New Wave MVP: Tony Mansfield

Having just discussed New Musik, how can I not think of Tony Mansfield, who parlayed his stewardship of that fine band into a reasonably lucrative production career. I have many of his “core curriculum” productions on the racks in the Record Cell. All of his outside production work is strongly redolent of the values he brought to the plate as the prime mover in New Musik. That is to say, an intelligent point of view plus an affinity for synthesizers and other machines coupled with an expert facility with writing and arrangement. He had no compunction about mixing it all up with his trademark 12-string guitars sitting comfortably along synths and drum machines. And he usually topped it all off with his winsome harmonies. His records are full of technology but always have a warm, friendly sheen.

The first thing I came across outside of his New Musik productions were his large body of work for Mari Wilson. He produced her charming “Showpeople” album and took her single “Just What I Always Wanted” into the UK top ten. His production technique was to reference retro kitsch but render it in a contemporary fashion, as opposed to Mari’s other producer, Tot Taylor. Taylor was shooting for the actual sound of ’62 Britain [and largely succeeded]. Both approaches have their merits and I should hasten to point out, that Ms. Wilson would have been even more of a cult artist had she only been stewarded with Tot Taylor’s hand at the production helm. Tony Mansfield records sound like pop hits, even if they are denied that status by the hard-hearted charts.

Another of Mansfield’s bigger hits were his productions for Captain Sensible, who rode a remake of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s “Happy Talk” from “South Pacific” [!] to the peak of the UK charts around the same time as his Mari Wilson work.  Sensible’s “Women + Captain’s First” album was produced by Mansfield and covers wide ground between 50’s musical kitsch and proto-rap like the tremendous “Wot!” I really need to get the Cherry Red dlx RM of that title, which, hard to believe, had only made it to CD in 2009!

The one big blind spot I have for Mansfield’s career is his production for the tepid synth duo Naked Eyes. Their dishwater pop is so uninspiring, if not out and out awful, that I find the idea of anyone wasting precious moments of their valuable lives listening to it, deeply sad. Nevertheless, those guys saw some serious chart action and Mansfield gave their boring releases what modest charm they managed to generate. Proof, that all of the technique in the world cannot put across bad art.

Mansfield produced most of a-ha’s “Hunting High + Low” album, but not their chart-topping version of “Take On Me.” Mansfield did the honors on the little heard first version of that single, which sank without a trace in 1984 before the group roped in Alan Tarney [ex-Tarney/Spencer Group] to man the boards for a re-recording that made it onto their debut album. But Mansfield gave the bulk of their album an appealing Europop sheen that saw the Norwegians aiming somewhere in between the Ultravox and Alphaville targets. “Train Of Thought” at least was a hit on its own, though Tarney was called in to remix “Hunting High + Low.” Oh, the indignity.

Mansfield also produced the scarce album by Vicious Pink, which I am grateful to have on the racks! The album is a Canadian compilation of singles and all of it, apart from the splendid “Take Me Now” [Gary Moberly gets the credit here] was produced by Mansfield. His gritty production of “Fetish” is the hardest sounding track I’ve ever heard him produce; coming within earshot of the glorious mid-period Cabaret Voltaire sound I so enjoy.

He also produced “Bouncing Off Satellites,” a mid-period B-52s album I’ve never had the pleasure of hearing.  I’ve only ever heard the single “The Girl From Ipanema Goes To Greenland” via the video on MTV. I went off the B-52s after their disastrous “Mesopotamia” EP from ’82 and didn’t get back on the bus until Don Was and Nile Rogers boosted them to the top of the charts with “Cosmic Thing.” But then their bus went off the rails with the disastrous “Good Stuff”  album and I was back to square two again on the B-52s. If I ever see a used copy of “Satellites” I should pick it up just to hear what Tony brought to the table. The single I heard sounded like a radical departure for his production style.

When I looked into Mansfield’s CV I found lots of obscure records from the early 80s that I was previously unaware of. These records are just the sort of New Wave fossils that I especially enjoy digging up 30 years hence! Take a gander at that Mansfield grid at the top of that post. The Search Party record looks like just the sort of buried treasure that just might blow my mind thirty years later! Same thing for President President and The Rescue. And Wendy Wu released a solo record between her stints in The Photos and Strange Cruise? How could I go wrong there? I have one of his Philip Jap singles, but Tony also produced about half of Jap’s sole album, the tracks that Trevor Horn and Colin Thurston didn’t touch. The Jap singles I’ve heard were pretty interesting, so that’s one I should dig up.

Sadly, Mansfield’s career seemed to dry up in the early 90s. I would have thought that he had a sufficient humber of successful tracks to have had more longevity than the rough decade that he managed to eke out a production career in. A glance at the almighty Discogs.com page for Mansfield reveals that he has but a scant handful of production jobs post-1990, and the bulk of these have been for the Latvian group Prata Vetra! Surely a man with such talent can swing a higher profile gig than that?

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About postpunkmonk

graphic design | software UI design | media design • record collector • satire • non-fiction
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4 Responses to New Wave MVP: Tony Mansfield

  1. ronkanefiles says:

    The big hits with Captain Sensible should’ve kept him in demand for the next decade at least! I was always fond of his work with Lio – the “Tu Es Formidable” (1989) single that he remixed is glorious – I kinda hoped he would produce LOTS of French artists, but…it was not to be. But 10 years in the tank is a lot for anybody – in the 80’s/90’s. Maybe he merely ‘retired’ – and lived off of his Captain sensible money? I wonder if New Musik re-formed and toured Japan?

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      ronkanefiles – I never heard the Lio remix. I only have the 1st CD of “Can-Can,” sans bonus tracks. I always liked Mansfield’s work, except for Naked Eyes! “‘Ow To Do Zat!”

      Re: New Musik in Japan. Surprisingly, the Dutch were way ahead of the Japanese when it came to issuing those New Musik CDs, at least except for “Warp,” where Sony was definitely first. There’s nothing on the web on Mansfield, so your guess is as good as mine about any reformation. But everyone else has. Why not them? I guess they didn’t have sufficient hit quotient, but they were always rather high in my book.

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  2. Echorich says:

    Mr. Mansfield’s varied and seriously serious pop CV is impressive and difficult to match. I think that part of his waning popularity as a producer was the waning interest in pure, well produced pop by the end of the 80’s. I truly love his production of Jean Paul Gaultier…it’s the height of kitsch but really wonderfully produced! There are also some very restrained and golden productions such as Aztec Camera’s Walk Out To Winter. I’ve read where he created a track for the E.T. soundtrack or at least an album that would have been inspired by the film. Not sure it ever saw the light of day.

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  3. SimonH says:

    Monk, do have a listen to Search Party, Urban Foxes…. its a forgotten gem. I only stumbled across it recently. Very New Musik in sound – I have a bootleg Cd of the precursor to Search Party, RPM who recorded a shelved album for Ariola with Tony, inc an early version of Urban Foxes. Another band I totally missed at the time despite forensic study of the UK music press!

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