Tag: Tony Visconti

ZAINE GRIFF Interview

Born in Auckland to Danish parents, Zaine Griff possesses a musical CV that is impressive, reading like a Who’s Who of popular music.

First a bassist and vocalist with Kiwi rock band THE HUMAN INSTINCT, he left in 1975 and moved to London where he had stints in BABY FACE and SCREEMER before going on to study mime under Lindsay Kemp alongside Kate Bush. As a result, he joined Kemp’s production of a play written by Jean Genet called ‘Flowers’.

In 1979, Zaine Griff launched his solo career with future film music composer Hans Zimmer and ULTRAVOX drummer Warren Cann among the members of his backing band for an appearance at the Reading Festival.

With his Aladdin Sane-inspired persona, he was soon signed by Automatic Records, a subsidiary of Warner Bros who brought in Tony Visconti to produce his debut solo album ‘Ashes & Diamonds’. It spawned the 1980 single ‘Tonight’ but it peaked at No54 in the UK Singles Chart, partly due to an already recorded appearance on ‘Top Of The Pops’ not being shown due to a Musicians Union strike.

It was during these recording sessions for ‘Ashes & Diamonds’ that David Bowie walked in to visit Visconti and was slightly taken aback by the resemblance between himself and Griff. Despite this, Bowie invited Griff be part of the band to record three new versions of his songs for an upcoming appearance on the 1979 Kenny Everett New Year Show.

One of them was ‘Space Oddity’ which later surfaced as the flipside to ‘Alabama Song’ while another was ‘Panic In Detroit’ that later appeared as a bonus track on the Ryko CD reissue of the ’Scary Monsters’ album; the re-recording of ‘Rebel Rebel’ has yet to see the light of day.

The second Zaine Griff album ‘Figvres’ was released in 1982 and saw Hans Zimmer stepping up to the producer role.

It ultimately laid the groundwork for the German musician’s eventual career in Hollywood. Also featuring on the album were Kate Bush and Yukihiro Takahashi from YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA.

Around this time, Griff held an art exhibition of his drawings in London’s Ebury Galley, to which his friend and contemporary artist Mark Wardel also contributed.

Meanwhile in 1983, Griff collaborated on six songs for Hans Zimmer and Warren Cann’s ambitious HELDEN album ‘Spies’ which despite the independently released duet with Linda Allan titled ‘Holding On’ being issued as a single in advance, remains officially unreleased. After recording with Midge Ure and Gary Numan, Griff returned to New Zealand in 1984.

In 2011, Zaine Griff made a comeback with his third album ‘Child Who Wants The Moon’ and returned to the live stage. While he has continued releasing albums and touring regularly, his music was being discovered by a cool young audience, thanks to American rockers MGMT covering ‘Ashes & Diamonds’ during their concerts in 2018.

Then recently, there came the surprise announcement that Zaine Griff was to join Rusty Egan and ‘Fade To Grey’ co-writer Chris Payne to perform the songs of VISAGE in an audio-visual presentation at W-Festival in Belgium and the Human Traffic Live & The Pioneers of Electronica showcase in London this Summer.

To celebrate the 40th anniversary of VISAGE, founder members Midge Ure and Rusty Egan had deliberated for months as to who could take on guitar and lead vocals in a four man line-up with a nod to their original inspiration KRAFTWERK, eschewing the format of a lead singer fronting a band. With Ure committed to his own ‘1980’ tour performing VISAGE and ULTRAVOX songs, the role was offered to Zaine Griff.

While Steve Strange was undoubtedly the flamboyant face of VISAGE and played a vital role in the collective’s international visual profile, the many layers of backing vocals on the recordings were by Midge Ure and Rusty Egan, providing a crucial musicality to support Strange’s more monotone lead voice.

Meanwhile, a fair number of tracks like ‘The Dancer’, ‘Moon Over Moscow’, ‘Whispers’ and the dance mix of ‘Frequency 7’ were instrumentals.

So as an associate of the New Romantic movement with connections to many key figures of the period, Zaine Griff is just the man for the job. He kindly spoke from his home in New Zealand to talk about his music career and the upcoming VISAGE 1980 x 2020 shows.

