❉ Ange Chan pens a Valentine to the ground-breaking synth sampler, which recently celebrated a significant anniversary.
It’s difficult to believe that forty years have passed since the Some Bizzare album, the brainchild of maverick manager Stevo Pearce, was released on 30 January 1981. The album was intended to be a taster from twelve then-unsigned bands of what record buyers and the music industry could expect from these eclectic new acts. As it transpired at least 50% of the bands featured on this pivotal release went on to become internationally chart-topping artists, including Depeche Mode, Soft Cell, The The and Blancmange.
The album was released in 1981 on vinyl and cassette with the cassette edition having ‘Eye Lamp’ as the A side and ‘Fish’ as the B side. The 1992 CD edition shows the reverse, with Fish being the A side and vice versa. In either case, the album opens on the A Side with Illustration’s Rip Tide. The Stockport-based band were formed in 1979 and were together for approximately three years. In 1981, soon after the Some Bizzare album was made, they disbanded before their first single Danceable was released. The song was later recorded in 2008 by Illustration band member Julia Adamson on Invisiblegirl Records.
Moving on, we hear an alternative version of Depeche Mode’s first single, Photographic, which showcases their use of synthesisers to great effect. Depeche Mode at that time consisted of an 18-year old singer Dave Gahan, and his mates Andy Fletcher, Martin Gore and Vince Clarke, the latter of whom was the brainchild behind the synth element of the song.
Formed the year before, the band were cautious when approached by Stevo and had mixed feelings about being featured on a ‘futuristic’ compilation. Believing their music ethics to lay elsewhere, Depeche Mode took their demos to a number of other record companies including Mute, only to be initially rejected by each and every one. It was only following a recommendation of the band by Stevo to Mute-founder Daniel Miller that paved the way for bigger and better things for Depeche Mode, who are now of course a global phenomenon and have stayed with Mute to this day. The song Photographic was later included on a re-issue of Depeche Mode’s Singles 81->85 album as a bonus track.
The The launched their career following the release of this album with the joyful cacophony track, Untitled, which uses a number of vocal effects – undeniably a precursor to Matt Johnson’s influence on Marc Almond’s later Marc and the Mambas albums, which employ a similar style in parts and who went on to share the bill with The The on various shows.
Mansfield-based New Wave band B-Movie’s Moles provides a somewhat quirky element on the album. The track starts with gothic-infused anthem leanings and soon moves into a strange and frivolous diatribe about the subterranean animals. On disbanding in 1983, keyboardist Rick Holliday went on to form Six Sed Red with Cyndi Ecstasy, who featured on a number of Soft Cell recordings, before fading away into obscurity forever. B-Movie reformed in later years and are still active in 2021.
The final track on this side is Blah Blah Blah’s Central Park with its plinky-plonky background track and a random spoken word delivery over the top. Blah Blah Blah’s lead singer Armin van Buuren is still active in 2021 and is showcasing an All Ages Afternoon in May to deliver his music without age restrictions, inspired by his children and their friends.
The B side opens with Blancmange’s instrumental track Sad Day which later went on to appear on the band’s Happy Families album. The song takes a more sedate route, using melodious waves and segues to maximum effect. The band went on to score numerous hits in the 1980s and produced three albums during the decade before parting amicably in 1986. They reformed in 2011 to release their fourth album, Blanc Burn, before Steven Luscombe left due to ill health. Neil Arthur continued under the Blancmange name and he is still very much active in 2021. He regularly tours (when not in lockdown) and Neil has also released a number of recordings, the latest of which is the brilliant album Mindset, remixed and reworked in December 2020 as Expanded Mindset album.
Soft Cell’s The Girl with The Patent Leather Face gives a first glimpse at what we could expect from the band, with naïve, repetitive synth melodies, distorted soundscapes and Marc Almond’s inimitable voice. Almond described the song as a “tinny-sounding, trashy synthesizer song” and took inspiration from The Normal’s Warm Leatherette, which has since proved to be a pioneering track by Daniel Miller, owner of the record label Mute and the ‘invisible member’ of Depeche Mode.
