Never did understand his 1985 hit Kiss Me, when it went “kiss me with your mouth,” because, figures; there’s no other cavity more apt or commonly used for kissing. Of course, being twelve when it charted, as much titillation as the magic upturned calculator number 5318008, was to be had replacing the word “mouth” with other anatomical parts.
Bit sad, in reflection, but think Stephen “Tintin” Duffy and you’ll be excused for thinking of jazz nouveaux fused art pop, the wick of commercialised electronica, of love better than wine, but as I recently discovered, that is far from the icing on the cake…(see what I did there?)
Just as homeowners strip back kitsch lacquered chipboard to discover an art deco fireplace hidden by seventies post-modernists, Seventeen Records have unearthed archived demos from Birmingham’s seventies post-punk wannabes, Obviously Five Believers, later changed to Subterranean Hawks and regretfully shortened to The Hawks. And it’s Stephen “Tintin” Duffy, as you’ve never heard before.
Often veiled fact is Duffy had been a founder of Duran Duran, just one school band of Birmingham Polytechnic, but when he left education, he also jumped ship in ’79, a year before they were signed by EMI. Through the maze of side projects and band amalgamating, the Obviously Five Believers formed from an original Duran Duran line-up, Duffy and Simon Colley, and another Stooges-inspired garage punk collective, TV Eye, Daves Twist, Kusworth and Paul Adams. “If we’d stuck to Obviously Five Believers, we may have stood a chance,” says Duffy, “it’s how I still think of us. I think we only changed it because Bob Lamb couldn’t fit the name on the cassette boxes.”
As was the rapidly changing scene, the band were short-lived, lasting from ’79 until Christmas ’81, despite being adored by those who managed to see them. With one highly collectable single, ‘Words of Hope’ released, the hope lessened. “When we didn’t get signed by Rough Trade,” Duffy recalls, “we didn’t really have any other ideas… or a Svengali.”
Proto slackers in a city that never developed the support networks, the label entrepreneurs, of a Glasgow, Liverpool or Sheffield, The Hawks undoubtedly had most of the signifiers already in place for the ‘Scene In Between’ that would emerge just a few years later.
Forward wind to 2019, Duffy and Kusworth were reunited, agreeing to release a retrospective album from Duffy’s cassette archive. Sadly, David Kusworth passed away later that year, so, as good as his word, and with the assistance of Grammy-winning engineer John Paterno, Duffy has set the tracks free, in honour of his friend. Obviously 5 Believers is released on Friday 27th August 2021.
“We didn’t make demo’s, blue prints for future single or albums, we played live and I sang over the top, just to see what we sounded like,” Stephen reminisces. “These are like field recordings from a much simpler time. Simple in that we had no lust for fame and fortune, we had no manifestos beyond our fringes. We wanted to sign to a small label and play some shows but somehow we couldn’t fulfil even those modest ambitions.”
For those content to accept eighties pop, to dress in cliché leg warmers, diddy-boppers and dance around their handbags, this is not for you. Those intrigued as to how and why the sound was watered and marketed, and to rediscover its roots as post punk garage bands, this is a must-have. For while the melancholic track ‘Aztec Moon,’ hints to recognisable Stephen “Tintin” Duffy, it’s not absolute, rather ploddingly psychedelic rock, and it’s away from the norm of tracks on show here. If ‘Big Store’ reflects rather what you’d expect from a Talking Heads and Smiths fusion, ‘Bullfighter’ defines new wave in a method not unlike the Jam and other mod revival bands of the era.
All the Sad Young Men alsoreminded me of that mode, yet, in composition and theme, you could pick out and predecessor of synth-pop, of inspiration for Visage and, dare I suggest it, The Pet Shop Boys. Yet, though this stimulating and provocative recording is as one might expect, raw and rudimentary, the route to the archetypal polished electronica can barely be heard. Likewise, the album caused me to seek out some demos from the original Duran Duran line-up on YouTube and it’s captivating to the unaccustomed ear to hear just how underdone it was in comparison with later chart hits. And in so much, how the music industry moulded these acts to suit the technological changes.
I ponder time and time again, how ardent cohorts of post-punk could be sucked into tacky eighties hit factories, such as all-girl trio Bananarama, who found fame collaborating with Fun Boy Three, and rather than stick with Terry Hall, by 1986 thought signing to Stock Aitken Waterman was a good idea, it was, but only for their bank accounts. Que Sera, Sera, perhaps you had to be there at the time, but fair to suggest, it was always about a wage. Though Duffy himself succumbed to the pop machine, he moved progressively, was cutting-edge in recording early chill-out house with Roger Freeman of Pigbag in a project called Dr. Calculus Mdma.
All in all, what you have here is a hidden piece of music history, and through its retrospection, it is an interesting, beguiling and enjoyable unearthed archive… of which, obviously I’m far to young to recall any of it… (not sure why I needed to add that bit!)
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