Thursday, 31 March 2016

A MONTH LONG PERIOD OF REJOICING - FINAL

Wow. It's over. I can't quite believe that this month long project, conceived in a moment of concern that the blog was starting to move away from a focus on Depeche Mode, is over. When I first came up with this, all it was was a good idea, or at least what seemed to be a good idea. Once I got into it and sent out the email requests to various people, it got very real and very scary. Even up to the middle of this month, I was doubting whether or not I could complete it. I'm really glad I did though.



It's been, well, unbelievable really to have had the sort of response I've had to the blog. The Black Celebration posts themselves have had nearly 20,000 views in March alone and my back catalogue has also had more visits than I'd usually hope for in three months, let alone one. People have said so many kind things on Facebook, Twitter and Depeche forums - that alone has made it worthwhile. People love Black Celebration and thankfully, people have loved reading what I've had to say about it, what my interviewees have had to say and what my guest bloggers have had to say too. Oh and also heard what my guests had to say - Glen and Matt specifically. Thank you then, whoever you are, wherever you are, for reading my posts and for saying lovely things to me. It was genuinely inspiring to get such amazing feedback and that's what's made this all worthwhile.

I genuinely couldn't have completed this without help from my guests, so thank you very, very, VERY much to my guest bloggers:





Also, thank you, thank you, thank you to Matthew Wolfe for giving us an insight into the best Black Celebration tour recordings (http://almostpredictablealmost1.blogspot.co.uk/2016/03/a-dm-live-wiki-black-celebration-special.html) and, of course, thanks a million to the man who makes a Depeche Mode mix like no-one else, Mr Glen Hammarstrom, for sharing his BC30 mix with us (http://almostpredictablealmost1.blogspot.co.uk/2016/03/a-black-celebration-dj-mix.html)

I've mentioned these sites before, but they need mentioned again too. Thanks to everyone at Depeche Mode Classic Photos & Videos for letting me loose in their archives and allowing me to share some wonderful pictures. Thanks to DM TV Archives for letting me use their hard work to my advantage and thanks also to the strange but brilliant world of depmod.com for pictures and fact checking. Finally, thanks of course to the official site depechemode.com for letting me use materials from the archives. 

Nearly there.

The Gareth Jones interview has unsurprisingly proved to have been the most popular post this month with nearly 4,000 views. I could have talked to Gareth for hours and I'm so grateful to him for giving up his time for me. Thanks very much Tonmeister. 

Thanks too Brian Griffin for his artwork interview which was enlightening. Also, thank you very much to the wonderful Speak & Spell and Forced To Mode for taking the time to answer my questions. My thanks also to Mr Monument, Dennis Burmeister, for speaking to me about Depeche rarities.

Finally, thanks to my wife Pam for putting up with all of this and for the inspiration generally, but specifically in this instance for the Black Celebration birthday post. Can you even imagine how fed up she is of hearing the words, Black, Celebration, Depeche, Mode and blog?



So that's that. It seems that Depeche will be on the road in 2017, so I'll hopefully see you at a gig or two. I'll be the one in the Almost Predictable Almost t-shirt, praying they play something other than a track from Black Celebration. Come and say hello.

As Dave would say, thank you very much, we'll see you next time.

Wednesday, 30 March 2016

BLACK CELEBRATION'S LEGACY

We've arrived at the last stop before the end of A Month Long Period Of Rejoicing and I think a natural question to ask is what is Black Celebration's legacy? One thing I've noticed from all the research I've done and from all the people I've spoken to, is that Black Celebration is an album most, if not all fans love and one that they consider to be a proper Depeche classic. Gareth Jones spoke of his pride at being involved in the album and all the band members consider it to be a special album too. 


So everyone loves it then. But is that a legacy as such? I suppose so, but I think Black Celebration's legacy can be assessed in even more depth. My view is that, without Black Celebration, we wouldn't have had the Depeche Mode we have today. It redefined the band and directly led to the band becoming one of the biggest acts in the world. The tour saw the band play arenas in the U.K. and Europe and, crucially, saw them play larger and larger venues in America with no real radio support to speak of. It wasn't air play that saw them break through in the U.S. -  it was the music. The surprise radio hit from two years previously, People Are People, wasn't the reason they filled the likes of the San Diego Sports Arena in 1986 - it was Black Celebration. Depeche Mode's music connected with teen America, as Sean Salo told us so wonderfully in his blog (http://almostpredictablealmost1.blogspot.co.uk/2016/03/a-guest-black-celebration-5-sean-salo.html) and that connection meant Depeche became bigger than they ever planned to in that country. Without Black Celebration, it's hard to imagine Depeche Mode filling arenas and stadiums in America over the next three tours as that album was the catalyst for that. It showed them they could do it.

The confidence the success of Black Celebration gave the band is another important legacy. The album itself is fairly uncompromising to an extent as it doesn't feature a Just Can't Get Enough, See You or People Are People. Pop songs are notable by their absence, and even the album's poppiest moment, Here Is The House, wasn't released as single, nor was it played live on the tour, other than on two dates. Black Celebration is not the work of a band thinking of the pop market. Despite that though, it saw them reach new heights. Think of Depeche Mode albums since then. Every one of them has been on its own terms with no real concession to the music industry, no real compromise. Obviously Violator had moments like Enjoy The Silence which became ubiquitous, but that was more down to the sheer perfection of the song, as opposed to the band trying to manufacture a hit. Even if we consider Violator to be the band's poppiest album in years, the first single was still called Personal Jesus. This was pop on their own terms, not anyone else's.

So mass popularity and proof they could succeed on their own terms seem likely to me to be the two biggest legacies of Black Celebration. One thing that is beyond doubt is the most important legacy of the album and that is the way the fans hold it dear. I see it as setting the manifesto for being a Depeche Mode fan - essentially dress in black and it will all be alright. It sets the tone for Depeche Mode albums to come and provides a standard by which they should be judged. There are Depeche fans who have been lifelong devotees and there are others, like me, who came on board around Violator. For those of us that did that and have lasted the course, Black Celebration is important, if not vital. It's the album that Depeche Mode fans get. It's the one that clicks with us all. 

Violator ultimately sets the bar for Depeche albums, and despite a month of this, I must confess that Violator is my favourite Depeche album and indeed my favourite album of all time, but Black Celebration sets out what it is to be a Depeche Mode fan. It's the album that I most often go back to when I want to listen to a random piece of Depeche Mode magic as I know I will always find something there to inspire me or to comfort me. It's majestic.


