Tag Archives: Russell Mulcahy

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

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1981 ➤ Chant No 1: Spandau revive the rumble of funk while hard times loom

❚ ON THIS DAY IN 1981 Spandau Ballet, spearhead band of the New Romantic movement, were flying off to Spain and Portugal by way of a working holiday with sun and sand — a brief tour of principal cities to establish their first European fan base, which remains strong today. Most significantly, on Ibiza, the island which young British sunseekers were starting to make their own, Spandau played at the then spanking new Ku club, as one of the first fashion bands whose visits were to make Ku one of the Mediterranean’s destination nightspots.

Spandau Ballet, Ibiza, 1981

Spandau Ballet in 1981: a quick sprint to the Iberian peninsular as well as a hot date at Ibiza’s Ku club

But the day before their departure, Spandau had lit the fuse to a musical bombshell. They changed their sound to outflank the emergent slipstream of new image bands invading the British charts with synth-pop.

That Thursday they had taken over Le Beat Route in Soho, a mythical Mod club during the 60s, now fronted by Ollie O’Donnell, a suited but laid-back young crimper from Keith-at-Smile’s cool salon in Knightsbridge. The downstairs hideaway in Soho was the current Friday-night HQ of London’s nightlife leaders whose jackets and printed ties were hastily shaking off the New Romantic tag even as Duran Duran’s second single revelled in it. The bamboo decor helped: hints of a tropical holiday-camp with baskets for lampshades. South Seas tongue-in-cheek, maybe. Glamorous it was  not. The ethos for new one-nighters was never to be smart, always gently ironic.

Here before an invited audience of Friday regulars the innovative Russell Mulcahy directed Spandau’s promotional video for their fourth single, Chant No 1. The bombshell was a surprise change of direction, announced by rat-a-tat congas and a burst of brass. The new tune, Gary Kemp said, had been inspired directly by the dissonant brass on the disco-funk track Wheel Me Out, the debut 12-inch dance single on Ze from US new-wave group Was (Not Was). The eerie sound had been introduced to keen Brit ears during the Axiom fashion show that had preceeded Spandau’s set in New York that May, during the first Blitz Invasion.

Chant No 1 was a blue-eyed funk mover that echoed the band’s teen years on the soul circuit, musically fresh while the lyrics seeped a certain seedy paranoia. There on-camera was a black trio of brass instrumentalists, Beggar & Co, who were the horn section for the British funksters Light of the World, and who’d already had their own hit with Somebody Help me Out.

Gone were the artsy settings and OTT costumes of Spandau’s early videos. This razor-sharp musical documentary intercuts Soho streetlife with a live club  performance by Spandau. “Down, down, down, pass the Talk of the Town” urges the deejay’s Chandleresque rap as Tony Hadley sweeps past The Talk, the cobwebbed Mecca of international cabaret from the Judy Garland era. Inside the steamy Beat Route itself we take in the stylish ambience where the “mobile knives” now live to dance, as well as dress up in a distinctly more boy-meets-girl way than the incessant camperie of the Blitz, the long-gone poser-paradise. We glimpse the deejay Steve Lewis before his portrait of Lenin, in a season when Soviet button badges are also de rigueur, and it’s evident that, yes, things are different here.

Stephen Jones, Graham Smith, Ollie O’Donnell, Robert Elms

Three hats and a quiff: Stephen Jones, Graham Smith, Robert Elms and at centre Beat Route host Ollie O’Donnell, during the shooting of the Chant No1 video in 1981. Photography © Shapersofthe80s

The video emphatically makes the point that clubland rules. Spandau drummer John Keeble spoke with only slight exaggeration when he said: “For the next couple of years, no new band played live on a stage.” What he meant was that rock venues as the source for original music had been superseded by nightclubs. White socks and hedonism were the key: girls in swirling party frocks with hair cropped like chives, and boys wearing braces and rolled-up sleeves soon walked the streets of every town. Ha! Why, even the NME finally conceded by introducing a “Dance Chart” alongside their lists of Indie garage bands.

