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Classic Album: The Police – Synchronicity

Classic Album: The Police – Synchronicity

The Police Synchronicity
The Police Synchronicity cover

Releasing a worldwide smash and becoming the biggest band on the planet would bring instant gratification to most artists, but for Sting, Andy Summers and Stewart Copeland, aka The Police, three was most certainly not the magic number…

To anybody, ‘the biggest group on the planet spending half a year making an album, and the rest of that year touring it’, sounds fairly straightforward – and basically it is.

However, with the case of The Police, it really wasn’t. Strife, ego, violence and levels of tension galore blighted a year they should’ve enjoyed far more than they probably actually did.

1983 began with the band at AIR Studios in Montserrat working on what would be their fifth and final studio album, Synchronicity.

An interesting set-up saw each member stationed in individual rooms, with Stewart Copeland and his drums in the dining room, Andy Summers in the studio itself and Sting in the control room with them all connected via video link.

Even though co-producer Hugh Padgham claimed this was for social reasons, this approach didn’t help dispel rumours that the trio were increasingly sick of each other.

Sting argued that it made things easier for him to hear how the instruments would sound on the finished record, which was no doubt a boost in confidence for a studio with the reputation of AIR.

After knocking up multiple takes, the three of them – presumably together – would compile their favourite bits to edit together into one master track.

This wasn’t always the ideal method, however, when Copeland and Sting almost belted the hell out of each other disagreeing over the remix of Every Breath You Take, to the extent that Padgham nearly walked out on the project.

An occasional disagreement is one thing, but you can only surmise at what point Padgham had felt was enough to walk out.

Asked about the atmosphere, Padgham reflected that, “We’d been in the studio for a couple of weeks and we literally had nothing playable at all. If somebody had come down to the studio and said, ‘Let’s hear what you’re doing’, we didn’t have anything. It was a crisis meeting. The gist of the meeting was: ‘Are we going to carry on or end right now?’

“I wasn’t used to this incredibly babyish behaviour. It was scary, because it was pretty infantile. Sting and Stewart definitely, maybe not so much Andy. Poor old Andy was sometimes left piggy-in-the-middle, though he could be well grumpy himself.”

In the end, Every Breath You Take was put together with overdubs. Why would a band who clearly loathe one another persist in taking part in a begrudgingly-recorded album, when at that point in their career – they clearly didn’t need to – why were they bothering?

Critics were kind to Synchronicity. Mostly after the fact, and acknowledging that it’s the sound of a band coming together while falling apart.

It went on to sell millions and become the most successful album of their career. Bewilderingly for such a successful album, it has the duality of being both too big to be critically acclaimed, yet posthumously praised enough to be deemed overlooked.

It sits neither here nor there. Something that The Police had long come to terms with throughout their career – not new wave or punk enough to be taken credibly, yet chasing credibility anyway via the medium of being massively popular.

It’s almost as though they simply existed to cash in on their position. It’s very easy to accuse musicians of being calculated, but despite Synchronicity’s troubled creation and bid to have something to sell during a worldwide tour, it could not, and would not, fail.

Asked if he was friends with Andy and Stewart, Sting told Rolling Stone, “It’s not an easy relationship, by any means. We’re three highly autonomous individuals, and a band is an artificial alliance most of the time. There are obviously tensions, but I think there’s a great love between us and a genuine respect.

“I can’t think of two musicians I’d rather play with. But none of us is easy to work with. It’s not all buddy-buddy, and never was.”

Before confiding later that, “It’s not easy to be in a group. It’s like marriage without sex. The only lubricant we have is music, so the music has to be good.”

Synchronicity would go on to have its work cut out competing against one of the biggest-selling albums of all time at the Grammy Awards, missing out on the main prize to Michael Jackson’s Thriller.

However, while Jacko had the album categories nailed, Every Breath You Take did beat Billie Jean in the Song Of The Year category.

Just a reminder that while Billie Jean was enormous, Every Breath You Take was colossal in general and went on to be one of the most played songs on radio of all time, their sole American chart-topper, spending eight weeks at the summit and going on to be the biggest single of the year over there.

It also managed four weeks atop the UK charts in June, ending up as the 16th biggest-seller of 1983 in Britain.

In 2019, it was named the Most Performed Song at the BMI Pop Awards with 15 million radio plays. In 2021, the song was also added to Spotify’s Billions Club, having amassed over one billion streams on the platform.

It won Sting two Ivor Novello Awards, too, which may have caused a bone of contention with Andy, who’d actually written the guitar part, yet the song was credited solely to Sting.

Sting had famously written Every Breath You Take at Ian Fleming’s Goldeneye estate in Oracabessa, Jamaica after a period of turmoil post-split with his wife, of which he said, “Every Breath You Take is a very sad song and it makes me sad, but it’s a wonderful sadness. It was written at a time of awful personal anguish, and it was a great catharsis for me to write that song.”

Copeland’s retrospective view was that, “This is Sting’s best song with the worst arrangement. I think Sting could have had any other group do this song and it would have been better than our version – except for Andy’s brilliant guitar part.

“Basically, there’s an utter lack of groove. It’s a totally wasted opportunity for our band. Even though we made gazillions off of it, and it’s the biggest hit we ever had.”

Producer Hugh Padgham knew it was a hit from the off after hearing the demo in late 1982: “For Synchronicity, he did them at the studio in Primrose Hill, Utopia. It was a good studio with a demo room, and that’s where I first heard Every Breath You Take.

“It was me, Miles, Sting, Stewart, Andy, I can’t remember who else and we all went, ‘Wow, this is amazing!’ Miles looked at me and said, ’There’s a goddam hit if ever I heard one! Don’t fuck it up!’”

The Synchronicity Tour kicked off in Chicago in July 1983, and concluded in March 1984 in Melbourne. During the US stage of the jaunt, the trio were based in a mansion in Bridgehampton, New York, and were flown out to shows around the States as and when.

The British leg of the 105-date tour saw them play four nights at Wembley Arena that December. Among the array of support bands there were Madness, an early R.E.M., Talking Heads, James Brown and Joan Jett & The Blackhearts accompanying the line-up on what would become one of the biggest-grossing tours of the decade.

But as for the future of the band? Well, it wasn’t rosy. Sure, the cash from the most successful tour of the year was nice, and Sting earning on average $2,000 a day from airplay and royalties of just one song was a comfort, but the end result of becoming the biggest band on the planet saw them sick of the sight of each other.

As for extra-curricular stuff, all three members had other irons in respective fires. Stewart Copeland worked on the soundtrack to Francis Ford Coppola’s 1983 film Rumble Fish.

Coppola had originally approached Copeland with a view to helping him out with the film’s soundtrack as he’d envisaged a mainly percussive affair.

Realising that Copeland knew his onions, Coppola handed over the reins to him to initially compose a rhythmic track, before he fully took over.

Copeland recorded street sounds of Tulsa and mixed them into the soundtrack with the use of Musyn, a then-revolutionary music editing hardware and software system invented by Robert Randles (subsequently nominated for an Oscar for Scientific Achievement), to modify the tempo of his compositions and synchronise them with the action in the film.

The resulting soundtrack ended up as widely acclaimed and earned Copeland a Golden Globe nomination as well as plenty of MTV airtime with the lead track Don’t Box Me In, composed with Stan Ridgway – albeit only managing No.91 in the UK charts.

Summers had already extended out into new arenas, with the 1982 LP I Advance Masked with fellow guitarist Robert Fripp, and would follow it with another, Bewitched, in 1984.

He also branched out into books, collecting together a series of photos that he’d taken of the band on tour. The book, Throb, was released in 1983 although is currently out of print.

As for Sting, well… He’d entered 1983 having tasted solo success with the song Spread A Little Happiness taken from the movie adaptation of Dennis Potter’s Brimstone And Treacle which he also starred in.

He’d also spent much of 1983 filming his role as Feyd-Rautha, Baron Harkonnen’s younger nephew in David Lynch’s adaptation of Frank Herbert’s fantasy classic Dune. Furthering his non-music interests, he also spent some time during 1983 trying to finance a movie version of Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast, which he’d bought the rights to.

Not much appeared to come of it – Sting was hardly considered box office catnip – although in 1984, BBC Radio 4 broadcast two 90-minute plays based on Titus Groan and Gormenghast, adapted by Brian Sibley and starring Sting as Steerpike.

Also, during this period, Sting’s marriage to Frances Tomelty broke down after he’d been spotted about with model Trudie Styler, something that reflected in the lyrics to songs on Synchronicity.

Reflecting back on the making of Synchronicity, Stewart Copeland remembered to Classic Pop that, “We were in paradise, creating our own hell. But in the bitter despond of that trench warfare, we could all hear that this music was fucking great.

“Sting isn’t the person portrayed – and I’m not going to be the person to tell who the real guy is, that’s his business – but the tabloid version of the guy in England, not so much America, is so far from that guy. I won’t even dignify disputing which attributes don’t apply to him.

“But let it be known, he’s not that. I will say, as a rock star, he may appear a bit prim and earnest, but he’s the real thing. Say no more – he’s not that guy. He’s actually a really great guy. Since we’ve been through the wars together and we don’t have any reason to fight, we get on great.”

Andy summed it up as, “Most bands should do what we did. We split at the very highest point, which is a very breathtaking thing to do. It was a relief, but there was a lot more creativity that could have been had from the band.

“But that was the way it went, as Sting wanted out of the band. It’s a cliché, but he was the lead singer and he felt he could do it all on his own. Which he did. It was an amazing move to make, stopping at that high point.”

Sting, in a recent interview with Mojo, explained the band’s split as ”My frustration was I would have written an album’s worth of material but also had to entertain these other songs that were not as good.

Explaining to someone why their song isn’t working is a bit like saying their girlfriend’s ugly. It’s a very personal thing.

“I just wanted a larger palette. The three-piece is a wonderful vehicle but it’s limited; drums, bass and guitar. I think we achieved an amazing amount of stuff in the short time we were together. Very unique, but I just wanted a broader palette because I was song-driven and not necessarily band-driven”

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No smoke without fire: The 80s rebirth of David Bowie

No smoke without fire: The 80s rebirth of David Bowie

David Bowie 80s
David Bowie – 80s style

After a few years out of the spotlight, a bleached-blonde Bowie returned in 1983 with Let’s Dance and achieved greater global fame than ever before. Classic Pop charts the moment David Bowie ascended to superstardom…

It’s a commonly held critical view that David Bowie’s work was a hugely influential force in shaping the musical landscape of the 1970s.

From the epochal Ziggy Stardust era, to his fearless adoption of Philly soul and his trailblazing experimentation in Berlin during the later half of the decade: Bowie had demonstrated a fearlessness towards music-making that almost single-handedly dictated the musical and social trends of the decade – and left many of his contemporaries floundering.

With 1980’s Scary Monsters, he tied a neat ribbon over his 70s canon by thematically and musically revisiting key facets of his past while also looking ahead to the future. Ever surprising, his next move was perhaps the most unpredictable of them all.

For a multitude of reasons (chiefly, perhaps, his high-profile signing to EMI Records for an estimated $17.5 million), David Bowie decided that the next stage of his career required some bona-fide hits. Despite being an artist of overwhelming significance, Bowie had only really accumulated a small cluster of successful singles.

As the 80s dawned and status was seemingly measured more and more against chart placements, Bowie realised that he’d have to reposition himself in the landscape of pop music yet again.

Clearly feeling that his go-to producer Tony Visconti wasn’t perhaps the best choice to help him achieve this vision, Bowie sought out Chic’s Nile Rodgers to produce an uptempo, funky and accessible album.

“We met at his Manhattan apartment, where he showed me a picture of Little Richard in a red Cadillac,” Rodgers told Pitchfork magazine in 2016.

“He said: ‘I want my album to sound like this’. He just had to show me a picture, and I completely understood. He wanted something that felt like the future but was rooted in rock‘n’roll, something soulful, Black, and R&B, but morphed and evergreen. And that’s what Let’s Dance is.”

Visconti was hurt by Bowie’s rejection and – despite helping David with some of the sound for the UK dates of his later Serious Moonlight Tour – became estranged from Bowie until the late 90s.

Bowie spent time developing ideas for the record before bringing them to New York’s Power Station Studios. Along for the ride was a young Stevie Ray Vaughan – the startling, fiery blues guitarist whom Bowie had seen perform at the Montreux Jazz Festival.

Bowie was astonished by the Texan’s skill, and thought he’d be a valuable asset to utilise in the production of his biggest pop statement to date.

“To tell you the truth, I wasn’t very familiar with David’s music when he asked me to play on the sessions,” Stevie Ray later said in an interview with Guitar World, but his virtuosic solos became a standout aspect of Let’s Dance’s sound, particularly on the title track.

His work on the record helped him to further develop his own career as a world-class guitarist, before his untimely death in 1990.

Also joining Bowie’s entourage at this point were the rock-solid duo of Omar Hakim on drums and Carmine Rojas providing the impactful bass. Carmine remembered that the recording of Let’s Dance was an incredibly fun experience.

 

“Being creative with David was great,” Carmine tells Classic Pop. “For the song Ricochet, which is a great song, he wanted like a Polynesian kind of sound to it. As a Puerto Rican coming from Brooklyn, I was a little bit perplexed by it at first. There were no smartphones then, we couldn’t just Google it to figure out exactly what he meant. So we had to really get into the feel of the track and kind of make our own version of it.”

Indeed, Rojas has nothing but positive memories of working with David on his biggest-ever record and tour. “Let’s Dance for me was a great experience,” he explains. “It was all pretty free, really, in terms of what we could do. Very little cues in the studio to tell us what we couldn’t do; we were encouraged to play.”

Put On Your Red Shoes

The title track of the album – which of course, would become a global smash hit – was conceived as a slightly different beast to how it ended up, originally being arranged as a smaller-scale track with a folkier leaning.

Rodgers recalled in an interview with Billboard that after seriously “funking the song up”, the stage was set to deliver Bowie the commercial success he craved: “It was the first indication of what we could do together as I took his ‘folk song’ and arranged it into something that the entire world would soon be dancing to and seemingly has not stopped dancing to for the last 35 years!” Nile said. “It became the blueprint not only for Let’s Dance the song, but for the entire album as well.”

Recording at the Power Station with Rodgers did indeed yield Bowie the commercial success he’d been hoping for.

The three-pronged chart assault of the record’s singles: the infectious, uptempo Modern Love, a gorgeous, reworked version of Iggy Pop’s China Girl and of course, the ubiquitous (and highly danceable) title track became the biggest-selling of Bowie’s career, with the bank-balance boon undoubtedly bringing smiles to the faces of his new friends at EMI.

Yet despite his success, the superficial nature of many of the record’s lyrics, the obvious commercial sheen of the music and Bowie’s more outgoing, affable personality in interviews and television appearances left many of the more avant-garde members of his fanbase cold.

Bowie himself was, at the time, satisfied with his re-defined status as a pop supremo: “I think the music I’m writing at the moment is probably going to reach a newer audience for me, but if I’m going to reach a new audience then I’m going to try and reach them with something to say, which is on a very obvious and simplistic level.”

Bowie’s new look and attitude was unveiled at an infamous press conference at Claridges on 17 March. For many devotees, it was a strange and uncanny thing to behold. Gone was any semblance of androgyny, the angular, emaciated look of the mid 70s or the brooding intensity of his personas from later in the decade.

Instead, what we had was a peculiarly plastic version of David Bowie: accessible, conversational and resplendent with a sharp suit, suntanned skin and bleached blonde hair. He somehow seemed to embody the decade’s excesses.

In the view of David Buckley, in his excellent Bowie biography, Strange Fascination, Bowielooked weird – like a Bowie clone. The new corporate skin made Bowie look businesslike and harsh. For the first time, he looked aristocratic, a member of the jet set. It was a difficult image for his fans to even like, let alone want to copy.”

His new – definitively ‘straight’ – persona alienated devotees, particularly those who felt kinship or admiration for the LGBT impact of his work.

He told Rolling Stone’s Kurt Loder that: “The biggest mistake I ever made,” he said one night after a couple of cans of lager, “was telling that Melody Maker writer that I was bisexual. Christ, I was so young then. I was experimenting…”

It was an admission that many felt was a betrayal of the queer nature of much of his art. Let’s Dance-era Bowie openly laughed at Ziggy, too, saying (in the same interview): “I was so fed up with him… But I dragged it out last year and had a look, and I thought: ‘This is a funny film! This boy used to dress like that for a living? My God, this is funny! Incredible! Wait till my son sees this!’”

As shocking as Bowie’s new attitudes were, Buckley noted that the 1983 version of Bowie seemed to have manifested from a desire to “allow himself to enter into someone else’s vision of what a sensible, mature David Bowie should look like.

“Behind the suntan and smiles he looked as frozen and plastic as ever before. The new mask of ‘normality’ was the most extreme artifice of his career.”

Turn The Holy Pictures…

Despite Bowie’s huge shift in attitude in the early 1980s, the resulting record did the job it set out to do, and became a global smash hit. Yet critical divisions do vary quite dramatically to this day. This critical duel began almost as soon as the record was released.

Some critics, such as Jay Cocks in Time magazine, found the record an utter delight, saying the LP was “unabashedly commercial, melodically alliterative and lyrically smart at the same time”, while on the other side of the fence, Dave Henderson of Sounds Magazine said: “Bowie could have put a bit more effort into this miserable, ramshackle affair. The voice is fine, but it’s lazy, emotionless and twee.

“Bearing that in mind, it’s absolutely dynamic compared to the tedium of the arrangements and the terribly predictable playing. Don’t be surprised if Mark Knopfler plays on the next LP.”

In the view of Starman biographer Paul Trynka, Let’s Dance achieved Bowie’s objective: ultimately making Let’s Dance a successful project, though not one we should so readily compare with the rest of his oeuvre.

“The clichéd response is to say that Let’s Dance isn’t a great album. I’d say the jury’s still out, but the fact remains that it’s a great ‘80s’ album. It’s exciting and vital, despite the filler tracks. It’s unfair to compare it to something like Low – it’s like comparing Harry Potter with Franz Kafka!”

Despite the deliberately watered-down version of Bowie we found on the record, his David Mallett-directed videos continued to push boundaries, with the title track’s Australian-set video in particular highlighting the hypocrisy of global capitalism on indigenous Australians, and containing some fascinating imagery – though the cheesy, slow-mo shots of Bowie miming to the Stevie Ray Vaughan guitar solo date the video tremendously.

The release of Let’s Dance dovetailed nicely with the advent of MTV, and Bowie’s new globally accessible, beach-blonde persona was a perfect fit for the video age, with his promos in heavy rotation. The channel served as many a young soon-to-be-fan’s introduction to the world of Bowie.

Though debate often rages regarding the record’s merits, today Bowie’s Let’s Dance era is generally regarded as a fun, positive time – though it heralded a gradual decline in artistic quality that Bowie didn’t really combat until the early part of the following decade.

Nile Rodgers recalled in an interview with Pitchfork that, despite the project’s commercial sheen, making the record was an innovative experience: “I looked at it like an art project: the conflict of David Bowie making a commercial record is in itself an arty, cool thing, like, ‘Wow, that’s fun’. Hence my riff on China Girl, which I thought I was going to get fired over because it’s so corny.

“But he heard it and went, ‘That’s amazing!’ I was like: ‘Do you really mean it?’ And he’s like: ‘That’s genius’. You have to see that this is a very special man. This is not your average artist.”

The resulting world tour of the album – dubbed the Serious Moonlight Tour – was Bowie’s first in five years and was an audacious, grand affair that saw him not only performing his recent material, but a selection of his classic tracks (including some Berlin-era material) sheened-up and sounding not out of place in a set that included such uncomplicated exuberance as Modern Love.

The staggering undertaking saw 98 shows performed over four continents and played to around 2.5 million fans.

The Power to Charm

Despite taking a break from the recording of Let’s Dance, the ever-enthused Carlos Alomar returned to take up core rhythm-guitar duties on the tour, and while initial plans were for Stevie Ray Vaughan to join the live band on lead guitar, circumstances dictated that Bowie stalwart Earl Slick took up the mantle, with the bass supplied by the increasingly integral Carmine Rojas.

