From flat-sharing with Soft Cell during their Leeds university days to DJing at London’s legendary Batcave and collaborating with the great and good of art rock and electropop, Anni Hogan has been on one heck of a ride 

A bright, blustery, blue-sky day in the People’s Republic of Merseyside. Dramatic piano chords boom out from behind the door of a shabby chic house in Wallasey. From the outside, Anni Hogan’s home studio is just another unassuming suburban semi. But inside we find an airy salon, perfumed by the sweet aroma of incense, ablaze with brightly hued flower paintings and exotic wall hangings. A Kawai baby grand sits centre stage, flanked by a vintage Farfisa synthesiser and a deliciously chunky antique Wurlitzer organ. 

It’s a small oasis of Mediterranean bohemian hippiedom on the Wirral peninsula. A Mersey paradise.

Hogan lives in Wallasey with her charming Kiwi wife Bridget and Bali, their super-bouncy, pocket-sized Jack Russell. She grew up just a few miles away, in the village of Oxton, near Birkenhead. But her journey back home has been a long and winding one, featuring detours (to Leeds, London and Rome), wild parties, world tours and Number One hits. 

The starting point was her fateful meeting with synthpunk sleaze-lords Soft Cell, afterwards becoming housemate and key musical collaborator to Marc Almond. She would go on to work with art rock and electropop royalty, including Wolfgang Flür, Nick Cave, Yello, Nico, Robin “Scanner” Rimbaud and many more. In the four decades since her career began, Hogan has amassed a remarkable body of work just outside the pop limelight.

Ann Margaret Hogan got her first piano at 12 and grew up dreaming of film soundtracks and faraway cities. Her childhood love of John Barry and Ennio Morricone expanded to include Bowie, Iggy, Lou, Patti, Can, Suicide, Giorgio Moroder, Scott Walker, Nina Simone, Fad Gadget, Diamanda Galás and other stars of the alternative cult-pop canon. Electronic music was an early passion, and even now she still alternates between piano, synthesiser and laptop.

“Literally, I play music every day,” she says, caressing her shiny Kawai ivories. “This is my baby. I’ve had it a long time – about 30 years.”

Leaving Birkenhead for Leeds University in 1979 triggered a revolution in the head for the young Hogan. In theory, she was there to study politics and history. But immersion in the city’s booming post-punk electronic music scene, at festivals like Futurama and clubs like The Warehouse, soon lured her away from her studies. Her first college rock show – Buzzcocks supported by Joy Division – “blew my mind”.

Within a year, Hogan abandoned her degree to DJ at the alternative club Amnesia on Boar Street. Instantly recognisable by her striking, backcombed peroxide-punk haircut, she was a natural on the turntables, spinning Japan, Yello and Kraftwerk alongside classic disco and northern soul.

“You can think of it as composing – it’s the same discipline,” she nods. “It was automatic for me to want to be in charge and compose the night.”

Hogan also began booking and promoting gigs for the new wave of synthpop bands, including a young Depeche Mode, The Human League and local rising stars Soft Cell. She already knew Marc Almond and Dave Ball from the Faversham pub, a magnet for goths and punks near the university.

“They were known as the ‘men in black’ and there was something attractive about them – maybe they called me to Leeds,” she laughs. “They came down to Amnesia a lot, Marc in particular, and somehow I moved into their shared accommodation in Leicester Grove. It was run-down and grotty. Everywhere was run-down then. Thatcher was in, and it was all falling apart. But at the same time, it was fantastic because you made the most of everything.”

She went on to DJ at Le Phonographique, a basement bar in the Merrion shopping centre just north of Leeds city centre.

“A total dive,” she laughs. “It was all the Leeds alternative types, punks, androgynous boys and girls, all getting off with one another. It felt wild and innovative and creative. People were off their heads – some were on glue, some were on speed – but it was a very accepting crowd. There weren’t a lot of fights in there. The new romantic scene was really happening in Leeds, and Marc was one of its main faces. They were real Leeds working-class kids, all dressed up, fighting against the system in their own way.”