Spandau Ballet, Gary Kemp, Chant No 1, video, Beat Route, clubbing

Chant No 1: Gary Kemp with one of Beggar & Co’s brass section at front

Once released on July 6, Chant No 1 rocketed straight up the charts to reach No 3 on August 1 (the NME chart actually placed it at No 1). Simultaneously remixed by Richard Burgess as a B-side and as an extended twelve-incher for clubs, the track immediately became an upbeat dance anthem for the school-leavers who were discovering what economic “hard times” were going to mean.

“I Don’t Need This Pressure On” ran Spandau’s chorus as a timely slogan for that summer when Britain went into shellshock from the rare experience of repeated race riots on the streets of London, Manchester and Liverpool. The fashion-conscious band who had been dismissed by the rockist press as fascists and dandies hit back with supreme optimism. This vibrant tune pressed the pop button with fans as well as rival bands who envied the chemistry of Spandau plus Beat Route. It announced a new brand: Team Soho. For ten weeks in the charts, Chant No 1 confirmed its rhythm as the sound of the new pop: once-and-for-all the dominance of the rock guitar was shifting to the supremacy of bass and drum for pop generations to come.

Ironies were everywhere. Not only did the crepe-shoed rocker Shakin’ Stevens occupy the No 1 spot for four consecutive weeks with Green Door, a comforting throwback to 50s nostalgia. By contrast, the cool young band who also held Chant off the top spot for another three consecutive weeks were The Specials, whose haunting single Ghost Town (where “all the clubs have been closed down”) became a poignant epitaph for the inner-city angst starting to erupt among the ranks of the hard-pressed in Margaret Thatcher’s Britain. The times were changing, not entirely for the better.

Beat Route, nightclubbing, Soho, Spandau Ballet, video,Chant No 1,

The legend that became Le Beat Route: a little light romancing, a lot of heavy drinking. Photography © Shapersofthe80s

THE SPANDAU STORY SO FAR

➢ 1980, Spandau fire the starting gun for British clubland’s pop hopefuls: dada didi daaa!
➢ 1980, The day Spandau signed on the line and changed the sound of British pop

How many people dID it take to launch an electro-diskow band?

Waldorf Hotel, Spandau Ballet, Covent Garden, Blitz club, New Romantics, youth culture,youth movement, Blitz Kids , To Cut a Long Story Short, London, UK, singles chart, aged 20, club-hosts, DJs, Herbie Knott

Waldorf Hotel 1980: seated at centre, Spandau Ballet, house band of Covent Garden’s Tuesday-night Blitz Club, home of the New Romantics movement, plus support team of Blitz Kids who helped put their first single To Cut a Long Story Short into the UK singles chart at No 5, on Dec 6, 1980. Average age 20, everyone had a specific role to play in staging and promoting the band: seven musicians, six designers, three media and management, three club-hosts, two DJs, one crimper and 22 egos. Photographed for the Evening Standard © by Herbie Knott

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1981 ➤ Birth of Duran’s Planet Earth — when other people’s faith put the Brummies into the charts

Duran Duran, New Romantics

Duran Duran in 1980: Birmingham’s fluffiest New Romantics

Planet Earth, Night Version, Duran Duran◼ 30 YEARS AGO TODAY the Birmingham club-band Duran Duran released their debut single Planet Earth, less than two months after signing to EMI. It charted in mid-March, peaked at No 12, and bagged the band a spot on Top of the Pops, Britain’s premier music TV show. They were the first New Romantic band from outside London to make good, and this week the writer Steve Jansen claims that “inside of three short years, Duran were officially the biggest band on the planet”. He celebrates Duran’s birthpangs with a freshly researched three-day survey of their origins titled Switch It On! – Planet Earth & The Launch of Duran Duran, online at gimmeawristband.com. Jansen talks to all the main players involved during the run-up to the band’s chart debut — here are a few tasters from his epic story, published with permission…

Extracts from Switch It On! – Planet Earth & The Launch of Duran Duran:

❏ Bass player John Taylor recalls himself and Nick Rhodes, both Birmingham-born, founding Duran Duran as “young punks; we just wanted to get involved. To us, music was like a commodity. It was this word-of-mouth thing that brought you together with people; it made you your friends — and some of your enemies. It was the mixer.”

