Lost Albums : GARY NUMAN – Sacrifice

“Creatively, I felt like I’d come home. I was enjoying it all again, I was thinking better, my mind was wandering like it used to. Most importantly, it was fun again” – Gary Numan

Sacrifice has often been cited as the dawn of Gary Numan’s career renaissance in the mid to late 1990s but, unusually for such a milestone release, it is currently unavailable in its original, extended and reissued formats. Whilst it isn’t held in the same regard as, say, Pure or Splinter (Songs From A Broken Mind), it’s a key album in the discography. It saw Numan working from a black canvas; both in terms of its dark sleeve and its lyrical content, which saw the former synthesizer superstar flirting with horror, and atheism; backdropped by a cold, industrial soundtrack.

Both financially and professionally, the first half of the 1990s proved to be a turbulent period for Gary Numan. Without a top ten hit since 1982, each subsequent album release saw the former Tubeway Army frontman deviate further and further away from his original John Foxx-influenced sound; flooding his over-produced recordings with saxophones, wailing female backing vocals and flashy guitar solos. He would of course reach his career nadir in 1992 with Machine and Soul, a largely horrific collection of over-long, Prince-inspired pop-funk workouts that has long since been denounced by its creator. As Numan himself observed: “It is the most ‘non-Numan’ album I’ve ever made, for my style, sound and character are completely missing”.

To some observers, a support slot on Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark’s Liberator tour in December 1993 was a sign of just how far Gary Numan’s star had faded since his early 1980s peak. In the early throes of their career, OMD had once supported Numan in 1979 on his Pleasure Principle tour. But this was no changing of the synth guard – the fact was, Numan had been added to the bill due to poor ticket sales and OMD (who would not tour the UK again until 2007) were promoting Liberator, a poor-selling and critically-derided album. Numan, who’d recently completed his successful Dream Corrosion tour, gratefully grasped the opportunity to play in arenas again for the first time since 1981. Mixing recent material with classic hits and album tracks, his band now included Mark Eldridge (aka Kipper), who would later go on to work with Sting, and future Björn Again member, Teresa Jane Davis, who provided both backing vocals and eye-catching outfits!

While many fans and music historians point towards Machine and Soul as the catalyst for Numan’s resurgence, the seeds of his creative comeback can actually be traced to 1991 and his soundtrack work with regular collaborator Michael Smith on the low budget horror movie The Unborn. A long held ambition of Numan’s to work in the film field, the project proved to be a perfect fit for him. Within the confines of his newly built Outland studio, the sessions proved to be extremely fruitful and the pair came up with over 100 sound vignettes, many of which would later be collated on the 1995 release, Human. Some of these ideas would also provide the springboard for future albums, including Outland and Sacrifice.

Aside from hitting a crossroads in his professional life, 1993 also marked a turning point in his personal circumstances. Following a split with long-term partner Tracey Adam, Numan began dating a fan named Gemma O’Neill who would prove to have a positive effect on the next stage of his career. Providing career guidance as well as companionship, she would prove to be a steadying influence over the next few decades. As Numan recalls in his excellent memoir, Praying To The Aliens: “She gave me the confidence to step back into the studio and let whatever was inside me come out.” By the end of the year Numan had not only commenced work on his next album but, under O’Neill’s advice, he’d also started to integrate older material into his live sets.

The new year would prove to be a busy one for Numan. He kicked off 1994 promoting the ‘Like A Refugee (I Won’t Cry)’ single, an uncharacteristically celtic-flavoured collaboration with masked Italian percussionists, Dadadang. Penned by Hugh Nicholson (a former member of Radio Heart that had included Numan), its lyric was loosely based upon Yugoslavia’s refugee crisis in the early 1990s. Numan would also collaborate with soul singer Mike Allen on a version of ‘Are ‘Friends’ Electric?’ (billed as Generator featuring Gary Numan).

There were a brace of releases on the self-funded Numa label too, including double CD and VHS video versions of Dream Corrosion (a fine document of the previous year’s October tour) and the soundtrack album The Radial Pair that accompanies the video of accomplished airshow pilot Numan performing aerobatic stunts with Norman Lees (who would sadly tragically perish in a spitfire crash in 2000).

Due to financial constraints, Numan was, effectively, running a cottage industry during this busy period. Following his split with Tracey Adam, he took a crash course in desktop publishing and took on the responsibility of providing album artwork, t-shirt and programme designs (under the guise of NuFederation). This was of course in addition to overseeing the writing, playing, production and engineering on Sacrifice. The Dream Corrosion and Radial Pair sleeves are decidedly rather amateurish, but Numan learnt quickly and produced a sleeve for Sacrifice that perfectly complemented its contents.

