Tag Archives: New Wave

B-52’s Roam into Cosmic Santa Barbara

B52s_AG_3Keith_144“We didn’t have a goal of what we wanted to sound like when we started out,” says Keith Strickland, the multi-instrumentalist behind some of the B-52’s‘ biggest hits. “We just knew we wanted it to be fun.” And fun is an understatement when it comes to this Athens, Georgia-based band’s music and lively concert performances. Their music is infectious; it compels the audience to dance. It’s most often the sound of unbridled joy, yet at times anger and frustration seep through. While the band wore their punk influences, and was labeled “New Wave” in the 1980’s and 90’s, their sound was different than so many acts that emerged in the decade, and it has stood the test of time. “We didn’t really consider ourselves punk, but we knew that we were going to be a part of that. We didn’t really call ourselves “New Wave.” I remember we got called that when we started playing the clubs in New York” said Strickland.

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This is one of the blessed acts whose perfect debut album established an identity for each member and for the songs that would follow through the next decade. The lineup would not change into the mid 80s – Cindy Wilson & Kate Pierson on lead vocals (Kate adding keyboards) joined Fred Schneider who was a type of lead vocalist; a raconteur, mascot and all around party starter. Ricky Wilson (guitar) and multi-instrumentalist Keith Strickland rounded out the five-piece band. Every member of the group was unique, each bringing their talents and fresh attitude to their dance extravaganza.

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B52s_Debut_CoverReleased in 1979 and simply titled The B-52s, the debut album included tracks the band played consistently in concert over the last 40 years, including the demands-you-dance “Rock Lobster” and the slightly sinister “Planet Claire.” On the latter, Cindy Wilson established herself as the true lead single of the band. Though mates Fred and Kate both have led many of the B-52s hit songs, it’s Cindy whose voice is so joyous, yet at times so haunting. Though the lyrics are often playful and childish, the way Cindy delivers them can break your heart. “Why don’t you dance with me, I’m not no Limburger!” indeed.

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In 1980, Wild Planet continued the party started as night fell on the 70s. It was followed in 1982 by their most experimental, artful album Mesopotamia, made with The Talking Head’s genius David Byrne. Though creative differences kept this from being a full-length release, it sports Cindy’s absolute greatest vocal work on the sweet and sour “Loveland.” Finally, 1983’s Whammy firmly established the band as one of the best from the fertile period of the early 80s.

A tragic turn of events unfolded when Cindy’s brother, guitarist Ricky Wilson contracted and passed from the then-incurable insidious disease AIDS in 1985. The assembled potpourri Bouncing off the Satellites was released in 1986 and the band went on hiatus without a supporting tour.

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Their inevitable return to form, Cosmic Thing (1989) will be remembered by many as their best effort, closing the 80s with a well-rounded collection of songs that punctuate every aspect of their sound. Songs like the contagious “June Bug,” and mature “Dry County” snuck in between mainstays like “Love Shack.” “Channel Z,” and “Roam.” The album was an instant hit, reaching the top 10 in the US & UK and number one in Australia and New Zealand. Strickland sums it up with “There was something magical about that album, how it all came together. We sequenced it in a way that we felt told a story. I don’t know if anybody’s ever noticed it, but one song leads into the other in a nice way. It tells a story from beginning to end.” The album brought the 1980s to an ecstatic close.

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The tour for Cosmic Thinglasted from July 1989 into 1990, ushering in a new decade that would see Cindy take a second break from the band. The US dates kicked off with three wild nights at the San Francisco Fillmore the 28ththrough 30th that July 1989, and ended with several dates “down under.”

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Somehow I never had the chance to catch the B-52s live until their excellent January 7 1990 performance at the Santa Barbara Events Center at UCSB. It was everything one would hope. Lacking just a bit of the edge from the band’s early days, the rejuvenated band nonetheless gave exceptionally spirited performances, tearing through a succession of hits, keeping the tempo fairly even with clear, pitch-perfect vocals and Fred’s call-response brilliance coloring it all. The near-perfect set list was finally captured on a live CD now included with the re-release of Cosmic Thing. The tracks played in Santa Barbara were:

  1. Cosmic Thing
  2. Bushfire
  3. Give Me Back My Man
  4. Lava(Private Idaho at Fillmore)
  5. Dry County
  6. Dance This Mess Around
  7. Private Idaho(Lava at Fillmore – so the two switched order)
  8. Strobe Light
  9. Mesopotamia
  10. Junebug
  11. Summer of Love
  12. Roam
  13. Love Shack
  14. Planet Claire(Party Out of Bounds at Fillmore)
  15. Rock Lobster
  16. Whammy Kiss(not played at the Fillmore)
  17. Channel Z

B52s_Live83_Cindy_300dpiThe B-52s continue to tour at the time of this writing, playing list of songs that do not stray far from the Cosmic Thingset, the height of their popularity. The B-52s deserve a place at the top rung of 1980s acts, emblematic as they were of the ability of new wave music to bring light colors to salve the darkness.

