A GUEST POSTING by THE AFFECTIONATE PUNCH
I crave your indulgence with what is a rather long article.
Recently JC posted Ricky’s Hand by Fad Gadget (a band whose creative nucleus is Frank Tovey). This got me thinking that, as I consider myself a fan, perhaps I should give an ICA a go. My problem was where to start and what theme, if any, should I use?
I thought the songs would largely take care of themselves but what to write and how? Should I go for something factual – an almost Wikipedia summation – or something a little more personal? So many questions. It took me a while but I eventually decided on personal.
I’ve opted for an almost chronological tracklist. The songs chosen are derived only from the Fad Gadget period. Perhaps a future ICA on Frank’s other works may follow.
1. Back to Nature (non-album single)
Back to Nature is the second single to be released by Mute Records. Laconic and brooding the song comes in at a whopping 5.49 minutes – hardly radio friendly. To promote the single Fad Gadget began to play live gigs, the 1st being on 18th July, 1979, at The Moonlight Club in West Hampstead. They shared the bill with The Monochrome Set with whom Frank had previous form. Leading to his 1st meeting with Daniel Miller (Mute Records), Frank said … “My flatmate said he knew Daniel Miller so I arranged to meet him at a Monochrome Set gig. I got kind of pissed and fell behind the drum kit so we didn’t meet that night. I met him at Rough Trade later.” Miller claims that their initial meeting was always planned to take place at the offices of Rough Trade in Ladbroke Grove
It’s worth noting that about this time Frank portrayed Daryll of the Silicon Teens; a virtual band created by Daniel Miller but Frank did not play on any Silicon Teens’ record.
A convincing piece of miming by Frank can be viewed in the Teens’ Memphis Tennessee video:
I’d be keen to know if “geodesic” has appeared in any other song lyric?
2. Lady Shave (b-side of Make Room non-album single)
Fans listed Lady Shave within the top 5 most popular Fad Gadget songs as part of the Fad Gadget by Frank Tovey retrospective that took place in 2006.
This is an incredible dance-floor filler with a pulsating beat that’s now synonymous with the time. Speaking to Paul Morley at the NME a year later Frank explained “I object to the pressures put on people to have hair here but not there … the pressure that says that hair on a certain part of a woman’s body is unfeminine. I don’t think pubic hair is shocking at all. I think it’s quite funny. I can’t understand why pubic hair is supposed to be naughty or shocking? Why are there certain parts of the body that you mustn’t talk about? Why can’t you have your pubic hair coloured and attended to by a hairdresser?”
When David Hepworth reviewed the single for Smash Hits it’s not clear if he was including Lady Shave within his comments “Spare, rhythmic and very clever. If Fad is crazy, he’s crazy like a fox and this deserves radio play at the very least.”
3. Ricky’s Hand (non-album single)
As much as I enjoyed the synth pop that would soon fill the charts, I genuinely believe this helped pave the way. There’s a raw naivety to it – it’s pop but it’s also quite experimental too. I think Frank had a knack to be at the forefront of genres without gaining much of the recognition:- synth/new wave/industrial. He later rejected synthesizers in favour of more traditional instruments circa 1986. I’ve actually got Toyah to thank for all of this you know. She was a fan of Fad Gadget. I was a huge fan of Toyah. Fad Gadget provided support for her Glasgow Apollo show December 1981. I was ridiculously excited to be going with my friend. My friend decided to paint his face (one of the faces from the cover of 4 from Toyah) – a brave move as we were travelling from Easterhouse on the 41 bus. However the face painting took so long that we arrived just as Fad Gadget left the stage. It remains an open wound.It transpires that I saw Toyah 3 times at the Apollo, in just over a year for the princely sum of £12 in total.
4. Pedestrian (from the album Fireside Favourites)
Prescient is the best possible term for this song. While there was some understanding of the negative impact on ill-health and environmental impact due to increasing car usage in the early 80s it now seems more stark in the present generation climate emergency.
This is perhaps as funky as Fad Gadget ever got.
“Twenty-five acres every day
to make one mile of motorway.
Don’t breathe the air it’s full of lead,
babies sick, babies dead.
