Freewheeling through time and space, our renegade columnist ventures out on his further adventures in audio. This month, Soft Cell
By 1982, I’d started writing for a magazine called Flexipop!. Initially a flexidisc-toting teen market rival to Smash Hits, it was actually dedicated to taking the piss and finding different angles when dealing with favourite pop stars, often with a warped or debauched twist (layout man Mark Manning – the future Zodiac Mindwarp – got in hot water when his cartoon pig regular Gruntwazzock Pork was depicted assaulting Boy George with a salami in the shower).
In early 1983, looking for some kind of reinvention, publisher Barry Cain appointed me editor. We abandoned the flexidisc, gave Some Bizzare honcho Stevo his own column and opened the gates of depravity from the front line of synthpop.
By now I was living with Youth. We loved going to Steve Strange’s Thursday nights at Camden Palace and the Batcave in Soho (credited with starting goth even if it took the piss out of it). A scabrous social circle opened up that often found me at Some Bizzare’s HQ in the Trident Studios building in Soho, hanging out with Marc Almond, Dave Ball, Anni Hogan, Jim “Foetus” Thirlwell, Neubauten’s Blixa Bargeld, Psychic TV and Nick Cave, then recording the first Bad Seeds album there.
This inevitably leaked into Flexipop!, which transformed over the half dozen issues it took me to run it to extinction. Yet, somewhere amid the toilet-centric antics lurked a unique peek into synthpop as it then captured the nation. My first issue as editor boasted Stevo’s column debut. He had found himself in the position of teenage mogul after Soft Cell’s huge success and, reading his column now, seemed to be going gloriously off the rails, ranting, “Bass guitar, lead guitar, drums with someone singing… this is not what I wanted. Futurism meant lots of instruments, lots of different ways of playing and lots of unstandard formats… VARIETY means you have the choice of something NEW, that has not been heard before, not something that REMINDS you of something else. SOUNDALIKE means conformity. At some point I cry there is no HOPE for variety. Who wants another whoever? NOT SOME BIZZARE. THE ONE WHO WAS FIRST IS THE ONE WHO WAS BEST” (Repeated several times).
In his stream-of-conscious speed-rant way, Stevo was right. Soft Cell had inspired endless sappy copyists who always got his goat when we sat in his office. Among the Bunnymen, Bauhaus and Specimen spreads, Soft Cell were the main feature that first issue. For the photo session, Marc and Dave donned biker jackets and brandished newly-purchased guitars. Having tasted the pinnacles of fame, they’d released ‘The Art of Falling Apart’, their glorious gutter retort to pop stardom that allowed their previously-underlying sleaze to rise to the surface, and picked up where recent single ‘Where The Heart Is’ left off in diffusing their success . After claiming to be wearing purple rubber jockey shorts, I let Marc vent his admiration for life’s casualties, the walking disaster areas. Here’s an excerpt from the original interview.
“I think people who go through life like that are great. I often feel a lot like that. I think we both do. You just live a life of total chaos. You’ve got so much coming at you, you don’t know what’s going on half the time. It’s totally untogether, but it’s always these people that go on forever, like a creaking door. It seems that people who are very methodical always have a downfall. Survivors are great. People who take every downfall and climb back up there again. You just get living like that down to a fine art.”
Marc’s favourite track on the LP is florid nightmare grind ‘Baby Doll’, named after a New York bar they visited and looking behind the stripper’s smile.
“It comes over as glamorous but it’s really just the opposite.”
This is the UK’s number one pop group.
“The thing that I think is important to us,” Dave chimes in, “is we’re still getting over to the mass audience and we aren’t just saying, ‘Oh great’ and churning out nice little records with nice safe lyrics. It’s just using that power a bit more to actually put over some ideas that we really believe rather than just pop throwaway stuff. Most bands that get a few hit records think, ‘We’ve got a formula now’ and just keep putting them out. But you can break new ground.”
“It’s just giving people more images and pictures to play with rather than ‘baby, I love you, yeah’, the safe calculated pop that’s around now in the charts,” adds Marc.
Dave makes a face.
“It’s like government music. Sometimes I think some of the bands that are around now are signed to the government. There should be a Conservative label!”
That day at Some Bizzare, Soft Cell know they paved the way for the synthpop invasion, and are delighting in rebelling against it. “Let’s move away and leave it to the vultures,” hisses Marc, adding how Soft Cell’s diseased Christmas single ‘Where The Heart Is’ (“a little piece of truth, a little piece of the family as I saw it”) was the only one his mum didn’t like. New single ‘Numbers’ dealt with conveyor belt rumpo and speed, to their record company’s horror.
“They just want ‘Tainted Love’,” wails Marc. “It’s pathetic. Stevo’s fought to get a piece of paper signed so we’ve got total control over everything. Stevo’s got so much respect in the record company… They’re used to suit and tie yes men. They don’t like ‘Numbers’ because it’s quite slow and its subject. But there should be no rules for singles. This should be blown wide open. It’s just sad there’s so many people who don’t want to capture people’s imaginations.”
The next time I interview Marc he’s releasing Marc And The Mambas’ second album and, in 1984, Soft Cell amicably finishes. Flexipop!’s days are numbered after David Tibet and I stick Aleister Crowley on the cover.
Spectacular days. This was the tip of an iceberg I may have to revisit.