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Saturday Deluxe / 14 January 2017

bronskibeat

RIP Larry Steinbachek of Bronski Beat

Sad news this week, with the death of Bronski Beat keyboard player Larry Steinbachek. Bronski Beat were massive in the UK for a fairly short period of time but their 1984 debut album Age of Consent was one of those records that everyone had (along with Alison Moyet’s Alf) , or at the very minimum you’d taped a copy off one of your mates!

The band consisted of Larry and Steve Bronski, who both played keyboards, and was fronted by singer Jimmy Somerville, who would go on to have considerable success as part of the Communards and a solo artist.

Apparently, Bronski Beat were signed to London Records after only nine gigs and their first single Smalltown Boy was a number three hit in the UK and top ten virtually everywhere else (except America). The extended 12-inch version of that single is still one of my favourites from that era. The 45s from the album contributed to making 1984 one of the best ever years in pop music with Smalltown Boy and follow-up Why? both top ten hits. Two further singles (It Ain’t Necessarily So and I Feel Love (Medley) were both big hits.

The funny thing is, despite the fact that all three members were openly gay and the lyrics – and album title – were championing issues around homosexuality/politics, I don’t recall anyone at school (I was 14 at that time) discussing that, or having any kind of issue with it. I guess the message probably hit home in quite a subliminal way. That may sound silly (because it seems so obvious now), but my memory is that everyone just loved the great pop music and that was it!

Another personal connection is that I was in the studio audience at BBC TV Centre for Top Of The Pops on 4 September 1984 when Bronski Beat were in the studio to play Why? Great memories. The clip is below (I think I spotted the top of my head somewhere).


low

Happy Birthday to Low!

David Bowie‘s 1977 album Low celebrated it’s 40th birthday yesterday, having been first released on 14 January 1977.

To underline Bowie’s productivity in the 1970s, Station to Station had been issued almost exactly a year earlier (23 Jan 1976) and Heroes would follow just nine short months later, in October 1977. David only released two studio albums of original material in a calendar year one other time in his career and that was 1993 which saw Black Tie White Noise and The Buddha of Suburbia ‘soundtrack’ released (although the latter wasn’t issued in the US at the time).

Let’s enjoy some great Bowie ‘I’ve-just-sucked-a-lemon’ facial expressions from the Be My Wife video!

 

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33 responses to Saturday Deluxe / 14 January 2017

  1. Jim Edwards says:

    Happy birthday Low. My favourite album of all time. Utterly sublime in every way.

  2. Daran says:

    Larry S was cool. I remember telling a friend st school who knocked BB to take a look at Larry with his then indie style checked shirt, DM’s and rockabilly style quiff. I was a huge BB fan, for the electronic music they made was so different to a lot of the other 80’s stuff – it was hi-nrg electro but with a really mature use of the electronics, very soulful riffs on top of the basslines. Soulful songs too, including many of the TAoC album tracks which are all really strong. Larry sings really well on that album too of course, including the cracker ‘Junk’. No cheesy DX7 marimba here…. I remember the shock the night that they were due as headline on The Tube, only to hear from Jools or Paula that they had cancelled (even though their gear was still setup on stage). Truthdare Doubledare was ok, but it was never the same without JS fronting. RIP Larry, more of our youth going month by month…..

    • Rickjapan says:

      I don’t have any evidence for this, but I was always under the impression that Junk was sung by Jimmy Somerville in his non-falsetto voice. Not to take anything away from Larry’s contribution, I loved and still love this album (playing as I type this), and regret the loss of yet another musician from the period I most identify with. One can only wonder what the original three boys would have come up with if they had stayed together (although I love the Communards, too).

      Oh yes, and my vote goes for the 12″ of Smalltown Boy being a complete classic. One listen and I was converted: this was how the track should be heard. It’s not just a lengthened version, but is almost symphonic in its construction and emotional impact. But, that’s just my opinion!!

      In any case, rest in peace Larry, and thanks for the music which will live on and on.

      • Daran says:

        Could be i’m wrong, but always thought it was Larry. Can someone confirm from sleeve notes? It doesn’t sound like Jimmy’s non-falsetto voice to my ears based on other bits if songs he sings in lower registers.

  3. florian m. kranz says:

    Paul, I totally agree on the 12″ of Smalltown Boy. I was 14 too.

  4. tom says:

    Really sad to hear about Larry’s death. I agree about Smalltown Boy, the 12 inch is fantastic.