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Simple Minds, Brilliant Things

SimpleMinds2019 SITR CoverSimple Minds hail from Scotland, the most successful musical export from that land during the 80s, with five number one albums in the UK.  The long time leaders of the band, Jim Kerr (vocals) and Charlie Burchill (guitars) take a rather unique approach to music, poetry and stagecraft. The band’s music has gone through several evolutions, which range from the first four art-rock/krautrock inspired albums, to the transitional fifth 1983’s New Gold Dream, to the follow up rock heavy Sparkle in the Rainin 1984. The pinnacle of their early more experimental work are the pair of “EP” records Sister Feelings Call and Sons of Fascination both dropped in 1981 without a release in the states.

Released in 1982,New Gold Dream (81/82/83/84) would be the first record available in the states without paying the import fees. after the band signed with A&M records. This landmark record had a production draped in layers of lush, romantic synth, and echoes of Roxy Music, Japan, and Duran Duran. It’s a gorgeous record that pinned the band’s profile to the New Romantic movement.

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This incarnation of their sound while popular lasted just a moment, as the next release, Sparkle in the Rain (1984), went to #1 in the UK, even as it was a big turn in the road for Simple Minds. In contrast to New Gold Dream and to extent earlier efforts, Sparkle In The Rain presented a muscular, aggressive version of the band, a demanding wall of sound produced by Steve Lillywhite, who had been at the helm for U2, Peter Gabriel, Siouxsie and the Banshees and others.  The stadium rock sheen led one fan called it right – “art school rock with fantastic bombast.”

Sparkle In The Rain begins with a spoken count in for opening track “Up On The Catwalk”  (1,2, 1-2-3-4) followed by the crack of drummer Mel Gaynor’s snare in time with Mick McNeil’s ringing piano chords on his new Yamaha Grand. It’s a fantastic way to start the album – a powerful song with lyrics about hypocrisy in Britain, constructed from a riff and a promise that “I will be there” instead of a chorus, delivered with urgency by lead singer Jim Kerr.  Throughout the record, guitarist Charlie Burchill’s adds rhythms, serpentine licks and washes of color to each track, often begging the attentive listener to wonder how he is achieving the sound.  Again on this album as with their back catalog, bassist Derek Forbes, one of the absolute best players in that era, drives many of the tracks with his propulsive, creative leads – demonstrated by just a cursory listen to the hit “Waterfront” or “Kick Inside of Me”, the latter including fierce vocals from Jim that sounds as if he is actually shaking off fearful ghosts:

And we steal the world and live to survive
Shake out the ghosts and turn around
In spite of me, shake up the ghosts inside of me

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Now full time drummer Mel Gaynor smacks his snare with what seems like Herculean might – and when he runs the toms from top to bottom its like the roar of approaching thunder.  This coupled with Derek’s monster bass leads, establish the bottom end of the sound, and part of said wall, through which it often seems the bits of piano, synth and guitar emerge, shine, then fade back into the mix. Jim’s vocals work in and around the music structured more often than not in a scat-like rather than verse-chorus-verse form, something that made this band unique among peers. All of these elements combine to create the brilliant things found herein.

There is a re-mastered version of this landmark album in a box set format. It includes the original album re-mastered in stereo and various surround sound mixes by prog wizard Steve Wilson, an audio recording of a live concert from the era, a few videos, live performances from the BBC and various TV shows, a beautiful re-print of the concert program for the tour, and a complete background on the album, with track by track liner notes.

Part of the set presents a live concert from early in the tour, recorded at Barrowland Glasgow on February 28, 1984.  It’s an excellent document that captures the band on their home turf and in their prime.  Called the “Tour du monde”, the tour to support Sparkle… included a seven-night residency at the Hammersmith Odeon. It was the last tour of that period booked primarily in the smaller theaters.  I caught it at the Warfield Theater in San Francisco on a night that cemented their vaulted place in my heart. The recording herein is a potent reminder of the band’s live prowess at this time. After this tour, the next album Once Upon A Timetook the band to stadiums where much of the subtlety found here was lost for a time.

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To fully appreciate the allure of this band, they must be seen in concert, and there are several worthy performances captured to cement their place in history. On this set there are three videos, followed by television appearances of the same tracks – “Waterfront,” “Speed You Love To Me,” and “Up On The Catwalk.”  The latter two live videos, though truncated by credits, are taken from a performance on the Oxford Road Show at the end of January 1984, just before the album was released.  Of all the television and live concert appearances of the band at the time, this is one of the greatest – as the two tracks are played faithfully to studio versions, allowing us to be witness to just how their sound was achieved, certainly answering the question, “just what is Charlie playing!”

Only carp about the DVD is that it should have included the film taken at Westfalenhalle, Dortmund on 24 June 1984.  This is excellent footage of the band still available on Youtube that would have rounded out the box set: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FkanFaSJXIU&feature=youtu.be

Because Sparkle in the Rain sits in their catalog between the romantic New Gold Dream, and the subsequent more commercial smash Once Upon A Time, it might escape the attention it deserves. In fact, booklet liner notes suggest the album promised that greater things were to come from the band. Perhaps these comments make the best argument for a re-evaluation of this work, and the box set treatment with engineering from Steve Wilson. Before deciding for yourself, check out this set in all of its grandeur.

