BLANCMANGE – The Blanc Tapes

We’ve just been shopping…

Electronic outfit Blancmange emerged during a particularly energetic period in the UK’s classic synthpop scene. Originally formed in 1979 as a 3-piece outfit, Blancmange regrouped with Neil Arthur and Stephen Luscombe continuing as a duo.

Their first release was the Irene & Mavis EP in 1980, but it was Blancmange’s appearance on the iconic Some Bizarre Album in 1981 (alongside the likes of Depeche Mode, Soft Cell and The The) that really focussed attention on them. Signing to London Records soon after, the pair embarked on chart success, particularly on the back of ‘Living On The Ceiling’ which managed to reach No. 7 in the UK charts and became an international hit.


Happy Families, Blancmange’s 1982 debut album, is perhaps one of those albums that can be considered one of the true classics of the synthpop period. At times quirky and surprising, the album often combines some unusual instrumentation (including tabla and sitar) alongside some evocative pop melodies and a smooth, warm production care of Mike Howlett (who had also worked his magic with the likes of OMD and China Crisis). 

Edsel’s decision to release the (almost) definitive editions of Blancmange’s first 3 albums is a welcome one. Happy Families had previously been reissued by Edsel in 2008, with some other compilation releases appearing in the same period (although there were some critical comments about the quality of some of these releases). Blancmange also issued A ‘reimagining’ of the album, Happy Families Too… in 2013. 

Now with the release of The Blanc Tapes, each album is presented in a wonderfully designed book format that features commentary from Neil Arthur alongside lyrics, photos and credits for each release. But the real magic is that each album is showcased across 3 CDs per release, featuring bonus tracks (including some previously unreleased demos), B-sides, BBC sessions and period live tracks. 

Happy Families

As an album, Happy Families presents a solid collection of synthpop that embraces a warmth and charm with a curiously English flavour. It’s an album that encompasses both bittersweet moments as well as energetic pop. There’s an odd melancholia at work on the wistful tones of ‘I’ve Seen The Word’ and the instrumental ‘Sad Day’. Meanwhile, the powerful ‘Waves’, complete with sweeping strings, still remains one of the album’s finest moments. 

As ever, arranging the bonus tracks can be a tricky thing to pull off. Here, a concise selection of extended mixes and rare tracks seems a good compromise,

For the bonus tracks, things get interesting. There’s alternative versions of the classics, such as ‘Sad Day’ and the original no-strings version of ‘Waves’. But there’s also previously unreleased tracks and demos which is where the keen Blancmange fan is going to mine for gems. To be fair, many of these have been pulled from cassettes rather than master tapes, which might raise quibbles from audiophiles, but the choice between sound quality and being able to listen to these tracks is a good compromise.

As a result, there are intriguing oddities, such as the baroque electronica of ‘Black Bell’, whose rawness lends the instrumental a particular charm. ‘Melodic Piece’ gravitates between a pastoral reverie and a nod to the Germanic school of electronic music.

Elsewhere, ‘Holland’ starts off with spacey synth sounds before a chugging guitar joins in. ‘Your Hills’ (which had originally been part of Happy Families’ track listing) sounds at times like some lost indie pop composition fronted by Ian Curtis.

The BBC Radio 1 session includes the wonderful ‘I Would’, whose empathic rhythms and Arthur’s strident vocal showcase a lost classic. The delicate ice-pop of ‘Running Thin’ (another track jettisoned from Happy Families original concept) also features. 

At times, it may be difficult to imagine any of these raw tracks sitting alongside the rest of Happy Families. Yet the comparisons between the demo versions of tracks such as ‘Waves’ and ‘I’ve Seen The Word’ are a world away from the polished versions that appear on the final album. We’re left to imagine what fully formed versions of some of these ‘lost’ tracks would sound like.

The design of the whole package is exemplary. The wonderful Louis Wain-inspired sleeve art by Michael Brownlow is present and correct, while the book itself shows an eye for retaining the original design esthetic down to the typography for the text.

The press response to Happy Families in 1982 was mixed at times, particularly because Blancmange were shifting from an experimental outfit to a much more pop-orientated affair. NME summed up the album as “…the flaws are minor and the merits are major”.

Interestingly, Julian Cope, who was in the middle of the collapse of The Teardrop Explodes at the time, remained singularly unimpressed with Blancmange – and Happy Families in particular. It probably didn’t help that it had been sold to him as “like Scott Walker”. In Cope’s autobiography Head-On, he comments on his response to Happy Families, which was to set the record on fire and skate around his kitchen on it before nailing it to the kitchen wall. Critics!

