Ultravox UK Tours 1977 Part II

Ultravox second UK Tour
16 June -14 July 1977

On 18 June 1977, an article in Sounds announced a series of ‘club’ dates as follows, as a prelude to a full British tour in the autumn:

June 16: Marquee, London
June 17: Civic Hall, St Albans
June 18: Tiffany’s, Newcastle-under-Lyme
June 24: Penthouse, Scarborough
June 28: Tiffany’s, Shrewsbury
June 30: Marquee, London
July 01: Leeds Polytechnic
July 02: Civic Hall, Wolverhampton
July 03: Castaways, Plymouth
July 04: Top Of The World, Stafford
July 14: London Marquee

A week later on 25 June 1977, the same dates appeared in NME with two amendments. The first two dates are missing, and the show at Tiffany’s in Newcastle-under-Lyme was “Tonight, Thursday” instead of 18 June, which was the previous Saturday.
There are separate adverts in both papers for the shows at the Marquee on 16 June (the venue’s archive confirms this) and at St Albans City Hall (not Civic Hall) on 17 June. Support band Clemen Pull could not remember the date, but confirmed they did support Ultravox! at City Hall around this time.

Thus the archive has been amended to show a gig at Tiffany’s in Newcastle-under-Lyme on Thursday 23 June, 1977. While the itinerary and geography might not prove anything one way or the other, it does seem more logical to go with the latter of these two dates.

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The show in Plymouth on 3rd July confounds the logic: Wolverhampton (July 2) and Stafford (July 4) are only 25 miles apart, yet Ultravox! travelled a 450-mile round trip to Plymouth in between

There are two other dates on this map that have been added to the archive as ‘confirmed’ gigs thanks to articles in local and national papers, music archivists and another venue memoir. Tony Beesley’s book “Out Of Control” tells the story of the punk scene at two of Yorkshire’s most famous period venues, The Outlook in Doncaster and The Windmill in nearby Rotherham. Follow-up correspondence with him has confirmed the various dates Ultravox! played at those venues, including one supported by Bethnal on 19 May 1977. This doesn’t fit in with any listed or advertised ‘tour’ and may seem anomalous, until you consider that Ultravox! also played at Rebecca’s in Birmingham three days later, confirmed by the guys at the Birmingham Music Archive. The Outlook gig was also reviewed in Sounds on 4 June 1977, so that further confirms it was not part of this club date tour…

Minding The Gaps
So what of the three days between 24 and 28 June in Scarborough and Shrewsbury?
With nothing booked or listed, maybe it is simply that nothing happened. But one could speculate that the ‘unknown’ gigs at in Goole and Ashby-de-la-Zouch fit nicely…?
What is more likely though is that the booking at Tiffany’s in Shrewsbury confirms that the band did not play the ‘unknown’ rugby club date on this mini-tour which further points to it being on the earlier round in April.

Missing Dates…?
I have also been following up correspondence with two sources that either saw or supported Ultravox! around this time at unlisted venues, but are we unable to confirm dates. Both Langley College, Reading and Hitchin College could fit with this second round of gigs, given that Ultravox! played at least another two (above) that are not listed in adverts, but neither can be specifically accounted for at the moment.

Perhaps you can help?
Ticket stubs, diaries, personal anecdotes etc are very welcome and everything will be acknowledged and followed up.

Thanks for reading

Ultravox UK Tours 1977 Part 1

Ultravox first UK Tour
22 March -19 April 1977

Revisiting these dates again now with all that I have learned of Ultravox movements suggests that the itinerary as we know it is incomplete. This is no surprise.
The archive was initially built around dates published in NME on 26 March 1977 as follows:

March 24: Red Deer, Croydon
March 25: Marquee, London
March 26: Electric Circus, Manchester
March 28: Toby Jug, Tolworth
March 29: Railway Hotel, Putney
March 30: The Affair, Swindon
April 01: 76 Club, Dudley
April 02: Eric’s, Liverpool
April 03: Top Rank, Sheffield
April 04: Tiffany’s, Edinburgh
April 09: Priory Hotel, Scunthorpe
April 12: Top Rank, Brighton
April 13: La Fayette, Wolverhampton
April 15: Marquee, London
April 16: Rock Gardens, Middlesbrough

According to this advert, the dates were arranged by Brian Epstein’s NEMS agency, the leading booking agents of the period.

I have researched this tour (and all others by the band) for years, but until now, I have never considered them from a geographical perspective, from the point of view of plotting the shows on a simple map:

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What is interesting is the order of the shows, which don’t seem to follow any geographical logic and so must presumably have been booked according to available dates rather than with any efficient itinerary in mind? For example, they played the Marquee in London on Friday 25 March and then drove 200 miles to Manchester for a show the following evening. While this might not seem exceptional, Ultravox were than back in London for a gig in Tolworth on Monday 28th, and played at Eric’s in Liverpool three days after that…
The next few dates do make more logical sense (Swindon, Dudley, Liverpool, Sheffield, Edinburgh) although the question arises – why is there a gig ‘missing’ on Wednesday  31 March between Swindon and Dudley (Burton-on-Trent)?

Then between Monday 4th (Edinburgh) and Saturday 9th (Scunthorpe) there is a ‘gap’ of five days without a gig booking. And to close the tour, did Ultravox really travel 260 miles back up the A1 for a show in Middlesbrough?
Certainly an exhausting schedule, even with the gaps.

Minding The Gaps
While the NME listing is a starting point, I have uncovered a handful of other dates and factors that might fit in with this first tour.
In June 1981, Chris Cross listed in Smash Hits magazine Ten Gigs I Never Want To Play Again. Some of these are still unsourced, and these include:

Vikings, Goole and The Top Hat, Spennymoor
Shrewsbury Rugby Club
The Dolphins, Morecambe
Country Club, Ashby de la Zouch

It does not seem entirely unreasonable to suggest that Ultravox might have played Spennymoor and Goole on their journey from Edinburgh to Scunthorpe, between 4th and 9th April 1977. Which provides a starting point for further research, although no evidence at all of either gig has yet come to light.

From the map – assuming some application of logical travelling arrangements of course – I feel comfortable suggesting that the gig in Ashby de la Zouch is the ‘missing’ one for 31st March 1977. Chris Cross recalls that they played to one person, and not even the bar staff attended! Assuming this to be a reliable account (and there is no reason to think otherwise), then I am inclined to think this anecdote refers to an early gig. The band got very popular very quickly, so such an exclusive audience seems unlikely to be very much later in the year. It may however be equally within reason to place the Shrewsbury Rugby Club gig into this vacant date, but with even less evidence! There’s not much history of this venue at all online, so it also could be very early.

One more piece of the puzzle came to light on reading Tony Hill’s excellent memoir The Palace & The Punks which describes the “occasionally sad, but always true” story of the Grey Topper in a Nottinghamshire pit village. He mentions an Ultravox gig in the text, and then kindly sent me a copy of a page from the club’s booking diary confirming they appeared there on Tuesday 22 March 1977. Another gig listed in Chris Cross’s list of those he would rather forget, when there were more people in the fish shop opposite than at the gig. Both Cross and Tony Hill confirm this unfortunate circumstance.
The date however would suggest it to be their VERY FIRST show outside London?
How does that feel…?

