The ZTT label: Part 3
The final part of Ian Peel’s survey of this very collectable label.
The final part of our survey of the ZTT label takes us to some of the less familiar names on the company’s roster. They might not have scored the hits, like Frankie or the Art Of Noise, but their releases still pose plenty of problems for collectors—
In 1987 Claudia Brucken teamed up with synthesizer, vocalist and composer Thomas Leer to form a new ZTT band, Act. Leer had previously been a solo artist of long standing. Brucken had worked on two other ZTT projects, most notably Propaganda.
Act are a very widely collected ZTT band and, although they have only released three singles and one album, many versions are available. Promo copies are also becoming quite sought-after.
At the time of the release of their first single, “Snobbery And Decay”, ZTT stopped being distributed by Island Records, so you will notice that a new system of catalogue numbers is used.
Act were featured on BBC l’s ‘Tomorrow’s World Special’ about new technology in music, broadcast on June 18th 1987. In this programme they were seen recording “Snobbery And Decay” at ZTT’s studio and the label’s producer/engineer Stephen Lipson was interviewed.
It seems a pity that Act’s commercial popularity does not match their popularity with collectors. The superbly crafted songs, coupled with Stephen Lipson’s (and occasionally Act’s) excellent production rate as some of the most exciting sounds to have emerged from Zang Tumb Tuum.
Act have recently made plans to release a fourth single from their debut album, “Laughter, Tears And Rage”. The track is “Chance” which, according to Leer, is an “anti-yuppie” song. It will be coupled with the non-album “Winner 88". Also planned are solo albums by Leer and Brucken, titled “Plastic And Physical” and “Prima Donna” respectively.
Collectors should note that there are many remixes of their first single, “Snobbery And Decay”. “The Naked Civil Remix”—
There were fewer 12" mixes of the second single, “Absolutely Immune”, though it is worth noting that the first 12" carried a remix of the title track, although this is not stated on the sleeve.
There was only one 12" release of the third single, “I Can’t Escape From You”, but the CD and cassingle issues are now becoming quite collectable.
The most valuable Act item produced so far is a U.K. 12" white label promo of “Snobbery And Decay”. This contains an instrumental version of the Moonlighting Mix and two other instrumental versions, all exclusive to this 12". The promo came with a press release calling the main mix the Herbie (From Mastermind) Moonlighting Mix. It has changed hands for up to £25.
All formats of Act’s debut ZTT album, “Laughter, Tears And Rage”, contained different track listings, as can be seen from the discography; promo copies are worth about £20. It is worth noting that the vinyl version contains two short tracks not mentioned on the sleeve, “Short Story” and “Theme From Laughter”.
Anne Pigalle was born and brought up in France. She lived for a time in Paris before moving to London to set up as a serious musician. Before she signed to ZTT in 1984, she had sung on her friend Nick Plytas’s EP, “Hot Sagas”, under the group name of ‘Via Vagabond’. Plytas also co-wrote with Anne the songs on her album.
She tried ZTT as a last resort after having been rejected by almost every other record company. Twelve months after signing, her first single, “He Stranger”, was released. “I’m not concerned with the industry, the business”, she said at that time, which may explain why there are no limited or rare editions of her singles.
She left ZTT at around the end of 1986 over disputes with Trevor Horn and Jill Sinclair arising from musical and marketing differences. According to Jill Sinclair, “we couldn’t give her what she wanted and she couldn’t give us what we wanted.”
Nasty Rox Inc.
The most recent signing to ZTT are a hip-hop/house music outfit featuring an ex-member of M/A/R/R/S.
Their first release was a 7" and 12" single entitled “Escape From New York”. They then supported James Brown on his recent British tour. The single is said to be taken from a forthcoming album, “Led Zep 2", which will feature a guest appearance by Harry Bowman, who worked with Was (Not Was).
