Tag: Steve Hillage


While 1979 saw a post-punk revolution with new wave and ska emerge as energetic expressions of youth with the likes of JOY DIVISION, XTC, THE SPECIALS and MADNESS, maturer acts with power pop sensibilities such as BLONDIE and THE POLICE dominated the UK charts.

But the synthesizer had become a new tool of creativity for those who weren’t interested in learning chords on a guitar and preferred to use one finger, thanks to its new found affordability with refined technology from Japan. While electronics had been present in disco, progressive rock and esoteric avant garde forms, following seminal records in 1978 such as ‘Warm Leatherette’ b/w ‘TVOD’ by THE NORMAL and ‘Being Boiled’ by THE HUMAN LEAGUE, a new DIY artpop form was developing that would eventually take on KRAFTWERK at their own game.

Among those fledgling electronic acts who released their debut singles in 1979 on independent labels were OMD with ‘Electricity’ on Factory Records and FAD GADGET with ‘Back To Nature’ on Mute Records. Meanwhile on another independent Rough Trade, CABARET VOLTAIRE achieved a wider breakthrough with ‘Nag Nag Nag’, the standalone single accompanying their first album ‘Mix-Up’.

Having experimented with synths on ‘Low’ released in 1977, David Bowie had gone to see THE HUMAN LEAGUE at The Nashville in late 1978 and hailed them as “the future of rock ‘n’ roll”. Alas it was TUBEWAY ARMY fronted by Gary Numan who beat THE HUMAN LEAGUE to the top of the UK singles charts in Summer 1979 with Are Friends Electric?’. However, just a few weeks earlier, SPARKS had taken the Giorgio Moroder produced ‘No1 Song In Heaven’ into the UK Top20. But however history is perceived, a revolution had begun that would lead to the dawn of “synthpop” in 1980.

Here are 20 albums which ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK sees as contributing to the electronic legacy of 1979. They are listed in alphabetical order with a restriction of one album per artist moniker, meaning Gary Numan and Edgar Froese appear twice…

ASHRA Correlations

As ASHRA, Manuel Göttsching released what many consider to be his first ambient masterpiece ‘New Age Of Earth’. On 1978’s ‘Blackouts’, he expanded the line-up to include drumming synthesist Harald Grosskopf and guitarist Lutz Ulbrich which continued on ‘Correlations’. Despite being more rock-oriented, it featured sequenced electronics with ‘Club Cannibal’ almost entering Jean-Michel Jarre territory.

‘Correlations’ is still available via Spalax Music


PETER BAUMANN Trans Harmonic Nights

Although he had released ‘Romance ‘76’ while still a member of TANGERINE DREAM, Peter Baumann’s first solo album after departing the band was something of an interim record before venturing into electronic pop with ‘Repeat Repeat’. Mostly shorter instrumental compositions using mysterious melodies and occasional vocoder textures, ‘Trans Harmonic Nights’ remains something of an underrated electronic gem.

‘Trans Harmonic Nights’ is still available via Cherry Red Records



With TANGERINE DREAM taking a misstep with ‘Cyclone’ and perhaps prompted by the success of Jean-Michel Jarre’s electronic symphonies, on his fifth solo album ‘Stuntman’, Edgar Froese was at his most accessible with strong synth melodies, particularly on the title track. Elsewhere, new ages resonances were starting to develop while on ‘Drunk Mozart In The Desert’, there was atmospherics coupled with a rhythmic bounce.

‘Stuntman’ is still available via Virgin Records



Produced and co-written by Zeus B Held, the debut album by androgynous art history student Gina Kikoine featured an array of ARP and Moog synths to signal the birth of a new European Underground. Cult club favourite ‘No GDM’ was written in honour of the “great dark man” Quentin Crisp while other highlights included the detached vocoder assisted robotic soul of the title song and the feisty gender statement ‘Be A Boy’.

Available on the album ‘Nice Mover + Voyeur’ via Les Disques du Crepuscule



With Giorgio Moroder acquiring Roland’s new System 700 and an MC8 Micro-composer to control it, ‘E=MC2’ was touted as the first “electronic live-to-digital” album. This allowed for an uptempo funkiness previously unheard on sequencer based music to come into play. With the electronically treated vocals and euphoric energy of the marvellous ‘What A Night’, the sound of DAFT PUNK was inadvertently being invented!

‘E=MC²’ is still available via Repertoire Records


STEVE HILLAGE Rainbow Dome Musick

As a member of GONG and solo artist, Steve Hillage had a love of German experimental music and ventured into ambient with long standing partner Miquette Giraudy. Recorded for the Rainbow Dome at the ‘Festival For Mind-Body-Spirit’ at London’s Olympia, these two lengthy Moog and ARP assisted tracks each had a beautifully spacey vibe to induce total relaxation with a colourful sound spectrum.

‘Rainbow Dome Musick’ is still available via Virgin Records



With a manifesto of “synthesizers and vocals only”, the debut album by THE HUMAN LEAGUE included ‘Empire State Human’, ‘Circus Of Death’, ‘Almost Medieval’, ‘Blind Youth’ and a stark cover of ‘You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling’. Produced by Colin Thurston, while ‘Reproduction’ was not a commercial success, Philip Oakey, Ian Craig Marsh and Martyn Ware gained valuable experience that would progress their careers.

‘Reproduction’ is still available via Virgin Records


JAPAN Quiet Life

Although considered a 1980 album, the third JAPAN long player was actually released late 1979 in Japan, Canada, Holland and Germany. Featuring the sequencer-driven title song as well as the rockier ‘Halloween’ and a cover of THE VELVET UNDERGROUND’s ‘All Tomorrow’s Parties’, despite Roxy rip-off accusations, it was a major artistic step forward as a quality timeless work embracing synths, muzak and orchestrations.

‘Quiet Life’ is still available via BMG


GARY NUMAN The Pleasure Principle

Devoid of guitar but using a flesh-and-blood rhythm section, Gary Numan realised his dream of producing a new form, machine rock. Synths were fed through guitar effects pedals to add a more sinister metallic tone and while there was sombre isolation communicated on all the songs, there was a catchy melodic sensibility to songs such as ‘Cars’, ‘Metal’, ‘Films’, ‘Engineers’ and ‘M.E.’ which turned Numan into the first synthesizer pop star.

‘The Pleasure Principle’ is still available via Beggars Banquet



Originally released on THROBBING GRISTLE’s Industrial Records, ‘The Bridge’ album saw Scottish duo Thomas Leer and Robert Rental trading vocal and instrumental duties using early affordable synths such as the EDP Wasp. Comprising of a side of five songs and a side with four ambient instrumentals, ‘Day Breaks, Night Heals’ and ‘Monochrome Days’ both showcased an avant pop sensibility. Robert Rental sadly passed away in 2000.

‘The Bridge’ is still available via Mute Artists


ROEDELIUS Selbstportrait

Best known as a member of CLUSTER with the late Dieter Moebius and working with Brian Eno on two albums, ‘Selbstportrait’ was Hans-Joachim Roedelius’ third solo long player. This was a “self-portrait” reflecting the gentle introspective ambience of the record. Something of a sister record to the 1977’s marvellous ‘Sowiesoso’, it was more accessible than CLUSTER’s own structurally minimal ‘Grosses Wasser’ also issued in 1979.

