Record Review: Bruce Woolley + The Camera Club DLX RM [part 2]

bruce woolley - cleancleanUK7A[continued from last post]

Then it was time for an abrupt change of pace. The brief instro “W.W.9” was a co-write with Thomas Dolby, who assays the sort of synth and piano action here that pointed to the development of “Airwaves” on on hand. On the other, the piano elegia also provides a echo of the intro to “Two Tribes” that existed five years into Trevor Horn’s future. It’s tempting to suggest that when he heard this, he filed and saved the memory for when he was crafting another apocalyptic war song several years later for Frankie Goes To Hollywood.

Then, the Woolley version of “Clean Clean” began and this evidenced further differences from the familiar Buggles version. The war song attributes of the Buggles version were heightened here not only by the “W.W.9” intro, but the song’s coda, which invoked air raid sirens and then segued back into the “W.W.9” music. The refrain of “half a million in the very first attack, don’t you worry ‘cause you know we’ll get them back” gets an emphasis here that heightens the queasy atomic warfare feel that was all but buried in The Buggles version. I will state that the middle eight in The Buggles version stomps its brass band all over the tepid jazz solo that Dolby proffers here.

“Goodbye To Yesterday” was an older song from his publishing days called into service with a lyric change to make the sentiments more “New Wave” [“broken car” instead of “broken heart”] but the intro to this song strongly suggests that all concerned had heard the rogue cover version of “Boys Keep Swinging” that had beed released that previous summer by The Associates. As one familiar with the backing track to that cover version, it’s is all but impossible not to sing The Associates arrangement over the intro to “Goodbye To Yesterday.” With Russell Mael also being a touchstone of inspiration for Billy MacKenzie, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that Woolley wasn’t also aware of the nascent Associates singer. Both men had developed singing voices along similar lines. The larger difference between them was a question of temperament. Woolley had accepted the terms of the industry and sought to prosper within it whereas MacKenzie followed a zigzag path fraught with difficulty as he would seek to meet the business half way one moment, only to run wildly in his own, opposing direction the very next.

The bonus tracks on this CD version date from the non-LP singles that preceded and followed this, the only Bruce Woolley album. The singer is dismissive of his debut single, “Bobby Bad” but I’m much kinder to its indulgences. The influence of Sparks was writ large across the face of this one, but like Russell Mael or Billy MacKenzie, the caliber of Woolley’s singing here provides its own justification, thought the boppy, New Wave track was a bit cartoonish. Especially compared to the rest of the bonus tracks, which post-date the album itself.

bruce woolley - bluebluevictoriaUK7AI can truly say that the next two tracks constituted what should have been a crucial single of the year 1981 for me. “Blue Blue [Victoria]” and its B-side, “1000 MPH” were simply stellar material. Following the release and promotion of his debut album, Woolley’s core band had dispersed with many members following Thomas Dolby to his emergent solo career. Woolley next recruited Simon [Hawkwind, Bowie, Japan] House on synths and Nigel [Saxon, Toyah] Glockler on drums and the uptick in the sound is notable. Matthew Seligman of the old band played on this single as well, but in listening to it, one can sense the perceptible shift in tone that happened then the seventies became the eighties!

As Dave [Vibrators] Birch hewed to the mid-late seventies guitar style on the debut album, this record was every inch a step away from such “rockism” as it was known in the UK press of the day into the New Pop aesthetic. In fact, there is no lead guitar on this single! It was a sleekly performed machine for moving forward on jets of air [was that a Be Bop Deluxe title waiting to happen, or what?] that was every inch a forward looking achievement. The resulting record was sleek and professional but also richly warm as the encroaching digital future sounded as if it had been held at bay. Crucially, it remains lodged in my cranium for days at a time.