I asked some of my guest bloggers what they thought the legacy of the album is, in case I was talking nonsense. It seems that we're all in broad agreement:

Amanda Stock: I think its legacy is that, 30 years later, it still sounds current , like all great albums do. For the band, it showed a growing confidence, a move towards a " darker sounding Mode" and was big hit in America. @AmandaStock1

Aidan Berry: In terms of what it means to me It's has left me with such a good memory of the time. The album came out and was brilliant. The tour came to Whitley Bay Ice Rink and I got to go with my then girlfriend - the one I'd not called in preference to listening to the album. It just cemented my obsession with Depeche Mode. It isn't my favourite album but is pretty much close to being it. The Martin songs were / are near perfection and built on the wonder of the previous albums Somebody. It was just a fantastic time and evokes wonderful memories of the time, some of them too personal to a 17 year old to share in public.  @aapierre

Panos Sialakas: 30 years later, the one album that describes Depeche best, it includes everything DM is all about - musically, lyrically, aestheatically @panos101

Sean Salo: BC was a line in the sand. There was the melange of styles that came before it, and the cohesiveness of the band's output from that point on. BC ushered in a confidence in the band's writing and touring abilities that defines them to this day. @ebbhead

Kevin May: For a band that's had a fair share of watershed moments over the years, Black Celebration has to rank as one of their most important. Depth and creativity of the songwriting and production; the emergence of a coolness around its image and appeal; and a realisation that the legions of fans both expect and respect their desire to push the recorded output and performance. @HALObook


Some really interesting views there and they are views I am sure you share. I'd be delighted to hear your views too on the blog's Facebook or Twitter pages.

Ultimately, trying to define the legacy of an album is hard as there's always another album along a year or two later that adds to a band's catalogue and takes them somewhere different. I think it can be said, however, that Black Celebration is an album that was crucial to Depeche Mode becoming what they are now and in moving them from becoming a domestic concern to being a band the whole world knows.

Not band for an album with no singles and songs that won't get played on the radio.

Tuesday, 29 March 2016

MORE GORE THAN EVER BEFORE

Martin Gore. Where do we start with Martin? Currently rightfully recognised as one of electronic music's most influential artists, in 1986, Martin was, it's fair to say, not quite viewed in the same light. In the U.K. the focus seemed to veer between either poking fun at his dress sense or mocking his songwriting as not being heavyweight or serious enough. As we've seen earlier this month, some of the reviews of the album and the live shows confirm this.  Martin was feeling under pressure to write too, as he describes on the Black Celebration re-issue dvd documentary:

"Whenever we decide to make a record, the prospect of ten to twelve good songs does seem like a mountain. I remember having arguments with Daniel and Neil, though. I actually just ran away for a week, because Daniel and Neil were trying to tell me that the songs weren't good enough, there weren't any singles, it would never get played on the radio"

As Gareth Jones mentioned in his interview on that dvd and in his interview with me earlier this month, making Black Celebration was intense and that intensity is apparent throughout the album. It's certainly one of the first things that strikes you about the record and that itself comes from Martin's songwriting. Now, whether or not the songwriting is borne of the pressure he felt under either personally or from the band and label is not something I can comment on with any knowledge (happy to do a follow up interview though Martin!) but it seems fairly easy to guess that was the case. Black Celebration certainly has more of a personal feel lyrically than anything Depeche had done up to that point and, to me,  it's very much the most Martin album of the Depeche catalogue.

Philadelphia June 1986, courtesy of Depeche Mode Classic Photos & Videos

I'll admit that seems a fairly odd claim, given that, excluding Speak & Spell, he's written all bar twelve of the 134 songs Depeche Mode have released on albums since A Broken Frame. (Note - I included the new songs included on various compilations there. Not remixes though. I just say that because I know that some of you are currently counting. Yes I mean you Panos.) The songs on Black Celebration however, are very personal and it seems like Martin is writing entirely from his own perspective, rather than masking his feelings as he did on earlier work. Ok, perhaps "All I want to do is/See You/Don't you know that it's true" isn't a grand statement of mystery, but you hopefully get my point. The lyrics on Black Celebration are intense, personal and,  I would guess, speak very much to Martin's state of mind at the time.

I said earlier that the intensity of the album is one of the first things that strikes you about the album. The second thing is the sheer number of Martin sung tracks. For an album with eleven songs, Martin sings four of them, which is a huge proportion (36.36% numbers fans) compared to previous and indeed subsequent Depeche records. I asked Gareth Jones about this when we spoke:

APA; You mentioned egos earlier. One thing that strikes me about this album is the fact that four of its eleven songs are sung by Martin which is the highest proportion of Martin songs on any Depeche record. Was that hard for Dave and was there a reason for so many tracks having a Martin lead vocal?

GJ: To me, it didn't matter who sung the songs as all that was important was whether or not the song fitted the album. As I recall, it was clear which songs were to be sung by Dave and which were to be sung by Martin. It wasn't like Dave tried to sing the tracks then people thought they'd sound better with Martin or vice versa. I know that there was an image issue though, a connection issue. There was an importance attached to having one voice lead the project, connecting the band to the public. That was discussed both before Black Celebration and subsequently. There's a sense in which the band having only one voice connects better. The public hear Dave's voice and know it's Depeche Mode. I recall it being an issue, but Black Celebration was so experimental, almost the pinnacle of the experimental pop we were working on at the time, that it didn't involve any great discussion. All we wanted was a song that fitted the album.


(see http://almostpredictablealmost1.blogspot.co.uk/2016/03/an-interview-with-gareth-jones.html )

I found that answer fascinating. It seems that the songs Martin ended up singing were always going to be Martin songs, which, given the high proportion of them, would suggest to me that the guess that these songs are very personal to Martin is a good one.


Black Celebration tour book, courtesy of Depeche Mode Classic Photos & Videos

Time to move on from talk of proportions and numbers - what of the music? Of the four songs Martin sings on Black Celebration, there is one that most Depeche fans have little time for and that song is, of course, Sometimes. It could perhaps be that I've spent too much time with this album over the last couple of months, but I quite like Sometimes really. A nice piano led track with spooky vocal effects, with Martin offering an apology of sorts albeit one that basically says "Yes I can be embarrassing, but come on you can be too." It's not as good as his other tracks on the album admittedly, but it's still better than The Dead Of Night.

By this point in the month, I think I've talked about A Question Of Lust enough (see http://almostpredictablealmost1.blogspot.co.uk/2016/03/a-question-of-lust.html), so we'll skip over that, pausing only to say how beautiful it is. It Doesn't Matter Two is one of the standout tracks , not only of the Martin songs, but of all the songs on the album for me. Its title has always amused me really as Martin clearly liked the name It Doesn't Matter so much that he used it both on Some Great Reward and on Black Celebration, although the addition of "Two" was deemed necessary second time round. Adding the "Two" makes it seem like the Black Celebration track is a follow up to the Some Great Reward track but that's not the case. The 1984 Martin is singing about hoping a relationship stays strong whilst accepting nothing lasts forever, whereas the 1986 Martin is singing about lust, sex and nothing mattering at all. He seems to have lost his romantic edge over those two years. Anyway, It Doesn't Matter Two is a wonderful song featuring one of Martin's best melodies and full use of the samplers for the choir effect that runs through the song. It's the essence of the themes of Black Celebration basically.

The last Martin track on the album is also wonderful. World Full Of Nothing carries on the theme of sex and nothing mattering, though it removes any notion of love being involved - "Though it's not love/It means something." It's easily one of the bleakest Depeche Mode song titles of all time too. Again though, despite the darkness at the heart of the lyrics, there's a hope to the song. Other than on these four songs, there's plenty of Martin elsewhere on the record to. From Black Celebration's "I'll drink to that" to Stripped's "Let me hear you/Speaking just for me" to Here Is The House almost being more Martin than Dave in places, Martin's voice is all over the album and he leaves a greater presence here than he does on any other Depeche record.

