Credit where credit’s due: Many thanks to likepunkneverhappened for the article scans
Title: Life with the Buggles
Author: Fred Dellar
Source: Smash Hits
Publish date: February 21, 1980
Life With The BUGGLES
An everyday (but frequently interrupted) story of pop persons, as told by Fred Dellar.
GEOFF DOWNES is the one with 20/20 vision, while Trevor Horn is the one with the go-go goggles. Together they’re The Buggles, purveyors of clean-machine pop, living in the plastic age and making the most of their environment.
Good at what they do, they’re ready to say so. No braggarts, they merely state their case with a quiet confidence. Already they’ve got a track record to support their words. When “Video Killed The Radio Star” bowed out of the charts, they promptly replaced it with “The Plastic Age”.
They also got their names on the production credits to The Jags’ “Back Of My Hand” and Dan-I’s “Monkey Chop”, while as songwriters they provided Dusty Springfield with a small success in “Baby Blue”. But small success equals failure with Buggles and Trevor Horn, who writes most of the duo’s lyrics, says that he got no kick out of Dusty recording the song.
“No-one ever records our songs as well as we can do them - I firmly believe that. Dusty’s ‘Baby Blue’ was a bit of a let-down because we had done a great demo. Even Bruce Woolley’s version of ‘Video Killed The Radio Star’ didn’t match ours. His wasn’t so exciting, he didn’t take any risks. There have been lots of cover versions of ‘Video’ around the world - but they’ve all been uniformly naff!”
Bruce Woolley, who now runs a band called Camera Club, was once buddy-buddy with Trevor and Geoff. Together the threesome wrote “Video”, “Clean Clean” (a track on the Buggles’ album that could be the next single) and a few other songs, and also set up a band that featured Woolley as lead vocalist. But then things went wrong and Woolley moved off to his own record deal with CBS.
BUT WHERE did it all start? Trevor kicks off the history bit by revealing that he uttered his first cries in Durham, while Geoff claims Stockport as his home-town.
“We met in London - we both had the usual ambition to make it in the music business and knew that the only place worth coming to was London.”
Geoff, who talks so quietly that his voice only just makes it onto the interview tape, says that he initially got into production through providing radio jingles.
“I did jingles for any product that came along - from cars to nappies. Any product - you name it and I’ve done it!”
Trevor, not to be outdone, tops this with - “And I got into the production game because I was living with a pop star who I won’t name - though she was called Tina Charles.”
Geoff gives him a sideways glance. “I thought you said you wouldn’t name her?”
His partner in plastic grins.
“Sorry about that. But the thing is that I’d always wantnd to be a producer and even had my own studios at one time. People somehow thought that I’d something to do with the making of Tina’s records and asked me to do demos for them.”
“He used to rope me in,” Geoff remembers. “We’d sort out the songs at my place and do all the arrangements together. Later we’d kick the artist out of the studio and spent most of the studio time just doing different things of our own, using every moment to our best advantage. It was a big experience for both of us and after a couple of years of doing that, we had quite a few songs together.”
A PHONE CALL regarding a snag in their future plans interrupts the proceedings. Geoff sorts out the problem while the outspoken but likeable Trevor carries on.
“It was at that stage that we decided to become artists. We felt that it was about time that somebody started making good, well-produced pop records again. We wanted to give people something more than they already had.”
Eventually they signed to Island as artists, writers and producers, in the latter capacity taking on knocking The Jags’ “Back Of My Hand” into shape. The song had already been recorded but nobody was very happy with the results. The Buggles remixed the tape, added various keyboards and generally tidied everything up. But though the revamped record became a hit, The Jags proved hardly grateful. In fact they hated the disc - as Trevor readily admits.
“I think the reason was that they were pissed off with the record in the first place and later felt that we were foisted upon them. It was a good record though - all we did was to make it into a more professional piece of work.
“We believe in perfection we sometimes get criticised for being too professional - but then, people also criticise if you make things rough. There’s no way of winning really. So we try for perfection as far as we can get it in recording.”
The Buggles’ album cost £60,000 to make, and it wasn’t just thrown together to cash in on the success of “Video”. In fact, all of the album was written before “Video” which just happened to be one of the four tracks they first recorded.
