❉ Ange Chan bears witness to a special synthpop double bill in Leeds and chats with both bands backstage.
Known for catchy synthpop songs of the 1980s such as King in a Catholic Style and their first single African and White, as well as the broodier and beautiful biggest hit Wishful Thinking, China Crisis are busy boys recently; fresh from their extensive tour of North America, briefly touring the UK this year before hitting the Antipodes later this year in an unprecedented tour of Australia and New Zealand. I was lucky enough to catch them at Leeds at the Brudenhall Social Club alongside their old support chums, Fiat Lux.
Hailing from Merseyside (Kirkby to be precise), China Crisis’ Gary Daly and Eddie Lundon have been together as a band since 1979 and formed part of the core of immense talent that emerged from the Liverpool region at that time including Pete Wylie and Wah!, OMD, Echo and the Bunnymen, The Teardrop Explodes, A Flock of Seagulls and Frankie Goes to Hollywood.
The band were first signed to Virgin Records and recorded their debut album Difficult Shapes and Passive Rhythms, which was released at the end of 1982, with singles Christian and African and White being released from it. Their second album Working with Fire and Steel followed quickly afterwards in 1983 and went Top 20 in the UK, with the title track being released as a single along with Tragedy and Mystery, and Hanna Hanna. Their biggest successes were in the following two years when they scored a Top 10 single with Wishful Thinking. Black Man Ray and King in a Catholic Style also made significant in-roads and are perhaps two of the bands’ most attributable songs.
A couple more albums later and the band’s last studio album Warped by Success was released in 1994 following a parting of the ways with their record label, Virgin. The released single from this album Everyday the Same, barely managed to reach the Top 100. Daly and Lundon stayed together as a band and various acoustic and Best Of compilations were subsequently released.
Sadly China Crisis’ drummer Kevin Wilkinson committed suicide in 1999 and China Crisis faced somewhat of a hiatus with odd appearance here and there until 2013 when the band toured extensively in UK also touch on US/Canadian dates before culminating the tour back in the UK with a few nights at the famous Cavern Club, where they dedicated the song Wishful Thinking to the memory of Eddie’s brother Nicky Lundon who has sadly passed away that that time.
The band released Autumn in the Neighbourhood via a crowd-funded pledge project. They were able to go ahead with the project when 87% had been pledged by January 2014. However, by just over a year later, they had reached 235% of their Pledge target when the album was in its final stage of production. The album was finally released in June 2015 and was their first studio album in 21 years. Sadly, a couple of year later in September 2017, tragedy beset the band once more when Walter Becker died.
In May 2019 Gary released his own solo album Gone from Here which was reminiscent of earlier China Crisis albums, and later released Lunar Landings, an instrumentals album that showcases various demos that were recorded in the early to mid-1980s using an array of classic synthesizers from that time.
I managed to catch up with the band and they were both looking forward to playing ‘The Brude’ which Gary described as being one of those venues that is iconic in British music scene. “It’s a rite of passage to play here” he said, “I don’t know why we haven’t played here before now!”
We also briefly spoke about China Crisis’ forthcoming tour ‘down under’. “We had our first number 1 in Australia so it makes makes no sense at all that we haven’t been there before now! We’re looking forward to meeting our fans there very much” said Gary. Before they go on their antipodean adventure, the band are playing a number of gigs around the UK.
There was a lot of respect for their support band Fiat Lux too although Gary cheekily joked, “they sound a lot like some of our B sides!” Talking about their previous acquaintance with Steve and David from Fiat Lux some thirty-five years ago at Amazon Studios in Liverpool, Gary recalled “They were so rubbish at pool! We always used to beat them!”
On stage, ‘the Chinas’ were amazing and had the audience in the palm of their hand from the off. Charismatic but sweary Gary poked fun at Fiat Lux, the audience and himself which built up an immediate rapport and won the hearts of the capacity 400-strong crowd straight away.
They opened with Some People I Know Lead Fantastic Lives which is from their first album and piqued the audience’s interest.
Their set was varied and included material from the whole spectrum of their career from their very first album, and included album tracks, B-sides and of course some of the more commercially successful songs that everyone knew and sang along to including Wishful Thinking, Christian, African and White, and King in a Catholic Style which had the entire audience participating in China Crisis’ own “tribute to the Freddie Mercury at Wembley moment” where everyone was waving their arms and clapping at the appropriate moments, albeit on a much smaller scale.
It was a great show with a very friendly and fun atmosphere. I was really happy that I’d decided to make to 200-mile trip to be there. Fiat Lux were a great support and managed to accumulate a few new fans on that night too. Their sound is in the same ballpark as China Crisis and Steve joked with me afterwards that Fiat Lux sound very much like China Crisis’ A sides! As they were supporting, their set comprised of ten songs. They opened with my favourite track, Blue Emotion.
They followed with an early track which was also a single, Photography and followed it up with We Can Change the World a newer song from the album Saved Symmetry. Embers followed, which producer Hugh Jones once stated was the slowest song he’d ever worked on. It was certainly a bold choice of song in the set. The pace was brought back up again with Solitary Lovers, a well-loved Fiat Lux B-side, with melancholy song The Moment following.
Well known songs Secrets and It Feels Like Winter Again were well received by the crowd and the set finished with the upbeat It’s You which seemed to go down extremely well. I was manning the merchandise stall during Fiat Lux’s set and sold several copies of It’s You as so many people seemed to love it, including a lady whose daughter was receiving special treatment in hospital; she thought the song would bring her daughter a lot of pleasure (if that was you, then please get in touch with the band, via We Are Cult. Thanks.)
I managed to catch up with Fiat Lux backstage and sneaked a few cheeky questions in with them…
It’s been a good six months since we last spoke; any developments?
We’ve been putting some new songs together for a forthcoming album, at some point in the future. Don’t hold your breath just yet though; we’ve written some songs and are working them up to an acceptable format. There are no song or album titles just yet… it will happen when it happens!
More tour dates are planned for this year following the successes of the Bradford, Birmingham and Bognor shows… What’s next on the Fiat Lux radar?
We’re playing our own show on 16th May at the Halifax Workshop Theatre and are being supporting by Nick Hall who has been working with David on Splid Records. We’ve also been asked back to the Blue Orange Theatre on 25th September following the success of last year’s show, and we’re looking forward to that very much as well. As for other dates, let’s see what happens!
Each of the three gigs you did last year, were very different; in a church, a small theatre and a festival. Which was your favourite?
The St Clements Bradford show was special as it was the first time we’d performed together in thirty-five years. It was also the first time that Will (saxophonist) played live with us… but we needn’t have worried as he fitted right in, very comfortably, which gave us immense confidence to go on to do the Birmingham and Bognor shows.
The Butlins (Bognor) show was a much larger audience than we’d been used to at Bradford and Birmingham, but it was great to be included with more established acts like BEF, Blancmange and Howard Jones etc. To be invited to participate was a big deal for us, and it gave us the validation we were hoping for, with an official ‘we’re back!’ It was also very nice of course, to meet up with our old friends such as Howard Jones and Neil from Blancmange, after all these years.
Supporting CC again after all this time must seem very surreal? Do you have any memories of when you played with them the first time around?
In downtime between takes we played pool and table football to pass away hours with them at Amazon studios in Liverpool. Despite what Gary said on stage, Fiat Lux have a very different memory of events!
Thanks guys. It was great to see you play again and to see so many Fiat Lux t-shirts in the crowd! Until Halifax…
❉ For more information of Fiat Lux, please check out their Facebook page.
❉ Ange Chan is a novelist, poet and writer. She regularly contributes to We Are Cult and has been with the site since its inception.