It’s some of the instrumental Radial Pair recordings that provide the backbone of the Sacrifice album, showcasing a harder and more industrial sound, and stripped of the Jam and Lewis-influenced beats that had permeated much of Numan’s recent material. Live audiences were already used to hearing the choral-flavoured ‘Mission’ at the start of each show; a portent of what was to come. Lyrically, Numan was inspired by the work of horror writer Clive Barker (in particular, Weaveworld and Imajica), while other lyrics stemmed from an unfinished novel of Numan’s, tellingly-titled Pray: The Final Treachery of God.

Sacrifice was preceded by the single ‘A Question Of Faith’ (in an edited ‘agnostic’ version) in October 1994. Boasting a Depeche Mode-esque title, Numan would single out the Basildon outfit’s blues and gospel-tinged Songs Of Faith And Devotion as being a key influence during the recording of Sacrifice. This is evidenced by tracks such as ‘Mercy In You’ and ‘Get Right With Me’; their drum patterns appearing to have a significant percussive influence. As he told The Quietus in 2012: “It’s a huge album for me and re-kindled my love of darker music. It’s a massively important album and it helped to massively change my own direction and I’ve been going out in that direction ever since”.

‘A Question Of Faith’ was the first of many tracks whose blueprints had originally been laid down on the Human and Radial Pair recordings. According to Numan, its lyrics dealt with obsession, while the chilling postscript asked those who “kneel down [and] praise God” whether they questioned their faith in the wake of the Jamie Bulger murder the previous year: “When children kill children / Don’t it make them wonder? / Don’t it make them question their faith?” Certainly not a track for sensitive Radio One listeners and, indeed, neither the single nor its parent album would trouble the charts.

Another key track on the album was ‘Deadliner’. Listeners were invited into Numan’s head as he vividly recalled a disturbing and unsettling nightmare via a series of bleak spoken word verses: “I’ve known fear many times but nothing like this / I’m so scared I can’t breathe / I know I’m asleep but I know this real”. With its ghostly use of piano and trademark woahs, it quickly became a fan favourite. Equally impressive was ‘Love and Napalm’, a more riff-based affair that harked back to the Replicas period, offering Numan the opportunity to showcase some rarely used guitar skills.

Another highlight on the album was Numan’s beautiful ode to Gemma O’Neill, ‘You Walk In My Soul’. Not only did it offer some lyrical respite from atheistic tracks such as ‘Desire’, it added some colour to an otherwise cold and – at times – heavy-going collection. Musically it picks up from where ‘Love Isolation’ left off on Machine and Soul, with its scaled down use of backing vocals and lovely choral touches (courtesy of a well used Korg M1). The track would later be played at Numan’s wedding to O’Neill.

Whilst the album often suffers from its use of some rather unimaginative and repetitive drum loops, the album put Numan firmly back on track. A tour-closing show at the end of the 1994 saw Numan in both confident and defiant form, even daring to drop number one hit ‘Cars’ from the set list. The comeback had begun…


Lost Albums : U96 Replugged

Despite having sold over 15 million records worldwide, U96 are virtually unheard of in the UK.

The Hamburg-based electronic act are best remembered for their huge international hit, ‘Das Boot’, a techno treatment of Klaus Doldinger’s 1981 film theme, which crept into the UK Top 20 in the summer of 1992.

Originally released in 1991, ‘Das Boot’ was number one in Germany (and other European countries) for several weeks. Their follow-up single, ‘I Wanna Be A Kennedy’, which borrowed heavily from Visage’s ‘Fade To Grey’, was another huge European hit.

Named after the U-96 submarine that features prominently in the Das Boot film, the original band featured an ensemble of prolific producers and musicians; namely Alex Christensen (aka AC16), Hayo Lewerentz (aka Harry Castioni) and Ingo Hauss.

U96’s debut album was largely built around the success of ‘Das Boot’, bookended with two versions of the hit track, as well as an attendant third single, ‘Der Kommandant’. The follow-up album, released in 1993, was a far more diverse collection, featuring a wider range of electronic and ambient sounds. Albums by mainstream electronic acts were certainly becoming more commonplace in the early 1990s, with the likes of 808 State, Orbital, The Prodigy and The Orb all utilising the long player as a creative platform to considerable acclaim and success.

Opening the new album was ‘War Of The Worlds’, a version of Jeff Wayne’s ‘Eve Of The War’ which had been successfully released as a single (in remixed form by Ben Liebrand), in 1989. With its striking opening German narrative and familiar symphonic melody, it seemed an obvious choice for a single, but was overlooked in favour of ‘Love Sees No Colour’.