‘Selbstportrait’ is still available via Bureau B



After the ambitious double opus ‘X’ which also incorporated strings in a record comprising of “Six Musical Biographies” in honour of figures including philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche and ‘Dune’ author Frank Herbert, Klaus Schulze conceived an actual album called ‘Dune’. Something of a diversion, ‘Shadows of Ignorance’ featured the eccentric poetry of Arthur Brown while the experimental ambient title track made use of cello.

‘Dune’ is still available via Bureau B


SIMPLE MINDS Real To Real Cacophony

Stronger than their debut LP ‘Life In A Day’, SIMPLE MINDS started experimenting with more electronics and a very European austere on its swift follow-up ‘Real To Real Cacophony’ with the title song presenting their take on KRAFTWERK’s ‘Radio-Activity’. Underground and pulsating through on ‘Changeling’, that breakthrough single and ‘Premonition’ really were a sign of things to come in their dark avant disco templates.

‘Real To Real Cacophony’ is still available via Virgin Records


SPARKS No1 In Heaven

Following the inspirational success of ‘I Feel Love’, SPARKS were put in contact with its producer Giorgio Moroder who had aspirations to work with a band. The resultant album saw Russell Mael’s flamboyant falsetto fitting well with the pulsing electronic disco template. ‘The No1 Song In Heaven’ hit the UK Top 20 a few months before ‘Are Friends Electric?’ while the follow-up ‘Beat The Clock’ got into the Top 10.

‘No1 In Heaven’ is still available via Lil Beethoven Records



Still feeling the void left by the departure of Pete Baumann, following the vocal experiment of ‘Cyclone’, Edgar Froese and Christopher Franke opted to retain drummer in Klaus Krüger. While there was also increased guitar and piano usage, the title song and ‘Thru Metamorphic Rocks’ utilised pulsing sequencer passages to signal the future Hollywood direction that TANGERINE DREAM would head in.

‘Force Majeure’ is still available via Virgin Records


TELEX Looking For Saint Tropez

The ethos of Belgian trio TELEX was “making something really European, different from rock, without guitar”. ‘Looking For Saint Tropez’ contained ‘Moscow Diskow’ which took the Trans-Siberian Express to Moscow by adding a funkier groove. Also included were funereal robotic covers of ‘Rock Around The Clock’ which was a UK Top40 hit and Plastic Bertrand’s ‘Ça Plane Pour Moi’ as well as their deadpan debut single ‘Twist A Saint Tropez’.

‘Looking For Saint Tropez’ is still available via Mute Artists



The title and the group photo on Beachy Head were tongue-in-cheek statements but THROBBING GRISTLE were still deathly uncompromising as shown by ‘Persuasion’. However, there were glints of light with the glorious cascading instrumental ‘Walkabout’ and mutant disco lento of ‘Hot On The Heels Of Love’ as Cosey Fanni Tutti’s whispered vocals competed with synthetic whip-crack and drill noises!

‘20 Jazz Funk Greats’ is still available via Mute Artists



Whereas the TUBEWAY ARMY debut featured punk tunes with added synth, ‘Replicas’ would see the Philip K Dick inspired dystopian vision of Gary Numan paired with appropriate electronic sounds as the main melodic component on the now classic UK No1 ‘Are Friends Electric?’. But the earlier singles ‘Down In The Park’ and the lengthy instrumental ‘I Nearly Married A Human’ pointed to a future guitar-free follow-up.

‘Replicas’ is still available via Beggars Banquet



Although VANGELIS had never been to China at the time the album was recorded, he had developed a passionate fascination for its people, culture and vast landscape, noting a connection between ethnic Greek and Chinese music. Using traditional elements alongside his synthesizers, the centrepieces were the majestic ‘Chung Kuo’ and the meditative pentatonic piece ‘The Tao Of Love’. ‘China’ remains an underrated record in his canon.

‘China’ is still available via Universal Music



The second and best YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA album featured an embarrassment of riches.  It included the glorious Technopop of ‘Rydeen’, the mighty citypop of ‘Technopolis’, the moodier ‘Castalia’ and the Cossack romp of ‘Absolute Ego Dance’.  But it was the iconic ‘Behind The Mask’ originally composed for Seiko which was later covered by Greg Phillinganes, Eric Clapton and Michael Jackson.

‘Solid State Survivor’ is still available via Sony Music Direct


Text by Chi Ming Lai
1 January 2024

NASH THE SLASH: And You Thought You Were Normal

‘And You Thought You Were Normal: A Documentary Film About NASH THE SLASH’ asks what it is like to be an artist who is “not normal”.

NASH THE SLASH was the late Jeff Plewman, a Canadian multi-instrumentalist adept at electric violin and mandolin. He was also the first Canadian to ever use a drum machine on an album, while his music was a complex blend of prog, art rock, new wave and performance art. His persona was inspired by a killer butler that featured in the 1927 silent film ‘Do Detectives Think?’ starring Laurel and Hardy.

Plewman started performing as a solo artist beginning in 1975 and founded the progressive rock band FM in 1976. The NASH THE SLASH trademark look covered in surgical bandages began in 1979 to raise awareness of the Three Mile Island nuclear disaster; he walked on stage wearing bandages dipped in phosphorus paint and exclaimed: “Look, this is what happens to you!”

NASH THE SLASH opened for GARY NUMAN on his ‘Teletour’ and played violin on the tracks ‘Cry The Clock Said’ and ‘You Are You Are’ from his 1981 ‘Dance’ album; as well as this, he appeared as an onstage guest at Numan’s then-farewell concert at Wembley Arena in April 1981.  Earlier in the year, he had released the Steve Hillage produced album ‘Children Of The Night’ on Dindisc Records, the Virgin Records funded imprint that brought OMD their initial commercial success.

This was the period when NASH THE SLASH had his highest mainstream media profile, with him even being given the honour of a profile interview by ‘Smash Hits’ where he stated his full name was “Nashville Thebodiah Slasher”! Indeed, NASH THE SLASH’s best known recording in the UK was an early stripped down version of ‘Swing-Shift’ alongside his label mates’ live rendition of ‘Pretending To See The Future’ on a blue flexi-disc given away free with ‘Smash Hits’.

NASH THE SLASH’s next album was ‘And You Thought You Were Normal’ in 1982 and featured the single ‘Dance After Curfew’ produced by Daniel Lanois; it fittingly became a radio hit in Poland as the country’s Communist government declared martial law.

NASH THE SLASH also later worked with Bill Nelson and opened shows for IGGY POP, THE WHO, THE TUBES and DEVO. He rejoined FM but continued to perform solo and returned for a UK tour in 2008. He was also on stage with GARY NUMAN again in October 2010 for a rendition of ‘Complex’ at Toronto Opera House but announced his retirement via his website in November 2012, stating he was “rolling up the bandages”. However, NASH THE SLASH sadly passed away in May 2014.