Happy Families is available via Amazon.

Mange Tout

Blancmange’s sophomore album Mange Tout arrived in 1984 and was a more or less painless segue from Happy Families through to a bigger and bolder sound.

Most of this is due to the production chops of veteran producer John Luongo. ‘Blind Vision’, for instance, introduces a brass element to Blancmange’s palette of sounds, alongside a more muscular percussion. ‘My Baby’ also delivers another classic Blancmange moment, again augmented by brass additions. 

But the album also introduces some surprises, such as the acoustic ‘Time Became The Tide’. Here string instruments provide the foundations for Neil Arthur’s front and centre vocal delivery. Arthur appears to cast a nod back to the ocean motif that had informed Happy Families’ ‘Waves’, here referring to “Waves don’t often mean their anger”. 

This simplified approach to song arrangement is taken to its logical conclusion with ‘See The Train’, which is a purely vocal track.

But the album’s finest moment has to be ‘The Day Before You Came’. Here, Abba’s classic song takes on a particular English kitchen sink drama appeal (The trumpet refrain of the theme song from Coronation Street being a particularly apt addition). 

Once again, 12” and extended versions get included into the mix along with the album’s choice B-side tracks. This includes ‘Vishnu’, which takes Blancmange’s Indian inspirations to their logical conclusion on a sparkling immersive composition. ‘Heaven Knows Where Heaven Is’ (B-side to ‘Blind Vision’) meanwhile, is another sumptuous Blancmange number – an instrumental that’s all clean lines and captivating melodic flourishes. 

Also along for the ride is Heaven 17’s Martyn Ware, with a demo version of ‘Blind Vision’. It’s an unusual take with an insistent electronic percussion offset by ghostly electronic effects that wash in and out.

Those curious to hear an electronic version of ‘Time Became The Tide’ can also enjoy the dreamlike tones of the (instrumental) demo included here. Meanwhile, ‘It Never Rains’ is a slow-burning number with its choppy electronic rhythms and synth chords. 

There’s also a version of ‘All Things Are Nice’, which originally appeared on the 12” release of ‘The Day Before You Came’. Here, a spoken series of lyrics present some wry observations on everyday life (and were apparently penned the day after Margaret Thatcher returned to power in 1983). 

The third CD features a 1983 Radio 1 session along with a live recording culled from Blancmange’s 1984 performance at Hammersmith Palais. 

Mange Tout is available via Amazon.

Believe You Me

While Believe You Me is an album that boasts some fine moments, it’s probably safe to conclude that the 1985 album is the weakest outing for Blancmange during their classic era. That it also coincided with a downturn in the public interest in electronic music didn’t do it many favours either.

Single release ’What’s Your Problem?’ is serviceable synthpop, but perhaps lacks the dynamism that earlier Blancmange outings offered. There’s elements that suggest mid-period Heaven 17 here (another outfit that were to suffer from the law of diminishing returns after a bright start). 

At the time, Luscombe and Arthur had embraced the use of MIDI, BBC B Computers and UMI sequencers, which allowed them to take their demos into the studio. In fact, for ‘Lose Your Love’, one segment was so difficult to reproduce on the studio’s Fairlight that it was simply lifted wholesale from the demo. 

‘Lose Your Love’ is certainly one of the more punchy moments on the album. It also launched as a single with an energetic furniture-smashing video that ended up being banned from UK TV for, as Arthur explains, “’inciting violence in the home’. Because we were smashing up things. It was ridiculous”.

The use of cello and flute on ‘Why Don’t They Leave Things Alone?’ lends the finished piece a quiet quality, a track that offers up one of Believe You Me’s finer moments. 

Meanwhile, ‘Lorraine’s My Nurse’ sees the outfit adopting a similar strings and flute arrangement that had worked so well for Mange Tout’s ‘Time Became The Tide’. The result is a wonderfully baroque outing.

The album closes out with 2 instrumental numbers, of which, the piano-led reflective piece ‘John’ is perhaps the best track. 

Among the bonus tracks is ‘I Can See It’, which is essentially an extended version of ‘Why Don’t They Leave Things Alone?’. Also a 10min+ remix titled ‘Mixing On The Ceiling (Megamix)’ featuring several Blancmange moments (including ‘What’s Your Problem’, ‘The Day Before You Came’ and ‘Living On The Ceiling’).