Featuring the band’s trademark submarine sonar effects, ‘Love Sees No Colour’ incorporated a synth motif that recalled Anne Clark’s memorable 1984 single, ‘Sleeper In Metropolis’. The first of several hits for U96 to utilise a Eurodance template, it was another huge Top Ten hit in Germany. However, it flopped in the UK, and the act swiftly faded from British attentions. In Europe, however, the next single, ‘Night In Motion’, sustained the momentum and followed its predecessor into the upper reaches of the singles chart.

Other standout tracks included the beautiful ambient title track, electro glam rock stomper ‘You Make Me Wonder’ and ‘Brainkiller’, a frenetic composite of house music styles that included everything but the kitchen synth. While the opus marked the act’s commercial and artistic peak, follow-up albums Club Bizarre and Heaven would house further hits (notably ‘Love Religion’ and ‘Heaven’) and even a sequel to ‘Das Boot’ (‘Boot II’).

Alex Christensen fronted a new line-up of U96, releasing the Out Of Wilhelmsberg album in 2007, before leaving to concentrate on writing and production work under a number of pseudonyms.

It’s now a case of “systems reactivated” as original members Hayo Lewerentz and Ingo Hauss have recently reunited to release brand new U96 material. As well as releasing The Dark Matter EP in 2015, they have also been performing live for the first time. They are currently preparing to release Reboot, a brand new album which is due for release this year – new label Triggertrax have already released a sneak preview of the album via YouTube called ‘Monkeys’. Hayo Lewerentz took some time out from his busy schedule to tell us about U96’s future plans, and to reflect on their Replugged album.

‘Das Boot’, both the single and the album, were massive hits in the early 1990s. How much pressure were you under to follow up this remarkable success?

“It was quite a pressure that we had, because the record company at the time expected even bigger hits, which is hardly possible! Today, though, we don’t feel that pressure anymore.”

Whose idea was it to record a version of Jeff Wayne’s ‘Eve of the War’?

“The record company suggested to record another film score after ‘Das Boot’ and we couldn’t find any suitable score apart from this which we really liked.”

Were there any discussions about releasing this as a single?

“Yes there were, but in the end Polydor wanted to release ‘Love Sees No Colour’ as the first single from that album and it went really, really well too. It sold about 500,000 copies and went into the Top Ten in many countries.”

‘Love Sees No Colour’ takes its lead from Anne Clark’s brilliant mid-80s single ‘Sleeper in Metropolis’. Presumably you were big fans of this song?

“Well it is not the same but it sounds it bit similar. We are all influenced by 80s electronic music and I played that track very often in the club where I was a DJ back then. I love all her work, but our influences came from many other artists too. I think pop music only survives when artists let their influences take a part in their present work.”

What were your key musical influences during this period?

“Well, we listened to a lot of other techno artists but we also loved a lot of 80s and electronic artists such as Kraftwerk and Depeche Mode. The scene in Germany in the beginning of the 90s was not that big but we met other artists at Pokomm in Cologne or in the clubs too. Everyone kept talking about the newest techno tracks and Euro disco was quite a big thing. We worked with other artists too, such as the producers from Snap and Culture Beat, and we did remixes for many other artists like Sting with Eberhard Schoener, Diana Ross, Oliver Cheatham and Herbert Grönemeyer. If you listen to so much music from different genres it doesn’t leave you ‘uninfluenced’.”

What current electronic music artists do you like?

“I love Underworld, The Chemical Brothers, The Prodigy, Röyksopp, Nitzer Ebb, Ladytron and IAMX, but also new artists such as Chvrches and even Knife Party when it comes to EDM. The musical universe is endless and I am always looking for exiting new music. In my DJ sets I try to mix new and older music because I think that some of it mixes very well.”

Replugged is bristling with ideas and showcases an impressive palette of electronic sounds and styles. ‘Theme from Replugged’ and ‘The One Russian’, in particular, display a different, more ambient side that people wouldn’t normally associate with U96. How much creative freedom did you have?

“We had quite a lot of artistic freedom on that album because we had quite a lot of hit singles. That made the record label trust us in that time. It went a bit worse at a later stage when they put us under pressure to go more the pop way. But Ingo and myself always preferred the more leftfield side of U96 and we will do that again in the future. We also still like the artwork of Replugged very much as it is simple, strong and easy to remember.”

What was the thinking behind the title Replugged? Was this a reaction to MTV’s Unplugged series in the 1990s?

“Yes! We saw it as a joke as it was not possible for electronic bands to play this show, and it was promoted so heavily.”

There’s a Prodigy-like playfulness on tracks such as ‘Feel Like A Dum Dum’. Presumably you had a lot of fun experimenting on this album?!

“Yes, indeed, we had lots of fun! That album was like a musical playground for us – breakbeats on ‘Feel Like A Dum Dum’, house beats on ‘Je Suis Selected” and even a ballad. It also contained hit singles like ‘Love Sees No Colour’ and ‘Night In Motion’. You will definitely hear some of the Replugged tracks in our new live set.”