(photos by the incomparable Armando Gallo)

 

 

 

Voices of the ’80s

RF_BackstageThe rock music world changed drastically with the explosive introduction of punk music in 1977. Punk was a raw form of popular rock; one that, for a short time, abandoned studied virtuosity in favor of pure aggressive energy, four chords, sneers and volume. For classic and progressive rock bands of the 1970’s, the punk movement threatened to end their time in the spotlight. More importantly, it was the lightening rod to which a great number of new bands drew close, splintering and absorbing the energy into a multitude of unique genre acts.

Suddenly, it seemed that popular music could take nearly any form, go in any direction. A college degree in music theory was not needed. Alongside the punk upstarts, the Sex Pistols, The Ramones, X, The Clash and The Dead Kennedys, there emerged many acts that were difficult to categorize. In the states, the CBGB club crowd included The Talking Heads and Blondie, joined elsewhere by bands like Devo, Oingo Boingo, and the new southern sound out of Georgia from REM and The B-52’s.  Australia/New Zealand produced a few bands, most notably Split Enz, who along with their states-side CBGB peers, paved the way for the kind of quirky music that came out of this era. In England, a major wave of trendy bands, covering both the lighter and darker side of music emerged at light speed. Suddenly, Ska music, originally from Jamaica, sprang forth from bands like The Specials, Madness, and The English Beat. Adam and the Ants and Bow Wow Wow adapted tribal beats and chants as the basis of their unique sound. Gothic music, driven by Siouxsie and the Banshees, The Cure, Echo and the Bunnymen and a handful of darker, brooding bands emerged from the darkness. Synth pop and new wave music brought new forms of dance music to the fore, most often draped in layers of synthesizer leads, and the then new sound of drum machines. It seemed all barriers were broken.

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What was so different for those of us who transitioned from classic rock to these new bands, was that many, whether punk, ska, new wave, or gothic were not so much bands you listened to but bands you danced to. Many of these groups became the “new disco” – the groups whose music filled clubs and concert halls. In general these bands called you to the floor, with relentless beats, metronomic precision, deep bass tones, and all manner of vocalists who performed the work and connected to fans. And in each market, somewhere on the radio dial, there emerged stations willing to play this new music, to make it their preferred content, constantly introducing audiences to new bands, a flood of which appeared from 1977 to 1985.

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Since the advent of the pop music form, there has always been “one hit wonders” – singers or bands that had brief success in their own time. The 1980’s had a fair share of these acts, which came and went quickly, whose sound was so unique, fitting into the trend of the year, fading shortly after. For a short time this led to the increasing popularity of singles – the ability to obtain a few songs from an artist on a 45rpm vinyl single, or for some, a single cassette tape. While bands like U2, The Pretenders, Simple Minds and Madonna built lifelong careers, many others faded, some of course undeservedly, others predictable.

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Recently, I’ve noticed a number of travelling 1980’s “showcase” concerts, shows which are somewhat akin to small festivals, that present a number of what are today lesser known 80’s acts alongside one or two who held it all together and who are able to continue today to headline shows, even if in smaller theaters and clubs. One of these traveling circuses is Retro Futura, and this was this show I was drawn to in New York this last July.

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I was there principally to see Annabella Lwin, the lead singer from Bow Wow Wow, a surf-punk-meets-tribal-beats group that lived for a short time in the early 80’s. Bow Wow Wow released two albums before the boys in the band fired Annabella, their lead singer, a disaster of epic proportions for fans of the act. Amazingly, considering the level of talent in the original band, Annabella was at the bottom of the roster at this show. She was only allotted time to do three songs, after which she bolted to catch a plane. Still this was the best part of the lineup for me, made greater after I was able to get backstage to meet Ms. Lwin to express my appreciation to this artist, one of my favorite 80’s personalities. Bow Wow Wow will be prominently featured in my upcoming book, Dancing in Fog City (1977-1989).

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The remaining acts on the roster included Limal (Christopher Hamill) from Kajagoogoo, Tony Lewis, the singer/bassist from The Outfield, four-fifths or the original band Modern English, Belinda Carlisle from the Go-Go’s and headliners ABC. Kajagoogoo was allotted time for four songs, none of which stirred this patron, including the too-coy “Too Shy Shy.” Follow up Outfield singer Tony Lewis strained to hit his notes. Modern English were quite acceptable, and at times a bit fun, as personalities shown through and musicianship was a notch above. This was the one band that featured predominantly original members.

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The best part of the show, long after my favorite Annabella left the stage, was to be sets by Belinda Carlisle and ABC. Belinda was radiant, at 60 years old, still looking fab, and hitting all her marks and high notes with seeming ease. She rolled out a string of her own hits alongside expected highlights from the Go-Go’s first few albums, a small collection that has sustained members of this group, particularly Belinda through to today. ABC was the surprising set for me, as their whole presentation was befitting the headlining spot. Adorned in sharp suits and upbeat attitudes, the band began with “Millionaire,” the first of a number of hits most fans clearly remembered from the day, played with aplomb by the talented hired-hands led by charismatic singer Martin Fry.