Your debut solo album ‘Ashes & Diamonds’ was produced by Tony Visconti, how did that come about?

Tony Visconti was brought in to produce my debut album ‘Ashes and Diamonds’ by my record company MD Nick Mobbs at Automatic Records which was part of Warner Bros. When Tony heard my demos, he wanted to work with me.

It was during the recording of the ‘Ashes & Diamonds’ album that you were introduced to David Bowie and he had a proposal?

I was introduced to David Bowie by Tony at Good Earth studios. David had just returned from recording the Berlin trilogy and was wanting Tony to produce some tracks for a TV show. He had heard what I was doing and asked me if we could back him.

How did you run into Hans Zimmer and his batcave of synths?

Colin Thurston introduced me to Hans Zimmer when Colin brought Hans into Utopia studios to play keyboards on some demos I was recording there.

Everything from that session onwards, Hans played on. As Hans said to me only last year: “I was your keyboard player”.

In fact, he was much more than that. All the live work, studio work, Hans was with me, as I was with him during his HELDEN project.

You were frequenting The Blitz Club, what appealed to you about its atmosphere and how did you find the characters you met there?

I met Steve Strange at Legends night club. My manager Campbell Palmer owned Legends. I met so many amazing artists at Legends, we would dance and hangout till day break, often we would go to The Blitz Club or The Embassy. Everyone seemed to know each other and were supportive of each other. This is how I met Rusty Egan and Midge Ure, Boy George, Marilyn and so on.

Did it take much to persuade Rusty Egan to appear in your ‘Ashes & Diamonds’ video for the single?

I wanted at the time for Rusty to drum for me and Gary Tibbs to play bass. Well, they performed in the video of ‘Ashes & Diamonds’ and then they both were doing other projects. I tried!!

How do you feel about the American indie rock band MGMT covering ‘Ashes & Diamonds’ on their 2018 live tour?

Fantastic! I would love to meet them one day. It’s so cool when a younger generation plays your music in respect of the song and the composition. I was thrilled to say the least, I have followed them ever since.

Hans Zimmer had moved up to the producer role on ‘Figvres’ and it was to prove inspiring for his later soundtrack career?

I had to convince Nick Mobbs of Automatic Records to allow Hans Zimmer to produce my second album ‘Figvres’. So much so that Nick allowed Hans to co-produce and Nick would allow us to complete the album based on the first two weeks of recording. He loved what he heard and gave us his blessing to finish.

Up until then, Hans had only produced a single for THE DAMNED. ‘Figvres’ was his first album production. And indeed he is entitled to a full production credit for everything he put into ‘Figvres’ and of course Steve Rance, Hans’ engineer… what a team!

You had a good friendship with Warren Cann from ULTRAVOX who played on the ‘Figvres’ album too?

I heard ULTRAVOX on the John Peel show. I went out and brought ‘Systems Of Romance’ only because of the drummer. I had to meet this guy and work with him. I wanted Warren so much, I called Island Records, got his number, went to his flat and convinced him to play at the Reading Festival with me, and that’s how Hans and Warren met in rehearsal for Reading Festival.

The song ‘Flowers’ was dedicated to the late Lindsay Kemp and had Kate Bush singing backing vocals, what was it like working with her?

Working with Kate Bush was beautiful. She and I had studied under Lindsay Kemp, so it was easy for her to understand the ‘Flowers’ song and the emotion of the composition.

‘Flowers’ the show was a massive inspiration. Nothing comes near ‘Flowers’. So powerful, so dramatic and a huge inspiration to us both.

Hans Zimmer and Warren Cann formed HELDEN and you sang on the single ‘Holding On’, but the album on which you sang another five songs has never had an official release, do you consider it to be a lost classic?

I spent a whole year, most days and nights with Hans and Warren on the HELDEN project mainly at Snake Ranch Studios. I did a radio promotional tour with Hans. By then he was swept off his feet by film directors. Alas Hollywood.

What was the idea behind you recording a cover of ULTRAVOX’s ‘Passionate Reply’ with Midge Ure?