She, too, was fighting the system in her own way. As an out-and-proud gay female DJ during the intensely homophobic Thatcher years, her life was inherently political. In her teens, she was “totally a communist” and “a natural feminist before I even recognised feminism”. In 1980s Leeds and London, she remembers suffering bigotry and hostility on a regular basis.

Even so, she didn’t feel like a queer feminist pioneer at the time.

“When I look back, I was actually one of the only women doing this stuff, especially in electronic music,” she muses. “But back then I didn’t think, ‘I can’t do things because I’m a woman’ – I just went ahead and did them. The same as being gay, being a woman doesn’t define me.”

Hogan’s transition from clubs to recording studio came about after a chance encounter at London’s Columbia Hotel, a notorious haunt for touring rock bands and American spies. In 1981, while acting as tour DJ for Soft Cell, she met actor turned experimental composer Simon Fisher Turner, avant-rock musician and producer Colin Lloyd-Tucker, and Matt Johnson of The The fame. 

Turner and Tucker invited Hogan to guest on their gender-blurring art-pop project Deux Filles. This impressed Almond enough to enlist her to play keyboards on the Soft Cell B-side ‘Fun City’ and his first solo-career composition, ‘Sleaze (Take It, Shake It)’. Both would feature on the debut Marc And The Mambas release in March 1982.

For most of the 80s, Hogan was a fixture in Almond’s backing bands – first the Mambas, then The Willing Sinners and La Magia. Besides co-writing and playing keyboards, she became live musical director, co-producer and arranger, alongside bass player Billy McGee. She made her live debut at the London’s Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, on 5 December 1982. It must be said, that’s pretty grand for a first gig.

Hogan followed Almond down to London in 1983, bringing her pet poodle, Pervert, and moving into Lydia Lunch’s flat in Barons Court while the cult singer was away. She became a regular DJ at the fabled goth club-night Batcave, mixing with a bohemian houseboat scene centred around Chelsea Wharf. The arty-party crowd included Nick Cave, Anita Lane, Jim “Foetus” Thirlwell, Barry Adamson, Kid Congo Powers, Jarboe Devereaux of Swans, Siouxsie & The Banshees and Jessamy Calkin, tour manager for Berlin industrial noise-punks Einstürzende Neubauten. 

Encouraged by Almond, Hogan began work on her first solo EP, ‘Kickabye’. Lane suggested the title, Calkin supplied most of the lyrics, and Cave provided bluesy, ragged vocals on ‘Vixo’. Released on Cabaret Voltaire’s Doublevision label in 1985, this cult 12-inch remains a career-making milestone.

“These people were all very important to my development as a musician,” Hogan says. “Nick and Anita were super-nice – very kind, lovely, funny people. The Banshees took me under their wing. Budgie came in and played drums.”

Between Almond projects, Hogan occasionally moonlighted with other artists, including Barry Adamson, Zeke Manyika, The Style Council and Swiss electro-pranksters Yello, who she met at Hartmann digital studios in the Bavarian mountains during sessions for Almond’s second solo album, ‘Stories Of Johnny’. Agreeing to a spontaneous collaboration in a stoned haze, she soon found herself playing improvised piano on the ‘Vicious Games’ B-side track, ‘Blue Nabou’.

“Yello were exceptionally funny,” Hogan recalls. “They were gambling all the time on the pinball machines, 50 quid a go. We’d had California grass, so I was wrecked, and they just came in and said, ‘Do you want to come and play on this?’. Dieter looked like a mad professor mixed with Salvador Dalí, and Boris is basically Clark Gable. Part of me was like, ‘OH MY GOD, IT’S YELLO!’, because I was a massive fan. I used to play them at the Phono.”

