Friday, October 24, 2008

Just Breathe Deep And Raise Your Hands To Heaven

Breathe came to life on the pop charts during the late 80s, with a string of radio friendly tunes that saw the group knocking on the door of the coveted U.S. #1 spot not once, but twice, within the space of a few months. Then almost as quickly as they’d burst on to the scene, Breathe exhaled into obscurity.

Though they experienced their greatest commercial success Stateside, Breathe were actually a British group that formed in London during the mid 80s. In respect of their selling more records across the Atlantic than at home, Breathe shared that characteristic with fellow Brit acts of the mid to late 80s The Outfield, When In Rome (see April posts), Wang Chung and Cutting Crew (see future posts).

Breathe evolved out of a group of childhood friends, all of whom had attended the Yately School in suburban London. An earlier incarnation was a six piece band called Catch 22, which following graduation was pruned back to a quartet and retagged Breathe. The heart and soul (and lungs) that would produce Breathe’s music were David Glasper (vocals), Marcus Lillington (guitar), Michael Delahunty (bass) and Ian ‘Spike’ Spice (drums), with Glasper and Lillington handling most of the song writing duties.

During 1984 the quartet started laying down some of their songs on demo tapes, one of which wound up on the doorstep of A&M Records. Fortunately one of the staff noticed the parcel and took it inside for a listen. They must have liked what they heard because Breathe was offered a recording contract soon after. In June 1985 the lads entered the recording studio and finally emerged roughly two years later, in bad need of a shower but with an album’s worth of quality songs in the can.

‘All That Jazz’ was strictly speaking more angled toward the R&B side of pop music. Comparisons could be and were drawn between Breathe and fellow Brit-pop acts Johnny Hates Jazz (see future post) and Danny Wilson (see earlier post). It’s true to say that the British pop scene was in pretty decent shape during the second half of the 80s, with a plethora of quality acts jostling for commercial and critical attention. There wasn’t anything earth shattering to set Breathe apart from the rest of the pack, but the lengthy amount of time they spent in working on songs for ‘All That Jazz’ paid off in terms of a consistency of quality not always evident on their contemporaries work.

The album was actually released in Britain during 1987 via A&M Records, but for a time proved so much of a sleeper that the term narcoleptic wouldn’t be stretching things too far. But the cream eventually rises to the top, and the song to finally open the floodgates for Breathe was the sublime love ballad ‘Hands To Heaven’. David Glasper’s warm vocal style ran smoothly across the slick production qualities to produce a finished product that wouldn’t be out of place on a George Michael album - it’s no secret Michael was a strong influence on Breathe’s sound. ‘Hands To Heaven’ ascended all the way to #2 on the U.S. charts in mid 1988, occupying the rarefied atmosphere of the top 5 around the same time as George Michael’s own ballad ‘One More Try’. Adult contemporary radio fell in love with the song, and for a time in love with Breathe. ‘Hands To Heaven’ also received a saintly reception in Britain, peaking at #4 - the British public had finally been awoken by the song’s huge success Stateside. Australia (#95) forgot to set the alarm and slept through the whole breathing exercise, though I’m glad to say I purchased the song on vinyl 45 at the time. Regrettably one of the original quartet who had recorded ‘All The Jazz’ between 1985 and 1987, had already left the band before the album finally took off. Bassist Michael Delahunty can be seen on the cover for the original 1987 British release of the album, but he had departed the scene prior to the album’s American release (on Virgin) in 1988, and subsequent hullabaloo, and consequently Breathe is pictured as a trio on the U.S. album (and single) releases.

The band’s respective British and U.S. distributors differed on which single should be released to build on the momentum of ‘Hands To Heaven’. In Britain the more up-tempo soul edged number ‘Jonah’ (UK#60) showed up Breathe’s limitations on the more dance inducing material, but the U.S. release ‘How Can I Fall?’ was another beautifully crafted ballad that proved a perfect sequel. ‘How Can I Fall?’ matched the formula of ‘Hands To Heaven’ well (though in my opinion isn’t as good), and almost matched its performance on the U.S. Hot 100, peaking at #3 in late ‘88 (#1 Adult Contemporary). The suits in Britain couldn’t ignore those sales figures and rush released ‘How Can I Fall?’ in time for Christmas ‘88 (#48). Breathe had already gone one up on Virgin label mates Johnny Hates Jazz in the battle of the Brits to win over the U.S. pop music buying public.

Breathe achieved a rare feat by chalking up their third consecutive U.S. top 10 hit with ‘Don’t Tell Me Lies’ (#10) in early ‘89. The song was actually a more up-tempo pop/R&B number but once again fell well short of expectations in Britain (#45). Meanwhile the album ‘All That Jazz’, co-produced by Bob Sargeant and Chris Porter, had racked up some very impressive sales figures on both sides of the pond (U.K.#22/U.S.#34).

Around eighteen months later Breathe came up for air again with their sophomore album ‘Peace Of Mind’ (US#116). It was another batch of R&B tinged pop songs with a few ballads thrown in, but it lacked the consistency of quality offered up by ‘All That Jazz’. The lead out single ‘Say A Prayer’ received a solid amount of airplay and debuted on the U.S. charts during August 1990. It climbed to #21 (#3 Adult Contemporary) Stateside, but only flirted with the fringes of the Australian charts (#91), and missed the British charts altogether. Breathe had one last gasp of life on the American charts with the follow up ‘Does She Love That Man?’ (#34) in late 1990, the single credited to Breathe featuring David Glasper. But it seemed Breathe had run out of breath by 1991, and the trio went their separate ways, coincidentally around the same time as things went bad for Johnny Hates Jazz (though for very different reasons).

Information is a bit scarce as to what happened to the former members in the years subsequent. Ian Spice reportedly passed away in 2000. Marcus Lillington is listed as the Business Development Director with a web authoring firm called Headscape. David Glasper has made a return to singing in recent years and has a presence on MySpace featuring a couple of demo tracks, with indications that an album of new material is in the works.


seastar said...

This group were so down to earth, i met them in a hotel when they were just hitting the big time. I served them a meal they did not know what to order, i helped them choose their meal, they were so grateful for my help. That they shared some Don Perrier with me,we all talked all night about life, they were so charming. They even took time out to come and visit my very ill girl who was suffering from a mental breakdown . I am so very sad to find out Spike has passed away because he was the one who told to me fight for her due to them being the same age. he gave my daughter hope just by talking to her , and coming to see her. The rest is history. I hope david rebands in memory of his friend Spike, with some new songs. Will never forget you Spike x

A. FlockOfSeagulls said...

Thanks so much seastar for sharing your recollections of Breathe. It's nice to know the band had sucha genuine heart and soul about them.

All the best.

Anonymous said...

Please David, If you read this, PLEASE release a new album.. you have the voice of an angel and it should be heard. I am a huge fan of Breathe and still play your albums to this day... Please give us more of that voice and those lyrics that touch everyone! David... Wont you come back??

Anonymous said...

i am devastated to read this....i was being curious about an ex-lover....and found that ian ("spike") had passed away. does anyone know how...or why?
he and i were barely 21 when we were together but i am so sad to read this. i spent time in brighton (was it? i was so young and's been 20 yrs. now) and stayed with his sweet family.
oh...i'm SO SO sad to know this. he was SUCH a wonderful boy....and complete gentleman to me, always!!!!