Sunday, 30 January 2011


1983, though, was to prove quite a quiet year for Fad Gadget in terms of releases, although a single called “I Discover Love” came out that autumn. As previously, after making a very heavily electronic album, this record signalled a major shift in the opposite direction, as none of the instruments listed on the reverse of the sleeve would have betrayed to an outsider that this was a band normally associated with synth-pop. Frank Tovey is credited simply for “voice”, whilst Dave Simmonds’ electrical gadgetry has been replaced by simple piano. Elsewhere, a new vocalist, Joni Sackett, had entered the ranks, alongside David Rogers on double bass. A number of guest musicians are also credited, including a brass section but most noticeable of all is the name of Rowland S. Howard of The Birthday Party who provided some screech guitar which is kept well under control in the mix. The resultant sound is, in fact, a much more organic one, the single being a smoky, swingy number over which the distinctive Frank Tovey vocals can be heard. I remember the single being quite a hit down our road that October where it got quite a hammering at a Halloween party held in the garage of one local girl’s grandmother. The other popular record that night, although I can happily admit that it was not mine, was “Lovecats” by The Cure and, although Fad’s is a far superior song, the two made quite happy bedfellows at the time. Incidentally, a young girl’s hair caught fire that night - a Fad Gadget-esque warning that lashings of hairspray and naked flames in Halloween lanterns don’t mix?

This single, incidentally, was the first since “Back to Nature” not be recorded at Blackwing. Instead, the band used John Foxx’s The Garden where his sidekick, Gareth Jones, now took over the engineering duties.One enthusiastic, although rather late and not very carefully edited, review for the single came from Mick Mercer in the December issue of “Zigzag” magazine - “A profoundly big sound from Uncle Frank without a doubt as sensationally expounds sixties TV show sounds splashing around ease their way into a hunched shoulders/pigeon toed stance and then advance. With male and female interaction of this degree this might even herald the end of The Human League.” Make of it what you will.

Another major event that Autumn was when Fad Gadget were invited to support Siouxsie and the Banshees when they played two nights (30th September / 1st October) at The Royal Albert Hall, these being the shows which were recorded for the “Nocturne” album. However, Chris Bohn, who was normally a very loyal supporter of the band, had to admit that the occasion was a little too large for Frank et al to shine. His review in the NME read, “The hall certainly wasn’t chosen to favour support act Fad Gadget – a flea to Siouxsie’s butterfly. Tonight, his normally sharp bite was blunted by the buildings acoustic time traps and sound delays, which bounced his slow, evenly tempered rhythms and melodies into barely recognisable shapes. His brave move to a predominantly non-electric line-up was thus ruined, leaving Frank Tovey scrambling to draw an uninterested audience’s attention with a series of self-flagellations, gambols and leaps. Unfortunately, nobody looked his way, let alone wonder why he did what he did.”

The latter part of the year was then spent recording the fourth, and what was to be the final, Fad Gadget album at Hansa Studios in Berlin, a converted ballroom which stood directly beside the then still extant Wall, such that those working there could apparently look Russian guards right in the eye when they peered out of the windows and across into the eastern sector of the divided city. The studios had been made famous in the seventies when David Bowie and Iggy Pop had recorded there but, more recently, Depeche Mode were using it more and more to record and/or mix their mega-successful singles from the period, such as “Everything Counts”, “People are People” and “Master and Servant”. In fact, over the next few years, it would be used quite a lot by Mute artists, in much the same way that Blackwing had been used previously, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds and Diamanda Galas are two examples of those who recorded there. Gareth Jones was once again assisting, along with label boss, Daniel Miller.

