As Depeche Mode get ready for another massive world tour, Deb Danahay talks about her previously unseen photos of the band’s first ever trip outside the UK
There is a misconception that Depeche Mode played their first gig outside the UK in Germany, in the city of Hamburg. In fact, their first ever non-UK gig was in Holland, at the Zuiderpark Open Air Theatre in The Hague. It took place on 25 July 1981.
During those early days of the band, I was helping to run the Depeche Mode Information Service with Jo Fox (Dave Gahan’s girlfriend) and Anne Swindell (Martin Gore’s girlfriend). I was Vince Clarke’s girlfriend at that time. Fortunately, I can still recall a lot of what happened back then from the large collection of photos, memorabilia and diary entries I amassed chronicling that period in Depeche Mode’s history, and later also Yazoo’s career.
Depeche Mode had just managed to secure their first UK Top 20 single with ‘New Life’, which had peaked at number 11. The record had secured the band their debut appearance on the BBC’s ‘Top Of The Pops’. The Holland gig was a festival slot and followed a sold-out show at The Venue in London a couple of days earlier.
The stage at the Zuiderpark was on an island. It was surrounded by a moat and the only access was over a little bridge. The headliners of the event were Tuxedomoon, an experimental new wave band from California, who were very popular in the Netherlands and Belgium. They were also Andy Fletcher’s favourite band and I remember Fletch was very excited that Depeche were sharing a stage with them. It was a lovely sunny day and the gig went without a hitch. The band got a great reception as they’d already managed to attract a number of Dutch fans.
Playing live in those days wasn’t anything like it is for Depeche Mode now. The guys used to travel to gigs with their synths under their arms. On this occasion, Daniel Miller, the head of Mute Records, drove everyone over to Europe in a minibus. There was the band, plus Jo, Anne and myself, and we went via the ferry from Dover to Zeebrugge. Twelve hours and much seasickness later, we arrived at The Hague. Vince and I went out and found what I described in my diary as an ‘illegal bar’ (is anything illegal in Holland?) and we stayed there until four in the morning.
This was probably the first time Vince had travelled out of the UK. His family split up when he was young and I’m sure they had never been abroad together. Vince was also on the dole at the time and money was tight, so the whole experience was very exciting for both of us. In those days, he was the driving force behind the band. He’d asked Dave to join the band, and he organised the gigs and sent out the demo tapes – which was lucky as Martin, Andy and Dave had full-time jobs.
I originally came from Dave’s group of friends. Dave was already a popular figure. He was a good-looking boy. He was a lad when he was with the lads, but on his own he was quite shy and self-conscious. If Vince hadn’t asked him to be in the band, I don’t think it would have occurred to him to make music his career.
It amazes me that I kept so much stuff from back then. I certainly couldn’t have predicted how things would turn out. We used to sit on the tour bus and joke about “Depeche Mode, Live at Wembley” or a “Depeche Mode Greatest Hits” album, but that’s all we were doing, we were just joking. Nobody, including the guys themselves, ever thought it would actually happen.