The theory that this album is one very personal to Martin gains a bit more credibility when you look at how many times Martin has played these songs live. Obviously, A Question Of Lust and It Doesn't Matter Two were prominent on the Black Celebration tour with both played on every date with the exception of the last gig where It Doesn't Matter Two was dropped for Somebody. A Question Of Lust was then played at every gig on the Music For The Masses tour (101 times) and appeared numerous times in tours after that (though not at all on World Violation) in either full band or Martin and Peter Gordeno on piano guise. For example, it appeared 67 times on the Devotional/Exotic tours and a further 56 times on the Singles 86-98 tour. It's popped up here and there on every tour since and remains a popular song both with Martin and the crowd and is in fact the 20th most sung song of Depeche Mode's career, having appeared in total 336 times in concert. 336 times. Crikey. Here's a clip from Miami in 1993:




Of the Black Celebration Martin tracks, another popular track for Martin live is World Full Of Nothing. On World Violation, it was played at the vast majority of gigs, with an occasional piano version popping up since then, giving a total number of live plays of 64. It was played once on the Exciter tour for example. The World Violation version was just Martin and an acoustic guitar and it's quite delightful as this video from Frankfurt shows:



Talking of World Violation, as we've already seen Here Is The House also featured in Martin's acoustic section on that tour, curiously never in the same gig as World Full Of Nothing. (http://almostpredictablealmost1.blogspot.co.uk/2016/03/here-is-house-lost-classic.html)

As you probably know if you've got this far, Sometimes has never appeared live in a Depeche set. The other Martin song from Black Celebration, It Doesn't Matter Two, has however. It appeared 75 times on the Black Celebration tour for example. Martin has also played it in his acoustic slot from 2001 onwards and it's always a treat to hear. In total, it's been played live 107 times. As this is all about Black Celebration, let's see a version from the London gig on 16 April 1986



It's not just Martin sung songs from the album that Martin has played live however. Since 2001, Dressed In Black (live total 26) has been played in the mid set acoustic break, leading to all types of football style chants from the crowd for the last "Woah-ohh" part which is repeated endlessly until Dave finally shuts it down. Here it is from Stockholm on the Tour Of The Universe:



So it's safe to say that Martin likes Black Celebration. As well as three of his four album tracks, he's also played two more live, meaning he's basically sung half the album live. As well as those tracks, Stripped and A Question Of Time have remained pretty much constants in all tours after 1986, with Black Celebration closely behind.

For an album that seemed to be inspired by a period of personal difficulty for Martin, especially after the initial questions by the record company, it's one he's gone back to time and time again, and not just for the obvious tracks either. My conclusion? Well, like I said at the start, I don't know the actual reason, but it does seem that Black Celebration is one of Martin's favourites and, seeing the reaction when I've seen the songs above played live, I think most of us agree.

I'm biased, but there's always room for a Martin track. With Black Celebration, we got more Gore than we'd ever had before, and it was all the better for it.

Monday, 28 March 2016

AN INTERVIEW WITH FORCED TO MODE

Forced To Mode (http://www.forcedtomode.de) are a Depeche Mode tribute band from Berlin and, like Speak & Spell (http://almostpredictablealmost1.blogspot.co.uk/2016/03/an-interview-with-speak-spell.html), they are playing a special Black Celebration show which takes place on 29 April as part of the Sin City festival. The band are a three piece, comprising Christian Schottstadt (vocals),  Matthias Kahra (guitars) and Thomas Schernikau (keyboards) and, as well as the Black Celebration gig, they are about to embark on a series of gigs where they'll play their full Depeche repertoire. As you'll see from the video later on, they know how to put on a show and it's no surprise that their reputation is growing every day. I caught up with Thomas to talk Depeche Mode, music and, of course, Black Celebration.

Forced To Mode - L to R Christian, Matthias, Thomas

APA: Tell us a bit about Forced To Mode? When did you form, who does what and so on?

TS: We started as a DM tribute band in 2011 because of a very demanding and convincing concert promoter who wanted us to perform a DM set at his EBM festival just because he had seen some footage of our original band "ForcedMovement" performing 2 DM covers at a special event just for fun. We never had planned to become a DM cover project or intended to play more than just the occasional gig with a cover version, hence the tongue in cheek band name ;-). But as our own career was on hold we decided to have a go at it and it went surprisingly well, and now almost 5 years later we look back at approximately 80 successful gigs and have a repertoire of more than 60 DM songs… And it gets bigger and bigger!

Forced To Mode are:

Christian, our frontman, who sings / sounds just like Dave, we even had playback accusations because he is so close to the original voice ;-). And he knows how to move and interact with the audience, that's for sure…;-) Additionally he produces a lot of the backing tracks and does a huge amount of studio work, and last but not least he's sort of our manager. He organises most of our gigs and communicates with the technicians at the venue and so on… So he's a real all-rounder ;-)

Then there's Matthias our guitar hero, the only "professional" musician in our band, who has spent a lot of his life "on the road" with a lot of different guys & styles. He brings in another dimension sound-wise, because there are a lot of DM tracks which really benefit from his guitar work and do sound more modern and richer than some of the original recordings. So, he and his guitar are key elements of the typical F2M live sound!

Inevitably there has to be a keyboard-player in a DM tribute band and that's my part. I play 2 samplers and 1 synthesizer, triggered by 2 keyboards, adding a drum-pad from time to time and of course doing most of the main backing voices. Over the time I even started to sing the occasional Martin ballad like The Things You Said live, but it's still a rare thing. We don't have a strict "role-splitting" in the band that means I have to sing all Martin tracks or that we have to dress like the original band. We try to concentrate on the sound and feeling, that once made DM unique for us, that's all we try to capture … the masquerade and role acting we leave to other cover bands! In pre-production I share the studio work with Christian, sometimes spending 50-60 hours per track till the songs sound "perfect" to our ears and are ready to be played to the audience.

Finally there is Ronald, our sound engineer and technician, who really helps us to concentrate on the performance and not being distracted by logistical or technical problems. He helps in building the stage and packing everything plus he's the driver of the band bus after the gig, when the rest of us is too exhausted to be still able to drive!





APA: Tell us about your forthcoming gigs and the Black Celebration show on 29 April in Berlin.

TS: This year looks very promising for us and we have some very big gigs ahead of us. Some highlights are 2 SinCity gigs in Berlin with 2 completely different setlist, then a gig at Festung K√∂nigsstein, that's an old castle on a hill in Germany, a secret gig at a special event and place directly connected to DMs history and then in November we'll be playing together with a full orchestra at the famous Gewandhaus Leipzig. This will be very special! We'll be playing more than 40 gigs this year, the demand in Germany and abroad increases everyday!

Regarding the gig on the 29th of April in Berlin, it's the first of our 2 exclusive SinCity gigs (a small festival, organized by Nik Page, former Blind Passengers) and we'll be playing most of the Black Celebration album, scattered across the evening. Wait, most? Yes, we've had mixed reactions and feelings towards "special" album gigs in the past, like in 2014, when we've played almost all of Some Great Reward live and then last year, playing Violator 3 times in its classic track order with all interludes, adding four B-Sides and some other tracks from World Violation. In comparison to "normal" F2M gigs with mixed set lists, the audience was a bit short-spoken and it was a lot harder for us to get things going, you know? 