Knowing the band’s preference for playing an unlisted warm-up before a tour, this appearance in the middle of nowhere in Nottinghamshire sits nicely ahead of the main sequence of dates. It does though also open up the possibility of another gig on 23rd March before the listed show in Croydon… Ashby de la Zouch on the way back?

Finally, the gigs in Croydon, Tolworth and Putney are all advertised together in NME the same issue as a above, presented by Fox Leisure. They seem fairly ‘concrete’ but of course one can never guarantee ANY of these listed shows actually went ahead other than discovering personal anecdotes or memoirs.

A speculative conclusion would be to suggest this itinerary:

March 22: Grey Topper, Jacksdale (Notts)
March 23: Country Club, Ashby de la Zouch???
March 24: Red Deer, Croydon
March 25: Marquee, London
March 26: Electric Circus, Manchester
March 27: Sunday off???
March 28: Toby Jug, Tolworth
March 29: Railway Hotel, Putney
March 30: The Affair, Swindon
March 31: Shrewsbury Rugby Club???
April 01: 76 Club, Dudley
April 02: Eric’s, Liverpool
April 03: Top Rank, Sheffield
April 04: Tiffany’s, Edinburgh
April 5/6: Top Hat, Spennymoor
April 7/8: Vikings, Goole

April 09: Priory Hotel, Scunthorpe
April 10: Sunday off???

Do The Mutation
By the 9th April, there were full page adverts in the UK press listing dates for April under the Do the Mutation headline.













April 11: Covent Garden, London (additional to the dates listed on 26 March)
April 12: Top Rank, Brighton
April 13: La Fayette, Wolverhampton
April 15: Marquee, London
April 16: Rock Gardens, Middlesbrough

Three days after the Middlesbrough gig Ultravox! played five consecutive nights in Paris and then appeared in Brussels and Holland

Can You Help?
I like to think that a lot of this speculation is educated guesswork based on known habits and parameters, but I am more than happy to be proved wrong at any point. Evidence is very hard to find. “Previous investigations shape the search for information…”
if you have read this far and can help with any of this, please do get in touch.

Thanks for reading



Ultravox – Warren Cann interview (1977)

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I recently made a transcript of this interview as part of my 40 Years of Foxx project.
It’s interesting to read the perspective of other band members.

This took a lot of work to transcribe.
LINK to this page if you make reference – please don’t copy and paste the contents

SNOT RAG (Fanzine, Vancouver BC)
No. 4 December 20, 1977

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Ultravox first came into prominence late last year, and immediately drew mixed reaction from the critics. Hailed by NME:

“If the New Wave of rock is going to produce bands a s good as ULTRAVOX, then it looks like 1977 might be as good as 1967 for modern music”

and lauded by Melody Maker’s CAROLINE COON:

“ULTRAVOX are obviously another new band who are going to make 1977 a vintage year for Rock… some very special talents are t work here.”

Their detractors accused them of being contrived, a mere imitation of ROXY MUSIC. However as 1977 comes to a close ULTRAVOX have most certainly stood the test. With two successful albums and a string of singles, they have completed highly successful tours or Europe and Britain. The band are confident about their future and have never sounded stronger. Their music is a perfect blend of complex rock and futuristic vision. Drummer WARREN CANN and bassist CHRIS CROSS provide a tight rhythm section, embellished by Billy Currie on keyboards and strengthened with STEVIE SHEARS frantic guitar work. The band provide a perfect show-case for the fragile yet devastating lyrics of their manic vocalist JOHN FOXX.
I recently had the opportunity to gain an interview from ULTRAVOX drummer WARREN CANN, (undoubtedly one of the best drummers to emerge from the New Wave). What follows is that interview in its entirety.

S.R. –    You’ve recently completed your biggest British tour ever, was it as successful as you had hoped?

W.C. –  Yes, we played all over the country and the audiences were great. They know us better now and aren’t as easily throne by some of the things we do. We’ve tried ever since we began to keep changing, to keep mutating. We’re not interested in finding a formula and flogging it to death like so many of the dinosaurs, or like a lot of the punks do for that matter.
I think that the one thing people can expect from ULTRAVOX! is constant change. We’ve just completed our first tour of Europe, that was from mid-October through to mid-November. We played in Sweden, Germany, France, Belgium and Holland. The audiences over there were great. They’re different from English audiences in that they don’t tend to go off like a rocket when you walk onstage – they sit there and really listen, then as the music goes on they get more and more involved until at the end they’re going spare.

S.R. –    I understand you weren’t too happy about the conditions under which you recorded the first album? Can you elaborate?

W.C.    What??? I don’t know where you heard that… nothing like that happened, we were really happy about it all. So would you, too, if you’d been knocking on record company doors for two years and constantly being given the elbow.
You see, in those days there was absolutely nothing happening. When we started London was like a wasteland, none of us could hear what we wanted to hear or what we felt it was necessary to hear so we just decided to do it ourselves.
It was only later on that we discovered there were a few small pockets of change happening. THE HOTRODS, THE FEELGOODS, the LONDON SS, THE STRANGLERS and what was to become The Clash, plus a lot of other people who have since surfaced, they were all on the streets then but it was just that the scene was totally underground then. The media here was still down on their knees at the feet of the DOOBIE BROS and DEEP PURPLE.
We were something the record company people hadn’t seen for a long time, a band off of the street, a band with no famous or ex-name people in it. An untested commodity that they were scared shitless of. To make out demos we had to sneak into a studio where a friend of ours worked. We’d go in on the weekend and come out just before the cleaning ladies arrived on a Monday morning. When we finally found ISLAND we were over the moon about being able to go and get our sounds down on vinyl and get them out and about. We did it in their own studio in Hammersmith. Until then it was only the second studio we’d ever been in so it didn’t make any difference to us where we did it.
All I can suggest as to why you heard we weren’t happy with it is a complaint that everybody in the world must have. Immediately after you’ve done an album you feel you could’ve done it better, if only we’d done this or that or the other thing etc. We’re learning to come to grips with that, both from having some experience in the studio now and because we really like how accidents can turn into things that give you new ideas. We’re trying to do more and more things as quickly as possible. If you take two weeks getting the toothbrush overdubs right the thing just dies in your hands. A lot of stuff on the first album was done very quickly and a lot of stuff on HA! HA! HA! was done first take. You get a rawness then that you wouldn’t get otherwise…

S.R. –    Just how big a part did ENO play in the actual production end of it?

W.C. –  When we were discussing the album with Island, they wanted to know if we wanted a producer on it or not. We were open to the idea if whoever it was was interesting and they suggested that we meet ENO. ENO was still on Island and we rather suspect that it was because they felt he was the only person that could understand what we were trying to do!
We met ENO and immediately got on with him. He has this reputation of being a very esoteric fellow clouded in mystery, but really he’s a perfectly straightforward bloke who hasn’t let his musical ideas become calcified by the trends of the music biz. He’s great. You could say that while we were in the studio together we were mutually experimenting on each other.

S.R. –    How do you feel about the new album?