I view Replugged as U96’s best album – what do you think of the album when you listen to it now?

“We agree that Replugged is the strongest and most interesting album that we made. We still like it very much and still play some tracks of that album live today.”

What memories do you have of that initial period of success in the early 1990s?

“The success we had was totally unexpected and I remember that many people around us tried to talk us into more commercial stuff and strange TV show appearances. In the end we left of a lot of these to Alex as he was more interested in taking U96 further down the hit street. Today I think it was a big mistake not to make it more a live act and go touring at the time, which we are doing now after all these years but without Alex.”

What can you tell us about Reboot, the forthcoming U96 album?

Reboot is a brand new U96 album with all new songs that we wrote in the past two years. It will be more along the lines of Replugged and we will also take this album on tour for the first time. We did some very interesting collaborations with other artists and we are very excited about it after all these years. One of the collaborators on Reboot is British techno artist Adamski.”

I understand you’ve also collaborated with Wolfgang Flür. How did this collaboration occur, and how much of a thrill was it to work with the Kraftwerk legend?

“Yes, we have recorded a track with him in medieval German language which sounds very strange. I’ve known Wolfgang for quite some time as he was working with a British band, Nitzer Ebb, that I released on my label, Major Records, which I had from 2004 to 2014. It is an honour to work with such a legendary person and apart from that he is a very nice guy.”

Do you have a release date yet?

“There is no definite release date yet as we will sign it with a brand new label that just starts into business this year, but it will definitely be released later this year along with a tour that will hopefully also take us to the UK again.”

Many people will of course associate U96 with Alex Christensen, who was the focal point of the band for many years. Was he invited to join this latest U96 project, or was he simply too busy to participate?

“Yes, that`s true. Alex was the focal point in this project for many years as we left him doing DJ sets under the name of U96 for quite some time. In the studio though it was mainly Ingo and myself that produced and wrote the songs from the very beginning of U96 until now. As a band (Ingo, Alex and me) we only did one public appearance and that was on Top Of The Pops, the biggest UK TV show at the time. Of course, we asked Alex to join the new U96 live set, but he wasn’t interested as he is not a musician and he wants to concentrate on his work as a producer.”

How are you enjoying the live shows?

“We love to do live shows and at the moment we are working on the visual concepts for the next U96 shows which will take place later this year.”

Finally, with a new Das Boot TV series arriving in 2018, are there any plans for you to re-release (or re-record) your most revered single?

“We are actually working on that one right now! Especially because we don’t want to just play a retro show when we go on tour. We’d rather do a show with brand new songs and some of the old classics of course, but in a way that is more ‘now’.”

The Electricity Club gives its warmest thanks to Hayo Lewerentz.

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Lost Albums : KON KAN Syntonic

In 1989 Canadian act Kon Kan scored a huge international hit with “I Beg Your Pardon”, an innovative composite of synthpop influences (New Order and Pet Shop Boys in particular) and samples (notably, country star Lynn Anderson’s ‘Rose Garden’). Whilst the duo’s follow-up singles and parent album, Move to Move, didn’t fare as well, Atlantic Records were impressed enough to bankroll a second album.

Buoyed by enthusiastic live audiences the previous year, and newly invigorated by his Juno Award for ‘I Beg Your Pardon’, Barry Harris decided to record the follow-up on his own; thus ending his creative association with singer Kevin Wynne. This wasn’t a great surprise, since it had originally been Harris’s intention to utilise Kon Kan as a solo vehicle. Singing in a slightly deeper register to Wynne, he had already proven himself an effective vocalist, singing the lead on two of Move to Move’s tracks (‘Am I In Love’ plus the title track). With the aid of executive producer Marc Nathan, who had brought Kon Kan to the attention of Atlantic Records, an ensemble of talented musicians and producers were assembled to cut the record at various transatlantic locations.

Syntonic, whilst retaining much of its predecessor’s influences and sample-laden ideas, was less hurried and indeed a more focused and assured collection of songs (many of these were co-written by Bob Mitchell, who had been retained after the Move to Move sessions). I asked Barry how much creative control he had on the new opus:-

Barry Harris: “I had quite a bit of creative control but this time felt more like 50/50 with the record company. I felt like I had to produce a Top 40 hit. It was a totally different experience, but quite fun as well. I learned a lot from different producers, this time working in New York and London – a very exciting time.”

One of the key producers on Syntonic was John Luongo, who was a legendary figure from the disco era, remixing tracks by the likes of The Jacksons, Dan Hartman and KC and the Sunshine Band. In synth circles, Luongo is known both as a producer (Blancmange) and a remixer (Visage and Cabaret Voltaire). I asked Barry and Marc how the prolific producer and remixer got involved on Syntonic:-

Barry Harris: “Marc Nathan hooked us up. At first I wasn’t totally aware of who John Luongo was, and I certainly should have! He was a great guy, and we had a great time working together. I learned a *lot* from him too!”