We've learned our lesson and with a ballad heavy album like Black Celebration we decided to concentrate on the key tracks adding some ballads and B-Sides here and there. I can't reveal which tracks made the cut yet, but it will be a great party, with some fitting DM songs from the 1980ies added to a hopefully great and flowing setlist.

APA: Depeche have never played Sometimes live and have only played a full band version of Here Is The House twice. Do you look forward to playing the rarer or less often heard tracks?

TS: Yes, of course, we always like to play songs, that DM rarely or never played live before. For instance, songs like Dangerous, Sea of Sin or To Have and to Hold always get a warm welcome from the DM fan base and we're curious to see how they will react this time. It's always a challenge in pre-production and then it's sometimes quite surprising which of those rare songs are working in a live environment.

APA: What's your favourite Black Celebration tracks?

TS: I asked the whole band to answer this one:

Christian: World Full Of Nothing
Matthias: Fly on the Windscreen
Thomas: It Doesn't Matter Two

APA: Finally, how important an album do you think Black Celebration was for Depeche Mode?

TS: That's a tough question, maybe even DM themselves would struggle to answer this! All we know, it's loved among the fan base and it was a big milestone in their career for sure. They still seem to love this album a lot, judging by the comments they made in the last years and given the fact that DM regularly play at least the singles from this album up to this date.

We are very excited to play (almost all of) the album and looking forward to see you at one of our gigs!

Forced To Mode live (c) Ronny Hoffman

Thanks very much to Thomas for taking the time to speak to me. If you're anywhere near Berlin on 29 April, you should definitely get along to the gig as it's going to be great. Keep an eye on Forced to Mode's website for other tour dates and follow them on Facebook too. 

Forced to Mode Facebook https://www.facebook.com/forcedtomode/

Sunday, 27 March 2016

HERE IS THE HOUSE - A LOST CLASSIC

Black Celebration is an album that speaks of the darker side of love, with an emphasis on lust and taking risks, doing things you really shouldn't be doing. The very notion of having a "black celebration" itself sets up the album's themes perfectly - let's celebrate the end of another black day, but celebrate it together ("Your optimistic eyes/Seem like paradise/To someone like me"). Fly On The Windscreen takes the view that we're all going to die so we may as well just get on with it, A Question Of Lust is more of a sex song than a love song, Sometimes an apology for a misdeed, It Doesn't Matter Two a post coital moment of reflection and so on and so on. Martin's songwriting at the time is borne of the youthful hedonism he embarked upon from the time he moved to Berlin in a post first success flush and Black Celebration seems to be a mix of regret and lust in the main.



Only two songs stand apart from that. New Dress takes on celebrity obsession and mixes it with politics, ending the album on a curious note in a way when you consider that it is the only song on the album not looking at the world from the bedroom, or at least the corridor on the way to the bedroom. The other is Here Is The House. Like all the other songs bar New Dress, it is about love, but unlike the rest, it is overtly hopeful and by far the tenderest song on the album.  Of all the Black Celebration tracks, it is one that many, if not most Depeche Mode fans hold dear.

The Here Is The House logo - courtesy of depechemode.com

What is it about Here Is The House that is so encapsulating though? I remember when I first heard Black Celebration, my two friends who played it to me insisted that this was the standout track on the album. The big brother of one of them agreed and, because he was older and seemed to understand music, his word was law. They were all right though - it is a special song. It acts as a balm at first, soothing you after the majestic power of Stripped. There's no intro to it either which is curious. It launches straight into the song's chorus with Dave and Martin almost duetting, Martin's melody line merging perfectly with Dave's lead until Martin sings the last line ("And as it happens/It happens here/In this house). Musically we're on a different tack too. The main melody line sounds almost like a string section, albeit a heavily treated one, creating a soothing, welcoming feel that is at odds with Stripped's crunch.

The lyrics are interesting too, as they talk of "tender moments/under this roof," implying a closeness and even a genuine sense of being in love, announcing itself far more overtly than at any other point in the album. The first verse is gorgeous and, for some reason, always puts me in mind of Christmas. There's a safety or a comfort to it, unlike, say Fly On The Windscreen - Final, to pick an obvious juxtaposition. 

"And I feel your warmth/And it feels like home/And there's someone/Calling on the telephone
Let's stay home/It's cold outside/And I have so much/To confide to you
With or without words/I'll confide everything"

See? This is all about being at one with someone else, shutting the world away, being together and, most importantly when you consider the likes of say World Full Of Nothing or It Doesn't Matter Two, not regretting it. Don't get me wrong by the way - both those songs are masterpieces. I just find it interesting that their content differs markedly from Here Is The House.  

We them move onto the chorus again, with Alan adding the odd layer of noise to the mix before the main riff kicks in, as poppy as anything on the album. Black Celebration is an album fuelled by a dark, twisted take on pop, but this song as almost a straightforward pop song.  One interesting point to note here is the lyrics to the chorus which differ from Martin's own demo. Instead of singing "Body and soul come together/As we come closer together" he sings "Colours and shapes merge together/As we come closer together." I wonder why he changed it? The lyrics from the album version certainly have more of a Black Celebration feel to them. The demo is notable too for the use of guitar which was an unusual sound in those Depeche Mode days. Have a listen:



Returning to the album version, the song builds and builds from this point in a way that would become more familiar in Depeche's next few albums, with additional clever layers of music adding to the song's atmosphere. Lyrically too, the second verse focuses on togetherness, as opposed to lust or anything black:

"So we stay at home/And I'm by your side/And you know what's going on inside
Inside my heart/Inside this house/And I just want to let it out for you
And I feel your warmth/And it feels like home."

It shows Martin in a rare moment of contentment, at least in his Black Celebration phase. His lyrics these days are all about souls and love, but Here Is The House was pretty unique at the time in tackling that subject matter. 

What has thus far been a wonder of a song is then topped off as Martin's "Oh oh oh oh oh oh oh oh" part arrives, leading to the chorus and a Martin sung "Here is the house" counter-melody, all of which repeat three times, suddenly disappearing, leaving Martin's "oh oh's" singing us to the song's conclusion. The ticking clock that has ran throughout the track closes it off beautifully. You feel happy as the song ends. You're buoyed by the sense of love and happiness. It's overtly positive, as opposed to the  darker positivity that you find in the likes of the following World Full Of Nothing. It's simply a gorgeous, glorious track.

But, you are no doubt wondering, how can a song on an album as revered as Black Celebration be a lost classic? Well, Here Is The House is a song that Depeche Mode have never fully done justice. Unlike many of the more celebrated tracks on the record, Here Is The House is rarely, if at all, played live for example. As we've read previously, it was on the setlist for the Black Celebration tour, but was only played in Oxford and Brighton, and then disappeared from the set not to be heard again in the subsequent 74 shows. This recording from Brighton is decent enough and shows that the song seems to work ok. Some of the vocals are a bit off certainly, but it was only night two. Maybe Dave and Martin felt they couldn't do it justice hence why it was dropped?



A few of the keyboard lines are ropey too now that I listen back to it!

Martin brought it back on World Violation as part of his acoustic set. Here it is from Frankfurt on 14 October 1990:

The acoustic version is a lovely take on it, exposing the song's emotions perfectly. The full band version on the album is superior though as it adds the necessary atmosphere. It only got 19 plays on the tour though, meaning that, all in, Depeche Mode have only played Here Is The House live 21 times. Hole To Feed and Miles Away/The Truth Is have had more outings that than to give you some context.