Carmine told us that: “It was a really sad thing really, it was working okay at first, though there were a lot of older songs that Stevie couldn’t get his head around. If you look at David’s catalogue, there’s some crazy stuff, musically. They weren’t really like your typical blues arrangements or anything like that.”

Other accounts underline Vaughan’s annoyance with the level of choreography required, but the truth of the matter appears to be that Vaughan was replaced due to issues with his management.

On the eve of the tour, SRV’s manager attempted to do a last-minute renegotiation of his fee, without the guitarist’s knowledge. Instead, Bowie’s promoter called their bluff and made the decision to replace Stevie Ray with Slick.

The tour began in Brussels in May 1983 and ran right through to December, taking in the UK (including the Hammersmith Apollo) the USA, Europe and Asia. Bowie made sure he was in peak physical fitness to endure the tour’s stresses.

Cutting out drugs completely (and demanding that no one else on the crew indulged either), Bowie’s early morning routine of shadow boxing and aerobics guaranteed that he was athletic enough to physically push himself each night to perform to thousands of people.

Watching the Serious Moonlight Tour film, one can see that Bowie is at the top of his game as a live performer.

Despite the upset of Vaughan’s absence, Carlos Alomar recollects that: “The concept for Serious Moonlight was really a big family, and I think it worked really, really well. There was a sense of an international community onstage, because the album had really hit the mark – it was a very happy time for him.”

Rojas agrees that: “The tour was a happy time for everyone; when we played the stadiums, it was mind-boggling. It was my first time doing so many, and David’s first time, too. You can’t describe what it feels like playing in front of 100,000 people. If I had a time machine, I’d gladly do it again.”

Similar to The Spiders From Mars outfits in their sense of otherworldly character (or perhaps more aptly Bowie’s earlier, wackier comic-book band, The Hype), each member of the Serious Moonlight band had their own distinct outfit – Carlos was (in Bowie’s words) “a prince”, while Carmine wore a sailor’s cap; Earl Slick was the incongruous denim-clad rocker, while the saxophone players were dressed as a Cossack, a mountaineer and a big-game hunter.

At the centre of it all was an increasingly dynamic besuited Bowie, who delivered incredible vocal performances night after night.

As Nicholas Pegg notes in The Complete David Bowie: “More than any previous Bowie tour, the set list was unashamedly a Greatest Hits package, aimed at acquainting the new mass audience with Bowie’s back catalogue.”

With only four tracks from Let’s Dance included, the sense that he was touring a new album was slight.

On a show in Toronto, Earl Slick stepped aside as – out of the shadows – Bowie’s former on- and off-stage musical partner Mick Ronson returned to perform The Jean Genie.

Ronson recalled in David Bowie: The Star Zone Interviews that: “I was playing Slick’s guitar, I had heard Slick play solos all night, so I decided not to play solos and I just went out and thrashed the guitar.

“I really thrashed the guitar, I was waving the guitar above my head and all sorts of things. It was funny afterwards because David said: ‘You should have seen Slick’s face…’ meaning he looked petrified. I had his prize guitar and I was swinging it around my head and Slick’s going ‘Waaaa… watch my guitar’, you know.

“I was banging into it and it was going round my head. Poor Slick. I mean, I didn’t know it was his special guitar, I just thought it was a guitar, a lump of wood with six strings!”

Reflecting on the tour, Carmine tells us that: “We were out for like a year, or something like that. And I do think it took its toll, definitely. For David, I think it was a lot to control. Performing to that volume of people who were there to see you individually must have been really mind-boggling. If he didn’t have a good team of sergeants and generals, I think it could have fallen apart. Thankfully, he did!”

Regardless of Bowie’s new status as a mainstream figure, and the apparent beginnings of a creative slump that would unfortunately come to dictate the shape of his work as the decade progressed, the Serious Moonlight Tour was an undeniable success that helped to spread Bowie’s stardom around the world.

Over a decade later, once he had returned to the fringes – though in a state of heady creative nourishment on the heels of his recent work with Brian Eno on 1995’s 1: Outside – he reflected in the pages of Interview magazine that: “I went mainstream in a major way with the song Let’s Dance. I pandered to that in my next few albums, and what I found I had done was put a box around myself. It was very hard for people to see me as anything other than the person in the suit who did Let’s Dance.”

In the there and then, Bowie was buoyed by his new worldwide fame, and sought to capitalise on his status with Let’s Dance’s hastily assembled follow-up.

However, for the David Bowie fans who’d found solace in Ziggy Stardust, innovation and promise in the Berlin trilogy, and an overt sense of awareness and belonging with Scary Monsters, his 1980s catalogue would increasingly detach itself from those worlds, and continue to chart a course directly for the ears of the general record-buying public.

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Life Moves Pretty Fast: The John Hughes Mixtapes boxset review

Life Moves Pretty Fast: The John Hughes Mixtapes boxset review

John Hughes’ legendary 80s films soundtracked a generation, his new boxset Life Moves Pretty Fast combines the hit tracks all in one place. But does it still have the same… The post Life Moves Pretty Fast: The John Hughes Mixtapes boxset review appeared first on Classic Pop Magazine. ... Continue Reading
Nick Beggs interview: “Limahl became untenable pretty quickly. He was a difficult character.”

Nick Beggs interview: “Limahl became untenable pretty quickly. He was a difficult character.”

Nick Beggs
Nick Beggs (centre) Photo by Anne-Marie Forker

In the 40 years since Too Shy became a smash, Nick Beggs has played with ABC, Belinda Carlisle and Howard Jones, as well as being a distinctive bass presence in prog with Steven Wilson, Steve Hackett and his own bands, The Mute Gods and Trifecta. Despite the pain of their time together, Nick tells Classic Pop he knows he’ll always be associated with Kajagoogoo…

Nick Beggs knows everyone. Not just in music, where his professionalism and unique stage presence have seen Beggs play with musicians as varied as ABC and Steven Wilson.

He’s also a welcoming soul who seems to know all the other locals at the pub in suburban Bedfordshire where Classic Pop meets Nick to discuss his 40 years of adventures in music.

“This is the best pub in the world,” beams Beggs, not inaccurately, over a pint of porter at The Black Lion in Leighton Buzzard, the cosy market town where Kajagoogoo formed.

Kajagoogoo stood out then, and Nick – long blond hair making him as instantly familiar as when Too Shy made Kajagoogoo stars – is still a compelling personality now.

No wonder there’s a photo of Kajagoogoo on display at the Wetherspoons up the street.

“I’m often chosen to be in people’s bands because of my stage presence, not just because of the way I play,” notes Beggs. “They want the strange gonk man. I sometimes see audiences look at me and think: ‘What the fuck is that?’

“I got over my ego in the 80s and I just want to be a player. But you’d be surprised how much my ego is called upon in other bands, as musicians will sometime say: ‘Make a Nick Beggs shape there.’”

It’s not often the bassist is the star in a band but, alongside Limahl, Nick had charisma to spare in Kajagoogoo. Nick says of his musical strengths: “I have a good A&R capacity and I can see star quality.” He even worked in A&R at Phonogram in the 90s, overseeing the boyband Let Loose.

Talking of star quality naturally leads to assessing Limahl’s role in Kajagoogoo. Before the fractious singer joined, Nick and guitarist Steve Askew fronted Art Nouveau, also featuring future Kajas Stuart Neale and Jez Strode.

“A&Rs would show interest in Art Nouveau,” recalls Nick. “But then they’d see us live. We lacked a frontperson who’d enable us to focus on our musicality.”

Auditions for a frontperson were held at their rehearsal studio – “Now the Tesco,” laughs Nick, pointing out of the pub window. A singer named Tim Barron was “quite good, but I wasn’t sure.” Then a friend told Nick of a singer who’d been to the Italia Conti stage school who had a great look.

“I could tell on the phone that Limahl spoke the same language,” says Nick. “He knew where he wanted to go in music and was 100% committed to getting there, the same as we were.”

Limahl became Nick’s lodger, with the writing of Too Shy an example of how the pair could be in sync. Nick worked as a dustman and wrote with Limahl when he got home. The bassist wrote a chorus: “You’re too shy, hush, eye-to-eye.”

He says now: “It was Limahl who looped it. I had what I thought was the first verse, the ‘Modern medicine…’ lyrics. Limahl said: ‘That’s the second verse’ and came up with: ‘Tongue tied…’ Suddenly, there was a geography to the song. Stuart had just got a Jupiter 8 synth, and he was great at manipulating its sounds.”

For a would-be pop sensation, Art Nouveau had been a little jazzy. That atmosphere was still there in what could otherwise be a sensational debut single. Enter Nick Rhodes.

When the renamed Kajagoogoo were signed by EMI, they were offered to various producers. “Nobody wanted to
work
with us,” laughs Nick. “Tony Visconti told EMI: ‘Why would I want to work with this band? I’m a living legend.’ Which he is, so fair enough.”

Nick Beggs
Nick Beggs second from left in the reunited Kajagoogoo

Duran Duran were also on EMI, and Nick Rhodes fancied branching out, helped by Duran producer Colin Thurston. “Colin and Nick thought having their names on it would be too obviously pop,” Nick remembers.

“They were going to call themselves Bill And Ben The Production Men. Once we’d finished the album, the disguise seemed silly. Nick and Colin were happy with what they’d done, so why not trade on each other’s assets?”

An amateur pilot, Colin was suitably calm and measured. “Any problem, Colin was always: ‘I wonder if we should try this?’” recalls Beggs fondly. “It was like Colin had Brian Eno’s Oblique Strategies cards in his head.”

But it was Nick Rhodes who turned Too Shy into a hit. “Nick can picture a record incredibly well,” enthuses Nick. “He can see ideas and where they need to go. The Too Shy demo had a jazz guitar solo in and needed a middle-eight.

“Nick went through the whole song: ‘Yeah. Yeah. NO. Yeah. YES.’ He edited Too Shy perfectly until it sounded like a hit. That’s how he worked throughout the album. We’d follow red herrings, and Nick would say: ‘No, not pop enough.’ He’s great at getting songs back on track.”

Beggs agrees that, 40 years on, Too Shy sounds a pretty strange song to reach No.1. He points out: “It’s not really a song – it’s a record. It’s a good record, but not a good song, even if it did outsell The Police that year, which is just crazy.”

Despite further Top 20 hits with Ooh To Be Ah and Hang On Now, and debut album White Feathers reaching No.5, success was nothing like Nick had imagined. The reason was simple: Limahl and the rest of the band just couldn’t work together.

“Limahl became untenable pretty quickly,” sighs Nick. “He was a difficult character, and one of the first things he wanted to do was change the writing split. The rest of us grew up together, and there was an agreement on equal dibs. Why not? We’re still friends 40 years later, so it was right. But Limahl wanted it all with me. He even said to Steve: ‘You’re not a songwriter,’ despite Steve bringing a lot of galvanising ideas.

“Limahl was just so difficult. Some horrible moments happened. Kajagoogoo were at the top of our game: hits, Top 5 album, sold-out tour. For us to say: ‘We can’t do this’, you can imagine how bad it was. It was hellish, and it reduced me to being someone I didn’t recognise.”

At a crisis meeting, EMI understood the band’s woes. Limahl was out. Sal Solo and David Grant were tentatively approached as replacement singers, before Nick’s bandmates suggested he should return to being a singer.

“After Art Nouveau, I had huge reservations,” he admits. “But the guys were really supportive. We went in a jazzier direction, which I liked. Islands is a more sophisticated album.

“I can’t listen to White Feathers, because of both the music and its circumstances. The thing I’m most known for is the thing I’m most unhappy about. That left me in a nomadic state, trying to find a level of kindred spirit and success.”

Beggs is blunt about why Kajagoogoo reformed in 2003. “VH1 wanted us to do Bands Reunited,” he explains. “I’d bought a new house and needed to pay the stamp duty. I was totally mercenary about it.”

Nick also wanted to try to build bridges with both Limahl and drummer Jez, who had slowly sided with the singer.

After several false starts, the reunited band toured successfully in 2008, ending again in 2010, when Beggs was asked to play in former Genesis guitarist Steve Hackett’s band.

“Steve’s call was the perfect way to end Kajagoogoo,” Nick reasons, adding Limahl wasn’t much easier second time around. “Limahl has two settings: darling and exasperating. I learned from the reunion that, if you put the same people together, the same problems will rear their head, no matter how much time has passed. We’d done a tour, there’d been reissues and new material. It wrapped things up in a neat bow, so it was: ‘Great. Bye!’”

Beggs released two albums as The Mute Gods with Marco Minnemann and Roger King, and recently released Fragments with Steven Wilson bandmembers Adam Holzman and Craig Blundell as Trifecta.

“If you’re on the road with talented people for long periods, it’s foolish not to take advantage,” smiles Nick. “You’re in such close proximity, not writing with them would be a missed opportunity.”

It’s a collegiate attitude partially shaped by the dissolution of Nick’s post-Kajagoogoo band Ellis Beggs And Howard with singer Austin Howard and future Spice Girls songwriter Simon Ellis. “The common denominator in both bands ending was me,” he admits. “I needed to retrace my steps to see how I’d short-circuited them.”

Nick had been heavily invested in Christianity. His father left home when he was 10 and his mother died when he was 13. Beggs reflects: “Life had been a disaster, so how could I make sense of it? I found that answer in Christianity. But it was self-medication, merely a plaster. It wasn’t the answer.”

Re-evaluating his life, Nick saw he’d become “a religious bigot”, a hardline attitude that affected his relationships, not just with his bandmates. He has rejected religion since.

Beggs’ refreshed outlook has made him a great adventurer, at home both as Belinda Carlisle’s musical director (“I was going through a divorce, and Belinda was so kind. She’s adorable”) and as a bassist for Steven Wilson, singer/guitarist with experimental arena rockers Porcupine Tree.

Nick and Steven met a decade ago, after a Steve Hackett show. “There’s a photo backstage after Steve’s show,” says Nick. “There’s me, Hackett, Wilson, Fish and Mark King. Everyone who saw it went: ‘Wow, they must be doing a supergroup!’

“But it was the first time I’d met Steven. Then, 10 days later, he called to ask if I’d like to play on his solo album. Steven is a dear friend, a good man.”

Having wrapped up Kajagoogoo in their neat bow over a decade ago, Beggs recently finished a tour with Howard Jones.

He’s playing on new albums by Steven Wilson and Ginger Wildheart, and made his own album playing his beloved electric bass-style Chapman Stick with an orchestra. There are plenty more eclectic times ahead.

“There’s still so much I want to do,” demurs Nick, who still sees Stuart and Steve – and, occasionally, Jez. “I haven’t got close to what I want to achieve.” Maybe not. But at least he’s back on the right path.

The post Nick Beggs interview: “Limahl became untenable pretty quickly. He was a difficult character.” appeared first on Classic Pop Magazine.

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Thompson Twins / Tom Bailey – album by album

Thompson Twins / Tom Bailey – album by album

Thompson Twins albums
Thompson Twins albums

We look back on the albums of Thompson Twins and their frontman Tom Bailey…

A Product Of… (Participation), 1981

Thompson Twins albums The Thompson Twins were never two. Once they were four, now they are six, although the number fluctuates to meet needs.”

Not Classic Pop’s words, but the opening sentences to the band’s first feature in The Face, published mere weeks before the release of their debut album.

Even then it was necessary to explain the story behind their ever-changing line-up, and those raised on the hits that followed – their opening UK Top 40 strike, 1983’s Love On Your Side, was the first of 10, though they saw no more after 1985 – normally recall them as a trio: Tom Bailey, Alannah Currie and Joe Leeway.

The band originally formed in Yorkshire at the height of punk, but by the time they’d self-released their first single in 1980, the not-entirely-promising, Television-like Squares And Triangles, founders Tom Bailey, Pete Dodd and John Roog were squatting in Clapham and on to their third drummer, Chris Bell.

He’d prove vital to their debut album – which, incidentally, sounds as little like the Thompson Twins of Doctor Doctor fame as they looked – because rhythm is at its heart, as it had been at their appealingly chaotic early shows, where crowds were invited to join in on stage.

Indeed, according to that Face article, two audience members, Leeway and Jane Shorter, subsequently joined the band to add percussion, though others insist Leeway met Bailey because both were teachers and Shorter, significantly, also played saxophone.

Currie, meanwhile, if not officially a member, is thanked for “playing and singing”, so yes: things were always ‘fluid’. A Product Of…, however, sounds like the work of a sophisticated, well-established unit, if one still paying off an overdraft to its influences.

In hindsight, A Product Of… could at times be The Police, with The Price’s groove slickly lazy and Anything Is Good Enough indulging their muso side.

A love for West African music is also apparent on the dubiously titled Slave Trade, which pre-empts Adam And The Ants’ experiments in the same theatre, and Oumma Aularesso, which might give Paul Simon’s later Graceland a run for its money.

They share this enthusiasm with their most obvious debt, Talking Heads, whose twitchy, tense but playful artiness thrives in opener When I See You’s spiky guitars, the New Wave-y Politics, whose jerkiness somehow remains admirably rigid, and the title track, with Shorter’s sax a vital embellishment. A product of participation for sure, then, and more than the sum of its parts.

Set, 1982

Thompson Twins albums
Thompson Twins albums – Set

And then there were seven. With Currie now a full-time saxophonist and percussionist, and Matthew Seligman on bass – not to mention Thomas Dolby popping up on three tracks – Thompson Twins expanded their horizons on Set, aided by producer Steve Lillywhite, who helped leave their earlier squat sound behind.

They first made land in the US, where opening track In The Name Of Love – written urgently by Bailey to bulk out an album considered too short – settled at No.1 in Billboard’s Dance Chart for five weeks.

In fact, it became the title track to a US version which switched out three songs for three of A Product Of…’s, though the original performed better in the UK (No.48) than this semi-compilation did in North America.

The song, which combined familiar Talking Heads moves with a more recognisable Thompson Twins style, deserved its success, but so did the rattling, restless Living In Europe, which fared less well, perhaps thanks to bursts of PiL-like guitars.

Bouncing, too, paired a similarly high energy with a noisier, Teardrop Explodes jollity, and Crazy Dog was strident, even vaguely psychotic.

As for Tok Tok and Runaway, whose reggae stewed somewhere between The Police and The Specials, these confirmed they’d not left behind their African inclinations.

Quick Step & Side Kick, 1983

All change, all change. The Twins’ third album found them reinvented, with Bailey having – perhaps ruthlessly – split the band, only to reform it with Currie and Leeway.

Possibly such economies allowed them to head for the Bahamas’ Compass Studios, where they teamed up with producer Alex Sadkin, who’d been working alongside Chris Blackwell on recent Grace Jones and Joe Cocker releases.

Their marketing, meanwhile, was now adorned with a distinctive, cartoonish, three-headed logo designed by Andie Airfix, who also provided, among other notable work, Def Leppard’s Pyromania, Hysteria and Adrenalize covers.

Rejecting guitars almost entirely, Sidekicks – as Americans knew it – benefitted from the now absent Seligman’s inadvertently persistent influence, since he’d originally been hired to free Bailey from bass duties so he could concentrate on keyboards.

With songwriting shared, Quick Step… focused on synthesizers and dance-pop, earning a cult following in the US which in turn helped it reach No.34, to be filed alongside other Second British Invasion acts like Soft Cell, The Human League and Duran Duran.

Though first single Lies nearly repeated the American success of In The Name Of Love – which featured on 1984’s Ghostbusters soundtrack – its slightly clumsily Eastern-influenced charms eluded Brits.

However, the album’s impact was greater in the UK, thanks to the success of Love On Your Side in early 1983, which made No.9 and opened the LP with its unforgettable, niggling riff.

Talking Heads’ anxiety was still in the mix, but now soothed by polished production and celebrated by horny synths, while We Are Detective – which peaked higher, keeping the album afloat post-release – balanced Currie’s deadpan spoken words and Bailey’s mischievous Terry Hall vocals with a terrace-chant chorus.

