Tag: Steve Hillage

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#/

https://www.andyouthoughtyouwerenormal.com/

https://www.facebook.com/youwerenormal/

https://twitter.com/youwerenormal

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

http://nashtheslash.com/

https://www.facebook.com/nashtheslashnews/

https://twitter.com/artoffact


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 DAVID BOWIE, 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)

A one-time member of TANGERINE DREAM and ASH RA TEMPLE, ‘Timewind’ was 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 equipment such as the EMS Synthi A, ARP 2600, ARP Odyssey, Elka string machine and Farfisa organ.

‘Timewind’ is available via Mig Music

https://www.klaus-schulze.com


TANGERINE DREAM Phaedra (1974)

‘Phaedra’ was the breakthrough record for TANGERINE DREAM which saw them 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 proceedings while Mellotrons sounding like orchestras trapped inside a transistor radio. Organic lines and flute added to trancey impressionism to produce a fine meditative electronic soundtrack.

‘Phaedra’ is available via Virgin Records

http://www.tangerinedream.org/


CLUSTER Sowiesoso (1976)

The late Dieter Moebius and Hans-Joachim Roedelius were CLUSTER. Having released their first long player together in 1969, 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

http://www.roedelius.com/


ASHRA New Age Of Earth (1977)

ASH RA TEMPLE’s Manuel Göttsching was looking to visit synthesized climes and explored more progressive voxless territory armed with an Eko Rhythm Computer, ARP Odyssey and what was to become his signature keyboard sound, a Farfisa Synthorchestra. An exponent of the more transient solo guitar style of PINK FLOYD’s David Gilmour, 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

http://www.ashra.com/


STEVE HILLAGE Rainbow Dome Musick (1979)

One-time member of GONG, solo artist and an in-house producer at Virgin Records, 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

https://twitter.com/stevehillage


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

Mostly piano-oriented, its backdrop of shimmering synthesizer and tape loops of voices was conceived in a sound-world that Eno had created via his various instrument treatments. With Budd improvising live, 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

https://www.haroldbudd.com


BRIAN ENO Apollo: Atmospheres and Soundtracks (1983)

Recorded as a soundtrack to a documentary film about the Apollo Missions to the moon, one of the inspirations was to react against the uptempo, manner of space travel presented by most TV programmes and news reels of the day with its 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

http://www.brian-eno.net


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

http://www.rogereno.com


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

By 1986, the former JAPAN front man wanted to get away from singing as reflected by the ‘Gone To Earth’ bonus album of instrumentals. Sylvian found a willing conspirator in CAN’s 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

http://www.davidsylvian.com/

http://www.czukay.de/


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, it was partly inspired by his admiration of COCTEAU TWINS whom he collaborated with on the 1986 4AD album ‘The Moon & The Melodies’.

‘The White Arcades’ is available via Opal Productions

https://www.facebook.com/music.of.harold.budd/


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 collection of electronic instrumentals that they considered “Ambient in the traditional sense”. Alongside the three new pieces, 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 and its various missions.

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

http://www.stevejansen.com/

http://www.kscopemusic.com/artists/richard-barbieri/


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 techniques, the sleeve notes recommended it was best heard using headphones while stating “This album is intended to promote profound relaxation”.

‘Spectrum Pursuit Vehicle’ is available via Mute Records

http://www.illustriouscompany.co.uk/


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 shocked if they had bought its 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. In that respect, a collection featuring lovely electronic versions of Beethoven’s ‘Triple Concerto’ and John Cage’s ‘In A Landscape’ could not really miss.

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

http://www.williamorbit.com


ALVA NOTO & RYUICHI SAKAMOTO ‎Vrioon (2002)

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 ‎

http://www.alvanoto.com/

http://www.sitesakamoto.com/


MOBY Hotel: Ambient (2005)

Originally released as part 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 ambient companion progressively got quieter and quieter. 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

http://moby.com


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. ‘After the Night Falls’ and ‘Before the Day Breaks’ 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 self-explanatory titles.

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

http://www.robinguthrie.com


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 most recent collaboration with the late minimalist composer Ruben Garcia and a soothing tranquil nocturnal work with tinkling ivories melting into the subtle layered soundscape with its Edward Hopper inspired title. Meanwhile, the earlier ‘Translucence’ from 2003 was a close relative and classic Budd, partnered with the more subdued overtures of ‘Drift Music’.