The first fruit of their labours to see the light of day was a single released in January 1984, a song which clearly displayed the influence the city was having upon Frank Tovey et al. “Collapsing New People” is a forceful, thumping affair, powered by the industrial rhythm of a printing press which the band could hear operating in a building adjacent to the apartment they had rented for their stay. According to Joni Sackett, interviewed for the DVD documentary, they were so taken with its sound that they got Gareth Jones to come out and record it, the results then being turned into a loop for the rhythm track. It also took as its theme the prevailing trend at the time for members of Berlin’s alternative scene to make themselves up to look like the walking dead – “Exaggerate the scar tissue, wounds that never heal. Takes hours of preparation to get that wasted look.” One of the chief proponents of such a look at the time was Blixa Bargeld, frontman of pioneering noise merchants Einstürzende Naubauten (Collapsing New Buildings) and, so as not to cause offence or to look like he was cocking a snoop at the band, Tovey invited them to come and contribute to both sides of the single. As Bargeld explains in the book “No Beauty Without Danger”, “Fad Gadget did a record with Gareth at Hansa Studio and the lead singer Frank Tovey wrote the song ‘Collapsing new People’ with the line ‘Sat awake all night / But never see the stars / And sleep all day / On a chain link bed of nails.’ That was a direct reference to the Neubauten. Now, Tovey had the clever idea to ask Neubaten whether we’d play on it, so that the whole thing would not be misinterpreted as a criticism.”

Fad Gadget also performed on a double bill with the band at a venue in the city called The Loft around this time and, once again, this show made its way into the annals of memorable FG gigs, as during the set Tovey decided to leap into the air and swing on an air conditioning vent which then became detached from its fittings, bringing a large section of the false ceiling down onto the stage. Apparently, the damage he caused was nothing compared to Neubauten’s contribution to the show. One of the photographs taken that evening, by the way, although not of this particular incident, then found its way onto the back of the sleeve for the 12” format of the single and the kind of people the song describes can be clearly seen therein, one punter, seemingly, having literally dropped dead, as his/her head rests lifeless on the edge of the stage, in spite of the chaos ensuing in her immediate umgebung.

A review of the single in “Smash Hits” was a little lukewarm in its reception: “Weird title. I suppose he’s taking the mickey out of the new German groups but it does sound like this man loves Kraftwerk and that isn’t exactly fashionable at the moment. He needs a little more discipline to make himself a hit-maker (if that’s what he wants). It would be great to see some new people on Top of the Pops, however.” Glenn Gregory from Heaven 17, who was on hand to help out, summed it up thus: “Nice dancing music for wild dark parties.” And this, in fact, was what it was to become, being a dancefloor favourite in certain niche discotheques around the world at the time. It’s still quite popular today and I do believe that there is even a club night which bears its name in London today, as we live and breathe.

January 1984 also saw Frank Tovey’s involvement in a controversial performance held at The Institute for Contemporary Arts in London on the third of that month. “The Concerto for Voice and Machinery” had been incorrectly billed as an Einstürzende Naubauten concert when, in fact, it was a separate entity, although involving members of its personnel. The sell-out event, which was apparently attended by Marc Almond and the legendary Christiane F, was described by one reviewer as follows: “Around 10.30 the stage was covered with road drills, chainsaws, a cement mixer and various raw materials, most noticeably a piano quietly awaiting its imminent destruction. The performers, all wearing goggles for protection from the fierce showers of sparks flying from the hot slicings of wood and metal, included Neubauten regulars Mufti, Marc Chung and Alexander Von Borsig, plus Genesis P-Orridge, Fadist Frank Tovey, Jila (from Holland's Schlaflose Nacht) and the svelte frame of Stevo, the latter first toiling at woodsaw and later switching to an assault on a locker room cabinet. The noise was intense, violent, beautiful. A few ran, with fingers wedged in ears, to the exits as the decibels soared to agony-inducing proportions. The air became heavy with smoke, sawdust and, in places, sickly with petrol fumes. And it was exciting. Madly and wildly so. People quaked in the bone breaking din, squealing their delight in a kind of euphoric giddiness. A sudden taste of forbidden pleasure, fuelled by a drunken adrenaline pulse of sheer noise and crazed destruction. On the stage, things veered from gleeful, precise carnage to an exhilaratingly dangerous chaos. The protagonists jolted and bumped into each other. At times, I seriously expected an arm or a leg to be severed, the disembodiment then insanely celebrated by the tossing of the blood-dripping limb into the audience. Instead, Mufti showered the front rows with sawdust. The crowd, dense and tight, swaying around the small hall, fell back in waves as road drills were flashed at them and a musclebound figure dropped with one from the stage to begin pummelling the floor. Someone (characters became indistinct in the haze) began throwing empty milk bottles into the cement mixer. The savage rattle of their crushing was lost in the overall row but the splinters vomiting out of the device apparently resulted in several gashed faces. Suddenly, the clatter faded and died. The ICA stewards quickly replaced performers at the front of the stage. The performers and the gaggle of photographers snapping from the rear were ushered backstage and the doors closed on them. No return. What very few people knew (including me at the time) was that the piece was only intended to last 25 minutes. It seemed that the ICA officials had taken a reactionary view and stopped the gig, fearful, perhaps, for the ongoing upright posture of their building. The stage continued to be battered, this time by the angry audience, themselves using any available implement. A tug-o-war between stewards and a section of the crowd resulted in a road drill being hauled back to the stage and rapidly shunted, along with the rest of the equipment, to the rear.”

