Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Listening For An Echo - A Pseudo Echo

Back in late ‘83, Molly Meldrum used his Humdrum segment on Countdown to deliver a raving endorsement of a young Melbourne based band called Pseudo Echo. It wasn’t unusual for Molly to speak in glowing terms about an up and coming artist, and predict big things for them, but it was unusual for an as yet unsigned band to perform ‘live’ on Countdown - in fact it was a first. Though it’s likely Pseudo Echo would have unlocked the door to wider success anyway, there’s little doubt their profile received a huge boost from that Countdown appearance. The band soon found themselves at the vanguard of Australia’s own ‘New Romantic’ movement, alongside fellow Melbourne bands Real Life (see previous post), and Kids in the Kitchen (see future post), but eventually moved into other musical territory that would push them to the brink of international stardom.

Singer/guitarist Brian Canham and bassist/synth player Pierre Pierre (real name Pierre Gigliotti) had played in bands together since high school in the late 70s. By the early 80s they had pieced together a new wave styled outfit called Secret Agents. Trouble was very few people knew their identity. Around that period the whole ‘New Romantic’ explosion in Britain sent sufficient shockwaves around the world to reach Australia. Bands like Ultravox, Japan, Spandau Ballet, Duran Duran, Talk Talk, Heaven 17, Blancmange, ABC et al turned the new wave/post punk movement on its head, with their high fashion, high tech take on popular music. The new wave/new romantic movements contained various factions, but the high fashion image, and synth-pop styling facets made a particular impact on Canham and Pierre. Another strong influence on the young musicians was Melbourne vocalist/guitarist John Justin. Justin was at the very cutting edge of the Australian ‘New Romantic’ scene, via his bands Modesty, and later An Affair. Whilst mainstream commercial success eluded Justin, he was to play a key role in the early career development of Canham and Pierre. The pair met John Justin and saw his synth-pop band Modesty played live, and it was a case of “this is what we should be doing”. It was 1982, and the safer territory to traverse on the Australian music scene was still pub rock. But Canham and co. decided to take a risk and embrace the Brit/Euro based ‘New Romantic’ model, and attempt to forge an identity via that stylistic route.

During 1982, Canham and Pierre found another key ally in musician Tony Lugton. Lugton was more experienced as a guitarist, having played with the hard rock band Steeler, and for a time with James Freud and the Radio Stars - in fact Lugton played guitar on Freud’s hit single ‘Modern Girl’ (see future Models/Radio Stars post). Lugton was recruited as a synth-player though by Canham and Pierre, and rather than go to the trouble of finding a reliable and committed drummer, the trio employed a drum machine to round out their new band - Pseudo Echo - the name taken from a user manual for a synthesizer (one of the sounds produced was called ‘Pseudo Echo Machine’). The band soon started scoring regular gigs on the thriving Melbourne club scene, around the same time as fellow up and coming synth-pop outfits Real Life and Kids in the Kitchen. Outrageous attire, blow waved and dyed hair, pouting expressions, and youthful exuberance all combined to define the early stage image of Pseudo Echo. It was a fine line between style and substance, but these lads were dedicated players, and in Canham they had someone who knew how to pen an irresistible pop hook. During their first year together, Pseudo Echo reportedly played support for a number of high profile overseas acts, including Psychedelic Furs (see previous post), and Siouxsie and the Banshees. By July of ‘83, drummer Anthony Argiro had agreed to terms as a replacement for the drum machine, and Pseudo Echo’s first full line-up was complete.

Soon after, pop guru Molly Meldrum happened to attend one of Pseudo Echo’s shows, at Melbourne’s ‘Jump Club’. Meldrum new of the band through the usual industry channels, and had met Canham before at one of Meldrum’s regular club DJ shows. Meldrum was suitably impressed by Pseudo Echo’s sound (and image), and was astutely aware that the whole ‘New Romantic’ thing was a sleeping giant waiting to be awakened on the Australian music scene. Meldrum arranged via the band’s management for them to appear on the ABC’s Countdown television program - an appearance on which, was seen as something akin to the Holy Grail of opportunities by up and coming acts at that time. Pseudo Echo had already laid down a demo recording of a song called ‘Listening’, and as mentioned, made history by performing (or lip synching) along with the demo version on Countdown.

Needless to say it didn’t take long for Pseudo Echo to be signed by a major label, with EMI getting the jump on the competition. Producer Peter Dawkins (worked with Australian Crawl, Dragon) was at the helm for the studio re-record of ‘Listening’, and the song made an immediate impact upon its release in November of ‘83. It was hook-laden synth-pop at its best, and in Brian Canham, Pseudo Echo had a charismatic and talented vocalist with which to capture the attention of an adoring teen fan base. Canham’s vocal style drew heavily from that of his synth-pop peers, such as Heaven 17’s Glenn Gregory, and The Mood’s John Moore - in fact a post on the first class blog Rave and Roll (see ultra cool links at left hand side of page) by Miss P, about The Mood, prompted me to write about Pseudo Echo now. A newly shot promo video for ‘Listening’ premiered on Countdown, and soon thousands were listening to Pseudo Echo on commercial radio across the nation. ‘Listening’ debuted on the charts soon after, and by January of ‘84 had peaked at #4 nationally. It’s ascent up the charts coincided with Kids in the Kitchen’s debut single ‘Change In Mood’, and the two groups were soon jostling for the attention of screaming teen fans, not to mention the front covers of every music related publication in the country (a bit like Skyhooks and Sherbet had done a decade earlier).

With the band’s profile surging into the stratosphere, EMI wanted to take no chances with Pseudo Echo’s debut album. They recruited high profile British producer John Punter (Roxy Music, Japan) to co-produce the album sessions for their debut set (alongside Peter Dawkins) - though apparently Rupert Hine was also in the running (see previous post). The next single to surface from those sessions arrived during April of ‘84, in the form of the classic synth-pop number ‘A Beat For You’. Pseudo Echo were clearly wearing their synth-pop hearts on their high fashion sleeves, but their timing was impeccable for an Australian public with an insatiable appetite for all things ‘New Romantic’ - they were our very own Duran Duran. ‘A Beat For You’ didn’t skip a beat on its way to #12 nationally during mid ‘84, and it functioned as the perfect lead in to Pseudo Echo’s debut album, ‘Autumnal Park’. The album had been recorded in Sydney’s 301 Studios during the first months of ‘84, and Brian Canham penned most of the ten tracks included, drawing much inspiration in style and lyrics from the work of artists like Ultravox (see future post). Sales for ‘Autumnal Park’ pushed it to the brink of the Australian top ten (#11), but the ensuing singles lifted from the set, ‘Dancing Until Midnight’ (OZ#53), and ‘Stranger In Me’ (OZ#58), prompted some to question Pseudo Echo’s potential for longevity. The band’s next single would offer a definitive response to that question.

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