So it was always Bob Last’s idea to have Martin Ware set up a production company and to that end B.E.F (British Electric Foundation) were formed.
B.E.F first release was a ‘cassette only’ release of instrumentals, called ‘Music for Stowaways’; so named as it was inspired by Sony’s first appearance of theWalkman, which was originally marketed in the UK as the Sony Stowaway.
With their second release ‘Music of Quality and Distinction Volume One’; Martin Ware and Iain Craig Marsh had a chance to work with their musical heroes and to select songs that appealed to them. They brought a fresh feel to some old classics and gave a new audience to some underground songs.
The whole concept was ahead of its time and in the years subsequently, we’ve seen the KLF record with Tammy Wynette and the Pet Shop Boys have worked with Dusty Springfield as well as others.
Ware explained, “We had already done a version of ‘You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling’ on The Human League’s first album. Making our album was like having a crash course in how to do cover versions.
Working with Tina Turner wasn’t in the plans originally, James Brown had been asked to sing ‘Ball Of Confusion’, but as they were due to fly to Atlanta to record his vocals, his lawyer rang to say that he wanted to have three tracks on the album. He was told to FUCK OFF!!
The Head of Finance at Virgin Records contacted us, when he’d heard what had happened with Brown and suggested Tina Turner, whom he knew. Now I was big fan and think that ‘River Deep Mountain High’ was one of the greatest songs ever recorded.
When she came to the studio, she asked, ‘Where are the band?’ and I pointed to the Fairlight (a computer music synthesizer).
The recording and release of ‘Ball of Confusion’ was the catalyst to a revival in Tina Turner’s career, as after hearing it, executives at Capitol Records offered her a record deal. Her comeback single, a cover version of Al Green’s 1972 hit ‘Let’s Stay Together’ and was produced by Martin Ware. It reached No.6 in the UK charts and No.26 in the USA.
It also gave Ware, Craig Marsh and Gregory the opportunity to appear as the backing band and singers to Turner on Top of the Pops.
The recording of ‘Suspicious Minds’ by Gary Glitter was also quite unique, as he recorded his track with the Glitter Band, who were in the studio at the same time, it was the first time they had ever recorded together even though they had 9 top five hits between 1972 and 1974.
The album now, in places sounds very dated.
The highlights for me are:
Billy Mackenzie’s soaring vocal acrobatics on David Bowie’s ‘Secret Life of Arabia’and Roy Orbison’s ‘It’s Over’, both tracks are great vehicles for the Dundonian’s vocal ability, with his extravagant and magnificent vocal style being a producer’s dream.
mp3 : Billy Mackenzie - Secret Life Of Arabia
Glenn Gregory’s version of ‘Wichita Lineman’ takes on a different tone to the Glen Campbell original, with the electronic backing track. His version of Lou Reed’s ‘Perfect Day’ was the only version I knew until it was re-released for the ‘Trainspotting’ soundtrack in 1996, 24 years after it’s first release. Again in my opinion Gregory turns in a very good vocal performance, with more subtlety and emotion than he was able to show on most of the upbeat Heaven 17 tracks.
mp3 : Glenn Gregory - Witchita Lineman
Paula Yates seemed a fitting choice to sing Nancy Sinatra’s ‘These Boots’. Her quirky vocal performance was just what was required, while Bernie Nolan’s attempt at the Supreme’s ‘You Keep Me Hanging On’ didn’t quite succeed and was surpassed by Kim Wilde’s superior 1986 version that reached No.2 in the UK charts and became her only No.1 in the USA.
It was 9 years later that ‘Music of Quality and Distinction Volume Two’ was released in 1991, again showing off the vocal talents of Tina Turner and Billy Mackenzie, who performed a wonderful version of Deniece William’s hit single ‘Free’.
mp3 : Billy Mackenzie - Free
Green Gartside of Scritti Politti produced the stand out track of the second volume with ‘I Don’t Know Why I Love You’.
mp3 : Green Gartside - I Don't Know Why I Love You
In March 2007, B.E.F played their first ever live gig as part of the tribute concert for Billy Mackenzie at London’s Shepherds Bush Empire. The gig featured guest vocal performances by Claudia Brücken of Propaganda.
In October this year, there is a chance to see a B.E.F festival, over two nights atLondon’s Roundhouse there will be two gigs featuring Heaven 17 and B.E.F. The first evening is a Heaven 17 concert of their album ‘The Luxury Gap’ and the second a B.E.F evening with guest artists including Boy George, Kim Wilde, Midge Ure, Elly Jackson and Sandie Shaw.
Mr John Greer, Monday 17 October 2011