Watching may have been a less successful single, but the album version still boasted Grace Jones’ spooky backing vocals, while If You Were Here and Kamikaze conjured up moods which might not have entirely alienated David Sylvian.

True, Love Lies Bleeding may sound primitive, even ungainly, and Judy Do derivative, but on Quick Step… the Twins found their stride, earning a British platinum album in the process.

Into The Gap, 1984

Thompson Twins albums
Thompson Twins albums – Into The Gap

Familiarity breeds contempt, some say, and that may partially explain the sniffy response the Twins’ fourth album sometimes provokes.

Even Smash Hits complained about its “plodding tunes sung in a whiney voice”, while NME called it “1984’s most instantly kitsch mass program of monosodium glutamation of the brain”.

That they’d abandoned their unruly roots may have alienated early fans, and that their hair was deemed “surely the most hideous in the history of Western popular music” by the likes of Creem might not have helped.

If familiarity does indeed breed content, and that was true of their growing army of fans, the trio had every reason to be pleased with themselves after Into The Gap topped the UK charts and reached No.10 in the US.

Recorded again in Nassau with Sadkin – and with Bailey officially a co-producer – it arguably foreshadows OMD’s Junk Culture, released a few months later, epitomising an 80s synth-pop style that was only forsaken once indie music gained a once-unthinkable foothold.

Admittedly, some of their synth settings are a little dated to the modern ear, but this nonetheless represents the definitive Thompson Twins sound, and to the less condescending, Into The Gap‘s appeal is far greater than mere nostalgia.

For starters, despite silver-status single You Take Me Up’s gimmicky harmonica and melodica – which are anyway offset by lyrics addressing industrial labour – it’s often mysterious, with former African fancies replaced by subtle Eastern flavours on Top 3 hit Doctor! Doctor! and Sister Of Mercy.

The Gap, too, leaned eastwards, adding tablas and snake-charmer synths, but Day After Day’s two-note riff betrayed Talking Heads’ influence again while adding a little Bowie funk, and No Peace For The Wicked’s malevolence was masked by the kind of lithe groove Duran Duran’s Notorious would exploit in 1986.

Storm On The Sea and Who Can Stop The Rain provided an unexpectedly melancholic close, but it’s the irresistible Hold Me Now, a UK and US Top 5 hit, which remains best remembered for helping close the gap between their squat roots and international stardom.

Here’s To Future Days, 1985

From the outside, with Into The Gap certified double platinum in the UK and a million-seller in the US, not to mention Alex Sadkin back on board to co-produce their new album, the Twins’ future now looked especially bright.

They returned in late 1984 with Lay Your Hands On Me, delivering healthy chart positions in the US and UK – their key markets – and by summer 1985 they and Madonna were guesting during each other’s performances at Live Aid’s Philadelphia leg, confirming their starry stature.

That single, however, was a somewhat anaemic re-run of songs like Hold Me Now, and, despite its religious themes, its gospel choirs were an ostentatious, excessive touch. (In 2014, Bailey told Yahoo Music firmly, “I’m not going to be singing it in concert.”) Behind the scenes, too, there’d been struggles.

Sadkin had been let go early in 1985, with Bailey taking over, and having immersed himself in the immeasurable possibilities of the era’s burgeoning studio technology – and with new single, Roll Over, already manufactured and the album nearly ready – he’d collapsed of exhaustion in the spring. Plans were put on ice.

Recuperating in the Bahamas – as you do – Bailey and the band decided to overhaul the record and roped in Nile Rodgers, who’d also join them and Madonna at Live Aid.

Listening to the cover of The Beatles’ Revolution they cobbled together for that show, one might have foreseen trouble ahead: like the studio version, it was bloated and unimaginative, and the album largely followed this pattern.

That they needed two 24-track mixing desks to accommodate the inordinate amount of material they’d accumulated is no coincidence.

King For A Day, for instance, was catchy but gauche, and Don’t Mess With Doctor Dream illustrated their needlessly abundant obsession with studio technology, employing vocal samples in a manner boldly reminiscent of Yello.

Future Days, meanwhile, was tiresome, You Killed The Clown was a sappy ballad, Tokyo was basically patronising, and the best one could say of Emperor’s Clothes (Part 1) was that Part 2 never turned up. Sadly, Here’s To Future Days turned out merely a pale imitation of former glory days.

Close To The Bone, 1987

Thompson Twins albums
Thompson Twins albums – Close To The Bone

“The Thompson Twins were never two,” The Face had written in 1981, but here they were half a dozen years later with just Bailey and Currie’s faces on the cover of their sixth album.

Leeway had quit, by all accounts amicably, to settle in L.A., and though this shouldn’t have affected the songs – his key roles had been lighting and set design for shows – Close To The Bone sounded like they’d lost their way.

To be fair, they had lost their way a little, having taken time off in Ireland, where they’d now settled, for personal reasons, not least the fact Currie had suffered a miscarriage the same day that her mother passed away.

This inspired the most personal song, Long Goodbye, with its poignant theme – “I’ve seen my future die, my whole past as well” – but though such candour might have explained the record’s title, it was largely absent elsewhere, and those lines might worryingly soon describe the band’s status, too. The album more or less bombed.

This, perhaps, wasn’t surprising. Although they’d not been strictly unconventional for a while, now they were loosely conventional, opening with Follow Your Heart’s tired transatlantic sentiments – “Don’t let no-one else do your livin’ for you” – which set the tone for a record of bland, vaguely funky dance-pop.

Get That Love, Still Waters and Savage Moon occupied territory currently being exploited with more vigour by Curiosity Killed The Cat, and Twentieth Century sounded most like The Kane Gang’s cover of Aretha Franklin’s Respect Yourself.

Elsewhere, too, it was barely indistinguishable from Sting’s contemporary solo material, and though never as clumsy as the famed police duo of Hergé’s Tintin adventures, from whom they’d borrowed their name, it was certainly no more resourceful.

That they’d turned in something at best unimaginatively serviceable was particularly disappointing given that Bailey had once told Rolling Stone his youthful musical awakening encompassed “odd things like very early Pink Floyd and a German group called Can”.

Big Trash, 1989

Thompson Twins albums
Thompson Twins albums – Big Trash

With Close To The Bone hammered by critics – for  NME it was “commercial music of the most ordinary nature” – it was time for a traditional ‘out with the old, in with the new’ move, underlined by a new deal with Warner Brothers.

A bigger budget, however, instead provoked more ‘back with the even older’: Steve Lilywhite, who’d worked on Set, returned as co-producer, and Big Trash found Bailey and Currie calling upon guitars again as well as beefier rhythms.

A great improvement on its predecessor, with This Girl’s On Fire containing enough echoes of the older Twins to satisfy long-term fans, it nonetheless failed to prove distinctive.

Wild and Bombers In The Sky mixed contemporary funk-pop with mainstream rock, echoing INXS’ recent globe-conquering successes, and though Queen Of The USA was befitting of the emerging indie-dance sound championed by the likes of Jesus Jones, it nevertheless mined a similar seam.

Admittedly, the latter was boosted by spoken-word interventions from Debbie Harry, whose I Want That Man Bailey and Currie had recently co-written and whose Def, Dumb And Blonde album Bailey had co-produced.

On Rock This Boat, however, his own attempts to sound sensuous ended up half-hearted, and though Sugar Daddy provided a US dance hit, nothing here could quite revive their fortunes.

Queer, 1991

Thompson Twins albums – Queer

With Sugar Daddy having provided an invigorating sniff of the club success that In The Name Of Love had once enjoyed, and aware that after a decade in the game they might not be perceived as cutting edge, Bailey and engineer Keith Fernley began quietly providing white label 12-inches of a new project, Feedback Max, to London’s DJs.

In retrospect, it’s a shame that they didn’t pursue this strategy further. The first, Come Inside – whose keyboards and programmed rhythms predicted, among other things, Woke Up This Morning, Alabama 3’s Sopranos theme – perfectly suited the baggy era of Happy Mondays et al, yet when released under their own name, despite multiple formats and remixes, it merely grazed the UK charts.

The controversially titled LP was dropped from the UK release schedule altogether, but in the US – where the song, initially released anonymously, provided another Dance Chart hit – it came out as planned.

That said, despite follow-up singles in the pounding The Saint and anthemic Groove On, whose EMF swagger deserved to ape Come Inside’s success, neither could repeat the feat, and nor could the LP. Queer failed to chart anywhere.

It’s a shame, because, while this eighth LP can’t match their early-80s peak, it might have fared better were it not carrying a decade’s baggage.

Its emphasis on looped drum tracks and itchy percussion is particularly heavy, with both Bailey’s grunts and Currie’s distorted vocals boosting the title track’s appeal, while Shake It Down, albeit in slightly trite style, and My Funky Valentine, which added sax squawks and soulful keyboard flourishes alongside DJ scratches, also adopted a shuffling, Madchester-style beat.

The Invisible Man briefly disinterred their Eastern influences, too, nodding to the production techniques of William Orbit’s Strange Cargo project, but elsewhere things were tamer.

Strange Jane, later cannibalised for Play With Me (Jane) on the Cool World soundtrack, harked back to earlier times, if in less idiosyncratic fashion, and while Wind It Up packed a punch, its lyrics – “Wind it up, yeah, to a higher ground” – were painfully banal.

Not that it mattered: times had changed and the band had changed. Willingly or not, the Thompson Twins had outgrown their name.

The Stone, 1994

It was time for a new start. Bowing to the inevitable, Bailey and Currie decided to drop their venerable moniker and in 1992 relaunched as Babble, with engineer Keith Fernley – who’d helped craft the Feedback Max style – making up the trio.

This time they pursued the ascendant chillout sound that parts of Queer had hinted at, with Tribe, Spirit and Sunray Dub again indebted to William Orbit’s recent work and the trance-y, breezy Beautiful graced by a laid-back Q-Tee rap and perfect for an Ibizan beach bar.

There were hints, too, of Primal Scream’s Screamadelica in You Kill Me, while the title track leaned on mystical influences collected during a trip to India, with extensive use of tablas and Bailey’s melody mantra-like.

On Space they utilised a slowed down beat to add menace to snarled, mid-Atlantic vocals and, on the psychedelic Drive, for which Currie’s unusually atonal voice seemed to have been beamed in from space, Bailey – who’d once warned “Don’t mess with Doctor Dream” – even sounded stoned.

Ether, 1996

Though Bailey and Currie moved to New Zealand in 1994, Ether suggested little had changed otherwise. Babble’s second album opened with the trippy The Circle, which turned once more to Eastern influences and might have been mistaken, had they delivered it to London’s DJs, for a William Orbit remix of Primal Scream.

The same could be said of Sun, a celestial slow-burner on which Bailey sang particularly like Bobby Gillespie at his most baked, and Come Down, whose lyrics definitely sounded like the Scotsman’s, too.

Predicting Bailey’s work with International Observer, meanwhile, Tower’s dub was deep, and its name prompted a rare chuckle: Tower of Babble, geddit? – and, though it was their last album together, the band offered vocal duties on the deliciously lazy Just like You to Kiwi singer Taisha Kuhtze, and on Love Has No Name to Teremoana Rapley, before bowing out with a moody instrumental, Dreamfield. If they departed without fireworks, they departed with class, kings – and queens – for more than just one day.

Science Fiction, 2018

And now they were one. In 2014, having moved to France with a new wife after divorcing Currie in 2003 – and having busied himself in between with International Observer’s dub explorations – Tom Bailey began performing Thompson Twins songs again, something he apparently enjoyed as much as audiences.

After a while, though, he told Classic Pop in 2018, “You can’t just rest on nostalgia if you want to be somehow vital to yourself.”

Though Science Fiction might not have invigorated everyone, it was far from the “denial of the march of time” that The Times described, and anyone who welcomed Tears For Fears’ comeback in 2022 – and who enjoys Beatles-inflected tunes, evident in Ship Of Fools and Bring Back Yesterday – will find plenty to admire.

There were pleasant reminders of the past, not least in the title track’s squidgy synths as well as Bailey’s vocals, but for those who’d grown up with TT’s work, it seemed like a more logical step than anything sinceFuture Days.

Bailey also appeared to be enjoying himself, with If You Need Someone upbeat and What Kind Of World given a Caribbean twist, while if Blue was more dispirited, it was also heartfelt.

It’s been a long journey from that 70s Clapham squat to Science Fiction four decades later, but Bailey’s clearly not ready to settle.

The post Thompson Twins / Tom Bailey – album by album appeared first on Classic Pop Magazine.

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The story of ZTT

The story of ZTT

 

ZTT
ZTT logo

Radio bans, terrorists and girls dressed in leather… As record labels go, ZTT was anything but boring. In this feature from the CP archives, we spoke to the major players in the label’s history and discovered how Trevor Horn and his friends took on the world and won… By Andy Jones

Most of us can remember the first time we heard Relax by Frankie Goes To Hollywood – and the first time we saw that video.

Rarely had anything this sexually charged been seen or heard in the mainstream – and the insinuation was gay sex, remember; something that was still very much taboo in the 80s.

The impact was huge: banned by Radio 1, the single soared to the top of the UK charts, catapulting these five likely lads from Liverpool to worldwide fame.

And suddenly, everyone who was anyone was wearing T-shirts emblazoned with the words “Frankie Say Relax” – and following the release of the band’s follow-up single, Two Tribes, “Frankie Say War! Hide Yourself”.

Representing a band like Frankie was just one of many controversial statements made by the band’s record label, Zang Tuum Tumb (ZTT) – a label whose history reads like a PR executive’s fantasy, but who also made some of the best and most innovative music of the 80s.

In the beginning…

The ZTT story began in the late 70s, when Trevor Horn, frontman with a new band called The Buggles, asked
his girlfriend and manager Jill Sinclair for her opinionon a song that he’d written.

As Sinclair – later Horn’s wife – told The Independent in 1999, “Trevor said, ‘Can I play you a song?’ It was Video Killed The Radio Star, and that’s when I chased him to make the record.”

But before she could persuade him, Chris Blackwell at Island Records also heard the song and persuaded Horn to sign to them instead.

“I lost the deal,” Jill said. But there was a silver lining: “Chris also offered us our own record label because he wanted Trevor.”

So, after Horn had produced ABC’s debut album, The Lexicon Of Love, and stood in as singer on the Yes album, Drama, in 1983 he and Sinclair formed Zang Tuum Tumb (the name comes from a sound poem by the Italian futurist Filippo Tommaso Matrinetti).

Horn would manage the music (he was given a studio, Sarm Studios on London’s Basing Street, as part of the deal with Island), Sinclair would handle the business and NME journalist Paul Morley was drafted in to handle the marketing.

Despite having such a talented team, Horn initially struggled to sign anyone to the label, as his then engineer, Gary Langan, recalls: “I was driving Trevor to a mastering session one afternoon and he said, ‘Oh, God, I need a band to start the label.’ I’d been working with JJ Jeczalik, who was Trevor’s Fairlight programmer.

“We’d been fooling around with a few tracks using the sampler, and had stolen a drum track from a Yes album we were making at the time, which was highly illegal. But I got the cassette out and said, ‘I’ll ’fess up, Trevor – JJ and I have been fooling around with an idea.’ And I played him the demo, which later became Beatbox by Art Of Noise.

“He said, ‘This is amazing. I’m going to give this to Chris Blackwell.’ Chris flew to New York the next weekend and got the demo cassette played at a club. Then he came back and said to Trevor, ‘You have to sign these people to be the first act on your label!’”

And so, Art Of Noise were born. The faceless band would strike a chord both in the UK and, eventually, around the world, with some of the earliest sample-based music, including Moments In Love and Close (To The Edit).

It was the first success for ZTT, and Art Of Noise were soon joined on the label’s books by the German synth-pop band Propaganda. However, ZTT’s defining moment was about to arrive – or should we say come?

ZTT
Art Of Noise

And it all started with a chance performance on Channel 4’s cult live-music show, The Tube, that should never have even happened.

The Tube sent a crew to Liverpool to film another local band, Dead Or Alive,” recalls Frankie Goes To Hollywood bassist Mark O’Toole. “Apparently, when the crew arrived in Liverpool, the band couldn’t be found. But, since they were already there, they thought they may as well film something.

“Somebody put Frankie forward as an up-and-coming band to watch out for, and we found ourselves in a popular club in Liverpool called The State, miming to a demo of Relax that we’d recently recorded ourselves. It ended up on national TV.

“Meanwhile, in Sarm Studios in London, Yes were recording with Trevor Horn. They were taking a break, watching TV, while Trevor was doing his thing in the control room. This video came on of us on The Tube, and they noticed we had two girls dressed in leather gear, complete with whips.

“They went to get Trevor and he loved the video, so our management were contacted by Zang Tuum Tumb. That’s how we got our break: pure luck and lots of hard work.”

Horn took the track Relax and re-recorded it at least four times. He was to become known for his studio perfection and admitted to The Independent in 1999, “I keep going with musicians until everybody is knackered, sick to death and can’t bear to listen to that particular track again. Then I’ll say, ‘OK, let’s start again. I think I know how it should be.’ I’ve got an awful lot of stamina.”

It’s alleged that by the time the track was finally finished, vocalist Holly Johnson was the only member of Frankie Goes To Hollywood to feature on it. Whether that’s true or not is insignificant – it’s what happened next that matters.

Relax was what you might call a slow burner but, thanks in no small part to Paul Morley’s marketing efforts (it’s believed that he was behind those “Frankie Say…” T-shirts), the single slowly climbed into the UK Top 10.

ZTT
Propaganda

The overt sexuality of both song and video helped, of course – something that came from the band themselves, as opposed to being manufactured.

As Langan recalls, “If you saw the original footage of Frankie on The Tube, it was totally outrageous. The whole outrageousness of the band was totally from them.”

It was this outrageousness that led Radio 1 DJ Mike Read to ban Relax from his breakfast show. A slight over-reaction, perhaps, but this was the 80s and everyone and everything over-reacted back then. Hair over-reacted to cream, and just look at the fuss made when JR Ewing got shot on Dallas. Just imagine how much traffic that would’ve generated had we had Twitter in those days!

The kids reacted against Read’s perceived fuddy-duddy stance and propelled the track to No.1. And the band’s subsequent singles, Two Tribes and The Power Of Love also hit the top spot.

“Frankie Goes To Hollywood made Zang Tuum Tumb,” insists Mark O’Toole. “It was never the other way around. Trevor Horn was huge in helping Frankie become what they were but, by the same token, if you took Frankie away from the label, Zang Tuum Tumb would be no different to any other independent label at the time. Zang Tuum Tumb became known because of Frankie Goes To Hollywood.”

“Frankie were the biggest band in the world for a moment,” agrees Richard Green, a current BBC radio DJ, less given to random acts of banning. “Everyone wanted a piece of them and Relax has to be one of the iconic songs of the generation, especially with the folklore that developed following the ban saga.”

Green acknowledges that Frankie’s success should partly be credited to the marketing machine that sprung up around the band at the time.

“There was the more commercial side with Frankie Goes To Hollywood,” he says. “I still marvel at how Paul Morley’s imagery and Trevor Horn’s infinite remixes persuaded us to buy yet another 12” single, as well as the 7” and the album. The imagery, the wall of sound and the arrogance simply flooded through.”

After Frankie

Having got a taste for success, Horn wanted more and began to develop the ZTT label. “Yes, there was a plan,” Langan says.

“Trevor wanted to recreate another Tamla Motown scenario. In other words, within the first four bars of a record, you knew it was a Trevor Horn/Zang Tuum Tumb production.

“That was the whole ethos at Zang Tuum Tumb. It had a really high branding factor to it, in as much as it was style over content – unlike other labels, which didn’t focus on things like that.”

And with the right people in place, the label enjoyed many more years of success.

Propaganda scored record sales across the world (including a No.1 single in Argentina!), Grace Jones released one of the most iconic albums of the 80s in Slave To The Ryhthm and, later, artists such as Seal and Manchester electro wizards 808 State continued the label’s musical legacy.

