News Column

Fry puts gold suit down to a need for attention

July 11, 2014

nicola meighan; nicola meighan

ABC frontman Martin Fry is musing on the origins of his infamous gold lame suit. "I think it started as a bet with the other guys in the band," he says of Sheffield's lavish pop seducers, who formed in 1980.

"I mean, a gold suit's pretty obnoxious anyway, but in the early 80s it was even more so. It was really boring back then - you'd go into a pub and guys would be playing cribbage and dominoes - so you had to shine like a peacock to get any attention. Actually, psychologically speaking, that suit was about me being ignored for the first 17 years of my life," he says with a laugh.

You bet he shone. The gleaming threads and philharmonic vignettes that Fry wrote and performed in ABC ensured that by the early 1980s he was centre stage in pop, a suave pin-up whose hits included The Look Of Love (Part 1), Poison Arrow, All Of My Heart and When Smokey Sings - all of which he's sure to perform at Rewind Festival in Scone later this month. (ABC is essentially a solo operation these days).

Yet for all of his chart hits and poster boy credentials, Fry also found favour with punks who'd come of age in the late 1970s/ early 1980s. Perhaps this was down to his own punk background (he joined ABC's predecessors, Vice Versa after interviewing them for his fanzine Modern Drugs), or maybe it was thanks to the bands who shaped him - David Bowie, The Sex Pistols, Roxy Music-era Bryan Ferry (his surname and fringe not a far cry from Fry's) - but whatever the reason, the ABC singer became a credible New Pop star with whom both teenage fans and ex-punks could identify.

"Yeah, it's really nice that," says Fry. "Many many years ago, in the early days of Smash Hits, I was a pin-up for five minutes - I kind of got jealous of Duran Duran actually, because they sustained the pin-up thing for much longer. But we were popular in NME and Melody Maker as well," he recalls. "I loved punk rock, I used to hitch-hike to go and see the Jam, the Sex Pistols, the Clash, but when I came to form a band a couple of years later, I realised that I wasn't going to copy that style. I guess ABC were trying to radicalise disco and mix funk and soul with the contemporary bands we listened to, like Joy Division. We wanted to bend the music, to innovate a little bit."

The name ABC has become embedded in our collective pop consciousness, associated with epic, filmic hits, but its origins, too, are rooted in punk. "The band was originally called ABC The Radical Dance Faction, John Peel used to play us," Fry offers. "But then it just became ABC, which of course stands for everything and nothing. We were rebelling against all those wild punk names. We wanted a really humble name, a straightforward name."

Their debut single, 1981's Tears Are Not Enough, opened with falsetto splendour and grandiose disco-brass fanfares, and the scale of the band's gilded vision from thereon in was staggering. Despite its humble intentions, the name ABC was big and bold - it suggested bright new beginnings and vast possibilities.They extended this notion by inventing their own Lexicon Of Love (the title of their Trevor Horn-produced debut in 1982), and investing their pop A-Z with infinite riches (their 1985 LP was called How To Be ... A Zillionaire!)

"Yeah, we definitely wanted to create our own world; we wanted to create our own movie and live in it," Fry says. "When I look back at Dexy's Midnight Runners, or The Cure, or The Human League, I think that's what those bands were doing too - they were just different movies, different gangs."

Was the band's glimmering, lush aesthetic a means of escapism? "Yeah, it was, pure and simple. I guess it was an escapism for the Vegas neon that just didn't exist in Sheffield," he says with a laugh. "The good thing about Sheffield was it was subsidised, you could get a bus anywhere for 10p, so you had a lot of bands forming in the early 80s. But life was tough. In a way that feeling is around again now - look at something like Happy, by Pharrell Williams. That's a very escapist song.

"I tell you one thing that hurt though," he continues. "A lot of the time people looked at us with our string quartets and our sparkly tuxedos and said that we were a sort of a cocktail bar band. That was the one criticism that really hurt."

ABC were, at heart, a punk band in spirit if not execution. "We were definitely about doing the opposite, rebelling against what was around us," nods Fry. "At the time, the bands around us were all quite serious, synthetic and we were the opposite - we wanted to push it in a totally different direction. We didn't care what happened. And that was our punk manifesto.

"I've been trying to carry that flag for a long time now," he muses.

"So I salute my brothers, the punks out there. All the young dudes, the glam rockers, the DIY dads. We've all become DIY dads. Have I mellowed? A little bit. I'm surprised how little, actually."

ABC play this year's Rewind Festival, Scone, July 18-20


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Source: Herald, The (Scotland)


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