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Making Duran Duran: Duran Duran

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Before the silk suits, yachts and blockbuster videos sailed into view, Duran Duran’s debut album saw them at their most experimental – an innate pop sensibility melded with art-school synths, punk angst and dancefloor-friendly grooves… By Steve Harnell

Duran Duran debut album

Like so many of Britain’s biggest bands, a spirit of experimentalism borne out of art-school beginnings planted a fire in the bellies of Duran Duran.

When schoolboy friends Nick Rhodes (then Nicholas Bates) and John Taylor (previously the rather less rockist-named Nigel Taylor) formed Duran Duran with collegemate Stephen Duffy, it was with a mission statement to fuse the rock energy of the Sex Pistols with the discofied style of Chic – although at the height of the ‘disco sucks’ movement, the band’s love of Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards’ work was decidedly unfashionable.

However, throwing the studied synth-pop dynamics of Japan and the art-rock ambitiousness of Berlin-era Bowie into the stew, the band reckoned they had hit upon a ready-made formula for success.

Duran Duran played their first show at Birmingham Poly on 5 April 1979 – a 30-minute set to just 20 people. A later support slot to fellow Birmingham band Fashion at the Barbarella’s venue attracted a certain Roger Taylor to the audience.

“I just thought this band could be the next big thing out of Birmingham. I don’t know why I had that feeling,” the drummer explained.

As the resident band of Birmingham’s Rum Runner club, Duran were perfectly placed to immerse themselves in the myriad influences of the burgeoning New Romantic movement. Key to their learning curve was the influence of the Berrow brothers, who managed the band in their early years and also ran the Rum Runner.

“My brother and I were importing all the new Giorgio Moroder-style records from New York,” Paul Berrow explained to The Guardian. “We’d been to Studio 54 and heard how dance music was changing. The Duran aesthetic was influenced by that.”

The band’s close association with the Rum Runner – John Taylor worked the door and Nick Rhodes DJ’d – meant they could use it as a rehearsal space and quickly refine their act. Duran also paid close attention to the club’s regular jazz-funk night, mining its sounds for inspiration.

When Stephen Duffy left the band (John Taylor originally played guitar with Simon Colley taking on bass duties), Andy Wickett replaced him as lead vocalist. Wickett, who worked nights at Cadbury’s Birmingham factory while in Duran, contributed to writing Girls On Film, although he is not credited on the final studio version.

His vocals were also found on demos presented to EMI before the band were signed that were recorded at Bob Lamb’s studio in Cambridge Road, Birmingham; the first two albums were almost entirely demoed initially in Lamb’s studio.

Duran Duran: Making Seven And The Ragged Tiger

Duran Duran: Making Rio

More changes were to take place before Duran Duran eventually settled on their most famous original five-piece line-up, including the arrival of Roger Taylor to take over from Nick Rhodes’ rudimentary drum machine. With Colley and Wickett’s exit from the band, Jeff Thomas was installed as frontman alongside a guitarist from West London’s punk scene, Alan Curtis.

During Duran’s early days, Birmingham felt like a breeding ground for new talent. Local outfit The Beat had already made it on to Top Of The Pops, and Dexys Midnight Runners rehearsed within earshot of Duran at a rat-infested disused casino in an alley that went down to the Rum Runner.

In the Duran Duran Rewound: Untold Stories documentary, Nick Rhodes explains: “There was a real vibe in the town at the time and so many music venues. I particularly liked Rebecca’s and Barbarella’s over the road from the Rum Runner.” At the latter Nick saw Blondie, Talking Heads, Television, Generation X, Johnny Thunders and the Heartbreakers, and more.

Also rehearsing nearby was reggae band UB40. Roger Taylor remembers: “We were like in a parallel universe to UB40. We were obviously from the same city and started around the same time. They actually used to rehearse next door to us at the Rum Runner in one of the old rooms there. We used to share amps and speakers, all sorts. They were in one room singing about being on the dole and how miserable it was in Birmingham, and we were in the other room singing about Girls On Film and Rio – completely different subject matter.

“We had this aspirational view of the world and theirs was very earthy and about Birmingham and where they were from. We were so close in some ways but so different in others.”

It was the Rum Runner’s diversity that proved to be its trump card in the eyes of Duran – a relaxed dress code that would see jeans and trainers one night, then feathers and massive shoulder pads two nights later.