For Almond’s fourth solo album, ‘The Stars We Are’, Hogan worked with one of her heroines, the legendary diva Nico. During the torrid duet, ‘Your Kisses Burn’, the German chanteuse kept mistaking Hogan for Velvet Underground drummer Moe Tucker.

“She was on methadone and was just a bit confused because of it,” Hogan explains. “She was kind of time-travelling between the 1960s with the Velvets and the 80s with us. But it’s a great track and it was still Nico. I think that record was the last thing she ever did before she died.”

‘The Stars We Are’ also spawned Almond’s blockbuster chart-topping duet with Gene Pitney, ‘Something’s Gotten Hold Of My Heart’, earning Hogan her only gold disc to date. But it also led to turbulent backstage clashes with Almond, which exploded into acrimony when she asked for a tiny percentage of the album’s profits. The conflict sabotaged their friendship and working relationship. Almond’s ‘Tainted Life’ autobiography, published in 1999, poured bitter scorn on his estranged musical partner.

“Me and Marc have never spoken since,” she says, her voice wavering. “I actually only read his book recently. I don’t remember it the way that he does. I remember a lot of really good times, a lot of being very close, a lot of camaraderie. We were together for 10 years and were like brother and sister to begin with…”

Almond later expressed regret for writing such an angry book, but their rift has now lasted three decades and counting.

“I feel sad that he felt like he did,” Hogan shrugs. “I certainly was acting crazy, but we were all off our heads, taking whatever, working ridiculous hours and never having holidays. I’m still close with Dave, but Anita Lane died in April. She was such a beautiful, ethereal being and her death has really affected me, so I’ve been obsessing about those times for a few days and thinking, ‘God, are me and Marc never going to speak again?’.”

Hogan began the 1990s with a confident swagger, a major label deal and a new solo vehicle – the polished, ambient rock project Cactus Rain. But the group’s only record, ‘In Our Own Time’, saddled her with huge studio debts, flopped commercially and killed her pop star ambitions stone dead. Worst of all, she hated the music.

“It just sounded so sterile,” she frowns.

With her recording career in limbo, Hogan spent much of the next two decades off the radar, “letting go of my past physically and symbolically”. But she would still DJ intermittently, composing music and lyrics that would later bear fruit. She spent time in Rome, where her sister and parents lived. 

Returning to her early passion for cinema, she wrote Hitchcock-inspired electronic scores, attended a film studies course at Liverpool University, and started an ongoing book project that deals with director-composer collaborations. Impressively, like a true bohemian, she resisted the lure of nine-to-five work.

“No proper job ever is my rule,” she says.

But over the past decade Hogan has rediscovered her musical mojo with a vengeance, kicking off a prolific run of eclectic indie releases and wide-ranging collaborations with an expanded reissue of ‘Kickabye’ in 2009. In 2016, she worked with electronic composer Robin “Scanner” Rimbaud on a guest-heavy joint album of digital chansons and ambient audioscapes archly entitled ‘Scanni’. Two years later, she recorded ‘Broken Hearted City’ with former Simple Minds bass player Derek Forbes under the name Zanti – a piece full of cinematic trip hop ballads.

In 2019, Hogan released her most ambitious solo long-player yet, ‘Lost In Blue’, a jazzy cabaret-noir collection co-produced by her old Soft Cell comrade Dave Ball and featuring a stellar vocal guest list, including former Kraftwerker Wolfgang Flür, the still outrageous Lydia Lunch and Virgin Prunes founder Gavin Friday. She herself sings several tracks in warm, silky, lustrous tones, showcasing her own underused vocal talents.

Hogan’s connection with Flür dates back to a 2008 show at Dublin’s Tivoli Theatre, where she and Ball both shared a DJ bill with the former robot.

“Wolfgang played these amazing films – his home footage of Kraftwerk,” she recalls. “Fantastic! Everybody loved it.”