The Soft Cell song marked the debut of lyrical preoccupations that would serve the band well, namely being an outsider and the seedier side of life. These two intertwined themes follow on in various guises throughout Almond’s career with Soft Cell, Marc and the Mambas, his solo work and the numerous songs written for side projects right up into the twenty-first century with songs such as Brian Reitzell’s Hannibal where Almond delivered the alluring track Snake Charmer. The Girl With The Patent Leather Face also appeared on a box set anthology of Marc Almond’s work entitled Trials of Eyeliner, released in October 2016.
Neu Electrikk’s Lust of Berlin was one of only two singles released by the London-based band who were discovered by Stevo via an advert in Sounds magazine. Stevo offered to manage the band, backing his reputation up by saying he already managed The The. Unbeknown to Stevo, Steve Parry (guitarist with Neu Electrikk) was a friend of The The’s Matt Johnson. It subsequently transpired that Stevo had told Matt exactly the same thing as he’d told Neu Electrikk, that he was managing them too! Despite being caught out in a lie, both bands agreed to feature on the compilation album which, for The The, turned out to be the stepping-stone to success. Neu Electrikk guitarist Steve Parry went on to become a solo artist and as avant-garde ensemble hwyl nofio, of which Parry is now the only permanent member.
Naked Lunch’s La Femme launched a moderately successful music career for the band; however, lead singer Tony Mayo made a huge gaffe in the early days when he criticized album-mates Soft Cell when they supported Depeche Mode at Croc’s nightclub, saying they’d amount to nothing Both Dave Ball and Marc Almond cited this incident in their memoirs (Electronic Boy and Tainted Life respectively), and needless to say, they laughed all the way to both the top of the charts, and to the bank. Previously called Sons of Perdition, Naked Lunch decided to rename themselves after William Burrough’s infamous novel. The band reformed in 2012 with a new single, Alone released in August 2013.
The Fast Set were originally called Transition, and they submitted their cover of the Tyrannosaurus Rex single King of the Rumbling Spires as a demo, to Stevo and it consequently appeared on the Some Bizzare album. Lead singer Marc Sebastian Jones was primarily influenced by other electronic acts such as the Yellow Magic Orchestra and Kraftwerk, in addition to the glam element of Roxy Music and T-Rex and the dark punk of Joy Division and Bauhaus. Their music fuses together all of those elements. Shortly after the album was released, various band members left, and new ones joined. The Fast Set are still active these days.
The final track on this ground-breaking compilation is The Loved One’s Observations who, along with Jell (I Dare Say This Will Hurt a Little), and The Loved One (Observations) faded into obscurity. The album was re-issued in 2008 on CD with the additional tracks The Normal’s Warm Leatherette, Fad Gadget’s Back to Nature and The Residents’ The Act of Being Polite.
The compilation was a ground-breaking release in 1981, and it is often referred to as an entry-level lesson in synth mastery. Some Bizzare went on to produce a further compilation album in 1985 called If You Can’t Please Yourself You Can’t Please Your Soul, featuring the cover artwork by celebrated subversive artist Val Denham, and the character she created Zib Cisum. Coincidentally, Val also produced all of the artwork for Marc and the Mambas albums and singles and has worked with a number of similar artists. The Some Bizzare Album remains relevant to this day and is still a sought-after addition to collector’s record collections the world over. Its place in synth and music history cannot be understated. The future was then, in 1981, on this record.
❉ ‘Some Bizzare Album’ (BZLP1) originally released by Some Bizzare Records on 30 January 1981. Issued on CD (SBZ101CD) as an enhanced, expanded remastered edition in 2008.
❉ Ange Chan is a freelance writer having published six volumes of poetry and two novels of contemporary fiction. She was also a prolific contributor to the David Bowie charity anthology Me and the Starman, (now available by Cult Ink on Amazon) and is a lifelong lover of music in general and synth/electronic music in particular. She was first published in the music press in the 1980s and hasn’t stopped writing, or listening, since. As well as being a frequent and prolific contributor to We Are Cult, she is also working on a long-standing project of her third novel Champagne Flutes and Pixie Boots which she wonders will ever get finished.