Thompson Twins

TrackAlbum
Slave TradeA Product Of ...
The PriceA Product Of ...
In the Name of LoveSet
Living in EuropeSet
BouncingSet
Love On Your SideQuick Step & Side Kick
KamikazeQuick Step & Side Kick
We Are DetectiveQuick Step & Side Kick
Hold Me NowInto The Gap
You Take Me UpInto The Gap

Thompson Twins photo 1

Tom Bailey, Alannah Currie, Joe Leeway

 

 

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Thompson Twins playlist

 

Contributor: Dave Ross

Most of us remember the Thompson Twins from their mid 80s pomp. Big hair, cartoon image, percussive excess, out of context whoops, wails and whizzes, drum machines, synths and generally everything you either love or hate about the music of that period. During a podcast in December last year, I subconsciously picked Thompson Twins as the band I would choose as the example of just how far I would go to defend the honour of 80s music. In that moment, had I suggested that they were indefensible, such was their total eighties-ness? I thought long and hard about that comment and decided to revisit, reassess and reappraise Thompson Twins (not THE Thompson Twins as I learned). At the same time I would select 10 songs that would showcase their journey from post punk squatters to polished global pop stars . This is that story, out of the squat and into the gap …

I need to go back first, back to April 1983 when I was on a train from Staines to Ashford clutching my WH Smith bag and inside was the 12 inch version of We Are Detective. I’d chosen what I thought was an empty carriage but, no, there behind a seat I heard voices of two ska loving skinhead lads who I’d known but avoided at school. They spotted me. “What’s in the bag?” they snarled. I shyly answered “Thompson Twins single but I prefer their earlier stuff”. In that moment again I’d dismissed the band even though I loved the song. Thankfully, they shook their heads, laughed at me and didn’t ask any more questions as their “earlier stuff” to me began and ended with Love On Your Side, the previous single. I played We Are Detective to death but chose not to share this information with my cool Bunnymen, Associates, Orange Juice loving friends. More on We Are Detective later …

Fast forward to last December and the days following the podcast. I thought about that throwaway comment and began my research into Thompson Twins after a near 35 year period of barely giving them a thought. As I’ve already mentioned I quickly discovered they were just Thompson Twins no ‘The’ required. Most shockingly to me, I also found out that We Are Detective was on Quick Step & Side Kick and not the monster success that was Into The Gap as I was certain it was. Watching a YouTube interview with Tom Bailey, I learned that they chose the name because the characters from Tintin were bumbling halfwits who made mistakes but always got there in the end. I found this endearing and at odds with the perceived arrogance of Tom Bailey in particular. A first positive step on the road to reappraisal.

Bailey was born in Halifax in 1956 and arrived in Clapham in 1977 with two mates who formed the original band in search of fame and fortune. Squatting, “borrowing” electricity and stealing instruments was completely at odds with the final polished article they later became. In 1981, this rabble, including Bailey and Joe Leeway, managed to put together a bunch of songs for release on an album on their own label called A Product Of… It’s a post punk mix that, to be honest, sounds a bit dated but there are hints at inventiveness and originality among the Joy Division bass lines and an Adam and the Ants feel to some of the songs to make it a decent enough first effort. My two choices from A Product Of… are Slave Trade, a rhythmic afro beat song that, coming from 1981, is just astonishing.

Sophisticated slave trade rhythmically admired
Give me a punctual bliss
He’s in love with a velvet glove
Soon he’ll feel the fist
His senses are reeling
He can’t sit still
He’s got a sort of feeling

A Product Of… deserves its place in any post-punk collection. The next selection is The Price, like a cooler, more edgy, Police song with a U2 crescendo. Worth a listen I’d say.

This reappraisal is looking promising – as their audience participation live shows, along with the album, created enough of a stir for them to sign with Arista and set out recording the next album.

Alannah Currie, who Bailey had met living in the same street when squatting, had been involved in the first album with no acknowledgement but now became a full band member. Bailey began to take over the synthesizers while Leeway took on some vocals but the band at this time in 1982 was a seven piece. Set neared completion but, as Bailey explains in an interview, they were short of songs when he decided to write a filler using just drum machines and synths. The album was complete and the filler, In The Name Of Love, became their breakthrough moment. Minor recognition in the UK was eclipsed when the song went to No.1 in the US dance charts. Luck and necessity brought them the sound they were looking for. In The Name Of Love is my next choice; a wonderfully upbeat dance track showcasing Bailey’s ear for a hook, and a glimpse into the future.

Set was another post-punk effort more synth heavy than the first album, with contributions from Thomas Dolby, but still mostly unrecognisable from a Thompson Twins sound we recognise today. The success of In The Name Of Love convinced everyone that a more pop synth led sound was the way forward. The record company recommended they became a three piece and everything was in place for the big push.

I really love Set. It’s clear they were looking for a more mainstream sound with songs like Living In Europe and Bouncing which are choices four and five. Both are marked with the influence of Dolby while being 100% Thompson Twins. This live version of Living In Europe was probably quite exciting at the time and may come as a surprise to some looking back now.

