Sunday, December 31, 2006

Blue Zoo

Blue Zoo was a short lived British New Wave music group whose original band name was Modern Jazz, and who released a single "I Shoot Sheep" in 1980. Band members were: Mike Ansell on bass, Matthew Flowers on keyboards, Pete Lancaster on trumpet, Andy O on vocals, Tim Parry on guitar and Mickey Sparrow on drums. Tim Parry later went on to become a producer.

Blue Zoo had one hit single. In October 1982 "Cry Boy Cry" charted and reached number 13. It stayed on the UK Singles Chart Top 40 for eight weeks. They released an album 'Two By Two' - sometimes written-as 2x2 or 2By2 - in 1983.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Instant Hit: Dalek I Love You- Horrorscope

"Horrorscope" was the last single release for the British group Dalek I Love You which disbanded soon after it in 1983. The single was released on Korova and as 7" version it was backed  by "These Walls We Build" while the 12" version included the instrumental version. The song was performed Keith Hartley, while the artwork was provied by Ian Wright. The song appeared on their self titled album which was reissued in 2007.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Instant Hit: Rah Band- Messages From the Stars

The fictitious studio group masterminded by Richard Hewson released "Messages from The Stars" in 1983 for Catfish records. Just another love electro funk trip by Rah Band with lovely female vocals and and spacey dub. Update: The song was reissued by Sonoptix in 8 different remixes in 2011. 

Sunday, December 3, 2006

Instant Hit: Soft Cell- Torch (Extended)

"Torch" is one of my favorite Soft Cell songs. It was released back in 1982. The backing Vocals were provided by the female singer Cindy Ecstasy who also provided vocals on the extended version of this song which appeared on 'Non Stop Ecstatic Dancing'. The song was produced by Mike Thorne and it was originally issued on Some Bizarre in the UK. The remix version of this single was released in 2007 by Planet Clique.

Friday, December 1, 2006

I Start Counting

Pop experimentalists I Start Counting favored English artiness with a sense of fun. Unlike many other electronic groups from the '80s, I Start Counting never settled into a single formula; the band continued to tinker with its sound, shifting effortlessly from light to dark, accessible to avant-garde.

I Start Counting was formed in the early '80s by David Baker and Simon Leonard. In 1984, the duo was signed by Mute and released its debut single, the quirky "Letters to a Friend". "Letters to a Friend" easily distinguished itself from the glut of synthesizer-laden records from the mid-'80s with Baker's distinctly British talk-sing style and the psychedelic feel of the keyboards. The follow-up, 1985's "Still Smiling", was hailed as another instant classic from the band. This single release emerged in April 1985. "Slight but sweet, delicate intelligent electro-pop with melody and depth," They managed to produce the mini-LP Translucent Hands by the end of 1986. The final single to be taken from "Translucent Hands" was a rigorous rework of 'Lose Him', which appeared a year later, in January 1988, and featured samples from the legendary rubber movie Bound In Latex, as well as sampled cameos from Cary Grant and Tony Hancock.

Typically contrary, "Million Headed Monster" was the next single, in May 1989. Backed with "Listen" the former's pop thrills contrasted with the more experimental sounds of the latter. A final, full length LP 'Fused' appeared in June 1989, and provided an innovative blast of avant gard House contrasted with ambient soundtracks and a perfect pop palette blended in-between.

From an interview with Baker
"What we try to achieve is changing all the time because what we enjoy is listening to changes. Usually, if we've just done a pop song we want something different for the next one. It would be more commercially sensible to stick to one thing and decide we were going to be completely electropop or a dance band or completely weird, but I think we'd just get bored if we did that."
In fact, the duo were about to undergo a rigorous change of identity. The name I Start Counting was laid to rest, and Barker and Leonard chose another, Fortran 5, with which to continue their musical explorations.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Josef K.

Josef K was a Scottish post-punk band active in the early 1980s who released singles on record label Postcard Records. The band was named after the protagonist of Franz Kafka's novel "The Trial". The band was formed in 1979 originally as TV Art by Paul Haig (vocals, guitar) and Ronnie Torrance (drums).

A leading light in Scotland's neo-pop revival, Edinburgh's Josef K attempted an uneasy marriage of pop form and psychedelic sensibilities on a string of melancholic singles, all contained on the band's one original album, "The Only Fun in Town."
Being an essential part of the early '80s "Scottish sound" (along with their more R&B-influenced friends Orange Juice), crafting a herky-jerky but strangely light and gentle aesthetic something along the lines of what Joy Division might have sounded like if they'd decided to be a pop band. Though undeniably post-punk, Josef K had a thin sound that kind of tickles your ears rather than sinking into your belly: a mix of tinny, gloomy-sounding guitar parts with a gentle but shambling rhythm section and goofily laconic vocals.