“The Rum Runner was at the centre of all Duran Duran activity,” explained Rhodes. “We used to hang out with [Birmingham fashion designers] Patti Belle and Jane Kahn. That club really was wild, but in a beautiful way. It was just people at the end of the week going out and dressing up and doing what they wanted to do.

“In contrast, the Blitz club was what was going on in London, and we thought that theirs would be trumping ours somehow. We all went to the Blitz club one night and I have to say it was really pretty dull because everything was much more uptight. It didn’t feel real and didn’t have that spirit. What we have in Birmingham is that incredible spirit.”

The initial search for a frontman led the band through several vocalists but with the arrival of Simon Le Bon in May 1980, poetry book in hand for an awe-inspiring audition, the band began to make rapid strides. A month earlier, guitarist Andy Taylor had successfully auditioned for the group after answering an advert in the Melody Maker.

Le Bon played his first gig a month after joining, before the band secured a high-profile support slot on a Hazel O’Connor autumn and winter tour that stretched throughout November and December.

Duran began to generate feverish interest among record labels including majors Phonogram and EMI, and it was the latter’s Dave Ambrose who secured their signatures. Ambrose was the man who signed the Sex Pistols for a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it union, and also established a much more successful and longstanding relationship with Kate Bush.

Duran maintained that their decision to join EMI was partly out of patriotism and a mutual admiration for The Beatles.

Duran’s eponymous debut album was officially demoed at AIR Studios in 1980; at the exact same time, key influence Japan were recording their seminal Gentleman Prefer Polaroids down the hall. Final recordings took place at a variety of studios including Red Bus and Utopia as well as in Chipping Norton.

Read more: Duran Duran Superfan

Duran Duran: Making The Wedding Album

Producer Colin Thurston, chosen for his work with David Bowie, Iggy Pop and the Human League, was impressed by the band’s demos – within a single listen to first track Girls On Film he realised he had a special band on his hands. However, the hallowed surroundings of EMI’s Abbey Road studios proved to be no advantage, as Thurston struggled to master its technology.

In an interview with Home Sound Recording in 1985, Thurston explained: “‘We went to Abbey Road, spent nine hours trying to get a drum sound and then  cancelled the month I had booked there. Then we went to Red Bus studios and got the drum sound we wanted in 15 minutes. In two weeks, we had the whole album done apart from the vocals. I think I was so in awe [of Abbey Road] because it was the Beatles’ studio, I just stood there with my mouth open! I couldn’t get anything to work.”

After that, sessions for the album went smoothly – although when news filtered through to the band of the murder of John Lennon on 8 December 1980, they struggled to maintain focus for the remaining duration of recording that day.

Upon its release on 15 June 1981, Duran Duran was an immediate success, rising quickly to No.3 in the UK charts and staying in the Top 100 for 118 weeks. By December the following year it had achieved platinum status, its sales helped by the band’s increased profile thanks to Rio.

The US were at first slow to catch on to the Duran Duran phenomenon, although the debut LP was later re-released in the slipstream of Rio.

By the end of 1981, however, the band were keen to distance themselves from the New Romantic tag and establish their own individual identity.

In a European TV interview, Simon Le Bon explained: “It’s obvious as soon as people come to see us or buy the record and find out what we’re actually doing. If they do know anything about the [New Romantic] movement they can disassociate us immediately because we’ve got so many differences. We like to play live and get in front of the people – we try to reach them rather than just sell them records. And then there’s the fashion thing. We’re not particularly theatrical-looking, are we?”

John Taylor was equally determined to set the record straight: “That [New Romantic] label came in because the press wanted to find a way to box away a selection of bands. It didn’t have a lot to do with the music, it was more looking at photographs of bands.

“We were a New Romantic band before anybody had actually heard us. They just took one look at us and seemed to think that we’d fit into that category. But I think the bands that were in that box about 12 months ago have started to grow away from each other. Duran Duran is not just a New Romantic band any longer… they’re a band to themselves, likewise Spandau Ballet and Ultravox.”

The Songs

GIRLS ON FILM

Clicking shutters immediately establish Duran’s links to the world of high fashion, but this is more about industry exploitation than a celebration of its glamour. Dating back to the band’s earliest days, a pre-Le Bon demo featuring Andy Wickett on vocals reveals a spiky post-punk Duran. While the essence of the chorus remains in the final version, by the time Le Bon gets hold of it, the song is transformed into a propulsive groove (John Taylor, as ever, is superb) and lyrics for the verses are totally rewritten. Andy Taylor’s choppy guitars add nuance, but this is a freshly polished Duran done up to the nines. The Top 5 beckoned.