The arrangement here was paramount. The melody fluttered brilliantly across the larnyx of Woolley here with an irresistible vocal performance matched by the warm synths and the baby grand piano of House. The middle eight actually becomes a jazz vocal from Woolley. This song might have been made two years later, but the style of 1981 ensured that it roared to life at exactly the right time. The playing and production style was all the richer for it. It perplexes me that I missed this single in 1981, which was to my ears, a year of crucial singles unmatched by any other year that I could name, and this one, 34 years later, would have only grown in stature to my ears had I been so fortunate to have heard it back then.

The throwaway B-side, “1000 MPH” remained a thing of wonder. It began with a synth rhythm keeping time as what sounded like a racetrack announcer began counting up from 100 MPH in large increments, until by the intro’s end, the voice sounded drenched in hyperbole as the velocity of the title was finally reached, to the onslaught of a huge drumroll that at that point became a blur. There is not much by the way of lyrics to this “song.”

“I go a 1000 miles per hour
I go a 1000 miles per hour
I go a 1000 miles per hour
I go a 1000 miles per hour
Somedays I go 100 miles per hour
Somedays I go 100 miles per hour
Somedays I go 100 miles per hour
Somedays I go 100 miles per hour” [repeat] – 1000 MPH

What is does have, in spades, is sheer exuberant velocity! It remains the finest piston-pumping Sparks B-side never recorded! It is exactly the sort of shenanigans that great B-sides were made for! It’s a sketch that explores an idea that maybe wouldn’t/shouldn’t be expanded into a song, but having gone there, it immediately justifies itself to all doubters!

bruce-woolley---ghosttrainUK7AThe next single was an absolute must for any fans of Thomas Dolby’s “Golden Age Of Wireless” album. “Ghost Train” is a compulsive Woolley/Dolby co-written song that not only reflects 150% the emergent Thomas Dolby solo aesthetic, but features a truly great lead vocalist singing the song to boot [sorry, Thomas!] No kidding! “Ghost Train” was abundant with stylistic Dolby solo tropes that make every inch of this fantastic song recall some similar gambits in sound and composition that Dolby exercised on his “Wireless” album.

Huge swaths of the D.N.A. of tunes like “Weightless” or “Windpower” are stacked up in this tune like cordwood. The “rows of tiny children” line in the lyrics reeks of Dolby and even Woolley’s delivery hews closely to what Dolby gave vocally to his own album. The portamento synth hook is so Dolby, that I can’t believe that he’s not actually on this record, but this was another number that Simon House played on. The sound design not only anticipates what would happen on “Wireless,” but also things like Dave Stewart and Barbara Gaskin’s covers of Dolby material, like “Leipzig!” This track could have been slotted onto the recent “Wireless” DLX RM and no one would have batted an eyelash!

bruce woolley - houseofwaxUK7AFinally, Woolley’s last non-LP A-side figured here and “House Of Wax” was a track that had been earmarked to herald the second album in the can from Woolley, but the single’s performance put the damper on such notions, leaving this single as its only trace. It’s a great piece of motorik pop showing that as much as the album reflected its late 70s gestation period, the new material was looking ahead to the dawning age in perfect synch with other, similar thinkers. Listening to these later singles really sounds like Woolley could have been moving in similar territories to the post-Rankine Associates. All of this material sounds like a good fit for an album like “Perhaps.” Not shockingly, keyboardist Simon House who played on these sides also figured on that album as well, albeit on violin only for the title track.

The fascinating thing that this disc documents is the nexus of creativity that linked Trevor Horn to Thomas Dolby through the single degree of separation that Woolley represented. Not for nothing did all of these gentlemen excel in their fields, if in different ways. Horn’s ear for arrangement and recording made him a go-to producer’s producer. Dolby brought his songwriting talent and musicianship to the table and managed to get the elusive solo career that both Horn and Woolley missed out on. Woolley was easily the finest singer of the three, but paradoxically, his fame resided in his songwriting capability, with millions of records sold that he wrote for others.

