 after a promising launch edition, its content was confused with one angry punter later exclaiming via letter: You’re meant to be a Futurist mag so leave all this Latin and jazz funk sh*t out of it!” – with the embarrassing novelty party act MODERN ROMANCE also being lumped in with the New Romantics, it was obvious the rot had now set in. Tellingly within a year, ‘New Sounds, New Styles’ folded…

From 1982, ‘Club Country’ by ASSOCIATES which notably highlighted the observations of  Billy MacKenzie on what he saw as the posey vapid nature of The Blitz Club is a fitting inclusion. Meanwhile as the ‘Music For New Romantics’ essay writer, Chris Sullivan gets to include his own style over substance combo BLUE RONDO À LA TURK with ‘Klactoveesedstein’, a single that came in with a blank at No50 that same year!

Of course, Sullivan went on to establish Le Beat Route and The Wag Club because he loved salsa and was less than enthused about synthpop, highlighting that despite the New Romantics seeming to be a united voice of expression, like any movement, it had its factions. Not featuring in the set, it was another scene regular Marilyn who said on the recent ‘Blitzed’ Sky Arts documentary that “I hated the music, all that electronic crap” while Steve Strange imposed a ban on Gary Numan being played at The Blitz Club, thus prompting Mr Webb’s lines “These New Romantics are oh so boring” in the 1981’s ‘Moral’ and “I like romantics but I don’t like Steven” in 1982’s ‘War Songs’.

A range of key New Romantic godfathers are missing from Bowie to Eno although MOTT THE HOOPLE’s hit take on ‘All The Young Dudes’ makes up for the former while ROXY MUSIC’s ‘Do The Stand’ effectively covers off the latter. KRAFTWERK, YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA and SPARKS are also absent and of the lesser known cult figures, Wolfgang Riechmann undoubtedly deserved inclusion, while New Romantic staples such as ‘Hiroshima Mon Amour’, ‘RERB’ and ‘Magic Fly’ are more preferable to the likes of ‘Funky Town’ or ‘Ai No Corrida’.

Although only a single disc, 2006’s ‘Only After Dark’ compiled by Nick Rhodes and John Taylor of DURAN DURAN based around the music played at The Rum Runner, managed to feature Bowie and Eno as well as YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA and KRAFTWERK so did more with less. While ‘Music For New Romantics’ is flawed and will cause some head scratching, this set is a reminder of those more innocent aspirational times and a scene that DID actually play its part in changing the world.

The Blitz Club’s tenure was short and after vacating it, Steve Strange and Rusty Egan started Club For Heroes and then in 1982 came The Camden Palace; it was the UK’s first modern superclub; music and clubbing were never the same again, and it was not for the better. However, the New Romantics had made their mark.

An elitist movement that was exclusive at its core despite the protestations of some, one amusing modern day legacy of the New Romantics and the Blitz generation in particular is how some try to ride on the scene’s trenchcoat tails, despite the fact that even if they had been old enough to visit licenced premises back in 1980, they almost certainly would have not been allowed in, thanks to the door policy of the man born Stephen John Harrington.

Taylor Swift did a song in 2014 called ‘New Romantics’ and when you google “New Romantics” these days, it’s what often springs up at the top of the searches… but that’s another story 😉


‘Music For New Romantics’ is released by Cherry Red as a 3CD Clamshell Box Set on 25th November 2022

https://www.cherryred.co.uk/product/music-for-new-romantics-3cd-clamshell-box-set/


Text by Chi Ming Lai
5th November 2022

MUSIK MUSIC MUSIQUE 2.0 1981 | The Rise Of Synth Pop

1981 is the year covered by the second instalment of Cherry Red’s ‘Musik Music Musique’ series.

1980 was something of a transition year for the synth as it knocked on the door of the mainstream charts but by 1981, it was more or less let in with welcome arms. From the same team behind the ‘Close To The Noise Floor’ compendiums and the most excellent ‘Electrical Language’ boxed set, ‘Musik Music Musique 2.0 1981 – The Rise Of Synth Pop’ presents rarities alongside hits and key album tracks from what many consider the best year in music and one that contributes the most to the legacy of electronic music in its wider acceptance and impact.

Featuring HEAVEN 17  with ‘(We Don’t Need This) Fascist Groove Thang’, OMD with ‘Souvenir’ and the eponymous single by VISAGE, these songs are iconic 1981 canon that need no further discussion. Meanwhile the longevity of magnificent album tracks such as ‘Frustration’ by SOFT CELL and ‘I Remember (Death In The Afternoon)’ by ULTRAVOX can be summed by the fact that they have featured in 21st Century live sets alongside their parent acts’ hits.

Although not quite as celebrated, ‘You Were There’ from pastoral second John Foxx long player ‘The Garden’ captures the move from stark JG Ballard imagery to something almost romantic. DEVO are represented by the LinnDrum driven ‘Through Being Cool’, the opener of the ‘New Traditionalists’ album which comes as a statement that the mainstream was their next target; the Akron quintet were one of the many acts signed by Virgin Records as the label focussed on a synth focussed takeover that ultimately shaped the sonic landscape of 1981.

