Purchase: There(there) shop
Purchase: There(there) shop
In 2000 Paul Humphreys (of OMD) was offered a short American tour but his OMD musical partner, Andy, was unavailable to join him. Paul asked me to join him instead. I was only too happy to do this as I hadn’t done any live performances for ages and I found the idea of working with Paul in a live setup very intriguing. Paul and I performed mostly OMD songs but we also brought a couple of Propaganda songs into the set. The audiences responded really well and I felt that our voices complimented each other, so after the shows were finished my desire to do more live work was strong. It was yet another new setting for me, another beginning really, but by now I had got used to the idea that this was a big part of who I was – someone always moving through projects, keeping intact my favourite ways of working, and bringing my history to the history of someone else, so that a new thing might emerge.
Paul and I didn’t want to only perform music from our respective pasts and join the dangerous retro bandwagon, anxious that it might mean we rely only on old songs, and forget how to write and progress. We shared the desire to reinvent ourselves, having both done it away from the groups we were most associated with, so we started working writing new material which we introduced into our live set. Out of this came another group, Onetwo, which was both a summary of our own musical journeys, and also a definite group in its own right, that had its own approach to making electronic music with strong melodies. The record industry as we knew it had collapsed and it was extremely difficult if not impossible to get a recording deal so Paul and I decided to start our own label, There(there), designed to be an outlet for our music and other future musical projects of ours.
With Onetwo, for me, it’s a definite continuation of everything I have done, constantly reinventing and finding new settings for my ideas, and feels very much an extension of Propaganda, Act and the solo work – the latest stage in a series of developments, and a reflection both of how I have found my voice, but am also in many ways still searching for it. Doing it ourselves, which is a key part of the project, is in many ways an advantage – no system to have to negotiate with – but also a disadvantage, as there is a lot to do in order to make music and get it heard, that is not really what a musician really wants to do. So it leads to a sort of creative freedom but also to things taking time, because you become a manufacturer and distributor, not skills necessarily associated with those who make music.
Some of the songs on our album Instead – another debut for me – had been brought in from other projects. For example the song ‘Heaven’ was written by me and some writers from Bristol who had worked with Massive Attack called the Startled Insects. Another song is called ‘Cloud 9’ – I wrote that with Martin Gore of Depeche Mode, sometime in the late 90s. This is a special song to me as the lyrics offer solace and give hope in a time of loss. The song ‘Anonymous’ started out as an early OMD idea – at that point Paul and I were just trying to get our band started. Paul, with his electronic roots and his passion for synthesizers knew that this was the genre he wanted to continue to explore, so that was our starting point. Thematically we chose to write about science and technology, the romance of man and machine true to the spirit of OMD. We also covered Pink Floyd’s song ‘Have a Cigar’ which came out in 1975, written as a critique of hypocrisy and greed within the music business, which seemed to work well alongside a song by Cat Power called ‘I Don’t Blame You’. The song tells the story of a rock star who is destroyed by fame. They both address a similar subject matter in a very different way.
Paul and I only found and defined our sound whilst performing our songs on stage, which is very unusual for an electronic act. We had the great pleasure to join Erasure and The Human League as their special guests on their respective tours. After many gigs and playing the songs over and over Paul and I, Philip (Larsen), James (Watson) – who formed our band – could hone into and improve our individual parts, become more playful with them, be more free in a sense that comes only with live experience. I’ve often wondered what Instead would have sounded like if we had recorded it after all the touring.
One of my favorite Onetwo shows was when we played Santiago in Chile. It was my first visit to South America, and I had no idea that Propaganda had been popular over there. When we started to play ‘Duel’, the entire audience started to sing along, drowning me out. I was a bit overwhelmed to be honest. I remember thinking; ‘Oh wow, if only Susanne, Ralf and Michael could be here on stage with me and see this right now...’ When we were around with that first album, we never really understood what it was to be a group, and grow together, and that was one of the reasons we split up – not understanding the need to make compromises when you are in a group. The Chile show was a hint of what we could have become if we had stayed together. Anton Corbijn was a key part of our group sensibility in the early 1980s, and of course he went on to work with U2 and Depeche Mode, two massive groups – inevitably they shared something visual with Propaganda, and we really needed to work together in the way those bands do.
Over the years we’ve extended our live band. This happened in conjunction with the release of Combined, a best of me compilation, which is where I could in a way finally settle down and look at my overall history of song from when I started in the early 80s to nearly thirty years later, from Propaganda to Onetwo.
To celebrate this release we decided to give a one off performance in London at the Scala in King’s Cross, with some special guests who were part of my musical career. My guests were Susanne & Ralf, Glenn & Martyn (Heaven 17), Andy Bell and Andrew Poppy. As this was going to be a one-off performance with this particular line up we decided to film the show. To make this happen, we brought Dawne Adams (percussion & drums), David Watson and Melissa D’Arcy (backing vocals) and Sam Sallon (flugelhorn) into the band – as we performed one of my favorite Propaganda songs ‘Dream Within a Dream’ and this song in particular needed live percussion and drums and the flugelhorn. This song had not been performed since 1985, so that was a very special moment for me in the set, and I was reunited with Susanne & Ralf.
This could have not happened without Onetwo the live band and Paul’s expertise, knowledge and hard work in piecing everything together. In a way it felt that a circle had been completed – so many new changes, new starts, new directions, new colleagues, new releases, but in the end everything fitted together, and made sense as a story, so that it was not about things always changing shape, but the same shape, that was always moving, and becoming something else. I have yet to make a ‘second’ album – a follow-up to one of my projects – but there is a definite unity to it all, and for all the different characters, voices, labels, influences, settings, sounds, eras and collaborations represented, it is all my own work… I made it happen, and even though I could not have done it without everyone else, it ultimately represents my own voice, and my own motivation to make music that might at its best live up to Lenya, Piaf, Nico, Kraftwerk…