“Insignificance” was directed by Nic Roeg and starred his wife Thereza Russell and Tony Curtis. Although it was not a complete ZTT production, the 1985 film did have many links with the label.
To start with, ZTT handled the advertising, which described it as “the story of life, death, sex and the universe … relatively speaking”. The film soundtrack was released in September 1985 on ZTT, although the only ZTT artist to appear on it was Claudia Brucken.
The album contained tracks by Thereza Russell, Gil Evans & his Orchestra, Stanley Myers, Hans Zimmer and Roy Orbison, whose “Wild Hearts” was also released as a single.
The Value of Entertainment
In June 1985 ZTT put on a show at the Ambassadors Theatre in London’s West End, featuring all their current acts except Frankie Goes To Hollywood.
The bill was Instinct, Andrew Poppy, Art Of Noise, Anne Pigalle and Propaganda. The last named were joined on stage by drummer Steve Jansen (ex-Japan) and Derek Forbes (ex-Simple Minds). The three main members of the Art Of Noise did not actually appear in person. Instead, three dancers in ZTT T-shirts performed to their music. Paul Morley later came on to explain the Art Of Noise in his own way (“A spanner is intrinsically more interesting than the lead singer of Tears For Fears”).
At the shows you could buy a programme. Continue »
A 35-minute video, “ZTT—
In October of the same year, ZTT released a compilation album (IQ6) and tape (ZCIQ 6) of tracks by the five artists mentioned above plus FGTH. “ZTT Sampled” has a number of interesting tracks for collectors, including: “Closing” by Art Of Noise (an exclusive mix of “Close (To The Edit)”; “Disneyland” by FGTH (otherwise unavailable); “Swamp Out” by Instinct; “Egypt” by Art Of Noise (with Paul Morley’s abovementioned live ‘explanation’); a shortened version of “P Machinery (Beta)” by Propaganda; a ‘demonstration’ of “Looking For Love” by Anne Pigalle; “A Time For Fear” by Art Of Noise (actually “A Time To Fear” from their album with a new introduction); and “Born To Run” by FGTH (a live performance on ‘The Tube’, following their much hyped tour of America).
Also on the album but uncredited are the elephant noises from “Duel” by Propaganda, produced, according to Ralf Dorper of the band, by “a micro-chip with big ears!”
Instinct consisted of three former members of the jazz/funk group Pigbag: Angela Jaeger, James Johnstone and Simon Underwood. At the time of the ‘Value Of Entertainment’ concert, which they opened, playing five tracks, they were due to release their debut single, “Sleepwalking”. This appears not to have been released and ZTT’s press releases have thrown no light on Instinct’s subsequent activities, if any.
Grace Jones’s first album after signing to Manhattan Records in 1985 was a collaboration with the ZTT camp. Many rumours surround the background of the track “Slave To Rhythm”. According to some sources, it was originally intended for FGTH but, when demoed, neither Trevor Horn nor FGTH were happy with it.
The end result of the Grace Jones collaboration was a concept album based on her life story called “Slave To The Rhythm”.
It has also been suggested that Trevor Horn spent so much money on studio time producing and mixing the title track that, when the go-ahead was given for an album, he had no money left. This could be why the entire album comprises remixes of “Slave To The Rhythm” and extracts from interviews with Grace conducted by Paul Morley and a Capital Radio DJ.
The title track was released as a single, along with many limited edition versions which have now become quite collectable. Island Records have reissued the album at mid price. It has a slightly different picture sleeve, with a few colour alterations from the original.
Das Psych-Oh Rangers
Das Psych-Oh Rangers signed to ZTT in early 1987 and performed live on ‘The Tube’ soon after. Lloyd Bradley described them very well as “a trio bent on mutating abrasive rock’n’roll into a barrage of electronic white noise”.
They released a 7" and 12" EP entitled “The Essential Art Of Communication”. Soon after they threatened ZTT with legal action when the label failed to fulfil their contractual obligation of a Das Psych-Oh Rangers album release within a year of their signing. However, a legal arrangement ensured that they were released from their contract without going to court.