But his work and legacy lives on; a number of his costumes and instruments were donated to the National Music Centre in Calgary while his custom skull mandolin is on display in the Canadian Music Hall of Fame.

In 2015, Artoffact Records reissued six of his albums and in early 2017, filming began on ‘And You Thought You Were Normal: A Documentary Film About NASH THE SLASH’. Telling a universal story of artistic struggle, as it heads into post-production, a crowd funding campaign has been in progress to bring the project to completion.

The film is being produced by Side Three Media in collaboration with The NASH THE SLASH Legacy; over 50 interviews have been conducted with his friends, collaborators and fans of his work, while archival footage and rare images have also been unearthed.

Back in 2010, Stephen Roper interviewed NASH THE SLASH for his GARY NUMAN book ‘Back Stage: A Book Of Reflections’; he has kindly given permission for ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK to publish edited extracts of his delightful conversation with a unique individual.

On his start in electronic music…

I started doing solo electronic music in 1975 and back then, I was probably the first guy in Canada using a drum machine when drum machines were illegal. People don’t seem to know all these years later but drum machines used to be illegal and according to The Musicians Union, anyone using an artificial device to make music would be barred from appearing on a union stage.

On performing at The Edge in Toronto 1980…

I was the second biggest draw at the club after MARTHA & THE MUFFINS. The club held 150 people and even the band THE POLICE had only attracted 35 people to what was their fifth gig ever. I asked to do a week-long show which I decided to call ‘The St. Valentine’s Week Massacre’. It played from Monday to Sunday night, the Thursday being St. Valentine’s Day, February 14th.

For the second part of my set I changed into a grey pinstripe suit with a grey fedora. I was doing a symbolic re-enactment of the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre! At the end of ‘Danger Zone’ you could hear 1930’s gangsters talking and then gunfire on the backing tape.

Meanwhile, I jumped off the stage and as the music and gunfire continued, I pulled a blank-gun from my vest and began shooting at the stage at my imaginary assailants. I escaped through the crowd back to the dressing room, firing all the way. To say the least, it was dramatic and went down a storm.

Today, I would be arrested for carrying a concealed weapon and sued for causing extreme emotional trauma! I had no idea then, that I would be offered the gig to open for GARY NUMAN at The Toronto Music Hall on the following Monday.

On opening for GARY NUMAN…

This was my first big tour and I loved it. I was somewhere in age between Gary and his dad Tony and the whole family on the road thing suited my personality. Beryl was the tour mom and it felt nice to be part of their personal family dynamic.

His mum and dad weren’t prudish and didn’t tut tut over people doing strange rock ‘n’ roll things – they knew what it was about. I was just another performer whom Beryl wanted to make sure looked his best on stage. She would send my stage-clothes along with everyone else’s to the dry cleaners.

I wasn’t that familiar with Gary’s music when we first set out. I’d heard ‘Cars’ and ‘Down In The Park’ but I didn’t know his other TUBEWAY ARMY stuff but I certainly got a quick lesson in it! I really did love the music and I still love it today. Not everything that Gary’s done has been that memorable but I think that period of time when he was writing those tunes was just killer stuff.

On touring the UK…

I didn’t think twice about it if I’m honest. For me, the UK was all about the intensity. I’d already established myself opening for Gary at big venues on the North American tour.

When I got to England, I was just pleased to be playing to these rabid British crowds. In North America, the audiences were good but at the same time, they were just getting into Gary.

When I got to England, his crowd were already well established and enthusiastic to say the least. They were also very respectful of me in the opening slot so that was very nice.

The only low point for me on the tour was having my mandolins stolen from the Hammersmith Odeon. As we were doing two consecutive nights there, the equipment was left set-up on the stage overnight. Unfortunately for us, someone broke in and stole three of Gary’s keyboards, a few guitars and my mandolins. Keyboards and guitars were relatively easy to replace but custom-built electric
mandolins were a different matter.

Scotland Yard came to the venue to take statements from everyone. They got a police artist to do a drawing of my mandolins and showed the picture on the TV on a show called ‘Crimewatch’. I managed to get by using a cheap electric mandolin I found in a shop in London.

I managed to modify it so that it sounded half-decent. My mandolins eventually turned up four months later in a park. They were found by a little old lady walking her dogs and luckily, weren’t seriously damaged.

On signing to Dinsdisc and recording with GARY NUMAN…

After the tour, I stayed on in London and managed to get a deal with Dindisc who were a subsidiary of Virgin. I went in the studio in December 1980 and recorded the album ‘Children Of The Night’. In January 1981 I was doing my own one-man shows in London and I got a call from Gary. “How would you like to play on my new album ‘Dance’?” I went to the studio and met Gary and QUEEN’s Roger Taylor and the three of us sat around and mucked about on the piano and came up with some ideas.

I’d been forewarned about the phenomenon of QUEEN and their status but it turned out that Roger Taylor was totally non-pretentious. I found him to be a really nice guy. Although it was fun to play on the tracks, I don’t think ‘Dance’ was one of Gary’s strongest albums. Considering its title, the LP just doesn’t make me want to DANCE! I found it all too laid back for my tastes. It was as if Gary wanted to sound like the band JAPAN which frankly, I can’t stand.

We were recording the ‘Dance’ album in February 1981 and not long after that, Gary became busy formulating his big farewell concert at Wembley. Knowing I was available, Gary asked me to be part of it. Gary said to me “I don’t want you to be the opening act, I want you to be in the band”.

On performing with GARY NUMAN…

It was still a lot of work though and as I remember, the big film studio we were rehearsing in had no heating and April that year was particularly cold. The crew brought in these giant heaters for us that looked like jet engines but they barely made any difference. I remember we rehearsed every day for a week. When you have such a monstrous stage show, you can imagine the amount of preparation needed.

My part was to stand on-top of the massive rig and play ‘Cry, The Clock Said’, (reprising my role from the new album) and then my big moment would be to come running out onto the stage for ‘The Joy Circuit’ and join the rest of the band with my violin. We did three nights but the last was just a bit more special and would definitely be one of those unforgettable moments for me.

On the UK music press…

It’s wonderful that Britain has a passionate music press but on the other hand they can take their role too seriously. There’s the praising you one week and crucifying you the next. I think that has a lot to do with power tripping. I became aware of the bad press Gary was getting when I got over there and started to tour with him.

I think there was a lot of jealousy in the industry at the time. I noticed it being bantered about at Virgin and Dindisc in general conversation. It seemed that anytime I went into those offices and we’d be talking about electronic pop music, if Gary’s name came up the reaction would be “GARY NUMAN’s just a poser, a w*nker, you know a DAVID BOWIE wannabe…” and all that stuff. I would just reply “Yeah but he’s had hit songs; what about you?”

I’ve always been offended by the term “one-hit-wonder”. Not from the perspective to condescend to these people but to say to people who comment “well what f*cking hit did you ever have?”

One hit is more than nothing. I wish I was a one hit wonder! Gary certainly rose above that, I think he was bugged by the slagging personally, (I know I sure as hell was) but regardless, he rose above it. He just got on with doing what he does.