It's a pity that a song so beautiful that offers both respite from the dark reality of Black Celebration and a hopefulness not really present elsewhere on the album, has been overlooked by the band. I love it, and I know lots of you do too. 

Here Is The House a lost classic? I'll drink to that. 





Saturday, 26 March 2016

A GUEST BLACK CELEBRATION #6 - KEVIN MAY

Another guest post and another wonderful read. Today's blog is by Kevin May, a UK based journalist who usually writes about the travel industry and technology. Kevin is, as you'd expect given his appearance here, a bit of a Depeche fan and has been a Devotee since buying Get The Balance Right. The key thing you need to know about Kevin is that he is the author of the the forthcoming Depeche Mode book Halo which examines the story behind Violator. It is a book that you will not want to miss, trust me. Kevin has very kindly told me a bit about the content of the book and, if you knew what I know, you'd be beyond excited. I was delighted when Kevin agreed to write a piece for this month's project and, unsurprisingly, it's a wonderful blog. Luckily for me, he's included a few snippets from interviews he did with the likes of Gareth Jones for Halo. You're in for a treat

I should also mention a joint project that Kevin and I are about to embark upon. In the next couple of months, we'll be releasing a podcast called Violation Celebration which, as you might already have guessed, will be about Violator and Black Celebration. More to come on that soon. Anyway, enough from me - read on.


BLACK CELEBRATION - THE PERFECT DRESS REHEARSAL FOR VIOLATOR

Depeche Mode fans are genetically hard-wired to love a heart-felt debate about their favourite band.

In fact, some would argue that - perhaps ranking alongside actually listening to the music or seeing them at gigs - having the opportunity AND need to regularly discuss all things Depeche is actually one of the vital bits of glue that binds the band's fiercely loyal fans together.

Best B-side? That would be My Joy (leave a comment below). Favourite post-Alan Wilder album? Probably Ultra. Least likeable video? Quite a few, but It's Called A Heart. Most memorable concert? Paris Bercy, 1993.

Assuming you've got this far into the article, I am guessing that many of you are already formulating your own answers... We all, let's face it, have a point of view when it comes to Depeche.

My second favourite album by Depeche Mode is Black Celebration. That obviously goes against the grain of what David McElroy's excellent, month-long series is all about - but it's a now-unshakable opinion.

Black Celebration may have found itself one rung higher up my ladder of favourites if it wasn't for the masterpiece that came along four years later in the shape of Violator.

Whilst that point-of-view is certainly up for debate (and, yes, it has been a central and regular argument in my world over the past 18 months), very few fans could argue that both Black Celebration and Violator do not deserve the accolade of being the two most important albums in the career of the band.

Neil Ferris, Depeche Mode's radio and TV plugger throughout the 1980s, is right when he says that Violator eventually became the "seminal" album for the band.

He says this in the context of how important Construction Time Again was in the making of the Depeche sound, and the reception it subsequently received from fans and critics.

But any seminal-like status heading the way of Construction Time Again was later overtaken when Violator was released in 1990.

But why?

Analyse a little further, add some other pivotal moments into the mix, and you start to see a pattern: the debut album Speak & Spell, 1983's Construction Time Again, Black Celebration in 1986, Violator, Ultra in 1997 and Playing The Angel in 2005.

Every two "eras", Depeche create something new... something that changes how they work, or how they are perceived and received, all with lasting consequences.

This simple calculation makes sense: Speak & Spell put the band on the map; Construction Time Again saw the emergence of the "Depeche sound" (not least with the studio and musical influences of Gareth Jones and Alan Wilder respectively); Ultra showed that band could reconvene successfully despite their well-documented personal issues; and Playing The Angel set the modern strategy in place (production-promotion-tour time-line, structure and style) which pretty much continues to this day.

But it is arguably the two long-players in the middle of that aforementioned collection of pivotal moments, Black Celebration and Violator, that have the most cause to be celebrated (no pun intended).

If Black Celebration gave rise to a certain depth and sonic to Depeche's music, Violator brought that same intensity alongside a pop accessibility to the masses (again, no pun intended).

If Black Celebration allowed the band to start to create a certain style and culture around their image (later mirrored by legions of their fans), Violator gave artistic collaborator Anton Corbijn the opportunity - with the band's universal blessing - to finally unleash his creativity across the album, videos, photography and merchandise.

If Black Celebration illustrated that there was a world for Depeche beyond their European heartland, as until-then relatively unknown audiences in the US suddenly flocked to see them on the album's tour, 1990's World Violation Tour saw the band accelerate their status as genuine stadium and arena act to extraordinary heights, at a global scale.

Breathing in fumes (of motivation)

It is perhaps easy to reflect on two landmark periods in the history of Depeche Mode through rose-tinted spectacles.

Do we, as fans, end up placing these eras on musical pedestals because we now have the benefit of 30 years to reflect on Black Celebration and 25 years for Violator?

The answer is a bit of no, and a fair amount of yes.

I've lost count of the number of times that fans have told me that they can remember where they were when they first heard Personal Jesus or A Question of Time.

Or how they felt when seeing the band on the tours that accompanied albums (a thunderous Halo during the World Violation Tour remains reasonably indescribable for me, 25 years on).

These are all influential and valid moments, for us as fans.

But it would be optimistic to suggest that fans and critics genuinely realised the career-defining qualities of either Black Celebration or Violator in the immediate aftermath of their respective releases.

They were obviously both special albums at the outset, but for reasons that were more to do with the quality of Martin Gore's songs and how each album made people feel.

But we can now see how Black Celebration and Violator - a quarter of a century later - are intertwined in a unique and hugely important way.

The experience of creating Black Celebration in late-1985 and early-1986, paved the way for how the band would consider working in the studio by the time they got to Milan in the spring of 1989.

Producers Daniel Miller and Gareth Jones had pushed the band during the recording of Black Celebration, using the so-called "live the album" idea.

The result was an intense experience that caused obvious tensions in the studio, but helped shape the mood of the album.

It was this concept, of testing themselves as creative artists, which ignited something exciting within the team that later saw them appoint Flood (Mark Ellis), a figure that most within the camp considered the best person at the time to really take Depeche to a new level.

Flood was considered much more of a collaborator than a producer by the time that Depeche Mode had got to the recording sessions for Violator - someone who knew which buttons to push (both literally and figuratively) in the studio to get the very best out the songs and the production.

But that having someone alongside them to not only help but challenge their preconceived ideas of "how it should be done" was born during Black Celebration.

Gareth Jones and Kevin in Gareth's studio 2015 - picture (c) Kevin May

A lot of the credit for this should go to Gareth Jones, the co-producer of Black Celebration who had started work with the band as a engineer on Construction Time Again and whose open-minded style and approach (especially to emerging concepts back in 1983 as sampling) unlocked their confidence - not least Alan Wilder's musical prowess - to try new things.

Jones knew that in the right atmosphere, despite the tensions that ensued during the recording, he and Miller could inspire the band to dig deeper into their creative arsenal to produce a series of songs that were unsurpassed in their depth and intensity at that point.

