Anne Clark ‘Sleeper In Metropolis’

Singer and poet Anne Clark outlines the making of ‘Sleeper In Metropolis’, her defining 1985 synthpop cut with producer David Harrow

“I’ve been writing poetry for as long as I can remember. At infant and junior school I got through one exercise book after another. Home life was very difficult, with little or no room to be seen or heard, and writing became an alternative way to find a voice.

“Growing up, I remember Charles Causley’s poem ‘The Song Of The Dying Gunner’ made a huge impact on a classroom that had no interest whatsoever in poetry. We were all stunned into silence by the language. It made me realise the power and magic of words. During my teenage years, the poetry of singer/songwriters like Simon & Garfunkel and Tim Buckley made a big impression. Then the lyrical musicality of Dylan Thomas and Sylvia Plath. Discovering David Bowie, then Patti Smith – they weren’t just a revelation but a revolution.

Laurie Anderson, Maya Angelou, Rainer Maria Rilke…

“Performing my poetry seemed a perfectly natural thing to do. For me, music sets a scene for the images of spoken words. Initially I created ‘soundscapes’ to make settings for my texts. Very basic musical structures, blended with recordings I’d made out in the streets, parks or at home, using a mic and tape recorder.

“I lived and breathed music of every kind – Cat Stevens, Tangerine Dream, Chopin, Cockney Rebel, Donna Summer, Nico, X-Ray Spex, Kraftwerk, Buzzcocks, Magazine, The Durutti Column…

“In the late 1970s, punk created so many opportunities. In south London, where I was from, there was this constant well of creativity and innovation springing up in every pub, or on every street corner. Many of the bands from the area became synonymous with the punk movement – The Damned, Siouxsie And The Banshees, Generation X…

“I’d gone to school with Kirsty MacColl, and I remember we put a band together for just one night. Pubs had bands on every night! That kind of energy and creativity is unthinkable now. I worked in a record shop around the corner from Croydon’s Warehouse Theatre. I was constantly knocking on their door suggesting that they incorporate some of this new ‘punk’ creativity into their schedule. They were very reluctant at first, but eventually offered me the opportunity to hold a couple of trial evenings there on Sundays. They were a great success and sold out, so they offered me the chance to host these events on a regular basis. We brought in full audiences every weekend, with acts like Depeche Mode, John Cooper Clarke and Paul Weller.

“While curating these evenings, I met David Harrow. I’m not sure why we decided to work together because we’re really different personalities, yet there was a very powerful, explosive and brief creative energy that came into being between us, enabling us to formulate pieces like ‘Sleeper In Metropolis’. This was still the good old analogue days, so a Juno-60 was at the centre of David’s creative toolbox. Digital technology was coming in – the Yamaha DX7 played a big role as did Roland 808 and LinnDrum machines.

“Initially, all our best ideas were formulated at David’s home studio in Banstead, in Surrey. After the release and relative success of my first mini- album, ‘The Sitting Room’, the label put up some money for David and I to record at a bigger, better equipped studio than the little 8-track place I’d used in North London. Denmark Street in the West End was actually a very unfriendly, macho place, where it was made obvious that a woman could have no say or constructive role in the creative process. Looking back on it now, it was a pretty disgusting situation.

“The sessions were long – sometimes up to 12 or 14 hours – and expensive. Especially when you think about what’s possible in a home studio now, for little or no cost. Those were different times.

“Growing up in a small end-of-terrace house in East Croydon, I gradually became aware of a monstrous construction being built literally right outside my window, blocking out even the tiniest hint of sunlight. Having spent my childhood in a seemingly blissful suburbia made up of hedges, trees and birdsong, the high-security monster that was the IBM Building felt like something from another planet, taking over everything. It was this that mostly inspired the lyrics to ‘Sleeper In Metropolis’.

“We were first aware of the popularity of the track via messages coming across from Berlin, and it just grew.

It was a hit around the world – except the UK, of course – and then in Chicago, it found its place in the burgeoning underground scene there. The success of ‘Sleeper’ earned the record companies loads of money! I’ve been fighting for the royalties ever since, but it did open up a lot of doors for me with regards to touring and so on.

“Red Flame Records – who initially released the song – got taken over by Virgin, and I subsequently got a recording deal from that. The song was definitely meant to invigorate people, both the words and music. If people wanted to dance as well, that was absolutely fine.

“The clubs in Germany and mainland Europe in general were hungry for a remix. It was being played in clubs, and on radio and TV. It’s since been remixed and plagiarised countless times. ‘Sleeper In Metropolis’ is still in my sets. It would be pretty difficult to get away without playing it live! However, as with everything, it’s had to evolve and change with age and circumstance, so it’s done in many different ways to keep it sounding fresh and interesting for the audience, the musicians and myself.

“I would never be presumptuous enough to assume that David’s and my tracks could be viewed as so innovative, but I must concede that we did create a couple of pretty exceptional numbers. When we were writing and recording, we were aware of a very special energy.”

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