According to the liner notes, he revealed that he received half the publishing royalties on “Video Killed The Radio Star;” the kind of hit that can set one up fairly comfortably if one plays one’s cards right. That he went on to pen hits for Grace Jones and Cher that sold even more robustly, means that his fortunes were secured by his songwriting talent; ironically, reflective of the lean years he spent honing his craft for music publisher Everblue, where he met Trevor Horn back in 1976. The shame was that judging by the evidence of this CD, Cher’s gain was certainly our loss. One hopes that Cherry Red might eventually issue the “Shadows” album that sits in a tape box somewhere. On the evidence of these bonus tracks, it could be a corker.

– 30 –

About postpunkmonk

graphic design | software UI design | media design • record collector • satire • non-fiction
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11 Responses to Record Review: Bruce Woolley + The Camera Club DLX RM [part 2]

  1. I fully agree with the final sentiment here — Woolley is such a songwriting moneymaker that there is justification a-plenty for releasing his lost album, quite apart from a cadre of New Wave veterans who would dearly love to hear it! Heck, I’d even let Mr. Horn have a go at the remastering if it meant a public release!

    As for “Blue Blue (Victoria)” it is simply shocking that this song didn’t do much better than it did … it is delicious pop of the calibre that never fails to thrill me. Some might say it’s New Wave by the numbers, but it’s the right numbers!

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  2. Echorich says:

    House of Wax is far and away my favorite Woolley track – just the right mixture of 70’s and New Wave. And a point of fact, although his bass may not have been the overriding sound of BW+TCC, Mathew Seligman’s is another Camera Club alumn who would go on to put his musical imprint on everyone from Dolby – for 30 yrs – to Sinead O’Connor, Thompson Twins, Soft Boys and Alex Chilton.

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  3. Can you put up some audio of ‘WW9’ and ‘Ghost Train’ – would love to hear.

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      movingtheriver – I don’t post audio that can’t be embedded from Soundcloud. If I were at home, I would not be adverse to uploading say 90 second excerpts of songs, [I’ll never post tunage ever] but I blog at work during my lunch hour, so that is not possible.

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  4. Simon H says:

    Your mention of ‘rockism’ made me chuckle when I remember how much of a sin this was deemed in the UK music press back in approx 80/82.
    The merest hint of a classic rock style guitar solo in any music purchase would provoke pure derision from a particular friend of mine at the time. Innocent days!

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      Simon H – While it could get knee jerk, I understand where the whole “Race Against Rockism” brigade was coming from. The conflation of majority privilege and the musical values that accompanied that mindset were real and in the case of Eric Clapton, a perfect storm that gave punks a moral rallying point with which to distance themselves from the decadent, prior generation. And it worked for a while. Until Live Aid resurrected the old stratifications and barriers by co-opting left-wing charity and re-branding itself for a new arena rock revival that was also the downfall of faves like Simple Minds. Whether it’s boring Eric Clapton railing against immigrants or Jim Kerr over-emoting for Amnesty International, the wildly divergent political content isn’t the half of it. One must also contend with the unadventurous music that accompanied each approach. Hmmm. One must be ever vigilant, even today, against the incipient threat of rockism, methinks.

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  5. Simon H says:

    Yes, don’t disagree, the deliberate avoidance of those old norms gave us a lot of great, innovative music! It was probably in part an extension of the Punk ‘year zero’ mentality.
    Wasn’t Live Aid near enough 30 years ago this week?!
    Also agree with everyone, House of Wax was an excellent single, totally passed me by at the time.

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      Simon H – I never saw anything but the US LP/single over here. And even then, I only saw the US single a few years ago. It was a 7″ EP with the single mixes of “VKTRS” and “Clean Clean” and two non-LP tracks. Let me state that it was very rare to see a US 4 track 7″ EP from 1979! Such things didn’t exist over here.

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  6. Jinkies says:

    anyone know where i can get lyrics for Blue Blue (Victoria)?

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