W.C. –  We’re knocked out by it. We’ve got a lot more confidence in the studio now, we know what dials to pull to get whatever we want and that gives you a good backing from where you can afford to take more and more chances. I like it because I think we’ve managed to go in at least two different directions at once. It’s a lot harder than the first album and it’s a lot stranger at the same time. We’ve become more and more interested in pure noises, sounds that just rip into you and rattle around, or sounds that seduce you in other less obvious ways.
There seems to be so much rock & roll at the moment that’s only blasting out aggression and frustration. Well, that’s fine, but there are a whole lot of other emotions in the human spectrum. We’ll use the claws when we want to but we want to evoke other feelings as well: mania, passion, serenity, remorse…
The next one will be even more different, we’ve got a lot of ideas and have been thinking a lot about what we’re going to do. It’s another departure. I suppose in that respect we’re not really what you’d call marketable… but that’s what keeps us excited by what we’re doing. We’ve got a completely free hand by the record company and there’s no reason why any of us would want to keep making the same records over and over again.

S.R. –    Do you have any plans for touring the States in the near future? If so when and where?

W.C. –              We have a major British tour in January and then we’ll be over to the States. I think we’ll be going to New York first, perhaps do a few gigs on the East Coast and then go over to L. A. for a while. I don’t imagine it will be what you’d term an intensive tour because we’ll opt for presenting our own show in smaller places rather than being on the same bill as TED NUGENT. I mean, the two wouldn’t be compatible at all… We’re not well known in the States and when you’re doing those sort of concerts its nice to be playing to thousands of people at a time and all that but chances are the match between acts is just so prone craziness. I’d much rather we started playing in clubs and things where the initial audience have the chance, for both our sakes, of seeing us do our show on our own in a place where there’s a bit of contact with each other.
Offhand, I think the only band we’d be excited by the idea of touring with would be KRAFTWERK, they’re great. Plans change every five minutes. We’ve got a lot of things that we want to do, and the chances are that America and Canada might not see us until later in the year. We’ll just have to wait and see… I hope it’s soon, I think we’ll kill ‘em. The time is right for us to go. I think the States has heard so much about the punk thing, the New Wave thing and gotten it all arse backwards. There must be a hardcore element to everything, I suppose. I mean… The people that originated the punk thing here have all dropped out. They’re probably all off somewhere blowing a spliff and growing their hair. The media has woken up too. – too late of course for punk – and have flogged it to death. You see adverts for mail order punk gear! Half of the drag they’re selling now for punks the majority of people can’t even afford! It’s all dead except the shouting.
There are so many second and third rate copies of the PISTOLS and the CLASH knocking about now that it’s pathetic. It did give music a gigantic kick up the arse when it needed it, but instead of thinking and trying to get different things together, the punks have gone even more conservative than the people they wanted to oust.
We’ve been knocked a lot for the sins of using an acoustic guitar in MACHINE; for having keyboards and synthesizer in our line-up; for having a violin! Those things aren’t done!

Every now and then we sing a harmony – what fussy farts we are! I think it’s beginning to sort itself out now though, it’s going to be very interesting to see who survives the initial blast and carries on. Right now there are some great bands in London who are getting rather lost in the shuffle because they aren’t currently slotting in with the punk idiom. The singer with the BOOMTOWN RATS said “New Wave rules…and the first rule is…” Things will be turbulent, but that’s the best way for any change to get through, the boat is gonna get knocked all over the world and all I can say is “What took it so long!” Thanks SNOT RAG from ULTRAVOX!

ULTRAVOX! An interview with John Foxx by Ingeborg Schober, June 1977

Published in Musikexpress (Germany) on 2nd July 1977

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German text:

In ganz Großbritannien und an der Ostküste der USA schnellt die dritte Generation des Rock ‘n’ Roll uas den Startlöchern.

Zu den vielversprechendsten Gruppen der neugeborenen Szene (für die sich jetzt mehr und mehr das Schlagwort “New Wave” durchsetzt) zählt “Ultravox!” aus England. ME-Mitarbeiter Werner Zeppenfeld pries ihr Debütalbum vor zwei Monaten in den höchsten Tönen. Ingeborg Schober traf Ultravox jetzt in München, wo die Band fürs ARD-Programm gefilmt wurde.

Mehrmals schon hatten die fünf Ultravöxchen – alle so urn die zwanzig Jare alt – ihre neue Single “Young Savage” im Fernsehstudio der “Szene 77” mit der gleichen Konzentration und Vitalität durchgespielt. Und während sie bei dem Titel “Dangerous Rhythm” ruhig und fast brav dreinblickten, verwandelten sie sich jetzt auf einmal in wilde Bühnenakrobaten, voran der schmachtige Blondschopf John Foxx. Doch gleich darauf, als wir in der “Maske” sitzen, wo sich die übrigen Bandmitglieder (Steve Shears, git; Warren Cann, drums, voc; Billy Currie, violin, keyboards; Chris Cross, bass, voc) für den Auftritt schminken und die gewaschenen Haare füohnen, mimt er wieder den coolen, distanzierten Sänger, der endlich alles sagen kann, was ihm längst auf den Lippen brennt.

“Vergiß die Kategorien, ich halte sie für dumm. Wir könned mehr als die meisten Bands in London. Wir sind, was wir sind, und wir sind ziemlich anders als die übrigen Leute.”

Angefangen hat es vor 2 Jahren, als die New York Dolls auftauchten. “Das war für mich die einzig interessante Gruppe. Und ich wollte schon schon immer in eine Band, weil mir Geräusche gefallen. Früher stand ich auf Velvet Underground.” Die anderen Musiker traf Foxx in Clubs, wo sie mit lokalen Bands auftraten. Und Billy, der Geiger, der als einzinger die Musikakademie besucht hat, gehörte einer Theatergruppe an. John besuchte damals die Kuntsakademie.

“Mein Stipendium, das ich vom Staat dafür bekam, habe ich in die Band investiert. So einfach war das.” Zuerst spielten sie in einen Turnhalle, die zu einen Sportzentrum gehörte. Wie ernst war es ihm mit Musik damals? “Sehr ernst. Ich halte nichts von Hobbbies. Was ich mache, daran glaube ich. Konkurrenz fürchte ich nicht, denn sowas wie uns gibt es in England nicht noch einmal. Das ist keine Überheblichkeit, sondern die Wahrheit.”

Ultravox macht Frankenstein-Musik: “Wir retten Teile von Toten. Ich glaube, daß alle alten Bands tot sind!” sagt Sänger John Foxx.

Klang die Gruppe schon damals wie jetzt, hat es ein Startkonzept gegeben? “Es fing damit an daß wir Lärm machen wollten. Ganz einfach Töne. Die gesamte übrige Musik hat uns gelangweilt. Wir haben nicht über Karriere oder soetwas nachgedarcht. Und seit dem Start haben wir uns mindestens fünf Mal total verändert. Und das werden wir auch weiterhin tun. Nicht eine Idee ist wichtig, sondern die Entwicklung. Sobalt etwas nicht mehr interessant ist oder sich wiederholt, werden wir damit aufhören, selbst wenn es gut ist. Ich glaube, das ist der einzige. Weg, als Individuum zu überleben, ohne vor Langeweile zu sterben.”

