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13 November 2014

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You are in: Leeds > History > Musical history > Leeds' Musical Heritage: 1980s (Pt 1)

Soft Cell

Soft Cell on Top Of The Pops in 1982

Leeds' Musical Heritage: 1980s (Pt 1)

A boon time for musicians in the city - we profile some of the more influential names.

Soft Cell:

This synth-pop duo were probably the least-likely chart toppers in the 1980s. Singer Marc Almond had come to Leeds from Southport to study at the Polytechnic (now Leeds Metropolitan Uni) where he met fellow Lancastrian Dave Ball. They formed in 1979 and a common interest in sex, sleaze, drugs and perversion dominated the lyrics, leading to a debut EP, "Mutant Moments" - funded by a loan from Ball's mother!

They fell in with burgeoning independent pioneers Daniel Miller and Stevo. Miller, the man behind Mute Records, became their first producer while Stevo signed them to his Some Bizarre label (linked to major label Phonogram) and became their manager.

Soft Cell

Dave Ball (left) & Marc Almond

After a couple of flops, Phonogram were impatient for a hit and they recorded the old Gloria Jones number "Tainted Love", as a last chance at a hit. Their electronic update of the Northern Soul classic became a massive hit, making No.1 in 17 countries including the UK, as well as staying in the US Top 100 for an amazing 43 weeks.

The band attracted unwelcome press coverage mainly on the back of Almond's camp persona and tracks like "Sex Dwarf" which delighted tabloid journalists who were able to engage in mock outrage. It didn't affect their chart prospects though, as several more hits followed including "Bedsitter", "Say Hello, Wave Goodbye", "Torch" and "What!" - each of which went Top 5. The band also enjoyed hit albums but are probably remembered for their first: "Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret".

Soft Cell split amicably in 1984 and Almond and Ball remained friends while pursuing different musical paths - Almond first with Marc & The Mambas and then an esoteric solo recording career that included a No.1 with Gene Pitney, while Ball went on to form respected dance act The Grid with Richard Norris.

Girls At Our Best:

Now largely forgotten, GAOB were in the vanguard of post-punk bands who were determined not to give in to record company pressures - an attitude prevalent at the time in the burgeoning independent scene. The band consisted of vocalist Judy Evans, guitarist James Alan, bassist Gerald Swift and drummer Carl Harper.

Girls At Our Best

Girls At Our Best

The band (originally called The Butterflies) took its new name from a line in their track "Warm Girls", which first appeared on a 1980 single coupled with "Getting Nowhere Fast" (later covered by The Wedding Present) on their own label - Record Records. The song topped the UK Indie Chart, as did their second single, "Politics". After a third single, "Go for Gold" on Happy Birthday Records, the group released an album, "Pleasure" in 1981.

The band gained some positive press but sales were never huge and the band dissolved in 1982. Gerald and Carl left the music business and remained local while guitarist James Alan moved to London and played in various bands while Judy Evans reportedly moved to Holland.

Abrasive Wheels:

Despite initially forming in 1976 with a line up centred around vocalist Phil "Shonna" Rzonca and guitarist Dave Ryan, the Abrasive Wheels (the name was inspired by Shonna's engineering apprenticeship) were quintessentially a 1980s punk band as part of a new wave of bands with a harder, more aggressive sound.

After a few line up changes, Dave and Shonna were joined by the inventively-nicknamed "Harry" Harrison on bass and "Nev" Nevison on drums. This line-up released the "ABW" EP on their own Abrasive Records label in 1981, which sold out its initial pressing of 3,000 copies.

Abrasive Wheels' Shonna

Abrasive Wheels' Shonna

Further singles and albums were released on scene labels Riot City and Clay (home to the likes of Vice Squad, Chaotic Dischord, Discharge and GBH) selling respectable amounts but as time progressed their sound became more polished and they started to lose their hardcore following, leading to the band's split at the end of 1984.

Shonna stayed in Leeds and resurrected the band in 2002 with additional guitarist Steve Popplewell, but the others dropped out leaving Shonna and Popplewell to get a new line-up together that still tours around the world to this day.