Marc Nathan: “John Luongo was a well respected dance music producer who I had met a few times, and certainly admired – his resume speaks for itself. And, while we were acquaintances up to the point of the making of Syntonic, I am pleased to say that over 20 years later we are actually good friends, and I have nothing but great memories of his working with us on that project.”

The first single to be released from the album was the Luongo-produced ‘Liberty’, the first of many co-writes with jobbing songwriter Bob Mitchell. Boasting a strong lead vocal (with terrific support by jobbing session singer Debbe Cole) and a veritable smorgasbord of choral presets, Latino and Italo-house influences, this brilliant pop song set the standard for the rest of the album.

Almost a statement of intent about his solo aspirations, the single’s sleeve featured a striking, bold image of Harris wearing a Kon Kan hat (a promotional gimmick that had been in circulation since the ‘Puss N’ Boots’ video), ‘Liberty’ was released in November 1990 but was sadly not a hit. It was certainly a low-key UK single, heralding virtually no press attention upon its release (this writer only discovered the single by accident at a record fair!).

Another notable Luongo production was the excellent second single, ‘(Could’ve Said) I Told You So’ which was closer in format to ‘I Beg Your Pardon’ than its predecessor, and perhaps should have been considered as the album’s lead-off single. It cleverly contrasted the humorous chorus of Jimmy Soul’s US number 1 hit from 1963, ‘If You Wanna Be Happy’, with a bittersweet lyric. The female lead vocal was this time supplied by Luongo’s wife, Joy Winter, who had cut a record (‘Frantic Romantic’) that year with both Luongo and legendary Freestyle producer, Lewis Martineé at the helm. Session vocalist Gordon Grody helped to recreate Jimmy Soul’s memorable chorus (interestingly, he would later become a vocal coach for Lady Gaga). An undoubted highlight of the album (barring the saxophonic blemishes!), Harris is less enthused with the results these days:-

Barry Harris: “‘If You Wanna Be Happy’ was Marc Nathan’s idea, to write a new song around that chorus. I was up for the challenge at the time and this is what I came up with. In hindsight I’m not really happy with it (no pun intended). I feel I made something way too pop and feel that I totally lost my way with this one – I wasn’t true to myself at all. I’d say it’s one of my weaker creations. Oh well…c’est la vie!”

Marc Nathan: “It’s funny that it was apparently ‘my idea’. I’m not sure exactly how that happened, but I do know I was a huge fan of Kid Creole and the Coconuts, and they had done a rather lackluster cover of that song, and I knew it was certainly a memorable tune, so yes, I guess I suggested it to Barry and he came up with ‘(Could’ve Said) I Told You So’.”

Another highlight was ‘Time’ (again, produced by Luongo), which was similar in format to ‘(Could’ve Said) I Told You So’, with a synth motif that was once again comparable to Spagna’s ‘Call Me’. Interposed – and equally effectively – this time was a track by Juno Award-winning Canadian rock band Trooper called ‘We’re Here For A Good Time (Not A Long Time)’ which perfectly complemented the reflective verses.

Arguably, the centrepiece of the album (and not just because it was sequenced in the middle of the album) was an excellent 6-minute plus version of ‘Victim’, which had originally been cut by Candi Staton in 1978. The song’s composer was Dave Crawford, who had also penned both Linda Lyndell’s ‘Whatta Man’ (later popularised by both Salt-n-Pepa and En Vogue) and Staton’s massive hit ‘Young Hearts Run Free’ (a drug-dependant Crawford, forced to sell his songs on the cheap for quick cash, fell on hard times in the 1980s and died in tragic circumstances). The Kon Kan version of ‘Victim’ (a duet with compatriot Carole Pope), replete with various samples, whistles and hip-hop breaks (the ubiquitous ‘Amen break’), had other interesting origins, as Barry Harris recalls:

Barry Harris: “This was an idea of Marc Nathan’s for me to produce a duet between alternative Canadian rocker, Carole Pope, and Tim Curry. I went to LA the day after we won the Canadian Juno in [the] spring of ’90 and started recording with Carole and Tim (they already knew each other). It turned out the record company didn’t care for Tim’s voice, which surprised me because I thought it was fine – it was Tim Curry sounding like Tim Curry. But we shelved the whole idea and I continued writing new Kon Kan songs. Towards the end of the making of Syntonic later that summer I suggested why don’t I just sing it instead of Tim and salvage the production (which I still liked) and have John Luongo mix it and make it a Kon Kan record… which is what we did!”