Then there’s TEARS FOR FEARS’ promising debut ‘Suffer The Children’ in its original synthier single recording and The Blitz Club favourite ‘Bostich’ from quirky Swiss pioneers YELLO. Another Blitz staple ‘No GDM’ from GINA X PERFORMANCE gets included despite being of 1978 vintage due to its first UK single release in 1981. The use of synth came in all sorts of shapes and FASHIØN presented a funkier take with ‘Move Øn’ while the track’s producer Zeus B Held took a more typically offbeat kosmische approach on his own ‘Cowboy On The Beach’.

Pivotal releases by JAPAN with the ‘The Art Of Parties’ (here in the more metallic ‘Tin Drum’ album version) and A FLOCK OF SEAGULLS ‘(It’s Not Me) Talking’ highlight those bands’ then-potential for mainstream success. But in the battle of the New Romantic boy bands, the sitar tinged DURAN DURAN B-side ‘Khanada’ easily blows away the SPANDAU BALLET album track ‘Reformation’ in an ominous sign as to who would crack it biggest worldwide.

The great lost band of this era, B-MOVIE issued the first of several versions of ‘Nowhere Girl’ in December 1980 on Dead Good Records and its inclusion showcases the song’s promise which was then more fully realised on the 1982 Some Bizzare single produced by the late Steve Brown although sadly, this was still not a hit.

The best and most synth flavoured pop hits from the period’s feisty females like Kim Wilde and Toyah are appropriate inclusions, as is Hazel O’Connor’s largely forgotten SPARKS homage ‘(Cover Plus) We’re All Grown Up’. But the less said about racist novelty records such as ‘Japanese Boy’ by Aneka, the better… the actual nation of Japan though is correctly represented by their most notable electronic exponents YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA with ‘Cue’ from ‘BGM’, the first release to feature the Roland TR808 Rhythm Composer.

With these type of boxed sets, it’s the less familiar tracks that are always the most interesting. As the best looking member of TANGERINE DREAM, Peter Baumann had a crack at the single charts with the catchy Robert Palmer produced ‘Repeat, Repeat’ while former Gary Numan backing band DRAMATIS are represented by ‘Lady DJ’ although its epic A side ‘Ex Luna Scientia’ would have equally merited inclusion. But BEASTS IN CAGES who later became HARD CORPS stand out with the stark dystopia of ‘Sandcastles’.

The one that “should-have-been-a-pop-hit” is the ABBA-esque ‘I Can’t Hold On’ by Natasha England and it’s a shame that her career is remembered for a lame opportunistic cover of ‘Iko Iko’ rather than this, but the delightful ‘Twelfth House’ demonstrates again how under-rated Tony Mansfield’s NEW MUSIK were, and this with a B-side!

The rather fraught ‘Wonderlust’ by THE FALLOUT CLUB captures the late Trevor Herion in fine form on a Thomas Dolby produced number with a dramatic Spaghetti Western flavour that is lushly sculpted with electronics. Over a more sedate rhythm box mantra, ‘Love Moves In Strange Ways’ from BLUE ZOO swirls with a not entirely dissimilar mood.

Mute Records founder Daniel Miller was breaking through with his productions for DEPECHE MODE in 1981, but representation on ‘Musik Music Musique 2.0’ comes via the colder austere of ‘Science Fiction’ by Alan Burnham. ‘West End’ by Thomas Leer adds some jazzy freeform synth soloing to the vocal free backdrop, while ‘Surface Tension’ from ANALYSIS is an appealing instrumental.

The strangely accessible weirdness of CHRIS & COSEY’s ‘This Is Me’, MYSTERY PLANE’s ‘Something To Prove’ and the gritty ‘Brix’ from PORTION CONTROL will delight those more into the leftfield, while AK-47’s ‘Stop! Dance!’, the work of Simon Leonard (later of I START COUNTING and KOMPUTER fame) is another DIY experiment in that aesthetic vein.

Some tracks are interesting but not essential like Richard Bone’s ‘Alien Girl’ which comes over like an amusing pub singer SILICON TEENS, Johnny Warman’s appealing robopop on ‘Will You Dance With Me?’ and the synth dressed New Wave of ‘Close-Up’ by THOSE FRENCH GIRLS. For something more typically artschool, there’s the timpani laden ‘Taboos’ by THE PASSAGE and SECOND LAYER’s screechy ‘In Bits’.

More surprising is Swedish songstress Virna Lindt with her ‘Young & Hip’ which oddly combines showtune theatrics with blippy synth and ska! The set ends rather fittingly with Cherry Red’s very own EYELESS IN GAZA with the abstract atmospherics of ‘The Eyes Of Beautiful Losers’ although they too would eventually produce their own rousing synthpop statement ‘Sunbursts In’ in 1984.

