October 20, 1999 - The Edge - Palo Alto, CA
Since the mid-80s, ABC has been making the songs that have allergically stuck in your head. From "Poison Arrow" and "Look Of Love" to "When Smokey Sings" and "How To Be A Millionaire", ABC have churned out the hits. Although they may have seem to have disappeared since New Wave was wiped from the radio (until the recent resurgence in dance clubs), ABC has been going strong with a bigger presence in Europe than in America. Currently they have a new album called Lexicon Of Live, a live performance captured during 1998's "reunion" tour with Culture Club. They felt it was time to finally put out a live album before beginning work on a new studio piece.
We recently had the opportunity to meet with the semi-legendary crooner whose voice has made girls swoon and contemporaries stare in respect. Martin Fry was a very courteous gentleman in every sense of the word. Even though he was not feeling up to par, he still politely took a few minutes to have a chat with us about the career of ABC and what is going on currently for the band.
MF: ABC formed in the early 80s, in Sheffield, England and had loads and loads of hit records in England and then sort of became an international band when we came over here with an album called "Lexicon Of Love," produced by Trevor Horn in 1982 with songs like "Poison Arrow", "The Look Of Love" and "All Of My Heart." We carried on making records like "Beauty Stabs", "How To Be A Millionaire", "When Smokey Sings", "Be Near Me" through to the early 90s I guess.
K2K: How many albums do you have out now?
MF: Seven albums.
K2K: Did the band ever break up at any point?
MF: With ABC, we've always wanted to change things around each time. The people in the band is fluid. Change is a useful thing.
K2K: How many original members still?
MF: About four.
K2K: What prompted the new CD, "Lexicon Of Live"?
MF: It was just that we had been playing live so much that there was a lot of bootlegs and it was a response to that. It was like a document of a tour we did in the U.K. with Culture Club and the Human League.
K2K: Is it out now?
MF: Yeah. We sell it on the Internet. We sell loads and loads and loads on the Internet.
K2K: How many have you sold so far?
MF: I'm not telling you.
K2K: Is it doing well through the Internet?
MF: Yeah. At www.abcmartinfry.com.
K2K: How long are you playing for this tour?
MF: We're just playing a two-week tour of the United States. We've not played here in ten years.
K2K: How are the live shows doing?
MF: They're superb, yeah. It's great knowing that after eighteen years we can still deliver it. It's great performing songs from way, way back to present day. Songs like "Skyscraping" and "Rolling Sevens". We're impressed to see the audience. In the late 80s and early 90s, you would make a record, it would be a hit, and then you would move on to the next record. We always played live when we first started the band, so it reminds me of those days really.
K2K: I have to say that I hadn't listened to it in a bit, but I had forgotten that, aside from good songs, how great the musicianship is. It's right on par.
MF: Well thank you very much.
K2K: Were you one of the innovators of the New Romantic movement?
MF: We were after the New Romantics. They were kind of people who walked around with table cloths on their heads. But we were innovators. We sort of showed them with infusing soul and funk with rock. It was kind of like a whole pop/soul kind of style that we infused from Motown and Bowie and Roxy. We'd take it from them and give it back.
K2K: Would you say that the New Romantic movement was more of a look or more of a sound?
MF: Our songs are very romantic. I wanted to go back to the lush orchestration that I emotionally got from a Frank Sinatra record. For guys in their early 20s to be doing it, that was the sort of deal when we first did "Lexicon Of Love."
K2K: What about all the suits and the well-groomed looks?
MF: Oh no, that's just the style thing. In Europe, people dress like that all the time.
K2K: Back then or now?
MF: Across the board, really.
K2K: What was your opinion of the music of the 1980s?
MF: There was some gifted musicians out there. There were some good acts, like any decade. I think that there was a lot of flamboyance. People liked to style their own movie. Groups like Depeche Mode and The Cure and ABC and Duran Duran all tried to be as different as possible. I think it was quite a fruitful time for music.
K2K: Do you think MTV was a good think when it came out or do you think it killed music and radio?
MF: Radio was killing itself, to some degree. It got boring. It was time for something new. Radio is lead by MTV now, isn't it? It is.
K2K: Did you expect music to change as much from the time of what you were doing then to now? Did you expect such a big change in styles?
MF: Yeah. Do you mean ABC or generally? Yeah, what every generation sees, it makes a go and tries to make it.
K2K: Any surprises or expectations?
MF: I'm surprised that we're still in the position to make records and tour 18 years on.
K2K: Musically, favorite memories from when you started? Anything from where you've played to what you've done.
MF: Yeah. Meeting Stevie Wonder, and that he respected what we were doing, and knowing where the songs where coming from. That's something I carry with me.
K2K: What do you think of shows like VH-1's "Where Are They Now"? Do you think they hurt or help careers?
MF: I don't know. Thing is, you are what you are. If you're on fire and you've still got the purse and you've still got your talent, there's no problem. Some people, you just want to know where they are. It's like school friends. Some people you just don't care where they are. Sometimes, [if] you snooze, you lose. Sometimes it's great to be reunited with somebody who's important.
K2K: How many hit songs have you had total?
MF: Look it up in the book. I don't know. About eight, here [in the U.S.].
K2K: What about internationally?
MF: About ten.
K2K: And the first album was "Lexicon Of Love," right?
K2K: Who does most of the songwriting?
MF: Me, Martin Fry.
K2K: What are most of the songs about?
MF: Love. The world as it is. Through your eyes.
K2K: Do you think that the love message still carries now as much as it did back then?
MF: Oh yeah.
K2K: Don't you think that music has turned kind of negative in recent years?
MF: Oh no, I don't. I think music is spiritual. It think it's sacred. I think that there's a reason people spend a lot of money on it. I think it's like fire. Listen to what I'm saying, when people get together and make music, that's a spiritual thing. That's what music is. Look at the way people come to gigs. They just want to be near the music. It comes from somewhere. By spiritual I mean from the earth. I don't mean religious or something. The end of the 90s and it's still there. People still get a buzz off of getting together and singing and cheering. Better to get together in a club, united around music. It's like a campfire.
K2K: Any wild stories from the road to tell?
MF: You're sleazy. (laughs) End of interview.
With that, Martin had to make his way to the doctor to take care of an ailing throat so that he could faithfully play the show later that night. So we left him, and returned later to a heartfelt performance.
Written by and all Photos © 1999 Philip Anderson