Aber würdest du nicht sagen, daß ihr bereits einen spezifischen Stil habt? “Stil ist nur ein weiteres Instrument, wie eine Gitarre, du kannst ihn so oder so benützen” Aber Einflüsse sind doch dad, von Roxy Music oder Velvet Underground? “Ja, vielleicht von zwei Stücken jeweils, die ich von einer Band mag. Es ist eine Art Frankenstein-Prozess; wir retten Teile von den Toten, die wir als tot betrahcten. Ich glaube, daß aller alten betrachten. Bands tot sind. Also können wir sie bedenkenlos benützen.”

Wie erklärst du dir, daß ihr trotz der geringen musikalischen Erfahrung sehr perfekt und professionell klint? “Ich hasse den Gedanken, ein ersnthafter Musiker zu sein. Das ist der falsche Weg um etwas in Bewegung zu bringen. Wir fingen bei Null an, auf demGetäusche-Level. Darauf bauten wir auf, selektierten die Gerüasche, die wir aufregend fanden. Und dann kam die Reaktion darauf. Ich denke, so fängt Musik an.”

Dein erstes Album wurde von Eno (dem ehemaligen Roxy Music Man) produziert. Hast du ähnliche Ansichten zu ihm? Obwohl er eigentlich ganz anders ist als wir, ist er viel schöner, wir sind sehr heiß, aber ursprünglich haben wir vom gleichen Punkt aus begonnen und sind nur in verschiedene Richtungen gewachsen. Von Eno Können wir immer noch eine Menge lernen. Mit ihm zu arbeiten ist wirklich aufregend. Der Zufall spielt dabei eine große Rolle.

Er hat eine sehr unbekümmerte Strategie beim Arbeiten. Er schaut zum Beispiel in die Karten. Wir haben mit einem Kartenspiel gearbeteit, das war sehr gut. Und du spielst dabei gleichzeitig mit deinem Leben, denn das Leben ist ein Album. Also spielst du auch mit deiner Identität. Und das ist, wie alle Spiele, sehr aufregend.” Heißt das, daß ihr keine festen Kompositionen hatter? “Moment, mach nicht den Fehler und glaube, daß wir ein Zufallsprodukt sind. Wir stengen uns sehr an bei dem, was wir machen. Es ist Leben.

Wir sind keine Amateure, wie gesagt, es ist kein Hobby. WIr sind sehr antschloisen und folgereichtig. Wir mögen nichts Affektiertes und Geziertes. Wir wollen eine Menge Geräusche und eine starke Aussage.”

Glaubst du, daß ein ganz junges Publikum eure Songs und die Aussagen versteht? “Ja, instinktiv besser als die Älteren, die es intellekteuil versuchen. Aber die Gefühle sind immer zuerst da, dann kann man sie intellektueil formulieren. ABer wir versuchen ja auch eine alzeptable Oberfläche zu schaffen, unter der denn eben mehr ist. Rock ‘n’ Roll ist eine so einfache Form, aber deshalb schön, weil du fast alles reinpacken kannst. Ich liebe es, durch eine Tür und noch eine und so weiter zu gehen. Ein Song muß ein Labyrinth sein, aber ein einladendes.”

Wir sind keine Amateure, wie gesagt, es ist kein Hobby. WIr sind sehr antschloisen und folgereichtig. Wir mögen nichts Affektiertes und Geziertes. Wir wollen eine Menge Geräusche und eine starke Aussage.”

Glaubst du, daß ein ganz junges Publikum eure Songs und die Aussagen versteht? “Ja, instinktiv besser als die Älteren, die es intellekteuil versuchen. Aber die Gefühle sind immer zuerst da, dann kann man sie intellektueil formulieren. ABer wir versuchen ja auch eine alzeptable Oberfläche zu schaffen, unter der denn eben mehr ist. Rock ‘n’ Roll ist eine so einfache Form, aber deshalb schön, weil du fast alles reinpacken kannst. Ich liebe es, durch eine Tür und noch eine und so weiter zu gehen. Ein Song muß ein Labyrinth sein, aber ein einladendes.”

English translation:

The third generation of Rock ‘n’ Roll is rocketing across the UK and the US East Coast, and among the most promising groups of this scene (for which the phrase “New Wave” is increasingly used) is “Ultravox!” from England. ME employee Werner Zeppenfeld praised their debut album two months ago[1] in the highest tones. Ingeborg Schober met Ultravox in Munich, where the band was filmed for the ARD program[2].

Several times already the five Ultravox-ers – each about twenty years old – have played through their new single “Young Savage” in the television studio of “Szene 77” with the same concentration and vitality every time. And while they looked almost calm for a performance of “Dangerous Rhythm”, they now suddenly turned into wild acrobats, particularl their frontman the petite blond boy John Foxx. But now, as we sit in the “Mask”[3], where the band members (Steve Shears, guitar; Warren Cann, drums, vocals; Billy Currie, violin, keyboards; Chris Cross, bass, voc) made up for the show and Foxx has his hair washed, he is once again again the cool, distant singer who can finally say that which has been nurning on his lips for some time.

“Forget the categories, I think they are ridiculous! We can do more than most bands in London – we are who we are, and we are quite different from the rest.”

Ultravox! started two years ago when the New York Dolls showed up. “That was the only interesting group for me, and I’d always wanted to get into a band. I like the sounds of groups like Velvet Underground.” The other musicians met Foxx in clubs where they performed with local bands. And Billy, the violinist (who is the only trained musician in the group) belonged to a theater group. John Foxx himself went to Art College.

“I invested my scholarship, which I received from the state, into the band. It was that simple.” First they played in a gym that belonged to a community centre.

How serious was his music then?
“I do not think much of hobbies and I do not really believe in competition. Besides, there’s no such thing as competition in England. And that’s not arrogance, it’s the truth.”

Ultravox makes Frankenstein music: “We save parts of the dead, I think all the old bands are dead!” says singer John Foxx.

What did the group sound like at the beginning, did it have a starting concept?
“It started when we wanted to make noise, just sounds. The rest of the music scene left us bored. We weren’t thinking about a career as musicians or anything like that, and we’ve changed ourselves totally at least five times since the start , and we will again. It is not an idea that matters, it is development, and when something is no longer interesting or gets repetitive, we will stop it, even if it is good. I believe that is the only way to survive as an individual without dying of boredom.”

But would not you say that you already have a specific style? “Style is just another instrument really, like a guitar, you can use it in different ways.”
But influences are still there, from Roxy Music and Velvet Underground? “Yes, maybe one or two pieces of each. I take whatever I like from other bands. It’s kind of a Frankenstein process – we save parts of the dead, parts that we consider they are not using. I think all the old bands are dead anyway – we can use them without hesitation. ”

How do you explain that you sound very perfect and professional despite your own limited musical experience?

“I hate the idea of being a worthy musician, that is the wrong way to get things moving. We started from zero on the deception scale. We are what we are, but when we set up, the rumours started. We just selected the rumours that we found most exciting and reacted to those. I think that’s how music starts.”

Your first album was produced by Eno (the former Roxy Music man). Do you have similar views to him?