808 State

It couldn’t last, of course. Frankie Goes To Hollywood were never going to be the kind of band to tour into their 60s, Rolling Stones style, and imploded following disappointing sales of their second album, Liverpool.

Meanwhile, Art Of Noise split acrimoniously, reportedly over creative differences.

Langan prefers to remember the good times, however; times when it seemed like it was Zang Tuum Tumb against the world. When asked what it was that set the label apart from their rivals, he doesn’t hesitate.

“What they set out to achieve was great innovation and thinking,” he says. “They were always thinking outside the box and doing things confidently that other people weren’t doing at that time.

“It’s like all the wonderful things in life: sometimes, you have some great cogs in a gear but they don’t all fit in. But what happened with Zang Tuum Tumb was one of these great situations where every cog just fitted together. It was wonderfully creative. A fantastic time.”

The post The story of ZTT appeared first on Classic Pop Magazine.

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Classic Album: Talking Heads – Speaking In Tongues

Classic Album: Talking Heads – Speaking In Tongues

Talking Heads – Speaking In Tongues
Talking Heads – Speaking In Tongues cover

Talking Heads finally completed their transition to pure funk, and reach commercial peaks with one of their most expansive, fully-realised and danceable records – Speaking In Tongues

Fans of Scooby Doo might recall that classic episode when a fiendishly demonic rock group send all the town’s citizens into a zombie-like, hypnotic trance – all through the power of their incessantly funky grooves.

As the music pumps out of the PA, the crowd’s eyes gloss over, spinning like kaleidoscopes, their toes tapping uncontrollably.

Meanwhile, the bandleader cackles maniacally as the hostage audience are left with no option but to strut their funky stuff.

Listening to Speaking In Tongues, Talking Heads’ insanely funky fifth studio album, evokes the same kind of response.

Willing or not, its nagging, syncopated grooves are engineered to pull your legs onto the dancefloor by some insurmountable, invisible force, like a moth to the flame.

Likewise, frontman David Byrne brings to mind that elusive, shamanic character putting the audience under his devilish spell.

There’s always been something enigmatic, aloof and impenetrable about Byrne that’s key to his appeal. Whatever that something is, it’s particularly prevalent on Speaking In Tongues, an album that’s oblique and surreal, even by Byrne’s standards.

Trying to get the measure of him is like looking at one of those Picasso paintings that portrays the subject from multiple perspectives at once. Even when facing him head on, all is never quite as it seems.

The album’s title references Byrne’s spontaneous lyric-writing process, ad-libbing gobbledegook in real-time to fit the rhythm and meter of the music. It’s an extension of the cut-up, word-collage technique.

Yet in Byrne’s hands, it’s more akin to a religious exorcism – erratic and compulsive utterings spurted out involuntarily, like the stuttering dance moves that accompany them.

Byrne assumes the role of eccentric preacher, delivering his surreal prose like the Sunday sermon, damning the congregation to eternal hellfire.

Talking Heads are, of course, the consummate dance rock band. Having pioneered the crossover from jagged art punk to disco, Speaking In Tongues is the apex of trajectory, finding them at their most groove-oriented and danceable.

Byrne’s theatrics may hog the limelight, but his bandmates – Tina Weymouth, Jerry Harrison and Chris Frantz – prove equally dextrous. The playing is exquisite, with respect due to Weymouth’s seriously funky basslines, locking in with husband Frantz, on drums.

By now, the core quartet had been bolstered by an array of sessioners, amassed over the preceding years, whose presence adds authentic weight to the expanded sound.

Among them, Sly & Robbie cohort Wally Badarou and Parliament-Funkadelic sideman, Bernie Worrell, bring space age synthesizers, while Alex Weir of The Brothers Johnson fame provides suitably slinky guitars.

The album spawned the band’s biggest selling single in opener Burning Down The House. It’s Talking Heads at their most immediate and accessible without blunting any of their sharp edges.

Speaking In Tongues was their first without the guiding hand of Brian Eno, after three records in three years: More Songs About Buildings And Food (1978), Fear Of Music (1979) and Remain In Light (1980).

Following a year’s sabbatical for side projects (Byrne’s collaboration with Eno; Weymouth and Frantz’s new ensemble Tom Tom Club; and Jerry Harrison’s solo The Red And The Black), they returned to the day job, refreshed, and armed with both the confidence and necessary tools to go it alone.

Equally, though, they continued the collaborative spirit, incorporating more musicians into their newly expanded sound.

Sessions took place between July 1982 and February 1983, in several familiar studios, including New York City’s Blank Tape and Sigma Sound, as well as Compass Point, Nassau, where they had previously recorded with Eno and the Tom Tom Club.

The iconic Caribbean studio, owned by Island Records’ boss Chris Blackwell, is where many classic records were made with the house band, the Compass Point All-Stars. This fertile environment spawned some of the finest records of the late 70s and early 80s, from Grace Jones to Robert Palmer.

Talking Heads’ own time at Compass Point was no doubt influential in developing their Afrobeat-inspired polyrhythms (note the nod to Fela Kuti, Fela’s Riff – an unfinished outtake from Remain In Light).

The outside influences have clearly injected new vitality into their groove. Speaking In Tongues sees the collective at their most fluid, whilst being very tight and precise. Earworms abound at every turn. You’re never quite sure what instrument is making what sound. It’s all filtered through Talking Heads’ unique abstract world.

Most tracks extend over five minutes, with the third quarter of each typically reserved for extended wig-outs, allowing the percussion and synth departments to get down and funky.

There’s an immense amount of sonic variety on display, though operating within a notably limited framework built entirely upon grooves. Where a verse ends and a chorus starts is frankly anyone’s guess.

It’s incredibly skittish and frenetic, steadfastly refusing to stand still at any point – like a toddler that desperately needs to visit the bathroom. It’s so relentlessly bouncy, that at times, the intensity can feel a little exhausting.

Herein lies the album’s Achilles heel. Each track shines brightly on its own. But when played one after another, back to back, the result is one long, endless funk-athon.

Depending on your frame of mind, there comes a point around seven tracks in (or Moon Rocks to be precise) where you wish for just a brief reprieve from the treadmill.

Perhaps a Blackbird or Eleanor Rigby; essentially any discernible shift in gear, a pause in the assault to get your strength back before the final push.

For all its primal, innate funkiness, at times it feels strangely devoid of soul. With Byrne obscured behind characters and oblique lyrics, it’s like he’s using them as a forcefield to protect himself from revealing true feelings or weaknesses. Sure, it’s a thrilling ride, though occasionally projecting an emotional emptiness.

Certainly, at this point in time anyway, Byrne is not one to wear his heart on his sleeve. That’s why the beautifully understated closer, This Must Be The Place (Naïve Melody), comes as such a surprise bolt from the blue.

Only here do you sense Byrne genuinely letting his guard down, daring to share a glimpse of the self, in a subtle but touching way.

“Home, it’s where I wanna be, but I guess I’m already there,” he coos with an aching sense of yearning, before a soaring falsetto that carries no irony. Trading just one of the (excellent) extended funk jams for a little more of this would give the album greater dynamic and emotional depth, elevating it to one of their finest works.

So where does Speaking In Tongues rank within the pecking order of Talking Heads’ catalogue? It’s often viewed as a kind of bridging or consolidating record. It was their highest charting US album, and produced the group’s highest charting US single (Burning Down The House).

Some say that Speaking In Tongues largely did the ‘leg work’ to set up the success of their biggest selling album that followed. It certainly holds its own among their finest work.

When it does show flashes of brilliance, these moments are as life-affirming as anything they’ve produced before or after. Still, it’s not their definitive record in itself.

Modern art thrives on the notion of taking something out of its original context, the extreme example being Duchamp’s ‘Fountain’ that repurposed a urinal as a readymade sculpture, much to the horror of the establishment.

Talking Heads were pioneers of this in their own respective field, reframing their subjects, blurring the boundaries, pushing that frontier, while forcing the audience to rethink their preconceived notions.

Without questioning the genuine love and respect Talking Heads clearly display for their influences, their brand of funk is delivered with a certain archness, the raised eyebrow suggesting one step removed.

There is, however, a paradox of perception that if a group plays it totally ‘straight’, it’s inherently naff or lacking authenticity, whereas if played with a subversive knowing wink, it’s somehow more credible and clever.

If it’s a joke or an experiment, then it’s done very well. But once that point has been made, where exactly do you go from there?

Speaking In Tongues is not a radical departure from the frantic polyrhythmic sound developed with Eno, but rather a continuation and refining of it – in many ways the ultimate realisation of their funk evolution.

By the same token, it marks the end of the road in that direction. They’ve gone as far as they can go with that particular line and the experiment has run its course.

It’s telling that they would take a more organic, rootsy route on their next studio album, Little Creatures (1985). Their sixth marked a distinct shift in trajectory and a reinvention of their sound, trading the Afrobeat and space funk for a traditional Americana vibe with complementary instrumentation (steel guitar, accordion and washboard).

To a degree it’s closer to the stripped-back nature of their first album, when Byrne really sings and the band feels looser with more space to live in.

But a final thought on the greatest achievement of Speaking In Tongues is the seminal live film and album it spawned, Stop Making Sense (1984). Far from being mere bonus material to satisfy the completists, it is in fact the much superior record.

Directed by Jonathan Demme, who would later win an Oscar for The Silence Of The Lambs, it is rightly held up as the gold standard of the concert film. It’s a document of a group at the height of their powers as a live act.

It confirms just how tight a unit they were and how thrilling they were to watch, enhanced of course by the fantastic supplementary musicians. (Incidentally, it also serves as an effective exercise workout video too – just try following along to Byrne’s routine for Life During Wartime to burn a few calories.)

It was during their performance of Girlfriend Is Better that Byrne donned his now infamous oversized square suit, which features on the sleeve, and has been much parodied since.

Stop Making Sense includes six of the nine tracks from Speaking In Tongues. Played live, the songs adopt a welcome looseness; a lived-in feel that injects more warmth into them.

Not content with creating one of the greatest concert films ever, Byrne almost topped it in 2020 with the Spike Lee-directed American Utopia, a Broadway performance of his recent stage show.

Featuring three tracks from Speaking In Tongues, it highlights the ongoing resonance of Byrne and Talking Heads’ phenomenal output. Transferred to the live environment, these perplexing songs start making perfect sense.

Talking Heads : Speaking In Tongues – the songs

Burning Down The House

The lead single and their biggest charting hit. A frenetic acoustic guitar riff and ambient sounds build into acoustic funk, with slinky electric guitar and a syncopated synth bassline from Weymouth, topped with the charismatic Byrne vocal, fired out like an aural assault. As is a trademark throughout the album, it features uber cool percussion from a variety of instrumentation, from highly-tuned tom-tom drums to coconuts. It’s very busy and angular, yet also benefits from a fair amount of space between those funky stabs.

Making Flippy Floppy

Talking Heads at their most funky, thanks to a rubbery wah-wah bassline. With a heavy dose of soul, this could be an early hip-hop track from The Sugarhill Gang, inflected with electro-funk. Indeed, it shares some lineage with Prince and the kind of Quincy Jones-produced electro-funk on Thriller et al. Then a really off the wall (no pun) electric guitar solo section comes in, played on an Eastern scale, pushing it in a totally different direction.

Girlfriend Is Better

Opening with a programmed beat, Byrne demands in a strangulated vocal: “Who took the money? Who took the money away?” It’s where the later title ‘Stop Making Sense’ is drawn from. The chorus boasts one of Byrne’s more melodic vocal lines on the record. Squelchy clav sounds and P-funk synths from the Wizard of Woo, Bernie Worrell zing and pop throughout, like Daft Punk battling in a Moog showdown. The groove is vaguely reminiscent of Lakeside’s Fantastic Voyage. In other words, it’s absolutely fantastic.

Slippery People

Still insanely funky, but delivered at a slightly slower pace – it’s not quite slow enough for reggae, but it carries a Caribbean flavour in the calypso-like shuffle. Gospel backing vocals interact with Byrne’s lead in a call and response. The synths are as slippery as the song’s title.

I Get Wild/Wild Gravity

Another slower one, this time it’s all-out dub reggae, complete with jittery rhythms, tonnes of tape echo and a melodic chorus in Byrne’s shouty singing voice. The Compass Point influence is most explicit on this track. I Get Wild provides a welcome drop in pace after the opening assault.

Swamp

A 12/8 shuffle groove recalls The Way You Make Me Feel by Michael Jackson, with one of Byrne’s more idiosyncratic vocals, as he gets into maniacal character. His nasally soul vocal recalls the funk band Cameo, in particular their 1986 hit Word Up.

Moon Rocks

More mileage on the funky groove train. It’s a perfectly competent groove, as good a foundation as anything else on the album. The guitars are especially slinky. That said, it’s more of the same, and the top line is neither catchy nor memorable enough to elevate this above a serviceable but anonymous jam. Give it to De La Soul to rap over and it could be a classic. But at almost six minutes long, it starts to drag a little.

Pull Up the Roots

Another funk groove, not too dissimilar to the last, although this time, Byrne’s top line is much more memorable and melodic, making it more recognisable as Talking Heads. One of the busier tracks on Speaking In Tongues three minutes in, there’s an extended percussion section featuring pitched cowbells that pound out syncopated Afrobeat rhythms.

This Must Be the Place (Naïve Melody)

This timeless classic has gone on to become one of Talking Heads’ most revered tracks, covered by a range of acts, from Arcade Fire to Iron & Wine. On first listen, there may not appear to be much to it, but that’s exactly where its beauty lies. It’s Byrne’s self-professed attempt at a love song, without the associated corny or hackneyed platitudes, and it’s a welcome variation to hear him sing naturally without hiding behind the mask of a caricature. This Must Be The Place proves without doubt that they are more than capable of subtlety and understated moments. While not exactly too little too late, it’s certainly a relief when it arrives.

Two Note Swivel (Unfinished Outtake)

The song’s title gives a pretty good description of what to expect. It’s another extended funk workout. The fact that it’s unfinished is perhaps a saving grace in the degree of space retained in the arrangement.

Burning Down The House (Alternate Version)

This version is just as cool as the ‘definitive’ one that opens the album. Though not radically different, the arrangement is discernibly more laid-back and restrained, featuring a thunderous 808 handclap in the beat, injecting an electro vibe.

The post Classic Album: Talking Heads – Speaking In Tongues appeared first on Classic Pop Magazine.

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The rise of Madonna

The rise of Madonna

Madonna early years

Before 1983 few people in America – let alone the world – had heard of Madonna Ciccone. but that was soon to change…

On 9 January 1983 Madonna Louise Ciccone made her first ever television appearance.

Not that many people saw it, though. Dancin’ On Air wasn’t one of those monolithic, fully networked TV shows like Louisiana Hayride (which introduced Elvis to the world) or NBC’s Midnight Special (where Prince made his first appearance) – instead it only ever reached seven East Coast states.

But if you had caught that episode you’d have seen the 24-year-old newbie, alongside two backing dancers, performing her debut single Everybody in front of three school chairs.

It was all a far cry from the lavish stage presentations that she’d become associated with, but hey, everybody – even the biggest popstar in the world – has to start somewhere.

1983 would be the year Madonna became a star, but little in showbusiness is genuinely overnight. 1983 may have been the year she made her first television appearance and released her debut album, but the road to that moment had been a long one, starting with her move to New York City in 1978.

Madonna was 20 when she dropped out of college in Michigan and upped sticks to the Big Apple.

“It was the first time I’d ever taken a plane, the first time I’d ever gotten a taxi cab,” she recalled. “I came here with $35 in my pocket. It was the bravest thing I’d ever done.”

After finding accommodation in the Alphabet City neighbourhood of the city’s East Village, Madonna would pay her rent by working variously as a waitress and posing nude for art classes, “staring at people staring at me naked,” as she put it.

She also signed up to the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre, while also studying dance under the tutelage of esteemed choreographer Martha Graham. But dancing alone wasn’t a big enough dream for the young Madonna. She lasted just a few months with the Pearl Lang Dance Theatre before she told friends she was leaving to become “a rock star”.

While New York City was a place of opportunity for anyone with stars in their eyes, it was still a fairly dangerous place at that point in time. One night, on her way back from a dance rehearsal, she was raped at knifepoint on a Manhattan rooftop.

Recalling the incident years later, Madonna said that she found the ordeal “a taste of my weakness, it showed me that I still could not save myself in spite of all the strong-girl show.”

In ‘79, Madonna began an affair with a musician, Dan Gilroy. Eleven years her senior, they’d met at a party and before too long, Madonna had moved into the disused synagogue in Queens where Gilroy lived with his brother Ed.

While the brothers were out working (they waited tables during the day and performed comedy at night), Madonna stayed at home, practising drums and writing songs. Soon, she and Gilroy had formed a band, Breakfast Club, with Madonna singing as well as playing guitar and drums in this rough and ready, ska-influenced outfit.

But Madonna was never meant to be in a band. Though she looked up to some of those pouty punk-era pioneers such as The Pretenders’ Chrissie Hynde and Blondie’s Debbie Harry, it was as a solo star that Madonna had dreams.

With Breakfast Club behind her, Madonna travelled to Paris to work as a backing dancer to French disco artist Patrick Hernandez, and lensed a low-budget erotic movie, A Certain Sacrifice.

Co-written and directed by Stephen Jon Lewicki, Madonna plays Bruna in the film, a Lower East Side resident who lives with three ‘love slaves’ – one man, one cis woman and one trans woman. Madonna was paid just $100 for her clothes-shedding efforts.

A Certain Sacrifice didn’t see light until 1985, when it was finally released on VHS to cash in on Madonna’s now skyscraping stardom. The singer tried to bury the film, offering Lewicki $5,000 for the rights.

Turning her down, Lewicki invited Madonna to a screening at his apartment, where afterwards, according to the director, she screamed “Fuck you!” and stormed out. It was later marketed as “The film [Madonna] tried to ban.”

By early-1981 Madonna had become a fixture at midtown Manhattan’s Music Building, having formed the band Emmy (Madonna’s nickname) alongside one-time beau, Steve Bray.

Before long, Emmy had caught the attention of local entrepreneur Camille Barbone, of Gotham Management, but it was Madonna and not the band that Barbone was interested in.

Firing every member save for songwriter Bray, Barbone became Madonna’s manager, and began grooming the 22-year-old for stardom.

Having inked a deal with Gotham, Madonna was now raking in £100 a week – not bad in 1981 for a former waitress – plus an apartment and unlimited access to a recording studio.

Under Barbone’s tutelage, Madonna penned a number of songs but the partnership was short-lived, and in February 1982, they parted ways.

Madonna continued to write with Bray, however, and together they recorded a demo using a Boss drum machine and some synths, influenced by the sounds that were dominating New York’s clubland at the time.

Madonna was a regular face at those clubs, not just to party the night away, but to also push her records – or tapes in this case – into the hands of DJs.

One night, at nightclub Danceteria on 30 West 21st Street (coincidentally the location for the disco scene in the Madonna-headlining 1985 film Desperately Seeking Susan), she met DJ Mark Kamins, persuading him to spin her latest song, Everybody.

“I threw it on the cassette,” said Kamins, who died in 2013, “and it worked.” Kamins – who later became Madonna’s boyfriend – sent a copy to Sire Records president Seymour Stein.

Suitably impressed, the music mogul signed Madonna to record Everybody as a single. But though it failed to break the Hot 100, the song would prove a smash on the dance chart, prompting Sire to offer her an album deal.

Madonna began 1983 promoting Everybody on TV and also in the UK, where she was booked for a run of nightclub appearances. In March, her second single, Burning Up, was released. The song had been on the tape – along with Everybody and Ain’t No Big Deal – she’d given Kamins that night at Danceteria.

For the new recording, Sire’s A&R man Michael Rosenblatt pointed Madonna towards producer Reggie Lucas. Lucas had been a jazz guitarist before moving into music production, playing with Billy Paul in the early 1970s and later with Miles Davis.