Chris O’Donnell suggested I do some recording with Midge. He played me ‘Passionate Reply’ on an acoustic, I had not heard it before and I just loved it. We recorded in his Chiswick studio. We recorded enough material for an album and the masters were stored at Rock City Studios with Gary Numan’s mum.

I loved working with Midge. I had known Midge from when he was in SLIK. The band I was playing with at the time were the support to SLIK. I knew then just how good he was.

Looking back, we were so naive to it all. ULTRAVOX was managed by Chris O’Donnell and Chris Morrison, they were my production management company and production company to VISAGE. See how close knit we all were? And of course they managed THIN LIZZY.

There was that TV appearance performing ‘Passionate Reply’ on ‘The Freddie Starr Show’? What can you remember about that?

I was told I was to go to Manchester and do this show. All I wanted to do was not do it. Hated the whole tacky production. Still I stood up there alone and did it.

You recorded ‘This Strange Obsession’ with Yukihiro Takahashi and Ronny, that’s quite an international combination?

I had worked with Ronny on one of my songs ‘It’s A Sin’ with Hans producing her and Yukihiro approached me to write for him. I asked Ronny to join us. That was amazing working with Yukihiro. The translation barrier was understood with music.

Although you never recorded together, there’s a photo of you with Steve Strange and Mick Karn, what was the occasion?

That photo of Mick, Steve and I was at my art exhibition at the Ebury Gallery Victoria.

Gary Numan invited you to duet with him on ‘The Secret’ from ‘Berserker’, it has a good chemistry, how did you find working in the studio with him?

Gary Numan called me asked me to work on ‘Berserker’ just out of the blue. He was great to work with, I remember him doing takes faster than what I was used to; if he liked that take, that was it. Midge was like that as well. They knew what they wanted.

You returned with your third album ‘Child Who Wants The Moon’ in 2011, what was behind what appeared to be a lengthy hiatus?

It was a lengthy hiatus because I was burnt out, exhausted, not well, I had to go. I was not in a great space. I decided to try and get well again and stop wanting the moon… you know wanting the impossible.

You’ve released the albums ‘The Visitor’ and ‘Mood Swings’ since then and have returned to performing live again. Was that aspect something you’d missed over the years?

My problem is I cannot stop composing. I recorded ‘The Visitor’ and ‘Mood Swings’ purely for composition fulfilment. In the liner notes of ‘Mood Swings’, you can see the album is dedicated to Steve Strange.

How did the upcoming VISAGE 1980 x 2021 gigs with Rusty Egan and Chris Payne come about?

I had a call from Rusty late last year. He had spoken to Midge and Chris Payne, and asked if I would be interested in the VISAGE 1980 x 2021 shows. I find this an honour and a privilege. This project is about the music of VISAGE, not the front man or side man, it is about the music VISAGE produced and created.

These VISAGE shows from my perspective are a celebration of 40 years since the VISAGE debut was released. For me, it will also be a 40 years celebration of my debut album ‘Ashes & Diamonds’. It is also a celebration to Steve’s life, Rusty, Midge, Chris and everyone involved in the making of VISAGE and all their incredible fans and followers.

Which are your own favourite VISAGE songs?

Songs like ‘The Damned Don’t Cry’ are classic compositions of that time. Again, I love the energy they put in the studio, I don’t believe they ever performed live. I have spoken to Chris but I haven’t seen him since I sang on Gary Numan’s ‘Berserker’ album… I can’t wait to work with Chris and Rusty again.

What are your plans after these VISAGE 1980 x 2021 dates?

I will be doing some live shows later this year in London.


ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK gives its warmest thanks to Zaine Griff

Special thanks to Rusty Egan

‘Ashes & Diamonds’ and ‘Figvres’ are still available via Mig Music on the usual digital platforms

Zaine Griff, Rusty Egan, Chris Payne and Dave Brooks perform the music of VISAGE 1980 x 2021 at W-Festival in Belgium on Saturday 28th August 2021 – tickets are available from https://w-festival.com/en/

https://www.zainegriff.com/

https://www.facebook.com/Zainegriff.officialnews/

https://twitter.com/ZaineGriffOffic

https://www.instagram.com/zainegriff/


Text and Interview by Chi Ming Lai
13th February 2020, updated 29th December 2020

MR NORMALL Interview

The Amazing Adventures Of Mr Normall have gained a loyal cult following within the post-punk and electronic music world.

