Monday, June 9, 2014

Classix Nouveaux - 'Guilty'

Back in the mid 90s I had occasion to purchase a double CD compilation titled ‘The Absolute Best Of The New Romantics’.  The collection featured a number of tracks that I had been seeking earnestly to acquire in pristine digital format.  Among those were ‘Only You’ by Yazoo, ‘One Night In Bangkok’ by Murray Head, ‘Living On The Ceiling’ by Blancmange, and ‘Temptation’ by Heaven 17 - see previous posts for each artist.  I’m not certain how many of the artists included could strictly be referred to as ‘new romantic’, but in the broader sense they were all part of the ‘new wave’ and ‘post punk’ movements that dominated, in particular, the British and Australian charts during the first half of the 80s.

One of the bonus acquisitions was a song I had previously been unfamiliar with - ‘Guilty’ by London based band Classix Nouveaux.  So in keeping with my innate curiosity with popular music, I thought it merited that I investigate the Classix Nouveaux story in a little more detail.

Following the demise of London punk band X-Ray Spex in 1979, guitarist Jak Airport (Jack Stafford), and drummer Paul ‘B.P.’ Hurding, saw the writing through the wall and placed an add in the industry rag Melody Maker, in pursuit of a vocalist to front a new band.  The add was responded in the affirmative by a young singer/guitarist calling himself Sal Solo (Sam Smith), who had previous songs on the board with ‘new wave’ outfit, The News.  Shortly after, bassist Mik Sweeney rounded out the quartet, and hey presto an instant Classix Nouveaux was born.

The band’s first major outing on stage came in August of ‘79 at London’s Music Machine nightclub.  The music press began taking an interest in the quartet, in part due to their fashion conscious and heavily made-up stage image.  Classix Nouveaux were assigned the ‘new romantic’ tag as a result.  Before year’s end, founding guitarist Jak Airport caught a flight and was replaced by Gary Steadman.

In mid 1980, Classix Nouveaux laid down a four track session for Capital Radio, with one track in particular, ‘Robot’s Dance’ gaining regular airtime courtesy of DJ Nicky Horne.  Always on the look out for new talent, the EMI subsidiary label United Artists set about signing the young band, but as negotiations became protracted, the band opted to release ‘Robot’s Dance’ on their own ESP label during August of 1980.  The track notched up an eleven week stint on the U.K. Indie Chart dancing its way to #22.  The band released a follow up single in November with ‘Nasty Little Green Men’, before work began in earnest on their debut album.

In February of ‘81, Classix Nouveaux released their debut ‘major label’ single in the form of ‘Guilty’ which was sentenced to #43 on the British charts (Top 20 Sweden, OZ#25/#66 U.S. Dance Club Singles), as a lead out for their debut album.  The striking video clip, featuring the new romantic version of Midnight Oil’s Peter Garrett in Sal Solo, managed to get some airplay on MTV Network.  The source album, ‘Night People’ (UK#66/ OZ#85) also spawned two more minor hit singles in the guise of ‘Tokyo’ (UK#67), and ‘Inside Outside’ (UK#45).  The majority of the tracks were composed by Solo and Sweeney.  The sound of the band was more guitar heavy than some of their new romantic contemporaries, such as Japan, but their over the top fashion sense and infectious keyboard rhythms kept the band’s feet firmly in the new romantic camp.  During the subsequent European tour, guitarist Gary Steadman was replaced by Finnish guitarist Jimi Sumen.

By late ‘81, work was progressing on Classix Nouveaux’s sophomore effort, to the point where the advance single ‘Never Again (The Days Time Erased)’ (UK#44) hit stores in October.  By April of ‘82, the album ‘La Verite’ (UK#44) hit the ground running as a result of the high interest in the single ‘Is It A Dream’.  The band made a video for the track themselves (for a reported budget of $500), in the hope of getting their label EMI to fork over the readies to make a bigger budget effort.  Sal Solo was front and centre again, falsetto in full swing, and ‘Is It A Dream’ found its reality at #11 on the British charts.  The album boasted a soul-tinged, synth heavy feel to proceedings.  Richie Unterberger of All Music Guide described it as “Music of a hand-wringing, grandiose chic glamour on its more ethereal cuts, and of unabashed, bouncy synth pop on the more dance oriented songs like ‘Never Again’ and ‘1999’”.  The album yielded two more minor hits with ‘Because You’re Young’ (UK#43), and ‘The End…Or The Beginning’ (UK#60).

With producer Alex Sadkin on board, a new collection of Sal Solo compositions underwent the studio treatment in early ‘83.  The album was a more mature effort and possessed a more commercial synth based sound, complimented by Sal Solo’s impressive vocal range.  Highlights included ‘Never Never Comes’, ‘All Around The World’, and ‘Heart From The Start’.  Though the singles ‘Never Never Comes’ and ‘Forever And A Day missed the U.K. charts, and the source album ‘Secret’ remained one in Britain, both album and singles performed well in Poland of all places, prompting Classix Nouveaux to be one of the first rock bands to perform in communist Poland - by now Sal Solo was the only original member left with drummer B.P. Hurding replaced by Paul Turley, and guitarist Jimi Sumen replaced by Rick Driscoll.

Despite successful touring of Europe, the band failed to establish a strong presence on the charts in the U.K., whilst mainstream success in the U.S. eluded them.  By 1985, Classix Nouveaux had parted company, with Sal Solo embarking on a solo career (who’d have thought), scoring a U.K. hit in early ‘85 with ‘San Damiano’ (#15).  Several compilations have been released over the years, and the live album ‘The River Sessions’ (recording originally in 1982), was released in 2005.  An underrated act by all accounts, Classix Nouveaux deserve a place of merit in the ‘new romantic’ movement.

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