On his impact in the UK…

It was great to have the opportunity to come back and play in the UK in 2008. I had an epiphany from when I was there. What happened was that every night, these guys were coming up to me and telling me the same thing. “I was going to my very first rock concert to see my new idol GARY NUMAN, I was 14 years old and what’s the first thing I see? Not GARY NUMAN but this guy in white tails, top hat and bandages playing solo electric violin and ripping my face off, and I never forgot it.”

All of these guys were telling me this twenty eight years later and I’m thinking, Gosh you people have a helluva memory. It wasn’t that at all… It was that I’d brainwashed them all when they were 14!

In memory of NASH THE SLASH 1948 – 2014

To back ‘And You Thought You Were Normal: A Documentary Film About NASH THE SLASH’, please visit https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/and-you-thought-you-were-normal–3#/




A selection of the NASH THE SLASH back catalogue is available via Artoffact Records from https://nashtheslash.bandcamp.com/




Interview by Stephen Roper with thanks
Additional Text by Chi Ming Lai
25th November 2018, updated 12th March 2019

The Electronic Legacy of AMBIENT

Ambient electronic music is a much misunderstood genre.

One is not talking about Jean-Michel Jarre or Vangelis who are far too comparatively lively to be truly considered ambient. And it is not ‘chill out’ that’s being talked about either, which seems to lump in any form of dance music that is under 112 beats per minute.

Modern ambient probably came to prominence with Brian Eno. While lying in a hospital room after a car accident in 1975, a friend visited him and put on a LP of harp music. However the volume had been set at an extremely low level and one of the stereo channels had failed. Unable to move to adjust this, Eno had a new way of listening to music forced onto him.

In recalling this story for the sleeve notes of his ‘Discreet Music’ album, Eno said the music now became “part of the ambience of the environment just as the colour of the light and the sound of rain were parts of the ambience.”

Eno may not have been the inventor of ambient, but he was almost certainly was its midwife. With its lengthy gradual processes and unpredictable changes, ambient can be listened to and yet ignored. Going against the Western tradition of music where vocals, melody and rhythm are essential components, ambient music is designed to accommodate many levels of listening without enforcing one in particular.

One of the other beauties of ambient music is that the pieces are often so progressive that it becomes quite difficult to remember individual sections. Therefore on repeated plays, the music can still sound fresh and rewarding. It was an approach that fascinated many and while they may not have released whole works, artists such as THE HUMAN LEAGUE, OMD, BLANCMANGE and RADIOHEAD recorded ambient pieces for album tracks or B-sides.

Comments about ambient music being “boring” are missing the point, because at points of the day where the state of near sleep looms, music with no vocals, no rhythms and not too much energetic melody is perfect.

Restricted to one album per moniker or collaborative partnership, here are the twenty long players presented in chronological and then alphabetical order which form The Electronic Legacy of Ambient. Acting as a straightforward introduction to the genre, it refers to many artists whose comparatively mainstream works may already be familiar.

KLAUS SCHULZE Timewind (1974)

‘Timewind’ was Klaus Schulze’s first solo album to use a sequencer, evolving as a longer variation on his former band’s ‘Phaedra’. Referencing 19th century composer Richard Wagner, Schulze transposed and manipulated the sequences in real time, providing shimmering and kaleidoscopic washes of electronic sound using the EMS Synthi A, ARP 2600, ARP Odyssey, Elka string machine and Farfisa organ.

‘Timewind’ is available via Mig Music


TANGERINE DREAM Phaedra (1974)

‘Phaedra’ saw TANGERINE DREAM using sequencers for the first time. Featuring the classic line-up of Edgar Froese, Peter Baumann and Chris Franke, the hypnotic noodles of EMS VCS3s and Moogs dominated while Mellotrons sounding like orchestras trapped inside a transistor radio. Organic lines and flute added to trancey impressionism.

‘Phaedra’ is available via Virgin Records


CLUSTER Sowiesoso (1976)

The late Dieter Moebius and Hans-Joachim Roedelius were CLUSTER. Their fourth album ‘Sowiesoso’ was CLUSTER’s first fully realised exploration into ambient electronics. With gentle melodic phrasing and unimposing rhythmical patterns, the title track was a wonderfully hypnotic adventure that welcomed the listener into the soothing world of the longer player’s remaining aural delights.

‘Sowiesoso’ is available via Bureau B


ASHRA New Age Of Earth (1977)

As ASHRA, Manuel Göttsching was looking to visit synthesized climes and explored more progressive voxless territory armed with an Eko Rhythm Computer, ARP Odyssey and  his signature keyboard sound, a Farfisa Synthorchestra. An exponent of the more transient solo guitar style, this template was particularly evident on ‘New Age Of Earth’, a beautiful treasure trove of an album.

‘New Age Of Earth’ is available via Virgin Records


STEVE HILLAGE Rainbow Dome Musick (1979)

Steve Hillage had a love of German experimental music and ventured into ambient with long standing partner Miquette Giraudy. Recorded for the Rainbow Dome at the Festival for Mind-Body-Spirit at Olympia, these two lengthy Moog and ARP assisted tracks each had a beautifully spacey quality to induce total relaxation with a colourful sound spectrum.

‘Rainbow Dome Musick’ is available via Virgin Records


HAROLD BUDD & BRIAN ENO The Plateaux Of Mirror (1980)

Mostly piano-oriented, its backdrop of shimmering synthesizer and tape loops of voices was conceived wth Harold  Budd improvising while Eno would occasionally add something. But his producer tact was to step back if nothing extra was needed. ‘The Plateaux Of Mirror’ was a lovely work with resonating ivories of the acoustic and electric variety. A second collaboration came with ‘The Pearl’ in 1984.

‘The Plateaux Of Mirror’ is available via Virgin / EMI Records


BRIAN ENO Apollo: Atmospheres and Soundtracks (1983)

A soundtrack to a documentary film about the Apollo Missions that reacted against the uptempo manner of space travel presented by news reels of the day with fast cuts and speeded up images, Eno wanted to convey the feelings of space travel and weightlessness. Although based around Eno’s Yamaha DX7, the album was quite varied instrumentally, featuring his brother Roger and Daniel Lanois.

‘Apollo: Atmospheres and Soundtracks’ is available via Virgin / EMI Records


ROGER ENO Voices (1985)

The debut album from the younger Eno, ‘Voices’ captured a sustained mood of dreamy soundscapes and aural clusters with its beautiful piano template strongly reminiscent of Harold Budd’s work with brother Brian, who was also involved on this record via various electronic treatments although it was actually Daniel Lanois who produced.

‘Voices’ is available via Virgin / EMI Records


DAVID SYLVIAN & HOLGER CZUKAY Plight & Premonition / Flux & Mutability (1988 – 1989)

Following his ‘Gone To Earth’ bonus album of instrumentals, David Sylvian found a willing conspirator in Holger Czukay who had developed several unconventional compositional techniques using devices such as short wave radios and Dictaphones. Through a series of improvisations, the duo came up with two companion long players that conveyed a sinister yet tranquil quality drifting along in complex spirals.

