Saturday, April 07, 2012
SATURDAY'S SCOTTISH SINGLE (Part 26)
Two of the trio were from Glasgow....that makes them a Scottish act as far as I'm concerned.
Bronski Beat formed in 1983 when Somerville, Steinbachek and Bronski shared a three-bedroom flat in Lancaster House in Brixton, southwest London.
Bronski Beat signed a recording contract with London Records in 1984 after doing only nine live gigs. The band's debut single, "Smalltown Boy", the tale of a boy who was cast away by his family for being homosexual, was a hit, peaking at #3 in the UK Singles Chart. The single was accompanied by a promotional video directed by Bernard Rose, showing Somerville eagerly trying to make friends at a swimming pool, then being attacked by an anti-homosexual gang, being returned to his family by the police and having to leave home. (The police officer was played by Colin Bell, then the marketing manager of London Records). "Smalltown Boy" reached Nº48 in the U.S. chart and peaked at Nº7 in Australia.
The follow-up single, "Why?", while focusing on a Hi-NRG musical formula, was more lyrically focused on anti-homosexual prejudice. It also achieved Top 10 status in the UK, reaching Nº6, and was a Top 10 hit for the band in Australia.
At the end of 1984, the trio released an album entitled The Age of Consent. The inner sleeve listed the varying ages of consent for consensual male homosexual activity in different nations around the world. At the time, the age of consent for sexual acts between men in the UK was 21 (compared with 16 for heterosexual acts). The album peaked at Nº4 in the UK Albums Chart, Nº36 in the U.S., and Nº12 in Australia.
A third single was released before Christmas 1984: a revival of "It Ain't Necessarily So", the George and Ira Gershwin classic (from Porgy and Bess) which questions the authenticity of Biblical tales. It also reached the UK Top 20
In 1985, the trio joined up with Marc Almond to record a version of Donna Summer's "I Feel Love". The full version was actually a medley, also incorporating snippets of Summer's "Love to Love You Baby" and John Leyton's "Johnny Remember Me". It was a success, reaching Nº3 in the UK, equalling the chart achievement of "Smalltown Boy".
The band and their producer Mike Thorne had gone back into the studio in early 1985 to record a new single, "Run From Love". PolyGram (London Records' parent company at that time) had pressed a number of promo singles and 12" versions of the song, sending them out to both radio and record stores in the UK. However, the single was shelved as tensions in the band, both personal and political, resulted in Somerville leaving Bronski Beat in the summer of that year. "Run From Love" was subsequently released in a remix form on the Bronski Beat album Hundreds & Thousands, a collection of mostly remixes and b-sides (as bonus tracks on the CD version) as well as the hit "I Feel Love". Somerville went on to form The Communards with Richard Coles while the remaining members of Bronski Beat searched for a new vocalist.
Bronski Beat recruited John Foster as Somerville's replacement (Foster is credited as "Jon Jon"). A single, "Hit That Perfect Beat", was released in November 1985, reaching Nº3 in the UK. It repeated this success in the Australian charts and was also featured in the film, Letter to Brezhnev. A second single, "C'mon C'mon", also charted in the UK Top 20 and an album, Truthdare Doubledare, released in May 1986, peaked at Nº18. The film Parting Glances (1986) included Bronski Beat songs "Love and Money", "Smalltown Boy" and "Why?". During this period, the band teamed up with producer Mark Cunningham on the first-ever BBC Children In Need single, a cover of David Bowie's "Heroes", released in 1986 under the name of The County Line.
Foster left the band in 1987. Following Foster's departure, Bronski Beat began work on their next album, Out and About. The tracks were recorded at Berry Street studios in London with engineer Brian Pugsley. Some of the song titles were "The Final Spin" and "Peace And Love". The latter track featured Strawberry Switchblade vocalist Rose McDowell and appeared on several internet sites in 2006. One of the other songs from the project called "European Boy" was recorded in 1987 by disco group Splash. The lead singer of Splash was former Tight Fit singer Steve Grant. Steinbachek and Bronski toured extensively with the new material and got great reviews, however the project was abandoned as the group were dropped by London Records. Also in 1987, Bronski Beat and Somerville did a reunion concert for "International AIDS Day", supported by New Order, at the Brixton Academy, London.