With a handshake, big smile, good guy profile, the Finnish music fan’s charming photographs with members of SPARKS, JAPAN, ULTRAVOX, BLANCMANGE, HEAVEN 17, DEPECHE MODE, VISAGE and MARSHEAUX among many, have endeared visitors to his website chronicling his travels.

After appearances in a number of promo videos including Kim Wilde and BEF’s cover of ‘Every Time I See You I Go Wild’ , Mr Normall was more recently cast as the star of the silent art movie ‘Nuntius’.

The film with its live soundtrack by Jimi Tenor and Jori Hulkkonen has played to audiences around the world, with Mr Normall occasionally joining the musicians with on stage cameos at selected performances.

ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK had the pleasure of catching up with Mr Normall for another chat about his continuing amazing adventures…

Since ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK last spoke to you in Spring 2011, your fame spread far and wide in some unexpected places. Richard Barbieri wanted his photo taken with you, what was the story here?

Oh yes… that was a surprise and very positive one. We had been friends on Facebook for some time but I had no idea that he knew who I was or that he had paid any attention to me. Then last December – all of a sudden – he tags me and comments “it’s my ambition to have a photo with you”.

Of course it was humour, but I was very pleased nevertheless. JAPAN is my No 1 favourite band and to be sort of acknowledged by one of them was very cool. Mr Barbieri had his wish come true three months later in Birmingham where I went to see him play live. Richard Barbieri is a first-class artist and a very nice person.

You were also recognised by someone in 2014?

I did speak with Jonathan Ross at the SPARKS aftershow at the Union Chapel in December 2013 but he didn’t recognise me, I would have been really surprised if he did. The subject of our chat was ULTRAVOX. He prefers the John Foxx version of the band.

Do you think this recognition all escalated after Jori Hulkkonen asked you to appear in the ‘Take Me To Your Leader’ video for PROCESSORY?

In Finland, a few people did comment about the music video when meeting me but I don’t remember it happening anywhere else. However, I’m certain that ‘Take Me To Your Leader’ video made Mr Normall better known, even if I haven’t got much feedback about it.

The music video was done and released in spring 2011. I was really hoping to see it on TV back then, but it was just about that time when music videos disappeared from TV altogether.

The idea on me appearing on Jori Hulkkonen’s music video started actually almost a year before at the night when ULTRAVOX was playing live in Jori’s home town of Turku. After the gig was over, I and several other people – including Warren Cann – went to the unofficial ULTRAVOX after party at the club called Dynamo. There I told Jori, that if he’s interested to feature me on a music video in the future, I’m game. Few months later Jori contacted me about the subject and the result was ‘Take Me To Your Leader’ music video.

I must tell you this… after the ULTRAVOX gig in Turku when we arrived at the Dynamo club, I had a really good “Steve Strange moment”: The gig venue was quite far from city centre, so we took a big taxi to get the posse to the club. When we got to the Dynamo, I was walking in first and Warren Cann right behind me.

The DJ was playing ‘Fade To Grey’ by VISAGE and at that moment I felt just like that bit on the VISAGE music video tape where Steve Strange arrives a club in Paris and ‘Fade To Grey’ is playing in the background. That was THE way to enter to the club.

Of course after this, Jori and his musical partner Jimi Tenor asked you to appear in their film ‘Nuntius’, this had an interesting concept?

Jori Hulkkonen and Jimi Tenor had talked about making a film, but I suppose they didn’t have clear idea what it should be about. In July 2013 I met both of them at the Turku Modern festival and said that I would like to be in their film if they were interested.

The big idea was to make a silent film that would be shown only with live soundtrack by Tenor and Hulkkonen themselves. The film and its music would never be released in any format or be ever available online. Live performances only.

First days of filming ‘Nuntius’ were in May 2014. We started the car journey from Central Finland where I live and drove next to the Russian border in South-East Finland. The destination was an amazing place called Parikkalan Patsaspuisto (Parikkala sculpture park). We stopped to film where ever the scenery looked right. As far as I know, there wasn’t any actual plot ready when we started.