Outside of the music, the booklet is a bit disappointing with the photos of OMD, TEARS FOR FEARS, HEAVEN 17, B-MOVIE and a glam-bouffanted Kim Wilde all coming from the wrong eras. And while the liner notes provide helpful information on the lesser known acts, clangers such as stating Toyah’s ‘Thunder In The Mountains’ was from the album ‘The Changeling’ when it was a standalone 45, “GONG’s Mike Hewlett” and “memorable sleeve designs by Malcolm Garrett’s Altered IMaGes” do not help those who wish to discover the origins of those accumulated gems.

But these quibbles aside, overall ‘Musik Music Musique 2.0’ is a good collection, although with fewer rare jewels compared with the first 1980 volume which perhaps points to the fact that those who had the shine to breakthrough actually did… 40 years on though, many of those hit making acts (or variations of) are still performing live in some form.

Was 1981 the most important year in synth as far becoming ubiquitous in the mainstream and hitting the top of the charts internationally? With VISAGE’s ‘Fade To Grey’ becoming a West German No1 in Spring 1981 through to SOFT CELL taking the summer topspot in the UK and culminating in THE HUMAN LEAGUE eventually taking ‘Don’t You Want Me?’ to No1 in the US, the sound of synth had done its job. Setting the scene for 1982 and 1983, further editions of ‘Musik Music Musique’ are planned.


‘Musik Music Musique 2.0 1981 – The Rise Of Synth Pop’ is released by Cherry Red on 15th October 2021 as a 3CD boxed set

https://www.cherryred.co.uk/product/musik-music-musique-2-0-the-rise-of-synth-pop-3cd-clamshell-box/


Text by Chi Ming Lai
12th October 2021

25 BBC RADIO1 SESSION TRACKS

The origin of the BBC radio session came about due to restrictions imposed on the corporation by the Musicians Union and Phonographic Performance Limited with regards the airing of recorded music.

The thinking behind this was to create employment, as well as force people to buy records and not listen to them free of charge on the air. As a result, the BBC had to hire bands and orchestras to perform cover versions of recorded music to make up for the shortfall.

When the policy evolved with the advent of the more pop and rock oriented station Radio1, bands ventured into BBC’s Maida Vale studios to lay down between 3 to 5 tracks, with in-house personnel such as John Walters, Dale Griffin, Jeff Griffin, Chris Lycett, Mike Robinson, John Owen Williams and (not that) Tony Wilson helming the sessions.

The most celebrated of these BBC sessions were recorded for John Peel, but equally of merit and perhaps more of an indicator to potential breakthroughs into the mainstream were those produced for Richard Skinner and Kid Jensen.

Sessions were usually recorded and mixed in a single day, so had a rougher feel that lay somewhere between a live performance and a studio recording, sounding almost like a polished demo.

While acts would often use the opportunity to promote their latest single or album, others would premiere recently written compositions, try out different arrangements on established songs or perform cover versions. A number of these session recordings were even superior to their eventual officially released versions.

So ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK presents its favourite 25 BBC Radio1 session tracks with other selection criteria including rare songs or tracks capturing the zeitgeist and signalling a change in the course of music. Presented in chronological and then alphabetical order within each year with a restriction of one track per artist moniker, here are some special moments from our beloved Auntie Beeb.


THE HUMAN LEAGUE Blind Youth (John Peel 1978)

In Summer 1978, THE HUMAN LEAGUE perhaps surprisingly recorded their only session for the BBC which included ‘Being Boiled’, ‘No Time’ (which became ‘The Word Before Last’), a cover of ‘You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling’ and ‘Blind Youth’. The latter was the frantic percussive highlight of the four, a wonderfully shambolic slice of synth punk with bum bleeps and avant waves of white noise, all held together by the metallic rhythmic bed of a sequenced Roland System 100.

Not officially released

http://www.thehumanleague.co.uk/


TUBEWAY ARMY I Nearly Married A Human (John Peel 1979)

Although only comprising of three tracks, Gary Numan’s session as TUBEWAY ARMY for John Peel in early 1979 captured an artist in transition. From the comparatively punky ‘Me! I Disconnect From You’ to the dystopian synthpop of ‘Down In The Park’, the electronics were gaining more prominence to suit his increasingly unsettling lyrical themes. And on the mostly instrumental ‘I Nearly Married A Human’, the machines launched a coup d’etat and took over like an army of replicants with the murmurs of the title being the only sign of flesh and blood.

Available on the GARY NUMAN ‎// TUBEWAY ARMY album ‘Replicas – The First Recordings’ via Beggars Banquet

http://garynuman.com/


OMD Pretending To See The Future (John Peel 1980)

Several months after the release of their self-titled debut long player, OMD returned for their second of their four John Peel sessions with Paul Humphreys and Andy McCluskey accompanied by drummer Malcolm Holmes and keyboardist Dave Hughes. By now, their live sound had expanded and this change was captured on this session with the version of ‘Pretending To See The Future’ having more presence and a looser percussive edge compared with the underwhelming drum machine-led album version.

