Sunday, January 12, 2014

Down To Earth But Sky High

 From time to time I’ll dust off, then rummage through my old collection of vinyl 45s.  Even if I don’t play them, it’s nice just to thumb through a box or three to, essentially, conjure up some fond memories of my youth (well, mostly fond).  It’s been a while since I’ve had a turntable hooked up to the stereo, but even though I have 98% of my 45s on one digital format or another, I’ll occasionally have a turntable night and enjoy the sound of the needle on vinyl, the crack and pop as it negotiates the grooves once more, some of which are well worn.  During such a retro-feast I’ll also happen upon a single or two that will prompt the question ‘I don’t recall what that song sounds like’.  One such track that had become a distant memory was ‘Down To Earth’ by the curiously named British outfit Curiosity Killed The Cat, purchased back in 1987 (is it really over 25 years ago?).  So with my own 21st century curiosity stirred, I thought it a reasonable move to investigate further the music and career of Curiosity Killed The Cat (or as they would eventually become - Curiosity).

At the heart of the British pop-soul quintet Curiosity Killed The Cat was front man Ben Volpeliere-Pierrot, a former model and rap artist, whose curiosity led him to join the London based musicians Nick Throp (bass),

Migi Drummond (drums), Toby Anderson (vocals/ keyboards), and Julian Brookhouse (guitar) during 1984.  In a case of it’s not what you know but who you know, Eric Clapton (a family friend of Volpeliere-Pierrot) offered the young group some studio time to record some material the band had written. The as yet unnamed band recorded a song titled ‘Curiosity Killed The Cat’ which came to the notice of band manager Peter Rosengard, who signed the band and decided they should change their name to the song title they’d recorded.

During 1984, Curiosity Killed The Cat started playing the London club scene, including gigs at the Embassy Club, and by 1985 had established a substantial following, leading to a recording contract with Mercury Records (Phonogram).  The bands funk edged, soulful pop wasn’t a million miles away from contemporary ‘blue-eyed soul’ U.K. bands The Kane Gang, Blow Monkeys, Breathe, China Crisis, Deacon Blue, Hipsway, Johnny Hates Jazz, Swing Out Sister, and Hue & Cry (for all - see previous posts).  The first single released during 1986 was ‘Misfit’, for which the band travelled to New York to record a music video with Andy Warhol.  The video was an homage to Bob Dylan’s ‘Subterranean Homesick Blues’, with Warhol holding lyric cards while Ben
Volpeliere-Pierrot danced in an alley way.  ‘Misfit’ initially made the U.K. charts in late ‘86 (#76) but would return for a more successful stay after the band’s profile was elevated.

That elevation would come compliments of the band’s second single ‘Down To Earth’.  There was nothing understated about the single ‘Down To Earth’ which broke into the British charts in late ‘86, and by early ‘87 had skyrocketed to #3 (OZ#87).  The band’s appeal to the British music press, and hoards of fans, was largely down to their flamboyant front man Ben Volpeliere-Pierrot, who was never short of a cheeky word or newly designed beret.  After the acclaimed production duo of Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare left the project, Stewart Levine took over the recording reigns as producer, whilst veteran studio musician Rob Cremona handled some of the playing duties, the seasoned hands proving invaluable in helping Curiosity Killed The Cat lay down the tracks for their first album, ‘Keep Your Distance’.  In May of ‘87, the album bolted into the U.K. charts at #1, which it managed to hold on to for two weeks (13 weeks inside the top 10, OZ#47).

‘Keep Your Distance’ proved far more approachable than its title suggested, and yielded three more hit singles; ‘Ordinary Day’ (UK#11), a re-release of ‘Misfit’ (UK#7/OZ#97/US#42), and ‘Free’ (UK#56), keeping the Curiosity Killed The Cat brand in the charts, and music press for most of 1987.

A full two years passed before Curiosity Killed The Cat had recorded enough material to answer the question that was already being asked - ‘whatever happened to….’.  Studio session man Mike McEvoy
co-wrote most of the songs, whilst Toto drummer Jeff Porcaro also leant some cache to the album.  The lead out single was the funk infused, high energy track ‘Name And Number’, which assumed the title of ‘moderate hit’, and found it’s numerical abode at #14 on the U.K. charts late in 1989.  A refrain from the song worked its way into the De La Soul track ‘Ring Ring Ring (Ha Ha Hey)’ two years later.  But it would be the only charting single that was yielded from the band’s sophomore album ‘Getahead’ (UK#29), which had a tighter, more energised sound, that alienated the band from the teen based audience which had bought ‘Keep Your Distance’.

After ‘Getahead’ failed to make much of a substantial inroad into the British charts, Mercury Records parted ways with the band.  By 1992, Curiosity Killed The Cat had whittled down to a trio under the name Curiosity and had signed with RCA Records.  In April, the lead out single for a new album was released.  ‘Hang On In There Baby’ (a cover of the old Johnny Bristol hit) was reflective of the band’s determination and became the equal of the band’s biggest chart hit to date (UK#3).  However, the follow up singles proved
less curious to the music buying public; ‘I Need Your Lovin’ (UK#47), ‘Gimme The Sunshine’ (UK#73), leaving little anticipatory fanfare for Curiosity’s 1994 album ‘Back To Front’.

The band then went their separate ways, with Ben Volpeliere-Pierrot contributing to several independent projects, as vocalist and/or songwriter.  The original members of Curiosity Killed The Cat reformed for a one off performance on a U.K. National Lottery special.  Since then Volpeliere-Pierrot has continued to perform and occasionally record under the band’s banner.

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