The only rough plot in the beginning was that “I’m being sent from one place to another to get something from there” and the genre is going to be Sci-Fi, perhaps something à la Tarkovsky.

What was filming like for you?

Those first two days of filming in May 2014 were the most fun and memorable for me. Maybe because it was a new situation and the realisation that this is really happening. Also the car journey itself with Jimi, Jori and Marjaana was fun.

There was three more filming days in 2014 and they were mainly done in an art studio in Helsinki. The studio is very high inside and it has a round platform which moves up and down, and also rotates. The studio was made in 1950s and it was made for the sculptor Kalervo Kallio, who was a son of Finland’s President Kyösti Kallio. The studio is the setting for the “other place” where Mr Normall is being sent somewhere else to get something. I would have never spent time at this special place if it wasn’t for ‘Nuntius’.

In May 2015, there were two days of filming in Helsinki for the second version of ‘Nuntius’. Those shoots were done at several locations. The latest shoots were just recently in July 2017 when we filmed around Estonia over three days.

It was much like the first shoots three years earlier because also this time we drove around the country and stopped where scenery was suitable to be filmed. There are strange ex-military places in Estonia that have been deserted after the Russian Army left them when Estonia got independent. Those were exciting days and I definitely wouldn’t had ever visited those places without ongoing ‘Nuntius’ production.

I don’t know yet what will become of all the new shots; will it be the third version of ‘Nuntius’ with a lot of new stuff or will they became a whole new entity à la ‘Nuntius – Part 2’ or something like that?

You made a new friend named Louis while riding a motorcycle?

Louis the dog was only one year old, but he was already a real pro. There was one shot with Louis which could have ended badly… I was driving a sidecar motorcycle in a tunnel in Helsinki and Louis was sitting in the sidecar. It was a public road and there was other traffic too. The shot had to be done several times and if Louis had jumped out of the sidecar, he might have been hit by a car.

He had a collar and a leash was around my arm, but I’m not sure what would have happened if Louis wanted to jump out of very loud old motorcycle. Luckily he was very cool all the time and it seemed like he knew what we were doing.

I saw Louis again last year and he wouldn’t stop barking at me. I’m not sure what he meant by that.

‘Nuntius’ has taken you around the world with you making cameos while Jori and Jimi are performing. Which locations or events have you found most interesting? Any funny stories?

I have attended several ‘Nuntius’ shows in Finland and also few abroad. Berlin was special because that day was also Jimi Tenor’s 50th birthday, so that evening at the Lido was also his birthday party.

The Sonar Festival 2015 in Barcelona: ‘Nuntius’ was on Saturday afternoon and DURAN DURAN played at the festival the same night. There was my big chance to meet them but it didn’t happen. Barcelona in June is hot even late in the evening and I was wearing a heavy 3-piece suit. Not the best possible choice when everyone else had T-shirt and shorts.

The most important ‘Nuntius’ performance for me has been the one in Düsseldorf in October 2016 where it was a part of the ELECTRI_CITY_CONFERENCE. ‘Nuntius’ was the last item of the two day conference – or rather a festival of electronic music – and right before it, the stage was occupied by John Foxx and co for their ‘Evidence Of Time Travel’ performance.

What made this particular ‘Nuntius’ showing so special was that there was several of my favourite artists in the audience, as well as friends whom I have seen at gigs before. Jori summed it up very well: “The audience wasn’t big but it was a good quality audience”.

I have been watching John Foxx on my TV screen hundreds of times and now he was watching me on the big screen. Surreal.

One more special memory… my first – and so far only – visit to Berlin was in March 2015. After arriving to the city and finding my hotel, I went out to have my first ever walk in Berlin. Kreuzberg was only few minutes away so I went that way. Soon I saw some gig posters on a wall – not THE wall – and among them was the special ‘Nuntius’ poster made for the evening’s show. My first time in this big city and when I step out of my hotel there’s a poster featuring a photo of me. It was a unique and strange moment for a visitor from the Finnish countryside.

You’ve made a number of other appearances in videos and photoshoots, are there anymore in the offing?