The single was released on 9 March 1983. Like Everybody, it failed to prick the Hot 100, but did peak at No.3 in on the Hot Dance Club Play chart, where it remained for 16 weeks. By September 1983 the single had shifted more than 150,000 copies.

Sire commissioned Steve Barron, who’d helmed the videos for Michael Jackson’s Billie Jean as well as Toto’s Africa, to direct the promo for Burning Up. Barron initially refused the offer, believing the song “didn’t have the atmosphere” he was looking for and wouldn’t know what to do with it.

Madonna, who’d loved the Billie Jean clip, was keen on Barron to direct and badgered the filmmaker to come and meet her.

“I went to New York to meet with [Madonna], begrudgingly, and showed up at an address at SoHo, which turned out to be a squat basically,” Barron recalled for the book, I Want My MTV: The Uncensored Story Of The Music Video Revolution.

“Madonna was scantily clad, working out to a massive disco track. She was charismatic. She kept putting her head down on the table and talking to me, very flirtatious, and that gave me the idea for the scene in Burning Up, where her face is on the road.”

Filming took place over two nights in Los Angeles, with Mads wearing a white mini-dress, crucifix earrings and black typewriter belts as bracelets.

“It was a bit of a mish-mash,” Barron recalled to Rolling Stone. “She trusted me, definitely. She handed it over, which she probably shouldn’t have done. But she wanted to be very much in control of how she looked and how she was dressed.”

Though Madonna had felt let down with Lucas’ work on Burning Up (the producer had radically altered the song’s structure from the original demo version), Sire were over the moon with its success, and booked him to oversee Madonna’s debut album.

Inevitably, problems arose during its making, with Madonna unhappy with the final results, believing Lucas had used too many instruments and failed to listen to her ideas.

Lucas walked away from the album before it was finished, with DJ John ‘Jellybean’ Benitez (who’d produced a remix of Burning Up) hired to redo three of the tracks, as well as produce Holiday from scratch.

“Madonna was unhappy with the whole album,” Benitez remembered in an interview with Music Musings And Such, “so I went in and sweetened up a lot of music for her, adding some guitars to Lucky Star, some voices, some magic… I just wanted to do the best job I could do for her.

“When we would play back Holiday or Lucky Star, you could see that she was overwhelmed by how great it all sounded. You wanted to help her, you know? As much as she could be a bitch, when you were in a groove with her, it was very cool, very creative.”

On top of Everybody and Burning Up, a further three singles were released from the self-titled album, Holiday, Lucky Star and Borderline. The LP would peak at No.8.

While Everybody and Burning Up had been dance hits, the album turned Madonna into a bona fide pop star. A few months after Madonna’s release, the singer was approached by film producer Jon Peters who asked her to play the part of a club singer in the movie Vision Quest.

The film, which was released in February 1985, would be Madonna’s first role in a major motion picture (as much as Stephen Jon Lewicki would have liked to believe it, A Certain Sacrifice didn’t count) and featured the Material Girl performing the songs Crazy For You and Gambler.

When the movie was released outside of the US, some territories retitled it Crazy For You, to capitalise on Madonna’s new-found fame.

Though 1984’s Like A Virgin would be the album that would send her career stratospheric, 1983 was the year in which most people first heard of Madonna Ciccone.

It was a year of transition for the singer, leaving behind the last vestiges of that underground dance culture that she came from. From here on in, Madonna would be a mainstream popstar, albeit one with a fair amount of edgy, counter-culture cool.

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OMD interview: “It’s the best job in the world”

OMD interview: “It’s the best job in the world”

OMD interview
OMD interview

In 2013, OMD were enjoying renewed success with the old line-up of the band, but then tragedy struck. Four years after that, in 2017, Andy McCluskey and Paul Humphreys talked to Classic Pop about the realisation and meaning of being pop stars of a certain age… By Andy Jones

In 2013, life could not have been any rosier for Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark. They’d had fantastic reviews for English Electric, their second album after the reformation of their original line-up of co-founders Andy McCluskey and Paul Humphreys plus band members Mal Holmes and Martin Cooper and were enjoying a world tour.

It was a band that many thought could never take the stage again after an acrimonious break-up in 1989 that left McCluskey with the name and the other three to form The Listening Pool.

McCluskey had success with singles like Sailing On The Seven Seas but begrudgingly stopped OMD completely in the mid-90s.

“We were perceived as an 80s synth band at the height of grunge and Britpop,” he says, “so we were banging our heads against a brick wall.”

Yet in 2006, that classic line-up reformed to play several gigs which went so well that McCluskey and Humphreys decided to record a new OMD album.

“We were conscious of the nostalgia thing,” says Paul, “and after a year or so of being back together we thought ‘are we becoming a tribute band of ourselves’ so we decided to do the dangerous thing and make a new record…”

It is always risky for an old band to make new music but the resulting record, 2010’s History Of Modern, hit the UK Top 30 album charts, an encouraging sign that sealed the reformation deal so now the fully recharged Andy and Paul started work on its follow-up, English Electric.

History Of Modern was just starting the engine going again and Andy and me were getting used to writing together again,” says Paul. “The next album was more focussed and with a certain vision – it got the engine going even more.”

With the release of English Electric in 2013, OMD were not just properly back, they were back in the Top 10 and seemingly nothing could stop them. The tour to support the album was going incredibly well with sold out shows around the world, but then everything fell apart in just 180 seconds.

The band played Toronto in July and in 45-degree heat drummer Mal Holmes had a cardiac arrest, his heart stopping for more than three minutes. It would lead to the band contemplating their future and indeed life itself…

OMD interview
Photo by Mark McNulty

“He’d been our drummer since we were kids at school and it really threw us,” Humphreys recalls. “Thank God the paramedics brought him back to life. Afterwards it was such a shock that we didn’t want to do anything until we knew that Mal was completely alright.

“He is now, fortunately, but he can’t play live any more. His doctors won’t let him but more importantly his girlfriend won’t let him.”

“In fact, in typical Mal style, he seemed to be fine the day after the attack,” McCluskey adds. “We all went into hospital to see him and the doctor came out and said: ‘I’m glad you are all here because when your heart stops for that long it can cause brain damage and you all know the patient enough to see if this is the case.’

“But before anyone could say anything Malcolm goes: ‘well I’m a drummer so how could you tell?’ So we all laughed and went: ‘he’s fine discharge him, there’s nothing wrong with him!’”

“But it did make us all stop and think more about what is important to us,” Andy continues. “We do love everything that being in Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark has given us in almost 40 years but at our age we also realised that you’ve got to have time to enjoy the people you love and take the time to enjoy life. So we took time to do just that.”

In 2014, OMD started getting offers to play more gigs so decided to recruit Stuart Kershaw as their new drummer who’d previously played with the McCluskey-era incarnation of the band (“he’s part of the extended family,” says Andy). This led to Andy and Paul sharing some new ideas that had been bubbling away.

“We were encouraged by those reviews of English Electric,” says Paul, “but with the ideas we were sharing we thought we could do even better so decided to get back in the studio and start writing again.

“We’re lucky in OMD that we have this luxury of being in control so didn’t have to rush. Mind you, that can be dangerous as you could become really self-indulgent and take 10 years to make a record!”

Lap of luxury

Luckily, the new album didn’t take quite that long and The Punishment Of Luxury maintains that upward course set by both Modern… and Electric…, a stripped-back set of tracks that harks back to the band’s earlier works with odd quirky interludes that fans of the experimental tracks that sprinkle albums like Dazzle Ships will love. More importantly, it’s a body of work, a proper album…

“I guess we’re old fashioned,” says Andy. “We try to make a complete album that flows and has light and shade, all because we like to express ourselves in different ways and we have different things that we like to talk about.

“So rather than just trying to write hits and the rest of the album being just tracks that aren’t good enough to be hits, it’s a broader journey and I would hope that people, rather than cherry-picking on iTunes or Spotify, consume the entire album as it has an integrity that holds it together.”

OMD interview

Paul agrees that it is most definitely the best of the new-era OMD recordings: “The recording was so relaxed and Andy and I were so happy to be doing it together. We are really up to speed as OMD now.”

Andy added: “A couple of people have said to me that the simplicity of the songwriting on the album, the energy, the ideas and the way I’m singing are still conveying a kind of youthful enthusiasm, which is great.

“We might be older but we’re still very enthusiastic about the music we’re making. This album is not just out as a kind of ‘we’ve got a title for this year’s tour’. It is here because we sweat blood over it and we believe in it.’

Luxury’s best trait is that it marries those big OMD melodies which stay with you long after the song has faded with the aforementioned experiments without managing to jar with one another. It’s a fine line but something the band are proud of.

“It was always the reason for our existence to challenge ourselves musically and try to do something different,” says Andy. “When you get to your 13th studio album it is hard not to copy yourself or get into a pastiche of your own style, which you might be comfortable with and your audience might be comfortable with but would be an empty shell that doesn’t convey anything special or interesting.

“So we tried to do things differently. One was that we stripped everything back down. Last year, we performed at the Royal Albert Hall playing the Architecture & Morality and Dazzle Ships albums in their entirety. Playing those songs reminded us just how minimal they were – each part was right and there was only eight of them!

“That was all it required back then but now you have a computer and can do hundreds of tracks and it gets too convoluted and more is not always better.”

“We call it The Tyranny Of Choice,” adds Humphreys. “You’ve got so many possibilities now that you forget you are trying to write a song so we try to restrict our possibilities. We also wanted to use more contemporary sounds but be in touch with our experimental roots without it being just for the sake of it.

“The way that we write is often starting with a more experimental sound and then the tune that everyone remembers will be the one that goes on right at the end.

“Now we have the luxury of time,” he continues. “I think we stopped experimenting back in the 80s as there just wasn’t the time. With the record deal we had you’d be on tour for seven or eight months of the year and then you’d come off the tour and the label would say, ‘so where’s the album?’

“You’d have four months to do an LP. You have to go through lots of experiments to get to the good ones and now we have the time to do that.”

“We were also trying to bring new sounds in to challenge ourselves,” says McCluskey, “particularly glitch music sounds. Glitch is made from sounds that should be rejected – distortion, crackles, pops and bangs – but when you listen to the artists who are the strongest exponents of the sound it can be quite hard to listen to.

“It really is ‘what happens if I put all of these noises together?’ and you think ‘well you get a collection of noises’. So the hard bit was trying to weld it into something that has a musicality which bears repeated listening.”

The ‘K’ foundation

OMD have never been afraid to cite Kraftwerk as an influence. The Punishment Of Luxury arguably has even more of a ‘K’ influence on it than other OMD albums with tracks like Isotype perhaps hinting at Radio-Activity – as do the some of the lyrics of the title track – and Robot Man being an obvious link, even though the song is about being a human rather than a machine.

“I don’t think it’s conscious,” says Humphreys of the comparisons. “We’ve just been more in touch with our roots and our roots were ‘Kraftwerkian.’ The more restrictions we put on ourselves the more we just go into our subconscious and tap into those roots.

“Neu! and Düsseldorf and all of that was in our music to start with but because we had less time to make albums later in our career those influences disappeared. Now we’re settled and enjoying more freedom those roots are coming through again.”

“I suppose the thing that they really taught us was the use of a big melody instead of a chorus,” says McCluskey. “Many of our biggest songs like Messages, Enola Gay, and Souvenir, I sing the verse and the synth melody is the chorus. That is something that is always going to resonate for people who like Kraftwerk.

“Also some of the songs here have been stripped back to sound crunchy and electro with that minimality that I mentioned. The reality is that in all likelihood Kraftwerk will never make another album so somebody has to keep making that kind of music!

“Ralf Hütter is now basically curating his legacy and he is entirely and legitimately allowed to do that.”

Read more: Making Architecture & Morality

And of the German band’s recent 3D shows he adds: “To be honest, I miss the humanity on stage. People laugh when I say they used to be more human but back in the 70s I thought they were a beautiful mix of humanity and machinery and I miss the four different characters live.

“You can’t see what they are doing behind those consoles but I know they are doing something as the drums screwed up twice when I saw them. However, they still do something that no-one else does live and they still have an incredible catalogue of songs.”

Do OMD think they will ever be cited as being as influential?

“There are some young bands that say that and it’s incredibly flattering,” says Paul. “I do hear some bands and go ‘mmm, that’s very OMD’, but I won’t mention any names!”

 

Andy adds: “You know what, if someone just said they like our music and we’ve been influential and touched people then that will do me.”

We’ve touched upon the need for nostalgia. It generally divides bands of OMD’s ilk into those that embrace the circuit and those who shun it in favour of producing new material without dwelling too much on the past.

Yet OMD have managed to join the heritage circuit and produce new album after new album. It’s a rare feat…

Andy considered: “I guess many of the electronic bands started using the instruments because they wanted to do something different and interesting and that has become their kind of raison d’être: to continue to do something different and interesting.

“But one of the frustrations of being in OMD is that people who haven’t seen us live think it’s ‘just synth music’ or whatever, so by playing these festivals you might get 50,000 people going: ‘oh shit I forgot they had all those hits, let’s go and see them on their tour next year!’

“It’s our way of expanding our audience and it’s noticeable that when we reformed 10 years ago the tour was six concerts in the UK and this autumn it’s 21 so we must be doing something right.

“We can now celebrate our past and when we do play the new stuff in a gig the audience don’t go to the toilet which I hope is testament to the quality of the music!”

“We are very proud of our back catalogue,” adds Paul, “so we don’t mind looking backwards as long as we look forwards as well, so it needs to be a balance. Music has a power with songs acting like time capsules to hang a memory in and they transport you like time travel, so these gigs where bands play their old stuff, there’s a place for that.

“Some bands are happy not to say anything new, which is fine, but others like us still have the energy. Maybe it’s because we stopped for 10 years that we have that energy. We fell out of love with it as we were exhausted. There were people around us that were divisive and we thought ‘we’ve had enough of this crap’.”

A band that plays together

And it was an acrimonious split, so who would have thought back then in 1989 that they would be here now, in 2017, on the eve of a new album together?

“Yes, that one I would have found hard to believe,” says Andy.

“I would have been amazed if you’d told me,” admits Paul, “but probably warmed by it because it was a frightening thing to stop OMD. It was like ‘what am I going to do now?’ I didn’t want to leave the band. I wanted it to take a two- to three-year hiatus because we were doing an album a year and I thought they were getting progressively worse as we weren’t spending any time on them so I wanted to pause.

“We were run-down, had lost sight of our roots, the well was dry of ideas and we didn’t know what to do. It was a lack of communication and outside influences. It’s funny, we didn’t have any money at the time but when we stopped it was finally when we made a lot of money because the costs of running OMD was so massive that it was consuming us.

“Now though I think we’re enjoying being in OMD more now than ever before,” he continues. “Andy and I are really close, probably the closest we have ever been in our lives – we are great mates. And all the band, we are all really close. The road crew are like family and we all travel together and it’s brilliant.

“I hate to hear of bands that need to travel in separate limos to gigs. You think: ‘Really? Well don’t do it then!’ It should be fun! For me, it’s the best job in the world and I love what I do.”

Andy adds: “We are not living in each other’s pockets 24/7 but we also genuinely enjoy playing together and have a genuine respect towards what each person brings to the concert or the recording and we balance our lives so we never get to a point where we say ‘I don’t want to do this any more’.”

Finally, going back even further: what would their 1970s selves have said if they’d known OMD would still be releasing records in the space year that is 2017?

Andy said: “I think that the 21-year-old Andy McCluskey would have been horrified in principle because I was a very precocious, pretentious, sparky little man with lots to say about everything and very judgemental.

“I thought that music should always move forward and be made by young people because old people were boring. So, in principle, I would have been horrified but I’d like to think if I’d listened to the last two albums English Electric and The Punishment Of Luxury he’d have gone ‘oh, wow, that’s great, carry on’.”

“I think I’d have said ‘impossible’,” admits Paul. “In those really early days even our friends thought we were shit! That’s why we were a duo because no one else would play with us!”

The post OMD interview: “It’s the best job in the world” appeared first on Classic Pop Magazine.

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Madonna adds sixth and final London date to The Celebration Tour

Madonna adds sixth and final London date to The Celebration Tour

Madonna The Celebration Tour

As part of her huge Celebration Tour, Madonna has added a sixth and final London date to her schedule, performing at London’s The O2 on Wednesday 6th December.

The Celebration Tour has sold-out 36 shows and counting across Toronto, Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, London, Paris and more, with over 600,000 tickets sold.

Due to overwhelming demand, 23 new dates were added across North America and Europe. The global run now includes second shows in Miami, Las Vegas, Milan, Barcelona and more as well as three nights in Paris and four nights in New York, Los Angeles and a newly announced fifth night in London, with multiple added dates already sold-out.

The Celebration Tour will kick off on Saturday, July 15th at Rogers Arena in Vancouver, BC with stops in Phoenix, Seattle, Denver, and more before making its way to Europe where she will perform in 11 cities throughout the fall, including Antwerp, Copenhagen, and Stockholm, among others.

Tickets for the newly announced sixth London show on 6th December are still on sale from madonna.com

American Express© Cardmembers can get access to tickets from ticketmaster.co.uk/americanexpress

Fans can also purchase VIP Packages, which may include premium tickets, exclusive access to a behind the scenes tour, group photo on-stage, pre-show reception, limited edition lithograph & more. For more information, visit vipnation.com.