‘Plight & Premonition / Flux & Mutability’ is available via Grönland Records



HAROLD BUDD The White Arcades (1992)

Unlike the comparatively optimistic air of his work with Eno, Harold Budd’s solo journeys often conveyed a more melancholic density, probably best represented by the haunting immersive atmospheres of ‘The White Arcades’. An elegiac combination of shimmering synthesizers and sporadic piano  provided an austere depth that was both ghostly and otherworldly.

‘The White Arcades’ is available via Opal Productions


STEVE JANSEN & RICHARD BARBIERI Other Worlds In A Small Room (1996)

With ‘Other Worlds In A Small Room’, Steve Jansen and Richard Barbieri created an atmospheric trio of electronic instrumentals that they considered “Ambient in the traditional sense”. There was an appendix of four suitably complimentary tracks from their 1984 album ‘Worlds In A Small Room’ had originally been commissioned by JVC to accompany a documentary about the Space Shuttle Challenger.

‘Other Worlds In A Small Room’ is available via https://jansenbarbieri.bandcamp.com/releases



VINCENT CLARKE & MARTYN WARE Spectrum Pursuit Vehicle (2000)

‘Spectrum Pursuit Vehicle’ was composed by Vince Clarke and Martyn Ware as part of an Illustrious art installation at The Roundhouse in a circular, white clothed room where the colours referred to in the titles of the six lengthy pieces were “programmed to cross fade imperceptibly to create an infinite variation of hue”. Using binaural 3D mixing, the CD booklet said “This album is intended to promote profound relaxation”.

‘Spectrum Pursuit Vehicle’ is available via Mute Records


WILLIAM ORBIT Pieces In A Modern Style (2000)

Trance enthusiasts who loved Ferry Corsten’s blinding remix of Samuel Barber’s ‘Adagio For Strings’ will have been shockedby this virtually beatless parent long player. Orbit’s concept of adapting classical works was that he wanted to make a chill-out album that had some good tunes. A collection featuring lovely electronic versions of Beethoven’s ‘Triple Concerto’ and John Cage’s ‘In A Landscape’ could not miss.

‘Pieces In A Modern Style’ is available via WEA Records



Alva Noto is a German experimental artist based in Berlin and ‘Vrioon’ was his first collaborative adventure with YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA trailblazer Ryuichi Sakamoto. A beautiful union of piano, synth shimmers and subtle glitch electronics proved to be an unexpectedly soothing and  meditative experience that was gloriously minimal over six starkly constructed mood pieces.

‘Vrioon’ is available via Raster-Noton ‎



MOBY Hotel: Ambient (2005)

Originallypart of the 2CD version of ‘Hotel’ in 2005, Moby couldn’t find his copy and decided on an expanded re-release. Inspired by the nature of hotels, where humans spend often significant portions of their lives but have all traces of their tenancy removed for the next guests, the emotive ‘Homeward Angel’ and the solemn presence of ‘The Come Down’ were worth the purchase price alone.

‘Hotel: Ambient’ is available via Mute Records


ROBIN GUTHRIE & HAROLD BUDD After the Night Falls / Before The Day Breaks (2007)

Robin Guthrie and Harold Budd first collaborated on ‘The Moon & The Melodies’ album along with the other COCTEAU TWINS. These were beautiful experiments in duality but it would be unfair to separate these Siamese twins. Serene, relaxing, abstract and distant, Guthrie’s textural guitar and Budd’s signature piano were swathed in drifting synths and treatments that complimented each album’s titles.

‘After The Night Falls’ and ‘Before The Day Breaks’ are available via Darla Records


JOHN FOXX & HAROLD BUDD Nighthawks / Translucence / Drift Music (2003 – 2011)

A sumptuous trilogy featuring two artists who had both worked with Brian Eno. ‘Nighthawks’ was John Foxx and Harold Budd’s collaboration with the late minimalist composer Ruben Garcia and a soothing tranquil nocturnal work with tinkling ivories melting into the subtle layered soundscape. The earlier ‘Translucence’ was a close relative, partnered with the more subdued ‘Drift Music’.

‘Nighthawks’ and ‘Translucence / Drift Music’ are available via Metamatic Records


JOHN FOXX London Overgrown (2015)

‘London Overgrown’ was John Foxx’s first wholly solo ambient release since the ‘Cathedral Oceans’ trilogy. The conceptual opus was a glorious ethereal synthesizer soundtrack, smothered in a haze of aural sculptures and blurred soundscapes. With ‘The Beautiful Ghost’, as with William Orbit’s take on ‘Opus 132’ from ‘Pieces In A Modern Style’, this was Beethoven reimagined for the 23rd Century.

‘London Overgrown’ is available via Metamatic Records


STEVE JANSEN The Extinct Suite (2017)

“I like the effects of calm and dissonance and subtle change” said Steve Jansen; not a remix album as such, the more ambient and orchestral elements of ‘Tender Extinction’ were segued and reinterpreted with new sections to create a beautiful hour long structured ambient record. A gentle blend of electronic and acoustic instrumentation, ‘The Extinct Suite’ exuded a wonderful quality equal to Eno or Budd.

‘The Extinct Suite’ is available via https://stevejansen.bandcamp.com/album/the-extinct-suite-2


PAUL STATHAM Asylum (2017)

B-MOVIE guitarist and pop tunesmith Paul Statham began his experimental music account with ‘Ephemeral’ and ‘Installation Music 1’. ‘Asylum’ was a more ambitious proposition and featured in an audio visual installation created with painter Jonathan McCree.. The eight compositions together exuded a cinematic, ethereal quality with some darker auras and an eerie sound.

‘Asylum’ is available via https://paulstatham.bandcamp.com/album/asylum


Text by Chi Ming Lai
22nd August 2018

The Electronic Legacy of VIRGIN RECORDS

Virgin Records celebrates its 40th Anniversary.

Although the label is now owned by the Universal Music Group, its colourful history is forever associated with the championing of new and unconventional music forms during its fledgling years. Virgin founder Richard Branson started his empire in 1970 with nothing more than a mail order outlet, selling discounted records.

The name Virgin came from the fact that Branson and his team of directors were all new to business. There then came a small record shop in London’s Oxford Street a year later. Not not long after, a residential recording complex in an Oxfordshire mansion which became the now-famous Manor Studios was established. Further shops opened so with the success of the retail arm and studio, a record label was launched in 1973.

Recognising he had no real working knowledge of music, Branson appointed his second cousin Simon Draper (who had been Virgin’s buyer) as Managing Director to seek out new talent for the new A&R led company. Beginning with Mike Oldfield’s ‘Tubular Bells’ and the catalogue number V2001, progressive acts such as GONG along with cosmic Germans FAUST and TANGERINE DREAM soon followed, all with varying degrees of success.

But with the advent of punk and keen to shake off its hippy image, Virgin gained notoriety by signing THE SEX PISTOLS in 1977 and releasing ‘God Save The Queen’ in the process. The label courted further controversy when they issued the album ‘Never Mind The Bollocks, Here’s The Sex Pistols’ to great fanfare. Virgin ended up in the dock under the 1899 Indecent Advertising Act over a poster in their Nottingham record shop.