Meanwhile, Demo track ‘A Remedial Course’, offers a brooding slice of synthpop mood music. Elsewhere, ‘River Of Life’ has a squelchy electronic appeal to it. 

There’s a surprise in the form of a simple yet effective cover version of Glen Campbell standard ‘Gentle On My Mind’. Subtle electronic effects tinkle away driving the composition, but it’s Neil Arthur’s confident vocal that carries the moment. This cover suggests an attempt at lightning striking twice after the band’s success with ‘The Day Before You Came’, but it’s got a particular magic all its own. 

The third CD features the requisite Radio 1 session and a BBC In Concert performance from 1986 at Hammersmith Odeon. 

Believe You Me is available via Amazon.

As ever, this collection can’t encompass everything from the period. As a result, some alternative mixes and tracks such as ‘Ecstasy And Electricity’ (which originally featured on a cassette given away with Electronic Soundmaker magazine in 1985) are missing. Meanwhile, the Irene & Mavis EP enjoyed its own reissue in recent times (and arguably sits outside of this particular period of Blancmange history anyway). 

Blancmange continue being an active force, with the release of 2011’s Blanc Burn album. A new album, Unfurnished Rooms, arrives this September.

Amazon issued a limited edition of The Blanc Tapes in a boxed set along with a signed print, although the albums are available in individual editions for discerning Blancmange fans.

In essence, Stephen Malins and Blancmange have done an exemplary job at assembling these reissues and they provide the perfect archive for Blancmange’s often-overlooked musical legacy.

The Blanc Tapes are out now on the Edsel label.


Warm electropop from the Pet Shop Toys…

Quite how electronic music entered a sudden renaissance period in the past 10 years is something that’s ripe for commentary and discussion. Certainly, there’s been an active contemporary electronic music scene in recent years that appears to show no signs of slowing down.

One of the bands to emerge during this fervent period has been the Dublin-based trio of Tiny Magnetic Pets. Consisting of Paula Gilmer, Seán Quinn and Eugene Somers, the outfit have established themselves through a series of EP releases and their 2009 debut album Return Of The Tiny Magnetic Pets.

The band cite the likes of Low-era Bowie, Brian Eno, Neu!, Boards Of Canada, Kraftwerk and OMD as influences. As inspiration goes, that’s a solid and eclectic list to draw from and has now led the band to release their latest long-player in the form of Deluxe/Debris on the Happy Robots label (the outlet that also gave us Pattern Language).

Deluxe/Debris delivers a collection of serviceable electropop numbers through a definite desire to embrace a warm, analogue sound and Gilmer’s whispery, wistful vocals. ‘Lost My Guiding Light’, like much of the material on the album, leans heavily in the pop direction. The combination of shimmering guitars and electronics slots in effortlessly atop a slick, smooth production.

The album also boasts collaborative efforts with former Kraftwerk member Wolfgang Flür, including the dynamic ‘Radio On’. Here, thumping electronic rhythms and sweeping melodies allow Gilmer to really stretch her vocal talents. There’s a robust, crunchy foundation to this composition that brings to mind the ‘lost’ electropop outfit Mirrors and is one of the album’s finest moments.


Deluxe/Debris also serves up a series of intriguing (mostly) instrumental numbers that appear to serve as breakpoints. This is typified by the atmospheric warmth of ‘Cloud Sequence’. Then there’s the plaintive piano melodies and Mellotron moods of ‘Cold War Neon’. Here, the composition presents a moment of reflection, complete with an oddly evocative French dialogue that drifts in and out of the piece.

The subtle, slow-burning appeal of ‘Here Comes The Noise I (Pink)’ segues into the more muscular ‘Here Comes The Noise II (White)’, which has a percussive warmth that suggests elements of OMD.

There’s a particular warmth and robustness to album closer ’Never Alone’ (the second of the Flür collaboration tracks) which rounds things off with style.

More recently, Tiny Magnetic Pets have been selected as support for OMD on the pioneering synthpop outfit’s forthcoming Punishment Of Luxury tour. It’s an element of approval that suggests the 3-piece are making the right noises, as well as presenting an opportunity for the band to reach a broader audience.

As an album, Deluxe/Debris presents several flavours that gives a very diverse ensemble. They’ve got the chops to push the envelope, but there are times on this album where, arguably, the band appear happier playing from a safe position. When they introduce their more experimental side, or opt for a more dynamic approach, Tiny Magnetic Pets shine brightest.

Nonetheless, this album showcases a band that’s still unfurling their feathers and suggests that they’re on a journey that’s going to deliver some memorable electropop in the future.