Sisters Of Mercy:

The Sisters of Mercy were formed in Leeds in 1980 by Andrew Taylor (aka Andrew Eldritch) on drums & guitar together with Mark Pearman (aka Gary Marx) on guitar & vocals. With one guitar, a three-watt practice amp and with no money they recorded a single, "Damage Done" with the single ambition of hearing themselves on the radio.

The Merciful Release label was founded to issue it and one thousand copies were pressed and the record did indeed get played on the radio. Eldritch, by his own admission a very bad drummer, becomes by default the band's lead singer as Gary Marx concentrates on guitar and Craig Adams is recruited on bass with percussion now provided by Doktor Avalanche - the name given to the band's drum machine. Their first gigs came in early 1981 and later that year they added Ben Gunn as second guitarist.

Andrew Eldritch

Andrew Eldritch

This line-up released a slew of singles that saw them regularly in the indie charts with the likes of "Alice", "Anaconda" and "Temple Of Love". Despite live cover versions such as Velvet Underground's "Sister Ray" and The Stooges "1969" that showed them to be rock 'n' rollers, and esoteric choices such as Hot Chocolate's "Emma" and Dolly Parton's "Jolene" showing their humourous side, the band were quickly being tagged as gloomy goths - the perennial black clothes and mountains of dry ice at gigs didn't dispel that image.

Gunn left acrimoniously in 1984 to be replaced by Wayne Hussey (formerly of Dead Or Alive!!) just as the band were about to hit the big time, signing to the giant WEA label. Singles were now on the fringes of the Top 40 (no mean feat at that time, when record sales were a lot higher) and the band released their debut album "First & Last & Always" which entered the Top 20 in 1985. Success in the singles chart came two years later as they enjoyed a series of Top 20 singles, starting with "This Corrosion".

However, by this point the famously "difficult" Eldritch had fallen out with his bandmates who all deserted the ship. Hussey initially called his new project, The Sisterhood but legal action saw him change monickers to The Mission and go on to chart success. Gary Marx joined with ex-members of Skeletal Family and Red Lorry Yellow Lorry to form Ghost Dance.

Eldritch still operates under the Sisters Of Mercy name today, performing live with an ever-changing line-up - the only constant companion being Doktor Avalanche! - but no new material has been released since 1993. Eldritch and his bandmates in the 1980s were at the forefront of the Goth movement alongside other Leeds outfits like the March Violets, Red Lorry Yellow Lorry, Batfish Boys and Salvation.

The Three Johns:

Initially started in 1981 as a side project by Mekons guitarist Jon Langford initially to play an anti-Royal wedding gig. The band used a drum machine to back up Langford, vocalist John Hyatt and bassist Philip Brennan (who obviously had to pretend to be called John to complete the gag!) in a band that mixed rock, indie and blues with politically-charged lyrics and a playful drunken edge.

The Three Johns

The Three Johns

Signing initially to CNT Records - named after the left-wing Spanish trade union that was a major player in the Spanish Civil war - the politics were to the fore in a band avowedly anti-Thatcher. First single "English White Boy Engineer" was about hypocritical attitudes to the apartheid regime in South Africa, but the band denied being single-minded in their approach: "We're not a socialist band. We're a group of socialists who are in a band. It's a fine distinction but an important one."

1983 saw them sign with Abstract Records and quickly became a permanent fixture in the indie charts, even getting close to the 'real' charts with "Death Of The European", but the single's progress was cruelly halted when airplay disappeared overnight as it coincided with the Heysel disaster in 1985.

Despite a good live reputation, and healthy record sales the band were never able to move beyond the indie scene and despite several critically-acclaimed albums, they gave up the ghost in 1990 with Langford concentrating on his rejuvenated first band, The Mekons as well as record production, sundry side projects and painting. Hyatt, who'd maintained his job as a fine art lecturer throughout, is now Professor of Fine Art at Manchester Metropolitan University. The band got back together again in 2007 for a few gigs and a radio session for 6Music.

last updated: 08/10/2008 at 14:51
created: 06/10/2008

You are in: Leeds > History > Musical history > Leeds' Musical Heritage: 1980s (Pt 1)


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