Although it was great to have these long players available on CD for the first time since their original release with turned up sound and bonus tracks, they were notable for their errors and omissions plus some unsympathetic liner notes by Alan Robinson.
For example, ‘Happy Families’ was missing the original album version of ‘Waves’ along with the notable B-sides ‘I Would’ and ‘Running Thin’ due to contractual issues with the BBC!
Meanwhile ‘Mange Tout’ was missing the album cut of ABBA cover ‘The Day Before You Came’. There was also the much discussed absence of the 12 inch version of ‘What’s Your Problem?’ from the extra tracks on ‘Believe You Me’.
However, BLANCMANGE got off lightly compared with Edsel’s ALTERED IMAGES reissues which featured mixes of songs duplicated across their three albums despite being labelled otherwise, tracks mastered off flexi-discs, more muted sleeve notes from the same writer (who clearly disliked Claire Grogan & Co) and in the sad case of ‘Bite’, half of the album consisting of entirely the wrong versions!
Thankfully, some of those missing tracks by The Maiden Aunts of Techno have surfaced on ‘The Very Best Of BLANCMANGE’, a timely new 2CD collection compiled by Music Club Deluxe with input from Neil Arthur and Stephen Luscombe themselves.
Music Club Deluxe, an arm of Edsel’s parent group Demon, have made a concerted effort to work with Warners to source masters and negotiate around any contractual issues with the BBC to plug the essential gaps in BLANCMANGE’s digital catalogue.
While all the singles like ‘God’s Kitchen’, ‘Feel Me’ ‘Living On The Ceiling’, ‘Blind Vision’, ‘Don’t Tell Me’ and ‘That’s Love That it Is’ are included, it is the rarities and selected album highlights (including most of ‘Happy Families’ and songs such as ‘Murder’ and ‘All Things Are Nice’) which make this collection.
The original version of ‘Sad Day’ from the ‘Some Bizzare Album’ is all present and correct. In 1981, this futurist showcase launched the careers of DEPECHE MODE, SOFT CELL, THE THE and B-MOVIE as well as that of BLANCMANGE. Here, Neil Arthur’s twangy guitar is augmented by a Minipops rhythm box and Stephen Luscombe’s Wasp synth bass reminiscent of ENO’s ‘The Fat Lady Of Limbourg’. Very different from the more familiar Oldfield-ish album version, ‘Sad Day’ was the start that eventually led to prestigious support slots with DEPECHE MODE, GRACE JONES and JAPAN as well as a deal with London Records.
Also from those fledgling years are the superb Peel Session tracks ‘Running Thin’ and ‘I Would’ which later cropped up on the flip of ‘Living On The Ceiling’. Both are stark and almost minimal but ‘I Would’ with its clattering rhythms is menacing while ‘Running Thin’ is more resigned in tone. Interestingly in retrospect, they hint at 2011’s ‘Blanc Burn’ album more than anything that featured on the original London LPs.
And as if to make the link, new track ‘Making Aeroplanes’, an outtake from the ‘Blanc Burn’ sessions follows this vintage pair on CD1. One notable inclusion on CD2 of ‘The Very Best Of BLANCMANGE’ is the album version of ‘Waves’. Without the strings, it is like SCOTT WALKER fronting OMD with the sombre detuned brass line allowed to breathe at the song’s conclusion. For those that want it, the single mix with the orchestra is there but this earlier version IS much better and strangely more emotive. Sometimes, less can mean more.
But best of all as far as the rarities go is ‘Hello Darling’ by Stephen Luscombe side-project BLUE WORLD which first appeared as a BLANCMANGE credited track in 1986 on Record Mirror’s free cassette ‘Spools Gold’. Available on CD for the first time, it is an early mash-up where Bollywood meets GIORGIO MORODER.
The track is based around a sample of Indian comedian Kishore Kumar from a film called ‘Darling Darling’ which Luscombe saw as a teenager growing up in Southall. It ended up as part of the soundtrack for a BBC documentary ‘The Legend of Leigh Bowery’ about the fashion icon who designed the costumes for BLANCMANGE’s 1984 tour and despite being recorded nearly 30 years ago, it sounds amazingly contemporary.
Although the 12 inch version of ‘What’s Your Problem?’ and single mix of ‘I Can See It’ are still missing, thanks to the masters being lost within Warner Music’s vaults, ‘The Very Best Of BLANCMANGE’ is an essential artefact for the duo’s many fans. A lot of the important material tracing the quirky duo’s history is now thankfully restored, albeit not quite in its rightful place. But thanks to the efforts of Music Club Deluxe, Neil Arthur and Stephen Luscombe, this collection is an informed start to at least softening past mistakes made by others.
As for Music Club Deluxe’s colleagues in the next office at Edsel… do a bit of research and ask! Attention to detail doesn’t hurt! There are plenty of people out there who are willing to give their time for the music they love, simply because they care!
‘The Very Best Of BLANCMANGE’ is released by Music Club on 23rd July 2012
Special thanks to Stuart Kirkham at 9PR
Text by Chi Ming Lai
16th July 2012