Deluxe/Debris is out now on Happy Robots Records.

Tiny Magnetic Pets are supporting OMD on the following dates:
23rd October: Vicar Street, Dublin, Ireland, 24th October: Mandela Hall, Belfast, 29th October: Empire Theatre Liverpool, 30th October: Colston Hall Bristol, 1st November: Cliffs Pavilion, Southend On Sea, 2nd November: Regent Theatre, Ipswich, 3rd November: Cambridge Corn Exchange, Cambridge, 5th November: De Montfort Hall, Leicester, 6th November: Royal Concert Hall, Nottingham, 7th November: Sheffield City Hall, Sheffield, 9th November: The Hexagon, Reading, 10th November: O2 Guildhall, Southampton, 11th November, G Live, Guildford, 13th November, Roundhouse London, 15th November: De La Warr Pavilion, Bexhill-On-Sea, 17th November: Manchester Academy, Manchester, 18th November: York Barbican, York, 19th November: Royal Concert Hall, Glasgow, 21st November: Symphony Hall, Birmingham, 22nd November, The Sage, Gateshead.

Ticket details via


An evening of electronic swagger…

This year has seen a broad variety of multi-band line-ups for electronic music events. Getting the right balance on the selected artists can be a tough trick to pull off, but the Electro Punk Party, staged at The Water Rats in London’s Kings Cross, was going to do its best to present an evening of fine music for the discerning electronic music audience.

As ever, the logistics of running these events bring with it some technical problems. It’s perhaps the bane of the electronic musician that sometimes even the littlest things can bring everything to a dead halt. But aside from some minor issues (and a slightly later start), it was full steam ahead once things got going.

Microchip Junky first emerged on the music scene in 2012. Citing such diverse influences as Fad Gadget, Nitzer Ebb, Depeche Mode, The Buzzcocks and Wire, his music straddles a peculiar line between the electronic and a more industrial approach.

Much of Microchip Junky’s set tonight combines throbbing electronic percussion against sampled dialogue or simple empathic words. There’s a certain rawness to the material which often dips its toe into sleazier synth territory, including a sex-themed number that actually samples whiplashes. All of which is married to some very odd visuals (including an unsettling video of what appears to be jerking mannequins striding through a cityscape).

Yet there’s an odd accessibility to Microchip Junky’s material that somehow runs counterpoint to the idea that the first support act on should (by tradition) be the worst. The inclusion of a completely left field choice of cover song (‘Jilted John’) seals the deal, but he’s then joined on stage by LegPuppy for ‘Swagger’ which ramps the punk attitude up to 9 with a tune whose core conceit is that everyone should “Fuck off!!”.

Next up is Pink Diamond Revue, an outfit that features mannequin Acid Dol taking stage centre. While one of his associates casually dresses Acid Dol throughout the set (also tossing golf balls and toilet roll at random), guitarist Tim Lane strikes a menacing presence on stage. There’s a dark surf guitar element to Pink Diamond Revue, which is given emphasis by live drums (the operator of which looks disturbingly similar to Henry Rollins).

Without any decent musical foundation, this cabaret approach would be tough to pull off. But there’s a vitality and energy that Pink Diamond Revue bring to the stage that works a subtle magic on the audience. While B-Movie footage and samples spool away in the background, it’s Lane’s solid guitar work that draws the focus. Often coming across like something culled from the Repo Man soundtrack, one of tonight’s attendees perhaps more accurately suggested that Pink Diamond Revue would slot right in to a David Lynch film.

Tunes such as ‘At The Discotheque’ even give it a vocodered Kraftwerkian feel at times. Meanwhile, ‘Weird Love’ mashes up the theme to The Persuaders with the ghosts of lost guitars.

All of the acts tonight bring their own visual flair along with a sense of theatre. But when LegPuppy take to the stage, that sense of spectacle shifts up a gear. When frontman Darren casually says that they “Can’t start without the clown”, there’s a few worried looks around the audience. Is the evening going to turn into an impromptu scene from a Quentin Tarantino movie?

When said clown arrives, and the music kicks off, it’s clear that this isn’t going to be an ordinary music performance. Categorising LegPuppy’s music would be a tough thing to sum up simply (its apparently been labelled ‘Serial Killer Step’ by some). There’s a dark electro element at play here, but at the same time there’s a brash, cheeky line in lyrics that suggests a nod to the likes of Ian Dury.