But Branson and defending QC John Mortimer had an ace up their sleeve; Reverend James Kingsley, a professor of English Studies at Nottingham University was called as a witness. Under questioning, Kingsley was asked for the derivation of the word “bollocks”. Apparently, it was used in the 19th century as a nickname for clergymen who were known to talk rubbish and the word later developed into meaning “of nonsense”.

Wearing his clerical collar in court, Kingsley confirmed: “They became known for talking a great deal of bollocks, just as old balls or baloney also come to mean testicles, so it has twin uses in the dictionary”. The case was thrown out by the judge… after that, the label reinvented itself as a centre of post-punk and new wave creativity, signing bands such as THE RUTS, XTC, PUBLIC IMAGE LIMITED, MAGAZINE, THE SKIDS, DEVO and PENETRATION.

When David Bowie declared THE HUMAN LEAGUE as “the future of pop music” after seeing them at the Nashville in 1978, Virgin Records were quick to snap them up. Meanwhile, OMD were initially signed to Virgin’s Factory styled subsidiary Dindisc Records under the directorship of Carol Wilson; but their success had been an embarrassment to Richard Branson, particularly in 1980 when following the international success of ‘Enola Gay’, OMD had outsold every act in the parent group!

Despite massive sales of ‘Architecture & Morality’ in 1981, Dindisc ran into difficulties and was closed by Branson with OMD gleefully absorbed into the Virgin fold. The label threw in its lot with the synthesizer revolution and gave homes to SPARKS, JAPAN, SIMPLE MINDS, HEAVEN 17 and CHINA CRISIS as well as more conventional acts of the period such as Phil Collins and Bryan  Ferry.

In 1982, on the back of ‘Don’t You Want Me?’ having been a No 1 in the UK and USA, Virgin had made a profit of £2 million but by 1983, this had leaped to £11 million, largely attributed by the worldwide success of CULTURE CLUB. Virgin Records was sold by Branson to Thorn EMI in 1992 reportedly for around £560 million to fund Virgin Atlantic Airways.

Under new management, the label became less visionary and more corporate with SPICE GIRLS and THE ROLLING STONES, along with Lenny Kravitz, Meat Loaf and Janet Jackson being examples of the brand’s continued global success, while many of the innovative acts who had helped build the label were surplus to requirements. Despite this, Virgin Records still maintains a tremendous back catalogue.

Over the years, Virgin Records have been in the fortunate position of having a critically acclaimed act on its roster at each key stage of electronic music’s development and its electronic legacy continues today with the recent signing of Glaswegian synth trio CHVRCHES.

So here are twenty albums from the iconic label which ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK considers significant in the development of electronic music. Restricted to one album per artist moniker and featuring only UK releases initially issued on or licensed to the Virgin label, they are presented in chronological order…

TANGERINE DREAM Rubycon (1975)

‘Phaedra’ may have been the breakthrough but ‘Rubycon’ consolidated TANGERINE DREAM’s position as leaders in the field of meditative electronic music. Featuring the classic line-up of Edgar Froese, Peter Baumann and Chris Franke, the hypnotic noodles of VCS3 and Moogs dominated proceedings while Mellotrons and organic lines added to the trancey impressionism with the trio sounding like they were trapped inside a transistor radio.

‘Rubycon’ was released as V2025


ASHRA New Age Of Earth (1977)

Guitarist Manuel Göttsching had been a member of ASH RA TEMPEL but looking to explore more progressive voxless territory on ‘New Age Of Earth’, he armed himself with an Eko Rhythm Computer, ARP Odyssey and his signature Farfisa Synthorchestra. An exponent of a more transient soloing style,  he used the guitar for texture as much as for melody in this beautiful treasure trove of an album, as on the wonderful 20 minute ‘Nightdust’

‘New Age Of Earth’ was released as V2080


STEVE HILLAGE Rainbow Dome Musick (1979)

Already an established member of the Virgin family as a member of GONG, solo artist and in-house producer, Hillage had a love of German experimental music and ventured into ambient with long standing partner Miquette Giraudy. Recorded for the Rainbow Dome at the ‘Festival for Mind-Body-Spirit’ at Olympia, these two lengthy Moog and ARP assisted tracks each had a beautifully spacey vibe to induce total relaxation.

‘Rainbow Dome Musick’ was released as VR1


SPARKS No1 In Heaven (1979)

Following the success of ‘I Feel Love’, its producer Giorgio Moroder teamed with SPARKS. The resultant album saw Russell Mael’s flamboyant falsetto fitting well with the electronic disco template. ‘The No1 Song In Heaven’ hit the UK charts before TUBEWAY ARMY’s  ‘Are Friends Electric?’ while ‘Beat The Clock’ actually got into the Top 10 but the album itself was overshadowed by the success of Gary Numan.

‘No1 In Heaven’ was released as V2115


JOHN FOXX Metamatic (1980)

“I want to be a machine” snarled John Foxx on the eponymous ULTRAVOX! debut and after he left the band in 1979, he virtually went the full electronic hog with the JG Ballard inspired ‘Metamatic’. ‘Underpass’ and ‘No-One Driving’ were surprising hit singles that underlined the dystopian nature of Foxx’s mindset while the fabulous ‘A New Kind Of Man’, the deviant ‘He’s A Liquid’ and stark opener ‘Plaza’ were pure unadulterated Sci-Fi.

‘Metamatic’ was released as V2146


JAPAN Gentlemen Take Polaroids (1980)

Dropped by Ariola Hansa despite  their third album ‘Quiet Life’ being palatable with the emerging New Romantic scene, JAPAN found a refuge at Virgin. ‘Swing’ succeeded in out Roxy-ing ROXY MUSIC while the haunting ‘Nightporter’ was the ultimate Erik Satie tribute. An interest in Japanese technopop saw Sylvian collaborate with YMO’s Ryuichi Sakamoto on the splendid closer ‘Taking Islands In Africa’.

‘Gentlemen Take Polaroids’ was released as V2180



When they left THE HUMAN LEAGUE in Autumn 1980, Martyn Ware and Ian Craig Marsh formed BEF, releasing ‘Music For Stowaways’, an instrumental album only available on cassette to accessorise Sony’s brand new Stowaway portable tape player. However, the name of the new device was changed to Walkman! With economic recession decimating the industrial heartland of Sheffield and the spectre of imminent nuclear holocaust, the chilling ambience on ‘The Decline Of The West’, the futurist horror of ’Music To Kill Your Parents By’ and the doomy fallout of ‘Uptown Apocalypse’ certainly connected with the album’s concept of a walking soundtrack.

‘Music For Stowaways’ was released as TCV2888



After ‘Reproduction’ and ‘Travelogue’ failed to set the world alight, manager Bob Last played a game of divide and rule on the original line-up. Vocalist Philip Oakey and Director of Visuals Adrian Wright would recruit Ian Burden, Jo Callis, Susanne Sulley and Joanne Catherall to record the now classic ‘Dare’ album under the auspices of producer Martin Rushent sounding ike KRAFTWERK meeting ABBA, especially on ‘Darkness’ and ‘Don’t You Want Me’.