Coming into the lineup, it was hard not to tag this tour as a collection of also-rans from the 80s. Indeed, every act other than Modern English was really the lead singer from their bands, each having had one or two albums back in the day, peppered with a few singles, and little follow up solo success. Yet, it was heartwarming to hear their voices again, stepping back in time to witness this singles crowd, harkening back to dancing days now so long ago.

The Fixx is In

The Fixx are one of the most unique bands to emerge during the 1980’s. They did not seem to fit the typical mold of their time, despite lots of great synth, tasty, treated guitar focused on chords rather than solos, and a talented vocalist with a range less commonly found in traditional “rock” music. Today they would be classified more as “rock” or “alternative” music than “new wave” yet back in the day they ultimately they did fit in with their peers and they absolutely excelled at their craft.

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Fixx_2018_RTB_CoverReach The Beach, released in 1983 was this band’s second album, and remains their most popular. It sported hits “One Thing Leads To Another” (their highest charting US Single at number 4) and “Saved By Zero,” accompanied by several other standout tracks and deep cuts that demonstrate the quiet determination of the band as stellar songsmiths and solid musicians. Personnel on this album included Cy Curnin (vocals), Rupert Greenall (keyboards), Jamie West-Oram (guitar), Adam Woods (drums) and a couple of bass players, Alfie Agius and Dan Brown, the latter of whom became the band’s official bassist for the tour and subsequent albums. The album was produced by the talented Rupert Hine. This is a very “listenable” album which flows nicely from track to track, stropping at some of their best ideas and greatest musical passages.

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The intellectual lyrics of this band, delivered by lead vocalist Cy Curnin are a major part of what makes Reach The Beach, and the rest of their music so special and enduring. Cy is a deep thinker who will pose a question and hang on that question, each word counting towards the idea, often suggesting an answer. The lyrics are seldom overtly political yet there are messages, they are not preachy, but there are spiritual lessons within. Songs like “Are We Ourselves” and “Less Cities, More Moving People” always cause me to ponder meaning, messages, and my own reaction to them. Cy delivers all this in concert with occasional asides highlighting his current thinking – all questions that deserve to be asked and answered.

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I first saw this band in 1983 at one of the last “Day On The Green” festivals in Oakland California. Famed producer and production company Bill Graham Presents staged these all-day festivals, and they were impressive lineups featuring multiple bands, who were well chosen to show off both headliners and supporting acts. On this summer day in 1983, headliners The Police was on their final tour, supporting their swan song “Synchronicity.” Behind them was The Fixx, taking that vaulted “2ndact” spot on the strength of their then new release Reach The Beach. Preceding The Fixx were a varied collection of new wave acts, The Thompson Twins, Oingo Boingo and Madness. The Fixx stood out that day, among these contemporaries, as a group of serious, adult musicians, primed for mainstream success yet seemingly comfortable at that vaulted #2 spot on the bill.

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Last week, 35 years after that Day on the Green, the band played at The Independent club in San Francisco, on their Reach The Beach anniversary tour. They played the whole album, but in reverse order, which worked very nicely given the original record kicked off with four exceptional tracks in a row, making the reverse sequencing close the first half of the show with those highlights. The band continued with a collection of hits and deep cuts, including some newer work, as this enduring act continues to record and tour today, with the same lineup from 1983. It was an exceptional show that demonstrated to one and all the talents of the band. Quite a night, and highly recommended should The Fixx come your way.

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The Bow Wow Wow Crush

I have to admit something here – I had a massive crush on Bow Wow Wow’s lead singer, Annabella Lwin, in 1982. And, I was not alone in this. Way back then when this band came to my attention, I learned of the very young Anglo-Burmese singer and her surf-punk-meets Burundi-beat band. I thought it was her band and I thought she was intoxicating. As I discovered our age difference – she was a youthful teenager and me in my 20’s, my short lived crush turned into a life long appreciation of this unique artist, a fondness for her, the best female 80’s performer I’ve ever seen. Period.

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If you were alive in the day, and of age, you would recall the biggest hit this band had, a cover of the song “I Want Candy,” with it’s accompanying video showing Annabella and band Mathew Ashman (guitars), Leigh Gorman (bass), and David Barbarossa (Barbe) (drums) on the beach dancing, playing and mugging for the cameras. There was a feckless joy about this ragtag group, and some seriously bad-ass musicianship and singing. Ashman was a powerhouse on guitars – one of the best users of the tremolo arm, the Chuck Berry pluck, the Dick Dale surfer slide – his work graced every one of the band’s songs, impossible to ignore. The rhythm section, featuring Gorman on bass was unbelievably adept at using bass for melody, but also for percussion and aggressive energy in support of his drummer. The drummer Dave “Barbe” is simply unmatched in the rock world. He has an uncanny ability to calmly lay down a jungle beat, even on a small kit, one that kept perfect time, but also swung a bit, one that drilled it’s way into your hips and kept you moving.