‘Selfie Stick’ (a forthcoming release) takes a timely dig at Instagram culture. The disconcerting dreamlike tones of ‘She’s Lost Her Soul’ offers up a commentary on London’s disappearing club and venue culture, with shoutouts to the likes of the Astoria, The Marquee and other classic venues (see the mini-documentary online here).

Throughout LegPuppy’s set, the clown stalks the stage – and also the audience. Meanwhile, a man with a broom starts sweeping the front of the stage. Because at this point why not?

Things get darker for Dicepeople’s set on a stage that’s picked out only by the head mounted lights of members Matt and Rafael. Meanwhile, a black and white video collage of nuclear tests and other stark images unfolds behind them.

Dicepeople’s seductive brand of dark electro unfolds slowly with singer Atashi Tada taking a striking position stage centre. The staccato rhythms of ‘Synthetic’ gives the track a live rendering that has a particular punch to it. But it’s the cover of Depeche Mode’s ‘Strangelove’ that perhaps delivers Dicepeople’s finest moment of the night. It’s a big, gothic moment that sees Atashi’s vocals soaring and gets an enthusiastic response from the crowd.

Meanwhile, between the bands, DJs Andrew Maley and Rob Santos ably take care of DJ duties with a suitable soundtrack (including choice tunes from the likes of TR/ST and Hurts).

HOTGOTHIC’s odd combo of MicroKorg-playing Cocaine Katy, guitarist Dr Jacket and wideboy vocalist Malibu Stacy looks like they’ve all walked in from different bands. But there’s an attitude and an ear for bold melodies that makes the whole thing work.

Often, the lyrics get straight to the point: “Big dollars pay for my wife’s tits” states Stacy on ‘Big Dollars’, even as he’s blurring the lines between the stage and the audience by wandering back and forth. Meanwhile, ‘Safe As Houses’ has big percussive drum fills, while ‘Trump Card’ lends a timely political element to the performance. There’s a frenetic collage of electronic sound making up ‘Drug Problems’, which ends with Stacy writhing on the floor in front of the audience.

Every band on stage for the Electro Punk Party have their own distinct style and approach, all very different from each other. But the element that ties them all together is a theatrical approach to live performances. A far cry perhaps from gigs where everything is taken a bit too seriously and the study of what gear the bands are using is somehow more important that the actual tunes.

There’s a dynamism at work here which suggests that electronic music isn’t quite the staid music genre that it often gets painted as. There’s also an attitude and a swagger that slots in perfectly with the ‘Punk’ tag, yet steers clear of any footfalls into pastiche.

These are all bands and artists that it’s worth your while seeing if you favour spectacle in your live performances. The tunes aren’t too shabby either.


WIN 2 tickets to the SYNTHETIC CITY LONDON event this September!

SYNTHETIC CITY features an all-star lineup of electronic music artists and bands, including PARRALOX, HOT PINK ABUSE, THE LUNCHBOX SURRENDER, TRAIN TO SPAIN, DEVIANT UK, MR VAST, AMONG THE ECHOES, PAUL HUMPHRIES, MILAN, JOHNNY NORMAL and EDEN. The event will also feature DJ setlists between bands.

A fantastically inspiring grassroots electronic music event you simply can’t miss.

Synthetic City takes place between 2pm and 1am on 9th September 2017 at The Water Rats, 328 Gray’s Inn Road, King’s Cross, London WC1X 8BZ

To be in with a chance to win 2 tickets, visit our Facebook page at for all the details (Terms & Conditions apply).

Winner will be drawn at random at 12pm (GMT) on Friday 1st September 2017 (Terms & Conditions: )

HOWARD JONES Best 1983-2017

A new compilation showcases one of the UK’s precious electronic talents…

The UK music scene of the 1980s established a classic era for synthpop acts. Among them, Howard Jones was always one of the more intriguing artists with his solo outings marking him out from the plethora of electronic bands of the time.

With a career that flourished on the back of hits such as ‘New Song’, ‘Pearl In The Shell’ and ‘Like To Get To Know You Well’, Howard Jones stood out as an electronic artist that was capable of bringing warmth to the world of synths. His 1984 debut album Human’s Lib sealed the deal when it landed a No. 1 spot in the UK charts. Meanwhile, realising the limitations of one bloke behind a set of synths for live performances, Jones recruited mime artist Jed Hoile to give concerts a more dynamic visual presence.

Jones has continued to write and record music up to the present day with releases being coordinated on his own Dtox label. His live shows, likewise, continue to engage audiences through new albums such as Revolution Of The Heart and Ordinary Heroes, as well as showcase performances of his classic albums Human’s Lib and Dream Into Action.