This is a theme that would be further explored in Wheels of Fortune (Under the Flag)
“I choke on my words as I speak
Brain damaged citizens file along the street
A view from my window
A motorway intersection
Exhaust pipes at pram level
Now playgrounds are carparks”
5. Innocent Bystander (from the album Incontinent)
The stunning Friedrichstrasse blog that dedicates 4 pages to early Fad Gadget contends that Innocent Bystander and Blind Eyes reflect the social unrest in the UK at the time. Whether true or not the lyrics are striking …
“Wiped away the condensation
Looked down at the empty street
A girl in white – fright screaming loudly
A screwed-up nut in pursuit
I stood and watched
Frozen to the spot
I stood and watched her bruised chest heave and stop”
6. Swallow It (live) (b-side of Saturday Night Special from the album Incontinent)
This song instantly catapults me back to a time when I would just constantly turn the 7” vinyl from side to side – perched as I was on the edge of my bed and covered in oose (oos or fluff) from a deteriorating candlewick bedspread. It’s one of a very few live, recorded performances that I can say I find captivating. The cynical delivery and impact of the lyrics continues to resonate. The “regurgitated” remix that appeared on the 2001 Best of … is also well worth seeking out.
I add some insightful live information below although it predates the release of Swallow It (live).
Fad Gadget was a performance art band and Frank often put his own safety at risk. There are a number of incidents on file …
Paradiso, Amsterdam: when in the audience he made a flying leap and landed on his heels on a set of steps. He snapped the tendons in both legs in the process. He managed to crawl back on stage, using a tunnel under the main hall, to finish the show. The remainder of the tour was a write-off.
Clarendon, London: Frank decided to play electronic drum with his head during the opening track, managing to gash it open in the process. His head was bandaged, the performance completed, with photographers from “The Face” on hand to capture it for posterity. Frank then went to Charing Cross Hospital.
The Mudd Club, New York: Frank hung from the lighting rigging, beating his chest and making animal noises with the microphone jammed firmly into his mouth.
I believe the photo below was taken after Frank re-emerged from the crawl space of the lowered ceiling. I hope the venue had decent insurance.
His on-stage behaviour was not exactly atypical of so-called synth bands of the time.
7. King of the Flies (from the album Incontinent – kind of)
The track 1st appeared on Flexipop issue 11 as a split single with Depeche Mode’s Sometimes I Wish I Was Dead on the a-side. It’s been suggested that this is a different mix although it’s also noted as a promo for the forthcoming single and album. I’m ashamed to admit I don’t own a copy. The single however is a different mix from the album version.
It was anticipated that with an NME interview with Paul Morley, having his photo taken by Anton Corbijn, and being the subject of a whole page feature and interview in Smash Hits, that King of the Flies might be the break-through hit. It wasn’t to be.
It reached number 17 in the UK independent singles chart in April, 1982*. It was during this time that news filtered through that Frank was working on a collaboration with Boyd Rice. Titled, “Easy Listening for the Hard of Hearing”, the album was eventually released in 1984.
* The highest charting Fad Gadget single was Collapsing New People which reached No, 5 (independent charts) in January 1984.”
8. Life on the Line I (a non-album single)
I was all but convinced that this single would enter the charts and was hugely disappointed when it didn’t. I have noted it here as version I for clarity however it is listed plainly as Life on the Line. It did chart at number 10 in the independent charts. Versions I to IV were released as b-sides and album tracks. It’s a concept that I believe works superbly. This is one of the tracks on which you can distinctly hear Alison Moyet.
Where version I (7”) is a straight forward pop song, version II (12”) is a proper mash-up remix. Glorious. Version III (12”) is a vocal and piano version with the backing vocal choir coming into full effect. Exquisite. IV returns us to a more conventional pop orientated mix and appears on the album Under the Flag.
9. Under The Flag II (from the album Under The Flag)
Under the Flag I opened the album Under the Flag while Under the Flag II closed it. I have chosen II for its plaintive, yet anthemic, feel.
