Category Archives: albums

2020 ➤ Yes, Midge Ure has Fleetwood Mac to thank for his landmark hit Vienna

40
YEARS
ON

❚ ON THIS DAY in 1980 Ultravox released one of the three most significant albums of the year that exemplified Britain’s new wave of synthesised electronic music – the others coming from Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark (in February) and Japan (in October). None of them acknowledged any association with the New Romantics movement. Ultravox’s 12-track album Vienna made an immediate impact, though its title track was only its third to be released, hitting No 2 in the charts in January 1981, later winning Single of the Year at the Brit Awards and an age later voted “the UK’s favourite No2 of all time” in a BBC poll.

It was produced by the German Conny Plank with an evocatively romantic landmark video directed by Russell Mulcahy who was creating a stunning visual vocabulary for the then novel music video. Midge Ure can take full credit as lead singer and guitarist for breathing a subtle blend of Roxy Music’s style and krautrock clarity into Ultravox and building them into a credible vanguard for electronica. Even as the word punk was given the heave-ho in favour of the term “new wave”, Ure was probably the first active player of a synth among any of his clubbing pals, having bought his first, the polyphonic Yamaha CS-50, in the summer of ’78.

As one of the most innovative musicians of the new decade, having had fingers in more pop pies than most, Ure is well qualified to stake his claim to have shaped the music of the Blitz Kids (among whom he was very much an honorary member), and here he describes the inspiration for Vienna, in an extract from his eloquent and candid 2004 autobiography If I Was (Virgin Books):

The first time I plugged in and made a noise with Ultravox was in April 1979 at a rehearsal room in the Elephant and Castle. Right from the first minute I knew I had come home. This noise was what I had been searching for, not only could these people make that noise, but they also could teach me how to make it. [These people being Chris Cross, Billy Currie, Warren Cann.]

What we were doing was radical and new: synthesisers, drum machines and electric guitar mixed together, synth bass with regular drums playing on top of it, the electronic and the organic. It had never been done before. Our sound was massive, this weird crossover between Kraftwerk and the guitars, bass and drums that belonged to every rock band in the world…

I might have been a one-time teeny-bop guitarist but once I was behind the technology, the music that made me famous was the darkest, most serious stuff I’d ever done. Those early days in Ultravox were the best time of my life. The result was a complete crossover, maybe that’s why it worked. The music came from all of us: everyone contributed and we split all the songwriting credits four ways. The classic example of all of us working together was Vienna.

Midge Ure, Ultravox, pop music, Swinging 80s,

The day job: in 1979 Midge Ure (moustachioed) resurrected the name of Ultravox along with Billy Currie, Chris Cross and Warren Cann. © Getty

One night I was sitting having a conversation with my old manager, Gerry Hempstead, who had co-managed the Rich Kids, when his wife Brenda said to me: ‘Midge, what you need to write is a song like that Vienna.’ I looked blank and she went, ‘You know, the Fleetwood Mac song.’ I looked blanker. ‘No, it wasn’t Vienna,’ said Gerry, ‘it was Rhiannon.’ That was the night I went home with Vienna lodged in my brain.

The next morning it was still there. I walked into the kitchen in my little flat and said to Billy, who was staying over, ‘I’ve got a line running around in my head I can’t get rid of, “this means nothing to me, this means nothing to me, Vienna”.’ We built the song from that one lyric. Every component element came from all four of us. It wouldn’t have been Vienna without Warren’s heartbeat drum sound, and it wouldn’t have been Vienna without the bass synth notes and Billy’s eerie viola… / Continued in Chapter 10 of If I Was

➢ Buy Midge Ure’s If I Was: The Autobiography

➢ Previously at Shapers of the 80s:
1978, Midge stakes his claim as the weathervane of synth-pop who helped shape the British New Wave

➢ Previously at Shapers of the 80s:
110+ acts who set the style for the new music of the 1980s

FRONT PAGE

2020 ➤ Bowie on Kraftwerk and his tribute to Florian Schneider

Kraftwerk, Florian Schneider, Ralf Hütter, pop music, 1970s

Kraftwerk at Düsseldorf station, 1977: Florian Schneider at left. (Photo, Frähling)

➢ Extracts from some vintage interviews republished
yesterday at David Bowie’s website…

❏ You’ve no doubt heard the sad news regarding the passing of Kraftwerk founder, Florian Schneider, aged 73. A spokesperson said he “passed away from a short cancer disease just a few days after his 73rd birthday”, his birthday being April 7. Schneider formed Kraftwerk with Ralf Hütter in 1970 and remained a member until his departure in 2008. He is pictured bottom left in our photo at Düsseldorf Hbf station with the rest of the band.