  5. DaveM says:

    Paul, you raise a really good point about Age Of Consent. I was twenty when it came out and played it constantly, and never had issues with the content. I remember taking it round to a mates, who was about ten years older and he did. Just shows how society was already shifting from that old ridiculous bias back then and I would like to think that the legacy of bands like Bronski Beat is that they helped move it on.
    Saw the video for Smalltown Boy on TV the other week and despite its age it is still great.

  6. Robert says:

    Smalltown Boy was a great early MTV favorite.
    RIP Larry.

  7. SimonP says:

    Filmed at Slough train station, where I grew up (Slough, not the station!). I’ve never listened to that album and have to beg to differ on the 12″ single. If I recall it correctly it’s just the album version segued onto the end of another version with less backing track.

    Larry’s the fella with glasses, yes?

  8. J T says:

    God bless him and his loved ones.

    The ’80s was such an amazing time for keyboardists, as in synth players, who moved front and center for the first time. Those first two hits are classics, daring and moving songs that stir the soul and conscience and encouraged many with the degree of British/European public acceptance despite (and of course for many because of) their very personal, very specific frankness, and the truths of the negative reactions they sang about.

    But that acceptance was very much less so here in the intensely homophobic U.S., where they were definitely viewed as a gay act and relegated them primarily to the dance charts, where they did very well as it was very gay-positive at the time. That—as well as the genre itself—had been so much a part of the anti-disco backlash just a few years earlier. It wasn’t discussed much here either, people just presumed any guy who liked that music was gay, and responded—or didn’t—to them accordingly. And Boy George (and George Michael, and FGTH) was drawing most of the attention for good and bad then. In fact, if I recall correctly, MTV was only playing Bronski Beat videos in late-night time slots like their “120 Minutes” series.

    While those first two hits were the landmark songs of depth and social responsibility, the Bronski Beat track I played the most was “Hit That Perfect Beat,” which I’d gotten on 12″. And the Jimmy Somerville track I played the most was the dramatic Hi-NRG “Tomorrow,” the extended B-side to the “Never Can Say Goodbye” remix. Great synth work all.

    Much has been written recently about George Michael’s coming out—late in his career, after the Madonnaization of homosexuality—but coming out through your music in your first album, and then addressing not just the clubbing/hooking up/romance and cheating/emotional abuse/breakup aspects (ironically of the songs I mentioned) but the emotional conflicts and courage over the familial and social stigmas, in something that was a commercial success in the pop world—not relegated to obscure b-sides but as the first singles they released—was, to my knowledge, unprecedented, and an important breakthrough.

    And not just for gay artists. Prior to that time, most popular rap music was fairly frivolous stuff, and soon thereafter it began dealing with more personal and social issues. It felt like that was a watershed moment where hit pop and dance music began to express the “controversial” conflicts experienced by minority groups in music that was not only carving out a more relatable subgenre for that minority but increasingly embraced by people beyond that minority.

    Early African-American music beginning to be accepted by white audiences (and particularly those songs that speak to the unique experience of their true selves) is often acknowledged as an important component of civil rights advancements for blacks; I think the same is true of gay musicians and gay civil rights advancements, something that doesn’t get as much acknowledgement. Steinbachek’s family have reason to be proud of his part in that global social progress.

  9. Jeric Benitez says:

    Have you heard about Weird Al’s box set which contains “all fourteen of Al’s studio albums, remastered for CD and 150-gram vinyl…will also include a special 15th bonus album, Medium Rarities, featuring previously unreleased and non-album tracks selected by Weird Al”?
    The prices range from $200-265 (for the CD variants) and $300-475 (for the vinyl) which is still an acceptable, fair for fans pricing.
    saw the news here -> http://www.pledgemusic.com/projects/weirdalyankovic

  10. bertielego says:

    Another great artist who died in 2016…
    RIP Larry; I have been listening to your / your band’s music, in all its line ups, throughout the 80’s and 90’s; and I still enjoy every so often to dig out one of my good old vinyls or CDs…

  11. Jarle Lilledal Nyvoll says:

    You don´t often meet the name Bronski Beat in headlines anymore. Which is sad, because their first album is one of my all-time favourite albums. Positive messages clad in memorable melodies. I still play the album a lot, though I seldom play the second album ore Jimmy Sommerville´s solo songs. R.I.P., Larry. You did good.

  12. Daniel Wylie says:

    Bronski Beat were great. I have friends who were friendly with them. One of Bronski Beat might even have come from the council estate in Glasgow (Castlemilk) where I grew up. There was a story doing the rounds of Steve Bronski walking around the local shopping centre with wads of cash and saying…look…I’m in the charts and nobody knows who I am but everyone knows Jimmy.

