Vocalist/guitarist David Sterry first collaborated with keyboardist Richard Zatorski when both were on the roster for the final line-up of Melbourne jazz-rock outfit Kush during late 1977. Zatorski actually had a background as a classically trained violinist. The pair maintained professional ties over the next couple of years and by 1980 had given in to the lure of the new wave movement. They formed the electro-pop band Wires with bassist Allan Johnson and a nameless drum machine. In 1981 Wires decided the drummer needed a clearer identity, so dispensed with the machine in favour of Danny Simcic, but also renamed themselves A Private Life.
A Private Life established an increasingly high public profile on the fertile Melbourne pub circuit over the course of the next year. Due to competing naming rights with a Sydney outfit, the quartet then opted for a slight re-jigging of their name again at the end of 1982, when they became Real Life, and played support for Icehouse (see earlier Oct posts) a number of times, as well as Aussie rock icons Cold Chisel and Midnight Oil. The band had built up a solid reputation for playing cutting edge synth driven pop-rock, and soon came to the attention of the Glenn Wheatley who signed the band to a management/recording deal. As a package Real Life had all the bases covered. Image wise they were firmly planted in the New Romantic camp, unashamedly drawing on inspiration from the likes of Duran Duran et al. It was no accident that the band members sported the latest in hairstyles with their spiky dyed locks, and even worked closely with fashion designer Katie Pye to compile a designer wardrobe that married elements from Adam & The Ants to Spandau Ballet. Musically Real Life aligned themselves with the cutting edge high technology side of new wave pop-rock, drawing on the styles of Heaven 17 (see earlier post) and Ultravox among others. Like Icehouse’s Iva Davies, David Sterry was somewhat of a high tech pioneer on the Australian music scene in the early 80s, and he was one of the first musicians in the country to extensively use the then revolutionary Roland G-707 guitar synthesiser, and like Icehouse, the introduction of a high tech instrument markedly affected Real Life’s overall sound.
In early 1983 Real Life took a break from their live circuit duties when they entered the studio to record their debut single. ‘Send Me An Angel’ was released in May 1983 (distributed through RCA) and made an immediate impact on the charts. By June it had peaked at #3 on the Melbourne charts and #6 nationally, and Real Life found themselves vying for airtime and chart space with the likes of Human League and Duran Duran. Far from being a tentative dipping of the band’s toes into the turbulent pop waters of the time, Real Life had leapt confidently into the deep end, certain in the belief that they could compete with the big names, not just in Australia, but globally.
English producer Steve Hillage was brought on board to oversee production for Real Life’s debut album. In the interim though the band released the follow up single ‘Openhearted’ (OZ#72) during September ‘83. In November the album ‘Heartland’ was unveiled to an expectant public, who soon pushed Real Life into the national album charts during late ‘83. ‘Heartland’ peaked at #7 in the band’s heartland of Melbourne, and achieved a creditable #30 on the Australian charts. The third single to be yielded from ‘Heartland’ was the radio friendly ‘Catch Me I’m Falling’, which matched the chart performance of ‘Send Me An Angel’ at home. ‘Catch Me I’m Falling’ gave Real Life their first #1 in their home city of Melbourne, and peaked at #8 nationally during the first part of 1984. The ‘Heartland’ album scored Real Life ‘Best Album’ at the 1983 Countdown Music Awards (a precursor to the ARIA’s).
As ‘Catch Me I’m Falling’ was starting it’s steady climb toward the Australian top 10, Real Life embarked on a promotional tour to the U.S., U.K. and Europe during 1983. The band’s label saw the enormous potential for an international hit with ‘Send Me An Angel’, and the song had attracted considerable attention, particularly Stateside. ‘Send Me An Angel’ was released during late ‘83 in the U.S. and debuted on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in November. It ascended to a heavenly #5 in the ‘city of angels’ L.A. and gave Real Life a truly national profile across the U.S. when it peaked at #29 on the Hot 100 in early ‘84. Such was the popularity of ‘Send Me An Angel’ in Los Angeles, the Major League Baseball team The Angels adopted it as their theme song, no doubt adding to the profile of both song and band on the Californian music scene.
The album ‘Heartland’ was released in the U.S. (#58) and across selected European markets (including Germany). ‘Catch Me I’m Falling’ was chosen as the obvious follow up single for the American market. Whilst it didn’t quite match the efforts of its predecessor , ‘Catch Me I’m Falling’ climbed to #40 on the Billboard Hot 100 in mid ‘84. Before long Real Life found themselves as the support act for Eurythmics on a national tour of the U.S., and were also playing major dates across Europe and Japan. Considering just eighteen months before they were playing pub gigs in Melbourne, comparisons to the rapid ascent of Men At Work were justified, at least on the surface of things. Real Life no doubt provided inspiration to other synth-pop acts on the Australian scene, as within twelve months the likes of Dear Enemy (see previous post), Pseudo Echo and Kids In The Kitchen were surging up the national charts and eying international success. In late 1984 ‘Master Mix’ (OZ#74) was released, which was an album featuring remixes of the band’s previous singles. But for Real Life the issue would soon become maintaining a viable balance between consolidating a promising breakthrough overseas and keeping their Australian fan base happy.