Available on the OMD album ‘Peel Sessions 1979-1983’ via Virgin Records

https://www.omd.uk.com/


B-MOVIE Polar Opposites (John Peel 1981)

One of the bands alongside SOFT CELL, DEPECHE MODE and BLANCMANGE who got a profile boost from their inclusion on the ‘Some Bizzare Album’, although they were signed by Phonogram to take on DURAN DURAN, B-MOVIE had more of a psychedelic vibe as reflected by songs like ‘Welcome To The Shrink’ and ‘All Fall Down’ on their first John Peel session in March 1981. But the highlight was ‘Polar Opposites’ with its mighty ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ synth line. It would have made a great single, but never properly was!

Available on the B-MOVIE ‎album ‘BBC Radio Sessions 1981-1984’ via Cherry Red Records

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


DEPECHE MODE Boys Say Go (Richard Skinner 1981)

Broadcast in Summer 1981, this session captured the original DEPECHE MODE line-up of Dave Gahan, Martin Gore, Andy Fletcher and Vince Clarke several months before the release of debut album ‘Speak & Spell’. Refining into a pop band but still retaining much of the synthetic rawness that linked them artistically to acts like FAD GADGET, the session was characterised by use of the Korg Rhythm KR55 drum machine with its charming klanky metallics. This version of ‘Boys Say Go’ possessed an aggression that was lost on the eventual album cut.

Available on the compilation ‎album ‘1 & Only – 25 Years of BBC Radio 1’ (V/A) via BBC Enterprises / Band Of Joy

http://www.depechemode.com/


DURAN DURAN Like An Angel (Peter Powell 1981)

Like THE HUMAN LEAGUE, DURAN DURAN only did the one BBC session for their biggest champion Peter Powell. Broadcast in June 1981 to coincide with the release of their self-titled debut, they recorded near-facsimile versions of ‘Girls On Film’, ‘Anyone Out There’ and ‘Night Boat’. But a surprise came with ‘Like An Angel’, a sprightly love song unreleased at the time which pointed away from the New Romantics to the more mainstream pop ambition of the ‘Rio’ opus that was to come just a year later.

Available on the DURAN DURAN boxed set ‘Duran Duran’ via EMI Records

http://www.duranduran.com


SOFT CELL Seedy Films (Richard Skinner 1981)

Contributing five songs to their first BBC session as ‘Tainted Love’ was rising up the UK chart, brilliant songs like ‘Bedsitter’, ‘Entertain Me’, ‘Chips On My Shoulder’ and ‘Youth’ demonstrated the potential of Marc Almond and Dave Ball, even in basic form. While ‘Seedy Films’ was faster paced and a bit “snap, crackle and pop” compared to the more sophisticated and laid-back clarinet-laden ‘Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret’ album version, it outlined why at the time, SOFT CELL were rated higher than DEPECHE MODE.

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

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


SPANDAU BALLET Mandolin (Studio B15 1981)

‘Studio B15’ was a short-lived Sunday afternoon magazine show presented by the late Adrian Love that often invited their guests to perform live. SPANDAU BALLET had just released their debut album ‘Journeys To Glory’ and as a band that didn’t tour and rarely played live, this was an opportunity to demonstrate their abilities. ‘Mandolin’ featured a prominent Yamaha CS10 synth line while this version featured Simmons drums and a much clearer vocal with a more pronounced diction from Tony Hadley compared to the oddly smothered album version.

Available on the SPANDAU BALLET deluxe album ‘Journeys to Glory’ via EMI Records

http://www.spandauballet.com/


BLANCMANGE Running Thin (John Peel 1982)

Aired in February 1982, BLANCMANGE were captured in their only John Peel session as a much darker proposition than was later perceived by their UK chart success. It included an early take on ‘Living On The Ceiling’ without its Indian embellishments but the session was notable for ‘I Would’ and ‘Running Thin’, two songs that would not make it onto the ‘Happily Families’ tracklisting. ‘Running Thin’ in particular saw Neil Arthur and Stephen Luscombe trapped in a stark state of gloomy resignation.

Available on the BLANCMANGE album ‘The Very Best Of’ via Demon Music

http://www.blancmange.co.uk/


CHINA CRISIS This Occupation (John Peel 1982)

Recorded nearly six months before the release of their debut album, CHINA CRISIS’ first John Peel session saw the duo exploring territory that sat between electronic and traditional pop. ‘Seven Sports For All’ and ‘Some People I Know To Lead Fantastic Lives’ ended up on the album while the more moody ‘Be Suspicious’ was already a B-side. But this version of ‘This Occupation’ was pure machine-propelled synthpop complete with sequencing and strong lead lines; later recordings that appeared on the B-sides of ‘Wishful Thinking’ were never as good.