Also on board for the production of the album were both Martyn Phillips (who had produced The Beloved’s Happiness album that year, and would later helm Erasure’s excellent Chorus album) and Paul Robb, a member of Minnesota band, Information Society. Up until this point INSOC’s career had been running almost parallel to Kon Kan’s, with both bands having recently enjoyed huge hit singles on the Billboard chart (in INSOC’s case it was ‘What’s On Your Mind (Pure Energy)’ which contained various Star Trek samples). Both acts were crafting Freestyle-infused synth-pop, so Robb’s involvement on Syntonic certainly made sense, as Marc Nathan confirms:

Marc Nathan: “I knew Paul Robb a bit as well and just thought it made sense to try to hook him up with Barry, as they were both pretty creative synthetically. Both INSOC and Kon Kan had bizarrely huge careers in Brazil. [It] just seemed to be a natural fit.”

Synthpop was still very much in vogue at the start of the decade. While the careers of classic Synth Britannia acts Duran Duran and The Human League were faltering somewhat (see Liberty and Romantic?, respectively) the likes of New Order, The Beloved and Depeche Mode continued to fly the electronic flag and enjoyed big hits that year. Meanwhile, dance music was consolidating its position as one of the most popular genres of music – Killer (Adamski) and The Power (Snap!) were amongst the year’s best sellers. Sample-based cuts also continued to be popular, with ‘Dub Be Good To Me’ (Beats International) and ‘Ice Ice Baby’ (Vanilla Ice) reaching the top of the charts. But seemingly this wasn’t a market that Atlantic appeared to be focusing its attentions on, with a roster of artists that included the likes of Mike and the Mechanics, Alannah Myles, Bette Midler, Genesis and Skid Row. Another artist who had seemingly disappeared off Atlantic’s radar was the precociously talented Debbie Gibson who had scored some massive transatlantic hits between 1987 and 1989. Her third album Anything Is Possible (released around the same time as Syntonic) was something of a flop in comparison to its two predecessors (Out Of The Blue and Electric Youth). Both Anything Is Possible and Syntonic seemingly sank in the midst of a saturated Christmas market.

How disappointed were you with the relative failure of Syntonic and its singles?

Barry Harris: “Well, ya win some, ya lose some. It’s hard to analyse what went wrong this time and easy to finger point and be bitter. Of course I was for a little bit, but am also very grateful I got to experience what I had from ’88-91. It was really an amazing time overall!”

Marc Nathan: “Well, naturally I was very disappointed. I didn’t want to be associated with *all* one-hit wonders (I had signed Linear, King Missile and Terry Tate as well and all had crashed and burned in various stages, but all had massive hits in their formats at radio – pop, alternative and urban), and I was so close to Barry as a friend as well, that I just hoped he’d break out of the pack. ‘Liberty’ sure sounded great to me!”

How do you feel about Syntonic these days?

Barry Harris: “There are some elements I like. Perhaps my favourite song is ‘My Camera’. I still love a song with somewhat clever lyrics or a clever concept. I think Bob and I came up with an interesting concept here, which is basically daydreaming whatever you want, but if you could take a picture of it, it could suddenly be ‘tangible’. I just thought it was a little Rod Serling-ish.”

“I like the optimism in ‘Time’ and am very happy I wrote a song with lyrics I truly believe. Many of my friends had died of AIDS by ’91 and it was my reaction to that time in my life – simply enjoy yourself as much as possible while you are on this earth! Like Monty Python would say or perhaps sing, ‘Always Look on the Bright Side of Life!’”

Marc Nathan: “Most of those songs have faded over time, but I have to admit, I have a jukebox running in my head constantly, and songs like ‘Liberty’, ‘Time’, and ‘(Could’ve Said)…’ all come up in one way or another. Sometimes I hear them as they were recorded and sometimes I hear the funny shit that went on in the studio when they were being put together. John Luongo and I had a running joke about the disgusting fantasy beverage, liver tea…

“Also, I have to say that I am just blessed to have been able to marry Barry to Carole Pope, a Canadian legend, for that duet on Candi Staton’s ‘Victim.’ That’s perhaps my all-time favourite disco record, and both Barry and Carole did everything they could to update it and make it their own. Massive failure on some level, but I’m still proud nonetheless.”

Many of the track’s strong backing vocals were supplied by a well-experienced session singer named Debbe Cole. Cole had previously plied her trade on early, pioneering hip-hop albums such as Deuce (Kurtis Blow), and also influential Freestyle classics like Shannon’s ‘Let the Music Play’. However, she is perhaps best remembered for her classy vocal on Malcolm McClaren’s pop/opera epic, ‘Madam Butterfly’. Interestingly, this memorable top twenty hit was the first major production by an up-and-coming US producer named Stephen Hague, whose next significant project would be Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark Crush album (Hague would, of course, later garner acclaim helming records by the likes of New Order, Pet Shop Boys and Dubstar). Debbe also became heavily involved with the promotion of the ‘Liberty’ single, and also the subsequent tour in Brazil, where Kon Kan continued to be extremely popular. Debbe was kind enough to tell The Electricity Club about her work on the album, as well as other projects.

