Dave Ball

Perry Como, Ken Dodd, Status Quo. Not names you’d expect to see on the same page, or come to that, on these pages at all. Soft Cell’s Dave Ball reveals the early influences that shaped him

Photo: David Chambers

The Golden Mile

“Blackpool had a massive influence on me. I was actually born in Chester, but when I was one I was adopted and moved to Blackpool. Growing up by the seaside you could go to the beach everyday, which I loved. In my early teens I went to my first show, which was Ken Dodd – it was the first time I became aware of show business. I’d seen it on TV and then it was suddenly in front of me. I think that’s where my interest in showbiz originated from. 

“Blackpool doesn’t have many gigs; it’s all nightclubs and glitzy shows with TV personalities. Marc [Almond] grew up in Southport, which was a bit posher than Blackpool, but he has the same seaside trashiness influences. A song like ‘Memorabilia’, the line ”keychains and snowstorms” is a reference to going on holiday in Spain, but it’s all the same thing when you’re by the seaside. Our paths were set growing up in seaside towns.”

Wheels of Steel

“I built a mobile disco system when I was 15 from a couple of old crappy Garrard decks built into a console, with a homemade lights system, some cheap speakers and a valve amp. My dad was the chauffeur, and I did a few school discos and Christmas parties in weird guest houses. I even did a Masonic dance once because my dad was in the Masons and I had to play all this horrible Perry Como and Glenn Miller. That was my not so glamorous entrance into the wonderful world of show business.

“We lived by the legendary Highland Room at Blackpool Mecca, where I first heard ‘Tainted Love’. Ian Levine DJed there, but I don’t think it was him who discovered that song; it was Richard Searling, the DJ at the Twisted Wheel in Manchester. Those northern soul nights and so many of those great records that were played were a big influence on us.” 

Quid Pro Quo

“The first band I saw was Status Quo at the Blackpool Opera House in 1972. And I thought, ‘Fucking hell, I want to be in a band’. And funnily enough, 10 years later I played in the same venue standing in the same spot as Francis Rossi, but without the Telecaster. I’ve always had a soft spot for them because they were the first band I saw. Obviously there’s no Quo influence in Soft Cell whatsoever. We did Black Sabbath’s ‘Paranoid’, but we never did a cover of ‘Caroline’ or ‘Down Down’. I don’t think that’s likely to happen, but I’ll mention it to Marc just in case. 

“Sadly, my dad died in 1977 and I inherited some money. I wanted to be a guitarist so I bought a Fender Telecaster, a big amp, a Wah-Wah and a Fuzzbox, much to the neighbour’s delight. I was studying art at Leeds Polytechnic, and the most fame that guitar ever achieved was when I lent it to The Mekons one night. I sort of realised at that point that I didn’t have what it took to be a guitarist. 

“I’d got into synths listening to Kraftwerk, Eno, Throbbing Gristle and Cabaret Voltaire and I was visiting my mum in Blackpool where they had quite a lot of music shops, and I bought a Korg 800DV for 450 quid, which was a lot in those days, but I did a part exchange with the guitar and handed over £300. Synths were hard to find back then, this one had apparently belonged to the drummer of Jethro Tull. Without it there probably wouldn’t have been a Soft Cell. I started noodling back at art college and that’s when Marc and I started crossing paths artistically. Most people thought we were a bit of a joke to begin with, this little gay guy and this big bloke with a tape recorder and a synth. You look back fondly, don’t you? We did our best.”

John Barry

“My dad always took me to see James Bond films when I was young, which I used to love. The music was sexy and dangerous. I liked John Barry for a long time and I’d sort of forgotten that. I remember Anni Hogan DJing in Leeds, and she got this double album of John Barry’s greatest hits. I was like, ‘What’s this? I’ve got to get this!’, which rekindled my interest in John Barry. I own about a hundred original John Barry albums on vinyl and probably about another 60 singles. I’m quite the fan of John Barry as you can see. 

“I’ve always liked scary stuff as well as sexy: Bernard Herrmann for his Hitchcock soundtracks, and the masterpiece he made for Martin Scorsese’s ‘Taxi Driver’. John Carpenter directed his films and did those remarkable soundtracks with Alan Howarth. ‘Escape From New York’, ‘Assault On Precinct 13’, ‘Halloween’, they’re all fantastic… I love ’em all.”

New York State of Mind

“There was a documentary about Andy Warhol on the telly by David Bailey, and my mum and dad were like, ‘Who’s this weirdo and why are these weirdos allowed on television?’. They were so outraged I instantly thought I’d like to know more. You had David Bowie singing about him, The Rolling Stones’ ‘Sticky Fingers’ and the Velvet Underground association. I got interested in pop art because of Warhol, as well as the fact my parents were outraged by him, and there was that subversive trash culture which led to the films of John Waters and so forth.

“Shortly after my dad died, my mum took my sister and I to New York for a holiday at my insistence, and we stayed on Lexington Avenue for a fortnight. I absolutely loved it. I thought, ‘I have to come back here soon without my mum and my sister’, and sure enough I was back in 1981 when we recorded the first Soft Cell album. I need to go back to New York again soon – the yellow chequered cabs and the steam coming up from the road – I’m 60 now and the clock’s ticking. It was dangerous back then with the local paper full of murders. 42nd Street was full of junkies, hookers and porn cinemas. If you go there now it’s like Disneyland.” 

Soft Cell’s ‘To Show You I’ve Been There’ photo book and exclusive seven-inch EP is out via Renegade Music 

 

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