“Although he is actually quite different from us, he is much nicer!! We are wild. But originally, we started from the same point and only grew in different directions. From Eno we can still learn a lot. Working with him is really exciting. He showed us that chance plays a big role. He has a very easy going strategy while working. He looks into his cards,[4] for example. We were working with a card game, which was very good. And you play with your life at the same time, because life is an album. So you also play with your identity. And that, like all games, is very exciting.”

Does that mean you didn’t have any rehearsed compositions?
“Hang on, no. Don’t get me wrong and start thinking we are just a random product! We care deeply about what we do. It is our life. We are not amateurs, as I said, it is not a hobby. We are very fond of what we do and committed to it. We just do not like anything ‘Affected’ or too carefully ‘Styled’. We want a lot of noise and a strong message.”

Do you think that a very young audience understands your songs and the statements?
“Yes, instinctively better than the elders who consider it intellectually. The feelings are always there first, then they can be formulated intellectually, but we also try to create an acceptable surface, and there is more to that than rock ‘n’ ‘Roll is such a simple form, but nice because you can pack almost anything in. I love going through a door and another and so on, a song must be a labyrinth, but a welcoming one.’


[1] Musikexpress (Germany) 2 May 1977

[2] Ultravox performed two songs in the Munchenar Fernsehstudio during the afternoon. Dangerous Rhythm broadcast on ‘Szene 77 No. 5’ 10th June 1977 and Young Savage broadcast on ‘Szene 77 No.6’ 19th August 1977

[3] Vernacular term for the studio Dressing Room

[4] Oblique Strategies (Peter Schmidt and Brian Eno, 1975). Each card contains a remark or cryptic phrase that should be considered to overcome a creative dilemma

Metamatic – A ‘Meta-Review’ Analysis

Melody Maker 19-Jan-1980 Steve Taylor 1 POSITIVE 42
Record Mirror 19-Jan-1980 Mike Nicholls 1 POSITIVE 35
Sounds 19-Jan-1980 Dave McCullough 1 MIXED 22
Smash Hits 7-Feb-1980 Red Starr 1 POSITIVE 40
NME 9-Feb-1980 Paul Morley 1 POSITIVE 35
Trouser Press 1-Apr-1980 Stephen Grant 1 6 POSITIVE 45 219


Above is the results of the MetaReview I carried out of John Foxx ‘Metamatic’ in 2010.

The idea was to look at each review that was published of the album on its original release in January 1980 and upgrade the star rating to a common system against which I could measure all the reviews. That’s the figure in the Column 7. It’s based on positive or complimentary phrases used, buzzwords and a general air or feeling expressed by the reviewer. The mark is out of 50.

Using that score, I then simply divided by the number of reviews considered and came up with an average.

That average is shown in the top line, and determines the banding I applied to the album

41 – 50 = Considered EXCELLENT

31 – 40 = Considered GOOD

21 – 30 = Considered FAIR

11 – 20 =  Considered POOR

0 – 10 = Considered RUBBISH


Of course, this is all for fun and based mostly on my own judgement. I like to think it is a fairly objective system but who knows.

But it seems to have worked out. After Metamatic, John Foxx was largely condemned in the UK Music Press in the 1980s, though he did fare much better overseas. Germany and Japan in particular gave him high regard As I can only read English, the only reviews I have considered are those published in the English language (from UK, Australia or US), so there is some bias there I suppose.

I just want more foreign language reviews.
So if you have any, please submit them to form part of the official archive at Metamatic . com






The Wild, The Beautiful and The Damned

Calling cards of madness
Pull the pressmen from their knees
To petrify more images
To dangle just outside the reach
Of the stunted and the dreamless ones who have nothing left to keep
For frozen dawns or nights as cold as these have been

Don’t ask for explanations
There’s nothing left you’d understand
You’re one of the wild, the beautiful and the damned, the damned
The wild, the beautiful and the damned

We read the latest venereal journals
Flicked through some catalogues of fear
You tore some more pages
From your old lovers hearts
Then we engineered a wild reunion in a Berlin alley way
While your New York Führer tore our universe apart

Don’t ask for explanations
There’s nothing left you’d understand
You’re one of the wild, the beautiful and the damned, the damned
The wild, the beautiful and the damned

Break my legs politely
I’ll spit my gold teeth out at you
Your sores are almost big enough
To step right inside now
I’ll send you truckloads of flowers from all the worlds that you stole from me
I’ll spin a coin in the madhouse while I watch you drowning

Don’t ask for explanations
There’s nothing left you’d understand
You’re one of the wild, the beautiful and the damned, the damned
The wild, the beautiful and the damned, the damned
The wild, the beautiful and the damned, the damned
The wild, the beautiful and the damned, the damned
The wild… the beautiful… and the damned


Lyrics © John Foxx.

Thoughts on the text © Martin Smith and translated from birdsong.
Link to the post by all means, but please don’t reproduce the content without permission.


Along with I Want To Be A Machine and Life At Rainbow’s End, this song forms the core of the Ultravox! debut album – three lyrics written loosely in the narrative style of ‘little epic’ poems known by  classic scholars as ‘epyllions’, vaguely reminiscent of Virgil’s classic ‘The Aeneid’.
This example is the most mournful and elegiac of the three, which are typically compromised of long lines, romantic imagery and both classical and cultural references.

On a more straightforward level, the song is structured in a similar way to Dylan’s ‘Ballard of A Thin Man’ from Highway 61 Revisited (1965) – often cited as one of John Foxx favourite albums. That track itself is an homage to David Bowie (‘Mr Jones’) and also references the source of the song’s title.

Like Bowie, Foxx has been through all of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s books. It is well known that he’s well read. Fitzgerald’s 1922 novel ‘The Beautiful and Damned’ would have appealed to Foxx in terms of its characters’ disproportionate appreciation of their past, which ultimately consumes them in the present.

In his first press interview with Melody Maker in 1975 when discussing Tiger Lily’s first single, a cover of Ain’t Misbehavin’, Foxx is keen to stress that coverng an old, popular song is not an exercise in nostalgia, in the same way that using elements of the past is not the same as reproducing them. Instead, he explains how he likes to assimilate little bits that have gone before and make something new out of them, move them forward in a new form and make them contemporary and relevant.

So he takes the title, loosely acknowledging the fundamental theme, and applies it to describe the emerging punk fashionistas around the Kings Road. Wild people: breaking the rules, challenging preconceptions, causing trouble; beautiful people: head-turning clothes, bright colours, expressive and full of attitude; and ultimately damned people: lacking opportunities, lacking direction and purpose. Kids with no future. The flowers in the dustbin. The stunted and the dreamless ones…
But these are the people seizing the attention of the press and the imagination of their peers, waking them up. Taunting and jeering.

Though the song was one of the first written for the band, demos exist from as early as 1975, Foxx has become known for tweaking and revising lines throughout their development. The first line of the chorus could be an example of this, reading as it does rather like an eloquent form of the Sex Pistols ‘Pretty Vacant’ when “there’s no point in askin’, you’ll get no reply…” conceived in the early months of the punk explosion.