In a Kraftwerk feature for MOJO magazine Ralf Hütter responded to the question “How important was David Bowie’s infatuation with you?” thus:

“That was very important for us, because it linked what we were doing with the rock mainstream. Bowie used to tell everyone that we were his favourite group, and in the mid-Seventies the rock press used to hang on every word from his mouth. We met him when he played Düsseldorf (April 8, 1976) on one of his first European tours. He was travelling by Mercedes, listening to nothing but Autobahn all the time.”

In 1978 Bowie recalled the meeting in an interview: “I like them as people very much, Florian in particular. Very dry. When I go to Düsseldorf they take me to cake shops, and we have huge pastries. They wear their suits. A bit like Gilbert and George… When I came over to Europe – because it was the first tour I ever did of Europe (1976), the last time – I got myself a Mercedes to drive myself around in, because I still wasn’t flying at that time, and Florian saw it. He said, “What a wonderful car” and I said, “Yes, it used to belong to some Iranian prince, and he was assassinated and the car went on the market, and I got it for the tour.” And Florian said, “Ja, car always lasts longer.” With him it all has that edge. His whole cold emotion/warm emotion, I responded to that. Folk music of the factories.”

Kraftwerk immortalised the Düsseldorf meeting on the title track of the band’s 1977 album, Trans-Europe Express, in its lyric:

From station to station, back to Düsseldorf City,
Meet Iggy Pop and David Bowie…

David returned the compliment later the same year on the “Heroes” album, when he paid Florian the ultimate tribute by using his name for the title of V-2 Schneider.

❏ Bowie also spoke in some depth about Kraftwerk in an UNCUT interview several years back…

UNCUT: Many reasons have been suggested for moving to Berlin. Can you remember why the city appealed?

DB: Life in LA had left me with an overwhelming sense of foreboding. For many years Berlin had appealed to me as a sort of sanctuary. It was one of the few cities where I could move around in virtual anonymity… Since my teenage years I had obsessed on the angst-ridden, emotional work of the expressionists, both artists and film makers, and Berlin had been their spiritual home. This was the nub of Die Brücke movement, Max Rheinhardt, Brecht and where Metropolis and Caligari had originated. It was an art form that mirrored life not by event but by mood. This was where I felt my work was going. My attention had been swung back to Europe with the release of Kraftwerk’s Autobahn in 1974. The preponderance of electronic instruments convinced me that this was an area that I had to investigate a little further.

Much has been made of Kraftwerk’s influence on our Berlin albums. Most of it lazy analysis, I believe. Kraftwerk’s approach to music had in itself little place in my scheme. Theirs was a controlled, robotic, extremely measured series of compositions, almost a parody of minimalism. One had the feeling that Florian and Ralf were completely in charge of their environment, and that their compositions were well prepared and honed before entering the studio.

David Bowie, Station to Station, album sleeve , pop music

Bowie’s album Station to Station: it preceded Trans-Europe Express by a year

My work tended to expressionist mood pieces, the protagonist (myself) abandoning himself to the zeitgeist (a popular word at the time), with little or no control over his life. The music was spontaneous for the most part and created in the studio.

In substance too, we were poles apart. Kraftwerk’s percussion sound was produced electronically, rigid in tempo, unmoving. Ours was the mangled treatment of a powerfully emotive drummer, Dennis Davis. The tempo not only “moved” but also was expressed in more than “human” fashion. Kraftwerk supported that unyielding machine-like beat with all synthetic sound-generating sources. We used an R&B band. Since Station to Station the hybridization of R&B and electronics had been a goal of mine. Indeed, according to a Seventies interview with Brian Eno, this is what had drawn him to working with me.

One other lazy observation I would like to point up is the assumption that Station to Station was homage to Kraftwerk’s Trans-Europe Express. In reality Station to Station preceded Trans-Europe Express by quite some time, ’76 and ’77 respectively. Btw, the title drives from the Stations of the Cross and not the railway system.

What I WAS passionate about in relation to Kraftwerk was their singular determination to stand apart from stereotypical American chord sequences and their wholehearted embrace of a European sensibility displayed through their music. This was their very important influence on me.

UNCUT: V-2 Schneider – a tribute to Florian?
DB: Of course.

So long Florian.


❏ ABOVE: Kraftwerk playing Autobahn in 1975 on the BBC science strand Tomorrow’s World to demonstrate their “Machinemusik”. This was their first UK appearance on British television.