PLANET EARTH

The band’s debut single was an immediate success, grazing the UK’s Top 10 and announcing the arrival of a major new player in the pop world. John Taylor’s rolling bassline and Roger Taylor’s insistent drumming drive the groove, sitting perfectly atop Nick Rhodes’ keyboard washes, while an instantly memorable chorus showcased Duran’s already refined way with hooks, and an understated mid-section bass solo highlights the band’s realisation of John Taylor’s prowess as an instrumentalist.

Planet Earth also has another claim to fame: it’s said to be the first song to explicitly acknowledge the pop cultural scene at which Duran now found themselves at the forefront in the lyrics: “Like some New Romantic looking for the TV sound”. Fans should check out the Manchester Square demo online for evidence of an extra unused verse in the finished studio version.

ANYONE OUT THERE

A concise amalgam of their formative influences (Roxy Music, Japan and, of course, Chic), this song was given its debut performance at Duran’s inaugural Birmingham show. For such an ebullient band oft-overflowing with confidence, Anyone Out There is a rare chink in the armour. It’s a tale of lost love: “I tried to phone last night but you never answered/ Just left me ringing on the line”.

John Taylor adds aggression with his slap bass parts, while Roger Taylor powers the song along with some insistent hi-hat playing. Even on this debut album, there’s nuance amongst the grandstanding; Duran were serious songwriters. Nile Rodgers was such a fan, he nominated it as one of his all-time favourite Duran tracks.

TO THE SHORE

Nick Rhodes’ wonderful, crepuscular synth intro sets the atmosphere here on another track evoking Bowie’s late-70s period. Le Bon’s lyrics are at their most obtuse on a defiantly experimental cut: “The dry fight and dusty shout see you crawling on the floor/ And diamond star shining glitter bright, gorging your sanhedralites”.

Rhodes would go on to recycle a four-note underpinning melody for the outro to Save A Prayer on second album Rio. To The Shore is a glacial, introspective partner to Duran’s typically positivity-filled melodic songcraft. The group’s affinity for art-pop coursed through their veins just as strongly as their more straight-ahead chart-friendly instincts.

Read our feature on Duran Duran’s cover art

Read our feature on Duran Duran’s 1990 album Liberty

CARELESS MEMORIES

When EMI rejected the band’s wishes to release Girls On Film as the follow-up to Planet Earth, the plan backfired. Lacking the instant hookiness of those two tracks, Careless Memories temporarily derailed Duran’s apparently unstoppable momentum, stalling at just No.37 in the UK charts.

There’s a pent-up angst to the track that fizzes along but its chorus lacks the killer punch of Duran’s best early work. Riding on the coattails of the wiry post-punk of The Cure’s Boys Don’t Cry, it doesn’t play to their strengths. Duran rectified EMI’s error by getting their way with Girls On Film as their third single.

NIGHT BOAT

Once again, it’s Nick Rhodes who creates the initial ambience. A brooding sci-fi synth intro – with the occasional feel of Kraftwerk – feeds into a combined groove of bass, ticking drums and some crashing chordal work from Andy Taylor; an accomplished mélange of synthetic and organic.

Originally penned by Le Bon when he was waiting for a night bus, its title and lyrics were rewritten to give the track a more sophisticated feel. The rhythm section of John and Roger Taylor contribute to one of Duran’s darkest tracks.

SOUND OF THUNDER

You don’t often associate Duran with the concept of debilitating cold war paranoia, but following the darkness of Night Boat comes further introspection. Sound Of Thunder was created on the first night Le Bon joined the band when they set his poem about a man who creates World War III to music.

Once more, Simon’s illusive lyrics are open to multiple interpretations: “I’m the man who stepped off the path/ And I just lie here/ The world spins so fast that I might fly off”. Is Le Bon expressing how disconnected he feels from a world free of logic, unpredictable and out of control?

FRIENDS OF MINE

An aggressive, slashing groove that wouldn’t be out of place on Bowie’s Station To Station. Once again John and Roger supply real grit, ably abetted by superb crunching guitar from Andy Taylor. The lyric “Georgie Davis is coming out” refers to the wrongful conviction in March 1975 of George Davis for an armed payroll robbery at the London Electricity Board in Ilford, Essex.