The second verse is full of references to the media of books and literature of various kinds, and loaded with the imagery of sexual pleasure and indulgence. There is a Bohemian, psychedelic undercurrent to the lines – and once again (as in ‘Machine’) Foxx alludes to Germany and the emerging ‘krautrock’ genre epitomised by bands like Tangerine Dream and Can. He speaks of the ‘alleyways’ off the Kürfurstenstrasse in Berlin’s red-light district where a thousand street girls ply their colourful trade. Or is he discreetly nodding towards the Hansa Studio in the Kreuzburg district where Bowie was ensconced recording ‘Low’ with Iggy Pop? Either way, the “wild reunion” engineered in that location surely relates the incident in September 1976 when, during the recording sessions for ‘Ultravox!’, Bowie telephoned from Berlin to speak with Eno, inviting him to help with the ‘Low’ recording.
It is entirely possible that one of these three (Iggy, Bowie or Eno) is the ‘New York Führer’ – or could that be someone else entirely?
Typically Foxx is indistinct on this point, instead giving an identity to an amalgamation of various figures and cultural references.

Don’t ask for explanations…

The lurid wording of the next verse demonstrates another example of Foxx penchant for juxtaposing pleasant and unpleasant images for dramatic effect. The politeness of the torture adds to its sinister threat. This could be interpreted anywhere on a scale from the collapse of the economy perceived under the failing Labour government, exposing gashing sores in the fabric of society, to an elaborate description of simply getting beaten up. Are there Biblical parallels too, an oblique commentary on the passion of Christ?

Either way, Foxx the narrator considers himself condemned and plotting, or at least dreaming of, some kind of romanticised vengeance. While Fitzgerald’s characters lack humanity and honour, and his hero experiences mental, moral and physical disintegration, Foxx instead rather glorifies those he is observing.

One gets the feeling, at this moment, that he would very much like to be included among them, shining as brilliantly meaningless figures in a meaningless world.

Life At Rainbow’s End (for all the tax exiles on Main Street)

Streets I knew were rainy, changing
Addresses were rearranging
The cold boy from the suburbs he left there
He’d read the Book of No Return
And me, I burned your picture
For the ashes of the lost
For you had played your games too well
As the martyr and the boss

I suppose I chose a good introduction
From a formerly trusted friend
A good introduction to life at Rainbow’s End
Life at Rainbow’s End
Life at Rainbow’s End

Here I am a millionaire
Sown into these dreams
I’ve burned all the maps that lead here…
So no-one can ever follow me

Only lonely parties start
At the dark side of this world
The gangster with the golden arm
Plays death cards for the girls
I saw the final vicar
Make confession to a dancer
He stood upon the bridge at dawn
And the dancer kissed my cancer

I suppose I chose a good introduction
From a formerly trusted friend
A good introduction to life at Rainbow’s End
Life at Rainbow’s End
Life at Rainbow’s End

Lyrics © John Foxx.

Thoughts on the text © Martin Smith and translated from birdsong.
Link to the post by all means, but please don’t reproduce the content without permission.


The Rolling Stones arrived at Keith Richard’s leased home on the Cote d’Azur in southern France in the spring of 1971 as reluctant tax exiles fleeing the Labour government’s punitive 93% tax on high earners.

“There was a feeling you were being edged out of your own country by the British government,” recalls Richards, but he suggests too that the reason for their flight from Britain was not just to do with their dire financial predicament.

“They couldn’t ignore that we were a force to be reckoned with.”


In 1972 the Stones were indeed a commanding force in British music, their outlaw stance having a rebellious appeal that put both ‘Exile On Main Street’ (the album they recorded in France) and its predecessor ‘Sticky Fingers’ at the top of the British album charts. It was an image that John Foxx and Ultravox admired – raw, edgy and counter-cultural. Over the next three years however, the band experienced legal and logistical difficulties due to their self-imposed exile status, several arrests on drug-related charges and various management conflicts. Life at the end of their particular rainbow was perhaps not as golden as they had hoped.

It seldom is, though it is something we all habitually seek. We are always trying to find the happiness on which our life depends; looking for pointers to show us which way to go. The end of the rainbow represents a place where we will find a pot of gold, the reward for all our work and toils through life. The place where all our dreams come true and everything is just as it should be. But of course, the place does not actually exist and any quest to seek it is ultimately futile.

Foxx opens his lyric with a metaphorical reference to the grey, drizzling streets of suburban England, the dullness of life in Dartford (where the Stones were formed) in direct contrast with the sun-kissed beaches of the French Riviera. The aspirational quest for a  ‘Hollywood’ dream lifestyle of the rich and famous coveted by those ‘condemned’ to a life of domesticated  mediocrity. He sets this into his own context, squatting in several different addresses around London’s Regents Park in 1973 / 74. Many of his contemporaries lived this way at the time, members of the Damned and the Clash for example forming from London SS and other amorphous bands inhabited by a succession of wandering minstrels with no fixed abode.
Foxx alludes further to the subject of exile and evasion by referring to the book of ‘no return’ – a double meaning that connects with, and develops, the idea of leaving while at the same time overtly suggesting that no tax is due by ‘return’ from the cold boy (Jagger? Richards?) to the Inland Revenue…

The narrative returns to the first person in the second stanza, while further extending the metaphor of leaving and loss. Burning a picture of someone suggests the end of a relationship and desire to break any connective memories. He uses the word again in the next verse. It is dramatically and deliberately destructive and final. His lover was unpredictable and difficult – switching inconsistently from martyr to boss. He continues his bitterness in the chorus, delivered in a whisper to give depth and a sinister undertone. His ‘formerly trusted friend’ has betrayed him, affirming a conviction that life at the end of the rainbow (a perpetually content and fulfilled state) is fragile and not the halcyon state we imagine it to be.

If it were, we would all be millionaires.

For the song’s third verse, Foxx puts himself at rainbow’s end. He has arrived in the dreamlike, alter-state where everything is perfect. He uses a characteristic theme to describe his intrinsic happiness – the idea that our experience’s are sown in to the fabric of our being and make us who we are. In later work, expressed through the adopted persona of The Quiet Man, this fabric of grammar and experience becomes the cloth from which his grey suit is cut. Foxx likes to blurs the edges between dreams and reality, between fiction and fact: between the generic ‘Rainbow’s End’ and ‘Main Street’, fictional addresses in the city of the dead. Neither of which can be found on the map he has burned (a second cartographic reference on this album. See Wide Boys) to make absolutely sure he remains alone and safe from the betraying lover he has left behind. And the tax man…

Maps? A source of fascination and more-than-occasional reference. Documents of a journey? The graphic visualisation of a complex reality? A fabric of interwoven lines, symbols and words? Interpretive artworks with no linear, chronological structure, no predefined point of entry or narrative direction? John Foxx subsequent forty year career visualised as a ‘map’ of his journey through a city of his own creating…? Hmmm…

This lyric, like I Want To Be A Machine, is an extravagant piece of writing, at times hallucinatory and dreamlike, other times neo-romantic and elaborate, poetic and carefully structured. Some might say overblown with Art-school pretence… The final verse is set in some kind of sordid underworld, where wide boys and priests play ‘death cards’ to impress the whores draped around the table. The vicar ultimately gets the girl, lustfully confessing all to her in a drunken and challenging reversal of roles. Foxx is a master of this kind of imagery and uses it well throughout the ‘Ultravox!’ album. He’s an equally competent and daring wordsmith too, always seeking to both amuse and confuse with his language. Notice, for example, the internal rhymes – ‘I suppose I chose a [good introduction]‘ and ‘only lonely [parties]‘ , structured to aid scanning and delivery. For a northern lad come south and the associated politics of accent, the ‘southern’ pronunciation of ‘dancer’ so that it deliberately does not rhyme with ‘cancer’ in the last line would be irresistible.

