ZANG TUMMM TUMB ARTICLES “the first draft of history”

The Plastic Age page

(Its non returnable, so youre stuck with it. Were stuck with JOHN SHEARLAW who wrote it.)


LAST YEARS apparently disposable wares inevitably become this years most indispensable artefacts.

And like recycled car bodies and the single you were playing when Brenda threw you over for the big bloke with the Cortina, they return to bring new meaning into the most mundane of lives.

Buggles—the “pure plastic pop pair who sprung from nowhere to the top of the charts”—are no exception.

Their instant success neatly dissected, they skilfully rode their wave of 15 minutes of fame. Retreated, then bounced back to show it all did mean something after all.

The result was a second hit, an album, efficient management from the Yes manager Brian Lane and—naturally enough—the transition from phenomenon to group. No shock perhaps, but it transpires that Buggles are learning just as much about us now as we are learning about them. Its a fascinating process.

Buggles, blond Geoff Downes and bespectacled Trevor Horn have gratefully slid away from last years hard sell line. Were new! Were excitingly different! Were 100 per cent plastic!

And theyre now keen to deny the previous impression—principally built around the one-hit marvel that was ‘Video…that theyd programmed the single for instant success.

“You can be really confident about your own music, especially working the way we work,” says Trevor. “But that doesnt mean youre confident that it will be ‘a hit. As a matter of fact Im still surprised, not just about the hit, but about the whole process behind it.

“Today is the first day for about a month, for instance, that Ive been feeling reasonably normal—and I dont even drink! Weve been in France on promotion, weve been on radio tours on promotion, and even then we come back and theres a massive memo from our management detailing the next few moves in the chess game… or whatever it is.

“How can you be confident with all that to cope with?”

Likeable, and only mildly malicious as they seem to be, its very easy to believe in the oft-duty Buggles. The reluctant pop stars.

“Id find it very dull to sit down and work out a line to feed to people,” says Geoff. “Something like ‘Were plastic people! Were the sound of the eighties!

“Yet thats the line we seem to get put on us all the time. Ive never really thought about it at all until now.

(cont.)
I dont see an interview as something to be afraid of… I can explain a lot of things while Im doing it.”

Even the headlines?

Trevor: “You mean: ‘Tell me Beagles, it is Beagles isnt it, yes I see, is techno-pop really here to stay? What can you do? We groan and fall on the floor every time we hear it.

“It seems that Ive spent three years in abject poverty, and all I wanted to do was make records in my own name. And when it happens youre too busy in the studio to really know whats going on.”

If anything Geoff Downes is even more bewildered.

“As a freelance, which I was for years, there wasnt a single thing about being a number one artist that I thought I didnt know. Then when it happened I didnt expect any of it.

“Not TV, not interviews, not (dramatic pause) ‘Top Of The Pops! No amount of telling can explain what its like when it happens to you. It ceases to become a bystanders experience.”

Theres another pause before Geoff delivers his killer line. Deadpan.

“I didnt know what it was like to be in a pop group… but Im learning.”

So the fun really has started in earnest. Buggles are now becoming an established pop group with two hits and what must be taken to be a somewhat excellent, thoughtful debut album.

For a week in January, that album was nearly banned, removed from the shops and otherwise prevented from making an orderly progression up the charts. In what turned out to be the least memorable non-court case of the year “various persons” (and not one Bruce Woolley, who is fully credited on the album) were attempting to sue Buggles, claiming that theyd played on the album and hadnt been credited.

“The whole situation just seemed to be ridiculous and it didnt help that we were either in the studio or stuck halfway up some mountain in France taking photographs when it happened.” says Geoff. “It was like a new game—lets all play ‘sue Buggles for a credit on the album.

“And nearly every week there was someone coming out with ridiculous lines like ‘Im the real sound of Buggles. We had this great idea for a party, where we were going to invite everyone along and tell them to arrive bearing writs and see lust how many turned up!”

In the end, the principal case—Buggles v synthesiser programmer Hans Florian Zimmer—was dismissed as “insubstantial” (Im informed) For Buggles the massive amount of time and money—over £40,000—spent in making the album meant it not only had to be good, it had to be theirs.

“We had tunnel vision for six months,” Geoff admits “We couldnt possibly know what was going to happen until we came out of that.”

“Ive had the hardest six months work in my life.” says Trevor and I wouldnt be surprised if the next six months are just as hard. Its been like working through various layers of despair, trying everything, throwing it away and trying it all again.

“We dont want tags to live up to, but neither do I want to be misunderstood. And its happening all the time.”

There seems to be just the smallest element of depression evident in the Buggles camp, principally concerning the music scene. Trevor admits that Public Image Limited baffle him, that the sheer volume of singles being released each week is “often a waste of vinyl”, and—when pressed—that he believes that there are a large number of musicians that cant play as well as hed expect them to be able to.

Buggles, naturally enough, can—and are intending to prove it with a bizarre series of dates later this year. Another contradiction, as the group was originally a studio concept, but one theyre looking forward to.

“Buggles started out as a reaction against some of the more mindless elements in pop—all the power tools that made you buy records and made you dance—‘get up, you make me feel like dancing, blam blam. Or even new wave—‘gotta get some urban violence gotta be free.

“Now were battling away in the market place with all of them, and we just have to be good.

“If we were dirty old men in it for the cash we wouldnt take as much care as we do. Or maybe were just learning!”