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Annabella is playing as Bow Wow Wow in Long Island July 13, 2018!

All this stellar musicianship, the swing, the tribal beats, kept Annabella moving, as she became the hands-down best dancer in the business, one possessing the sweetest voice, an instrument that could go hard and high if she wanted, but was best in her light and airy range. Just another moment on Annabella’s dancing and it’s supremacy – she could swivel her hips, pogo up into the air, and most importantly, she perfected a sort of tribal dance, or native dance that was almost like watching an American Indian woman around our collective fire. I believe it was simply her own invention, and it was how she moved, but it was spectacular to have such a dancer front the type of music Bow Wow Wow played, a music that could whip a crowd into a frenzy of raw, “off the rails” celebration.

My own appreciation aside, Bow Wow Wow did not achieve the level of widespread success I would have expected in their short time together, though before the plug was pulled by the boys in the band, they were building an impressive following, and the music was quickly maturing after cutting ties with manager Malcolm McLaren. The story has been told many times but let’s recap- Malcolm McLaren is either a genius or a louse AdamAnt2017_KOTWF_72dpidepending on your perspective. While running a sex shop filled with fetish clothing, Malcolm became a society guy and tastemaker. His level of involvement in each band differed but he is credited with being an influencer, supporter or manager of Adam and the Ants, Bow Wow Wow, and the Sex Pistols to name a few.  Malcolm was told that a 13 year old girl, singing her heart out in a local dry cleaners, was worth meeting, so he did, and he ended up recruiting her to front his 3 piece band of guys who he had influenced to separate from Adam Ant prior to his own breakthrough recording, Kings of the Wild Frontier.

Annabella joined the band and became the lead singer of Bow Wow Wow. Malcolm stirred the pot, and after many singles and an initial album, the exhaustingly titled, See Jungle, See Jungle, Go Join Your Gang Yeah, City All Over Go Ape Crazy, the band left his management, released a second, superior album When the Going Gets Tough… The Tough Get Going, after which they gigged, mugged for the television cameras, and then disbanded.

When the Going…was a revelation. Having established their sound, one that was alternately raw “Chihuahua” and refined, “Fools Rush In” during the first year or so, and releasing many singles and a debut album, the band did something amazing. They sat down, wrote, and recorded what for this patron is one of the greatest albums of all time. Cracking opener Aphrodisiac” mines the same turf as the prior year’s somewhat naughty and breathless “Sexy Eiffel Towers,” but now it seems Annabella’s in charge of the narrative, “Take an Aphrodisiac, don’t do nothing just relax have a heart heart heart heart heart attack, take an aph-ro—-disiac.” A trifle yes, but listen to Annabella with Dave, Matt, Leigh make it something so much more.

AnnabellaLwin_BWW_WhenCoverEarly in the album, the song that should have been promoted better and a hit, ‘Do You Wanna Hold Me?’ (answer is of course ‘yes’ said thousands of fans) is one of their best pop bits. But the example of things to come, or that should have come, are “Man Mountain” and “Love Me.” This pair of slower songs showed the band could calm down, could actually nail a ballad, and could stir the soul after a few dances and a break. “Man Mountain” written by Ashman, is a personal favorite, and became a number 1 hit in the former Yugoslavia!:

He’s my man, he’s my man mountain, he’s my lover and hero to me
He’s my man, he’s my man mountain, Lord, delivers his soul unto me, Lord
Delivers his soul onto me, Lord, delivers his soul unto me
He don’t eat, he don’t sleep, he don’t even wash his feet
He don’t eat, he don’t sleep, he don’t even wash his feet

He’s my man, he’s my man mountain, he’s my lover and hero to me
Oh I love him, my man mountain, Lord, delivers his soul unto me, Lord
Delivers his soul onto me, Lord, delivers his soul unto me

He don’t lie, and I don’t know why
He told me he loved me and that made me cry
He don’t lie, and I don’t know why
He told me he loved me and that made me cry

He’s my man, he’s my man mountain, he’s my lover and hero to me
Oh I love him, my man mountain, Lord, delivers his soul unto me, Lord
Delivers his soul onto me, Lord, delivers his soul unto me

Delivers his soul onto me, Lord, delivers his soul unto me

Note the uses of repetition, as parts of Annabella’s soft lead vocals are almost breathy chants, gently plaintive pearls of love – it’s a beautiful bit of writing and performance. Leigh makes perfect use of a fretless bass here, while Ashman pulls at the acoustic guitar strings beautifully. “Love Me” follows and somehow matches the last though it’s one that challenges Annabella’s upper range, and is adorned by echo-washed lead guitar that would show anyone in one track why Ashman is missed. Dave Barbe just inhabits these pieces – he is as talented on soft numbers as he is on louder more aggressive tracks. This exploration of the more feminine side of the band makes clear where Bow Wow Wow could have travelled, and how they could have snared a much larger audience.

Alas, that was not to be. The boys in the band were restless, and thought they could be a there piece band, without the pesky Lwin on the payroll. It was a disastrous choice, as they went on to obscurity with a band called Chiefs of Relief. Bow Wow Wow reunited many times with various members coming and going, and guitarist Ashman sadly died before the nineties came to a close.