The band's roots lie in the Edinburgh of 1978. Unlike so many new UK bands at the time who drew inspiration from the first wave of English punk, Josef K took its cues from the arty American proto-punk rock underground, performing early covers of classics by The Velvet Underground, Television, and Talking Heads. Thus Josef K's only proper LP during their lifetime was 1981's "The Only Fun in Town". Recorded in less than a week, it was Josef K at their best, sometimes dour and sometimes glib, always spontaneous and never ponderous, it proved to be an enduring classic of the era.

Josef K broke up shortly thereafter.. For two brief years at the dawn of the 1980s Josef K gave the Postcard label its sharpest cutting edge. Although outlived – and outsold - by label mates Orange Juice and Aztec Camera, Josef K's flame burned brightest, while their influence has touched bands as diverse as Propaganda and the Wedding Present.

Haig confessed:
"I was pretty depressed for a week because it was the end of an era, but after that I was really happy that we'd split, because I could get on with everything I wanted to do. I don't listen to any of those records now. It's all gone. Nothing from that period interests me, except maybe "Sorry for Laughing". We didn't really get on all that well towards the end. We didn't have anything in common, so there were no jokes, no happy feeling. It was just down to doing a job. Josef K weren't that famous anyway. We've split up, so what? Everybody changes."
Yet just as interesting are the subsequent solo careers of all four members, which include stints with Orange Juice, Aztec Camera and 4AD outfit the Happy Family. Not to mention the undervalued body of solo work produced by enigmatic frontman Paul Haig who went on to have a moderately successful career, subsequently exploring synth-based dance-pop, and deeper electronics.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Instant Hit: Shona Laing- Soviet Snow

Shona Laing is a New Zealand musician who was mostly popular in her native country but also had two minor international hits in the late 80's with "(Glad I'm) Not a Kennedy" and "Soviet Snow". "Soviet Snow" was released in 1987 and it managed to enter the US singles charts during the same year. The song was released by Virgin featured "South" as the b-side single. 

Monday, November 6, 2006

The Associates

The Associates were a Scottish post-punk and new wave band of the early eighties consisting of Billy Mackenzie and Alan Rankine. As the Associates, they had two hits before disbanding and going separate ways in the mid 80's. Billy was still using the name the Associates up to the 90's, while Alan was working with other artists under his own name.

Mackenzie and Rankine met in 1976 and formed a band The Ascorbic Ones. In 1979 though, they changed their name in to the Associates. Their debut single was David Bowie’s song “Boys Keep Swinging”, which was also released before Bowie’s version. This song attracted a good deal of attention and by 1980, they were touring with The Cure and The Passions and signed to Fiction. In the middle of 1980, the band released their debut “The Affectionate Punch”.

Their style is not so easy to describe. They went through many changes, first under the influence of David Bowie and Punk and then later under the the strong New Wave impact. In 1981, they released their second album “Fourth Drawer Down”. The next sentence describes their style in the early 80’s the best way:
“It is basically a series of genres surfed through with seas of wierd unplaceable noise, unexpected things happening, chiming guitars from Rankine and stream of consciousness, or teasing, lyrics and freefall cries from MacKenzie.” NME magazine interview from 1981:
The band’s breakthrough came in 1982 with the release of the single Party Fears Two, buoyed along by the popularity of synth-pop at the time, the song made #9 on the UK singles chart. Two other hits soon followed, “18 Carat Love Affair”, and “Club Country”, That year the band released what is widely regarded as their masterpiece “Sulk”, an album which became Melody Maker's Album of the Year.

Alan Rankine left the band in 1982 just before the "Sulk" Tour. Billy Mackenzie continued to write and record music under the Associates banner until 1990 and then under his own name. However, without the guiding hand of Rankine, recordings were sporadic and arguably failed to reach the majesty or inventiveness of his earlier work. True to the original band’s name, he never stopped working and writing music with other “associates”, either for himself or guest-starring in other artists’ albums with always stunning lead or backing vocals. He never reached the level of success he had with Rankine. Where once Warners had been glad to indulge his idiosyncrasies, now the company refused to release a newly completed album, "The Glamour Chase". From then on, MacKenzie was left to wander in pop's wilderness. Mackenzie was also a close friend (and rumoured lover) of Morrissey for several years, and is reported to be the subject of The Smiths’ song “William, It Was Really Nothing”.

Tragically Billy Mackenzie committed suicide in 1997 aged 39, after suffering from clinical depression.

“The body of Billy MacKenzie, singer with the legendary Associates,was found in a shed near his home at Auchterhouse, Dundee 22/1/97.The police say there were no suspicious circumstances. It was reported on BBC Radio One the following night, and on television.”