The Buggles claim a gypsy-like existence when making records, trekking from one studio to another, recording backing tracks mainly at Virgin’s Town House in West London, most of the final mixes being made at Sarm, a tiny studio in Whitechapel, also used by Queen. At one point, the duo even set up mikes in London’s Wardour Street, gaining the attention of two girls who became curious and began tapping the mikes with their fingers. Buggles, being Buggles, kept the resulting sound on the album.
“There was a horse galloping,” remembers Trevor, “And we left that in too - it was all good fun!”
Horses and passers-by apart, it seems that The Buggles played most of the parts on their singles and album, the rumour that they used a whole host of session men being totally untrue.
“We used about three different drummers including one from Landscape and Johnny Richardson from The Rubettes, who’s really good. We also used the occasional session guitarist to play various bits and there were three or four girl singers involved. Apart from that, we did everything ourselves.”
GEOFF COMPLETES his phone call, but now an Island Records executive sticks his head around the door and requires a consultation. So the keyboardsman exits stage left, leaving Trevor solo once more. By now he’s moved onto the subject of lyrics.
“I always wanted to write pop songs with good lyrics rather than the crappy, cliched ones that many people tend to come up with. Some are fine - one band I admire is Squeeze. I thought the lyrics to ‘Up The Junction’ were superb and the lyrics to ‘Cool For Cats’ were superb too.
“We try not to be too obvious - on the album there’s a song that goes ‘I love you Miss Robot’ but it’s not really about robots. What it’s really about is being on the road and making love to someone you don’t really like, while all the time you’re wanting to phone someone who’s a long way off.”
Another interruption; someone wants to know which part of the Beeb The Buggles are supposed to be heading for in order to broadcast for BBC Norway. All is confusion. Trevor departs, Geoff returns. Apologies all round. The tape keeps running.
Soon Buggles will move onto the next stage of their career by becoming a live touring band. It’s likely to be a five-piece with Trevor handling guitar and vocals, Geoff sharing keyboard duties with another player, with a bassist and drummer rounding things off.
“We’ve got a few tricks up our sleeves,” Geoff says. “And there are going to be some very interesting visuals, good back projections, some very odd lights, all that sort of thing.
“But the music is the most important thing of all and I think we’ll surprise quite a few people. They think that we’re such a studio creation that we can’t actually play. Actually, we’re quite experienced at playing on stage and used to back Tina when she did foreign tours.
SUDDENLY THE side is up to full strength again. Trevor, he of the National Wealth specs, is expounding on influences and giving credit to such folk as Kraftwerk.
“We use synths to fake up things and to provide effects we won’t use them in the manner that somebody like John Foxx does. He’s dominated by synths but we’re not. I know we’ve been compared to 10CC by a lot of people but they were a lot more vocal and guitar-based than us. We’re more keyboard based.”
Geoff adds his bit. “Our records have an intelligence layer in them - they’re not just pop pulp. You can take them on a superficial level but there’s another layer too. That’s something that’s been the hallmark of most successful bands, right from The Beatles. And though we have got this synthetic, arranged sound, it still doesn’t really come out as total synthesiser music.
“It’s a unique sound and if we do score that’s probably why. The beauty of The Buggles now is that we can go in about 15 different directions if we want to. We can be a rock band or Trev and I can just go out and do a few shows somewhere.”
But what if some megastar should suddenly ask them to lend their studio expertise to his or her next recording? Geoff says that several big names have already approached him to do this very thing.
“However, now we’ve got our own thing going, we won’t really have the time to work with other artists - we’ve been through that for the past three or four years. You don’t have total control in those situations. The Buggles, that’s our full total and what we’re all about.
“It’s a total rejection of all those poor recordings, the banal songs, ‘Babylon’s Burning, yeah, yeah, yeah’ and that type of thing. That’s why we took a different line and almost went the opposite way to most new wave bands.
“They would never spend as much time in a studio as we do. Most of their time is spent on the road. They go on the road, get a record deal, then go into a studio as a last stage, whereas we started in the studio, then got the record deal and now we’re gonna go on the road. Everything the other way around!”
AT THIS point, the door opens once more and an extraordinarily healthy dog leaps through and flattens me. “Down, Buggles down!” Trevor yells, as an Island ambassador inform us that the duo’s car is ready to take them to the Beeb.
Suddenly I understand that line about sending heart police to put you under cardiac arrest. Life with The Buggles ain’t so quiet for the ticker, that’s for sure!