Bouncing is an energetic 2 mins 30 secs bundle of sounds that you’ll love, especially if you like the idea of a slightly wilder upbeat Joy Division or New Order.

I wholeheartedly recommend giving Set a listen. The next step to redemption complete. Now for a quick step and side kick …

Back in 1983, I’d become aware of Thompson Twins through Love On Your Side which entered my Top Of The Pops/Radio 1 world and made the UK Top 10. Its upbeat rhythms in contrast to the lyrics which tell of unrequited love. It sounds fresh today and contains that very Thompson Twins moment referencing “In The Name Of Love” in the line “I played you all my favourite records” before going into the synth hook. Perfect 80s pop. It’s choice number six because it’s so bloody good.

The first single from Quick Step & Side Kick, Lies, didn’t quite crack the charts but is another quality single that showed they had finally left their post punk roots and were now ready to embrace the world of video, image and selling records by the bucketload.

Quick Step & Side Kick is my favourite Thompson Twins album, a bona fide pop classic drawing on many influences while being unmistakably Thompson Twins. Kamikaze is Bailey channelling David Sylvian to magical effect. It’s a spine tingler.

Feeling alone
flying above you
I’m not coming home
Now I know, now I know that I love you …

Songs like Love Lies Bleeding mean there is no filler. We Are Detective cemented them in the public consciousness with its cartoon feel and impossibly catchy hooks. I’ve learned to love it again. I think it’s a piece of pop art. Evoking a time and a place and a style. Whether with the comedy “wooahs”, Alannah’s Marlene Dietrich vocal or the accordion that puts you on the streets of Paris in an adventure. It’s a unique song that couldn’t have worked at any other time and that only Thompson Twins could have made.

Surprisingly, Watching, the single that followed, only made the lower reaches of the chart and the Twins knew they had to up their game to make the next level. The next album, Into The Gap, surely exceeded even their expectations.

Hold Me Now was released at the end of 1983, a traditional love song drawn from an actual row between Bailey and Currie who were now an item. It’s a heart-wrenching story set to a strong melody with those hooks that meant it was a hit all over the world. It made the Top 10 in the UK and the US and the album had a lot to live up to. Into The Gap did just that and more, as Bailey explains in this interview.

The image was polished as was the production and the song writing and 1984 became the year of Thompson Twins. They went for it and made it. Bailey, Currie and Leeway were a visual tour de force. An eclectic mix of gender and race perfect for the MTV revolution. I have to concede that, musically, Into The Gap didn’t match Quick Step; for me it was a case of style over substance but it’s this Thompson Twins that people remember. I cannot, however, deny that songs like Hold Me Now, Doctor Doctor and You Take Me Up were perfect pop songs, maybe too perfect, but they were exactly what the world wanted at that time. Any Thompson Twins collection really should contain a representation of this period. A couple of the worldwide hits. Only the harshest of critics would deny themselves even the faintest of smiles on hearing these two uniquely Thompson Twins singalongs.

 

If there was a brief for making pop music in 1984, Thompson Twins more than fulfilled it, even if their ubiquity annoyed as many people as it delighted. This reappraisal has reminded me that they earned their year in the sun. This was no overnight success but seven years of work that peaked in perfect unison with the time – and I won’t hold that against them.

In 1985, they performed at Live Aid in Philadelphia with Madonna. That same year they had a couple of Top 40 hits in the UK with Don’t Mess With Doctor Dream and King For A Day off Here’s To Future Days, a No.5 album. But their time was running out; more albums followed with less success. This reappraisal finishes at Into The Gap.

I’ve really enjoyed discovering the first two albums. Quick Step is a real joy that will become a regular listen for me, while Into The Gap is the perfect example of just what was possible in 1984. It’s also a perfect example of why the era is so divisive. My conclusion: I don’t expect everyone to like Thompson Twins but I do hope they are able to find some respect for them. I will just have to find another act to hold up as the pinnacle of 80s naff that I can defend. Honestly, defending Thompson Twins and choosing 10 Toppermost tunes was easier than I imagined. They made the journey from the squat into the gap and deserve kudos for that. Me? I prefer their earlier stuff …

 

 

Thompson Twins photo 2

 

 

Thompson Twins (Wikipedia)

Tom Bailey official website

Miss Pokeno (Alannah Currie) official website

Thompson Twins biography (AllMusic)

Dave Ross lives near Windsor and hides under his online pseudonym Dave Amitri to talk mainly about cricket and music. He has written a drama, “Jimmy Blue”, featuring the music of Del Amitri and is currently writing a series of posts on listening to David Bowie albums for the first time. For updates you can follow him on twitter @DaveAmitri. His previous post for this site is on The Associates.

TopperPost #951

1 Comment

  1. Calvin Rydbom
    May 9, 2021

    I saw Tom Bailey a while back on a tour with Howard Jones, China Crisis, Midge Ure and Katrina and the Waves. I came much more interested in Jones and Ure but walked out intent on buying some Thompson Twins. Which I did. Good stuff.

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