Lyrically it’s akin to Bauhaus …
“Well I tried so hard to please you
’cause I know that you crave blood
Consumer credit carnivores
And now the masses have been fed
Suck the offal from the dead
Now the joker’s here to pick the sores”
10. Speak to Me (from the album Gag)
Appearing on the final Fad Gadget studio album, Speak to Me is a pop delight. Vocals are shared between Frank and Barbara Frost.
If the line “Hang your bloody linen on the barbed wire fence” doesn’t capture your attention I’m not sure what will?
“Um, sha la la la, um sha la la la ooh,” indeed.
11. Jump (from the album Gag)
I have had the honour of dancing to this at an indie disco. I played it and then ran like a maniac to the dance floor. Lyrically, it’s far from uplifting but somehow, lost in the trance of rhythmic disco lights and an insistent sound system I was uplifted.
The window ledge is calling you
Your mind’s in disarray
The way out seems so simple now
In the cold, cold light of day
The world is rough and jagged
And it tears you up, it tears you up
12. One Man’s Meat (from the album Gag)
Frank seemed to favour the darker side when it came to lyrics and none more so than here.
“I felt like dropping down
Sick in the street
I could hardly care about walking
Dragged along with no force in my feet
And all the bones in me knocking
Worn down by caution
Make numb with restrain
In all of my sweetness
I retch and I faint”
I get a clear sense that I Discover Love – a non-album single released prior to the album – was recorded very close to One Man’s Meat the final single to be released by Fad Gadget in 1984 (not including the re-emergence of Fad Gadget with remix singles in 2001 and 2003).
I was gutted on hearing the news that Fad Gadget was no more. It was ‘my band’ I was the only person that I knew that liked them and I felt a little cheated. It would be 4 years later, in 1988, before I met someone who had a) heard of Fad Gadget and b) liked Fad Gadget. We remain friends to this day.
13. Spoil the Child (b-side to Collapsing New People from the album Gag)
This gem has an almost nursery rhyme feel to it and I can’t but wonder if it was originally linked to M4 (the b-side to Life on the Line). Vocals are by Barbara Frost who by this time had dropped the middle-initial J from her name and was now married to Tovey. Their daughter Morgan appears on M4 and Sleep (Gag album).
While it is often reported that Einstürzende Neubauten played on Collapsing New People, the seven-inch sleeve only credits the band as guest musicians on the single’s B-side, Spoil the Child. It credits them as appearing “with or without the kind permission of Some Bizarre”.
Blixa Bargeld has noted that overdubs from the Einstürzende Neubauten sessions were used by Gareth Jones on Depeche Mode’s People Are People.
In May, 2001 I learned that Fad Gadget would be supporting Depeche Mode on their Exciter tour, via a poster within Madrid Rock, a record shop once located on Gran Via, Madrid. I immediately double-checked the tour dates and was overjoyed to learn that a Madrid date had been scheduled. We bought our tickets then and there and began to plan for our return to Madrid from Glasgow in late September. Fast forward to the day of the gig …
We arrived at the stadium as elated as it’s possible to get. There was some dreadful, deafening music being played by a DJ (Angel Molina). The sounds of the DJ died away and Depeche Mode took to the stage. Eh? What!? It seems that Fad Gadget could not play due to a car accident in which a band member was injured. I nearly cried. I probably did. We decided to stay for Depeche Mode but my mood was dark. We sidled to awful seats and were confronted with some of the worst live sound it has ever been my misfortune to be assaulted by. It was so shriekingly-trebly that it actually did go right through us – like fingernails snaking their way down a blackboard. Our experience is substantiated by others at the gig and reviews on the Depeche Mode live site. I think we lasted 5 songs and left.
I’d like to say I was inconsolable – it’d be terribly dramatic. I was upset. However, I was also in my favourite city and it worked it’s magic. We visited some local music bars in Malasaña and I think I recall some indie-dancing as I stood at the bar watching in disbelief a vodka being poured: one, two, three, four, five seconds. Needless to say the remainder of the night passed quickly and enjoyably.
In issue 11 of Flexipop magazine, September 1981 Frank was asked what his fantasy was and he replied
On Wednesday 3rd April 2002 Frank realised his fantasy. He died of heart failure at his home in London.
Written in conjunction with a failing memory, Google, Wikipedia and http://friedrichstrasse.blogspot.com.