The Rise and Fall of Soft Cell, New Wave’s sleaziest synthpop duo
12.02.2013
06:41 am

Topics:
Music
Television

Tags:
Marc Almond
Soft Cell
Dave Ball

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The track was “Memorabilia” and I heard it nearly every time I was out in some club in the early 1980s. Between dances, there was small disagreement over the band’s name, who they were and where they came from. It varied depending who you talked to. Then came “Tainted Love” and suddenly everyone knew who they were: Marc Almond and Dave Ball of Soft Cell.

When this duo first appeared on Top of the Pops with their number one hit “Tainted Love” in 1981, the florid Wing-Commanders and Colonel Mustards of Tunbridge Wells thundered, “Who the hell is this woman? That can’t be a man, surely? I fought a war for this?” It certainly was a man, and those damned lucky blighters were watching Marc Almond give one of TOTP’s most memorable and thrilling performances.

Marc is the Poet Laureate of sleaze, and Dave its Schubert. Together they wrote songs that perfectly captured an underclass world of the disenfranchised, the sexually ambiguous, and the impoverished. 

When their debut album Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret came out on November 27th, 1981, I had to beg, steal and borrow a copy, and even wrote to Santa, bad Santa, for this delectable slice of vinyl. When it arrived, I played it endlessly. The NME may have hated it, but they were old, too old, and this was Year Zero for eighties music as far as I was concerned.

Just take a listen and you will hear why, as m’colleague Richard Metzger has previously written, Marc Almond:

”...is one of the truly great interpreters of song of our age. His distinctive voice, like Frank Sinatra’s, is instantly recognizable from the very first note.”

After Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret and Non Stop Ecstatic Dancing (arguably the UK’s first House record by a British band) came the richer and darker blooms The Art of Falling Apart and Last Night in Sodom, which only the most great and reckless talents could have produced. 

This documentary from the BBC series Young Guns traces the rise and fall of Soft Cell from student life in Leeds to the bright New York lights, and the seedy London back streets. Made in 2000, it has superb interviews form Marc Almond, Dave Ball, the band’s manager Stevo, and record execs.
 

 

Written by Paul Gallagher | Discussion
Tainted Life (or sainted life?): Happy Birthday Marc Almond!
07.09.2013
10:22 am

Topics:
Music
Queer

Tags:
Marc Almond
Soft Cell


 
Marc Almond is one of the truly great interpreters of song of our age. His distinctive voice, like Frank Sinatra’s, is instantly recognizable from the very first note. Almond’s subject matter often chooses to examine a seamier side of life than most people would be inclined to want to experience firsthand. In this way he is like Jean-Paul Sartre’s conception of “Saint” Jean Genet, a darkly sensual queer roué reporting back, musically in Almond’s case, from the sexual fringes, while alchemically transmuting squalor and sleaze into great and moving art.

I am a huge, huge fan. Marc occupies a special place in my (gutter) heart and in my record collection. His harrowing Torment & Toreros album would totally be in my top five of all time (I’ve written about it extensively here), while his Mother Fist and Her Five Daughters collection would hover just beyond the top ten, garning at least getting an “honorable mention” in this household.

And don’t even get me started about my love of Soft Cell…

Marc Almond turns 56 today.

Previously on Dangerous Minds:
Soundtrack for a Suicide: Marc Almond’s musical masterpiece, ‘Torment and Toreros’

‘A Lover Spurned’: French photographers Pierre et Gilles direct Marc Almond

Here’s a real Marc Almond gem, a powerful live rendition of Charles Aznavour’s deeply moving ballad about the life of a drag performer, “What Makes A Man A Man?” It’s one of Almond’s finest vocal performances, if you ask me. Taped at the Royal Festival Hall in 1992. Simply stunning:
 

Written by Richard Metzger | Discussion
‘Martin is a boy with problems’: Soft Cell sing of teenage vampire, 1983
12.10.2012
10:36 am

Topics:
Music

Tags:
Marc Almond
Soft Cell
Martin
George Romero


 
On a 12” record bundled as a free bonus with the initial release of the their Art of Falling Apart album in 1983, Soft Cell did a boffo extended Hendrix medley (trust me, it’s way, way better than you might think) and what producer Mike Thorne called “a monstrously over-the-top extravaganza” (one clocking in at 10:16) based on Martin, George Romero’s classic 1978 horror film about a teenage vampire on the loose in a Pittsburgh suburb.