How did you end up working on the Syntonic album?

Debbe Cole: “With Marc Nathan’s search on to assist Barry in finding a vocalist, he contacted New York DJ Johnny Dynell for recommendations [NB: Dynell’s memorable ‘Jam Hot’ single was sampled by Beats International on their Number One hit, ‘Dub Be Good To Me’ in 1990– Ed]. I’d worked with Dynell years before on a show by Gabriel Rotello (‘Downtown Dukes and Divas’) at the Limelight in New York City. Johnny referred me, I showed up at the studio and watched something very cool happen!”

How much did you know about Kon Kan before the Syntonic sessions?

Debbe Cole: “Actually, my familiarity with Kon Kan wasn’t until I went back and listened to previous works. Loved ‘em… just never caught who the artist was!”

Do you have any particular favourite tracks?

Debbe Cole: “’These Boots Are Made For Walking’! We became quite animated on stage with that, and the [other] hits he’d already made. ‘Liberty’ of course -. [it] has a beautiful and deeply sentimental spot in my life. It was one of the songs that my mother loved immediately and requested hearing fairly frequently.”

‘Liberty’ was produced by John Luongo who you’d of course worked with before. Was this someone you particularly enjoyed working with?

Debbe Cole: “John and I spoke just today! There’s such a mutual admiration society between John, myself and [my] brother, Khris Kellow. We’d done a lot of work together (dance related) and we’ve stayed close friends, along our separate journeys.”

Was the video fun to make?

Debbe Cole: “I didn’t lie, per se, when I was asked if I skated… I didn’t bother to say how bad I was! So I was handed a pretty dress that looked like a Marie Antoinette and Vivienne Westwood creation – oh my God I am totally busted! Glad I wasn’t asked if I’d driven a race car!! Absolutely the best time though.”

What was Barry like to work with?

Debbe Cole: “Intimidating at first – he had it *so* together and knew exactly what he needed from me. After not too long, things began to click, and I was extremely proud of this work with Barry. And that comprehension translated well live – we had a ball on stage for sure!”

Were you surprised that Syntonic wasn’t a hit?

Debbe Cole: “At the time, my glow from Barry’s reception on the Brazilian tour took me by such a pleasant surprise [that] I’d never really thought of it as not being a hit. [However, after] returning to the reality of USA radio cynicism and tidy little pockets that everyone must fit into, I was made painfully aware this project wasn’t given its deserving shot.”

You contributed a memorable vocal to Malcolm McLaren’s incredible single, ‘Madam Butterfly’, which was produced by Stephen Hague – what was it like working with both McLaren and Hague?

Debbe Cole: “I loved working with him and Walter [Turbitt]. They knew exactly how to rein in Malcolm’s ‘organised rambling’ and make powerful sense of it! I’d previously worked with Malcolm in New York on ‘Eiffel Tower’ and he phoned me way after that to do the title track in Boston… still not fully aware of his fame or past endeavours. We all worked very hard to get it just right: Him explaining this young girl’s pregnant plight with a sailor (well worth all the hours tweaking my understanding of her character) and to observe his process being kind of translated by Stephen. Cio Cio San: my first shot at acting – thanks Mac!”

You’ve also featured on numerous Latin freestyle recordings (Shannon, Lisa Lisa and Cult Jam, Marc Anthony etc). Was this a genre of music that you were particularly fond of?

Debbe Cole: “I am, to this day, a fanatical freestyle female! [I’m] losing track of how many Latin hip-hop/freestyle songs I’ve sung on and been ‘ghost lead’ to. I was simply working my ass off, allowing the producers to feed me the old “just put a reference lead vocal down for the artist to hear” and winding up hearing my frickin’ voice on the radio, mixed higher than the horrid attempt at singing tucked underneath by the so-called artist! A good weave and some tits… forget it if these girls could sing or not (mostly not!)! Getting money of course meant a lot to me, but the rush of being known and respected in that community balanced out getting duped somehow. Throughout it all [I] made many friends that remained in my life. It gave me and my spirit lots of fierce memories and tons of lessons learnt.”

