Soft Cell – The Boys Who Came Back

With one last Soft Cell reunion confirmed, Ange Chan reflects on life as a Cellmate.

“Soft Cell were a band that marginalised me from my peers. They were certainly no Duran Duran or Spandau Ballet, and of that I was very proud! Glad to be different. Despite the childish jibes from my peers. Who cared about my classmates? I was a Cellmate! I became ever more fixated on a band that represented everything that appealed to me.”

Picture the scene. It’s 1981. I’m thirteen years old. My favourite bands up until that point were Blondie, The Police and The Boomtown Rats (don’t judge me).  I’m sat with my family; Mum and Dad, who are at that point in my life increasingly a mystery to me, plus two younger brothers who are just plain irritating.  It’s Thursday night, 7.30pm, and Top of the Pops has just come on.  Next to the Sunday night chart rundown it’s my favourite time of the week.

I settle down trying to cut out the white noise of general family chit chat and concentrate on the programme. Halfway through, having endured the same old same old, my interest is piqued by a new band… Soft Cell. A synth pop group comprising of a keyboardist and a lead singer.  But boy! What a singer!

His style attracted me to him first.  Completely clad in black, with bangles adorning each of his skinny arms and black eyeliner, expertly applied. I’ve always been drawn to men who wear make-up, especially those who wear it so well.  Next to be flagged up in my consciousness were the lyrics… “Touch me baby, Tainted Love!” 

I was utterly smitten and needed to find out everything I could about this new band.  He was like a male version of Siouxsie Sioux who I was also discovering around the same time, having fallen in love with Happy House on the Radio One breakfast show, courtesy of Mike Read.

My literary point of reference at the time was Smash Hits; every respectable, music-loving teenager couldn’t be without this valuable mag.  Over the ensuing weeks and months I gather up every word written about Soft Cell. Every photo. Every snippet.

More singles were released and I fell ever more infatuated with them. In my eyes they could do no wrong. I’d found my tribe.  Problem was – not really a problem though, as I was to discover later as I grew – Soft Cell were a band that marginalised me from my peers.

They were certainly no Duran Duran or Spandau Ballet, and of that I was very proud!  Glad to be different. Despite the childish jibes from my peers. Who cared about my classmates?  I was a Cellmate!  I became ever more fixated on a band that represented everything that appealed to me.

They sang about living alone, and a miserable existence of reality until the bright lights of the night drew them in. Tales of slightly soiled love and drama-filled loss. Nothing like the glamour of beaches in Sri Lanka, but a different kind of glamour. A more realistic and attainable one, edged with the grim, dark tinge of reality.

In 1984 Soft Cell announced that they were to disband. I remember the exact moment that I read this devastating news. We were on a family holiday at Butlins at Barry Island. I was walking down the main arcade, looking at my copy of Smash Hits and reading an article about Soft Cell. I stopped in the middle of the arcade not believing what I was reading. The tears started to involuntarily flow down my face, ruining my black eyeliner in the process. My reputation for being a moody teen was only further enhanced by this news.

A few months later Marc Almond made a comeback with his first solo single The Boy Who Came Back. Whereas I merely liked the single release, it was the b-side that I adored, Joey Demento.  My Soft Cell broken heart was bound together once again by strains of Marc Almond’s broken bracelets and a bouquet of barbed wire.

I bought everything he released, saw him in concert whenever I could and in October 1988 after a show at the Ritz in Manchester, (The Stars We Are tour), I actually met Marc for the first time. I was on a high for months afterwards.

Over the years I’ve been lucky enough to meet Marc on a number occasions, and each and every time, he has been nothing less than courteous and gracious towards me.  My love for him has grown and grown. Through marriages and divorces, personal deaths and traumatic experiences in my life, the man and his music has pulled me through.

Ange Chan with Marc Almond.

In 2001 I was excited to hear that Soft Cell were reforming and actually bringing out a new album. My first thoughts were dubious. Could the Soft Cell of my youth ever recapture the feelings and emotions they evoked, in the new millennium? A lot of time had passed since then!  A lot of life had happened.

My slight fears were confounded as Beauty Without Cruelty turned out to be a perfect foil to the commercialism and monotony of 21st century living, summed up in songs such as Monoculture and Darker Times. 

They even toured with the album and I was lucky enough to see them live at both Manchester and Leeds Uni (where the band first met and were formed) which had to be the ultimate gig for me!

But just like a beautiful dream you don’t want to wake up from, no sooner had they re-formed 16 years after they disbanded, than they broke up yet again.  I was just grateful to have experienced them live, something which had passed me by as a teenager living 200 miles away from the halcyon yet unattainable (to me) Soft Cell gigs in London in the early part of the 1980s.

As I grew older, celebrated birthdays year on year, I happily continued to support Marc through thick and thin, attending his gigs in a variety of venues, record and book signings and very luckily, occasionally meeting him over the years.

So imagine my complete delight to hear that after another 16 years (anyone else see a pattern forming here?!) Soft Cell were reforming for one very last time for the gig of gigs, a wild celebration and final extravaganza at the London 02!

No sooner than the announcement that Soft Cell were holding a 40th anniversary gig as a final goodbye was made on Chris Evans’ breakfast radio show on Wednesday morning, than the O2 customers were offered first dibs at buying tickets.  As a non-O2 customer I felt I didn’t stand a chance, and would have to wait til the fan club pre-sale, until I received a message from a very kind friend who offered to get me some of the O2 allocated tickets.

Suffice to say I’m over the moon!  I’m lucky enough to be going to see Soft Cell for one final time!  September 30th here I come!   It’s been an honour and a privilege to be a Soft Cell fan for all these years (37 years and counting).  This is going to be a wild celebration, and my 13-year old self could not be happier.

 Ange Chan is a poet and novelist.  Her fourth poetry collection “Fame; What’s Your Name?” and her second novel “Baby, Can You Hear Me?” were both published in paperback and Kindle in 2016.   Her latest poetry collection “Songs of Sorrow and Heartbreak” was published in October 2017 and her  third novel “Champagne Flutes and Pixie Boots” will be published in 2018.  

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