In this incredible clip from The Tube, the synthpop duo perform an ass-kicking shorter take of the song. What I wouldn’t give to see a ten-minute version! (Actually I have, they did it during the encore of their show at the Wiltern Theater in 2002.)
 

Written by Richard Metzger | Discussion
Ghost Rider: Soft Cell and Jim Foetus cover Suicide, 1983


 
Soft Cell (Marc Almond and David Ball) share the stage with Clint Ruin/Foetus/J.G. Thirlwell and squealing saxophonist Gary Barnacle for this excellent cover version of Suicide’s “Ghost Rider.”

Obviously Suicide would have been a huge influence on both Soft Cell and Thirwell, and they really tear it up here in this intense homage taped for the BBC in 1983. Listen loud.
 

Written by Richard Metzger | Discussion
Soft Cell’s Infamous ‘Sex Dwarf’ Video (NSFW)
03.28.2012
12:59 pm

Topics:
Amusing
Music
Sex

Tags:
Marc Almond
Soft Cell
Sex Dwarf


 
Directed by Tim Pope, Soft Cell’s Sex Dwarf video, released to promote their debut album, created quite a scandal in 1981. Claiming it was pornographic, British police actually confiscated copies of the video. It was banned from MTV at the time and has been banned from YouTube…though it pops up now and then.
 
The Sex Dwarf clip reminds me of the films of Jack Smith and The Kuchar Brothers, mashed up with Texas Chainsaw Massacre: a Bacchanalian group grope full of writhing bodies, hot flesh and a chainsaw. Enjoy it in all its sleazy glory. 
 

 
Tim Pope and Marc Almond discuss the making of “Sex Dwarf.”
 

Written by Marc Campbell | Discussion
Synth Britannia: One Nation Under a Moog

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Synth Britannia, the latest in BBC4’s (excellent) Britannia series airs on Friday October 16. Covering the synthpop explosion of the late seventies and early 80s, Synth Britannia features interviews with John Foxx, MUTE Record’s Daniel Miller, Gary Numan, Neil Tennant, Phil Oakey, Martin Gore, Bernard Sumner, Cabaret Voltaire, Vince Clarke, Martyn Ware, Midge Ure, Soft Cell, Kraftwerk, Throbbing Gristle and Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark. What a great line-up!

“In the late Seventies small pockets of electronic artists such as The Human League, Cabaret Voltaire and Throbbing Gristle were inspired by Kraftwerk and J G Ballard to dream of the sound of the future against the backdrop of bleak, high-rise Britain.

Gary Numan’s 1979 appearance on Top Of The Pops heralded the invention of synthpop, which would provide the soundtrack as Britain entered a new, ruthless era in the Eighties.

Depeche Mode, four lads from Basildon, came to embody the new sound, while post-punk bands such as Ultravox, Soft Cell, Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark and Yazoo took the synth from the pages of the NME and onto the front cover of Smash Hits.

By 1983 the Pet Shop Boys and New Order were pointing to where the future of electronic music lay—in dance.”

I’m looking forward to see this and glad to see that they included John Foxx. I’ve always felt he was unfairly obscure. Despite making some of the most vital electronic music of that time period, few know his music. The first three Ultravox albums, with Foxx on lead vocals, are some of the finest albums of the punk era, yet they weren’t strictly a punk band (violins? synthesizers?) and so undeservedly fell through the cultural cracks. I think Ultravox’s Ha!-Ha!-Ha! is THE great lost album of the punk years and I tell everyone who’ll listen to me they should hear it. It’s nothing short of amazing. When Foxx left the band, his sound became more stripped, down, colder, synthetic—more European than English, if you take my point.

Maybe I say this because Foxx’s solo album Metamatic was in my Walkman as I took a long train journey across Europe in 1983. It was the perfect soundtrack to looking out of a train window. Every time I hear his music it takes me right back to that time, especially this song, Underpass:


One group who probably won’t make it into Synth Britannia for obvious reasons, is Japan’s Yellow Magic Orchestra, although they were most certainly working on a parallel track. Here’s their video for Computer Games, from 1980:

Written by Richard Metzger | Discussion