MADONNA THE CELEBRATION TOUR NORTH AMERICAN DATES (Additional dates are in bold)

Sat Jul 15   Vancouver, BC      Rogers Arena                            SOLD OUT

Tue Jul 18   Seattle, WA           Climate Pledge Arena                 SOLD OUT

Wed Jul 19    Seattle, WA     Climate Pledge Arena

Sat Jul 22   Phoenix, AZ         Footprint Center                             On sale Jan. 27/23

Tue Jul 25      Denver, CO           Ball Arena                                        On sale Jan. 27/23

Thu Jul 27      Tulsa, OK             BOK Center                                  On sale Jan. 27/23

Sun Jul 30      St. Paul, MN         Xcel Energy Center                     On sale Jan. 27/23

Wed Aug 02 Cleveland, OH     Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse        On sale Jan. 27/23

Sat Aug 05 Detroit, MI                Little Caesars Arena                          On sale Jan. 27/23

Mon. Aug 07   Pittsburgh, PA          PPG Paints Arena                       On sale Jan. 27/23

Wed Aug 09 Chicago, IL          United Center                                   SOLD OUT

Thu Aug 10   Chicago, IL          United Center

Sun Aug 13 Toronto, ON        Scotiabank Arena                        SOLD OUT

Mon Aug 14 Toronto, ON    Scotiabank Arena                        SOLD OUT

Sat Aug 19     Montreal, QC       Bell Centre                                 SOLD OUT

Sun Aug 20   Montreal, QC           Bell Centre                                    SOLD OUT

Wed Aug 23    New York, NY      Madison Square Garden               SOLD OUT

Thu Aug 24    New York, NY        Madison Square Garden                SOLD OUT

Sat Aug 26    New York, NY      Madison Square Garden           SOLD OUT

Sun Aug 27   New York, NY      Madison Square Garden

Wed Aug 30 Boston, MA          TD Garden                                       SOLD OUT

Thu Aug 31   Boston, MA         TD Garden

Sat Sep 02  Washington, DC  Capital One Arena                        On sale Jan. 27/23

Tue Sep 05 Atlanta, GA          State Farm Arena                        On sale Jan. 27/23

Thu Sep 07 Tampa, FL           Amalie Arena                                   SOLD OUT

Sat Sep 09  Miami, FL                Miami-Dade Arena                      SOLD OUT

Sun Sep 10   Miami, FL            Miami-Dade Arena

Wed Sep 13    Houston, TX             Toyota Center                                SOLD OUT

Thu Sep 14   Houston, TX    Toyota Center

Mon Sep 18    Dallas, TX            American Airlines Center                 SOLD OUT

Tue Sep 19    Dallas, TX           American Airlines Center

Thu Sep 21 Austin, TX            Moody Center                           SOLD OUT

Fri Sep 22   Austin, TX                Moody Center

Wed Sep 27 Los Angeles, CA      Crypto.com Arena                        SOLD OUT

Thu Sep 28   Los Angeles, CA      Crypto.com Arena                       SOLD OUT

Sat Sep 30 Los Angeles, CA      Crypto.com Arena                       SOLD OUT

Sun Oct 01 Los Angeles, CA     Crypto.com Arena

Wed Oct 04    San Francisco, CA   Chase Center                            SOLD OUT

Thu Oct 05 San Francisco, CA   Chase Center                SOLD OUT

Sat Oct 07      Las Vegas, NV     T-Mobile Arena                          SOLD OUT

Sun Oct 08    Las Vegas, NV        T-Mobile Arena

 

THE CELEBRATION TOUR EUROPE DATES

 Sat Oct 14   London, UK           The O2                                           SOLD OUT    

Sun Oct 15    London, UK     The O2                                 SOLD OUT

Tue Oct 17    London, UK     The O2                                   SOLD OUT

Wed Oct 18   London, UK     The O2          

Sat Oct 21   Antwerp, BE          Sportpaleis                                     SOLD OUT

Sun Oct 22    Antwerp, BE        Sportpaleis

Tue Oct 24 Copenhagen, DK Royal Arena                               SOLD OUT

Sat Oct 28      Stockholm, SE          Tele2 Arena                                  

Wed Nov 01    Barcelona, ES      Palau Sant Jordi                            SOLD OUT

Thu Nov 02   Barcelona, ES          Palau Sant Jordi

Mon Nov 06 Lisbon, PT           Altice Arena                              SOLD OUT

Sun Nov 12 Paris, FR              Accor Arena                               SOLD OUT

Mon Nov 13    Paris, FR              Accor Arena                               SOLD OUT

Sun Nov 19   Paris, FR           Accor Arena                        On sale Jan. 27/23

Wed Nov 15    Cologne, DE        Lanxess Arena                          SOLD OUT

Thu Nov 23    Milan, IT               Mediolanum Forum                          SOLD OUT

Sat Nov 25    Milan, IT           Mediolanum Forum                        SOLD OUT

Tue Nov 28 Berlin, DE            Mercedes-Benz Arena                SOLD OUT

Fri Dec 1    Amsterdam, NL   Ziggo Dome                               SOLD OUT

Sat Dec 2      Amsterdam, NL   Ziggo Dome

Tues Dec 5    London, U.K.           The O2                                      

Wed Dec 6 London, U.K. The O2 FINAL LONDON SHOW – On sale Feb 01/23

 

 

The post Madonna adds sixth and final London date to The Celebration Tour appeared first on Classic Pop Magazine.

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Madonna adds fifth London date to The Celebration Tour

Madonna adds fifth London date to The Celebration Tour

Madonna has added a fifth London date to her colossal The Celebration Tour, returning to the UK on Tuesday 5th December at The O2. Madonna announced that The Celebration Tour… The post Madonna adds fifth London date to The Celebration Tour appeared first on Classic Pop Magazine. ... Continue Reading
Top 20 double A-side singles

Top 20 double A-side singles

double A-side singles
Top 20 double A-side singles

Since the dawn of pop and rock, the double A-sided single has provided great value for both record buyers and radio DJs… By Barry Page

Double A-sided 7” singles were initially more commonplace in the United States, where Elvis Presley is credited with racking up the most two-sided hits.

But, across the Atlantic, it was The Beatles who undoubtedly popularised the format in the UK, releasing a number of classic dual singles in the 60s, including Strawberry Fields Forever/Penny Lane.

With a rule here of only one double A-side per artist, we’re focusing on the period 1979 to 1993, when sales of the 7” were still thriving, long before the format sadly died out amid today’s digital age of streaming and downloads.

20. BLUR – SHE’S SO HIGH/I KNOW (1990)

Working on tracks for their debut single at Battery Studios in June 1990, the future Britpop favourites were unable to decide which song to go with for the A-side. Caught between the shoegazing psychedelia of the dreamy She’s So High and the funk-rock contrivances of I Know, Blur compromised by including both tracks on a dual 7”, which was controversially housed in a risqué pop art sleeve. NME named it their single of the week, but it narrowly missed the Top 40. Both songs were performed during the band’s Singles Night Tour in December 1999.

19. ASSOCIATES – 18 CARAT LOVE AFFAIR/LOVE HANGOVER (1982)

With back-to-back hits, Party Fears Two and Club Country, it seemed Associates had finally transitioned from post-punk outsiders to bona fide pop stars. But frontman Billy Mackenzie was already tiring of life in the spotlight. A new single papered over the cracks, pairing a fresh, vocal-enhanced version of instrumental Nothinginsomethingparticular with a cover of Diana Ross’ US No.1, Love Hangover, but Billy was about to announce his retirement from touring, leading guitarist Alan Rankine to quit the band.

18. KEVIN ROWLAND & DEXYS MIDNIGHT RUNNERS – LET’S GET THIS STRAIGHT (FROM THE START)/OLD (1982)

Featuring an ever-changing line-up, Dexys enjoyed a string of hits in the early 80s, including two chart-toppers with Geno and Come On Eileen. At their peak, this standalone single was cut during a further period of upheaval, although its tried-and-tested blend of soul and Celtic folk-flavoured pop showed little had changed sonically. On the reverse was an update of Old, with a new vocal from Kevin Rowland, evidence he was already unhappy with their Too-Rye-Ay album.

17. ANNIE LENNOX – LITTLE BIRD/LOVE SONG FOR A VAMPIRE (1993)

Coinciding with Lennox’s double award-winning appearance (via video link) at the Brits in 1993, synth-pop single Little Bird added mileage to the former Eurythmics singer’s year-old Diva album, but the addition of Love Song For A Vampire made this essential for fans who felt short-changed. Although written for Francis Ford Coppola’s hit movie Bram Stoker’s Dracula, the inspiration actually came from Anne Rice’s Interview With The Vampire novel, which offered a more romanticised take on vampire mythology.

16. THE BEAT – TEARS OF A CLOWN/RANKING FULL STOP (1979)

Impressed after seeing them in concert, Jerry Dammers invited The Beat to cut this one-off single for his 2 Tone label. The Birmingham band originally wanted Mirror In The Bathroom on the record, until Dammers advised them his backers at Chrysalis Records wouldn’t allow it on their debut album. Instead, they laid down their version of Tears Of A Clown, a transatlantic chart-topper for Smokey Robinson & The Miracles in 1970. John Peel, an early champion of the band, regularly played both sides on his radio show.

15 – RUN-DMC – MY ADIDAS/PETER PIPER (1986)

The perfect intro to Run-DMC’s innovative wordplay, this dual single arrived shortly before the hip-hop legends’ success with Walk This Way. Utilising a cowbell sound from jazz musician Bob James’ much-sampled version of Take Me To The Mardi Gras, Peter Piper cleverly integrated popular nursery rhymes and fables. My Adidas, meanwhile, had been inspired by a local doctor who’d ridiculously suggested that youths wearing branded clothing and footwear were more likely to commit crime. It led to a lucrative endorsement deal with the German sportswear giant.

14. SUEDE – THE DROWNERS/TO THE BIRDS (1992)

Suede’s opening salvo arrived on a wave of hype; it was the beginning of Britpop and they’d just been declared ‘the best new band in Britain’ by Melody Maker. Penned during a fruitful period for the fledgling partnership of Brett Anderson and Bernard Butler, The Drowners certainly caught the ear with its gnarly fretwork and irresistible refrain of “you’re taking me over”. However, the more reflective To The Birds was worthy of its equal billing, and Anderson would later bemoan its absence on the band’s Mercury Music Prize-winning debut album.

13. THE SPECIALS – A MESSAGE TO YOU RUDY/NITE KLUB (1979)

After hit debut single Gangsters, ska revivalists and political commentators The Specials hired Elvis Costello to produce their debut album, which birthed this classic dual single. In an era of rising unemployment, Nite Klub spoke of a generation squandering their dole packets, but it was a cover of Dandy Livingstone’s 1967 single, Rudy A Message To You, that resonated, its original address to the so-called ‘rude boys’ of Jamaica to straighten out and think of their future just as relevant to the disaffected youth of Thatcher’s Britain.

12. SCRITTI POLITTI – ASYLUMS IN JERUSALEM/JACQUES DERRIDA (1982)

Fronted by Green Gartside, Scritti Politti had adopted punk’s DIY ethos, releasing their first, self-financed single in 1978. Rough Trade put out the pompously-titled Songs To Remember album, plus a string of John Peel-endorsed singles, whose artwork appropriated luxury brands such as Dunhill and Courvoisier. Weaving in soul and Jamaican pop, this first double-A exemplified Gartside’s interest in the philosophies of Nietzsche and Derrida. It just missed the Top 40, but success was around the corner.

11. UB40 – KING/FOOD FOR THOUGHT (1980)

Formed during an era of proliferating mass unemployment, the appropriately-named UB40 received their first break when Chrissie Hynde invited them to support the chart-topping Pretenders on tour in 1980. This coincided with the release of UB40’s powerful debut 7”, the first in a series of dual singles to hit the UK Top 20. The meditative King paid tribute to civil rights campaigner Martin Luther King Jr, while Food For Thought – originally conceived as a Christmas song by guitarist Robin Campbell – brought African famine to public attention years before Band Aid.

10. NEW ORDER – PROCESSION/EVERYTHING’S GONE GREEN (1981)

Recorded virtually in tandem with debut album Movement, this standalone single signalled a sonic sea change for a band still transitioning in the wake of Ian Curtis’s death. With one foot in the past, Bernard Sumner played the late singer’s Vox Phantom guitar during the recording of Everything’s Gone Green, but the electronic drums and Giorgio Moroder-inspired synth arpeggios heralded an exciting new era. It was also the last track to feature maverick producer Martin Hannett, who reportedly stormed out during the session.

9. PET SHOP BOYS – WHERE THE STREETS HAVE NO NAME (I CAN’T TAKE MY EYES OFF YOU)/HOW CAN YOU EXPECT TO BE TAKEN SERIOUSLY? (1991)

Desperate for a major hit following the relatively poor placing of Being Boring, PSB pulled out all the stops with this double bill. Remixed by Brothers In Rhythm, HCYETBTS? took a wry swipe at musicians partaking in humanitarian causes, while an inspired medley, originally for Patsy Kensit, combined Hi-NRG versions of U2’s Where The Streets Have No Name and Frankie Valli’s Can’t Take My Eyes Off You. Neil and Chris had their hit.

8. ABBA – ANGELEYES/VOULEZ-VOUS (1979)

Struggling with writer’s block during the making of their sixth album, Voulez-Vous, Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus jetted out to the Bahamas for a songwriting sojourn. Immersing themselves in sunshine and daytime radio, they emerged with Kisses Of Fire, plus the risqué, disco-infused title track, which they started working on in a Miami studio. The third single to be lifted from the album, it was paired with the sumptuous Angeleyes, a Motown-flavoured track written in an unusual key. “It’s somehow both too low and too high,” commented Andersson.

7. THE JAM – GOING UNDERGROUND/DREAMS OF CHILDREN (1980)

Cementing their status as Britain’s most popular band, The Jam headed to the top of the charts in March 1980. Recorded in the early throes of Thatcher’s premiership, Going Underground confirmed Paul Weller was firmly attuned to the politics of the day, with its reference to a simmering nuclear threat following Russia’s invasion of Afghanistan in 1979. Meanwhile, Dreams Of Children was a psychedelic piece that employed backwards loops with chilling lyrics that were reportedly influenced by horror writer Clive Barker.

6. PRINCE AND THE REVOLUTION – LET’S GO CRAZY/TAKE ME WITH U (1985)

Capitalising on Prince’s worldwide success with the Purple Rain movie and soundtrack in 1984, Warners released a brace of dual singles. Following the acclaimed pairing of 1999 and Little Red Corvette, they unleashed US No.1 Let’s Go Crazy, which included the singer’s sermonising intro and a frenzy of screaming guitars. Elsewhere, Take Me With U, characterised by Lisa Coleman’s enchanting string arrangement, had originally been intended for Prince protégées Apollonia 6, before being included in the Purple Rain movie at the director’s behest.

5. DEPECHE MODE – BLASPHEMOUS RUMOURS/SOMEBODY (1984)

No strangers to controversy, Depeche Mode upset the religious community with Blasphemous Rumours, whose teenage protagonist finds Jesus after a failed suicide attempt, before perishing in a car accident. With unsettling effects and a foreboding percussive metal hammer, this was pretty heavy for daytime radio – some DJs, nervous about playing a song with “God’s got a sick sense of humour” in the chirpy chorus, plumped for flipside Somebody, a piano-led ballad with Martin Gore on lead vocals.

4. THE STONE ROSES – WHAT THE WORLD IS WAITING FOR/FOOLS GOLD (1989)

Boasting a title befitting of The Stone Roses’ hubris, standalone single What The World Is Waiting For arrived in a year when momentum had been building since the release of their debut LP. It was standard jangly fare, but most were tuned to its alternate side, Fools Gold, whose mesmerising drum loop had been sourced from an album of breakbeats. Originally conceived as an experimental B-side, it soon received equal billing, and its iconic status was consolidated with an appearance on Top Of The Pops.

3. SOFT CELL – TAINTED LOVE/WHERE DID OUR LOVE GO? (1981)

Something of a Northern Soul club staple in the 70s, obscure B-side Tainted Love had originally been released by soul singer Gloria Jones in 1965 (and then again in 1976 with doomed beau Marc Bolan at the helm), but it was Soft Cell’s masterful synth-pop version which would garner the greatest success. For the innovative 12” version, the duo interpolated their take on The Supremes’ Where Did Our Love Go?, also including it on the 7” – a decision they’d regret as they missed out on lucrative publishing royalties.

2. WHAM! – LAST CHRISTMAS/EVERYTHING SHE WANTS (1984)

Wham!’s perennial Last Christmas had been demoed by George Michael following a burst of inspiration at his parents’ home, and was scheduled to go up against Frankie Goes To Hollywood for the Christmas No.1 in 1984, before Band Aid swooped in at the last minute. Equally brilliant was its flip, Everything She Wants, which told the story of a man in an unhappy marriage. Michael played all the instruments, demonstrating his development as a musician was commensurate to his growing maturity as a songwriter.

And No.1 in our list of double A-side singles is…

KRAFTWERK – COMPUTER LOVE/THE MODEL (1981)

Düsseldorf’s finest reached their artistic and commercial peak with Computer World, an eerily-prescient futurist concept album that would prove to be highly influential, particularly in the hip-hop community. It yielded a minor hit in Pocket Calculator in the spring of 1981, but its modest success would soon be eclipsed by follow-up Computer Love, which appeared to pre-empt the recent phenomenon of online dating.

It was initially another minor hit, but picked up traction when savvy DJs began playing its far more glamorous B-side, The Model. Proving just how ahead of the musical curve Kraftwerk were, the track had originally appeared on their 1978 album, The Man-Machine, but with electronic music now an increasingly prevalent force in the charts, it now didn’t sound out of place, particularly amongst the Blitz Kids and New Romantic cognoscenti.

It was eventually rebranded as a double A-side and reached the chart summit the following February. Unmoved by the news, the enigmatic electropop pioneers failed to capitalise on its success, and spent the rest of the decade obsessing over the fast-developing new technologies of the era, rising above their Kling Klang parapet for just one more classic single, Tour De France, and the disappointing Electric Café album.

The post Top 20 double A-side singles appeared first on Classic Pop Magazine.

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The Human League: The Virgin Years Box Set review

The Human League: The Virgin Years Box Set review

We deep dive into The Human League’s The Virgin Years LP boxset featuring best-selling albums like Dare, Romantic? and more. Here’s what we think… Something of a misnomer, this vinyl… The post The Human League: The Virgin Years Box Set review appeared first on Classic Pop Magazine. ... Continue Reading
a-ha interview: “Diplomacy doesn’t really work in a-ha”

a-ha interview: “Diplomacy doesn’t really work in a-ha”

a-ha True North
Photo (c) StianAndersen

Seemingly on the verge of splitting for the third time when last year’s documentary a-ha: The Movie brought their simmering tensions to the boil, with typical contrariness the band are instead releasing their first album for seven years – True North is truly beautiful, but, as the trio tell Classic Pop, this time it really could be a-ha’s final statement…

“This is the way a-ha works, isn’t it? We do a big goodbye tour, we vow never to play again, and two years later we’re back doing shows. In our movie, there was a lot of, ‘We’ll never record again.’

“And here we are: new album. I’ve stopped giving thought to all the drama. This is an opportunity to give the fans more songs. That’s as much as I look at it.”

Shop a-ha CD & vinyl now on Amazon

Paul Waaktaar-Savoy laughs knowingly. The guitarist is aware that the feuds in a-ha are the stuff of legend now, referred to almost as much as the animation in the Take On Me video.

All three of the band know full well that the claim, “They hate each other, really”, follows a-ha around like a sketch show catchphrase.

They’re all equally adept at explaining why there are tensions but they also seem just as powerless to work out how to change, nearly 40 years after leaving Norway to try their luck in England.

With Paul and Magne Furuholmen as a-ha’s main songwriters, you might think it’s Morten Harket’s role to be the diplomat in the band, using his voice as persuasively as he does in a-ha’s music. Not quite.

“I’m not a diplomat,” insists Harket. “I’m the executioner. Diplomacy doesn’t really work in a-ha. It’s not a language that’s needed and it isn’t effective. People as intelligent as me, Paul and Magne, we see everything that’s on the table – and under it.

“Awareness is very high within the band, and it’s not as if anyone needs soothing. That means it’s tougher when we need to put a spade in the ground, because the soil in a-ha is harder. So I can’t be the judge, only the executioner. If necessary, I let things have consequences.”

Furuholmen tries playing down a-ha’s tensions, stating: “There are a lot of assumptions about how we feel about each other. There’s a lot of love and respect for the talent of each person in the band.”

But the keyboardist accepts: “It’s an entrenched situation where things flare up unnecessarily. There’s a suspicion of people having their own agenda, which makes each of us act accordingly.”

Those agendas were addressed in the startling documentary a-ha: The Movie in 2021. Director Thomas Robsahm’s film is on the level of Metallica’s Some Kind Of Monster for showing a band dubious of each other’s motives.

The debate over who really wrote the title track of 2009’s Foot Of The Mountain remains intense, more than a decade after a-ha split for the second time in the album’s wake.

Waaktaar-Savoy acknowledges that disputes over who wrote what can seem petty to fans who only care that the songs exist in the first place.

He admits: “When we lived in the same flat in England, the competition was much more about the other music out there, not with each other. We couldn’t sit and bitch about who wrote what, because we just had to write music that was successful and make good albums.

“When we go out to play, it’s the songs from that first era that people want to hear. They go over best with the audience. You can push things, but there’s something magic about the core of a-ha. And that gets lost a lot of the time.”

a-ha True North
a-ha True North cover

Buy a-ha True North 12″ LP now on Amazon

Harket believes the film at least shows how honestly the trio feel about each other, as he reasons: “It makes sense to be honest. The central tenet about the three of us is that we look for what is true. We need to be tough and demanding in our tensions.

“We have to examine: ‘What is actually true here?’ It’s not my truth or your truth; things are true, or they aren’t. What we believe, that may or may not be true, but there is truth to find. To not accept anything except the truth is very important.”

Magne is more hesitant in how the documentary portrays the band, stating: “We all feel the same about a-ha: The Movie. It’s not like one of us loves it and the other two hate it, and that’s what a good documentary should do. But all three of us feel it lacks a focus on the music.”

Paul is most outspoken against Robsahm’s film: “I only watched the first cut and thought it was incredibly one-sided. And the way Thomas had sold it to us was: ‘Let’s make a film without the quarrelling and focus on the music.’ That’s not what he did.

