'The Look of Love Still Remains!
ABC were one of those groups who come along once a decade to effect a paradigm shift in the way music is heard and made. One of those groups who move the music forward, alerting us to the possibilities of strange combinations, employing radical ideas yet never confusing arrogance with ambition. They kick-started the Eighties with their own brand of pop for the ‘new decade’.
Fusing dance floor finesse with a post-punk attitude they released their first single, ‘Tears Are Not Enough’, in the autumn of 1981. More hits followed in rapid succession. ‘ Poison Arrow’, ‘The Look of Love’ and ‘All of my Heart’. On it’s release in May 1982 their debut album ‘The Lexicon of Love’ crashed straight into the album charts at number one.
Their second album, ‘Beauty Stab’ was a very different record to the polished beauty of ‘The Lexicon of Love’. It spawned hits the ‘That Was Then But This Is Now’ and ‘SOS’.
In 1984 ABC re-routed and headed for the dance floor, releasing ‘How To Be A Zillionaire’. They conquered American audiences with a series of devastating club mixes via ‘How To Be A Millionaire’, ‘Be Near Me’, alongside ‘Vanity Kills’ and ‘Ocean Blue’.
By the Summer of 1987 the Worldwide hit ‘When Smokey Sings’ represented a return to luxuriant soul. Likewise the songs ‘The Night You Murdered Love’ and ‘King Without A Crown’. Their fourth album was co produced by Chic’s Bernard Edwards. Entitled ‘Alphabet City’ it captured the cosmopolitan feel of the moment.
In 1991 ABC began work on an ambitious soul pop extravaganza ‘Abracadabra’. They released ‘Love Conquers All’ and the Blackbox mixed ‘Say It’ the following year.
Following a four-year hiatus ABC re-emerged for the release of ‘Skyscraping’. The same year Fry contributed a guest vocal to ‘Thunderball’ on David Arnold¹s James Bond Project ‘Shaken and Stirred.’
In 1998 ABC performed to over 120,000 people at fifteen UK arena shows with Culture Club and The Human League. The tour was the first of it’s kind since the Eighties and despite a number of other similar tours over the past few years this original line up with ABC proved to be the most successful. To coincide with the tour there was a worldwide release of re-mastered versions of "Lexicon of Love", "How To Be A Zillionaire" and "Alphabet City". Once again Martin Fry and ABC were in the Global Charts.
The band continued touring over the next two years and in 2001 joined Robbie Williams to open his show on the European Tour. For ABC it was a huge success, again playing to hundreds of thousands of potential new fans across the UK and Europe.
Indeed, The Lexicon Of Love is regarded as the greatest British pop LP of the decade, and remains one of the 10 best of all time.
Chatting recently with Martin, I first wondered how he had changed as a singer from the Martin Fry back in ’82 ('Lexicon of Love') to the one that was readying a new album here in 2006 - nearly 25 years later? ”Well, like a good wine I’m gettin’ better as I get older, aren’t I? I’ve become a singer. I’ve always had to use all that adrenaline and turn it into something. So ya, it’s still a great privilege to get up on stage and sing ‘The Look of Love’ or ‘Poison Arrow.’ I think you become the song as you get older.”
Have you ever gone to see a show and heard a band unexpectedly break into a cover of an ABC song? ”Yeah, yeah, a couple of times that’s happened to me. I’ve noticed that in recent months that a lot of bands open up for us - and they’re usually guys in their early twenties - and where they write a lot of their owns songs a lot of bands do the covers now. But they’re kind of ironic art covers looking down the barrel of a gun, making it all too sincere; very in our face.”
So covers isn't your style then?? ”Well, I’m the elder statesman of pop now, so I can attest that I’m not Neil Young yet but I’m definitely strollin’ around the rock and roll museum. For a lot of bands it’s very hard to write your own songs. I’m a bit privileged that I come from an era – as grotesque and as insane as it was – that was a very entertaining period. So, when I started out with ABC, our contemporary’s were like The Human League, Culture Club, Duran Duran, Spandau Ballet, Depeche Mode and in fact a lot of those bands are still around today, in a funny kind of way. So, I grew up in the tradition of writing songs and I think it’s very hard now with My Space and thousands of outlets for your music to grab attention. I think that’s why a lot of young bands do covers.”
"I don’t do covers of my own stuff even! I have to live and breathe it really. And I still love singing some of the songs that I mentioned earlier. A song like ‘All of My Heart’ when we get up on stage and sing that somebody will always burst into tears. It’s a tribute to the emotions that are still in there; not in the lyrics but in the memories that the people will have with the songs. You can’t mess with that and I would never undervalue that or underestimate it. I don’t want to become cabaret. I don’t want to start covering my own material, you know what I mean. You have to believe in it and be it.”