❏ ABOVE: View the long-haired radicals in Kraftwerk reinventing German music from “Stunde null” in the BBC Four documentary Krautrock: The Rebirth of Germany.

➢ Florian Schneider: the enigma whose codes broke open pop music – Alexis Petridis in The Guardian – “Schneider had kept such a low profile after leaving Kraftwerk that rumours of his death had circulated before, only to be revealed as erroneous.”

➢ How Florian Schneider and Kraftwerk influenced five decades of music – Mark Savage at BBC News

➢ How Kraftwerk’s synth wizard Florian Schneider rewired the world – Rob Sheffield at Rolling Stone – “It’s all electric energy, anyway,” Schneider said, summing up a sonic philosophy that upended the Seventies rock ideal, and influenced everyone from Depeche Mode to Derrick May.

FRONT PAGE

2019 ➤ Mr and Mrs Kemp get into the swing together on disc

Martin Kemp, Shirlie Kemp, Wham!, Spandau Ballet, In The Swing Of It, Lorraine Kelly,

Singalong songs: Martin and Shirlie Kemp tell Lorraine theirs is happy music. (Click pic to run ITV video in a new window)

AFTER 30 YEARS OF MARRIAGE Martin and Shirlie Kemp have joined forces to create a double act with an album, In The Swing Of It, set for release on 22nd November on Sony Music. For those who need reminding, both Mr & Mrs Kemp enjoyed chart success in the iconic 80s acts Spandau Ballet and Pepsi and Shirlie, not to mention Shirlie’s stint with Wham!.

The album majors on covering such Fifties classics as Fly Me To The Moon, The Way You Look Tonight, Nice Work If You Can Get It and The Tender Trap. Describing their musical choices, Martin told Lorraine Kelly in a TV interview last month: “It’s like an open love-letter where everybody can look in on our relationship. The words that we sing to each other are words that we say to each other.” While Shirlie added: “I feel this is the best thing I’ve ever done and doing it with Martin was like a dream the whole summer.”

Martin Kemp, Shirlie Kemp, Wham!, Spandau Ballet, In The Swing Of It, Lorraine Kelly, album,The album was inspired by an impromptu recording session with Martin, whilst working with producer Brian Rawling (Cher, Tina Turner, One Direction). He invited Shirlie into the studio to help with a song and the session helped the couple realise how much they enjoyed recording together. They agreed on a list of uplifting Swing covers, chosen to reflect their relationship because, Martin says: “In the 50s with swing they made love songs that made you happy.”

Shirlie adds: “I feel happy when I listen to this music, I hope people dance and sing along to the album when they are in their homes doing the cleaning or cooking the Sunday roast. Singing is a happy drug.”

➢ Buy In The Swing Of It

➢ Tickets for In The Swing Of It: Live Dates – Royal Festival Hall London 25 Jan, Symphony Hall Birmingham 16 Feb, Bridgewater Hall Manchester 23 Feb.

➢ Previously at Shapers of the 80s:
The Kemp quartet: a happy family George Michael helped to create

FRONT PAGE

➤ How Nile Rodgers “rearranged” Bowie’s Let’s Dance into a stonking hit single

David Bowie, Nile Rodgers, Let’s Dance, Meltdown, South Bank Centre, soul music,

Twin geniuses: Bowie and Rodgers photographed by Ebet Roberts

AMONG MANY SENSATIONS during three foot-tapping hours in the company of Nile Rodgers on Saturday night was a rare audio track possibly being played out in public for the first time. Rodgers is not only curating this year’s prestigious South Bank Meltdown festival in London but his own band Chic headlined the opening night with a mighty seamless stream of dance-floor hits. Rodgers preceded the concert with a lengthy talk about his unrivalled career as one of the most influential record producers ever, an icon of black excellence along with Quincy Jones and Stevie Wonder.

He described how he had met David Bowie in the early 80s and as they bonded over their love of jazz, Rodgers says he “realised that David Bowie was the Picasso of rock’n’roll”, meaning his gift for thinking in the abstract. They were soon collaborating over Bowie’s album Let’s Dance, released in April 1983, almost three years after his previous album, Scary Monsters.

