A flock of seagulls’ Mike Score looks back at the making of their breakout 1982 hit and mtv smash, ‘I ran (so far away)’
“‘I Ran’ started off as a bit of a jam. We had the music already, but we hadn’t really formulated it to go in any particular direction. We were looking to get a single out, so we went to Zoo Records, which was about 100 yards from where we rehearsed. They had Echo & The Bunnymen and The Teardrop Explodes of course, so they were known for being the get-ahead, small, aggressive little record company which everyone in Liverpool wanted to be on.
“While we were meeting with them I noticed a picture on their office wall of a couple of people running away from a flying saucer. That just stuck in my head, so at our next rehearsal I just started to play around with a few lyrics about that picture. I think the image was originally slated to become Teardrop Explodes’ album cover. Around the same time, we’d been to [seminal Liverpool club] Eric’s and saw this band Fischer-Z play.
They had a song called ‘Wristcutter’s Lullaby’ which had the line ‘I ran, till my legs buckled under me’. It was the best thing they did on the night. I guess that helped cement the idea. It just went perfectly with the whole UFO concept.
“As the appointed singer and lyricist I kind of was the driving force behind the song’s arrangement, mainly because it had to go with what I was capable of singing at the time. I wasn’t a proper singer. I was just doing vocals, you know. We were still looking for a singer then, and somehow it was decided I’d take on that role.
“Before the band I was a hairdresser and I used to have these punk guys coming into the salon saying, ‘Can you make my hair red? I’ve got a gig coming up’. Gradually I got friendly with some of them, I went to check out their bands and after a while I thought, ‘Hey, well, I could do that’. That was the beauty of punk, you could just have a go, thrash around. None of us were professional musicians, we were just messing about and having a good time. Luckily synths came out and with those you were allowed to just make a noise.
“We always used to try a bunch of different things in the studio. We’d just chug along in there until we hit on something that stuck. My brother Ali was a real powerhouse kick and snare drummer and his drumroll really propelled the track along. I remember I wanted to use an electronic drumkit, some sort of sonic pad. I set it up and said, ‘Hit this because it makes all these weird wind noises and stuff’. Well Ali hit it once and it just blew into a million pieces, so that was the end of that!
“But once that drumroll was established, it just seemed to write itself. Guitarist Paul Reynolds was a bit of a genius at taking someone’s idea, expanding on it and just taking it down a completely different avenue. His guitar break seemed to really hit the mark, especially with the American audience. It started pretty synthy and then this lead guitar comes in and that’s exactly what they like. And of course we loved it too, because we had the synth droning underneath and the drums pounding on top so we didn’t need much more.
“We recorded it in Battery Studios in west London, with Mike Howlett producing. He understood what we were about. We weren’t a rock band, we weren’t really part of the Eric’s scene; we were more colourful than that, a bit Ziggy Stardust-ish. We were influenced by what we could play – which was not a great deal! Because of Mike’s time in Gong, he knew the value of being a little bit ‘out there’, but he also understood the basics of what makes a good, catchy pop song. He was quite free in letting us go, while also keeping us on track to make everything fit together. I remember singing a hell of a lot. I was pretty limited vocally, but Mike was good at encouraging me and getting lots of takes so we had enough to get a decent vocal down.
“The video sealed the deal of course. We’d finished the album, and Jive, our label by then, were looking for an outlet beyond the UK. They told us about this new thing in America called MTV. They were looking for new bands, but you needed to have some sort of video to get on it. We were like, ‘What’s a video?’.
“We were given some cash to go out and buy some clothes. When we came back they had this whole set up with mirrors, and the camera in the middle spinning around. It took about two or three hours to film. We saw it the same night and the next day it was sent off to New York and played on MTV. I think they only had 12 videos then, which they played in rotation, and luckily ‘I Ran’ became the most requested. There were a few dance clubs in New York that played videos too so suddenly we went from bubbling under to topping these dance and college charts. It gave us a real kick up the butt. Everyone was hearing the song, from Chicago to LA and Kansas City. It took us from being a ‘maybe’ band’ to a ‘here they go’ band.
“We’d only been going nine or 10 months, we’d probably only played 12 gigs when we got signed, but suddenly we had a four-album deal. Looking back it’s funny just how quickly it caught on. It just seemed like all our ducks were lined up for us, without us having to do very much.
“Over the years I’ve had mixed feelings about the song. It’s great that it got people listening to us and that it’s endured of course, but on the other hand it tends to get in the way of everything else. I think we made better songs, but that was the moment in our history that really put us on the map. I wish I could write another one with the same staying power today!”
‘Ascension’, A Flock Of Seagulls greatest hits reworked with the Prague Philharmonic, is released by August Day