You’ve lovingly been called the “… missing link between Bryan Ferry and Jarvis Cocker,” which as much as being perhaps visually accurate kinda takes away from the fact that there has never been anyone quite like Martin Fry either! So, what got you so in love with such fashion statements as gold lame suits and blue lounge suits? "Poverty! Abject poverty! It was from living in Sheffield with nothing. We would see stuff on television and aspire into it, I suppose. It’s just a feeling you get when you go out and try and reinvent yourself. And every generation does it; every generation has that sort of in them.”
Do you still wear these lame suits on stage to perform? ”Well, these days I’m more Saville Row, aren’t I! Yeah definitely, it’s a very cosmopolitan show we put on.”
Having seemingly not stopped touring, especially with 1998’s huge ‘80s tour with Culture Club and the Human League, in 2001 you even opened for Robbie Williams on his European Tour! That must have been huge for you? ”Yeah, Robbie's not really that popular in America, is he? Yeah, I think he must have grown up listening to ABC and so just invited us along. He sells out his tours in about two milliseconds and so we played some big stadiums when we toured with him. Some of the biggest audiences we’ve ever played to ever! It was really interesting playing to a section of the audience, because the first two miles of the audience were people that probably hadn't ever heard of ABC. So it was interesting winning them over. It’s like playing for a small country when you play with Robbie. So, there were a couple of acres of people at the back who definitely knew ABC, which was fun for us. But Robbie’s audience is very wide anyway so it was a good spread.”
Word on the grapevine is that your new album is going to be called Traffic, is this true? ”No, it’s just a working title at the moment. I’ve definitely got to get a better title than that. I’ve just got to put some strings on, some orchestration on that we’ll be doing in Prague. But I think that with the World Cup and everything that it’s probably going to be the early part of next year before it gets released now.“
It’s been said that you were recently in New York working on songs for the soundtrack of a new Hugh Grant (Warner Bros.) film?! ”Yeah, I did, but that was kind of in secret actually! It was like being his stunt man! I was his body double, because I was doing a bit of singing on some of his tracks. Basically, he’s making this film with Drew Barrymore and he’d already sung quite a lot. He was playing this guy who was a big pop star in the ‘80s and is writing songs for somebody in the present day - like a Shakira / Britney Spears type character. So, I guess what Warner Bros. thought was if Hugh Grant was a pop star who would he sound like ... and I guess my name came up! So, I get to sing with Hugh, but I think that I was originally there as inspiration for him. It was quite interesting as the vocals will be the both of us singing together on the tracks; but blended into one.”
And please also tell me more about your appearances on BBC TV’s ‘Just The Two Of Us’? ”Yeah, that was a disaster! I sang alongside other great singers like Alexander O’Neal, Joselyn Brown and Curtis Stigers, but then I had to do duets with TV a presenter and it was just really hard. It made me realize that my future is in writing songs, rather than dueting."
Are you enjoying all this new found TV fame? ”Yeah, it’s nice to be famous in the UK again! When I go to banks now … well, they kind of had a good idea of what I did before, but they definitely know now."
Back in 2000 when I last interviewed you claimed that the configuration of initials ABC stood for ‘Annoyed Bill Carlton,’ who was your tour manager at that time! I’m wondering what they stand for at this present time?! ”Yeah, I don't know what ever happened to him now, but I would say ‘Always Be Closing’ today ... but that’s out of the movie ‘Glengarry Glenross’!”
Finally, and from your entire ABC repertoire, what is your favorite song to sing live these days and why? ”It’s a song we never perform live called ‘A to Z.’ It’s a massive club tune … in fact, people have been asking for ‘Vanity Kills' recently so I guess we’re gonna dust that one down. I guess also it would be ‘When Smokey Sings’, which is always a treat to play in Michigan. There’s a copy of that in the Motown museum somewhere. So that’s a great honor for someone like me.”
Interviewed by Russell A. Trunk
ABC tickets June - Canada/North America:
1st June 2006 - Baltimore, MD – Ram's Head Live
4th June 2006 - Montreal, QC – Le Medley
6th June 2006 - Toronto, ON – Republik
8th June 2006 - Detroit, MI – Royal Oak Music Theatre
9th June 2006 - Cleveland, OH – House Of Blues
10th June 2006 - Waukesha, WI – Taste Of Summer Festival
11th June 2006 - Chicago, IL – House Of Blues
13th June 2006 - Pittsburgh, PA – Club Cafe
14th June 2006 - Sellersville, PA – Sellersville Theatre
15th June 2006 - New York, NY – Canal Room
16th June 2006 - Londonderry, NH – Tupelo Music Hall
17th June 2006 - East Hartford, CT – Community Cultural Center Venue
19th June 2006 - Washington, DC – Birchmere Venue
21st June 2006 - Greenburo, NC – Green St
22nd June 2006 - Myrtle Beach, SC – Hard Rock Cafe
23rd June 2006 - Atlanta, GA – Earthlink Live
24th June 2006 - Montgomery, AL – Riverwalk Amphitheater
25th June 2006 - St Louis, MO – Gay Pride