Back on 8 October 2011, I started a series called ‘Saturday’s Scottish Single’. The aim was to feature one 45 or CD single by a Scottish singer or band with the proviso that the 45 or CD single was in the collection. I had got to Part 60-something and as far as Kid Canaveral when the rug was pulled out from under TVV.
I’ll catch up soon enough by featuring 5 at a time from the archives..except that the single which was Part 26 is so important it is being featured on its own with words I had penned back in April 2008 when It was part of the 45 45s at 45 rundown:-
I’ve written about Bronski Beat before. And I make no apologies of repeating what I said then – it really is all too easy to forget how brave Jimmy Somerville and his bandmates were were for being so open about their way of life and their views. Their records, and those of such as Pet Shop Boys and Frankie Goes To Hollywood took the celebration of queer culture into the mainstream, and made many people realise, probably for the first time, that homophobia was every bit as distasteful as racism and apartheid.
This was a band that came from out of nowhere. They inked a deal with London Records after a mere handful of gigs, and the debut single, Smalltown Boy, sold by the barrowload, hitting #3 in the UK charts in May 1984. It also made the Top 50 in the USA and Top 10 in Australia.
A trio of follow-up singles and the debut LP all sold in great quantities and the band seemed set for a long and successful career. But out of the blue, vocalist Jimmy Somerville (and acknowledged by everyone as the band spokesman) announced he was quitting the band to pursue an outlet that would allow him to be ‘more political.’ In due course, he would find massive success, including #1 records, with Communards. He also became part of Red Wedge, the conglomeration of musicians who campaigned for the Labour Party at the 1987 UK general election.
As for Bronski Beat – they did manage a couple of hits with new vocalist John Foster (who in retrospect sounds awfully like Andy Bell who would later come to prominence with Erasure), but they were very much overshadowed by the success of Communards. They soldiered on for a few more years, ever more fading into obscurity from the mainstream.
There’s just something about the early Bronski Beat records that make them sound so special. There’s a bit of the inventiveness of Giorgio Moroder in there, along with the pop-savvy touch of Human League and Heaven 17. There’s also the choir-boy falsetto vocals of Somerville that recalled, in some ways, Russell Mael from Sparks. Theirs were records that struck a chord with so many people, from the hard-core gay militants to the indie-kids and the disco-divas with their handbags and stiletto heels.
The look adopted by Jimmy Somerville for the video to the debut single is one that has become synonymous with young gay men in the early 80s. If you want proof, look no further than the recent BBC cop/sci-fi series Ashes to Ashes which was set in 1981, but in an episode centring on a young gay man, that particular character was dressed straight out of a Bronskis video from 1984.
That’s the impact and legacy of this one song –
mp3 : Bronski Beat – Smalltown Boy (12″ version)
And here’s the b-sides:-
mp3 : Bronski Beat – Infatuation
mp3 : Bronski Beat – Memories
PS to last week’s Scottish singles ‘effort’
I messed up with links to the Bloomsday single. So sorry.
mp3 : Bloomsday – Strange Honey
mp3 : Bloomsday – Night Storm