Available on the CHINA CRISIS deluxe album ‘Difficult Shapes & Passive Rhythms’ via Caroline Records

https://www.facebook.com/chinacrisisofficial


EURYTHMICS I’ve Got An Angel (Kid Jensen 1982)

After their 1981 German-inspired debut ‘In The Garden’, Annie Lennox and David A Stewart explored the possibilities of the synthesizer and acquired a Movement Drum Computer to live up to their moniker. In a BBC session that also included ‘Love Is A Stranger’ which was soon to be issued as a single , ‘I’ve Got An Angel’ was an unusual hybrid of synths, electronic drums and wah-wah guitar, with flute by the front woman alongside her particularly intense and raw vocal. By comparison, the released version on the ‘Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This)’ album was more restrained.

Not officially released

https://www.eurythmics.com/


NEW ORDER Too Late (John Peel 1982)

Not actually recorded at the BBC, NEW ORDER’s second self-produced John Peel session was a fascinating document of the Mancunian’s transitioning sound with the throbbing sequences of ‘586’ highlighting a future proto-dance direction. Meanwhile ‘Turn The Heater On’ was a cover of the Keith Hudson reggae song in tribute to Ian Curtis and ‘We All Stand’ had avant jazz overtones. But ‘Too Late’ was significant, sounding like it could have come off debut album ‘Movement’ with its lingering gothic doom but also remaining unreleased, discarded as if a relic from another era.

Available on the NEW ORDER boxed set ‘Power, Corruption & Lies’ via Rhino

http://www.neworder.com/


TEARS FOR FEARS Memories Fade (Kid Jensen 1982)

Featuring ‘The Prisoner’, ‘The Hurting’, ‘Start Of The Breakdown’ and ‘Memories Fade’, the arrangements for this BBC session aired after TEARS FOR FEARS’ success with ‘Mad World’ differed significantly from the versions on their debut album. Featuring Linn Drum programming and Banshees-like guitar instead of sax, this version of ‘Memories Fade’ was far superior, utilising a much more powerful mechanised rhythmic tension that reflected the fraught paranoia and resignation of Roland Orzabal’s lyrical angst.

Available on the TEARS FOR FEARS boxed set ‘The Hurting’ via Mercury Records

https://tearsforfears.com/


YAZOO In My Room (Kid Jensen 1982)

Reshaped with a Fairlight and Linn Drum Computer, this version of ‘In My Room’ recorded in session for Kid Jensen was far superior to the irritating album version on ‘Upstairs At Eric’s’. Forming the basis for the live interpretation, it was now free of Vince Clarke’s ‘Lord’s Prayer’ tape loop monologue and allowed Alison Moyet space to express her emotive frustration to reveal a fantastic song free of distractions. Other songs in the session included beefed up takes on ‘Bring Your Love Down (Didn’t I)’, ‘Situation’ and ‘Too Pieces’.

Available on the YAZOO boxed set ‘Three Pieces’ via Mute Records

http://yazooinfo.com/


DEAD OR ALIVE Give It To Me (Kid Jensen 1983)

Co-written with Wayne Hussey, ‘Give It To Me’ was Pete Burns at his filthy lyrical best, declaring that “Apart from all your obvious attractions, I’ve got the bullets, you’ve got the gun, bang me into action, let’s make this obvious distraction, physically you are just what I wanted!”. Although this slice of Middle Eastern favoured HI-NRG later surfaced as a bonus track on the 12 inch single of ‘I’d Do Anything’, it seems almost unbelievable now that this potential hit single was never developed further in the studio.

Available on the DEAD OR ALIVE boxed set ‘Sophisticated Boom Box MMXVI’ via Edsel Records

https://dead-or-alive-band.fandom.com/wiki/Dead_or_Alive


JOHN FOXX Hiroshima Mon Amour (Saturday Live 1983)

‘Saturday Live’ was a show that featured interviews and live sessions. Having ventured out touring for the first time since his ULTRAVOX days in support of his third solo album ‘The Golden Section’, John Foxx eschewed material from ‘Metamatic’ but perhaps more surprisingly, mined his former band’s catalogue. Backed by Robin Simon, Peter Oxdendale, David Levy and Barry Watts, Foxx performed an interesting arrangement of ‘Hiroshima Mon Amour’ sans rhythm machine but with guitars, ARP Odyssey and the ubiquitous thud of Simmons drums.

Available on the JOHN FOXX album ‘Metadelic’ via Edsel Records

http://www.metamatic.com/


HOWARD JONES Don’t Put These Curses On Me (Kid Jensen 1983)

Having triumphed opening for CHINA CRISIS in Spring 1983, Howard Jones impressed with his first BBC session featuring songs like ‘New Song’ and ‘Natural’ which would be included on his debut album ‘Human’s Lib’. The album title track also featured on the session with its original love triangle monologue intro. But ‘Don’t Put These Curses On Me’ would not be released until 2003, thanks to Jones considering the song unlucky following an equipment breakdown while attempting to perform it on the live Channel 4 TV show ‘Loose Talk’.

