‘Video killed the radio star‘ sang The Buggles in 1979, a comment which, in this MTV/Music Box era, seems more than a little apt. Take Saturday NightFever, Grease, Flashdance and Footloose, for instance, as examples of original soundtracks providing new springboards for recording artists. The best example. though, is The Breakfast Club, and the single from it. ‘Don‘t You (Forget About Me)‘. which launched Simple Minds into the coveted position of being worldwide superstars, and then John Hughes. that ﬁlm‘s director, went one better by actually building his next film, Pretty In Pink, around a character from a Psychedelic Furs song. ‘I like the film,‘ sastohn Ashton. guitarist with the Furs since their inception in 1976, ‘but it‘s not really based around Caroline. It‘s more like a Romeo and Juliet story, though Molly Ringwald (who portrayed the leading character) and John are great Furs fans. After that, everything snowballed for us.‘
total antithesis to punk
And not before time. Back in 1976 the very name Psychedelic Furs was enough to put any self-respecting punk off. Psychedelia may once more be the in thing, but at the time vocalist Richard Butler chose the name because, according to Ashton, ‘he wanted something different, a total antithesis to what punk was about at the time.‘ The punks, used to bellowing and chainsaw guitars in bursts ofno more than three minutes, didn‘t know how to cope with this strange band. whose songs could run past the lS-minutes mark. and as often as not would react by bottling them offthe stage.
Richard, his brother Tim Butler (bass). the aforementioned John Ashton. Duncan Kilbrun (sax), Roger Morris (guitar) and Vince Ely (drums) — the original line-up — eventually released their first single, ‘We Love You‘. in February 1980. And immediately showed up their primary inﬂuence, The Velvet Underground. ‘We were doing “Waiting For The Man“ in the bedrom and it eventually turned into “We Love You“. Every band had a Velvets riff.’ The definitive 19605‘ New York art band also provided the Furs with the second part of their name. taken from the Velvets‘ classic ode to sado-masochism, ‘Venus In Furs‘. The sleeve of their first LP also betrays their inﬂuence, the band photo being strongly reminiscent of a certain late 60s‘ album sleeve.
Ashton, who saw the Sex Pistols on TV while lying in a hospital bed after a car crash in 1976. numbers Iggy and The Stooges, Marc Bolan, Brian Eno and expressiOnistic German bands Can and Neu among his musical heroes. while Richard
Butler lays claim to Charles Aznavour and Edith Piaf, whose inspiration led to ‘Sister Europe‘, a ‘sadder song‘ from their debut LP.
A second album Talk Talk Talk. produced like the first by Steve Lillywhite. continued their cacophonous wall ofsound and
The Psychedelic Furs appear in Glasgow and Edinburgh this month. Pierre Perrone charts the progress of a group at the crossroads and talks to them about developments in their career.
contained a few gems, including the original version of ‘Pretty In Pink‘. but no hits. After an extensive European tour Duncan and Roger left, the Butlers relocating to America, where Richard stays to this day, to be joined by John and Vince to record Forever Now with multi-instrumentalist and sought-after producer Todd Rundgren. This marked the beginning of a change of approach for the Furs. Their sound softened. became more approachable and lost the chaotic edge found on previous records. The Psychedelic Furs were streamlining their sound for eventual mass consumption. Ashton cites Rundgren as having a key part to play in the transformation.
‘Todd taught Richard a lot about melody. about expressing himself
instead ofshouting and being aggressive with his lyrics.‘ This was particularly apparent on the moody ‘Love My Way’, a near Top 40 hit in 1982 and David Bowie‘s favourite single ofthat year. ‘Since then he‘s been looking for this kind ofsong to write,‘ says Ashton of Butler. “‘Love My Way“. “Ghost In You“, “Angels Don‘t Cry“ are all the same.‘ From that era he prefers the more aggressive ‘President Gas‘, recently seen agin on Whistle Test, and written about ‘the fascist governments America and Britain have chosen to adopt, and the warmongering, the “we‘re going to drop the bomb at a moment‘s notice“ attitude. This is possibly Richard‘s strongest political statement. He lives in New York. knowing full well what he‘s living
with and against.‘ Ashton himselfﬁ prefers living in Kent.
This might explain the apparent tension between them, as illustrated by the splitting of writing credits on Mirror Moves, their 1984 album, on which they were pared down to a three-piece after the departure of drummer Vince Ely. With wonder-boy Keith Forsey‘s production, Mirror Moves was more contemporary. ‘It had a dance hit on it. “Heartbeat”. which was Number One in all the clubs. We were really pleased, because it was one of those songs that nobody really believed in. Everybody felt it was just a cross between Marvin Gaye‘s “I Heard It Through The Grapevine“ and Kraftwerk‘s “The Model".‘ In the UK this track was curiously hidden on the B-side of ‘Heaven‘, which became the first Psychedelic Furs song to penetrate the Top 30. a feat they never managed to repeat until the remixed re-release of ‘Pretty In Pink‘. This was really when the logjam broke, and the Furs started to look like they might someday be worthy competition for British stadium-rock bands Simple Minds and U2.
wall of sound
Last year saw a frenzy of touring and delays in the release of their new album Midnight To Midnight, which has finally emerged. Ashton is pleased with it. ‘It‘s more ofa band album. It‘s got more ofa guitar edge. there‘s real drums on everything and we didn‘t do as much rewriting in the studio. It‘s like a mixture of Mirror Moves with the fire and depth of Talk Talk Talk, a natural compromise rather than something that was forced upon us.‘ The title track started off life as background music for a scene in the last John Hughes movie, Ferris Bueller‘s Day ()ffbut was never used. politics being what they are. ‘CBS didn‘t want to back it because it wasn‘t to be the first single off the album,‘ Ashton explains.
cult band or major act?
One does worry about the Psychedelic Furs‘ wonderfully grandiose and emotive sound getting lost in the music big maze. John ﬂippantly mentions ‘somebody who said that the Psychedelic Furs would be more famous once they‘d split up. and I possibly tend to agree with that. It is rather ironic that we‘ve strived for commercial success and lost a little bit ofthat psychedelia which everybody else is picking up and becoming quite good at.‘
Unsure whether they are a cult band or a major act. though they say they‘re ‘doing pretty well all round‘. the Psychedelic Furs are at the crossroads. They could either go the Simple Minds‘ way to stadium status. or turn out, in twenty years‘ time, to have as big an inﬂuence over new artists as the Velvet Underground had over them. The beat goes on. . . The Psychedelic Furs are appearing at Barrowland, Glasgow 7 Feb and Playhouse, Edinburgh 8 Feb (see Rock listings for details).
8 The List 6— 19 February