At the time Art Of Noise left ZTT, the label put out a press release saying they would be forming a new group under the name ‘Art And Act’. Continue »
The band was to consist of Horn, Morley and Stephen Lipson, a ZTT producer/engineer. Unfortunately the single and pamphlet never appeared. The only reference to Art And Act has been the credit to ZTT’s Art And Act Service on the Grace Jones LP.
Early in 1985, FGTH/ZTT released a booklet, ‘And Suddenly There Came A Bang!’ (Zanglett No. 1), on the history of the group. It was banned from sale in shops. In the booklet there was a brief discography which described “Relax” as the first ZTT single, but by reading the inlay card to Art Of Noise’s “Into Battle …” cassingle this is proved wrong.
The booklet could have been another version of the advertised 36-page publication which was supposed to come free with the “Welcome To The Pleasure Dome” LP, but was nowhere to be seen on its release.
In April 1985 ZTT announced that in the wake of “And Suddenly There Came A Bang!” they would release “Daft As A …” to “explain, in one way or another, the Art Of Noise”, and “Why Does It Have To Be This Way” to do the same for Anne Pigalle. Neither of these ever appeared.
These press releases could have been fictional, to maintain public and collectors’ interest in the acts. A more likely explanation as to why these booklets were never made publicly available could be that both acts were about to leave the label.
It is interesting to note here that although FGTH’s three number ones represented an excellent success rate for the first three 7" singles by a new record label, it was also counter-productive. One factor that made Art Of Noise leave was that they found themselves temporarily out of contract due to work on the second FGTH album. As for Propaganda, they wanted to go straight ahead and release “Duel” after the success of “Dr. Mabuse”. Instead they had to wait for a year, due again to Horn spending all of his time working on FGTH.
“There’d be Propaganda hanging around the studio waiting to start work with Trevor when he was spending all his time on us”, recalled Holly Johnson, “and this sort of thing led to a lot of unhappiness.” During his court case in 1988, he reflected, “It became a very unhappy ship.”
Although the Art Of Noise grew tired of the conceptual image Morley had created for them, the other bands who were treated in the same way were not so bothered. “We don’t give a damn what’s written on the (‘Duel’) sleeve”, Ralf Dorper of Propaganda told a pop reporter in May 1985. Similarly, with reference to the infamous “Frankie Says …” T-shirts of the early Eighties, Brian Nash of FGTH told ‘Smash Hits’ magazine that the ideal slogan would read, “Frankie Say Hang Paul Morley”!
In retrospect, ZTT was one of the first record labels that became widely talked about in the media. At the height of FGTH’s success, ZTT were receiving almost as much media attention as they were.
Paul Morley’s multiple release experiment drew to an end with the release of Frankie’s last few singles. On the sleeve of the first 12" of “Rage Hard”, under the heading “What is the 12"?”, it is actually stated that it is a con on the public! This statement is an on-going argument between collectors. However, on many 12" releases, in addition to remixes, extra tracks are carried that are unavailable elsewhere and therefore make them worth buying.
Another bone of contention among collectors is, how much did FGTH need ZTT and vice-versa? On the one hand, it is no secret that a band, which had been turned down by all the record companies they had tried, got into the Top 2 with the first four singles on ZTT. On the other hand, no other ZTT act has made it into the Top 40 with more than one single.Continue »
In 1988, many of the bands mentioned in this article are no longer with ZTT and the label is building up a new roster of artists like Act who, although singles success has eluded them, have met with a favourable response from the critics … without any heavy advertising or hype.
As the FGTH/ZTT court case in 1988 proved, the label has earned itself a special place in the eye of the media and record collectors alike.
They may no longer be the commercial force that they were at the height of Frankie’s success, but few record companies have ever captured the interest of collectors in quite the same way.