Available on the HOWARD JONES boxed set ‘Human’s Lib’ via Cherry Red Records

http://www.howardjones.com/


SIMPLE MINDS The Kick Inside Of Me (Kid Jensen 1983)

By the end of 1983, SIMPLE MINDS were leaning heavily towards more rockist climes with songs like ‘Waterfront’. But for a three song BBC session which also featured a reprise of ‘New Gold Dream’, there was the debut of ‘The Kick Inside Of Me’, a lively track with catchy synth riffs, an infectious bassline and minimal guitar. But come the released version for the Steve Lillywhite produced ‘Sparkle In The Rain’, it had totally been ruined with distorted guitar, overblown drums and yobbish shouting in a pointless attempt to emulate THE SEX PISTOLS!

Available on the SIMPLE MINDS boxed set ‘Sparkle In The Rain’ via Universal Music

https://www.simpleminds.com/


TALK TALK Why Is It So Hard? (Kid Jensen 1983)

This session captured TALK TALK after the departure of keyboardist Simon Brenner but before producer Tim Friese-Greene came on board as Mark Hollis’ writing partner. Showcasing at the time four brand new songs, only ‘Call In The Night Boy’ ended up on the next album ‘It’s My Life’ while ‘For What It’s Worth’ and ‘Again A Game Again’ became B-sides. But most interesting was ‘Why Is It So Hard?’ which was only released in Canada on the ‘It’s My Mix’ EP as an Extended Version and didn’t get a UK release until 1998 on the ‘Asides Bsides’ collection.

Not officially released

https://www.facebook.com/Talk-Talk-Mark-Hollis-12307963901/


VISAGE Questions (Kid Jensen 1983)

With only Steve Strange and Rusty Egan now remaining, VISAGE surprised all by recording a BBC session with new members Steve Barnacle and Andy Barnett, featuring previously unheard songs ‘Can You Hear Me?’, ‘Only The Good Die Young’, ‘The Promise’ and the funky standout ‘Questions’. With a more live feel, there was hope that VISAGE would be able to sustain some creative momentum despite the departure of Midge Ure, Billy Currie and Dave Formula but the eventual over-produced ‘Beat Boy’ album was rotten, marred by heavy metal guitar and hopelessly off-key singing!

Not officially released

http://www.therealvisage.com/


HARD CORPS Metal + Flesh (John Peel 1984)

Despite the patronage of Rusty Egan, Daniel Miller and Martin Rushent as well as a tour opening for DEPECHE MODE, the industrial pop of HARD CORPS did not breakthrough and by the time their only album ‘Metal + Flesh’ was released in 1990, all momentum had been lost. But the gothic tension and edgy energy of their music was perhaps best represented by their BBC sessions for John Peel and Richard Skinner, with ‘Metal + Flesh’ from the 1984 Peel session far outstripping the eventual album title track studio incarnation.

Available on the HARD CORPS album ‘Radio Sessions’ directly via https://hardcorps.bandcamp.com/album/radio-sessions

https://www.facebook.com/hard-CORPS-217860235015406


BRONSKI BEAT The Potato Fields (John Peel 1984)

For an Autumn session before the release of their debut album ‘The Age Of Consent’, BRONSKI BEAT took the unusual step of recording three solo tracks, with the only band offering being a take on ‘Why?’ B-side ‘Close To The Edge’. Larry Steinbachek presented a HI-NRG instrumental ‘Ultraclone’ while Jimmy Somerville offered the acapella ‘Puit D’amour’. But Steve Bronski contributed the most unusual track, a beautifully new age piece called ‘The Potato Fields’ which took its lead from the Japanese composer Kitaro, a version of which ended up as a bonus on the ‘I Feel Love’ 12 inch.

Not officially available

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


FIAT LUX Breaking The Boundary (Kid Jensen 1984)

From Spring 1984 to coincide with the release of their new single ‘Blue Emotion’, FIAT LUX stepped into BBC Maida Vale for a session to demonstrate their diversity and musicality as more than just a synth act. As well as ‘Blue Emotion’, there was its Brechtean B-side ‘Sleepless Nightmare’ and an acoustic version of ‘Secrets’. But best of all was ‘Breaking The Boundary’, a glorious burst of uptempo North European melancholy that did not officially see the light of day until the shelved FIAT LUX album ‘Ark Of Embers was finally released by Cherry Red Records in 2019.

Not officially available

http://www.fiat-lux.co.uk/


ERASURE Who Needs Love Like That? (Bruno Brookes 1985)

With ERASURE, Vince Clarke had found himself back to square one after YAZOO and THE ASSEMBLY. Recruiting Andy Bell as the flamboyant front man capable of falsetto and creating the vocal tones of Alison Moyet, ‘Who Needs Love Like That?’ did sound like a YAZOO outtake and in this BBC session recording, was busier and more percussive than the already released single version. While ERASURE were not an instant success, the song did eventually chart on its remixed re-release in 1992.

Available on the ERASURE deluxe album ‘Wonderland’ via Mute Records

https://www.erasureinfo.com/


PET SHOP BOYS A Powerful Friend (John Peel 2002)

John Peel was not a fan of PET SHOP BOYS or much synthpop for that matter, so it was a surprise when Neil Tennant and Chris Love did a session for him using the back to basics approach that they had adopted for the ‘Release’ tour with guitars, bass and percussion in the line-up. But the bonus for fans was that two of the songs recorded ‘If Looks Could Kill’ and ‘A Powerful Friend’, which had been written in 1983 and shelved, were specially revived for the occasion. Both numbers were particularly energetic with the latter even featuring very loud rock guitars!