We are likely to do more shots for ‘Nuntius’ later this year but that’s all. It would be nice to feature in a music video again, especially by an artist that I like. It would be great to experience that again.

Peter Hook had an amusingly and typically Mancunian response when you introduced yourself to him in Düsseldorf?

What was it that he said? I think his kind reply was “there’s nothing normal about you” when I introduced myself. I disagree, of course 😉

Tony Visconti has just about seen it all, so what was your encounter with him like?

I did meet him briefly a few times when HOLY HOLY played live in London and Sheffield during September 2014. I was also at the ICA to listen to Tony Visconti and Woody Woodmansey talk about making the album ‘The Man Who Sold The World’. Both of them were very friendly and didn’t mind signing a few Bowie CD sleeves for me. Getting records signed is a good excuse to approach an artist and it gives you a moment to have a brief chat.

MIRRORS were your favourite new synth act but sadly they are no more. Is there anyone you’ve listened to who you would you rate today?

I suppose you mean new or relatively new acts? Hannah Peel makes good music with often unusual and interesting arrangements. One new band that I like is TINY MAGNETIC PETS. I’ve been listening to their new album on Spotify quite a lot.

Your portfolio has grown over the last few years, but is there anyone left you would still like to meet and be photographed with?

I have met quite a few artists but there are still many of my “official favourites” that I haven’t met yet. With some it’s already too late, but for those still in this dimension I would say David Sylvian and DURAN DURAN are the most important not-yet-met-artists.

Then there’s several others like one ex-member of KRAFTWERK whom everyone else seems to have met but not me. I’m not done yet with these ‘Close Encounters Of The Third Kind’.


ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK gives its warmest thanks to Mr Normall

http://www.mrnormall.net/

https://twitter.com/MrNormall


Text and Interview by Chi Ming Lai
Photos courtesy of Mr Normall
3rd October 2017

Carry On Synthpop: DAVID BOWIE, BRIAN ENO & TONY VISCONTI Record Warszawa

A hilarious animation satirising the Château d’Hérouville studio sessions for DAVID BOWIE’s legendary ‘Low’ album has been gaining traction on the internet.

bowie-low-animationProduced by The Brothers McLeod, the short film captures Bowie, Brian Eno and Tony Visconti recording the album’s lengthy doom laden instrumental ‘Warszawa’ using a witty script and authentic voice characterisations by comedian Adam Buxton, himself no stranger to sending up the music scene via ‘The Adam & Joe Show’.

At West Berlin’s Hansa Studios where the ‘Low’ sessions were being mixed in 1976, the guards in the watch towers in East Berlin could look into the windows of the building! Although named after the Polish capital, ‘Warszawa’ accurately captured the post-war tensions within the divided city without the need for overt lyricism. However, Buxton’s send-up reimagines what Bowie may have had in mind lyrically, insecure in the fact that Eno had totally composed and realised the track!

The animation also accurately highlights Tony Visconti’s often under appreciated role in co-producing ‘Low’ plus the subsequent ‘Berlin Trilogy’ albums ‘Heroes’ and ‘Lodger’; the frustrated New Yorker is seen to be ranting about “doing a lot of co-production, probably more than people think…”, a credit which has frequently been incorrectly attributed to Eno.

But what gives this animation the ultimate credible edge is Buxton’s spot-on Bowie impersonation and his affectionate references to fan trivia.


‘Warszawa’ is available on the album ‘Low’ via EMI Records

http://www.brothersmcleod.co.uk/

http://www.adambuxton.co.uk/

http://www.davidbowie.com

http://eno-web.co.uk/

http://www.tonyvisconti.com/


Text by Chi Ming Lai
1st November 2014

STEPHEN EMMER International Blue Album Launch at Abbey Road Studios

Dutch composer Stephen Emmer’s new album ‘International Blue’ was launched at the world famous Abbey Road Studios with a special live revue featuring its four vocalists Glenn Gregory, Neil Crossley, Liam McKahey and Midge Ure.

The album is in Stephen Emmer’s words “a humble, but yet ambitious project”, bringing back “the lost art of crooning”. Produced by Tony Visconti whose credits have included David Bowie, Marc Bolan and Morrissey, he first picked up on Stephen Emmer’s music via MySpace.