After the performance, some of those involved stated that their intentions were to drill through the building’s floor and into a system of secret tunnels they had heard existed, linking Buckingham Palace to Whitehall. The night’s proceedings, although unsuccessful in this respect, caused quite a furore and it has since become the stuff of legends. The event was actually restaged at The ICA in February 2007, although with a different cast of participants and under the careful strictures of health and safety guidelines. Yawn!!

The following month then brought Fad Gadget’s final album “Gag”, the cover of which featured an Anton Corbijn photograph of a bedraggled and tarred and feathered Frank Tovey. Once again, it was a departure from what had gone before, developing along the route which had been hinted at by “I Discover Love”. Speaking of its recording, Dave Simmonds once said, “That was the first album I did with him that was more live,” a point agreed upon by Nick Cash: “I think that was the first time we played drums live all the way through virtually”; and, in an interview with “Electronics and Music Maker”, published roughly contemporaneously to the album’s release, Tovey told the journalist that “I wanted everything for ‘Gag’ to be a complete break from the past,” before going on to speak of Einstürzende Naubauten’s involvement in the project: “Neubauten just happened to be in the studio for a little while as we were recording the album. They liked ‘New People’ a lot and we decided to see how it would work out with them playing along to it. What you’ve got to remember is that the song wasn’t written with them specifically in mind: we already had the backing tracks down on tape when they came in and overdubbed all their metal percussion and I think things might have turned out a bit better if I’d worked with the band on a song right from the start.” As well as Neubauten and the core Fad Gadget line-up of Tovey, Dave Simmonds, Nick Cash, David Rogers, Joni Sackett and Barbara Frost, other contributors included Rowland S.Howard, again, who contributed guitar to two tracks, “Ideal World” and “Ad Nauseum”, and Morgan Tovey-Frost who provided her vocal gurgling for a second time, this time to a song called “Sleep”.

Aside from the single which preceded its release, arguably the best track on the album is the one that closed its second side. “Ad Nauseum” is a hellish opus, wherein Frank narrates a picaresque tale of despair and degradation over an oppressive backing, the repetetive violin/double bass riff bringing to mind the unsettling music which heralded the approach of the world’s most famous great white shark in the “Jaws” films. Intimidating whistling, which suggests a gang not unlike that led by Alex DeLarge is just around the next corner, compliments this and, as mentioned earlier, Rowland S. Howard is on hand to spread a little of his guitar menace. It doesn’t make for particularly easy listening, being very much in the same kind of vein as the work that Jim Thirlwell was releasing around this time on the two Scraping Foetus Off The Wheel albums. However, like the assorted Foetus releases, although darkly gothic, the song is not in the least dour, being characterised by the now familiar Frank Tovey gallows humour. “Tarred and feathered like a gutted chicken, stuck in a rut, out of luck, ad nauseum. Sew up my lips and then cut my throat. I choke on the gag but I don’t get the joke,” are the songs opening lines, for example, providing both the album’s title, as well as the concept of its cover..

Elsewhere there are some other high points, including: “One Man’s Meat”, a more tempered and commercial retreading of similar ground to “Ad Nauseum”; the powerful “Ideal World” which, again, seemingly presents a world-weary outlook, with Rowland Howard doing his very best to work against the ironically optimistic title; and “Sleep” which, on first listen, sounds rather incongruously gentle in this context. However, a closer listen to the lyrics anchors it back into the album’s generally cynical worldview, as Tovey, now developing in his role of father, addresses his daughter directly : “Watching over you tonight, I get the feeling that life’s alright. You can laugh at those middle-aged fakes but I hope you don’t make the same mistakes as me.”

