Sunday, January 11, 2009

From Naked Eyes To Climie Fisher

For a professional musician, an amateur musician, any kind of musician, to score one top ten hit as a member of a duo is something of note. For that same musician to score more than one top ten hit, with more than one duo (uno duo?), is a rare and striking feat. Songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Rob Fisher achieved just such a phenomenon during the 1980s with British duos Naked Eyes and Climie Fisher.

Naked Eyes first opened upon the world during 1982, though they had already been lit up two years previous as the group Neon. Singer Pete Byrne (not to be confused with the Dead or Alive variety) had started his professional music career during the mid 70s in another duo, with Jeff Starrs, playing local pubs and clubs in and around the Bath area in the U.K. Byrne then recorded a couple of low key albums in the late 70s with a group called Interview, prior to forming the band Studio, with Clive Wright, Richard Fenton and Stash. Studio only released a couple of singles before going their separate ways (Wright went on to work with Cock Robin - see previous post). Similarly, Rob Fisher had worked with a number of professional units over the second half of the 70s, including The Xtians and Whitewing. As fate would have it, and it so often does, both Byrne and Fisher found themselves bandless in late ‘79, and sitting together in a local pub. Between pints and chips, the pair decided to join creative forces and form a new musical enterprise.

Neon, who initially comprised Byrne (vocals) and Fisher (keyboards), recorded the single ‘Making Waves’ in late 1980. During the first half of 1981 Neon’s live (and studio) line-up was expanded to feature Neil Taylor (guitar), Manny Elias (drums), and a young bassist named Curt Smith. The band were essentially a pop-rock outfit during this period, and around mid ‘81 Taylor left, to be replaced by guitarist Roland Orzabal. Neon recorded several more tracks over the course of 1981, and released one more single titled ‘Communication Without Sound’. Despite the considerable pool of talent at their disposal, Neon failed to shine on the charts, and before the end of ‘81 the lights went out on the band. Curt Smith and Roland Orzabal went on to form a little duo of their own called Tears For Fears (see future post), whilst Byrne and Fisher decided to continue working together as Naked Eyes.

During their time together with Neon, the pair had written a stack of material, but during the recording sessions for some demo tracks, they made the decision to record a cover of a classic 60s hit as their debut single. Both had a love for the great girl singers of the era, like Dusty Springfield, Dionne Warwick, Cilla Black and the like, and in the end they settled for an updated take on a former #1 hit for Sandie Shaw. Alongside several original songs, Naked Eyes’ version of ‘(There’s) Always Something There To Remind Me’, retitled as ‘(Always) Something There To Remind Me’, helped snare the duo a recording contract with EMI during May of ‘82. The name Naked Eyes actually arose out of nothing more complex than something that suggested ‘two’ or ‘duo’, and given some of the alternative monikers considered (‘Boulevard Credibility’), it seems a wise choice in 20/20 hindsight.

‘(There’s) Always Something There To Remind Me’ had spent three weeks atop the British charts in late ‘64 for Sandie Shaw (US#51/OZ#13), but the Burt Bacharach/Hal David penned song first charted for Lou Johnson (US#49) earlier in 1964. The track continued to return regularly to the charts over the next few years, for Dionne Warwick and R.B. Greaves. Producer Tony Mansfield (worked with Captain Sensible - see earlier Jan ’09 post) was brought on board to work with Naked Eyes in polishing their take on ‘(Always) Something There To Remind Me’ at the Abbey Road studios. It was a logical first choice as the debut single for Naked Eyes, but surprisingly when it was released during September ‘82, their synth-pop version of ‘(Always) Something There To Remind Me’ missed the charts completely. During those first Abbey Road sessions, Naked Eyes also recorded the track ‘Voices In My Head’. It was released as the duo’s second U.K. single release in January ‘83, but despite being backed by a quirky video, it too failed to find a voice on the charts. As a curiosity, one other song to emerge from those early sessions was titled ‘Home’. It was actually credited to Planet Ha Ha, a pseudonym for Fisher and Mansfield, and was released in the U.K. in late ‘82 in an attempt to cash in on the popularity of the film ‘E.T.’. Suffice to say, ‘Home’ didn’t find a home on the charts.