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

https://www.facebook.com/johnfoxxmetamatic/


JOHN FOXX London Overgrown (2015)

‘London Overgrown’ was John Foxx’s first wholly solo ambient release since the ‘Cathedral Oceans’ trilogy. With the visual narrative of a derelict London where vines and shrubbery are allowed to grow unhindered throughout the city, 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

http://www.metamatic.com


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 suite of instrumentals presented as one beautiful hour long structured ambient record. A gentle blend of electronic and acoustic instrumentation including piano and woodwinds, ‘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

http://www.stevejansen.com/


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 in South London’s Asylum Chapel. The eight compositions together exuded a cinematic, ethereal quality with some darker auras and an eerie sound worthy of the ambient pioneers Statham was influenced by, especially on the gorgeous closer ‘Ascend’.

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

http://paulstathammusic.com


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 and not long after, a residential recording complex in an Oxfordshire mansion which became the now-famous Manor Studios. 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 degrees of varying 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, the 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, JOHN FOXX, HEAVEN 17 and CHINA CRISIS as well as more conventional acts of the period such as PHIL COLLINS, BRYAN FERRY and CULTURE CLUB.

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! 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, LENNY KRAVITZ, THE ROLLING STONES, 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 album but the much under rated ‘Rubycon’ consolidated TANGERINE DREAM’s position as leaders in the field of meditative electronic music with a wider palette and more focussed direction. 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.

‘Rubycon’ was released as V2025

http://www.tangerinedream.org/


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 keyboard, a Farfisa Synthorchestra. An exponent of a more transient soloing style,  he used the guitar for texture as much as for melody. The wonderful 20 minute ‘Nightdust’ and the gently percussive ‘Sunrain’ were just two of the jewels in this beautiful treasure trove of an album.

‘New Age Of Earth’ was released as V2080

http://www.ashra.com/


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 with a colourful sound spectrum.

‘Rainbow Dome Musick’ was released as VR1

https://twitter.com/stevehillage


SPARKS No1 In Heaven (1979)

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 electronic disco template. ‘The No1 Song In Heaven’ hit the UK charts a few months before TUBEWAY ARMY’s seminal ‘Are Friends Electric?’ while the follow-up ‘Beat The Clock’ actually got into the Top 10. However ‘No1 in Heaven’ overshadowed by the success of GARY NUMAN.

‘No1 In Heaven’ was released as V2115

http://www.allsparks.com/


JOHN FOXX Metamatic (1980)

“I want to be a machine” snarled JOHN FOXX on ULTRAVOX’s eponymous debut and after he left the band in 1979, he virtually went the full hog with this JG Ballard inspired seminal recording. ‘Underpass’ and ‘No-One Driving’ were surprising hit singles that underlined the dystopian nature of Foxx’s mindset at the time while the fabulous ‘A New Kind Of Man’ and the deviant ‘He’s A Liquid’ were pure unadulterated Sci-Fi driven by the cold mechanics of a Roland CR78 Compurhythm.

‘Metamatic’ was released as V2146

http://www.metamatic.com/


JAPAN Gentlemen Take Polaroids (1980)

Dropped in 1980 by Ariola Hansa despite the Roxy-ish sound on their third album ‘Quiet Life’ being palatable with the emerging New Romantic scene, JAPAN found a refuge at Virgin. As one of the best numbers, ‘Swing’ succeeded in out Roxy-ing ROXY MUSIC while the haunting ‘Nightporter’ was the ultimate Erik Satie tribute. A new found interest in Japanese technopop saw Sylvian collaborate with YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA’s Ryuichi Sakamoto on the splendid closer ‘Taking Islands In Africa’.

‘Gentlemen Take Polaroids’ was released as V2180

http://www.nightporter.co.uk/


BRITISH ELECTRIC FOUNDATION Music For Stowaways (1981)

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, the futurist horror of ‘Music To Kill Your Parents By’ and the doom laden ‘Uptown Apocalypse’ connected with the album’s concept of a walking soundtrack to life.

‘Music For Stowaways’ was released as TCV2888

http://www.heaven17.com/bef/


THE HUMAN LEAGUE Dare (1981)

After two albums ‘Reproduction’ and ‘Travelogue’ containing “synthesizers and vocals only” 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. Like KRAFTWERK with the heart of ABBA, it was a dreamboat collection of worldwide hits.

‘Dare’ was released as V2192

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


HEAVEN 17 Penthouse & Pavement (1981)

HEAVEN 17’s debut ‘Penthouse & Pavement’ was a landmark achievement, combining electronics with pop hooks and disco sounds while adding witty social and political commentary about yuppie aspiration and mutually assured destruction. The ‘Pavement’ side was a showcase of hybrid funk driven by the then new Linn Drum Computer and embellished by the guitar and bass skills of youngster John Wilson while the ‘Penthouse’ side was more like an extension of THE HUMAN LEAGUE’s ‘Travelogue’.