A public campaign for his release even included digging up the pitch at Headingly’s cricket ground, preventing play in a Test match between England and Australia. Although calls for his release was successful, he was later convicted of two other armed robberies.

TEL AVIV

The swirlingly exotic instrumental that closes Duran Duran originally had lyrics and was titled On My Own In Tel Aviv, one of many songs worked up from Le Bon’s book of poems. Nick Rhodes has later elaborated the only thing remaining from that initial incarnation in the finished album track is its title.

Recorded at AIR Studios in London, its striking string section was conducted by Richard Myhill – and the first time an orchestra was employed on a Duran track. Myhill would also contribute string arrangements on the single of My Own Way as well as the Night Version and instrumental Night Version Companion.

For more info on Duran Duran check out their official website here

Read John Taylor’s interview with Duran Duran guitarist Dom Brown

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Q+A – Held By Trees

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Held By Trees

David Joseph’s instrumental project Held By Trees sees Talk Talk alumni joining forces for a remarkable album that immerses itself in the aura of the band’s Spirit Of Eden and Laughing Stock eras…

Instrumental project Held By Trees is the stuff of dreams for fans of Talk Talk and Mark Hollis. Helmed by multi-instrumentalist and composer David Joseph, their new studio album Solace dips into late-period Talk Talk and Hollis’ solo LP for inspiration using many of the same musicians that played on those sessions.

Guitarist Robbie McIntosh, percussionist Martin Ditcham, pianist Laurence Pendrous and flautist Andy Panayi are all onboard, while the record is mixed by Talk Talk collaborator Phill Brown. 

Furthermore, the eight-track LP includes a latter-era Pink Floyd ambience in places with the band’s live guitarist Tim Renwick also contributing to Solace. Bolstering the ranks, too, are Dire Straits founder member David Knopfler, Blur/Damon Albarn sideman Mike Smith and blues great Eric Bibb. 

If, like many of us, you’ve looked at Talk Talk’s slim yet stunning discography and yearned for more, this new album is a mouth-watering prospect. And as Storm Eunice battered CP Towers, the irony of discussing a record that celebrates the calming power of nature with David isn’t lost on us.

How did the initial Held By Tree project come together? Was there a specific jumping off point for it?
It was a couple of days in the first lockdown – a glorious Spring, an unprecedented quiet in the world, the aroma of blossom and cut grass was on the breeze. It was like nothing any of us have ever known before. Traffic was off the roads, people could only travel a certain distance from their homes.

The world felt like it was breathing in a new way. I found myself noodling on my home set-up and realised I was leaning into my great reverence for Spirit Of Eden, Laughing Stock and Mark Hollis’ solo record. That minimal spacious sound. I came up with three pieces of music then sent them to Tim Renwick. He introduced me to Phill Brown who engineered and mixed the late Talk Talk albums and Phill was really encouraging.

In turn, Phill intro’d me to Martin Ditcham who played percussion on those records. That started a train of thought – what would happen if I got together some of the musicians that worked on the Spirit Of Eden and Laughing Stock sessions? I knew the had a long parade of musicians coming in and improvising on compositions. I thought they could then do a similar thing with my drum patterns and chord progressions. 

That then prompted you to look further afield for collaborators…
I found Laurence Pendrous on Facebook who played piano and harmonium on Mark Hollis’ solo record. Andy Panayi also came from Facebook who played flute and clarinet on Mark’s album. Before long, I had a nucleus of people who’d worked with Hollis and/or Talk Talk. Then we got Robbie McIntosh, who uses the same studio in Dorset as me – Room With a View – in on the sessions.

We started to replace my demos with real parts allowing places for more improvisation. This was all going on during various stages of lockdown so a lot of these guys recorded their parts in their own home studios. The cast has ended up including David Knopfler, Eric Bibb – who’s a massive hero of mine – as well as Mike Smith who is Damon Albarn’s musical director and plays saxophone on our album. 

This must be the first time that this set of musicians have been back together working on the same project surely?
It is. Someone I guess was always going to think of this, though. It just happens to have been me. Time waits for no man and many of the collaborators on those Talk Talk records are no longer with us. People like Henry Lowther on trumpet. We’re 30 years on from the last Talk Talk album and 25 years on from the only Hollis record. That’s a lot of silence.