Cherry Red continue to be the label of choice for many reissues and, having acquired the Warners back catalogue of Howard Jones, Best 1983-2017 will mark their first release as part of a long-term plan to work with the musician’s extensive songbook. This compilation offers a retrospective that utilises that material in a fairly comprehensive 3-CD set which encompasses Jones’ career from 1983 through to 2017.

It could be argued that this new compilation might be a bit redundant when compared to 2003’s The Very Best Of Howard Jones. However, from the label’s point of view it makes sense to kick things off with a compilation which acts as a reminder of the appeal of Howard Jones, as well as including some interesting additional material. “I wanted to include the single releases”, comments Jones in the sleeve notes, “and my favourite tracks from the last 35 years”.

Overseen by Jones himself, this collection pulls together a selection of his classic hits alongside tunes culled from his post-80s career. There’s a few surprises thrown in for good measure, such as the strident pop of ‘Eagle Will Fly Again’ which featured on the soundtrack to the 2016 film Eddie The Eagle.

The album discards a chronological play order to give the album a more engaging listening experience. As a result, it’s 1985’s ’Things Can Only Get Better’ that kick off proceedings with its combo of brassy horns and clean synth sounds. Meanwhile, ‘No One Is To Blame’ (which was actually Howard Jones’ biggest US hit) takes things down a gear with a lush production courtesy of Phil Collins and Hugh Padgham.

The captivating melodic appeal of ‘What Is Love?’ has, surprisingly, lost none of its appeal in the decades since its original release. The smooth synth lines have a timeless quality to them, while Jones’ yearning vocals give the song its heart. Equally, the simple and evocative appeal of 1983’s ‘New Song’ retains a charm and style that established Howard Jones’ talent for euphoric pop.

As with many artists of his era, Howard Jones lost his grip on the charts as time went on. This didn’t diminish his knack for melody and composition however. The polished pop of tracks such as ‘Everlasting Love’ and the lush tones of ‘The Prisoner’ still boast a strong songwriting talent, ably assisted by the co-producing skills of ex-Tears For Fears member Ian Stanley.

In fact Howard Jones also managed to bring onboard other well-known names to work on his material, such as Midge Ure for his 1992 album In The Running (from which, the soulful ‘City Song’ and perky pop of ‘Lift Me Up’ feature here).

The pulsing electronic beats of ‘Just Look At You Now’, from 2005’s Revolution Of The Heart, is perhaps one of the best examples of Jones’ ability to develop his style with contemporary licks. “I think that it’s important that if you’re gonna embrace electronic music that you try and do something new with it and don’t just recreate sounds from the past”, commented Jones in an interview with TEC back in 2010.


2009’s Ordinary Heroes was a more stripped-down affair, presenting a series of compositions that reflected a more mature approach with arrangements dominated by strings and piano. Here, that release is represented by the likes of the wistful ‘Someone You Need’ and the kitchen sink drama of ‘Ordinary Heroes’.

The third CD features special acoustic live recordings as well as an exclusive mix of ‘You’re The Buddha’ by long-term collaborator Robbie Bronnimann. The tracks on this bonus CD were previously only available via Howard Jones 2015 book edition of Engage. While this additional CD might seem like overdoing things, it presents some of the musician’s work in a new light – and also shows the enduring strength of the songs to be rendered in a different way.

As a collection, Best 1983-2017, manages to present a comprehensive selection of nearly 35 years of the music of Howard Jones. It omits some later singles, such as ‘Angels & Lovers’, ‘Tomorrow Is Now’ and the Donald Fagen cover ‘I.G.Y’, but captures his work in a way that perhaps surpasses a standard ‘Greatest Hits’ release. The CD booklet comes with an interview with the artist himself while the bold, visual style of the sleeve artwork also brings back the design chops of Steg (previously responsible for the Human’s Lib sleeve illustration).

Casual fans may be happy with previous compilations, but this 3-CD set will have a special appeal not only to loyal Howard Jones fans, but also perhaps a new audience keen to experience the appeal of this pioneering electronic musician.

Howard Jones Best 1983-2017 is out now on Cherry Red.

Howard Jones is touring the UK this autumn: 23rd November – ABC Glasgow, 24th November – O2 Ritz, Manchester, 25th November – O2 Institute, Digbeth, 29th November – Tramshed, Cardiff, 30th November – 02 Shepherd’s Bush Empire, 1st-4th November – Electric Dreams Weekender, Bognor Regis. Please visit for full tour details and tickets.