On 22nd January this year, Billy MacKenzie took his own life. He was 39 years old. He took an overdose of prescription drugs and died in a garden shed in the grounds of his father’s home in Auchterhouse, Dundee.

“It was the shed where he kept his beloved whippets - Billy was one of the leading trainers in the U.K. After discovering his son’s body, Billy’s father Jim burned the shed down. The police said there were no suspicious circumstances, and it later emerged that Billy had been suffering from depression, and had reacted badly to the death of his mother, Lily, the previous year. He left a note apologizing to his family, but said nothing of a specific reason for his suicide” Tribute and interview from Record Collector.

The albums “Beyond the Sun” (1997) and “Eurocentric” (2000) were released posthumously and re-constructed.Almost every Associates album has been re-issued so far, including a 25-Anniversary edition of 'The Affectionate Punch' in 2005. Alan Rankine is now a lecturer in music at Stow College in Glasgow, and worked with Belle and Sebastian on their debut album, “Tigermilk” in 1996. A book “The Glamour Chase” by Tom Doyle, documents the band’s career and Mackenzie’s subsequent life.

Friday, September 1, 2006

80's About!

So 80’s! A big bang or more a bit of fizzle? But when did the 80’s actually begin? A quick look at the fashion statements screams mistake after mistake…..but wait a minute….isn’t Lady Gaga doing what Toyah Wilox and Steve Strange were doing with their outrageous costumes. Then again, wasn’t Martin Fry’s famous gold lame jacket taken from the cover of an Elvis Presley LP? Wasn’t Marc Bolan mixing genders long before Boy George and Pete Burns? Didn’t Bowie make his big “I am gay” statement long before Frankie? Hmmm. Let’s agree that the roots of the 80’s, is firmly in the fertile soils of the decades that came before. Well if we’re joining dots here we’re going to get a final picture some time……aren’t we? Probably not!

80’s was about the dawn of a new sound to pop music, which  happened in the last years of the 70’s with Gary Numan and Tubeway Army. His topping the charts with “Are Friends Electric?” brought the synthesizer into the homes of the UK nation via Top Of The Pops. His look and voice was mostly David Bowie, but the sound was grand and the atmosphere one of alienation. Hazel o’Connor should also get a mention here for Breaking Glass….same theme and Tony Visconti (Bowie’s producer) twiddling the knobs.

However we have to wait until 1981 before the really “new” sounding music finally arrives at the top of the charts. Soft Cell’s “Tainted Love” gave a different kind of soul to the 60’s Northern Soul classic, and later that year The Human League scored a No.1 with “Don’t You Want Me”… also sort of about love being tainted. Interestingly, the Human League choose to proclaim that their No 1 hit was the first all synthetic song to hit the top of the charts…….hmmm didn’t Soft Cell do that 3 months previously? So with synths now on sale for public consumption there was no stopping the onslaught of their use in pop music. Ultravox mixed them with guitars, the disco scene born in the 70’s revamped the sound and sounded very sexy. Giorgio Moroder’s sound and style was being used in everything from the deepest underground sounds of Fad Gadget to the mainstream sound of Abba.
The sound was new and the fashion tried to be. Hairspray and backcombing battled against the Blitz Kids look of cool 30’s retro with the house of freaks make up to match. It was OK for boys to wear make-up (again!!!) which hadn’t happened since….well the decade before when glam rock turned the youth into glitter bugs with more mascara than mammy! Toyah took face painting to the extremes to try and cover up for the dodgy music she was making. Marc Almond wore false eyelashes and with Dave Ball made a classic debut album that still sounds fresh and dizzy.
Well it is impossible to give an overview of a decade in a few paragraphs, but what were the 80’s all about? Forget the politics and the remember Live Aid and how a pop star made the politicians look like a useless pack of disorganized, disinterested and insincere old men in suits. Forget the Iron Lady, Margaret Thatcher. Remember the fun, of Wham, the nasal vocals of Simon Le Bon, (it is a big part of 80’s pop). Spandau Ballet’s trying too hard to be serious. The cartoon Thompson Twins. The bubbly Mel and Kim. Erasure and Andy Bell’s camp and fun Top Of The Pops appearances and the silly, silly dancing. When it is pulled up close and inspected, the decade did exactly what the previous decades have done, and updated rock n roll. Every self respecting decade since the 30’s has done it effortlessly, and the 80’s is no different. Your ears will tell you the real movers in the scene when they say “That sound did not exist 10 years ago!” To all the stars, big and little, from the underground to the mainstream……..a heartfelt thank you for adding colour and texture to my life. For providing music and visuals that mean something long after they stopped being a daily event. If Yazoo were to record together again, can I request they write a new song called “Goodbye 80’s”?????

Wednesday, January 4, 2006

Top 40