[MUSIC ~ UK]
by Ian Bell.
Ah the 1980’s what a glorious time for pop music. After a decade of denim, self-important twenty minute guitar solos and things being very earnest and serious, the eighties was an explosion of glitz and glamour, dressing up, excess, and absolutely incredible, beautiful shiny pop music. The MTV era had arrived, impossibly cool bands like Duran Duran, Spandau Ballet, Adam & The Ants and so many others were dazzling us in video clips filmed in castles and on yachts, with glamorous super models and inexplicably often huge bits of colored material blowing around in the background (thanks Russell Mulcahy). Despite some shade thrown by serious ‘rock’ types in the 1990’s, with the rise of grunge rock and ‘alternative’ music, the music of the 1980’s has outshone any backlash and shines today as timeless and enduring anthems that can fill any dancefloor.
One of the giant acts of the 1980s was The Thompson Twins. Formed in 1977 by Tom Bailey and some friends, they were initially a new wave outfit with a floating line up that numbered seven members at one point. Former band roadie Joe Leeway joined in 1981 and Bailey’s girlfriend (and later wife) Kiwi, Alannah Currie who had met Bailey living in London squats had been around the band for a while but wasn’t a full member until the second album Set, when they were developing a more funky pop sound. That album spawned the ridiculously great track In The Name Of Love (and what a 12’’ remix).
By the third album Into The Gap, the persona of the band had become Bailey, Currie and Leeway. With their MTV and radio friendly songs and videos, Thompson Twins became one of the most popular outfits of the era. Into The Gap was packed with hit singles Doctor Doctor, You Take Me Up, Sister Of Mercy and the timeless Hold Me Now made them superstars.
They toured Australia in 1985 and continued having huge hits (Lay Your Hands On Me, King For a Day, Don’t Mess With Doctor Dream) on the follow up Here’s To Future Days. Leeway left in 1986 (he is currently a hypnotherapist in Los Angeles) and like with many shiny things in the 80’s people did seem to move onto the next shiny thing and despite making three more excellent Thompson Twins albums in the late 80’s/early 90’s (and two under the name Babble) Bailey and Currie gave up music in the mid 1990’s and concentrated on raising their two kids and other projects (including a glass casting studio, anti GM activism), eventually getting divorced in 2003. Currie is re-married now to Jimmy Cauty, formerly of The KLF, and an artist in her own right. Bailey also now remarried and has continued to produce music in New Zealand, making several albums of dub under the name International Observer, and a multi-media art collaboration known as Bailey-Salgado Project. He released his rather excellent debut solo album Science Fiction in 2018.
The exciting news is that Tom Bailey is returning to Australia to perform Into The Gap in its entirety along with a bunch of other Thompson Twins hits later this year. Tom is on the phone from London; he is charming and looking forward to returning to Australia.
Do you still spend a lot of your time in New Zealand?
‘’I do, yes. I have spent the last three years there after getting stranded by Covid. But ordinarily I spend about half the year there and I do feel like it’s actually going to be more as time goes on. I really enjoy living there and the Covid thing let me test drive the idea of living there permanently. It’s an interesting progressive time there, a very positive place, the multi-culturalism is terrific as well as the splendid nature on display.’’
The Thompson Twins toured Australia in 1986, at the height of the band’s popularity. What are your memories of that tour?
‘’Well, the first thing I remember is being introduced to Vegemite by Alannah’s sister’’ laughs Tom. ‘’We arrived in a mess after a long journey and she organised beds for us and snacks in the way of Vegemite on toast, and it was all downhill from there. Actually, we had a great time. I seem to recall we played some great concerts down there and we had a great time.’’
By that tour Thompson Twins were massive, darlings of the MTV generation, and had become a very different beast to where The Thompson Twins started. How do you think you handled all that glitz and glamour and pop stardom?
