Paul Jackson Music

Paul Jackson Music

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

#19: Thompson Twins

Thompson Twins are one of very few big eighties pop acts that have resisted following their chart contemporaries such as Duran Duran, Spandau Ballet, Ultravox and ABC, and reformed for either retrospective tours or recording sessions. Aside from large amounts of money on offer to such acts, the allure of thousands of fans that regularly attend the retro festivals such as 'Here and Now', 'Regeneration' and 'Rewind' has opened the doors to many more singers and bands to play through their early hits again. Every year, the line-ups to these package tours grow bigger and bigger and it now seems to be a case of noticing who isn't playing. One band that has been more noticeable by their absence, according to various online forums and articles, has been the Thompson Twins; but there has never been a hint of it ever happening. In fact the only mention of a reunion I have seen in the last ten years is in an interview with Alannah Currie who eloquently stated that she would "rather vomit on her boots". There was also an interview with the group in 2001, long after they had ended, that they felt they should have split up earlier than they did. Even with the worry that a reunion of any band runs the risk of being a disappointment, I felt they were being a little harsh on themselves. More so when I consider their later material, particularly their final album, to be excellent pieces of work.

The group’s records, and history, has been a fascination of mine for many years, and while I maintained a devotion to other artists whose output I have continued to follow as it is created, I didn't start buying Thompson Twins records until 1990, when they were out of the public eye. And as this was pre-WorldWideWeb, my resources in learning the band’s history and discography depended on my visiting second hand record shops and record fairs, thumbing through magazines such as Record Collector, and occasional phone calls to the record company press office. There was a sense of excitement in spending weekends piecing together the back story of this group and their output; from learning of the first line up to tracing different mixes and formats of their records. Finding a 7" single of one song in a different sleeve at a record fair somewhere in Manchester was made all the more pleasing when discovering it played a different version of the song to that I had previously heard.

Though I had memories of seeing them on Top Of The Pops and the occasional Saturday morning TV show, when I was very young, and seeing them in magazines such as Look In, it was on finding a copy of the "Here's To Future Days" album in Huddersfield's EGS Records in 1990 for 99p (which also included a 5 track 12" of remixes), that I became hooked. The bit of detective work that followed soon revealed that the band had been a lot more than a trio with big hairstyles and colourful clothes that had bounced around on the television.

Some 7" singles
The band started in 1977 when Halifax born Tom Bailey, along with three friends, formed the band in Chesterfield, South Yorkshire. The four members quit their jobs and moved to a London squat to pursue music. They put out a couple of 7" singles, hand delivered to record shops, both of which are great little indie pop gems. The group expanded to a seven piece and recorded an album of percussive guitar based pop called "A Product Of...".  Tom soon developed a fascination with synthesizers which influenced the second album, "Set" and the single "In The Name Of Love" made an impression on the dance charts, which formed the band's new musical direction. However, this caused enough tension in the band to culminate in a split. Tom, Alannah and Joe continued as a synth based pop act and drew up a manifesto of what they wanted to do and how they were going to do it. Lyrics, music, performances, videos and images were all tasks they divided up between them, and by taking a synthesizer, a drum machine and recording equipment to a rented cottage, they wrote and recorded demos for the  album "Quick Step and Side Kick" in 1982. This was a time when synth pop music was becoming a staple of the Top 40 with the Human League, Depeche Mode and Ultravox all making waves. The new TT album fitted right in and provided the band with a few hit singles including "Love On Yours Side", "Watching" and "Lies". This paved the way for the next album "Into The Gap", which reached number one on the album charts, accompanied by international smash hits such as "Doctor Doctor", "You Take Me Up" and "Hold Me Now" in 1984. The following year saw more hits coming alongside  the album "Here's To Future Days" and a performance at Live Aid in Philadelphia, shared with Madonna. Then 1986 saw the departure of Joe Leeway, and the Thompson Twins were reduced to duo, Tom and Alannah. Even though the dents on the charts weren't as big as they once were, they continued to write and record some great songs including "─╣ong Goodbye", "Get That Love", "Sugar Daddy", "Bombers In The Sky", "Queen Of The USA", "Flower Girl" and "Nothing In Common".

When I became hooked on the band, my time was spent seeking out the albums and singles in various record shops around Yorkshire and Manchester; as well as picture discs, 12" remix releases and other gems that came by. It was in 1991 that the group started releasing new material which this time was more dance oriented. The album "Queer" is one of my favourite albums and features great tracks such as the dance hit "Come Inside", "Wind It Up", "Groove On", "Shake It Down" and "Strange Jane". "Come Inside" had become a club hit when it was released under the moniker "Feedback Max" which was actually the name of the remix duo Tom Bailey and engineer, Keith Fernley. Sadly, it wasn't as big a hit when released commercially as Thompson Twins and the group felt the name was maybe holding them back. So in 1993 they changed their name to Babble and released an amazing ambient dub album called "The Stone" later followed by "Ether" in 1996. Although the music on these albums is among their best material, the lack of attention and commercial interest sadly brought it all to an end.
Some picture discs

Since then there has only been the occasional compilation release and some album reissues but no mention of any more Thompson Twins or Babble activity. A third Babble album was nearly completed but is now locked in a record company vault somewhere. Alannah has gone on to become an artist, and is now married to former KLF man, Jimmy Cauty, whereas Tom has continued to make music under various monikers such as Holiwater Project, International Observer and the Bailey-Selgado Project.

Some 12" singles
All my Thompson Twins collecting and passion was a sole venture as I never really knew of anyone else who shared the same interest. In the last ten years there have been a couple of fan websites devoted to the group and their history, and a few interest groups and pages on sites such as Yahoo, MySpace and Facebook. Tom Bailey even created his own pages on the latter two social networks for his International Observer activities

A reunion or any kind of resurgence of Thompson Twins related activity has seemed less likely as time has gone by. 

That is, until now. Having accepted the notion that any further TT related activity would be confined to reissued material, I was taken quite by surprise when earlier this year I saw a new Facebook page appear. This one was a little different to others as it was an official page called "Thompson Twins' Tom Bailey"

And before I knew it, I was reading of how Tom Bailey was about to take to the stage to perform Thompson Twins songs for the first time in 27 years, He had been asked to contribute vocals to a pop track, and fellow artist, Howard Jones, had persuaded him to not dismiss his back catalogue but actually look into performing again for the current retro-style tours, He bought himself a Thompson Twins compilation CD, which I still can't get over, to hear the songs again, and has ended up re-recording a few of them for his own use to reacquaint himself with his past material. He has also put a band together which he has said is 'hi-tech' and  'electronic', and ahead of touring the US with Howard Jones, Midge Ure and China Crisis, he is to perform at the Rewind Festival in Henley-On-Thames on August 17th. He also said in a recent interview that he might be inspired to get back to writing pop music again which, after such a long time, is quite a thrilling prospect. Though the anticipation for the fans is quite high, I can't imagine what it must be like for Tom after all this time. Though regrettably I won't be there to see this debut performance, I’m just hoping it won't be a one off venture and it will lead to more live dates and more recordings in the future. 

Tom Bailey in 2014