Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Red Box Deliver A Song For Global Unity

London based band Red Box started out their existence as a five piece art-pop act. They released a couple of independent singles early on (‘Chenko’ 1983 & ‘Saskatchewan’ 1984) without success and by 1985 they had downsized to the duo of Simon Toulson-Clarke (vocals/guitar) and Julian Close (keyboards/saxophone). 1985 also saw Red Box score the first and biggest hit of their career with the anthemic song ‘Lean On Me (Ah-Li-Ayo)’. World unity seemed to be a popular theme in the mid 80s, led by the charity hits ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas’ and ‘We Are The World’. That’s not to put ‘Lean On Me (Ah-Li-Ayo)’ exactly in the same category, but it certainly was a ‘feel good’ song that delivered a worthwhile message about the need for better communication (but not in a preachy way). The song was produced by Chris Hughes, then strongly attached as producer of Tears For Fears, and featured really catchy world-music chants and beats woven seamlessly into an infectious pop song.

‘Lean On Me (Ah-Li-Ayo)’ was backed by a clever promo-clip that reinforced the global unity motif well. The song was carried all the way to #3 in the band’s native U.K. during October ‘85. But in Australia Red Box climbed only as high as #29, which to be honest goes against my recollection of it being a much bigger hit. I could swear Countdown listed the song in the National Top 10 on at least one occasion - but I’m getting on a bit and my memory ain’t what it used to be, so perhaps my love for the song is giving me a false impression of its past achievements. ‘Lean On Me (Ah-Li-Ayo)’ also counts among one of the few 12” singles that I purchased during that period. I wasn’t big on them generally speaking but had heard the extended mix on radio and really liked it. The song was also released on a limited edition 7” square shaped vinyl version - ya gotta love the 80s!

‘Lean On Me (Ah-Li-Ayo) was included on Red Box’s debut album ‘The Circle And The Square’ (not to be confused with Stevie Wonder’s album at that time ‘In Square Circle’). The album wasn’t released till late ‘86 though, shortly after the duos second single ‘For America’ had reached #10 in the U.K. The album, which featured a host of guest musicians in support of the duos talents, limped to #73 and yielded just one more minor hit in early ‘87 with ‘Heart Of The Sun’ (UK#71). A pity given it featured such an innovative style and sound.

An enforced hiatus followed due to contractual issues with the record label (how often does that happen), and so Red Box didn’t resurface again until their 1990 album ‘Motive’ and the single ‘Train‘. By that time Julian Close had left and been replaced by Alastair Gavin. But by that time Red Box had lost the cache accrued by ‘Lean On Me (Ah-Li-Ayo)’ and the record company didn’t lend support to either single or album. In fact without giving reason or notice the record label withdrew ‘Train‘ from the shelves, and in such a climate Red Box soon withdrew thereafter.

Simon Toulson-Clarke continued to write and produce music, with credits on albums by Miguel Bose, Billy Rain and Spellbound. He was working on a 2003 solo release entitled ‘Plenty’. Julian Close worked in A&R for EMI for a period in the 90s and later started up his own record label Silent Records. I found this information on Toulson-Clarke and Close post Red Box via a Red Box fansite entitled ‘Heart Of The Sun’.

Here’s a curious bit of trivia gleaned from an interview with Simon Toulson-Clarke published on the Red Box fansite ’Valley’ (run by Lewis Slade) - the band’s name Red Box came about because one day they were brainstorming for a band name, and in desperation came up with Red Box because sitting across the room was a red box which contained a whole stack of microphones - according to Simon the red box once belonged to glam rock group Slade (it was left behind at a college gig). Other political and cultural inferences followed.

No comments: