Monday, 4 April 2011
50 Forever Running - B-Movie
Purchased : October 1985
Tracks : Forever Running / Heart Of Gold / My Ship Of Dreams / Just An Echo / Remembrance Day / Switch On Switch Off / Blind Allegiance / Arctic Summer / Nowhere Girl
This was real unfinished business from school ; my friend Anthony and I had nurtured a passion for this group since 1981 waiting and waiting for them to break big and being consistently disappointed. Since "Nowhere Girl" hit the heights of number 68 in 1982 there'd been a David Jensen session in 1983 , a disappointing single with John Jellybean Benitez ("A Letter From Afar") but no hint of an LP until this suddenly arrived in the shops that autumn. I rang Anthony straight away (as I'd be seeing him at Rochdale's game the following day) and duly bought him a copy too.
B-Movie came from Mansfield and first attracted attention when they got a track on the Some Bizarre album and thereby attracted the "futurist" tag which probably did them no favours in the long run. Their first single and one of my all time faves "Remembrance Day" got to number 61 in April 1981 tantalisingly close to a Top of The Pops appearance which might have broken them in the UK. Instead the second single "Marilyn Dreams" failed to chart at all and while "Nowhere Girl " made 68 on the back of support from David Jensen it failed to go further. It seemed that they were falling between two stools, their themes were too dark for daytime radio and yet they were too melodically accessible to attract the student fanbase for bands like Sisters Of Mercy and Echo And The Bunnymen. Their progress was interrupted by keyboard player Rick Holliday leaving to form Six Sed Red and they were dropped by Deram. The Benitez single and this LP came out on Sire.
The opening title track gives some idea of what to expect with producer Stephen Stewart-Short (later to work with Fuzzbox) clearly given a brief to make their sound as big and contemporary as possible with the emphasis on the heavy drum sound of session man Graham Broad (the 80s' Clem Cattini) . Hence the first minute or so of false starts sounds like an Art of Noise sampler and you get a sense that the band, now slimmed down to vocalist Steve Hovington, Paul Statham doubling up on guitar and keyboards and bassist Martin Winter are bit part players on their own record. Eventually the song proper starts and it's pretty good with a punchy trumpet riff from Tim Hammond and a nifty piano break from Statham. Hovington sings of the escape provided by his lover from the life of a provincial bookworm - "From the balcony I'll throw Jean Genet" - and the music provides the appropriate propulsion.
"Heart of Gold" (a Hovington /Statham) stays with this theme of liberating love - "she melts the ice between my toes" - but the music is a bit lumpy by comparison. Broad's tub-thumping overpowers the acoustic strumming and one-finger keyboard motif. Jem Benson's saxophone adds a bit of colour to the song; the Scritti-esque hip hop break detracts.
"My Ship Of Dreams" was originally a song called "Amnesia" and featured in the 1983 David Jensen session but the lyric has been completely changed to produce a lighter song about daydreaming. It's round about this point that you start to notice Steve Hovington's vocal limitations ; his stern baritone stays in tune but is otherwise inflexible and becomes wearing on the lesser songs.
Certainly a greater use of backing vocals would have helped. Hovington actually speaks the second verse in the style of Richard Burgess on Landscape's European Man. The drums are toned down a bit to give the track an airier feel
"Just An Echo" is a good song struggling to be heard through the layers of over-production. Hovington struggles to sing the verses in a higher key as a deluded lover (possibly suffering from De Clerambault's syndrome) while reverting to the norm for the chorus which recognises the unreality. It ends rather strangely with a middle eight which becomes an outro when you're expecting another chorus.
Then we come to "Remembrance Day" which is a re-recording of their classic debut single. This was always fraught with danger since the song was pretty damned perfect to begin with and on first listen I loathed it and always skipped it thereafter. Quarter of a century on it's inferior but not that bad. Statham's new guitar part lacks the clipped urgency which gave the original version its momentum while Hovington starts declaiming instead of singing the lyrics in the last verse, a tell-tale sign of boredom with the song. However the essence of the song is intact, an unflinching look at death - "songs will never bring them back ! " - with a hauntingly simple keyboard hook.
Side Two starts with "Switch On Switch Off" , to the best of my knowledge the only single released from the LP by Sire. It sounds like a good choice, a pacy slab of contemporary pop rock extolling positive thinking that owes more than a little to Ultravox but it did nothing. With a modicum of airplay it could have been a sizeable hit but I didn't hear it once. Perhaps Sire were too busy pulling more tracks off Like A Virgin at the time to plug it effectively.
The album progresses with a couple of lesser tracks. "Blind Allegiance" is a ponderous treatise on conformity with Benson's clarinet and saxophone trying to compensate for the lumpen bassline and now-boring drum clatter.
"Artic Summer" is a slow burning keyboard ballad that would like to be New Dawn Fades (the ascending keyboard melody is very similar ) but falls well short due to Hovington's droning vocal and adolesecent lyrics and Broad's intrusive hammering. The closing piano coda is quite nice though.
That leaves "Nowhere Girl" also re-recorded but with better results. There's an added acoustic guitar line to make it sound less 1982 synth-dependent and Broad gives the drums more oomph than original drummer Graham Boffey but the song's more or less intact. Over a simple melancholic keyboard line Hovington sings of trying to reach a reclusive girl "in self-enforced exile" although there's a menacing undertone that suggests he's more stalker than sympathetic.
So that was it. After a four-year wait, an album that was good but not great. Commercially and critically it bombed despite a tour to promote it (I saw them at Leeds University Union a couple of weeks later despite being expected to help run the SDP Society disco elsewhere in the same building) . Record Mirror handed it to their hatchetman Robin Smith for a trademark one-star demolition job the essence of which was - hopeless futurist act that missed the boat. That's far too harsh when trash like King and The Thompson Twins were still selling but Smith had identified that there was a smell of failure around the band which probably accounted for the lack of radio interest that doomed them.
The band split in 1986. Statham found some US success working with Peter Murphy in the early 90s while Hovington re-surfaced in a group called One in the late 80s. I found their LP going cheap around 1992 and their name corresponds with the number of plays I gave it. I was so appalled it went to a jumble sale the same night setting a benchmark for the shortest duration of time spent in my record collection. The band have reformed recently.