More specifically, once Bowie had joked “Is there such a thing as too funky?” Rodgers set about doing what any jazzman does – he was “rearranging” Bowie’s music in their studio sessions. And on Saturday Rodgers told this electrifying yarn by playing us Take One of the slightly protracted Let’s Dance session that started with Bowie in dirge-like mode. Eighties singer Andy Polaris tells it like this in his review of the Meltdown show:

In one extraordinary sequence Rodgers revealed the genesis of his collaboration with David Bowie on Let’s Dance. It was thrilling to listen to a rare recording few people have ever heard as the track was transformed from an almost twee throwaway song into the rhythmic funky stomper that it became. During the first take in the studio, we heard Nile introducing David to his arrangement and Bowie experimenting with melodies and phrasing while Nile carefully coaxed him by explaining the number’s metamorphosis. We listened as David gradually grew more excited, climaxing in obvious satisfaction when he finally “got it” – this, the single that would become his biggest hit! The whole episode provided a revealing insight into how Nile works as both a guitarist and a producer and was a rare treat for Bowie fans in the audience…

David Bowie, Nile Rodgers, Let’s Dance, albums, 1983, soul music,

Let’s Dance: Bowie’s biggest selling album

MORE ON THE BOWIE-RODGERS PARTNERSHIP

➢ “I thought I was going to get fired over my riff to China Girl because it’s so corny. But he heard it and went, That’s amazing!” – Pitchfork 2016:
As a black man in America, there’s not a day that goes by that I’m not reminded of being black. It has nothing to do with me. Some people are just uncomfortable with my presence. It’s never gone away. With Bowie, though, I never felt that at all. He made Let’s Dance with me and guys that he never even met, but he had enough faith to allow me to completely take over. He was like, ‘Nile, take my vision and make it real. You be the impresario.’

The whole album was completed and mixed in 17 days. There’s no four different versions of Let’s Dance, no five versions of Modern Love. That’s just it. Done. End of story. A huge amount of the time he spent sitting in the lounge watching TV and then he would just come in and check and go ‘Wow!’ and then he would leave. And I’m thinking to myself, ‘This is the highest form of respect that anyone has ever given to me’. . .

David Bowie, Nile Rodgers, Let’s Dance, Meltdown, South Bank Centre, soul music,

Evergreen: Bowie and Rodgers photographed by Peter Gabriel

➢ The producer of Let’s Dance, Bowie’s biggest-selling album, asked the singer if he’d made it too funky. ‘Is there such a thing?’ he replied – from the Guardian 2016:
Before we wrote a single piece of music for [Let’s Dance], we did a research project where we played lots of records and talked about what the album wanted to say, how it should sound as a whole. Then one day David said: ‘Nile, this is what I want my album to sound like’ and he showed me a picture of Little Richard in a red suit getting into a red Cadillac convertible. How do you translate that?! But in actual fact I knew exactly what he meant, and that was the point I realised that David Bowie was the Picasso of rock’n’roll. He got uncomfortable with me calling him that but I did it anyway. Because I realised he saw the world in an abstract way, as well as in the way we all see it. And what that picture meant was not that he wanted a retro record, or something based on Little Richard’s music, but that he wanted something that would always look modern. He showed me the future and the past and it was evergreen. The highly designed Cadillac and the red monochromatic suit – that picture was taken in the 1960s but it would still look modern to someone in the year 3000! . . .”

➢ Meltdown 2019, curated by Nile Rodgers, runs at London’s South Bank Centre 3–11 August

FRONT PAGE

➤ New from Prince: Holly Rock single and video, plus album of demos

Prince, Holly Rock, Originals, Electric Light Studios, releases, video, vinyl

Many faces of Prince… from his new animated video for Holly Rock

THE PRINCE ESTATE HAS RELEASED HOLLY ROCK, an electrifying song from 1985 produced for Sheila E but here rendered by Prince himself in a 3m47s edit and promoted this week with a spicey new animated video created by London-based Electric Light Studios. Holly Rock was recorded for inclusion on the original soundtrack for the 1985 movie Krush Groove.

The new single is the second taken from the album Originals, published last month and featuring 14 previously unreleased demo versions of Prince’s songs from 1981-85 written for his side projects, protégées and other artists. The Guardian said of the album: “(Originals) shows the breadth and brilliance of his compositional talents.”

Prince, Originals, releases, CD, album, vinyl

Prince’s Originals on CD and vinyl

His original versions of tracks include The Glamorous Life, Sex Shooter, Manic Monday, The Time’s Jungle Love and Love…Thy Will Be Done, as well as deep cuts like Vanity 6’s Make-Up and Jill Jones’s Baby, You’re A Trip. The album also features Prince’s original 1984 version of Nothing Compares 2 U, released last year as a standalone single.

Originals is available now from Warner Records via download and streaming partners and physically on CD, 180 gram 2LP, and limited edition Deluxe CD+2LP Purple Vinyl set.

➢ Click to hear the full album of Prince’s Originals

FRONT PAGE