The Electricity Club gives its warmest thanks to Barry Harris, Marc Nathan and Debbe Cole



Text and Interviews by Barry Page

Lost Albums: BILLY CURRIE – Accidental Poetry Of The Structure

Billy Currie delivers dark edged experimental work…

Billy Currie’s prime association has always been as one of the main men of the synthesizer. Think strikingly cutting solos that could carve effortlessly into the strongest of rock formations; fiery, distinguished and beyond the conventional. Being no stranger to individual output, Accidental Poetry Of The Structure is Billy’s seventh studio album and to mirror Billy’s vast body of solo work, is the flip-side to that golden Ultravox coin. Still drawing upon the many refinements in his playing, this time we’re driven to a more diverse area on his creative map

The flag to mark that transition was first raised back in 1988, with the release of Billy’s solo debut, Transportation. A long time had since passed and the themes contained throughout Accidental Poetry Of The Structure effortlessly draw upon those bygone decades, progressing his sound signature towards that of beautiful music and manifesting as an avant-garde collection of instrumentals, with a strong sense of free-flowing melodic transitions.

When Accidental Poetry Of The Structure first appeared in 2006, it would be a physical CD release on Billy’s Puzzle label, with an accompanying eight-page booklet staging a classy collection of moody black and white photography. As sufficiently absorbing in its design was the package, the cleverly constructed title itself was enough to instill a veritable amount of silent intrigue. Of the title, Billy quotes on his website: “The title Accidental Poetry Of The Structure is about the creative process of composing the music. When I write I usually have two or three ideas on the go. Differing colours and emotions. It is only when I work on the structure that the sparks start to fly and accidental to this process of structuralizing the piece, the musical ideas come to life and speak! The poetry of music is accidental to this creative structural activity”.

The journey into the articulate minimalism of this release begins with delicate piano sounds introducing the title track, with a subtle addition to the round, shortly followed by an immediate sensation of drama, courtesy of a familiar Apple loop, before lively beats are introduced. Later we would hear this to become the structural framework for the omnipotent ‘Satellite’ – a track that appears on the latest (2012) Ultravox album, Brilliant.

Throughout the whole album, the top end piano notes are a prominent stylistic feature; one that gently engages plenty of haunting ambience, particularly evident during ‘Williams Mix’ – a track that Billy had quoted to be quite German in influence with a nod to the legendary producer Conny Plank, ‘Skips Of A Chopped Head’, and also ‘Krakow’. The unsettling and dramatically tense pathway to ‘Skips Of A Chopped Head’ is a cousin to the high-pitched strings that initiate ‘Empty Stage Mantra’ from ‘Refine’, before it takes on a dub step feel that is encased in paranoia. ‘Krakow’ duly manages to preserve a mysterious context with a strong essence of searching.

Edging away from some of the more foreboding exhibits and towards compositions containing basic characters of gaiety, are ‘Idee Fixe Movement Three’ and ‘Matsang River’. The former contains passages of lively and lustful runs, while the latter is wonderfully buoyant and flows as nicely as the title suggests. ‘Matsang River’ was actually borne out of those final notes completing the famed ARP Odyssey solo from ‘On Broadway’, the live version that Billy performed with Gary Numan.


‘Folly Brook’ is consistent with its delicate violin sounds; a tentative magical charm building during its onward course. Compassion’ is a blanket of idyllic peace, if not slightly solitary, while the similarly-paced ‘Listening To Strength’ concludes the work and generates a very open and spacious feeling, populated yet again with those highly emotive strings that induce melancholic overtones

Not surprisingly, the ever-evolving sound textures that blend into Accidental Poetry Of The Structure would expand upon the delicate theme of 2005’s Still Movement – another of Mr Currie’s signature albums. Additionally, we could say it was the calm before the storm; Billy’s last solo album before the high-octane adrenalin of the Ultravox reunion. Such a reunion by no means closed any creative channels however, and in August 2009, Billy’s eigth studio album Refine was a joy to behold.

What makes the potential great for future compositions is the wide sampling of ideas, coupled with the development of specific areas that Billy has previously explored in the solo context. There’s the expressive strength of ‘Unearthed’, where the contemporary symphonic reigns, and then there’s the electro-charged ‘Push’; whose touches, in part, sound more aligned with various Ultravox styles (see ‘Theremin’, ‘Step Forward’ or ‘Kissing The Shame’.)

Accidental Poetry Of The Structure is a mature effort that employs simplicity as virtuosity and hybrids of dark edged experimentation, contrasted against sublimely tranquil melodic fibres. A superbly accurate title, representing an equally impressive collection of sensual and evocative compositions.

Accidental Poetry Of The Structure is still available as a download from the usual digital outlets such as Amazon and iTunes.

Billy Currie’s new solo album Balletic Transcend is due for release in October 2013.

Ultravox play the following dates opening for Simple Minds in 2013:
Glasgow Hydro (27th November), Manchester Arena (28th November), Birmigham National Indoor Arena (29th November), London O2 Arena (30th November)