The code of gentlemen
“Best behaviour at all times!” says Martin Fry of ABC, the most refreshing band in the land.
Lucky owners of a copy of ABC’s “Poison Arrow”, on glancing at the back cover, will discover a message from its author.
Here’s an extract: “Many of you out there may think standing in the spotlight brings many rewards. But let me tell you, the fruits of fame can be sour and I too have many private moments… A love affair without a broken heart?” he reflects, soberly. “Like making an omelette without breaking an egg… Be young,” he signs off. “Be foolish. Be alphabetical. Yours sincerely, Martin Fry.”
This, I soon found out, is fairly typical of the man in question. “Sincere” he certainly is, but it’s an honesty refreshingly wrapped in a mixture of glorious melodrama and tongue-in-cheek exaggeration. I mean, “spotlight“? “Fruits of fame”? He’s referring to one previous single that clambered as far as Number Nineteen!
Somehow the Fry sense of humour fits his equally expanded frame. The first thing you notice —
What’s happened to that stream of slogans he was spouting back in December? “Get out of the galleries and burn up some calories”. That sort of thing.
“We stopped all those because people just tend to pin you down if you stick to a catch-phrase. We’ve decided to form this Splinter Group of the Democratic Dance party instead,” he adds, mysteriously. “It’s called ‘The Code Of Gentlemen’. The idea is to uphold standards of decency and moral conduct while everything else crumbles around you. Best behaviour,” he advises, “at all times!”
And he’s not alone in this.
Steve Singleton, ABC’s affable saxman, is behind him all the way. Recently, Steve claims, he was so appalled by the rowdy and reckless conduct of a crowd down the local nightclub that he was later to be found wandering around wearing a sandwich-board forged from a couple of ABC posters, freshly scrawled with the message: “Human dogs, all of you! Animals and scavengers!”
I trust you’re all getting the picture. As you can imagine, Messrs. Fry and Singleton tend towards bouts of fantasy with an enthusiasm that makes even Julian Cope seem level-headed.
In many ways the band seem like natural successors to Adam And The Ants. Not so much visually —
But what sets the band apart from most is Martin’s marvellous flair for lyrics. His songs —
Steve sees this more as a courageous assault against the vacuous slush that usually supplies the backbone to even the most eloquent of modern funk. As he puts it: “I heard this record in Birmingham and I couldn’t believe such a thing existed! The words were something like: ‘Let me step in side your mind, bay-baay! Ooh get down foxy lady, y’all’. Horrible lyrics! We try and take things one stage further and be… well, not intellectual but simply trying to say something more.”
Martin sees things from a more personal standpoint. “I like the idea of having a twist in the lyrics. All the best lyrics, like ‘Tears Of A Clown’, have a twist in them. Things don’t always have to be in black and white. It’s not like putting things under a microscope or in a computer as those just aren’t the things that interest us. Most of pop music is about seeing how much you can get away with in three minutes, how much you can feature. You can’t write your life story in three minutes but you can explain little bits of it, and that —
This seems to me to be going against the current tide. If anything, pop groups are now aiming to be as simple as possible: the clearest of sounds, the simplest of images. Like The Human League.
Martin disagrees. “I don’t think our words are too complex. I just like songs that leave unanswered questions. Look at The Human League’s ‘Don’t You Want Me’. What about Joanne? I mean, does she go back to Phil? I want to find out what happens? You know, she’s sort of found her independence and shot off, gone off walking into the horizon, and I want to find out where she’s gone and what happens when she gets there. And I should think Phil wants to find that out too. And I’m going to have to wait until the next Human League record!”
Again, typical of Martin Fry. He takes things very literally, and this —
The band’s history is littered with examples. Even in ‘78, in their former guise as the bleak electronic outfit, Vice Versa, they were attempting to play “exciting dance music” on a grand total of two cheap synthesisers and a rhythm generator with a permanently flat battery.
Later, after ABC had formed and their first single “Tears Are Not Enough” had charted, Martin was still feverishly hunting for the exact funk sound. Continue »
Likewise the suits. So possessed was Martin with the idea of a gold lamé suit that he’s actually gone out and found Marc Bolan’s original tailor, “somewhere in Soho”, to make sure he wasn’t getting landed with inferior threads.
In short, when he sets out to do something, he usually does it. And does it right.
Steve’s no different. “We search around the markets and buy these horrible lengths of lurex and stuff, and they say: ‘what do you want thirty yards of this tasteless material for?’” He chuckles at the thought. “We get all these outfits made up from it and they’re really repulsive and ridiculous Showbusiness taken to an extreme of logic and reason! Totally over the top!”
Fortunately the band’s enthusiasm has been matched by the receptions they’ve been getting on a current promotional tour of the nation’s nightclubs. It’s hard to gauge which has been going the crazier —
Steve’s been keeping a watchful eye on both. He was heartened to see the locals in the 2000-capacity Sheffield Top Rank when someone slapped on a copy of ABC’s “Alphabet Soup”. “One moment,” he recalled, “they were all hangin’ round in the shadows doin’ these really casual little dances. The next —
But then let’s not forget the deejay at “Faces” Club in Birmingham, the night Martin Fry made a “personal appearance”.
“You get two types of deejays,” Steve reports. “Some are like, well: ‘we’ve got a band here tonight, they’re called ABC and here’s their record’. But others are just dedicated to the craft and they’re just liars and cheats! They’re brilliant! They go: ‘Alright, everybody! We’re going to take off this Kraftwerk record now —
“Well over the top,” Steve adds. “Crazy!”
Naturally, this kind of fever pitch seems to be infiltrating the world of the ABC video.
The twosome are openly scathing about the rut in which most video directors seem currently to be stuck. All knights in armour and castles, peppered with the odd chariot and loads of statues; terribly “classical” and totally meaningless.
“We’ve got a great idea for ‘Poison Arrow’,” Martin reveals in full flight of fancy. “It stretches from war-torn London to a stylised Art gallery involving white stallions, some hamsters and a few iguanas with diamond chains and studded collars. Trouble is,” he reckons, “we want the iguanas to be a little more ‘street level’. They’ll probably come on wearing cloth caps and carrying pints of bitter!”
ABC seem ideally poised to Do Very Well in ‘82. They have allContinue »
the right credentials —
And, as they’re acutely aware, the timing couldn’t be better.
Martin puts it in a nutshell. “The radios have only just woken up to the fact that you don’t have to be 27 to make a record. You can hear things like Pigbag on the DLT show, on prime time radio. And people have started going to nightclubs as well. They’ve realised that it isn’t all just a hot-bed of ‘get-on-up’ disco. There’s some good records coming out of it, with some sort of thought and quality.
“People like Dollar, Alton Edwards.