‘’Well, that is a difficult question to answer. Other people might be able to make observations about how we handled it all. Maybe a couple of things helped for us. One was that it was a long time coming for us and we had done the hard yards travelling up and down the country in the back of tiny vans what seemed like thousands of times, so when we found some success, it didn’t come as a sudden surprise. There was absolutely a giddy moment where you feel the elevator take off. Somebody told us when your first record is charting aggressively, to savour it because it kind of rush only happens once. Which was true, but I think the single most important thing that we learned instinctively at that time, was you can’t party hard every night of your life. You gotta take time out to rest but also to just keep perspective on what you are doing. Otherwise, I mean we have all seen how that can go wrong, people can crash land from their own success. We were also lucky to have a dynamic where there was three of us, so there was never a split decision about things, and we also had a good division of labour too. We all looked after different things independently. So, we were really high functioning. It’s weird to talk about a band in that way, but it is true.’’
It was a glorious time in pop music the 1980s. I am glad there has been a bit of a revision in the way the music from that time is considered. For a while people considered the ’80s as the decade that taste forgot and so forth.
It’s funny, isn’t it? I think it was a defensive reaction from the sort of rocktastic previous eras, where they saw the synthesiser as a cheating machine or pop stars as not having the musical credibility of their forbearers, and all the rest of it. But you are right, there has been a revision of that view and people are now seeing it as a golden age of great pop music in particular. When you think of the number of great songs and great bands from that era it is stunning. I have to say I’m over here in the UK doing 80’s festivals and the crowds are enormous. There is a big appetite for enjoying that music again. It’s very exciting and surprising in a way because we never expected that to happen or to last this long.
I see some of the line-ups of those ’80s shows in the UK that I’d cut my legs off to see. I’ve never got to see ABC or Marc Almond and so forth.
I’m the same. I bump into people I have always wanted to see but never had the chance too. We were touring so much ourselves there were lots of acts we never got to see and so I am watching from the side of the stage. It’s incredible that everyone can still do it.
I have great memories of seeing Thompson Twins in 1985. I recall it being very dramatic and the staging being quite theatrical. And about five years ago you toured here with Culture Club which was a lot of fun, but am I right in saying you didn’t perform any Thompson Twins songs for, like, two and a half decades?
Yes, that’s right. I took a long break from pop music. I kind of retired from it in order to pursue other interests. At the time I saw it as a kind of reward for having done reasonably well. You need to put things to one side sometimes to concentrate on the main game. And that had gone on for years where I wasn’t making experimental music, I certainly wasn’t making dub and I have an interest in Indian classical music, but they got left to one side because the main thing is so demanding. So, when I decided to leave it, it was because I wanted to explore these other areas. So, I never stopped making music, so the mainstream audience might have just thought I’d disappeared. But even though I thought I never wanted to go back to that part of my musical life, it had been so long, some of them came back instantly of course, but others took a bit of work.
Was it surprising to your own ears to listen to those songs after so long separated from it?
Well, it was really funny because I went to listen to the Best Of CD and there was no disc in it. So, I had a crazily embarrassing trip into town to buy one of my own CD’s. On the way home I opened it up and looked at the track listing and almost immediately decided what songs I wanted to revisit. Maybe 80% of them anyway. It seemed perfectly obvious. And the shows I do now and the show I am bringing to Australia, will be heavily featuring the songs that people know. But this time we are doing something new which is playing the Into The Gap album in its entirety, so again there will be a few songs which haven’t seen the light of day for a long time. In fact, I think there is one song that has never been performed live before. It’s good to keep cutting new frontiers.
I often wonder about that, when people perform a classic album twenty, thirty years later, if there are tracks from those records that never made the set list.
I’m not even sure I could tell you, because I don’t remember the set lists from all those years ago. But there were absolutely some songs that got pushed out because other songs from other albums were bigger hits. I will say we are not going to do it in the order that it was on the record, as that can be a big mistake. Back in the day the record company would always put all the hits up front but we want to leave some of those for a big ending, an emotional release and a big sing-a-long and that sort of thing. So the Into The Gap portion of the evening will be a slightly shuffled setlist.
So do you do any of your own solo material as well? I love your Science Fiction album, which is fantastic.
Well thank you very much, very kind of you. It often depends on how long we are given and so forth, but we will certainly rehearse a couple and sneak them in if we can.
TOM BAILEY plays The THOMPSON TWINS INTO THE GAP at The Gov, Friday October 28. Tickets selling fast but available from HERE.