A drummers break: Just to ensure respect for the incredible sound Barbe captured on drums, here is a bit on Burundi: The story of “Burundi Black” and the origin of the “Burundi Beat” and the associated controversy is told in the following excerpt from a 1981 New York Times article by Robert Palmer:

The original source of this tribal rhythm is a recording of 25 drummers, made in a village in the east African nation of Burundi by a team of French anthropologists. The recording was included in an album, Musique du Burundi, issued by the French Ocora label in 1968. It is impressively kinetic, but the rhythm patterns are not as complex as most African drumming; they are a relatively easy mark for pop pirates in search of plunder. During the early 1970s, a British pop musician named Mike Steiphenson grafted an arrangement for guitars and keyboards onto the original recording from Burundi, and the result was Burundi Black, an album that sold more than 125,000 copies and made the British best-seller charts… Adam and the Ants, Bow Wow Wow, and several other bands have notched up an impressive string of British hits using the Burundi beat as a rhythmic foundation.

Lest anyone come to the conclusion that the band were “pop pirates” of any sort, all music has references and this is just one that Barbe used to incredible, exhausting effect on Bow Wow Wow records – his influences were diverse, and he molded them into something all his own, playing it all while occasionally, calmly chewing gum. There never has been and never will be again a drummer like Dave Barbe in my estimation.

I talked to Annabella Lwin and Dave Barbe about their short-lived band, the legacy and their thoughts now, so many years after the event. In the day they were confident, full of “piss and vinegar” as we say, ready to take on the world. Today they are, and probably were before, gentle, kind, humble people who are seemingly thankful for being remembered so fondly.  I asked them both similar questions in preparation for their next book Dancin’ In Fog City (1977-1989) in which Bow Wow Wow will feature, particularly their 1983 coda, “When The Going Gets Tough….”

These interviews will be part of next week’s post…stay tuned!

Loving STRANGELOVE

Depeche Mode are an enduring, genius band that formed in 1979 who still write, record and tour today. Their success in the 80’s and 90’s is legend. More recently, during the last 15 years, their work has become increasingly dark and experimental — still a single here or there, for instance last year’s “Where’s The Revolution” reward the faithful who seek a bit more dance than trance — it all comes off smashingly well in their most continuing concert tours, which sell out to global audiences.

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Many fans of the band continue to follow and patronize the act, yet typically consider their “golden age” to stretch 1981-1997, now 20 years ago. These were triumphant times the band spent on the write/record/tour train, resulting in legendary albums from Speak and Spell(1981) to Ultra(1977). This is when DM could easily be compared to “The Beatles of the 80’s” — really “80s/90s”. As many will already know, the band began with their first album largely hemmed by Vince Clark, who left the year it was released, and was replaced by deft player Alan Wilder, who joined singer David Gahan and third keys-man Andrew Fletcher making the long running foursome. Alan left in 1995 before the last “core period” release Ultra.

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But at the early stage in 1981, with Clarke going away to do Yaz, Martin Gore became principal songwriter and instead of that being a challenge, the band’s output matured by leaps and bounds. The third record Construction Time Again(1983), which found Alan increasingly taking a role as lead player and soundscape creator is a masterwork. This album was a breakthrough in terms of ambition and maturity, though just one successful single, “Everything Counts” emerged. The record as a whole covered territory sonically and lyrically that became the trademark for these hard working musicians. Global popularity built steadily after this from Some Great Rewardto Black Celebration, Music for the Masses, Violator, Songs of Faith and Devotionand on. At the end of two decades, after the new-millennia “backward look” Exciter(2001), the band took increasing sonic risks, releasing 4 additional records and 5 world tours in the last 15 years. These live shows became louder and noisier – much more like rock ‘n roll in many parts, more focused on drums, bass and guitar than on 3 men at their synths – a different and new sound and style for this millennia.

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Enter tribute genius band Strangelove. What these stellar musicians and performers so is lovingly recreate the DM live experience, focusing on their shows from 1981 to 1997 – basically, the version of the band we all grew to love — all synth, maybe a few found objects, no “bass player” and definitely no drummer. Just four guys and three keyboard rigs, and four part harmonies all fronted by one of the most charismatic lead singers born to this world. Each member of Strangelove recreates not just the music but also the persona of their role:

Brent “Counterfeit Martin” (Martin Gore)
Leo “Ultra Dave” (Dave Gahan)
Julian “Oscar Wilder” (Alan Wilder)
James “In The Fletch” (Andrew Fletcher)

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Taken in parts or as a whole, I had multiple moments, regularly, where I felt like I was seeing the actual band live, despite each of these talented musicians infusing the proceedings with some of their own obvious talents. Critically, maybe most importantly, Brent’s vocal interpretation of warble-then-sustain (or vice-versa) Martin Gore is dead on, and Leo’s growling baritone representing Dave Gahan is note perfect, accentuated by moves both dressed and undressed that echo everything great about Dave as one of the world’s greatest front-men. It’s an unbelievable collection of talent which will, for all, preserve the early DM experience while allowing for the original band to continue stretching into experimental territory. And, finally, there is something about a show featuring all synth — pure synth, which bubbles and pops out of high-definition speaker systems in such clear form while we watch and dance.

