Saturday, 22 January 2011


A quick, yet interesting, diversion from the Fad Gadget story is Frank Tovey’s temporary involvement with The Silicon Teens, a solo side-project of Daniel Miller’s, whereby he had created an imaginary two boy, two girl synth-pop band specialising in re-workings of hits and favourites from the fifties and sixties. The first of these, “Memphis Tennessee”, was released during the summer of 1979 and problems then began to emerge for Miller when it very nearly became a hit and a real band was needed to promote the single. Tovey was then called upon to help out and promo shots appeared, including both himself and Miller under cover of dark sunglasses. A video was also shot with Tovey seen miming the lyrics into a radio set whilst Miller and others, dressed in white tuxedos, performed the song at a rather lively nautical ball. They were even invited onto Radio One’s “Roundtable” show where celebrity guests reviewed the week’s new releases and surprise appearances were sometimes made by those under scrutiny. When The Silicon Teens appeared, it was Frank who fronted the illusion.

So, as 1979 rolled over into 1980, word about Fad was beginning to spread and, in March of that year, a follow-up single appeared in the shops. “Ricky’s Hard” is a darkly comical, comic-strip-like, cautionary tale of the perils of drink driving, the focus being firmly on the hand of the song’s antihero, as he uses it to dip into his pocket for another five pounds, buy another round of drinks, wipe his mouth where he has vomited, pick his nose and squash a fly and, eventually, six pints later, he uses it to wave goodbye to his mates before getting into his car charged with man appeal. The song’s moral then comes in the final verse where: “Ricky contravenes The Highway Code / The hand lies severed at the side of the road.” Again, however, although the subject matter was a bit unconventional for the pop charts, the music certainly wasn’t, “Ricky’s Hand” being a bouncy, fast-paced four minute pop tune with instantly memorable hooks, such that it remains a firm favourite amongst Fad Gadget fans today and still works well on dancefloors thirty years down the line. It also achieved quite a good degree of success, surpassing that of its predecessor and securing quite a strong placing in the Independent Charts, a feat which then required quite substantial sales, such that an equivalent performance these days would have catapulted the single into the Top 40. As Mute Records put it in their label biography a few years later, “Ricky’s Hand” “ considered by many as a ‘pop classic’. Fad’s audience by this time had grown substantially with the single doing very well in the Alternative charts” and, reviewing it in his “Independent Bitz” column in “Smash Hits”, Red Starr explained the reasons for the single’s popularity : “Not to mention Fad Gadget’s latest would be a sin, if not a crime. “Rickey’s(sic) Hand”(Mute) shows off more of his black humour lyrics and hustling synthesised pop to good effect. Clever, catchy and well worth its current chart place.” Its success was not confined just to the UK, either, as Fad Gadget made his/their debut television performance promoting the single on a Belgian show called “Cargo De Nuit” where Tovey can be seen playing his synthesizer with a pair of claw hammers and also an electric power drill, slung machine gun style over one shoulder, whilst Wauquaire and Lederman bop along to the tune behind another pair of keyboards. The ways in which “Ricky’s Hand” took Fad Gadget to another level were also recounted by Edwin Pouncey years later in the DVD documentary : “The first single ‘Back to Nature’ was a pretty good start but I think the one that really hit-off was the next had those elements of humour in it, as well, and a bit of storytelling. In a came to encapsulate...the foundations for his career, in its theatrical way and the humorous comment and the fact that it had a little story behind it..”

Once again, the single came clothed in a striking and instantly recognisable sleeve, this time resembling an industrial safety poster, the central image of a hand being dissolved by drops of escaping acid vaguely picking up the song’s tone and imagery and the brightly coloured diagonal-striped border indicating the potentially hazardous content within. A little cartoon strip on the back of the sleeve then betrays some of the humour to be found on the record as the implications of carelessly placing one’s hand into a liquidizer are made clear. I remember buying this single as a schoolboy in Manchester and being mesmerised by what I saw on the sleeve and then being incredibly impatient to get the journey back home to my bedroom out of the way so that I could give it a spin. What lay within seemed to be perfectly encapsulated by these simple graphics. Other information on the sleeve also indicated a little bit about the recording of the single, with Fad Gadget credited for “synthesizer, voice, tapes and Black and Decker V8 double speed electric drill”, Daniel Miller for “synthesizer” and B.J.Frost for “choir girl effect”. We also learn that it was recorded at Blackwing Studios ( a deconsecrated church in South-East London) and that it was worked on by their in-house engineer, Eric Radcliffe, thus kick-starting a long and successful relationship between Mute and the studio where the majority of the label’s early releases were recorded, amongst them Depeche Mode’s first records, the majority of Fad Gadget’s output and numerous chart hits for Yazoo, including their debut album “Upstairs at Eric’s”. Radcliffe even went on to appear on “Top of the Pops” when The Assembly, the short-lived studio project he established with Vince Clarke, went Top 10 in 1983 with “Never Never”, Feargal Sharkey, if you remember, providing the wobbly vibrato vocals. And, of course, it came out on Mute.

On a final note, “Ricky’s Hand” was backed by a dub version of the A-side (“Handshake”), on the opening grooves of which Tovey, by the sounds of it sitting in a café or pub, can be heard explaining to somebody that he currently works in a bedding warehouse but that he will be “leaving in January.” The other voice on the recording then asks him where he will go next, CBS being his suggestion. Tovey laughingly replies “Dindisc”, although, in fact, like Depeche Mode and Erasure, he was to stay with Mute for his entire recording career and, thus, the story rolls on. However, before we do, the drill, incidentally, belonged to Frank Tovey Snr., as a “Smash Hits” interview from 1982 reveals : “My father, who’s always worked in London’s fish market, will play one of my records to his friends. But he doesn’t say ‘this is my son singing.” He just waits until he gets to a part where I’ve used one of his tools to get a certain sound and then he tells ‘em ‘That’s my electric drill you can hear.’”

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