There’s a lot of Pink Floyd influence on this album, too, and the instrumental supergroup Sky. And there will always be a lot of influence of whatever Damon Albarn and Graham Coxon are up to. Blur are my favourite band. There’s a parallel with what Damon is doing in his solo work these days in improvisation and being inspired by the landscape. 

Held By Trees Solace
Held By Trees – Solace cover

What about live plans? There’s footage online of you rehearsing…
We’re exploring that very seriously for late 2022 or sometime in 2023. Everyone in the band is pretty busy. We have Robbie McIntosh and Paul Beavis who is Andy Fairweather Low’s drummer. Andy Panayi is an in-demand session musician and accomplished jazz soloist who also lectures at the Royal College Of Music.

Fittingly, there’s an ecological element to the new album…
We’re partnering with the Play It Green organisation. We’ll be able to plant a real tree in a sustainable managed forest in Madagascar for every album that we sell, which takes care of our carbon footprint. It actually takes out more carbon from the atmosphere than we put in via manufacturing the record. We’re not the first to do this, I think Pink Floyd planted forests with the proceeds from their Echoes compilation about 20 years ago.

But to know we’re doing this with a clear, green conscience while celebrating the natural world with our music feels right. We’re using as little plastic as possible in the manufacturing process, recycled eco mix vinyl and recycled card with the CDs. Without being preachy, annoying and woke, we’re trying to do the right thing regarding climate change.


The power of nature is intrinsic to the statement you’re making isn’t it?
The album is called Solace for a reason – the music was solace to make for me during lockdown and I hope it translates for the listener that they find a sense of comfort and peace listening to it. Trees are a divine symbol of solace because they quietly get on with giving us air, removing carbon and serving this planet.

When we walk among them we’re in the company of a lifegiving force. Nature looms large in the album as I’ve included field recordings I made in the South West over the course of several months. There’s a real thunderstorm from a field in Wiltshire, the sound of the waves from Bournemouth beach at night and birdsong from a wooded valley in North Somerset.

That’s woven into the music and there’s something about the sound of the natural world which does something to the human soul that’s quite powerful. There’s nothing like the dawn chorus or the sound of a blackbird singing as dusk comes on.

There’s an incredible bravery to Mark Hollis’ songwriting, the way he gradually stripped it back was almost unprecedented as a major artist…
It was a withdrawal and a deliberate direction that ends with years and years of silence. Not just in terms of his musical output but in terms of his press. Now, of course, he’s passed on so that silence is permanent. That journey is almost a perfect narrative.

With the Hollis solo LP, there’s a kind of intimacy and vulnerability that’s incredibly disarming and almost painful in its paucity because there’s so much space and weight on every note. I’m almost emotional thinking about how the solo album ends. How the silence that follows was so intentional.

As I understand it from talking to people who knew Mark, there was never any intention of making a follow-up. He’d said everything he wanted to say. He worked a little bit with UNKLE but remained uncredited as he got his name taken off the album. Mark also produced a couple of tracks on Anja Garbarek’s album Smiling & Waving in 2001. Then there was this weird 30-second piece for the TV show Boss

It’s a pretty nondescript piece of music isn’t it, that soundtrack piece...
It’s incidental sound really. If Mark had done anything you’d think it would be along the lines of avant-garde minimalists like Morton Feldman, Steve Reich or John Cage. Deliberately obtuse and difficult. He did a solo piece for an art installation that’s called Piano, which is out there and was around the same time as the solo album.

There’s no singing on it, it’s just piano. The first song on our album is called Next To Silence. If you imagine an ocean of nothing in terms of where the Talk Talk/Hollis thing got to, to even tread on the edges of that holy ground I thought that we had to emerge from the silence.

I’m at pains to say that I don’t think I’m Mark Hollis and we’re not Talk Talk but if we are going to have so many people involved in this project as worked with them, then uttermost care and reverence needs to be applied because of how much that music means to so many people. It only increases as time goes by as more and more generations discover Spirit Of Eden onwards. I know that I have to tread incredibly respectfully. 

Held By Trees’ Solace is out now



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Listen to “Catch Me In The Air” by Rina Sawayama

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It is time to move on so soon from the rousing power pop of “This Hell.” Pop’s newest trendsetter Rina Sawayama has a new track out. “Catch Me In The Air” is the second song lifted from the upcoming album “Hold The Girl“. (Releasing 2nd September via Dirty Hit). Knowing what a pop chameleon she is. I wasn’t anticipating that the follow-up singles, direct or otherwise, would flow in the same musical vein as her banger “This Hell” does. The track “Catch Me In The Air” was written in collaboration with GRACEY, Oscar Scheller, Clarence Clarity and Stuart Price. With the latter two collaborators doubling up on production duties also. Ensuring the accent on pop remains strong.