Undeterred, Naked Eyes continued work on their debut album over the course of the English winter of ‘82/’83, completing much of the material in the same studios used by The Beatles. Byrne and Fisher handled most of the roles, with producer Mansfield contributing on guitar, and drummer Phil Towner playing on the track ‘Emotion In Motion’ (not the Ric Ocasek son) - a drum machine by the name of Linn handled the other tracks (it was the 80s after all). By early ‘83 ‘(Always) Something There To Remind Me’ was receiving regular airplay on the still fledgling MTV network. The music video was suitably impressive, and featured something that was more common place to 80s music videos - a storyline that was actually relevant to the song’s lyrics. I’ve always been struck most by the song’s explosively symphonic intro of drums and ‘wedding bells’ - should a song’s crescendo come at the beginning? ‘(Always) Something There To Remind Me’ broke on the U.S. charts during March of ‘83, and worked its way steadily to a peak position of #8 before mid year. Soon after the track burst onto the Australian charts, eventually going one better than its U.S. peak (#7), but disappointingly ‘(Always) Something There To Remind Me’ stalled at #59 on the British charts.

While ‘(Always) Something There To Remind Me’ was still climbing the charts, Naked Eyes released their debut album ‘Burning Bridges’ (released as ‘Naked Eyes’ in the U.S.). Whilst ‘Burning Bridges’ failed to generate even a spark on the British charts, it racked up solid sales in the U.S. (#32/OZ#88), and spawned two more hit singles. The second single ‘Promises, Promises’ coincidentally shared its title with another Bacharach/David hit (1968 for Dionne Warwick), but that’s where the comparison in style ends. ‘Promises, Promises’ did manage to deliver on its promise in the U.S. (#11), though in Australia, Naked Eyes would be consigned to one hit wonder status. ‘When The Lights Go Out’ (US#37) hit the airwaves (and charts) late in ‘83, rounding out a promising year for Naked Eyes.

On the back of such a well received debut album, most artists would have undertaken an extensive tour to consolidate their new found profile, but Fisher and Byrne were encouraged (by the label) to re-enter the recording studio in preparation for a follow up album. In mid ‘84 the first single harvested from the latest sessions was released. ‘(What) In The Name Of Love’ (produced by Arthur Baker) hit the U.S. charts in August ‘84, but the song couldn’t manage to ascend beyond a modest #39. Shortly after Naked Eyes’ sophomore album ‘Fuel For The Fire’ was unveiled. Mansfield continued to handle most of the production duties, but the album failed to spawn any follow up hits, and coughed and spluttered its way to #83 on the U.S. charts.

Rob Fisher and Pete Byrne had written some material for a proposed third Naked Eyes album, but soon after made the decision to put the project on indefinite hiatus, and pursue other endeavours. Peter Byrne went on to work as a session singer and songwriter for more than a decade, working with the likes of Stevie Wonder along the way. In 2001 he released the solo album ‘The Real Illusion’, which featured several of the tracks he had written with Fisher for the unrealised third Naked Eyes album. Byrne resurrected the Naked Eyes brand name in 2007 for a new album titled ‘Fumbling With The Covers’, and an extensive touring schedule. The Byrne led Naked Eyes are due to release a new album in 2009, with the working title ‘Piccadilly’. Following Naked Eyes closing, Rob Fisher also worked as a session musician (working with The Alarm, Billy Ocean - see previous post, and Communards - see future post), before turning his creative energies toward a new duo project, with a vocalist called Simon Climie - stay tuned for that chapter of the Rob Fisher story.


Anonymous said...

Nice blog. Shame I won't be visiting it again because whoever runs it made the idiotic decision to have Manfred Mann come blaring out of my speakers while I was reading about a totally unrelated band. Ahhhh, Flash apps. What did the world, and idiots, do before them?

A. FlockOfSeagulls said...

Gee that is a shame. Naked Eyes and Blinded By The Light seems an appropriate match to my mind, albeit complete happenstance. Flash apps - yes they aggravate me too at times, but some people seem to like them. Since you're the first person to equate my including a simple random track music player on my site with idiocy I'll refrain from hitting the panic button and making radical changes to this apparently ultra high tech blog. However should further charges of idiocy be levelled against me, I may just have to delete the music player to protect my own fragile self esteem.

Since you indicated you won't be returning it's just occured to me that my response to your comment is somewhat redundant, but then idiots often engage in redundant activity.

Thanks for the 'nice blog' tag at any rate.