It’s a powerful, disturbing image too, using the tender intimacy of a kiss to shock and discomfort –  which just adds to the mastery of the composition.

I Want To Be A Machine

I found the bones of all your ghosts
Locked in the wishing well
While birdsong gourmets dragged empty nets
I slumbered in my shell
Im mitternacht, die mensch-maschine kissed me on my eyes
I rose and left the fire ladies glowing lonely in the night
With all the pornographers
Burning torches beneath the sea

I want to be a machine
I want to be a machine
I want to be a machine
I want to be a machine

I stole a cathode face from newscasts
And a crumbling fugue of song
From the reservoir of video souls
In the lakes beneath my tongue
In flesh of ash and silent movies I walk dead boulevards again
A nebula of unfinished creatures from the lifetimes of my friends
My, how your innocence
Has depraved me

I want to be a machine
I want to be a machine
I want to be a machine
I want to be a machine

Broadcast me, scrambled clean
Oh, free me from this flesh
Let the armchair cannibals take their fill
In every cell across wilderness
We’ll trip such a strangled tango – we’ll waltz a wonderland affair
Let’s run to meet the tide tomorrow –
Leave all emotion dying there
In the star cold beyond all of your dreams

I want to be a machine
I want to be a machine
I want to be a machine
I want to be a machine

Lyrics © John Foxx.

Thoughts on the text © Martin Smith and translated from birdsong.
Link to the post by all means, but please don’t reproduce the content without permission.


While the sentiment expressed in the title of this anthem to detachment (one of the earliest songs John Foxx wrote for Ultravox! c1975) is easy enough to understand, and tracing the source of Andy Warhol’s quote is straightforward, the lyric itself remains one of John’s most complex, surreal and accomplished.
It reads like a classic English poem not far removed from the style of Longfellow and the neo-Romantic Manley-Hopkins (another Foxx favourite). See in particular Hopkin’s 1876 epic work The Wreck of the Deutschland, upon which the eight-line stanza is loosely structured.

As a poem, it works beautifully to stunning effect, though it’s precise meaning as a complete text is very difficult to ascertain. It’s a catalogue of oblique references to other classic literature, reads at times almost biblical, and yet is – in the most part – entirely original. Even the most well-read among us would struggle to source literary references for phrases like ‘birdsong gourmets’ and ‘armchair cannibals’…

The simple phrase of the title is a direct quote from Andy Warhol, when describing his taste for technology and gadgets and his increasing fascination with the mechanisation of art. Warhol sought to establish ways to reproduce a preconceived image – he saw silk screening as an easy way to create a painting. He amplified this approach in an interview with controversial art critic Gene Swenson in 1963 :

“The reason I am I’m painting this way is that I want to be a machine… Life hurts so much. If we could become more mechanical, we would be hurt less – if only we could be programmed to do our jobs happily and efficiently.’

But this is not an original idea and there are many examples throughout history on the concept of man as a machine of some kind. Foremost among these, and perhaps on Warhol’s reading list if not Foxx’s own, is the essay “L’Homme Machine” written in 1748 by the French philosopher (and atheist) Julien Offray de La Mettrie. After presenting the idea that the happiest man accepts that he knows no more of his destiny than he does of his origin, and worries himself with neither, La Mettrie concludes boldly that “man is a machine, and that in the whole universe there is but a single substance differently modified”.

Foxx is attracted to Warhol’s wish, both in its simplicity, and in the way that becoming a machine offers release from the “pain” and emotional complexities of life. Or is the opposite true? Foxx is crafting his lyrics carefully to leave interpretations open. While flesh maybe ‘sinful’, vulnerable and unstable – it is also organic and therefore , in mechanical terms, prone to weakness and decay.  A mechanical self would have limitless stamina and energy. Desperation and frustration both, in equal measure. He simply has fun with the idea of being able to distance himself and remain ambiguous – interesting that he wrote this song so early in fact, given that it became the anthem he was to live by three years later and the direction in which he launched his solo career once physically removed from the band situation. At the time of writing, however, he was very much enthused by the possibilities on offer with Ultravox! and saw the band as a vehicle for expression rather than a stepping stone on a journey to mechanisation.

The sentiments expressed in the poem, and some of the phrases used, reflect also the essential elements of the Futurist manifesto, presented in La Figaro in Italy in 1909 and, allegedly, read by John Foxx at the tender ago of nine years. The Futurists encouraged poets to write with courage and audacity, to exert themselves with ‘ardor, splendour and generosity’ and to ‘sing the love of danger, the habit of energy and fearlessness’. In the context of ‘I Want To Be A Machine’, Foxx effectively delivers on all these principles, albeit perhaps with a pastoral elegance rather than ultimately aggressive expression. Witness how, in the fifth line, the man-machine kisses him on his eyes – an intriguing juxtaposition of technology and gentle humanity. And the phrase is curiously in German, written some two years before Messrs Hutter and Schneider conceived Kraftwerk’s ‘Mensch-Maschinen’ album – visualising the ultimate fusion of man and machine. Why is it in German, and spoken in a cold, treated voice? To exaggerate the polarity against the gentle verb that follows, perhaps, or to translate La Mettrie’s romantic French into something historically akin to English? In a more Foxxian way, the use of German here introduces his observation that the music and vocabulary of English psychedelia is growing in Germany in a way that it should have done in England, who adopted Glam Rock at the expense of more experimental and progressive work of bands like Can and his beloved Neu! ANd further, the “Mensch-maschine” describes the robot figure in Fritz Lang’s cult movie Metropolis, made back in 1927 and base don the same cyborg theme.  Following this on, are the ‘fire ladies’ and ‘pornographers’ characters from that Hippie movement he left to one side in favour of the grey suit and short hair of the mod culture?

In verse two, a grandiose Foxx effectively just lists his source material – television, music and film – different types of media. The ‘cathode face’ he stole from the newscasts is used to great effect on the front the cover of the debut album on which ‘Machine’ was released in 1977. According to Wikipedia, a ‘fugue’ is a musical term for a contrapuntal compositional technique in two or more voices, built on a subject (theme) that is introduced at the beginning in imitation (repetition at different pitches) and recurs frequently in the course of the composition. Foxx does exactly this throughout the song with his delivery of the chorus – repeating each line with different stresses to effect variations on the sentiment.

He adopts a more desperate, pleading tone in the third verse. Who can resist his emphatic plea to be freed ‘from this flesh’…?