Available on the PET SHOP BOYS deluxe album ‘Release: Further Listening 2001 – 2004’ via EMI Records

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


Text by Chi Ming Lai
2nd January 2021

MUSIK, MUSIC, MUSIQUE 1980 | The Dawn Of Synth Pop

1977 is often seen as Year Zero for synthpop, thanks to hit singles by DONNA SUMMER, SPACE and JEAN-MICHEL JARRE.

But it was not until 1979 with TUBEWAY ARMY reaching No1 with ‘Are Friends Electric?’ that the sound of synth truly hit the mainstream.

Although ‘No1 Song In Heaven’ by SPARKS had actually been a hit a few months earlier, ‘Are Friends Electric?’ was the beginning of the synth being accepted as a worthy mode of expression, rather than as a novelty. But as synths became more affordable, they became the perfect tool of youthful expression.

From Cherry Red, makers of the excellent ’Electrical Language: Independent British Synth Pop 78-84’ 4CD boxed set, comes ‘Musik Music Musique’; subtitled ‘1980: The Dawn Of Synth Pop’, this 3CD 58 track collection explores the arrival of synth pop and the dawn of a new musical era. This was the year before the synth became the rule rather than the exception with the success of SOFT CELL and DEPECHE MODE.

The set starts appropriately with OMD and ‘Messages’, one of the first tunes showcasing the warmer side of electronics following the colder wave led by Messrs Numan and Foxx. But as if to counter this next generation of youngsters, ‘Messages’ is immediately followed by the collection’s vocoder laden title song ‘Musik Music Musique’ from Zeus B Held and the superb proto-industrial ode to loveless sex ‘Coitus Interruptus’ by the much missed FAD GADGET.

Zeus B Held was later to make his impression on popular culture remixing ALPHAVILLE and SIMPLE MINDS as well producing the likes of FASHION, DEAD OR ALIVE, SPEAR OF DESTINY and TRANSVISION VAMP, but his wider breakthrough came as part of GINA X PERFORMANCE in 1979 with The Blitz Club favourite ‘No GDM’; on this compendium, the lesser-known but just as worthy ‘Vendor’s Box’ from their second album ‘X-Traordinaire’ is deservedly provided a platform.

The best producers often earn their spurs as artists and realising their limitations, use their accumulated studio nous to subvert the mainstream via pop. ‘Astroboy’ by BUGGLES sees Trevor Horn develop his sonic architecture to prove that he had another song that wasn’t ‘Video Killed The Radio Star’. Meanwhile the welcome inclusion of NEW MUSIK’s other hit ‘This World Of Water’ allows Tony Mansfield to showcase the crafted sparkle that would later go on to adorn records by CAPTAIN SENSIBLE, VICIOUS PINK, A-HA and NAKED EYES.

It may seem strange to see SPANDAU BALLET as part of this package but when they first appeared, they were considered a synthesizer band; ‘Glow’ was a UK double A side single with ‘Musclebound’ in 1981 and while it was the last synth-led track they did, their funk soul aspirations were there for all to hear. In fact, songwriter Gary Kemp had conceived ‘Glow’ with a brass section in mind, so it is now something of a curio that could be seen as a precursor to ‘Chant No1’.

SPANDAU BALLET were produced by Richard James Burgess who co-designed the Simmons SDSV; his electro-jazz combo LANDSCAPE figure with the Colin Thurston helmed ‘European Man’ which was actually designated “electronic dance music” on its single artwork some three decades before it was appropriated and abbreviated to become EDM…

Many of the usual suspects from the period like VISAGE, JAPAN, THE HUMAN LEAGUE and OUR DAUGHTER’S WEDDING are all present and correct with familiar recordings, but interestingly (although not for the better), it’s the original version of Phil Lynott’s ‘Yellow Pearl’ without the Rusty Egan drums or the Midge Ure remix that gets the nod!

One of the main beauties of these thoughtfully curated collections is to be able sway away from the obvious and feature a known-name with a lesser-known work; in the case of ULTRAVOX, it’s the occasionally Eno-inspired and Conny Plank produced ‘Waiting’ which was the B-side to their first Midge Ure fronted single ‘Sleepwalk’. Meanwhile, SUICIDE are represented by the excellent Ric Ocasek produced ‘Diamonds, Fur Coat, Champagne’ and YELLO with ‘Bimbo’, the oddball opener of the Swiss trailblazers’ debut long player ‘Solid Pleasure’.

SILICON TEENS get to feature with something other than ‘Memphis Tennessee’ and it’s the Daniel Miller‘s self-penned instrumental ‘Chip N Roll’ that has the honour, while the Mute Records founder gets another track in with ‘Brushing Your Hair’, a gloriously vibrant instrumental production and co-write for Alex Fergusson of ALTERNATIVE TV.