“He sold me an idea he didn’t deliver on. How we are seen as people always depends on whose Kool-Aid you end up drinking, and it’s always… not my Kool-Aid. But my son saw a-ha: The Movie and I gather the final cut is much better. So I shouldn’t nag about it.”

The love and respect that Furuholmen mentions within a-ha for the music they create together is plain when Classic Pop speaks to the band over separate interviews.

Magne, the most gregarious and easy-going of the three, emphasises: “I have a lot of respect for Paul as a songwriter, and a lot of respect for Morten’s talent at bringing our songs to a bigger audience than if we’d sung them ourselves.”

Despite that admiration, the existence of new LP True North, seven years after a-ha’s 10th album Cast In Steel, is a welcome surprise after the acrimony in a-ha: The Movie.

There wasn’t one big “Let’s do this!” conversation that sparked the 12 new songs, more a gradual and initially tentative realisation that an album might just be feasible.

“I work on lots of different songs continuously,” continues Waaktaar-Savoy. “On some of them, I could definitely hear Morten’s voice.”

Meanwhile, locked down during the pandemic at home on the Norwegian coast, Furuholmen watched Bruce Springsteen’s Netflix special filmed around his 2019 album Western Stars and wondered if a musical a-ha film, rather than a spiky documentary, could work.

a-ha True North

“I thought we could do an intimate concert in our home country and stream it to the world,” recalls Magne. The band had enjoyed recording their MTV Unplugged special in 2017, with Furuholmen noting wryly: “That was a surprisingly pleasant ride, when we rallied around and felt closer than we had for many of the latter albums, because it was old material that we looked at in a fresh way.

“Also, we only had a short time together. We didn’t spend four months poring over what song should be a single and all the other stuff which comes with recording a new a-ha album. We didn’t want to go into that minefield again. We were looking for a way to celebrate our legacy by doing something together that wouldn’t end up in tears.”

Initially, a second MTV Unplugged was mooted, either of fans’ favourite obscurities or of each member showcasing the best of their solo projects away from a-ha. But then Paul and Magne disclosed they had both written new songs that would be suitable for a-ha, so just maybe…?

Morten explains: “For me, True North started with Magne connecting with me. He sent me a demo of him singing Between The Halo And The Horn. I loved it, and was very keen to try my voice on it in the studio. But we all didn’t feel like we wanted to go back into doing a studio album.

“We started very loosely treading the waters for something else, something that wasn’t an a-ha studio album, because none of us knew where a-ha could go with that.”

Photo (c) StianAndersen

As well as “watching way too much Netflix like everyone else” during lockdown, Furuholmen would take his boat out onto the ocean. “I brought my guitar out with the boat, sitting meditating on the ocean,” he smiles. “I guess that’s why my songs are peppered with naval metaphors.”

Magne had recently bought a farm in the north of Norway, near the Arctic Circle. He fell in love with the region, an idea developing. He remembers: “We’ve never done a project that shows the landscape which places us as people and artists.

“Fishing in the ocean has sustained generations of Norwegians, and then you have the double-edged sword of oil production, through which we’ve become wealthy while providing the world with energy, but at a very high environmental price. It all seemed like a perfect platform for making something that wasn’t just a new a-ha album.”

Eventually, that coalesced into deciding long-time a-ha photographer Stian Andersen should make a film of a-ha recording some new songs – hey, why not 12, enough for an album? To showcase the beauty of a-ha’s homeland, Andersen’s film would be shot in Bodø, 90km outside the Arctic Circle.

Recording the new songs with the local Arctic Philharmonic Orchestra would be filmed at Bodø’s Svommehallen concert hall over just two weeks.

“All my relatives come from even further north than Bodø,” Paul reveals. “For most of my summers as a kid, we’d drive up there. The sunshine was incredible. We recorded True North last November, and it was lovely to see the area in winter for the first time. The light was amazing and strange.”

Although a photographer rather than a film director, Stian’s relationship with a-ha made him the ideal choice to make the band’s second movie.

“Stian was at the top of my list for the film,” enthuses Paul, a shy and surprisingly sweet interviewee, blessed with a full-throated, warm laugh.

“He’s very good at reading us. We’ve done so many photo sessions with Stian that he knows: ‘OK, maybe don’t ask them to do anything now.’ He’s very good at not being a pain in the ass. He’s a great photographer, and now he’s also a great director.”

The 12 songs on True North comprise six tracks each by Paul and Magne. That sounds incredibly diplomatic, but it turns out a-ha’s in-house executioner was largely responsible for which material made the cut.

“The last couple of decades in a-ha have become about which songs Morten wants to sing,” says Magne. “He has opinions on which songs he can’t sing. I wrote one for this album, God Is In The Details, which I thought really sounds like an a-ha song. But Morten really didn’t want to sing it, because of his own beliefs.”

Arguably the most trademark a-ha banger on True North, the euphoric disco Make Me Understand, also nearly didn’t make the cut.

Paul explains: “Whenever that song came up for discussion, I was thinking: ‘Yeah, that’s one that would have done well for us in the past.’ It’s so very a-ha. But that shows what I know, because Morten just didn’t want to sing it. I was saying to him: ‘You don’t want to sing this one? But it’s totally Scoundrel Days!’

“I just don’t know what works anymore. Make Me Understand and As If are the songs on this album which are most like what a-ha have done before, I think.”

Gallingly for lovers of pop feuds, it was Furuholmen who helped rescue Waaktaar-Savoy’s Make Me Understand. Magne discloses: “Morten was uncomfortable with Make Me Understand, but I pushed him to do it, as I think it’s a great song.

“It should definitely be on the album, but it came dangerously close to not happening, as Morten was adamantly against the verse and I couldn’t understand why. But there we go – it’s a complicated process to get us to agree!”

Intriguingly, Harket gives no hint of any issues with the song when he’s asked about it. The first member of a-ha to be interviewed, Morten simply says: “I love that song, it’s a lot of fun.”

The frontman is more forthcoming in explaining how much it matters that a song is right for him to sing. For a man of 63 years of age, Harket and his voice are in almost disgustingly good condition.

He doesn’t seem to have altered one iota from the singer who glided through the high and low notes on Hunting High And Low like a champion skier on the beginners’ slopes.

Unsurprisingly, it isn’t as easy as Morten makes it look. “If I connect with a song, I can be of service to it,” reasons the singer, a friendly if earnest talker, a far deeper thinker than the “Ooh, those cheekbones!” stereotype of the past 37 years.

“When a song strikes a chord in me, I become a true medium for it. When it works, I don’t hear me singing it. It doesn’t seem quite me, because I just hear the complete song.

“But then there are those where I have to just try to do my best and I feel like I’m always trying for something that isn’t there. And the songs where I don’t think it works? They’re the ones I do have ownership of. They’re mine, and they’re mine because they didn’t work.”

Harket then undercuts this heartbreaking struggle with his singing when asked what his vocal routine is: “I have a vocal regime, and it’s this: ‘Don’t do anything.’”

As Classic Pop laughs at the idea that Morten Harket isn’t at the honey and lemon and practicing scales every hour, he insists: “I’m not joking! I don’t do anything at all. Sometimes there will be something stuck to your vocal cords which needs removing to control the voice – phlegm, maybe – but that’s a clean-up process.

“I never warm up, I don’t prepare. When I go to record, I go into performance mode. That’s what matters every time, because you’re in that mode or you’re not.”

In a-ha: The Movie, Harket’s partner, Inez Andersson, says the singer’s perfectionist streak has loosened slightly. She revealed it was only recently that Harket had been able to enjoy a-ha’s concerts, rather than obsessing over every note.

“I’m very much conscious of letting go,” ponders Morten. “But it’s not easy for me. It takes a mental effort of some dimension to let go, because I’m not comfortable when things aren’t right. It tightens my grip. When a song works, it’s like silk. I become playful, and it saddens me when I can’t be playful. Conditions are often difficult when I sing, so it’s a pretty hard to do what I do.”

There’s a rueful laugh, as Harket is acutely aware of how demanding he is to work with. “Any engineer has a really tough job to serve what I need.”

Which all makes it incredibly unfortunate that Bodø’s Svommehallen concert hall was an absolute bloody nightmare to record a new album in.

“My original hope was that we’d make this album in the studio and be filmed recording it there,” sighs Waaktaar-Savoy. “It became more about how it looked on film. It looks good, but that hall was so difficult.

“I pushed for the studio as I knew it’d be impossible to record strings properly in the hall. If you place the mics too close, you don’t get the full spectrum of the orchestra’s instruments.

“With bass, guitar and drums happening at the same time, it’s easy to get more of that than the strings. Morten had such a challenge vocally trying to sing the right way with all of that. Recording the album became a very technical exercise. We had to fix a lot.”

“It was quite tough,” agrees Harket. “To start with, it’s a concrete auditorium. Then you’ve got a philharmonic orchestra in at the same time. That’s an acoustic graveyard, and you can see that in the film.

“I’m completely frozen, as my focus is absolutely on trying to pitch my vocals and I had a hard time hearing what was happening. But the reason for doing it that way was for the cinematic perspective. In that regard, hey, it was great!”

That True North is so majestic is testament to its songs. Waaktaar-Savoy brings the mighty pop tracks like Hunter In The Hills and Bumblebee, while Furuholmen offers up the beautiful simplicity of Between The Halo And The Horn and Bluest Of Blue.

Photo (c) StianAndersen

“We’ve always been good at optimism, or at least sounding optimistic,” laughs Paul. “When people hear Take On Me done on an acoustic, they go: ‘Oh, that’s really a sad ballad!’ Morten’s voice means darker lyrics can sound pop and disguise the darkness.

“We can make a dark song sound pop, and a pop song sound like there’s more going on than there really is. That’s one of our strengths, playing with both those sides.”

How much of an optimist is the guitarist really, then?

“I live with a pessimist,” he says, referring to his wife, filmmaker Lauren Savoy. “It means I’m an optimist. My wife is drowned in doomsday politics, the state of democracy, Covid… I have to be the balance to that. But obviously there’s a barrage of bad news on an hourly basis, so it’s a lot to deal with.”

That optimism is expressed in the infectious Bumblebee, an aptly honeyed slice of summery pop that’s a tribute to Paul’s older sister Tonje.

“My sister worked for an institution in Oslo that helps bees,” he explains. “She’s in the song as the bumblebee inspector. When I was in a punky indie band with Magne before a-ha called Bridges, some of our shows were an absolute disaster.

“But I could always rely on my sister to be the one uplifting element. She gave me such a boost in those early days, and I wanted to put her in a song to say all of that.”

Many of Furuholmen’s songs on True North tackle climate change, inspired by those ocean meditations.

“Our lyrics have always represented natural phenomena,” Magne points out. “Some fans have even counted how many times that wind and rain are mentioned in our catalogue, so it wasn’t too alien to imagine our songs placed in a Norwegian oceanfront setting. The film captures some of that beauty and drama of Norway.

“I’ve made a conscious decision to shy away from trying to be clever and vague, to be more direct in these songs. I see a lot of courage and conviction in the young, which gives me hope for our future.

“Art has a place in bringing people together, especially at a time when we live in a polarised world of disrespecting people who have differing opinions. Any artist’s audience is a composite of people with very differing backgrounds and views. So long as you have something in common, that should be celebrated.”

It’s all too easy to see a metaphor there for a-ha’s differing views being celebrated in True North. So, after this one, when will we see a round dozen of a-ha albums?

Morten: “I have no idea. True North may very well be the last thing you hear from the band. I just turned 63, and it’s quite taxing to do those long tours. Who knows?”

Paul: “We’ve said the opposite of what’s then happened so many times, I’m not going to go there. We’ve got this album. Let’s get this one out and take it from there.”

Magne: “I didn’t think there would be anything ever again after 2010, so I’m probably the wrong person to ask. I started finding myself thinking it might be possible to make a new a-ha album and, lo and behold, it has been possible. So I won’t say it’s the end of a-ha. But if this is our last statement, I’m completely content.”

That’s a-ha, then: not definitely carrying on, not definitely splitting up. But definitely able to make magic in concrete.

True North, the album, is out now via Sony

The post a-ha interview: “Diplomacy doesn’t really work in a-ha” appeared first on Classic Pop Magazine.

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The Lowdown – INXS

The Lowdown – INXS

INXS singles albums
INXS – the singles, the albums

It began in the drinking dens down under at the tail end of the 70s, and ended tragically 20 years later in a Sydney hotel room. Yet for a time in the 80s, INXS enjoyed the same exalted status as rock heavyweights U2 and REM… By David Burke

As The Farriss Brothers, INXS paid their dues on the Western Australian pub circuit in the late-70s, flirting with new wave and synth pop before making their mark globally as a consummate rock outfit with distinctive pop and soul influences.

Their success in the UK and the US particularly, owed much to mercurial frontman Michael Hutchence, described by music critic Ian McFarlane as: “the archetypal rock showman, who exuded an overtly sexual, macho cool, with his flowing locks, and lithe and exuberant stage movements”.

It was three years after their formation in 1977, that INXS released their eponymously-titled debut, a big seller at home along with its follow-up, Underneath The Colours.

Their 1982 album, Shabooh Shoobah, propelled the band on to the international stage and spawned a minor hit single in The One Thing.

A subsequent tour Stateside piqued the interest of Chic’s Nile Rodgers, who convened with the group for a series of sessions in New York’s Power Station Studio, resulting in the slickly produced Original Sin.

They would have to wait until 1985 before a bona fide mainstream breakthrough with Listen Like Thieves, which climbed to No.11 in the US on the back of the single, What You Need.

Listen Like Thieves was essentially a template for Kick, the album that finally made INXS international superstars.

Issued in 1987, it achieved multi-platinum status and a quartet of Top 10 singles in the States. Hutchence was acclaimed by some as the pretender to Mick Jagger’s throne, and INXS were regarded as serious rivals to U2.

But this was to prove their halcyon period.

1990’s X, while lauded by Rolling Stone for its “big audience rock’n’roll that feels right for the times”, reeked of excess. Sales were disappointing and by the time of 1992’s Welcome To Wherever You Are, they were passé.

However, Hutchence was still making the front pages of the tabloids for the wrong reasons, as his affair with Bob Geldof’s wife, Paula Yates, caused a scandal. Tragically, Hutchence was found dead in a Sydney hotel suite in 1997, and the band never recovered their mojo.

In 2005, members of INXS participated in a reality television series broadcast worldwide, culminating in the selection of their new lead singer, Canadian JD Fortune.

With Fortune, the band released Pretty Vegas and Afterglow as singles, and the album Switch in 2005.

Fortune would also contribute vocals on The Stairs which featured on the INXS tribute album Original Sin in 2010.

The must-have albums

THE SWING, 1984

INXS singles albums

After breaking the US with 1982’s Shabooh Shoobah, INXS had a bigger budget and bigger ambition on The Swing, the first time they had recorded outside their native Australia.

The group juxtaposed their rock roots with a sleeker, poppier sound on their fourth album, anchored by the single, Original Sin, which was produced by Chic alumnus Nile Rodgers at the Power Station in New York City, and featured Daryl Hall of Hall & Oates on backing vocals.

Hall said afterwards: “I don’t know why because they’re good singers. They didn’t need me, but I did it anyway.”

In many ways, The Swing established INXS’ signature sound, a hotchpotch of influences, developing on the indie rock and dance funk of Shabooh Shoobah.

Critic Ian McFarlane wasn’t wrong when he claimed the collection: “boasted all the confident swagger and accomplished rock hooks of a band on the cusp of international acceptance”.

The Swing chalked up another Australian No.1 for INXS but, more importantly, gave them their first American Top 75 entry, eventually reaching No.52.

LISTEN LIKE THIEVES, 1985

In a bid to validate themselves as an Australian band on the world stage, INXS drafted in Chris Thomas to produce Listen Like Thieves.

Midas man Thomas, who had previously worked with such pedigree acts as The Beatles, Pink Floyd, Elton John, Paul McCartney, The Pretenders and Sex Pistols, flew to Sydney, where he spent three months honing the album.

As it neared completion, he rifled through some demos to discover what he hoped were the bones of a hit single, settling on a track provisionally entitled Funk Song No.13.

“It was great,” he recalled afterwards. “I thought, I could listen to that groove for 10 minutes! So, I said, ‘Let’s work with that groove’.”

That groove morphed into What You Need, which crested at No.5 in the US and finally registered INXS’ debut appearance in the British charts, albeit stalling at No.51.

Elsewhere, the anthemic Kiss the Dirt (Falling Down The Mountain) and Shine Like It Does are perfect stadium fodder, while Biting Bullets recalls the early rockier incarnation of the group… the touchpaper had certainly been lit.

KICK, 1987

INXS Kick

“We wanted an album where all the songs were possible singles,” said guitarist Kirk Pengilly of INXS’ sixth long player. It was a case of mission accomplished, with Kick yielding six 45s in all, including the US No.1 Need You Tonight, as well as New Sensation and Devil Inside.

Chris Thomas was at the production controls again, though Atlantic Records weren’t especially enamoured with the
final cut.

INXS manager Chris Murphy recalled: “They hated it. They said there was no way they could get this music on rock radio. The president of the label told me that he’d give us $1 million to go back to Australia and make another album.”

Thankfully, the band declined the offer and Kick went on to become their most successful album, going seven-times platinum on their home territory, six times in the US and three times in the UK.

Add to that five gongs for Need You Tonight at the MTV Video Music Awards and you’re left (not for the first time) stunned at the suits’ myopia.

WELCOME TO WHEREVER YOU ARE, 1992

With the alternative becoming mainstream – this was the era of grunge – INXS shifted gear on Welcome To Wherever You Are, a new direction that embraced sitars, a 60-piece orchestra and a rawer sound.

They were reunited with producer Mark Opitz 10 years after he manned the desk on Shabooh Shoobah.

Opitz set about dismantling the sonic scaffolding that was a feature of Chris Thomas’ work on Listen Like Thieves, Kick and X, and supplanting it with a stripped-back approach.

He used a similar technique to that deployed by producers in the 60s, mixing the vocal back: ”so the band would sound louder, punchier and harder”, according to guitarist Tim Farriss. It makes for what Q magazine hailed as: “A far more engaging and heartfelt collection than anything the group has put out in recent memory – it rocks”.

Sure does. But there are also moments of sublime beauty, not least on Baby Don’t Cry and Men And Women, both impelled by the glorious strings and woodwind of the Australian Concert Orchestra.

And the rest…

SHABOOH SHOOBAH, 1982

INXS singles albums

The album that launched INXS worldwide evolved out of a self-financed 1982 session to record a new song, The One Thing, with Mark Opitz.

It turned out so well, the band hired Opitz to produce a further three songs and eventually Shabooh Shoobah.

“Mark was the first producer that was able to capture some glimmer of what the band felt it was like live,” said guitarist Tim Farriss.

The album packs a post-punk punch and contains some stellar grooves – particularly on Don’t Change, which remains one of INXS’ best-loved tunes, and the passionate paean to inebriation, Golden Playpen – and represents the emergence of a potential songwriting partnership between Michael Hutchence and Andrew Farriss.

Word of their imminent greatness had spread to the US, where The One Thing broke the Top 30.

X, 1990

INXS singles albums

Having gone global with the multi-million unit-shifting Kick, INXS took three years to birth a successor. And while the sales figures again looked good (double platinum in Australia, the US and Canada), X was little more than a doppelganger (and a not very convincing one at that), a shameless attempt at cashing in on a previously successful formula.

Michael Hutchence claimed at the time: “We had to follow up (on Kick), otherwise we’d disappear.” That pressure to maintain their impetus led the band to riffle through their back pages for songs they could use on X.

Lately features a lyric by Andrew Farriss originally penned during the sessions for Listen Like Thieves, and Disappear was written by Hutchence with Jon Farriss when they were living in Hong Kong.

In hindsight, maybe a break would have been the best course of action for INXS and Hutchence.

FULL MOON, DIRTY HEARTS, 1993

Prior to the recording of Full Moon, Dirty Hearts, a drunken Michael Hutchence was leaving a Copenhagen nightclub with then girlfriend, Danish supermodel Helena Christensen, when a scuffle with a taxi driver ended with the singer out cold on the pavement with a fractured skull.