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I talked to Brent after the show and in follow up discussions:

1) Brent did you specifically agree to focus on 1981-1999 in order to represent the four piece synth led version of the band?

We do represent all eras of the Depeche Mode canon. Depending on the scale and locale of the show we’re performing, we bring in different stage set pieces and costume changes that reflect key points in their evolution. That said, there is a deliberate focus on what are perceived as the halcyon days from ‘86-‘93, as this era represents the sweet-spot where many lifelong fans of Depeche Mode were first introduced to them. Our project also proudly features a 1:1 analog for every member of the classic lineup. The project was very much cast with this in mind.

2) Though Alan did play some drums, very tastefully by the way, on his last tour, for “Songs of Faith and Devotion”, did you make a conscious choice to avoid this?

Our own “Alan” performer, Julian Shah-Tayler (aka: Oskar Wilder) is an adept multi-instrumentalist and is easily up to the task of performing live drums for a segment of our set. That said, we would likely limit that to a live presentation that focused primarily on Songs of Faith and Devotion, and adhere to that visually, as well as in the set list and instrumentation. A native of London, via Leeds; Julian’s from the very popular UK outfit “Whitey”, that had quite a bit of momentum a handful of years ago. For larger shows in US we’ve brought in Terri Nunn/Berlin’s drummer Chris Olivas and he’s a our “fifth member”. An interesting footnote — I’ve produced a couple of original music projects, and brought in Depeche Mode drummer Christian Eigner. He did a fantastic job!

3) How many “Dave’s” have you employed, Leo is fantastic!

I began developing a project as music director and performing in the “Martin Gore” capacity in 2006, in what was an early iteration of what eventually became Strangelove-The Depeche Mode Experience. Since that time I’ve worked with two other vocalists before finding our current singer, Leo Luganskiy (aka: Ultra-Dave). When we first heard him we immediately knew our worldwide search was over. His vocal timbre is uncannily like Gahan’s. He’s the total package, and at just 30 years old, more accurately represents the timeframe we referenced above.

4) When you study Martin’s lyrics, do you pick up bits of humor or even a track you think is overtly happy from this maestro of all things dark and lonely?  (I might say “But Not Tonight”)

Of course we have poured over the lyrics quite a bit, in the course of the thousands of hours involved in recreating their studio work to present it in a live setting. There’s quite a range of emotion on display; and quite an evolution from their early work to the open cynicism in evidence on their latest release, “Spirit”.  A certain line in “But Not Tonight” often elicits chuckles from the audience. Other lyrics gain newfound relevance in our modern times (“People Are People”, “New Dress” immediately come to mind)

5) Are there any songs you omit because they are too challenging to you or to audience for any reason?  (I am thinking lack of singles on my favorite Construction Time Again)

We don’t omit any songs because of performing challenges, but rather, based on what we know the audience response is likely to be. For instance, there are no current plans to work up “Black Day” or Christmas Island” since few would care and others that are familiar would still likely be bored and go grab a pint. An immersive album listening experience is very different from a live presentation and there are matters of set programming flow and energy level to take into account.

6) Playing a few from Speak and Spell, do you see a real difference in the structure when Vince wrote and played as lead?

The chief difference to us was the naivety and spunk the young lads had at that point. Obviously, with Vince as primary writer at that point, the songs have a different feel. We do a few tracks from SAS and they’re still a lot of fun to perform live.

7) Can Londoners expect any surprises that we don’t see in the states?

The biggest surprise, (even though it’s listed on the poster) is that we’re having “Scant Regard” open for us. This is a new project by Will Crewdson, the London-based guitarist/writer/producer best known for his work with the London band Rachel Stamp, Concrete Blonde’s Johnette Napolitano, Flesh for Lulu, Adam Ant, The Selecter and Bow Wow Wow. He may bring a special guest to sit in…

8) What does Depeche Mode think of your project-

We’ve had quite a bit of interaction with several people within the DM camp. I’ve had a few conversations with Martin about our project and he’s very gracious and generous with regard to helping us out. I’ve had a couple of screwdriver-ish conversations with him about particular synths/samplers used on specific songs. Alan Wilder has also provided us with original tour samplesets (the custom-made keyboard sounds they employed in making the records). Their manager Jonathan Kessler politely tolerates us, I think in part, because they understand that we keep fans sated while they’re on their tour/album cycle hiatus. At a recent “Spirit” press conference Dave took the piss out of Martin for spending hours watching OUR performance videos!

Londoners and those close or far by via tube/train – do NOT MISS THIS SHOW.  Diego

Facebook event for London gig.
https://www.facebook.com/events/2001096206818310/

All Photos (C) Animus-Art Photography
Instagram : @animusartphotography
Facebook: @animusartphotography
Thank you, B!!