Experimentation and "getting out of your own way" (a phrase that was mentioned fairly frequently in the interviews for HALO) always seems to trigger the best from Depeche Mode.

Interestingly, talking to me in 2015, I learned that Jones was disappointed to have been "abandoned" after Black Celebration when he learned he would not be asked to work with the band again for the follow-up album, Music For The Masses.

In some respects it is easy to sympathise with Jones, having completed a "trilogy" with Depeche (including Some Great Reward in 1984), but those who have met him or listened to and read his interviews realise that there is now, with age, an enormous respect he has for the band and how they engineered their way through the late-1980s.

As a younger man, he says, "I was a bit prejudiced about Music For The Masses and didn’t realise it to be the good album that it was, perhaps".

"But anyway, by the time Violator came along, enough water had passed under the bridge that I was able to embrace it and listen to it, and enjoy it.

Visually saved us

Of zero influence to the sonic contained on Black Celebration, but of equal importance to the style that emerged during Black Celebration, was the arrival of Anton Corbijn.

Plenty has been noted on previous occasions about the Dutchman's role in the history of Depeche Mode - a relationship that has now spanned three decades, yet began with an unpretentious, unusual (for a synth band) and fun video for A Question Of Time.

But given the creative partnership (as arty-types would call it) they now have, it's easy to forget - or difficult to comprehend - that the collaboration started off in as low-key a way as possible.

Richard Bell, Corbijn's official producer on the Depeche videos from Stangelove until the turn of the century, told me last year that as young system producer at product company Vivid, he was unable to travel to Los Angeles to help with A Question Of Time.

The band was on tour at the time, budgets were tight, so Corbijn handled much of the video's on-site work himself, with a few helpers for the equipment.

Bell did all the setting up of the video's production remotely, from a facility in London, whilst the band (not least Alan Wilder, who did an extra day's filming) worked with Corbijn at various locations in California.

Fast forward a few years and the Corbijn team was "all in" with Depeche Mode.

After the trademark, grainy, black and white style that was used on most of the Music For The Masses videos, Corbijn was given full reign to create some of Depeche's most iconic visual work, such as Enjoy The Silence.

It is reasonably safe to say that if Corbijn had not gained the confidence of the band during the creation of that simple video for A Question Of Time, during that scorching summer of 1986 in the US, Depeche's history may have taken an entirely different path.

Poor ol' Music For the Masses

It is worth noting briefly the album in the middle of Black Celebration and Violator, 1987's Music For The Masses, which has its own special place in the story of Depeche Mode, but for wholly different reasons.

It doesn't sound or feel as "seminal" as Violator, nor is it anywhere near pioneering as its predecessor.

Lest we forget, Music For The Masses is a great album (as we all know, spawning Never Let Me Down Again, Strangelove, Behind The Wheel and - for me - the hugely underrated Nothing), but it doesn't quite create the same frisson amongst fans that Black Celebration and Violator somehow manage to do.

In fact, strangely, and with the benefit of hindsight again, Music For The Masses now feels like a stepping stone between those two albums.

Yes, it has some classic Depeche Mode songs; yes, it inspired a pivotal moment in the shape of the Pasadena Rose Bowl gig in 1988; and , yes, it stands proudly alongside Songs Of Faith And Devotion as an important and great album.

But it doesn't have the same place in the history of the band as Black Celebration or Violator.

If the former and latter didn't exist, Music For The Masses would perhaps be up there as the iconic album from the band.

But Black Celebration's depth, tone and overall feel was only matched (improved on, some argue) with Violator.

Yet what we should all recognise now, and appreciate, is that without Black Celebration setting a standard for process and focus, some of it subconsciously, some of it due to the decisions that were made as a band about things other than their visual output, Violator may never have become the seminal moment in the band's career that it did.

I'll happily "drink to that".


Told you you'd enjoy that!.

Keep an eye on the Halo Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/halotheviolatorbook/?fref=ts) and Twitter (https://twitter.com/HALOBook) for news about the book. Needless to say, I'll be talking about it a lot on here too. 

Thanks very much Kevin.

Friday, 25 March 2016

A BLACK CELEBRATION DJ MIX

Thus far, A Month Long Period Of Rejoicing has been all words and pictures, so it's about time we had something to listen to. I've mentioned the wonderful Home (http://www.depeche-mode.com/) website before numerous times and you should all be familiar with it by now. One of the moderators there is Glen Hammarstrom, the man behind the superb Breathing In Fumes podcasts, host of the Disappear radio show (https://www.facebook.com/disappearradioshow/info/) and general top bloke This month, he produced a Black Celebtation special for Home and, happily, he's letting me use it too.

It's a great listen and is full to the brim with great music, interview snippets and more. Enjoy.



Thursday, 24 March 2016

A QUESTION OF TIME

A Question Of Time was released on 11 August 1986, five days before the end of the Black Celebration Tour. Normally, any such release isn't that important. The album has sold all it will really sell, the band are winding down from a spell on the road and, unless the b-sides and remixes are worth it (as they were here), some fans might not even buy the single. The thing is though, A Question Of Time was a pivotal single for Depeche Mode, but not for the musical side of it. It was important because of its video.

7BONG12

The video for the single was directed by Anton Corbijn who agreed to work with Depeche Mode primarily because they were in American at that moment in time (see Black Celebration re-issue dvd interviews). Until that point, their videos had been pretty crap in the main, with the band and the video directors never quite grasping how to make videos to match the mood of the music. Their videos up to Anton's involvement suffer partly from too much literal interpretation of elements of the songs (see Master &Servant's drills and chains), partly from too many attempts to show that they hit real things rather than press buttons (see Stripped's metal bashing) but mainly from being useless (everything other than Shake The Disease and Stripped). Anton's approach seemed to be along the lines of "I'm making a film and your music just happens to be the soundtrack" and it worked, and still works. Think of Depeche Mode now and most people will think Violator and its iconic, Corbijn artwork. Ask someone to think of a Depeche video and they'll likely think of Enjoy The Silence. Anton's artwork was also crucial to Depeche Mode from the Music For The Masses period and beyond. Basically all of his single and album designs are wonderful, bar Home which really was lazy. 

Without his involvement in the A Question Of Time video, it's likely that we would have a very different Depeche Mode to the one we have today. Yes, Martin would still have come up with the majestic songs, but the band's image would have been different.  The single was, therefore, very important, even crucial, in seeing Depeche Mode taken more seriously and not just viewed as synthpoppers. I guess I'd better show you the video:

 

So - to the single itself. The Mute press release said this:

Courtesy of DM TV Archives

The N.M.E said:

Remixed and remodelled, 'A Question Of Time' is an anthem: Depeche Mode's answer to Big Country. It just stutters on in frantic waves of guitar and synth keyboard. Depeche Mode's fans seem to crave for a diet of rigid, thrashing beats. That being so, 'A Question Of Time' is neither here nor there. It's just yet another Depeche Mode single.