‘Dare’ was released as V2192


HEAVEN 17 Penthouse & Pavement (1981)

HEAVEN 17’s debut ‘Penthouse & Pavement’ combined electronic pop and disco while adding witty sociopolitical commentary about yuppie aspiration and mutually assured destruction. The ‘Pavement’ side was a showcase of hybrid funk driven by the Linn Drum and embellished by the guitar and bass of John Wilson while the ‘Penthouse’ side was more like an extension of THE HUMAN LEAGUE’s ‘Travelogue’.

‘Penthouse & Pavement’ was released as V2208


SIMPLE MINDS New Gold Dream (1982)

“You want to be with Virgin so bad that you’ll sign anyway” said Richard Branson to SIMPLE MINDS; signing after the promise of US tour support, the band lost their intensity and recorded a great album filled with pretty synthesized melodies, textural guitar and driving lead bass runs. Big titles like ‘Someone Somewhere In Summertime’, ‘Colours Fly & Catherine Wheel’ and ‘Hunter & The Hunted’ made investigation essential.

‘New Gold Dream’ was released as V2230


DEVO Oh, No! It’s Devo (1982)

By 1982, DEVO had become much more of a synth based act with programmed percussion to boot. Their sound moved away from the guitar dominated art rock of their Eno produced debut ‘Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo!’ As quirky as ever, the album’s concept was a response to criticism from the press about their imagery… thus they asked temselves “what would an album by fascist clowns sound like?”

‘Oh, No! It’s Devo’ was released as V2241


OMD Dazzle Ships (1983)

OMD’s first album for Virgin after the demise of Dindisc, ‘Dazzle Ships’ was a brave sonic exploration of Cold War tensions and economic corruption. Although it featured some of the band’s best work like ‘The Romance Of The Telescope’, ‘International’ and ‘Radio Waves’, ‘Dazzle Ships’ sold poorly on its inital release. The band were never the same again, but this fractured nautical journey has since been vindicated as an experimental landmark.

‘Dazzle Ships’ was released as V2261


RYUICHI SAKAMOTO Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence (1983)

Being the best looking member of YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA, it was almost inevitable that Sakamoto San would turn to acting. His first role was alongside David Bowie in ‘Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence’ and with it came his soundtrack. The main title theme resonated with emotion and traditional melody while the drama of ‘The Seed & the Sower’ was also a highlight. A chilling synthesized rendition of the hymn ‘23rd Psalm’ sung by the cast brought a tear to the eye!

‘Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence’ was released as V2276


CHINA CRISIS Working With Fire & Steel – Possible Pop Songs Volume 2 (1983)

Produced by Mike Howlett, ‘Working With Fire & Steel’ allowed CHINA CRISIS to deliver a more cohesive album following the four producers who steered their debut. Best known for the brilliant Emulator laced hit single ‘Wishful Thinking’, the album is much more than that with melancholic synth melodies and woodwind counterpoints over a combination of real and programmed rhythm sections.

‘Working With Fire & Steel – Possible Pop Songs Volume 2’ was released as V2286


DAVID SYLVIAN Brilliant Trees (1984)

By 1984, Sylvian had a lucrative solo deal that gave him total artistic control. Side one of his debut solo offering opened with echoes of JAPAN in the funky ‘Pulling Punches’ but then adopted more of a laid back jazz feel. Meanwhile the second side had synthetic Fourth World overtones with avant garde trumpetist Jon Hassell and sound painter Holger Czukay as willing conspirators, and the emotive ‘Weathered Wall’.

‘Brilliant Trees’ was released as V2290


BRIAN ENO Thursday Afternoon (1985)

With new music technology come new compositional concepts so when CD was launched, Brian Eno asked: “what can be done now that could not be done before?”. ‘Thursday Afternoon’ was a 61 minute ambient journey and the lack of surface noise meant it could be very quiet. Using a Yamaha DX7 and minimal sustained piano, it soundtracked video paintings of the model Christine Alicino in vertical portrait format, so the TV had to be turned on its side to view it!

‘Thursday Afternoon’ was released as EGCD64


PHILIP OAKEY & GIORGIO MORODER Philip Oakey & Giorgio Moroder (1985)

‘Together in Electric Dreams’ did better than any singles from THE HUMAN LEAGUE’s lukewarm ‘Hysteria’ album. So Virgin swiftly dispatched Oakey to record an album with Moroder. The segued first side was a total delight  from the off, featuring the rousing ‘Why Must The Show Go On?’ while the Donna Summer aping ‘Brand New Love (Take A Chance)’ was another highlight, as was the stupendous ‘Now’ on side two.

‘Philip Oakey & Giorgio Moroder’ was released as V2351


THE BLUE NILE Hats (1989)

Whenever THE BLUE NILE are mentioned, it’s their 1983 album ‘A Walk Across The Rooftops’ that is always discussed in breathless awe. But the follow-up ‘Hats’ is the trio’s crowning glory. Both licensed to Virgin through a deal with Linn, the high quality Hi-Fi manufacturer. With hopeless romanticism and rainy drama, the glorious centrepieces were ‘Headlights On The Parade’ and ‘The Downtown Lights’.

‘Hats’ was released as LKH2



THE FUTURE SOUND OF LONDON became flag bearers of avant garde electronic music and seen as successors to TANGERINE DREAM and Eno. Signing to Virgin in 1992, the duo invested in some Akai S9000 samplers and given free rein to experiment in their sonic playground, resulting in the complex sweeps and downtempo collages of ‘Lifeforms’ with the influence of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop looming heavy in the sonic playground.

‘Lifeforms’ was released as V2722


MASSIVE ATTACK Mezzanine (1998)

Despite relations being at an all-time low, MASSIVE ATTACK produced some of their finest work on ‘Mezzanine’. With dark undercurrents and eerie atmospherics, the sample heavy album’s highpoints featured the vocals of Elizabeth Fraser on the hit single ‘Teardrop’ and the spy drama magnificence of ‘Black Milk’, although the band were sued for the unauthorised use of MANFRED MANN’S EARTH BAND’s ‘Tribute’ on the latter

‘Mezzanine’ was released as WBRCD4


Text by Chi Ming Lai
20th August 2013

Lost Albums: SIMPLE MINDS Sons & Fascination + Sister Feelings Call

Mere mention of SIMPLE MINDS always recalls horrible memories of plodding stadium rock with Jim Kerr’s tiresome shouts of “LET ME SEE YOUR HANDS” accompanied by overblown ten minute arrangements, swathed in pomposity.

Indeed, ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK’s first truly awful concert was SIMPLE MINDS at Hammersmith Odeon in 1984 when the band played just twelve songs in two hours… you do the maths! Meanwhile The Tube’s broadcast of their tedious 1985 concert at The Ahoy with the 11 minute version of ‘Waterfront’ was most people’s cue to get out.