The new track requires a different impact than “This Hell,” which was bold, hook-laden and punchy. “Catch Me In The Air” requires a delicate, more stripped-back melody and music composition that allows the lyrics to shine out prominently. Guitar and piano accompaniment assists with spotlighting the themes of celebrating Rina’s mother, who raised her as a single parent.

Listen on Apple Music

Speaking at length via Instagram, she explains

“I wrote, “Catch Me In The Air” across 2020-2021, at a time when a lot of people around me were having children or thinking of having children.

It made me think of the pressures parents go through when raising a child. I put myself in my mum‘s shoes.” (An extract – read the statement in full HERE.)

The song begins with Rina singing from a parent’s perspective, swapping to a child’s viewpoint in the second verse.

The song concludes…
“Save each other in every way. Feel the fear as we float in the sea. Look at us now. Way past the clouds that haunted your dreams. I hope that you’re proud.”

The song was debuted. during the singer’s recent Dynasty Tour. At that moment, her fandom, the ‘pixels’ urged Sawayama to release the anthem straightaway – Rina listened.

Connect with Rina Sawayama
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/rinasawayama
Twitter: https://twitter.com/rinasawayama
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/rinasonline/





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EMF interview: “The days of going out clubbing on a Friday are well behind us”

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EMF, 2022
EMF, 2022

EMF frontman James Atkin talks raving in the Yorkshire Dales, his other life as a schoolteacher and meeting Alan Bennett down the shops…


EMF – they of the knee-length shorts and clubcentric headgear – have been regulars on the live circuit for the past two decades after an initial split following third LP Cha Cha Cha in 1995. Now the band have solidified their comeback with their first studio album in nigh-on three decades, Go Go Sapiens. Packed with party-starting bangers and the punk pop ‘tude that made them famous, it’s as if they’ve never been away. Unbelievable? Not in the slightest…

It’s been 27 years since your last album, what prompted the return to the studio for the new LP?

It always felt inevitable, EMF wasn’t something we were ready to put to bed just yet. In those 27 years we’ve all respectively gone off and lived our own very different lives, but it has never been the case that we’ve thought, “Oh I’m not in EMF anymore.” It’s a lifetime commitment and we’re lucky to have something so positive in our lives.

Were you all working together in the same room on Go Go Sapiens or was it recorded remotely?

The initial writing sessions were conducted between my place in the Yorkshire Dales and Ian [Dench’s] studio in Finsbury Park, quite a contrast in locations. By chance, we discovered this little hidden away recording studio in the next valley from mine in the Dales where we recorded the drums. We mixed the album at mine – the first single was mixed by our friends Vladimir Komarov and Atsuo Matsumoto in New York City.

It feels like a true EMF album as we created it solely between us – it was actually completed, mastered and ready before anyone apart from Ian and myself had heard the finished product. Not sure that was healthy, but it definitely gave us the benefit of seeing our vision through without any outside influence.  

You made the album without any record company assistance. Liberating or scary?

Both, but we live in a world now where being your own producer, record label, distributor etc is achievable. It’s a little daunting but we have a fantastic team. There’s very little pressure, it’s just a joy to be able to share some new EMF songs without expectations and the need to be successful. Although it would be obviously nice if people dug it. 

Give us an insight into the 2022 version of the band’s sound. Have you reinvented yourselves or stuck to your essential EMF-ness? 

I guess whatever we do is going to sound like us. We can’t get away from Ian’s unique guitar style, and once I’m singing on it, it automatically sounds just like an EMF record. We’ve still incorporated our synths and electronics, though. 

There’s a Happy Mondays-esque vibe to new album track We Are The Free. Do you feel any affiliation with the Madchester-era dance-rock bands?

I’m an old raver from the 90s. My wife badgers me with new music and, bless her, she tries to introduce me to happening stuff. I’m happy listening to my old New Order or Smiths records, so I guess that still comes through in the music we’re making at present. We’d perhaps feel like frauds if we followed new trends and came out with some kind of urban grime album.  