Unable to be present at the event, via a video address, Visconti discussed how he first worked with the Dutchman on the 2008 spoken word album ‘Recitement’ which featured none other than Lou Reed and how he fell in love with Emmer’s cinematic style of composition. He described the songs on ‘International Blue’ as being “well written from a deep tradition of classic standard songwriting” that have “the signature of the crooner stamped all over it”. “The songs are off the beaten track” he added “and not straightforward love songs”, concurring with Emmer’s view that there has always been a spiritual connection between the vocalists of the Post-Punk era and the classic singers of the past such as Frank Sinatra and Scott Walker.

Proceedings in the legendary Studio 2 opened with Glenn Gregory’s tribute to the late Billy Mackenzie entitled ‘Untouchable’ which evoked the haunting drama that the man born William would have been proud of. It has been the calling card for a collection of great ballads that would stand up in any genre. Neil Crossley’s ‘Sleep For England’ interestingly took on more starker tones as one of the album’s more electronically assisted, but still lushly organic numbers. The stylishly quiffed Liam McKahey, formerly of COUSTEAU, rose to the occasion with an intriguing take on the crooner on ‘Blown Away’ in the manner of David Bowie covering Scott Walker. “I didn’t mean to…” the Irishman said later, “…but I’ll take that!”

A big cheer greeted Midge Ure as the diminutive Glaswegian jokingly manhandled a mic stand clearly set up for the considerably taller Glenn Gregory! His track ‘Taking Back My Time’ is clearly an emotive statement of intent on Ure’s part.

His adoption of a lower vocal register affirmed his love of Scott Walker which has been well documented via his 1982 cover of ‘No Regrets’ and ULTRAVOX’s own string laden ‘All In One Day’ in 1986. Coincidentally, his first solo album of new material in 12 years called ‘Fragile’ is out soon.

Liam McKahey returned with ‘Mama’s Mad’, another excellent Bowie / Walker hybrid complimented with a dash of MASSIVE ATTACK. With his own music leaning towards Americana, he clearly found crooning again a re-enlightening experience back to his COUSTEAU roots; he even revealed an interest in collaborating within the field of laid back electronica; “I really like ZERO 7… their music lends itself to good singing” he said afterwards.

The showcase concluded with Glenn Gregory giving a spirited rendition of ‘Let The Silence Hold You’, the second of four tracks featuring his dulcet tones on ‘International Blue’. Indeed, Gregory’s songs on the ‘International Blue’ album are perhaps the ones which the album hangs itself on. ‘A Break In The Weather’ for example reimagines ‘Wild Is The Wind’ as a John Barry era Bond theme, while ‘In The Mirror Reflected’ captures the spirited piano intro of Dusty Springfield’s version of ‘Going Back’ and references ‘To Sir With Love’ in the chorus.

Overall, it has been great to be hear Gregory perform all-new material again and this experience certainly bodes well for the new HEAVEN 17 album which is currently being recorded.

For Glenn Gregory himself, a possible career as a 21st Century crooner is beckoning if all else fails. Either that, or he will become a Bowie impersonator as his upcoming Autumn shows with Tony Visconti, Woody Woodmansey and Steve Norman performing ‘The Man Who Sold The World’ album will indicate 😉

Afterwards, all the protagonists mingled with press and punters alike; and it was here that ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK caught up with Stephen Emmer for a quick chat about how he got into composing orchestrated pop and how this all related to his intriguing musical past…

You were in the band MINNY POPS who supported JOY DIVISION in 1980 at that gig in Bury where the riot took place?