❏ Jeremy Thirlby, who was childhood friends with Rhodes, remembers: “None of us — John, Nick or me was gay — but that whole Kahn & Bell scene [around their fashion boutique] was very appealing to people like Nick because there was something going on; plus he’d always been into the slightly more surreal end of Bowie… Nick had always been single-minded, so it didn’t turn his head. He wanted to get somewhere else, and at the time Kahn & Bell was it.”

Michael Berrow, Paul Berrow, Duran Duran

The management, 1980: Michael and Paul Berrow. Photographed © by Paul Edmond

❏ Duran’s co-manager Paul Berrow: “That unique relationship between [Duran’s] rehearsal room upstairs and the club — which was pumping six, seven nights a week down below — John and Roger, all they had to do if they were running out of inspiration was walk down one flight of stairs and they’d find themselves in a club with four or five-hundred people, with a very loud sound system.”

❏ EMI’s A&R man Dave Ambrose travelled to Birmingham to catch Duran in October 1980. Could he honestly have seen so much in Duran so early? “Honestly. Yes. I swear. This was going to be a very, very important band; I could see them being the next Queen. Simon was like this Elvis figure. Andy was a great craftsman, a really solid musician. There was John, this cool bass player. Roger, a still under-rated drummer. And then there’s Nick, like this Andy Warhol figure; and I thought, what an incredible combination.”

❏ In 1980 Beverley Glick was aka Betty Page at the now-defunct UK music paper Sounds. Paul Berrow invited her to Birmingham to meet his unknown band. Page had doubts: “I thought, do I really want to go all the way up to Birmingham to do this? [Berrow] didn’t even offer me a tape.” Upon arrival, Page was forced to reassess: “I’d never met a bunch of people who were so confident and focused, who knew exactly where they wanted to go; even more so than Spandau Ballet [London’s rival New Romantic band]. It was a kind of youthful arrogance that was quite appealing at the time. I don’t think they ever thought coming from Birmingham was going to stop them — in fact, I think they used it to their advantage really.”

Rod Stewart, Da Ya Think I’m Sexy

Inspiration for Planet Earth: Rod Stewart’s UK number one and US number one single Da Ya Think I’m Sexy was released in December 1978. Most of the music was written by drummer Carmine Appice, and its disco-like arrangement was seen by fans as a betrayal of Stewart’s rock roots at a time when he gyrated onstage wearing tight spandex. The song has a further history. Its refrain was similar to the melody in the 1972 instrumental, Taj Mahal, by Brazil’s popular singer-songwriter Jorge Ben Jor. In an ensuing lawsuit, Rod agreed to donate the profits from his song to UNICEF

❏ Andy Taylor, Duran guitarist: “The essence of Planet Earth came from Da Ya Think I’m Sexy? [from December 1978] which Rod Stewart reckons was brilliant. The synth-guitar hook line that kicks off the tune is played on the same scale and key; the first two chords Dm7 & F are the same, so the melody/ counter melody lines are interchangeable.”

❏ Michael Berrow remembers Bob Lamb who produced Duran’s demos back in 1980: “Bob did a great job on Planet Earth. Bob’s arrangement is pretty well what made the final recording.” When EMI came into the frame, however, Lamb was laid off in favour of Colin Thurston. Lamb said later: “Colin was more fashionable than me at the time. I bumped into him at a studio in London and Colin said to me – and I quote – ‘I owe you a house’ (laughs) — which I’m still waiting for!”

❏ Graphic designer Malcolm Garrett reveals why the 12-inch sleeve of Planet Earth (the Night Version) looks different from the regular 7-inch version: “Economics. I don’t think they had much money, and they didn’t expect it to sell. Hence, they only gave me two colours to print with.”

➢ Read Steve Jansen’s full text of Switch It On!
— Planet Earth & The Launch of Duran Duran

Duran Duran, video, Planet Earth

The New Romantic Jive: Rum Runner regulars Gay John and Lavinya (aka Patrick Black), dressed to the hilt and dancing in Russell Mulcahy’s official 1981 video for Planet Earth

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