Johnny Marr recently told Classic Pop that it’s harder to write bangers than ballads, but Go Go Sapiens closes with a top-drawer EMF dancefloor filler, Sparks And Flashes. Do you still keep in touch with your clubbing roots?

I wish! I still adore dance music and will quite happily listen to four-to-the-floor beats and techno basslines all day long. The days of going out clubbing on a Friday and returning home in bits on a Sunday are well behind us, though. I think I’d be a bit lost in a club now, having the energy to throw shapes all night might be pushing it a bit. The closest we get to raving these days is turning the PA up loud at home. Thankfully, there’s only a few farmers about half a mile away that complain – they have several times you’ll be glad to know.

Unbelievable shot you to instant fame. How did you cope with the success – did it come as a shock or did you manage to ride it out with your sanity intact?

That whole time was a whirlwind. Personally, it was all a bit overwhelming, I hadn’t developed the tools to cope with it at such a young age. If I’d have had that success again, I’m sure I’d enjoy it a lot more. I kept it together mostly back then, I felt a certain responsibility being the frontman – being hungover, wasted and losing my voice wasn’t an option. The other members of the band loved every moment, they partied hard and had a riot. I think I was just a little too self-conscious and not comfortable being a singer at that time.

I shied away from any interviews and withdrew whenever I possibly could. It took me a long time to get over the experience. A few of the band members struggled and this led to them having difficulties adapting after all the madness. I think moving out of London, starting a family, going back to university, getting a degree and getting a normal job totally sorted me out. It grounded me and now my sanity is intact.  

It’s still got an incredible hook – did you know straight off the bat that it would be a hit? 

Not particularly. Ian arrived with the song pretty well formed and had the vision of what it was going to be. The first batch of songs came very quickly. I’d catch the bus to Ian’s mum’s in Gloucester and we’d sit around a piano bouncing ideas around. Unbelievable just appeared from nowhere but quickly became a favourite amongst the fans at our first handful of gigs. Credit to Ian, he knows how to write a song.

EMFIf you had your time over again during that first era of EMF would you do anything differently?

Yes, enjoy it more, not take it so seriously, be firmer on direction and not succumb to other people’s questionable ideas. We had a fantastic thing going on, but the momentum got derailed by people’s negativity in the band. I wish I’d had the confidence to stand up to people when I was younger. Thankfully, Ian has always been a guiding light and we have developed deep mutual respect and love for each other. 

You’ve had a parallel career outside of EMF as a school music teacher. Is studying EMF on your pupils’ curriculum?

Ha! They are clueless to my past, it has no relevance to my students. It’s kind of cool, though, and brings you back down to earth. Parents evenings can be funny when they make a beeline for you and ask for autographs. But even the parents are looking a bit young these days.

You’ve also been in Bentley Rhythm Ace and released solo albums…

I love playing with BRA, it came in my life just at the right time. I’d kept my shiz together for so many years singing with EMF, now I was in a band touring the world where it was the law to party hard, take drugs, be as rock’n’roll as possible, and never go to bed. The amount of shows we did where we’d been up all night from the gig the night before were legendary. We still go out and play now but have calmed down considerably. I love making music and have also released five solo LPs to date. I seem to have got a bit prolific since moving out of London. I have a simple studio set-up with no distractions, I’d happily spend every hour in there making records to my wife’s dismay. 

Tell us about the Tonight Matthew…? YouTube series of collabs you put together over the pandemic.

It was borne out of the need to still connect with people and musicians when that first lockdown hit and everyone’s tours got cancelled. It grew from asking a few friends to contribute to pulling in people like Keith Allen and Rick Wakeman. I’m chuffed that I can now say I’ve worked with the likes of Horace Panter, Steel Pulse, Black Grape, Lindy Layton and UB40 as well as The Wonder Stuff, Space, 808 State, Leftfield, Jim Bob and many more. We raised a lot of funds for the Help Musicians Charity – at that time they were giving out grants to help fellow artists. It was nice to do something worthy and kept us occupied during those strange, uncertain times. 

You’re planning on hitting the road to promote Go Go Sapiens, right?

We’re doing a small UK tour and a bunch of festivals. For the last 30 years we’ve always started the live set with the song Children, we now have a few new contenders as opening songs that we are rehearsing up. Thankfully, the new songs lend themselves to being played live.

Finally, have you seen your neighbour Alan Bennett down the shops recently?

Ha! Yes, often. It’s always my wife who sparks up a conversation with him, usually about potatoes. 



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