HANNAH PEEL In Conversation

Discussing Hannah Peel’s elderly alter ego…

Hannah Peel’s musical arc has chartered some intriguing landscapes over the years. Her original music box arrangements of classic songs by the likes of OMD, Soft Cell, New Order and Cocteau Twins gave her a very unique profile in the world of electronic music. But she also demonstrated that she was capable of collaborative ventures, notably with her band The Magnetic North as well as working alongside electronic music pioneers such as John Foxx.

Following the release of her critically-acclaimed 2016 album Awake But Always Dreaming (see TEC review), Hannah Peel has been busy crafting her third album which employs her elderly alter ego. In fact Mary Casio: Journey To Cassiopeia has been a concept that Peel has been developing for some time, but it was a chance meeting with a brass ensemble that gave the project a new focus.

Commissioned for a musical project under the title of Tubular Brass (which was an adaptation of Mike Oldfield’s classic Tubular Bells), Peel saw the possibilities of combining electronic music and brass instruments. The result was a 7-piece movement that tracks the story of elderly stargazing electronic musician Mary Casio. Her lifelong dream is to leave her mining town home of Barnsley in South Yorkshire and journey into space via home-constructed, hand-made machines that ‘buzz and whirr’ alongside her ever-growing collection of antiquated analogue synths, which she started collecting ever since her father gave her a Casio keyboard as a child.

The first sampling of this project was the release of the haunting ‘Sunrise Through The Dusty Nebula’, a piece which breathes an oddly captivating sense of romance. Recorded in Barnsley, this and the other 6 segments that make up the Journey To Cassiopeia album combine to tell the story of Mary Casio’s journey to the stars.

As well as the forthcoming album, Peel has also embarked on a series of special showcase performances with the 29-piece brass ensemble. In July, this included a performance at London’s Southbank where audiences were treated to a small selection of Journey To Cassiopeia’s material.

Included with the performance was an on-stage interview with Hannah Peel in which she talked a little about the origins of Mary Casio, working with brass musicians and combining them with analogue synthesisers.

Here you are with a 29-piece ensemble. It must be really inspiring for you to have this kind of contact with all these instruments around you.

It’s been a wonderful collaboration and really amazing to work with everybody – and Sandy the conductor as well. It came from a kind of mishap of me posting something on Instagram – Electronic meets Brass – and then all of a sudden I’m writing a piece of music for these guys. So it’s been an amazing journey. That was two years ago and it’s just now starting to take off.

How much work has it taken from you actually writing the score to rehearsals, to fine-tuning, to maybe readjusting, to get it to this stage?

Around two years ago I was writing some tracks that I kind of just called Mary Casio because I liked the name – it’s my middle name, I never used to like it, I used to hate it – and I had Casio keyboards in there in the studio. If you’ve ever had one you know that when you press the beats to get the time going, the waltzes, and you get the kind of programmed chords in there. I used to pretend I was this character.

I shy away from my middle name, I don’t wear my glasses normally and so it felt quite nice to have this character. So it started off as an electronic piece and when the commission came I made more electronic tracks. I grew up playing brass bands, so it wasn’t like I didn’t know what a trombone sounded like or anything like that! So, when it came to actually putting the parts of the electronic into the brass arrangements, choosing actually which brass went where and which parts electronically – I should give away was actually the hardest because I didn’t want to give it all away, because I love some of the sounds that I’ve created with the Moogs and the Roland and things… So yeah, that was the process I suppose. Then we just gradually went through that and spoke to Sandy and he totally understood what I was getting at.

There’s a lot of bass in this piece – the lower register is really prominent. At one point backstage when you were doing the sub-bass and that went to, I think, the flugelhorn and the tubas, there was a bottle that started rattling on the table over there through the vibrations! So tell us about working in the lower register, of the richness of it?

Well I think it was really important because there was a trombone player and that, for me, gives me the sensation of what it feels like to be in the bottom end of the band. I love the feeling that you get when you’re surrounded by that sound and I felt that a lot of recordings don’t have that – especially with brass bands. I never get that sensation; it’s mostly cornet heavy – sorry cornets! And you get these amazing qualities, the oscillators and the resonances in the Moogs and things. So it felt like a really beautiful pairing to see what a tuba would sound like with the bass line.

The brass band tradition is obviously strong in the north of England. It’s an international, universal thing as well – there are brass bands in India, in Africa, there’s a great brass band tradition in New Orleans. But the brass band tradition in the north of England – and I think the way that you’ve tapped into it – has this melancholy aspect to it. Tell us more about that.