But there was a time when SIMPLE MINDS were one of the most promising young bands in Britain. And in 1981, they delivered what has now become their most forgotten body of work; ‘Sons & Fascination’ / ‘Sister Feelings Call’. Even a great 2009 article about ‘The Rise and Fall of SIMPLE MINDS’ on Popmatters largely overlooked this great double album.

Despite a shaky start with ‘Life In A Day’, the Glaswegians started experimenting with more electronics on ‘Real To Real Cacophony’ and ‘Empires & Dance’ with the latter being cited by writer Chris Bohn as “the record DAVID BOWIE could have made with ‘Lodger’, if he’d been alittle bit more honest to himself”. This monochromatic European travelogue with its claustrophobic demeanour, courtesy of future RADIOHEAD and MUSE producer John Leckie, had been a critical if not commercial success.

After an unhappy sojourn with Arista Records which led to them being dropped following the failure of ‘I Travel’ as a single, SIMPLE MINDS signed to Virgin Records who were at this point gambling their future on synthesizer based acts such as THE HUMAN LEAGUE, JAPAN and through its Dindisc subsidiary, OMD.

Photo by Virginia Turbett

To exploit their KRAFTWERK, NEU! and LA DÜSSELDORF influences to the full, SIMPLE MINDS were teamed up with producer Steve Hillage. A hippy musician formally of the band GONG, Hillage was also a big fan of the German experimental scene which by now was shaping the intelligent pop landscape along with home grown heroes such as Bowie and Roxy. He gave SIMPLE MINDS a more accessible brightness that had been noticeably absent in the band’s Arista work. Bursting with ideas, the band not only recorded an album, they sort of did two!

The main feature was entitled ‘Sons and Fascination’ and contained eight songs that captured the motorik energy that was always apparent with the flanged bass powerhouse of Derek Forbes steering proceedings alongside solidly dependable drummer Brian McGee. With Forbes constructing rhythmical but articulate basslines not unlike Mick Karn from JAPAN, the works were then coloured by Mick MacNeil who came armed with his Roland Jupiter 4, Roland RS09 and Korg 770 alongside the guitars of Charlie Burchill which were often so layered in effects that when harmonised together with MacNeil’s synths, they were almost as one.

Opening with the tremendous ‘In Trance As Mission’, the solid bass over a slight offbeat is progressively built up with keyboards as Jim Kerr rambles almost unintelligibly about the “courage of dreams” – dreaming and ambition were always part of SIMPLE MINDS’ manifesto. The lost single ‘Sweat In Bullet’ is the more frantic older brother of ‘Someone Somewhere (In Summertime)’, driven by scratchy guitar while what follows is a sound that has never been repeated.

On the mighty ’70 Cities As Love Brings The Fall’, the distorted bass is counterpointed by the horrifying noise of a dentist’s drill! Almost industrial, the aural discomfort is something that will shock anyone that has only ever heard the abomination of ‘Belfast Child’! The raw edge continues on the thundering ‘Boys From Brazil’ where Kerr attacks the rise of the extreme right wing.

‘Love Song’ is the hit single that at the time, never actually was. Pulsed by sequencers and driven by that distinctive syncopated bassline, Hillage’s production is a “coat of many colours” although the song’s inherent repetition means that it perhaps outstays its welcome by about 45 seconds; this incidentally was later fixed on Gregg Jackman’s subtle ’92 single remix.

Whatever, ‘Love Song’ is still a classic despite Kerr’s abstract observations being almost gibberish. After the release of all that pent up energy, a lone chattering rhythm box announces the arrival of the beautiful ballad ‘This Earth That You Walk Upon’.

The drum machine remains for ‘Sons and Fascination’ which sounds positively Roman, clattering away like a synthetic tattoo for the chariot race in ‘Ben Hur’. And to finish, a repeated synthesizer motif and elastic slap leads the atmospheric palette of ‘Seeing Out The Angel’.

Of course, this wasn’t actually the end as initial copies of the album came with a seven track Siamese Twin called ‘Sister Feelings Call’. In the context of the modern day bonus disc containing half a dozen pointless remixes, ‘Sister Feelings Call’ has to be one of the greatest freebies ever. It starts with the amazing ‘Theme For Great Cities’.

Fusing CAN with TANGERINE DREAM, MacNeil’s haunting vox humana and the rhythm section covered in dub echo bridge into possibly one of the greatest instrumental signatures ever! This is then followed by ‘The American’, imperial in its Apache-like approach, pounding to the heart of the dance without the need for hi-hats, just triggered electronics and funky hypnotic bass.

Inspired by the bright colours of Jackson Pollock’s modern art, Kerr’s varied cosmic intonation of the word “American” in the chorus is delightfully bizarre and memorable. The rich Roland organ lines of ’20th Century Promised Land’ confirm what an inspired period this must have been for Kerr and Co although the collection’s remaining tracks ‘Careful In Career’ and ‘Wonderful In Young Life’ don’t quite soar to such great heights while ‘League Of Nations’ does possess a stark charm with its beat box led tribal TALKING HEADS feel.

One thing that is noticeable about this era of SIMPLE MINDS is how the compositions are more fragments of music with multiple riffs modulating over a minimal chord structure. This may sound like a recipe for poor songwriting but the end results were perhaps more musically inventive and interesting than the traditional rock approach.

The fine perfect balance between art and pop was finally achieved with the massively successful and outstanding ‘New Gold Dream’ album in 1982. But then it went horribly wrong with ‘Sparkle In The Rain’ when the production helm was given to the vastly over rated Steve Lillywhite who did what he normally did and made the band sound like they’d been recorded down a drainpipe! Released in 1984, it was quite obvious that the lure of the Yankee dollar in light of U2’s success just couldn’t be resisted.

Judging by the original ‘Sparkle In The Rain’ demos, a technologically sophisticated album had been planned with ‘Speed Your Love To Me’ in particular sounding more like VISAGE’s ‘Fade To Grey’ than its eventual BIG COUNTRY pastiche. But it was rock music tailored for American ears that the band opted to aim for. It was this embracement that later made the band’s name quite ironic.

But to be fair, dumbing down the sound for the synthphobic USA was starting to be common place among British bands. However, it’s also ironic that around this time, having been influenced by ‘New Gold Dream’, U2 decided to get a bit more artier and took on board some Eurocentric experimentation with Brian Eno as their willing conspirator.

Whereas after the massive sales of the 1985 FM rock flavoured long player ‘Once Upon A Time’, SIMPLE MINDS gradually experienced a law of diminishing returns, U2 more or less maintained their standing in the long term and are still working with Eno to this day.

Interestingly, at their most recent concerts, remaining founder members Jim Kerr and Charlie Burchill may have finally seen the light about what was musically SIMPLE MINDS’ most glorious period – ‘Sons and Fascination’ and ‘This Earth That You Walk Upon’ are in the live set along with material from the ‘New Gold Dream’ album while ‘Belfast Child’ has finally been dropped!

‘Sons & Fascination’ / ‘Sister Feelings Call’ is available on Virgin Records




Text by Chi Ming Lai
11th July 2011