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13 November 2014

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You are in: Birmingham > BBC WM Introducing > Local Bands > Height Of Fashion

Early Birmingham compilation

Early Birmingham compilation

Height Of Fashion

Everyone remembers Birmingham bands UB40 and Duran Duran but Nick Byng believes that new wave group Fashion were one of the city's best acts of the 1980s. He charts the band's history.

Fashion artwork with Birmingham tower blocks

Fashion artwork with Brum tower blocks

During the late 1970s, Birmingham offered a true collage of cultures and music styles. From rock to ska, reggae to punk, the city had a totally diverse mixture of bands and musicians; as can be heard on the compilation 'Bouncing In The Red'.

Many would go on to achieve great chart success such as, UB40, Duran Duran, Musical Youth, The Beat, Dexy's Midnight Runners and Steel Pulse, but others would go on to chart new territory without such commercial acclaim.

One of the more original, and possibly most intriguing bands to resonate out of that era, is 'Fashion'. Fashion started out as John Mulligan, Dik Davis, and Al James (or 'Luke Sky') who all looked as though they had just fallen off a cat walk from outer-space, but then so did Duran Duran.

Both bands took great inspiration from the The Rum Runner night club on Broad Street, home to Britain's equivalent to Studio 54 in New York, where songs by Roxy Music and David Bowie could be danced to (Bowie released his own "Fashion" later in 1980).

Fashion sleeve

Fashion sleeve

Product Perfect

Such was the market at the time, many bands would release their early singles independently, and Fashion were no exception.

Their first album 'Product Perfect' was recorded in 1979 and could be described as 'British New Wave', taking influences from punk rock, mod subculture, electronic music, disco, dub and funk. The band toured both the USA and UK. They were an opening band for 'THE POLICE', did a UK club tour with a then unknown 'U2' and they opened for 'THE B52'S' on their first ever UK tour.

By the early eighties, music styles were progressing quickly, primarily driven by the technology of the time.

Crowd at Police support gig

Crowd at Police support gig

Possibly the most notorious of early 80s electronic music styles was 'New Romantic' and Birmingham already had the "notorious" Duran Duran. In their shadows simmered Fashion and maybe due to their lack of commercialism, Fashion were left to develop their own original sounds, unhindered by the pressures of a hit-hungry music industry (although the band did narrowly miss out on a top 40 hit on three occasions).

"Fabrique" Of Fashion

By 1982, punk was slipping back underground and Two Tone had reached it's zenith. Fashion were at the very forefront of the brand new electronic music generation and the band released the techno savvy album 'Fabrique', which was produced by German 'Zeus B. Held' of 'Gina X' and 'Dead Or Alive' fame. By this time Al James had left the band and was replaced with Marlon Recchi and De Harris.

Fashion artwork

Fashion artwork

While there was still an element of commercial 'New Romantic' pop to Fashion, there was also a far more underground cutting edge to their music which kept them true to their original roots.

The band utilised the legendary Roland Jupiter 8 synthesizer and vocoder which had been made famous by 70s disco but was also later to play a large part in hip hop & electro during the 80s.

Techno Pioneers

If you take time to dig into Fashion's back catalogue, you may be lucky enough to come across uplifting tracks such as 'Alternative Playback' (B-side to Something in Your Picture) and the techno-funky 'Streetplayer'.

Fashion sleeve with alpha tower

Fashion sleeve with alpha tower

It's difficult to listen to these songs and not consider that Detroit techno luminaries such as Model 500, Juan Atkins, Derrick May and Kevin Saunderson may have later taken influence from Fashion and some of their contemporaries. These in turn inspired pioneering dance outfits such as 'LFO', '808 State' and Birmingham's own 'Electribe 101'.

Fashion released 'Twilight Of Idols' in 1984, which was to be their last album and featured singer/songwriter Alan Darby. 'Fabrique' was re-issued as 'Height of Fashion' with bonus tracks in 1990 and then 2004, but up until now the band have slipped back into deepest obscurity.

Product perfect

Product perfect

Renegade's Renaissance

However, 29 years after the release of 'Product Perfect' on vinyl, original singer/guitarist Luke Sky (now living in California and still with a Brummie accent) has revisited the avant-garde album with a brilliant CD re-release, which can be obtained by visiting his Myspace page. For Fashion fans, Luke has also provided the finishing touches to his new CD album 'Stairway to Nowhere'. A novel of the same name will also be published by the singer, reminiscing the bands early hedonistic days.

For those wishing to gain an insight into the band's early influences, Duran Duran's John Taylor and Nick Rhodes' compilation CD 'Only After Dark' offers eighteen Rum Runner classic songs, played at the seminal Broad Street club and photographer Paul Edmond's book of pictures from that period called 'Duran Duran Unseen', provides an insight into the Rum Runner around that time.

last updated: 09/01/2009 at 13:58
created: 08/01/2009

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