Yeah, it’s something you can’t replace. There’s just something when this combination of instruments play together, that it really does give you a sense of memory and nostalgia. That for me has always been a part of my work. Even in just electronic stuff, there’s always an element of that there. I don’t know whether it’s from growing up in Yorkshire and kind of yearning for Ireland where I was born, or just taking that sound and taking it to a new place, which I found really interesting. But it’s irreplaceable and it’s so beautiful to hear a brass band.

So, electronic music – some people might think that’s it’s very male-dominated, that’s the cliché of the boys in their bedrooms, as it were, but woman have made a real contribution to electronic music over the years, people like Daphne Oram and Delia Derbyshire, and in the American jazz tradition as well, keyboard players like Patrice Rushen and Geri Allen who unfortunately just died. So women have been using electronics and electronic keyboards for a number of years, and they’ve really made a significant contribution. The PRS foundation has just launched the Oram award with Matthew Herbert. Tell us about the importance of women doing electronic music, and what advice would you give to young women who want to go into electronic music?

I suppose going back to Mary Casio as this character, I think when I started to learn about Delia Derbyshire and Daphne Oram and their stories they became role models for me to look up to because there isn’t that many. And I think it’s important that people young should find role models to have; something to pin on your walls and say “I want to do that”.

But when I found out about their life stories and what they went through and the fact that Delia really wasn’t kind of discovered until she’d passed away and they found all the tapes in her attic. So Mary Casio became a bit of a nod to that world of forgotten memories and people that maybe pass under our radar. We’re surrounded by digital things and get blasted with things all the time. Sometimes it’s just easier to follow mainstream music because you don’t want to have the hassle of looking further. But Mary was somebody that I felt maybe hadn’t ever left her home. She’d stayed in Barnsley for the whole of her life and she was this kind of pioneer and she had these electronic instruments in her back garden and a telescope, and she would stargaze and she would have this dream of going to Cassiopeia.

So in her eighties, she decides that she’s going to go, she’s going to leave Earth and for the first time leave her hometown and travel to space. I think that was a nod for me to……we shouldn’t be forgetting people and not even electronic people, but everything, even old people really. It’s very sad – a lot of people get forgotten. So that was my nod to those people that I see as role models.

What about the voice at the end of the piece?

That’s an actual recording of my grandfather in 1927 in Manchester Cathedral and he’s singing a piece by Handel. He was one of the first voice sopranos to be recorded and he was 13 at the time. The story is that he made this recording and the wax hadn’t set properly so the record label came back and said “Oh we want to record it again” and I think the day after, his voice had broken!

It’s all about the timing isn’t it?!

I knew about it but I never had a copy or anything, so ripped it off YouTube and that’s what you’re hearing. So it became a part of her journey because that’s the last piece. So this is 3 pieces out of 7, so normally it’s 40 minutes long. And I chose the kind of pieces that I felt tell the story the most.

So the second piece is called ‘Sunrise Through The Dusty Nebula” and it’s after she’s left Earth and you go to that kind of plateau where everything just goes silent and then she looks behind her and sees the sun coming up over the Earth and all the people that she’s left behind. And then we go to ‘Life Is On The Horizon’, which is a little bit further along, and at the very end she reaches ‘The Planet Of Passed Souls’. I didn’t write a piece called ‘Cassiopeia’ – I kind of left it to us to decide whether she makes it there or not.

So in my mind it was like she went to a planet where it sounds like the wind and the rain and that’s the sample of in my caravan on a stormy night. And she goes to this planet and then through the wind and the rain, these voices and this music box, and obviously someone from her past comes singing through the clouds to remind her. So I suppose in a way it kind of represents whether she makes it or not – is this just all a figment of her imagination? Is she dreaming, and the beauty of us being able to dream and go there, or is it that this is her final last breath as she passes into another life… or another realm, shall we say?

Mary Casio : Journey To Cassiopeia is released on 22nd September and can be pre-ordered via

Hannah Peel has several live shows lined up for this year including:
5th Aug Edinburgh Festival, 12the Aug LeeFest Music Festival, Edenbridge, 23rd Sept Liverpool Philharmonic Hall, Liverpool, 30th Sept, The Arc Concert Hall, Stockton-on-Tees, 21st Oct, Barnsley Civic Theatre, Barnsley.

Ticket details: Please see the Electricity Club Event Calendar for details on these performances as well as other upcoming concerts.

Special thanks to Barry Page.