After the show, Hogan suggested a collaboration. This led to two warm, romantic, ruminative, Yello-ish spoken word pieces, ‘Silk Paper’ and ‘Golden Light’, and an enduring friendship. Hogan is elated that Flür is to be inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame as part of Kraftwerk’s classic line-up.

“I’m so happy for him!” she enthuses. “The electronic fab four finally recognised. It’s just a shame it wasn’t sooner while Florian was alive…”

Flür also inspired ‘Wolfswalzer’, a lyrical instrumental piece on Hogan’s latest album of electroacoustic sound paintings, ‘Funeral Cargo’. Made during lockdown conditions in 2020, its eight intensely moving tracks are steeped in the landscape and backstory of her native Wirral. 

“I have to get immersed before I do anything,” she explains. “So we went on a lot of local walks, down to the docks, doing field recordings. ‘Funeral Cargo’ itself was inspired by foghorns going off, and the rest was getting into the Viking history around here, which is massive.”

To mark her 60th birthday this month, Hogan is releasing ‘Without The Moon’, a mini-album of six tracks – old, new, reworked and previously unheard – which span her entire four-decade canon. Meanwhile, she has multiple future projects in gestation, including a collaborative recording with Mute Records artist Thomas Cohen, aka Sylph, and an “electronic synthetic symphony” inspired by outer space.

From the sleazy underground clubs of Leeds to the top of the charts and beyond, Anni Hogan has plotted a rich artistic journey, but she never quite reaped the big financial rewards of pop success. Too many wrong turns, too many sour deals. Fortunately, behind every great woman is another great woman. With wife Bridget holding down a proper job to pay the bills, Hogan says she’s free to be “a selfish artist”, following her muse.

“I just think I’m somebody who’s not meant to have money,” she shrugs. “But I’m happy with that because I’ve got love, big time, and I’ve got my talent. That feels like a lot to me. I mean it. I’m genuinely happy, and I don’t crave things, apart from the odd vintage keyboard.”

Regrets? She’s had a few. Yet for somebody who never really wanted a career, she seems to be cruising along just fine.

“God yeah, so far it’s been fantastic,” Hogan grins. “I’ve had very quiet times, slower times, contemplative times, but I think everything is for a reason. I’ve made mistakes, like the way it finished with Marc, and then going with Cactus Rain. But I don’t like regretting, because everything leads to now. And I couldn’t be happier.”

‘Funeral Cargo’ is out now on Downwards

You May Also Like
Read More

Anna Meredith: Pest Control

From the classical pomp of The Proms to the thrilling pop of her new album ‘Varmints’, Anna Meredith is shaking up preconceptions about composers and turning ideas of what a songwriter is on its head
Read More

Das Koolies: Playing It Kool

As the future-facing Das Koolies, Super Furry Animals’ Huw Bunford, Cian Ciarán, Dafydd Ieuan and Guto Pryce explore a range of new sounds, concepts and artistic possibilities. Set the controls for a genre-bending vortex of electronic experimentalism
Read More

Lost Souls Of Saturn: Alternate Realities

As “multidimensional creative dissidents” Lost Souls Of Saturn, Seth Troxler and Phil Moffa fuse elements of techno, dub, house, jazz, psych and ambient into vivid and expansive new shapes. Enhanced by augmented reality, it’s quite the trip
Read More

xPropaganda: Duel Purpose

After years of band tensions and failed reunions, Propaganda’s Claudia Brücken and Susanne Freytag have resurfaced as xPropaganda with a shimmering new album, ‘The Heart Is Strange’. Here, they talk ZTT, camaraderie and the fear of following up 1985’s defining ‘A Secret Wish’
Read More

‘Inventions For Radio’: The Mother Of Inventions

In the mid-1960s, Delia Derbyshire collaborated with playwright Barry Bermange on ‘Inventions For Radio’, a series of groundbreaking sound collages. Dr David Butler, curator of the Delia Derbyshire Archive, looks ahead to a forthcoming boxset of these pivotal radiophonic recordings