No.1 Magazine said:

Courtesy of DM TV Archives

The band promoted it with a number of television appearances . Here's one, with a brief Dave interview, from U.K. show Music Box:



The 7" version of the single featured a remixed version of A Question Of Time called A Question Of Time (Remix). It's quite a nice version and is slightly faster than the album mix. The b-side is a live version of Black Celebration recorded live at Birmingham N.E.C. on 10 April. The 12" contains one remix and three live tracks from that Birmingham show. The remix is Extended Remix of A Question Of Time by Phil Harding and it's pretty good. Like any good extended remix, it reshapes the song and let's you hear many of the individual components which is always cool. The live tracks are Black Celebration, Something To Do and Stripped.  As I've mentioned previously, the live versions of the Black Celebration tracks seem to lack something. Something To Do sounds great though, and seems to have a life that the other tracks lack.

My A Question Of Time Collection

For the first time in this campaign, there was a limited edition 12" single (middle above). Side A of the record is an odd one. There's the New Town remix of A Question Of Time by Rico Conning to kick it off. It's not bad but not as good as the Extended Remix, although it does turn Martin into a Dalek towards the end which is novel. It then runs straight into a live version of A Question Of Time, again from Birmingham, which has a really odd sound used for the main keyboard riff. The B-side firstly features the Black Tulip Mix of Black Celebration, again by Mr Conning, and it's a fairly weird but ultimately enjoyable remix. The last track is another live track from Birmingham, More Than A Party, which, like all shows on the tour, rounds it off nicely. All tracks were made available on cd in 1991 following the cd re-issue series.

Once again, the West German fans got some coloured vinyl. The 7" was released on red vinyl (note - all singles from See You to Never Let Me Down Again are available on this format), the standard 12" appeared on black and white marbled vinyl and the L12 appeared on grey vinyl. All three coloured vinyl versions can be viewed above. A West German cd single is also available. There's a lovely French cd single available too which features the 12" tracks plus A Question Of Time (Remix)  from the 7". It's available in a few guises, the most sought after being the numbered version in a cardboard sleeve - picture below. I've only just received this, hence why it doesn't feature in the collection post above,  There's also a French cassette version featuring the same five tracks.



The final release to note is the American "Specially Priced Maxi Single" which is a hybrid A Question Of Time/A Question Of Lust release. The front sleeve looks like this:


The A-side (above) features the Extended Remix of A Question of Time and the live version of Something To Do from the U.K. 12". The B-side features A Question Of Lust (Extended Version) and Black Celebration from the 7" and 12". Note that this isn't a new remix of A Question Of Lust. It's actually A Question Of Lust (Minimal) from the U.K. 12". The back sleeve of the record looks like this:


hence my hybrid release comment. 

A Question Of Time got as far as number 17 in the U.K. charts which wasn't too bad considering (1) it was the third single from the album and they were no longer on tour (2) A Question Of Lust only got to number 28 and (3) Stripped had only got to number 15. As I said at the outset though, A Question Of Time is an important release as it signified the start of the Corbijn era and we all know how well that went.

Wednesday, 23 March 2016

A GUEST BLACK CELEBRATION #5: SEAN SALO

Sean Salo is a New York based Depeche Mode fan who is also an administrator on the wonderful Home website (http://www.depeche-mode.com/) which you really all should be familiar with by now. He's been a Depeche fan for years and has been to see them many times in many cool venues, the names of which I can't tell you as they would just make you cry with jealousy. Giants Stadium on World Violation anyone? Also, Sean has had the good fortune to meet the band through one of his previous jobs, so he knows his Depeche stuff. I was thrilled when he agreed to write a piece for this project and I know you're going to love it. The original brief was to write something about the U.S view of Black Celebration, but Sean has gone further and spoken to contacts at the U.S. label Sire and members of Book Of Love, meaning this is an blog you have to read. There are also some exclusive pictures thrown in for good measure.  I'd hoped that this month would see us get some real insight into the Black Celebration era - Sean has provided just that and, even though I've thanked him loads already, I'd just like to say thanks again. Enjoy this - I know you will.


Life in the So-Called Space Age…

By the time Black Celebration was released in 1986, the decade hadn’t exactly lived up to the promise of the modern space age with harmonious humankind working toward common goals of technological progress and prosperity.  Coincidentally to the album’s rear cover tagline about the space age, the damaged crew compartment and bodies of all seven astronauts of the Space Shuttle Challenger were found in the Atlantic Ocean just days earlier. 

This disillusionment ran parallel to factors that pushed Depeche Mode from niche act to alternative superstars in the U.S.:  Equal parts threat of nuclear annihilation, sex delivering a death sentence, Reaganomics, hypocritical religious televangelism, and corporate greed and excess. The new wave and post-punk movements were generally ignored by media outside of all but the major metropolitan areas, and was driven in large amounts by small college radio stations and niche music magazines and alternative newsweeklies.

The band’s earlier singles collection was renamed Catching Up With Depeche Mode for the North American audience, who were generally catching up on the band who’d had a minor crossover hit with People Are People a couple years earlier.  (Oddly, that single and others were not included on Catching Up With…, but rather on a separate, earlier Sire-only comp titled People Are People that included the eponymous track and was meant to capitalize on the success of that single in the U.S., as well as singles Get The Balance Right, Everything Counts, Leave In Silence, and B-sdides like Now This Is Fun.  Are you following yet?) 

For most in the US, Depeche Mode were relatively unknown.  Except for their breakthrough hit People Are People which topped out at #13, MTV had ignored them, and mainstream American radio was the home of Michael Jackson, Bruce Springsteen, Whitney Houston, Bon Jovi, and Cyndi Lauper.  Synths were much more the exception to the guitar rule in the States, with only a few mostly British pop crossover hits from the likes of Human League and Eurythmics.  Meanwhile, the press and mainstream rock audiences were being won over by a new format of radio called “classic rock”, which chose to ignore the fact that any music created past the year 1979 was worth listening to, further cementing America’s love affair with the guitar.

But by 1986, things had started to evolve.  New wave and post-punk formats appeared on commercial radio stations with typically weak signals.  Stations like KROQ in Los Angeles and WLIR in New York receive much of the glory for evangelizing a generation of coastal American fans to Depeche Mode.  But by 1986, others in San Francisco, Boston, San Diego, Washington, DC, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, and in Toronto were giving love to DM.  For all this increased exposure, one would think that stars of this burgeoning genre would have scored TV appearances in the States.  One would be wrong.  There was not a one.  As a result, Depeche Mode’s persona was largely an enigma to American audiences.

Richard Blade, DJ at KROQ, debuted ‘But Not Tonight as an import to his Southern California radio audience saying that he much preferred it to the gloomier Stripped.  Sire, the band’s US record label, had come to the same conclusion, as has been documented, granting the A-side status to But Not Tonight, adding it on as the final track on the North American release of Black Celebration.  As linked the other day in the world tour entry, WLIR interviewed Martin Gore at the start of their New York stint, which is a great snapshot of where the band was in 1986.  As a further testament to their newly gained success in a market they’d all but written off, A Question of Lust placed at #2 on KROQ’s Top 106.7 of 1986, and A Question of Time was “Screamer of the Year”, the best song of 1986 as voted by WLIR’s listeners.

Sandy Alouete, Head of Music & Talent at MTV, worked at Sire Records at the time, including on Depeche Mode’s releases.  She’d been working for Sire for a year, at that time providing executive support to label head, Seymour Stein, when Mute sent a carton of Black Celebration t-shirts, and she realized that she “had the coolest job in the universe.”  She continued to work at Sire and Reprise Records through 2000, working on all their albums through The Singles 86>98.  What struck her about 1986 was that Seymour was such a champion of the band and the album, dictating memos to her to send to Warners execs for the same promotion love that other artists on the roster were getting.