In 1989 Jonathan Hellyer became lead singer, and the band extensively toured the U.S. and Europe with back-up vocalist Annie Conway and had one minor hit with the song "Cha Cha Heels", a one-off collaboration sung by American actress and singer Eartha Kitt. The song was originally written for movie and recording star Divine, who was unable to record the song before his death in 1988. 1990–91 saw Bronski Beat release three further singles on the Zomba record label, "I'm Gonna Run Away", "One More Chance" and "What More Can I Say". The singles were produced by Mike Thorne.
Foster and Bronski Beat teamed up again in 1994, and released a techno "Tell Me Why '94" and an acoustic "Smalltown Boy '94" on the German record label, ZYX Music. The album Rainbow Nation was released the following year with Hellyer returning as lead vocalist, as Foster had dropped out of the project. Bronski Beat then dissolved with Steve Bronski going on to become a producer for other artists. Larry Steinbachek became the musical director for Michael Laub's theatre company, 'Remote Control Productions'.
In 2007 Bronski remixed the song "Stranger To None" by the UK alternative rock band, All Living Fear. Four different mixes were done, with one appearing on their retrospective album, Fifteen Years After. Bronski also remixed the track "Flowers in the Morning" by Northern Irish electronic band, Electrobronze in 2007 , changing the style of the song from classical to Hi-NRG disco.
And here's what I wrote in April 2008 when I revealed that their debut single was #37 in the 45 45s at 45 rundown:-
I’ve written about Bronski Beat before. And I make no apologies of repeating what I said then – it really is all too easy to forget how brave Jimmy Somerville and Bronski Beat were for being so open about their way of life and their views. Their records, and those of such as the Pet Shop Boys and Frankie Goes To Hollywood took the celebration of queer culture into the mainstream, and made many people realise, probably for the first time, that homophobia was every bit as distasteful as racism and apartheid.
This was a band that came from out of nowhere. They inked a deal with London Records after a mere handful of gigs, and the debut single, Smalltown Boy, sold by the barrowload, hitting #3 in the UK charts in May 1984. It also made the Top 50 in the USA and Top 10 in Australia.
A trio of follow-up singles and the debut LP all sold in great quantities and the band seemed set for a long and successful career. But out of the blue, vocalist Jimmy Somerville (and acknowledged by everyone as the band spokesman) announced he was quitting the band to pursue an outlet that would allow him to be ‘more political.’ In due course, he would find massive success, including #1 records, with Communards. He also became part of Red Wedge, the conglomeration of musicians who campaigned for the Labour Party at the 1987 UK general election.
As for Bronski Beat – they did manage a couple of hits with new vocalist John Foster (who in retrospect sounds awfully like Andy Bell who would later come to prominence with Erasure), but they were very much overshadowed by the success of Communards. They soldiered on for a few more years, ever more fading into obscurity from the mainstream.
There’s just something about the early Bronski Beat records that make them sound so special. There’s a bit of the inventiveness of Giorgio Moroder in there, along with the pop-savvy touch of Human League and Heaven 17. There’s also the choir-boy falsetto vocals of Somerville that recalled, in some ways, Russell Mael from Sparks. Theirs were records that struck a chord with so many people, from the hard-core gay militants to the indie-kids and the disco-divas with their handbags and stiletto heels.
The look adopted by Jimmy Somerville for the video to the debut single is one that has become synonymous with young gay men in the early 80s. If you want proof, look no further than the recent BBC cop/sci-fi series Ashes to Ashes which was set in 1981, but in an episode centring on a young gay man, that particular character was dressed straight out of a Bronskis video from 1984.
That’s the impact and legacy of this one song -
mp3 : Bronski Beat - Smalltown Boy (12" version)
And here's the tracks from the b-side:-
mp3 : Bronski Beat - Infatuation
mp3 : Bronski Beat - Memories
Next up............Butcher Boy