    A little known fact I can share about Top of the Pops from when my own band were on it, there were four stages…each named after a Beatle. We were on the John Lennon stage. :)

  13. Chris says:

    Paul,

    Your comment:

    The funny thing is, despite the fact that all three members were openly gay and the lyrics – and album title – were championing issues around homosexuality/politics, I don’t recall anyone at school (I was 14 at that time) discussing that, or having any kind of issue with it. I guess the message probably hit home in quite a subliminal way. That may sound silly (because it seems so obvious now), but my memory is that everyone just loved the great pop music and that was it!

    What you said pretty much hit the nail on the head – everyone just loved the great pop music and that was it! Hell, I was 15 in 1984. The early ’80s were a great time for me in terms of music and the sexual orientation of a singer / group didn’t matter to me – it was all about the music and how it moved me. As a bonus, we usually got some great music videos too.

  14. Charles K. says:

    Sad Bronski news for sure. I didn’t hear about them until there second release and loved it. When I got their debut I was actually disappointed, loved the music but never cared for Jimmy’s voice, RIP.

  15. peter m says:

    Does anyone know why John foster left bronski beat after the truthdare album?

  16. valentin says:

    Smalltown Boy the best 12″ inch version of the 1984 producer by Mike Thorne. RIP Larry Steinbachek

  17. Michael says:

    “Age of Consent ” was the first commercially released pop album that featured romantic songs about same-sex couples, and aside from that, the song writing was really good!! As a gay person, I found courage to come out and speak more openly about who I was because of playing this album for friends and family back in the 1980’s. A big ‘THANK YOU’ to Larry Steinbachek and the other members of BB, who, through their courageous song writing, changed my life. Rest in peace, Larry. You made this world a little bit happier, and a little less scary for me.

  18. bertielego says:

    @Jeric Benitez
    I would suggest you copy-paste your comment about the upcoming Weird Al reissues in the “SDE Reissue Preview for 2017” thread :-)

  19. Chris says:

    A very sad day indeed, RIP Larry. The Age of Consent, and the 12″ version of Smalltown Boy were and are still fantastic slices of 80’s pop! I too, remember listening and enjoying the music without prejudice back in 1984. Wonderful times, gone but never to be forgotten. Thank you for your phenomenal music, and the thrill of listening then and now.

  20. Trash says:

    Sounds strange but I remember seeing Bronski Beat busking in the main area of the Covent Garden square (where now you often see acrobats and magicians performing these days).
    I can’t be sure but I think it was before they had released their first single. I only watched for a short while but as I was/am into Synth pop I was quite taken by the sound.
    Never really listened to them much afterwards (never been a huge fan of Somerville’s voice) but loved the general sound of the music. Perhaps I’ll give the album a listen after all these years.

    As for Low (as I’ve said before on these pages) one of my three favourite albums of all time (and possibly my fave depending on the day).
    Namely:
    XTC – English Settlement
    Japan – Tin Drum
    Bowie – Low

    It’s an album I can’t get enough of and it still amazes me how melodic and yet experimental it is at the same time.
    Beautiful sounds and wonderfully produced and arranged (which I think is characteristic of all the albums I listed above).

    Happy Birthday Low
    RIP Larry

  21. aubrey says:

    Hey Paul, if you haven’t done it before, I’d love to see some time your rundown of the best 12″ mixes of the eighties…

  22. Mark Elliott says:

    Thirded :)

  23. SimonP says:

    That could be a long list!

  24. Cris says:

    How peculiar to notice how certain memories but most of all “sensations” are shared by others… Yes I confirm Paul that initially I was not fully aware of the message BB wanted to convey. Then I read about it in music mags and out of coincidence at the same time (I was 15) learned that also gay persons were persecuted by Nazis and identified with the pink triangle vs the yellow star for the Jews (hence the graphics on the album cover). I think I remember that the first times I watched the video of SBoy I thought Jimi was actually envious of the guy taking dives’ apparent flashiness rather than attracted by him.
    I wil lcheck out the 12″ of it since so many of you are enthusiastic. For me, I confirm “Why?” always hits me more, it is incredibly good and powerful, really fantastic.
    As was “You Are My World” by the Communards, simply superb, initially not understood by you guys there in Britain but loved by us on the continent (especially Italy), to the point that in the UK it was later reissued.

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