The injury led to some erratic behaviour by Hutchence during the sessions. Guitarist Kirk Pengilly recalled: “very violent moments – he threw his microphone stand around inside the studio, and he threw violent tantrums all the time”.

Hutchence’s assertion that one track needed “more aggression” was reflected in much of the album, a sort of throwback to INXS’ pub rock roots, harder-edged and more muscular.

Though someone should have advised him against the Jim Morrison impersonation on the spoken word closer, Viking Juice.

ELEGANTLY WASTED, 1997

The final album recorded with Michael Hutchence was INXS’ first with PolyGram/Mercury Records after the termination of their contract with Atlantic Records.

During a lengthy sabbatical prior to recording, Hutchence – who said he “wanted to get off the old carousel for a while” – had started work on what was intended to be his debut solo album.

However, the singer put the project on the back-burner when he and Andrew Farriss got together to write some new material for the band.

Upon hearing rough demos, co-producer Bruce Fairbarn was “impressed with the feel and the different sounds that they’d been using”. Yet there’s little to suggest that “different sound” on Elegantly Wasted, which, as Rolling Stone points out, features the usual: “sinuous dance grooves and crackling bursts of guitar”. Hutchence died during the final leg of the tour.

The singles

THE ONE THING, 1982

INXS’ first American hit single was given a considerable leg-up by the accompanying video, their first to air on the fledgling MTV channel.

Directed by Soren Jensen, then assistant director on Aussie TV soap The Young Doctors (Michael Hutchence’s mother, Patricia, was a make-up artist for the show), it featured the band at a decadent banquet with several models, among them Hutchence’s girlfriend at the time, Michele Bennett, as well as Susan Stenmark and Karen Pini.

“We fed Valium to a few cats and had them running around a table while we had a feast with sexy models and Playboy centrefolds, ripping apart a turkey. Next thing we knew we had a Top 40 hit in America and were opening for Adam Ant,” recalled guitarist Tim Farriss of the shoot.

The song is actually included on the video game, Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Stories.

ORIGINAL SIN, 1983

Produced by Chic’s Nile Rodgers and featuring Daryl Hall on backing vocals, Original Sin, according to Michael Hutchence, was about: “Kids and conditioning – growing up. How you grow up through other people’s ideas or your own.”

Rodgers put an interracial spin on the lyrics, written by Hutchence and Andrew Farriss. He explained: “The original lyrics were ‘Dream on white boy, dream on white girl’. I said, ‘Why not make it black boy, white girl?’ I come from an interracial couple. Psychologically that makes it a bigger statement.”

Apparently, INXS daring to tell a white boy and black girl to “play with fire” and “dream on, the name of love” got the song banned by some US radio stations.

The group re-recorded Original Sin as a dance track with Rob Thomas and Cuban rapper DJ Yalediys in 2010.

NEED YOU TONIGHT, 1987

Need You Tonight is all about the riff, and, according to guitarist Andrew Farriss, that riff suddenly came to him when he was waiting for a taxi to the airport. Farriss asked the cabbie to wait while he grabbed something from his hotel room.

In fact, he went back to record the riff and returned an hour later to a disgruntled driver, but with his inspiration captured on tape. Michael Hutchence added some lusty lyrics.

The song has a more electronic feel than most of INXS’ material, combining sequencers with regular drum tracks and several layers of guitar.

It was the band’s only US No.1 single, and also gave them their highest chart position in the UK, stalling at No.2 after it was reissued in 1988.

Bonnie Raitt recorded a version on her 2016 album, Dig In Deep, remarking that singing it “feels exactly as sexy as it sounds”.

DEVIL INSIDE, 1988

The second single from the monster-selling album, Kick, was kept off pole position on the Billboard 200 by Billy Ocean’s Get Outta My Dreams, Get into My Car and Where Do Broken Hearts Go? by Whitney Houston.

On INXS’ 1988 US tour, Hutchence dedicated the song to televangelist Jimmy Lee Swaggart, whose dalliances with prostitutes around this period led to his resignation as head of Jimmy Swaggart Ministries.

Hutchence told Rolling Stone: “It surprises me that people are so outraged that Swaggart gets busted. It’s incredible how people are raised above and become pious individuals and everybody looks up to them and they have complete faith.

“It’s wonderful to have faith, but I don’t think the Pope is better than anyone else. By addressing the devil – and I don’t believe in the devil, it’s a metaphor – and not trying to achieve the angel, we’re a lot better off.”

NEVER TEAR US APART, 1988

Andrew Farriss composed the music for Never Tear Us Apart in New Zealand, when the rest of the band were playing tennis with an A&R man by the name of Jimmy Hendrix.

He remembered: “I sat down on an upright piano and started working on the chords. I thought it had potential and asked Michael (Hutchence) what he thought of it. He told me he really liked it, so I recorded a blues-style demo for him. I gave the demo to Michael, and the eventual lyric that he wrote was truly inspired. Straight from the heart. I know how much that lyric meant to him.”

At Hutchence’s funeral service in 1997, the song played in the background as the remaining members of INXS and the singer’s younger brother, Rhett, carried his coffin.

SUICIDE BLONDE, 1990

Written by Michael Hutchence and Andrew Farriss when INXS reconvened after a year-long sabbatical in 1989, the inspiration for the song was supposedly the singer’s then squeeze, Kylie Minogue.

The actress-turned-pop singer was asked to dye her hair platinum blonde for her part in the Australian drama film, The Delinquents.

Following Hutchence’s suicide in 1997, and the suicide three years later of his lover, Paula Yates, herself a peroxide blonde,  Suicide Blonde assumed a lurid (and wholly inaccurate) meaning.

As for the track itself, Jon Farriss’ drums acknowledge the influence of dance music on the group, particularly the acid house craze sweeping the UK.

The post The Lowdown – INXS appeared first on Classic Pop Magazine.

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Sparks return to Island Records for new album The Girl Is Crying In Her Latte

Sparks return to Island Records for new album The Girl Is Crying In Her Latte

Sparks have announced that they are to return to Island Records, the label that released their breakthrough record Kimono My House in 1974, for their 26th album, The Girl Is… The post Sparks return to Island Records for new album The Girl Is Crying In Her Latte appeared first on Classic Pop Magazine. ... Continue Reading
Grace Jones confirmed for bluedot 2023 festival

Grace Jones confirmed for bluedot 2023 festival

Grace Jones bluedot
Grace Jones will headline bluedot

Grace Jones has been announced as the headliner of the next bluedot festival.

The singer, who curated London’s Meltdown Festival in 2022, will top the bill at July’s event, playing at Cheshire’s Jodrell Bank Observatory.

A bluedot representative said that as “one of the most influential musicians of her generation”, Jones needed no introduction.

“Her influence has made her a towering figure of pop for over six decades,” they said. “From the classic beats of Slave To The Rhythm and Pull Up To The Bumper to her gold-selling most recent album Hurricane, [she] has become synonymous with a unique fusion of music, art and fashion that has inspired a new generation of artists.”

Also confirmed for the festival are former Moloko frontwoman Róisín Murphy and dance duo Leftfield.

Outside of music, the event will once again host talks from big names in the science world, including BBC Sky At Night‘s Chris Lintott and Maggie Aderin-Pocock, climate change researcher and How Bad Are Bananas? author Mike Berners-Lee, the UK Space Agency’s Libby Jackson and the Open University’s Professor of Planetary & Space Science Monica Grady.

Festival-goers can also expect a David Bowie edition of Adam Buxton’s Bug! and a screening of Bowie documentary Moonage Daydream, with an on-stage interview with writer and producer Brett Morgan.

Festival director Ben Robinson said the festival had always been “ambitious in its programming and mission”.

“Looking at the scale of iconic talent, breadth of genres and one-off moments, it really has matured into a very special event,” he explained. “We look forward to gathering together again beneath the telescope.”

bluedot will take place at the Observatory from 20 to 23 July.

Tickets for bluedot 2023 go on sale 10am Friday 27 January.

To find out more and register for pre-sale access visit discoverthebluedot.com.

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Simple Minds interview: “We wanted to be underground and alternative but we just couldn’t help ourselves”

Simple Minds interview: “We wanted to be underground and alternative but we just couldn’t help ourselves”

Simple Minds Direction Of The Heart
Photo by Dean Chalkley

Despite being forged from personal loss amidst a global pandemic, Simple Minds’ latest album, Direction Of The Heart, aims to shine a positive light in dark times – AND It might even be their new New Gold Dream explains Jim Kerr and Charlie Burchill…

Jim Kerr and Charlie Burchill have spent a lot of time in each other’s company over the past 55 years.

But in 2020, the lifelong friends and musical fellow travellers found themselves hunkered down in splendid isolation in the Sicilian hills, working up songs for Simple Minds’ next album in a shuttered and deserted hotel (proprietor: J. Kerr) high above the town of Taormina.

Shop Simple Minds CD & vinyl on Amazon now

“Of all the places to be locked down,” smiles Kerr, when Classic Pop catches up with the pair two years on. “It was kind of mystical. The view we had was of Mount Etna, which has a brooding, incredibly powerful presence.

But also kind of benevolent. Etna’s almost bang in the centre of the island – when it’s throwing this stuff up into the air, it’s not just flames, it’s this ash, which makes the place incredibly fertile – Sicily was the breadbasket of the Roman Empire.

“Sorry, this is me getting a bit hippy-dippy,” he says, checking himself. “But every day, Charlie and I were looking at that, and at the sea. It’s just an amazing place – you’re nearer Africa than you are Rome. So you wake up and everything’s covered in red sand from the desert. As I say, it’s a mystical place.”

Burchill’s memory of those weeks is slightly less romantic. “It was a bit like The Shining,” he laughs. “We were in this empty hotel… for a lot of the time it was just me, on my own in the hotel. So yeah, slightly Shining vibes. But we had a great time, and a lot of the songs for the album were written there.”

The story of Direction Of The Heart, Simple Minds’ 18th studio LP, actually begins a year earlier, in the spring of 2019, when Kerr was back living in the band’s hometown of Glasgow, so that he could be close to his dying father.

“Although we weren’t going to give up hope, we knew the writing was on the wall with Dad’s situation,” says Kerr. “He knew what was in store, but the last thing he wanted was people freaking out. He wanted life to go on as it was.”

So Jim did what he’s done so many times in his life – he called up Charlie, who flew over and the pair set to work writing songs.

“Dad would be like, ‘How’s the work going?’” he recalls. “We were down the road, so while he was still mobile, he’d pop into the studio and…” Kerr’s eyes prickle at the memory. “Sorry, I’m getting a wee bit emotional. But he’d pop in, and he’d shout upstairs, ‘Write me a fucking hit!’”

Buy Simply Minds Direction of the Hear LP now on Amazon

Simple Minds Direction Of The Heart
Photo by Dean Chalkley

It says a lot about the two men’s friendship that, having followed his frontman to a new life in Sicily, Burchill would then drop everything to fly back to Glasgow to be there for him.

“Yeah, it’s a bit sad – even when we have downtime, we end up in the same place,” Burchill continues. “But I’d have been there anyway – because Jim’s dad, Jimmy, was ill.”

“In a funny way, Charlie was even more emotional about Dad than I was,” says Kerr. “We’d grown up in the same street, he knew my dad, and as we got older they became great friends.

“My dad made Charlie laugh a lot. Charlie’s own parents had already passed, and for us, they represented a certain Glasgow that we knew was dying out. Literally. So Charlie wanted to be around.”

Rummaging around in his dad’s attic during those six months, Kerr discovered a collection of Simple Minds press cuttings that his parents had accumulated.

“They were very proud, not just of me – but of the whole band,” he says. “They were proud of our crew, they were proud of our fans… Though they might not have been able to put it into words, I think they could feel that, with Simple Minds, it’s an uplifting thing. It’s a positive thing.”

Recorded in Hamburg with a production team including Andy Wright (Massive Attack) and Gavin Goldberg (Simply Red), Direction Of The Heart upholds that positive tradition. Reflective but ultimately hopeful, it’s an album designed to shine a light in dark times.

Kerr points to opening track (and recent single) Vision Thing, written partly as a tribute to Jim Snr, as an example of the emotional “sweet spot” where they like to operate.

“Lyrically, it came out of an incredibly sad situation, but it’s also a celebration of life. Musically, it has that bounce that gets people moving when we play it live.”

“I wasn’t quite sure how Jim would be after the death of his father,” admits Burchill. “Because they were so close. But he was very positive, actually. It was almost like he’d been energised, in a strange kind of a way.”

The album’s light-in-the-dark sentiment, and the troubled times it emerged from, remind Kerr of an earlier Simple Minds classic.

Simple Minds Direction Of The Heart
Simple Minds Direction Of The Heart cover

“This autumn is the 40th anniversary of New Gold Dream, and that was described as a very optimistic record,” he says of an album that rang with talk of promised miracles and glittering prizes. “But if you look at the times it came out of… things were on fire. And Glasgow was on its knees.

“In the industries that had made the city so proud, they were closing the gates. It would be a few years before Glasgow started to believe in itself again. The word reinvention hadn’t been invented.”

Simple Minds, of course, are masters of reinvention, from the electro-futurism of I Travel and Love Song to widescreen anthems like Alive And Kicking and Sanctify Yourself. Direction Of The Heart straddles both poles, with big melodies and big sentiments (“first you jump, then get wings”) wedded to songs mostly up in the 120-130 BPM range.

“Quite a few of them are really fast,” says Burchill. “It wasn’t a conscious thing – it would be difficult to write with a tempo in mind. We just looked at these songs together and thought, ‘This is the record’.”

From the first grabby hooks of Vision Thing, the LP is shot through with those signature chiming Charlie Burchill guitar riffs. “They come very easily,” nods Burchill. “But often they pass me by, and it’s Jim who’ll pick up on something. He’ll say, ‘That’s a killer riff’, and I’ll think, ‘Is it?’ That’s happened many times with us.”

Indeed, it happened in 1977 when Jim and Charlie wrote Act Of Love – the song that opened their very first gig, and which has finally made it onto an album a mere 45 years later (albeit radically reworked).

“In those days, we were just thinking about the next gig, not daring to dream about making it big,” says Kerr. “But when I heard that song, I thought, ‘Fucking hell, if Charlie can write those riffs, maybe we do have a chance’.

“For the first year, that was our rallying call. But by the time our debut LP came about we were bored with Act Of Love, it got thrown aside. We thought, ‘We’ll come back to it one day’. Well here we are, over 40 years on, coming back to it.”

Human Traffic is another in which dark subject matter – a JG Ballard-inspired tale of a “world high on fumes and misery” – is put through the filter of one of Simple Minds’ most unabashed pop songs to date (complete with cameo from Sparks’ Russell Mael, who they approached after Kerr heard his own demo from another room, and thought that it was Sparks).

Having emerged from Glasgow’s burgeoning punk scene as Johnny & The Self-Abusers, both Jim and Charlie admit to having had a love-hate relationship with the P-word.

Photo by Dean Chalkley

“When we were growing up, pop meant The Beatles, and they were your mum and dad’s band,” smiles Kerr. “We wanted to be underground and alternative but we just couldn’t help ourselves. Melody was pouring out of us.

“Our second single was Chelsea Girl – if that’s not a perfect pop song, I don’t know what is. Even so, I’d say we were always a bit wary of pop.”

“It’s a funny word, pop, isn’t it?” muses Burchill. “When you’re talking about pop, you’re actually talking about melody. And some people have a real big fear of melody.

“In the past, we would have gravitated towards trying to make things ‘cooler’. Then, about five years ago, I found I was taking a completely different approach. I stopped worrying and went with it.”

Being honest, though, does Burchill still care a bit about whether Simple Minds are considered cool?

“I’d be lying if I said I didn’t,” he grins. “Nobody wants to be thought of as that old thing over there…”

‘That old thing over there’ is a charge that might well have been levelled at Simple Minds during their post-Live Aid comedown, when the politicised folk rock of Street Fighting Years killed their career in America, while at home they got swept away by the tides of baggy and Britpop.

But over the past decade, they’ve enjoyed a gratifying rebirth: 2018’s Walk Between Worlds was the band’s most successful album in more than 20 years, and they’re back playing to huge crowds.

Though they’ve built a knockout new line-up around them, it’s the cast-iron bond between Jim and Charlie that remains the beating heart of Simple Minds.

“As we’ve got older,” says Burchill [he’s 62, Jim’s 63], “we’ve really appreciated that more. I know I wouldn’t have been able to achieve what I have without Jim. Jim’s very much the big brother, and the guy who conceptualises everything. He pulls me along, and I’m really grateful for that. Life would have been pretty different without him.”

“We were very lucky,” agrees Kerr. “We grew up in Toryglen, a high-rise council estate in Glasgow. My dad didn’t want to move there but my mum convinced him to go and see it. On the very first day we moved in, they said, ‘Get out from under our feet and go play’.

“So we went down to the bottom of the road, and because they were still building the place, there were sandcastles and cement castles and bricks all around. Charlie was sitting on top of one of the sandcastles, playing with some other boys. We said, ‘Can we play?’, and they said, ‘Yeah, okay’. And we’re still playing.”

Photo by Thorsten Samesch

As for Direction Of The Heart, Kerr reckons that it’s a fairly accurate reflection of his journey to this point.

“All the big stuff in my life – from forming a band to moving to Sicily and opening a hotel – has always been when everything was telling us, ‘That doesn’t make sense’ or ‘that could never happen’,” he reflects.

“It’s usually been against the grain. But it wasn’t so much that I had courage or conviction – I’m just drawn to things like a magnet. You can call that what you want: direction of the heart, inner voice… whatever it is, there’s something pushing you.

“Charlie and I, at the age of 16, decided to stick out our thumbs and go hitchhiking. And all the other hitchhikers we met would have their equipment and their maps and stuff, whereas we had fuck all. We were just like, ‘Wherever the first lift’s going, that’s where we’re going.’

“And sure, we’ve strategised and planned at times over the years. But in a broader sense, we still see ourselves as sticking out our thumb, and going wherever the flow is gonna take us…”

Direction Of The Heart is out now via BMG

The post Simple Minds interview: “We wanted to be underground and alternative but we just couldn’t help ourselves” appeared first on Classic Pop Magazine.

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Classic Pop Celebrates New Order & Joy Division

Classic Pop Celebrates New Order & Joy Division

Four decades on from the release of seminal single Blue Monday, we pay tribute to New Order and Joy Division, two of Manchester’s finest bands, in this brand new issue.

In this special edition of Classic Pop Celebrates, we chronicle the entire crazy story from the formation of Joy Division via New Order’s incredible rise and on to the present day, with in-depth features on all of the albums, detailed features and eye-opening interviews with band members, who shed light on some of the pivotal moments in their career. All this and much, much more in this very special issue!

Plus, choose between two covers – or buy both for your collection and save! Our exclusive Joy Division cover is only available to order direct from our shop!

Don’t miss out – order your copy today!

Also in this issue…

  • Peter Hook discusses Joy Division’s debut album, Unknown Pleasures, and give us an insight into the recently reissued album, Low-Life
  • We survey the work of Peter Saville, the band’s travel companion since day dot and the mastermind behind some of the world’s most celebrated sleeve art
  • We handpick our Top 40 tracks and revisit the best of the member’s many collaborations
  • Read about both Factory Records’ and the infamous Hacienda nightclub
  • Plus, much more!

ORDER YOUR COPY HERE >

The post Classic Pop Celebrates New Order & Joy Division appeared first on Classic Pop Magazine.

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Cerrone interview: “I go clubbing in my own way”

Cerrone interview: “I go clubbing in my own way”

In this exclusive interview, gallic disco legend Cerrone talks remixes, inspiring Daft Punk and how he never got a “good vibration” from French pop… By Will Simpson Marc Cerrone has… The post Cerrone interview: “I go clubbing in my own way” appeared first on Classic Pop Magazine. ... Continue Reading

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