The press generally approved of what they heard, too, with Steve Connell in “The Catalogue”, the trade paper produced by independent record distributors The Cartel, leading the way: “...the best LP yet from Fad Gadget: Gag is compelling and convincing with Rowland Howard adding menacing guitar to stand-out track Ideal World (the next single). Even if you’ve resisted Fad’s charms before, now is the time to succumb,” whilst the NME described it as “one hell of a companionable platter”, displaying “tremendous guttural verve” and “Sounds” partly re-presented the now, seemingly, age-old Fad Gadget paradox, “too hip and intelligent for the denim bozos and too traditionally versed for the teeny masses.” “Melody Maker”, however, were less enthusiastic, their journalist seeing it as evidence that Fad Gadget was: “.slipping back over old ground.”

Whilst I certainly don’t agree with that final comment, my own personal evaluation is, unfortunately, nowhere near as gushing as Steve Connell’s, for, in my view, the rest of the album, which includes enjoyable twisted pop songs, such as “Jump” and “Stand Up”, is good but, for me, it just doesn’t sparkle or quite hold together like the three which had gone before. I remember feeling this, too, as a teenager, at the time, that somehow for Fad Gadget, as well as the great alternative, experimental pop music scene which had lit up the late seventies and early eighties, the show was finally coming to the end of the road.

And that is exactly what happened, Fad Gadget did go out on the road to promote the album, during the early months of 1984, their show at Manchester’s Haçienda on 28th February being filmed for posterity by Factory Records’ video arm, Ikon, but it wouldn’t be long before it was all over. (If Ikon filmed everybody who played there, incidentally, which I suspect they may have done, certainly in the early days, the archive material lying around unreleased must be absolutely incredible. Thankfully, Liaisons Dangereuses’ performance at the club on 7th July 1982, as well as The Birthday Party’s visit from the same month, eventually got a commercial release but what else there could still be defies imagining: an early visit to the UK by Einstürzende Neubauten with NON (Boyd Rice) as support act? Fad Gadget’s other appearances at the club? Cabaret Voltaire on its opening night, 21st May 1982? Dome?) Anyway, I digress slightly. Fad Gadget’s entire performance that night did, thankfully, surface twenty two years later, on the CD/DVD box set I speak of so fondly, where Frank Tovey can be seen dressed and made-up to look like the walking wounded, firing up the crowd with energetic renditions of old classics like “Coitus Interruptus”, “Back to Nature” and “Ricky’s Hand”. He even does a bit of wild, backwards stage-diving during the latter of these. However, when the majority of the tracks from the album, even “Ad Nauseum”, for example, are given their turn, a lack of enthusiasm is evident on audience members’ faces and, dare I say it, Frank Tovey’s, too.

Then, a few weeks after the Haçienda gig, the final Fad Gadget single was released, an edited down version of “One Man’s Meat” from the album, coupled with an “electro-induced” reworking of the lullaby, “Sleep”. The 12” also featured a bonus version of “Ricky’s Hand”, complete with audience contributions, recorded live that night in Manchester. A review of the single in “Smash Hits” was favourable and optimistic, again, - “It’s about time Fad Gadget had a huge hit. ‘Collapsing New People’ paved the way and I’m sure if ‘Meat’, produced by Frank Tovey (that’s Fad) and Gareth Jones, receives enough airplay we’ll see it in the Top 40. I’m keeping my fingers crossed anyway.” – but “too late” was the cry, as the Fad Gadget story, sort-of, comes to an end here for knocking on two decades, with Frank Tovey deciding to drop the name and start out on a musical journey which would, eventually, take him well away from the Fad sound we’d previously known and loved. In a television interview from the following year, he explained his reasons for so doing, “I changed it partly because I wanted to have a fresh start, maybe take a new approach and partly because in Britain I’d built up such a reputation as an underground artist or a cult figure that it was very difficult to break through that image. I was effectively making music that was pop music but I was still being categorised as being in the independent chart, tucked away in a corner and I wanted to break away from that.”

No comments:

Post a Comment