Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Happy Birthday From Altered Images

Back in the late 80s I became a devotee of the British sci-fi comedy ‘Red Dwarf’ and have remained so since (yes I’m a bit of a sci-fi geek in addition to being a retro-tragic). What does that have to do with a blog celebrating classic pop/rock hits? Well, for those familiar with the show you might recall that in the early seasons one of the central characters, the hapless Dave Lister often expressed his unreserved infatuation with a former ship-mate Kristine Kochanski. The character of Kochanski appeared on a number of occasions through flashback and hologram images. She was a very cute and fiesty character and the actress who played her was C.P. Grogan. I had no idea at that time that C.P. Grogan was actually the former lead singer with early 80s British new wave band Altered Images - “phew!” I hear some of you exclaim, he’s finally getting back to music.

Altered Images formed in Glasgow during 1979 and quickly established themselves on the strong Scottish music scene, alongside the likes of Simple Minds. Fresh out of school the band comprised Tony McDaid (guitar), Caesar (all hail-guitar/keyboards), Michael ‘Tich’ Anderson (drums), Jim McElhone (bass) and Clare Grogan on vocals. They cut a demo and sent it to Siouxsie and the Banshees. Altered Images soon found themselves supporting to their idols for several dates on the Banshees’ ‘Kaleidoscope’ tour. Like so many other up and coming U.K. bands, Altered Images recorded a session of live numbers with the BBC’s John Peel, aiding in their securing a recording deal with Epic. Banshees’ bassist Steve Severin oversaw Altered Images’ early work, producing the band’s first two singles. ‘A Day’s Wait’ failed to attrack any attention, but the follow up ‘Dead Pop Stars’ (UK#67) caused a bit of a stir, given it was released just a few months after the assassination of John Lennon, though in truth the song had been recorded prior to the ex-Beatles’ tragic death.

Strongly influenced by the likes of Siouxsie and the Banshees and The Cure, Altered Images early musical style drew heavily on the darker goth like post-punk sound, which set up an effective juxtaposition with Clare Grogan’s vivacious vocal sound. Epic sought to lighten the tone of Altered Images’ sound for their debut album, bringing in producer Martin Rushent (Joy Division/Human League/GoGo’s). Meanwhile guitarist Caesar had left the band to reignite the Roman Empire, er I mean form a new band called The Wake. Guitarist/keyboardist Jim McIven joined the line-up in place of the emperor. The altered sound of Altered Images was captured in the more radio friendly ‘Happy Birthday’ which garnered the band their first major hit. ‘Happy Birthday’ soared to #2 on the British charts in late 1981, soon after peaking at #23 in Australia, whilst the album of the same name hit #26 in Britain. The song was later included in the 1984 John Hughes teen film ‘Sixteen Candles’. But Altered Images mainstream popularity came at the expense of some of the band’s original fan base who saw the dilution of their earlier darker sound with an infusion of light weight pop as selling out. Not that the band would have minded too much as they won the NME Best New British Group of 1981.

The single ‘I Could Be Happy’ was released in December ‘81, and by early ‘82 had established itself in a happy place at #7 on the British charts (OZ#30, US#45 Club Play Singles). The song would feature on Altered Images second album ‘Pinky Blue’ (OZ#23/UK#12) which hit the stores in May 1982. The album also yielded the UK#11 hit ‘See Those Eyes’ (OZ#96), the title track hit (UK#35) and a rather curious cover of Neil Diamond’s ‘Song Sung Blue’. Though at the peak of their commercial powers, Altered Images soon experienced a shake up in the ranks, with both drummer Michael ‘Tich’ Anderson and guitarist Jim McIven departing the scene. Steve Lironi came into the group on guitar whilst the made do with a session drummer(s).

For their third album Altered Images struck up a creative partnership with acclaimed producer Mike Chapman (Blondie, Suzi Quatro, The Sweet), resulting in a further shift to the commercial synth-pop end of the style spectrum. The 1983 album ‘Bite’ (UK#16/OZ#85) featured a very cool cover with Grogan posing in her best Audrey Hepburn imitation. The lead out single ‘Don’t Talk To Me About Love’ reached #7 on the British charts in March ‘83 (OZ#58), but it would be the last major hit for Altered Images. ‘Bring Me Closer’ (UK#29) and ‘Love To Stay’ (UK#46) brought to a close their association with the hit singles scene. During the tour to support ‘Bite’ Altered Images experienced further internal problems, resulting in further line-up changes which saw drummer David Wilde and keyboardist Jim Prime recruited for the tour, and later the eventual dissolution of the group in 1984.

After a recording an as yet unreleased solo album in 1987 (titled ‘Love Bomb’), and playing in the short lived outfit Universal Love School with Steve Lironi, Clare Grogan turned back to her other love acting (she had already appeared in the 1980 Bill Forsyth film ‘Gregory’s Girl’). Now going under the professional name of C.P. Grogan, she played the role of Kochanski in ‘Red Dwarf’ during the first few seasons of the show (however when the character became a regular crew member in the 7th and 8th seasons actress Chloe Annett played the role). She was also a regular on the British soap drama ‘East Enders’ and occasional TV/radio presenter, though on occasion would still lend her vocal talents to other artist’s work such as The 6ths. Lironi went on to work as a producer/session player with the likes of Hanson and Black Grape. Jim McElhone co-founded Hipsway (‘The Honeythief’ - see earlier post) prior to being a founding member with the hugely successful outfit Texas from the late 80s onward.

In 2002 Clare Grogan dusted off the vocal chords and performed several Altered Images hits live as part of the ‘Here And Now’ 80s revival tour across the U.K.

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