There’s additionally tracks by lesser known international acts or those bands that faded from view after effectively being one hit wonders. The entire career of M may have been overshadowed by the ubiquitous ‘Pop Muzik’ but Robin Scott did go on to release three albums and work with Ryuichi Sakamoto; the sombre ‘Official Secrets’ may not really have much of a hook but it contains some percolating bleepy sections that pre-date KRAFTWERK’s ‘Home Computer’ by one year.

‘A Circuit Like Me’ from Australian combo, THE METRONOMES actually sounds very 21st century with its detached female vocal and charming monosynths, while the gallop of ‘Drawn & Quartered’ by THE KORGIS is a worthy find. Now while ROCKETS found fame with a catchy robotic flavoured cover of ‘On The Road Again’ with the help of Zeus B Held, the silver faced Italians found that the vocoder suited their performance art poise and reapplied it for the self-penned space rocker ‘Galactica’.

Also possessing a bit of a gallop is LORI & THE CHAMELEONS’ wispy Morricone-influenced single ‘The Lonely Spy’ although with its acoustic strum, it is quite different from the understated electronic disco of their best known track ‘Touch’. Cut from a similar melodic post-punk cloth, the Martin Hannett produced ‘Sympathy’ from PAULINE MURRAY & THE INVISIBLE GIRLS is a reminder of how women were coming to the fore after punk in synth-assisted new wave, a fact borne out on ‘Musik Music Musique’ by the inclusion of more obscure works from TOYAH, KIM WILDE and HAZEL O’CONNOR.

‘Musik Music Musique’ is also an opportunity to become reacquainted with lost tunes of yore and ‘The Eyes Have It’ by KAREL FIALKA will be remembered by those who owned the 1980 Virgin Records compilation ‘Machines’, as will the octave driven ‘Destiny’ by DALEK I LOVE YOU. Some enjoyably avant pop adventures come courtesy of XYNN’s ‘Computed Man’ and SCIENCE’s ‘Tokyo’, while one of the more bizarre but successful experiments included is ‘I’m A Computer’ by THE GOO-Q.

One of the lesser known acts featuring with the eccentric ‘Money’ is MOEBIUS, not the member of German duo CLUSTER but an American art rock band with a penchant for DEVO. ‘Doctor …?’ by BLOOD DONOR is another wonderful discovery while of the more experimental art pieces included, NINI RAVIOLETTE’s ‘Suis-Je Normale’ delightfully comes over like a collaboration between Jane Birkin and Laurie Anderson.

Düsseldorf is often seen as the spiritual home of electronic music and there is worthy representation from DER PLAN and ‘Da Vorne Steht Ne Ampel’ illustrating how there were other dimensions to German electronic music other than that engineered by KRAFTWERK. But closing the set is the band named after the Electri_City itself, LA DÜSSELDORF with the light-hearted ‘Dampfriemen’; a quirky slice of synth “Oompah” with comedic chants and a kazoo section, it sums up the manic oddball nature of the former NEU! drummer Klaus Dinger.

There are many other tracks that have merit, but textures which reoccur on ‘Musik Music Musique’ to date stamp the period are the icy chill of the affordable ARP Quartet string machine and squawky sax, although not in an overblown jazz funk way.

Despite ‘Musik Music Musique’ comprising of a carefully researched tracklisting, a few errors do slip through; as well as the SPANDAU BALLET track being released in 1981 as already mentioned (although it was available on a very scarce Japanese-only promo sampler in late 1980), the version of ‘Kebabträume’ by DAF is the 1982 Conny Plank version from the Virgin album ‘Für Immer’ and not the Bob Giddens produced Mute Records five piece band recording which actually came out in 1980.

Then in the booklet, the Foxx fronted 1977 line-up of ULTRAVOX! gets illustrated as opposed to the New Romantic suited Midge Ure one, while LA DÜSSELDORF’s Hans Lampe is referred to as a “Keyboard Whizz” when he is actually a drummer and now performs with Michael Rother who was Klaus Dinger’s partner in NEU!; in fact Dinger handled keyboards himself under the pseudonym of Nikolaus Van Rhein.

Those are minor quibbles though, because this set is very good value and acts as a great music history lesson as well as offering the chance to hear some new vintage synth. While many may have heard of BERLIN BLONDES, THE PASSAGE, THE FALLOUT CLUB and EYELESS IN GAZA, only a few will have heard their music.

‘Musik Music Musique’ offers something of a low risk opportunity to make some new friends while becoming reacquainted with a few old and lost ones. Here’s to the 1981 follow-up set…


‘Musik Music Musique – 1980: The Dawn Of Synth Pop’  is released on 31st July 2020 as a 3CD boxed set by Cherry Red Records

https://www.cherryred.co.uk/product/musik-music-musique-1980-the-dawn-of-synth-pop-various-artists-3cd/


Text by Chi Ming Lai
13th July 2020

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