Alouete researched to double check her memory that they played not one but three shows at Radio City Music Hall.  It was unexpected for a niche band to play one show at the famed hall in 1986.  To headline three nights (and later sell out a fourth show in the market at Jones Beach) was “a big freakin’ deal at that point!”  She was also struck with how starkly different the “sparkly, new wavy pop” of tour opener, Book of Love, was from the darker and heavier music from Black Celebration

Radio City Music Hall marquee, 1986

Asked if she recalled the swap of Stripped for But Not Tonight as lead single, Alouete said that ultimately, Seymour responded to pop hooks, whether it was working on Madonna or The Replacements, Morrissey or Depeche.  “In the long run, I hope that the band will get its full due as the influence they are” to virtually every artist in the alternative and electronic genres.  “In 2016, you can’t find artists who don’t say Depeche Mode were an influence.”

“Sire was way ahead of the curve with DM”, Alouete recalled.  “It was rich with amazing tracks.  And their live shows brought together a diverse audience – straight, gay, goth, pop, suburban, urban – in a way that no other band could have at any time before…Their Radio City show was electric.”

Susan Ottaviano is the lead singer of Book of Love, a synth pop band who formed after meeting at art school in Philadelphia.  On the strength of the demo for their initial single, Boy, Stein had signed the band to Sire in 1984. With just one single under their belts, Book of Love was asked by Depeche to open for them on the North American leg of the Some Great Reward Tour.  Following the success of Boy, which achieved near-anthem status in new wave and gay clubs in the States, they recorded a follow-up single, I Touch Roses, which was remixed by Mute label head, Daniel Miller.  Book of Love’s eponymous album was released in early 1986, and they were asked to accompany Depeche Mode on the Black Celebration Tour in both Europe and North America.  

Susan Ottaviano onstage at Radio City Music Hall with roses

Having been one of only a few acts to open for Depeche on multiple tours, I asked Ottaviano to share some memories of touring with the band, and if she noticed a difference in the States of the band’s acceptance

Susan: “I didn't really think there was a big change from one tour to the next.  I thought that the band was growing, developing and finally coming of age, and more people were becoming aware of Depeche Mode.  Black Celebration was such a great album and piece within itself.  Book of Love definitely became fans on that tour!  I don't know how many shows we had on that tour.  (75?)  But we saw most of them, especially in Europe.  

Susan Ottaviano's brother and sister with Alan Wilder, 1986

“It was clear from the get go in Europe that their following was already huge!  We played with them in some of the largest venues of our career. Palais Omnisport in Paris was over 20,000 people.  For us, we were struggling to keep up.  We had just one album’s worth of material, and one tour under our belt.  So, I don't need to tell you that it was exciting as well as very challenging!  Some of these large venues had [general admission], and fans had been waiting in line for two days to get in.  They weren't that keen on seeing an opening band when they wanted DM.  But we won them over!  Dave taught me how to show them who was boss!  I'll never forget that, he was a big help to me!

“Another point to note is that 30 years ago there were very few women on the road touring. There was us and 30 men.  That wasn't exactly easy.  We had to win their crew over, as well.  (Which we did.  Ha!)  When we finally got back to the U.S., the crowds were still big, and audiences knew our material better, as well.  It was clear to us that something special was happening, especially by the time we got to the West Coast.”


The Some Great Reward Tour during Spring of 1985 saw all of 15 dates in North America, largely in theaters, including a couple of colleges – something the band hadn’t done since its earliest days in the U.K.  Just over a year later, they nearly doubled their gigs here to 28 amphitheaters and arenas.  Notably, the beginning of the tour saw the band play large theaters, including Philadelphia, Boston and the Radio City stint.  From there, they went on to play the amphitheater circuit. Counterintuitively, at precisely the same time that their music took a darker turn, they had transitioned from a club and small theater act to one that packed 7k-15k capacity suburban, outdoor sheds.

Rear of North American Tour t-shirt

Some of the reason for this suburban acceptance was that Depeche Mode provided a perfect outlet for parental/societal rebellion for cliques of kids from the ‘burbs who would have grumbled under their breaths in the cafeteria about the jocks and the metalheads.  (Or am I speaking primarily for myself?)  
At 15 years old, I had yet to see any live concerts.  I wasn’t even aware of how to go about that whole process, nor did I have the funds to do so.  As a result, I missed out on the three Radio City Music Hall shows.  But when the show at Jones Beach Amphitheater show was added, I jumped at the chance.  Leaving the ticket buying duties to my cousin, we wound up with prime tickets in the second to last row in the venue.  So on June 13th, as we entered the parking lot, I was struck by the fact that not only was the theater near the beach, but the stage was elevated above the water, and seemed to be floating on the Bay.  (It’s a favorite place to see shows to this day.)

Ticket to Jones Beach Show, 15 June 1986

We arrived in time to see Book of Love open.  I couldn’t care less that our seats were at the top of the bowl.  The energy was palpable.  Near the longest day of the year, the sun was still bright in the sky for their set.  Toward their set crescendo, members of the audience threw flowers on stage as the band played I Touch Roses.  “How in the world did people know to bring flowers?”, my young mind wondered. 

Still not quite dusk, there were no venue lights yet to be lowered to kick off the main show.  Simply the brooding synth bass line of Christmas Island that began shaking my seat – which I sat in again only briefly.  By this point, I wasn’t yet the collector or even the fan that I am now, so I wasn’t intimately familiar with this moody b-side to the A Question of Lust single.  The intro track almost served as a palate cleanser for the more upbeat, major chord tunes from Book of Love.  The band took the stage.  Emboldened by the larger audiences, their shows started taking on more of a spectacle, with the lighting shows and staging reflecting their increased popularity both here and at home.  Additionally, their image both reflected and informed what was happening within the landscape of the post-punk subculture.  I mentioned sitting briefly again, but that was a lie; It was actually twice.  I did so once right after they left the stage following People Are People so I could join the rest of the audience pounding our feet feet rhythmically on the hollow grandstand structure beneath the seats to coax the band back on stage.  They obliged with Boys Say Go!  Then once more again, this time sounding like thunder, prodding them out for the final encore of Just Can’t Get Enough and More Than a Party.

What I saw that night changed me, as it did thousands of others on that tour.  I arrived at the show a fan of the band whose People Are People’ 7” single I’d purchased on a trip with my summer camp to Montreal in 1984.  I left knowing Depeche Mode had cemented their place at the top of the pantheon of my favorite bands.  Somehow, thirty years after that show, this remains the case.  Depeche Mode are no longer just a hobby – music I enjoy collecting or listening to.  I’ve developed deep friendships with other fans of the band worldwide – some of whom I’ve never met in person, yet consider close friends.  Given the early irrelevance of the band in the States, I’m sure they could never have imagined it would still be a lucrative market for them decades later, nor that there would be a worldwide community of bloggers, message board users, and tour followers dedicated to their fandom of Depeche Mode.

Life in the so-called internet age…



There is nothing I can add to that, other than to say thanks again Sean and that I hoped you enjoyed reading that.  What a wonderful read.