Is he making a request of television? To create millions of ‘ghosts’ of himself, to go out there into people’s homes and entertain them while he slumbers in his shell? Like Warhol, seeking to create hundreds of copies of the same image in a technological, rather than artistic way? Ghosts which he can hide behind, which distract his audience from the vulnerability of his real self?

I feel it is at this point that his language is at its most biblical. Being brought up a Catholic (albeit not a very good one, he confessed in an interview with NME) Foxx would be well-versed in the liturgy and scriptures urging resistance to the sins and temptation of the flesh. Rather than promote a more righteous lifestyle of self-denial in line with the teachings of a priest however, Foxx advocates that it would be preferably simply become ‘a machine’ and not face these temptations in the first place. A strangled tango indeed – dancing the steps without feeling the passion.

The ‘armchair cannibals’ are those who receive their information through media rather than direct experience, forming opinions and making judgements based on a version of the truth that has been filtered through a layer of editing and selection. Those who are quick to condone or condemn from the comfort of their own homes, without necessarily being aware of the whole story or directly connected with those on whom they sit in judgement.

Is Foxx oblique political reference here to the case of labour MP John Stonehouse, who faked his own death in 1974 to seek a better life for himself and his secretary lover? Leaving behind a pile of clothes (emotions) on a Miami tideline, Stonehouse flew to Australia, where he was arrested for fraud, theft and conspiracy and imprisoned in London six months later.

I wonder what the armchair cannibals made of that one. Certainly not that Ultravox were a foxy adolescent punk band, that’s for sure…


Wide Boys

I took a walk down Rue Morgue Avenue
Wearing my latest disguise
Enjoying the perfume of utter dismay
I was effectively anaesthetised

Starving so elegantly in jumble-sale pearls
Evangeline hires out my throat
We’ve got the streets of London mapped in our beds
Nagasaki under our coats

We’re the…
Wide Boys – up from the streets
Wide Boys – ah, come on and meet me
Wide Boys – delightfully unpleasant
With our foxy adolescent sneers

Tired of being put down
Broken-hearted, my life not started
Tired of being cut down
All your illusions disillusion me


Open-sore music plays the wrong side of nightmare
Jukebox mongrels collide
The saint on the fire escape
He bleeds into the sun
Embracing the old suicide bride

I spent a few lifetimes making spinal connections
Down on Einstein Boulevard
I’m proud to walk a tightrope, now the gravity’s so high
I swagger like a neon guitar

Lyrics © John Foxx.

Thoughts on the text © Martin Smith and translated from birdsong.
Link to the post by all means, but please don’t reproduce the content without permission.

One of the earliest examples of John Foxx referencing sources from outside music in his songwriting, citing  and drawing his inspiration from film and literature – a habit that was to become characteristic of his work. The ‘Wide Boys’ of the title, those seedy characters that inhabit the City of the Dead on Saturday nights, comes originally from  London-based author Robert Westerby’s 1937 underworld novel ‘Wide Boys Never Work’ about gamblers and fraudsters. It’s a term used to describe wily and evasive petty criminals; characters like Jagger’s Jack Flash, St Trinian’s Flash Harry, or Cockney ‘spiv’ Harry Robinson from the 1955 Ealing comedy ‘The Ladykillers’. Westerby’s novel itself provides the screenplay for the 1956 American film noir  ‘Spin A Dark Web’ – both titles almost certainly among the Saturday morning fare at the Plaza cinema in Chorley, well-known for its controversial showing of films that were often banned elsewhere.

Blurring the edges between fiction and reality, Foxx takes the ‘wide boys’ (among whom he includes himself in this song) and transposes them to Paris and the fictional street called ‘Rue Morgue’, the scene of the brutal and notorious murders in Edgar Allan Poe’s 1841 novel of that name. It’s no coincidence that this macabre street is also referenced by Bob Dylan in ‘Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues’ from Highway 61 Revisited…

By wearing his ‘latest disguise’ (suggesting a chameleon-like nature, perhaps again like Bowie?) Foxx would be unrecognisable, and thus able to see things around him from the point of view of observer rather than participant. He often writes from this stance of distance and detachment, effectively ‘anaesthetised’ – both immune from the trials and  tragedies of his contemporaries, and numb and unsympathetic to their condition. Thus the ‘wide boys’ present themselves as somewhat superior and aloof, arrogant and alienated. There is a general atmosphere of arrogance in the whole structure of this lyric, a contemptuous disregard for the conventions of society, encompassed in the oxymoronic ‘delightfully unpleasant, adolescent sneer’ characterised by Sid Vicious of the Sex Pistols – a charismatic, violent icon whose music and attitude spoke to the disaffected punk generation. Ironically, what Foxx achieves with this somewhat pretentious stance is the effective ‘alienation’ of his own band from the punk movement, ultimately leading to their being disenfranchised in the popular press.
For the moment though, Foxx is strutting Jagger-style down the avenue in his ‘jumble sale pearls’, an Oxfam outlaw (bony in a Zodiac) re-imagining the Blues and quoting from Henry Longfellow’s tragic poem Evangeline. The despairing heroine spends her life traversing America in search of her betrothed, the exiled Acadian Gabriel. Foxx offers himself as a vehicle for her mournful search – an idea he returns to in later songs, most notably ‘Use My Voice’ (to call him) in 2006.


We see exemplified in ‘Wide Boys’ another characteristic style of the articulate and well-read Foxx – that of using two or more themes in the same song, making them difficult to interpret as being ‘about’ any one subject in particular. Instead, they become works of literary art themselves, open to interpretation, cleverly structured and intricately woven. Note how Foxx references the Japanese city of Nagsaki, for instance – the last city to experience a nuclear attack, confession to which is shamefully hidden ‘under our coats’.  Twinning Nagasaki with London, Foxx instantly connects east and west. From Ealing Studios to the Toho creations of H-Men and Godzilla. All part of  his long term ideal: an unidentified, timeless ‘city’ filmscape that could just as easily be 1950s Britain or America as Germany, France or Japan in the 21st century. A city whose streets (including Einstein Boulevard) are ‘mapped out’ in his body of work – the first appearance here of an unexpected affection for cartography that becomes integral to his grammar and vocabulary.

The vocal delivery on ‘Wide Boys’ (heavily treated in the studio by Brian Eno) is as important as the words; it enhances the arrogance and contempt in the phrasing. The know-it-all Boys are spoiling for a fight: ‘ah, come on and meet me’ – if you dare; swarming ‘up from the streets’ like insects. A plague of pests, a rebellious counter-culture at home among the dirt and shadows.

In the bridge, the song’s third verse, Foxx encapsulates the disaffected attitude of the punk youth, disillusioned and apathetic. The empty promises of the politicians mean nothing to them, facing as they do lives of unemployment and lack of opportunity in which their voice has no platform to be heard. The ‘open sore music’ of bands like The Damned, The Clash and The Pistols effectively gave voice to this grievance, not to mention the sounds from the ‘other side of nightmare’ in the form of Throbbing Gristle and The Velvet Underground.

The mood of the song, the jagged guitar riffs and punchy arrangement are all encapsulated in the last line – a statement of intent in the persona of these slick, swaggering street ‘traders’ dealing in cheap trash and chord sequences stolen from a neon guitar.