Yes, we were touring the UK and Europe as support to JOY DIVISION, but we weren’t aware at the time of the troubles internally with Ian Curtis’ health and all of that. What happened, was there was this sold out gig in Bury and we knew Ian wouldn’t be performing as he was ill. But the crowd obviously found out when he didn’t appear for the JOY DIVISION set. Back then, gigs were far more aggressive so if people didn’t like you, they would bottle you! We were not bottled and after we had done our slot, we went down to the dressing room. Then JOY DIVISON’s manager Rob Gretton, who sadly is no longer with us, suddenly shouted “BLOCK YER FOOKIN’ DOOR!” in his Mancunian accent, which for us Dutch was hard to understand and decipher! We were like “WHAT?!” *laughs*

Shortly after that, the audience got onto the stage and showed their dismay that Ian Curtis wasn’t going to perform by having some huge fights in the corridor by the dressing room! We could hear all of it but luckily, we had our door barricaded! When it was all over, we came out and that was that. We didn’t think much of it at the time, but it was only later that this whole anecdote has become of such cultural significance.

Really, it was just an evening with a bit of an incident that has become part of rock history! However, MINNY POPS are not included in that scene from the ‘Control’ film, but the director Anton Corbijn… he got to know JOY DIVISION through us!!

You have four great vocalists on ‘International Blue’, but would Ian Curtis have fitted in with this project had he been around today?

That’s a good question, I think so… the sonority of New Wave singing with electro bands has always intrigued me. I was a part-time journalist then back in Holland with a magazine called ‘Vinyl’, but nobody within journalism ever saw the relationship between these singers like Ian Curtis doing things like ‘She’s Lost Control’ with that low voice and Frank Sinatra… it’s like Sinatra but more dark! So it dawned on me that these singers, they should perform that kind of material and I could write for them. And that’s how ‘International Blue’ got started. It’s a bit more remote from New Wave but still a little electronic alongside the orchestral; it is very logical that these are the kind of singers who suit this genre best.

stephen emmer vogue estateYou started as a guitarist with MINNY POPS, so how did you branch into orchestrations? Are you classically trained?

No, I’m not… after all the electronic pop music I did with ASSOCIATES, THE LOTUS EATERS and ACT in the UK, I went back to Holland doing assignments for TV themes, documentaries, film and commercials. What I learnt there was you have to arrange in every genre. Tony Visconti gave me a great compliment and said “Stephen Emmer as an arranger and composer, knows the rules best through that experience in media music – so he also knows how to use, or not use a cliché in music”.

So I made a very thorough study of arranging with an orchestra, although my pedigree is in electronics. I had a solo record in 1982 called ‘Vogue Estate’ which featured Billy Mackenzie and Martha Ladly. It was produced by Michael Dempsey who was in THE CURE and ASSOCIATES with this young guy called Flood who is now a legend!

Is there any other New Wave vocalist you would like to have worked with on ‘International Blue’?

Yes, in fact I bumped into him last night as we were eating in the same restaurant… he was on my list but it didn’t come off! I’d never met him before but I decided to go up to him… it was Ian McCulloch of ECHO & THE BUNNYMEN. He has this Jim Morrison type of voice that I would like to work with… so we might do so in the future.

international-blue-01The album’s lead single ‘Untouchable’ is about Billy Mackenzie. What was it like working with him?

He was a very sweet guy and a true gypsy at heart. When we recorded together on the track ‘Wish On’ from ‘Vogue Estate’, we weren’t sure he was going to show up because he was very random in his behaviour. He arrived, but when it was his turn to sing, we saw he was underneath a table in the mixing room with a bottle of blackcurrant and rum fast asleep! He woke up and apologised, sung the song and left half drunk! *laughs*

Warner Brothers had invested a lot of money in him and thought he would become the next David Bowie, but he was more of an artist’s artist. He suffered from being pushed into the realm of bigger gigs and all of that.

It’s a shame, because out of most of the vocalists of that period, only he could take a TR808 and have a vocal battle with it… which vocalist would do that? He was great!

If Billy Mackenzie had been able to adopt a more conventional approach to being a pop star, do you think ASSOCIATES could have been as big as A-HA?

I think so… coincidentally, Morten Harket recently asked me to write a song for him.


ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK gives its warmest thanks to STEPHEN EMMER

Special thanks also to Sacha Taylor-Cox at Impressive PR

STEPHEN EMMER’s ‘International Blue’ is released on 7th July 2014 via Electric Fairytale Recordings

http://www.stephenemmer.com/


Text and Interview by Chi Ming Lai
Photos by Chi Ming Lai
16th June 2014