‘Penthouse & Pavement’ was released as V2208

http://www.heaven17.com/


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 when they wanted to defect from Arista Records. And sign they did after the promise of US tour support. SIMPLE MINDS lost their intensity and recorded a great album filled with pretty synthesized melodies, textural guitar and driving lead bass runs. The titles like ‘Someone Somewhere In Summertime’, ‘Colours Fly & Catherine Wheel’ and ‘Hunter & The Hunted’ made investigation essential.

‘New Gold Dream’ was released as V2230

http://www.simpleminds.com/


DEVO Oh, No! It’s Devo (1982)

By 1982, DEVO had become much more of a synth based act with programmed percussion to boot. Under the helm of producer Roy Thomas Baker who had worked with both QUEEN and THE CARS, 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 “what would an album by fascist clowns sound like?”

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

http://www.clubdevo.com/


OMD Dazzle Ships (1983)

For OMD’s first album for Virgin, Andy McCluskey and Paul Humphreys delivered ‘Dazzle Ships’, 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 release. The band were strictly A&R’ed after that and never the same again, but this fractured nautical journey has since been vindicated as an experimental landmark.

‘Dazzle Ships’ was released as V2261

http://www.omd.uk.com


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 none other than David Bowie in ‘Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence’ and with it came his soundtrack. The main title theme tune resonated with emotion and traditional melody, even without the voice of David Sylvian whose dulcet tones featured on the single version retitled ‘Forbidden Colours’ while ‘The Seed & the Sower’ was also a highlight.

‘Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence’ was released as V2276

http://sitesakamoto.com/


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

Produced by Mike Howlett, ‘Working With Fire & Steel – Possible Pop Songs Volume 2’ allowed CHINA CRISIS to deliver a more cohesive album following the four producers who steered their debut ‘Difficult Shapes & Passive Rhythms – Some People Think It’s Fun To Entertain’! 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

https://www.facebook.com/pages/China-Crisis/295592467251068


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 adopted more of a laid back jazz feel as on ‘The Ink in the Well’ and ‘Red Guitar’. Meanwhile the second side had synthetic Fourth World overtones with avant garde trumpetist Jon Hassell and sound painter Holger Czukay as willing conspirators, with echoes of Sylvian’s previous work with JAPAN in the funky ‘Pulling Punches’ and the emotive ‘Weathered Wall’.

‘Brilliant Trees’ was released as V2290

http://www.davidsylvian.com/


BRIAN ENO Thursday Afternoon (1985)

When CD was launched, BRIAN ENO’s inquisitivity asked: “what can be done now that could not be done before? What kinds of music does that suggest?”. ‘Thursday Afternoon’ was a 61 minute ambient journey that could be listened to uninterrupted on CD and the lack of surface noise meant it could also 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

http://brian-eno.net/


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 and it remains one of the most under rated pieces of work that either party has been involved in. The segued first side was a total delight featuring the rousing ‘Why Must The Show Go On?’ while the Donna Summer aping ‘Brand New Love (Take A Chance)’ was another highlight, along with the stupendous ‘Now’ on side two.

‘Philip Oakey & Giorgio Moroder’ was released as V2351

http://www.moroder.net/


THE BLUE NILE Hats (1989)

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

‘Hats’ was released as LKH2

http://www.downloadhome.co.uk/thebluenile_dlc/thebluenile.html


THE FUTURE SOUND OF LONDON Lifeforms (1994)

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

‘Lifeforms’ was released as V2722

http://www.futuresoundoflondon.com/


MASSIVE ATTACK Mezzanine (1998)

Despite band relations being at an all-time low, MASSIVE ATTACK produced some of their finest work on ‘Mezzanine’. With dark undercurrents and eerie atmospherics, the album’s highpoints featured the vocals of COCTEAU TWINS’ Elizabeth Fraser on the hit single ‘Teardrop’ and the spy drama magnificence of ‘Black Milk’… Heavy on samples, the collective were sued for the unauthorised use of MANFRED MANN’S EARTH BAND’s 1972 song ‘Tribute’ on ‘Black Milk’!

‘Mezzanine’ was released as WBRCD4

http://www.massiveattack.co.uk/


Text by Chi Ming Lai
20th August 2013, updated 18th February 2018

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 and 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 ‘Reel 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.

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 DAVID BOWIE and ROXY MUSIC.

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

https://www.simpleminds.com/

https://www.facebook.com/simpleminds/

https://twitter.com/simplemindscom


Text by Chi Ming Lai
11th July 2011