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Finn Leads the new Mac Attack!

Fleetwood Mac is one of the most popular and successful bands of the last four decades. Their mega-hit albums Fleetwood Mac (1975), Rumors (1977), their masterpiece, Tusk (1979), and follow-up Mirage (1982) were staples of the FM airwaves in Southern California where I grew up. Each member of the band came with a public persona that seemed real, not something manufactured by the music press, where they appeared frequently. Many of my friends hung their posters, and followed their exploits closely, particularly due to their very personal, confessional lyrics and their appeal as representatives of who we were at that point in the 70’s.

FinnMac Classic Lineup

While the band began life as a British blues act in 1967, numerous personnel changes resulted in a cross-pond partnership of both British and American musicians that together had global appeal. Peter Green, Bob Welch, Danny Kirwan – many guitarists and members rotated in and out of this ever-changing band in the early years. In 1975, desperate to save the band after many drug and alcohol fueled hard times, core members Mick Fleetwood (drums), John McVie (bass) and his wife Christine McVie (keyboards, vocals) recruited Lindsey Buckingham (guitar, vocals) and his then girlfriend Stevie Nicks (vocals) to join the already well-honed trio. There had already been nine Fleetwood Mac albums. The rest as they say is history. Or is it?

FinnMac Lindsay 2014

The Mac continued to release material and tour on and off again with or without Lindsay and Christine though to 2015. We saw them with the entire classic lineup and that I assumed would be the last time.

FinnMac Classic Band 2014

Then several things apparently happened, which led to the sacking of Lindsay Buckingham last week:

  • Lindsay reports that the Mac will record a new album for 2015, and stage a last tour (yeah, right!)
  • Stevie reports that she is reluctant to work on new material, lest it cloud memories of the old, and why do it anyway?
  • Lindsay/Christine report that they recorded many songs, none of them with Stevie.
  • Lindsay / Christine release an album and tour in 2017, just last year!
  • In 2018, in April it is announced that Lindsay has been “sacked” from the group, and the next tour due planned to kick off this year (2018). The reason given – arguments of the set list (the set list, really?!?!)
  • It is joyfully announced by the way that Split Enz / Crowded House / solo genius from down under, Neil Finn will join the band for the new tour, and will be accompanied by Mike Campbell of Tom Petty fame!!!!

For many fans this will erroneously be considered bad news. The Mac without Lindsay, didn’t they try that after Tango in the Night, to disastrous results?

FinnMac Stevie 2014

FinnMac Neil Finn Early ShotYes, and no. Well at least, they did not have the new secret weapon – they did not fill the guitarist/singer role with a star or stars adequate to the task. Enter Neil Finn, who is easily the greatest musician, along with brother Tim, to work in and outside of New Zealand…. basically ever. I would consider them The Beatles of ANZ. Neil’s work is not nearly as well known as the Mac. Neither Split Enz, Crowded House, Finn, nor Neil Finn played to stadiums outside ANZ to my knowledge. Here in the states, the typical venues for anything Neil Finn would fit 2,500-5,000 patrons. No “sheds,” basketball arenas or much less stadiums for the genius from down under. It’s the same story for his brother Tim Finn, the greatest tenor vocalist of the 80’s.

All that will change for Neil with the Mac, as long as the publicity is done right and they get fans to the shows. Here it will likely be the Oracle or SAP arenas, particularly if fans “get it” and the publicity is well handled – that is important. So far, there are good words coming out of the camp, with some expressions of excitement.

FinnMac Neil Finn

But listen people – this should not be hard — Neil Finn is a major songwriter, vocal talent, and in fact an amazing guitarist. If all you know from him is “I Got You,” or “One Step Ahead” with his brother in the Enz, or “Don’t Dream It’s Over” and “Something So Strong” from the debut Crowded House album, you are sadly out of touch with this, one of the world’s greatest songwriting and performing talents – you have some catching up to do! Try Crowded House albums Together Alone(1993) and incredibly, the more recent Intriguer(2010). How about his solo work, Try Whistling This, it is achingly gorgeous. Compare the newer Housesong “Amsterdam” to anything off the new Buckingham/McVie album, as pleasant as it is, and it is a stellar album by the way. But again, check it against new lead man Neil Finn, and hear the difference.

You can easily imagine, if your ears are tuned, Neil will clearly grace anything the band wants to do which covers Buckingham, Green, Welch or any of the talented crew that have joined and left the Mac’s lineup. Reportedly, unshackled by a picky approach to the set list, there will be surprises. Why not go back and do “Hypnotized” along with other early gems? Finn can nail all of them.

FinnMac Christine

Now, add to this that we are not only getting Neil Finn. On top of that we will have Mike Campbell, the long time guitarist from Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. Anyone who saw Tom perform, rest his dear soul, knows what an amazing lead player Mike is. Now this is getting exciting, concert fans.

See this lineup – maybe the last you say? No, more likely just another chapter. But, the Mac lives on, above and below the equator, and we are all better for it.

p.s. fans of all things Lindsay, of course he will do a solo tour, so…. peace.

FinnMac Lindsay Roots