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Neil Arthur of Blancmange

Neil Arthur - Interview

Everything Is Connected

 Blancmange burst into the public eye in the early 1980's on the crest of the electro pop wave running through the charts at the time. A period of music when anything was possible when it came to recording and creating music. Living on the ceiling was the peak of their hits at that time, a song that bounces along with Eastern vibes and a throw everything in but the kitchen sink production. It worked famously and gave Neil Arthur and Stephen Luscombe the confidence to plough their own unique furrow, where having a hit wasn't the be all and end all, instead just go with instinct.

 2024 and Neil is talking of a new best of collection called Everything is Connected which covers the years from 1979 to 2024 with maybe unknown to some, songs from the prolific 2010's, an amazing period of song writing.

Neil Arthur of Blancmange

 I spoke to Neil Arthur to begin with about the very early days and the newly rediscovered track that is to be on the new Best Of Blancmange album. This song is called Again I wait for the world which goes way back  to 1979, I asked:

RTS - How does the new version compare to the original demo and how did it come to light?

Neil Arthur - When I was moving house a few years ago, this box came out of the attic in preparation for us to shift and I opened it, probably made the mistake of opening it (chuckles) instead of just taking it to the dump and chucking it in the skip. Some boxes actually do not ever get opened again you know, say from three moves ago or whatever and I was getting a bit more ruthless. Anyway I did end up opening it because it said old cassettes and tapes on the top and I've still got quite a number of these boxes. Right at the top were two cassettes one of them said L360 (this was an earlier experimental band before Blancmange) the other said Blancmange and then there was a third cassette that said those two names on one tape and that's the one I took and I thought I'll just put it in the cassette machine and see if it plays, it did and there was an embryo, it was just a tape of a rehearsal or something like we would record on just a portable cassette machine, just your basic run-of-the-mill type thing. It was just recorded in a room you know, it was raw and I had this and a few other demo songs Again I wait for the world I'm not sure it was called that at that stage then there were other songs one called The Pen and another one called Friday night Saturday morning which is a bit of a nod to the old Black and white kitchen sink dramas. I listened to it and didn't really think much more of it, I then put it back in the box but something kept nagging at me over the next few  months, I kept having the song come back into my head and eventually I thought  I've got a solution to how it could be concluded then I recorded that in Logic. I created it with guitars and synths and rhythm units and what have you and then took it to play to my manager and he said I think you should finish this?  I'll take it to Benge (Benge is Neil's producer and colleague in side band Fader) when I'm down there in January. So we got together down at his studio in Cornwall and I recorded that and another new one, Wish. So just after 45 years it kind of got finished. I've also tracked down one of the members as there were three of us in the band and there were a lot of floating members who came in and out, one of which was Stephen, Stephen played with Blancmange and L360 a few times but he deemed us too serious. Blancmange can be pretty dark as well as light and shade anyway so it's done, it's done Dan and it got finished and we decided that it should go on this compilation.

RTS - An excellent idea and I think obviously a good selling point for publicity. new tracks help sell albums?

NA - I hope so, yeah I hope it attracts people 

Neil Arthur of Blancmange

RTS - Regarding your song writing technique,  are there similarities now and back then or do you look back at younger self and think I really was a different person, I was writing songs about different times, etc, or do you think you've got a consistent strain running through to now, on what you write your songs about and what instruments you use to compose with?

NA - What the songs are about can hopefully surprise me, because I'm not quite sure what's around the corner, but I tend to write about what I see, what I hear, what I read, and then kind of twist it and turn it upside down, then kind of regurgitate it,  kind of form it back into the blender and mix it into something that is Blancmange. I think I've always done that, right from I've Seen The Word, God's Kitchen, right through to the song we've just discussed.  Looking at every day in a slightly different way, looking in between the cracks, slightly equivalent to in between the words really.  I don't know whether that's really changed since the beginning, I suppose that defines who I am in a way, you know, that's how I go about things.

 In terms of instrumentation, largely, right at the start we didn't have synthesizers, sometimes we'd borrow one, but we didn't own any, so we tried to make what we had sound interesting, and some of it ended up sounding a bit like a synth and some of the guitar sounds we treated with an amplifier that I'd made when I was at school, that was quite a nice sound you could get out of that, so that was used a lot.

 Stephen used this organ that he'd put through distortion pedals,  and I remember I've still got the phase pedal that we used, the Vox phase pedal, plus things like Melos Echo units and stuff like that.

 These days I'd still use all those and more,  I still write on guitar as well. The thing is, when we started, as I said, we didn't have access, we didn't own any synths, we'd sometimes borrow one,  what we used to do was just record off sounds from it, so we could use it texturally in the background,  the other thing we'd use were tape loops and BBC sound effects records, we'd just slide them in on the spin,  then use them along with the cassette. When we used to play live at first, we'd have Stephen on the organ,  me on a guitar and singing but also we'd have a cassette machine with the drums, and that would have been drums that we would have put together ourselves by looping kitchen utensils sometimes and a cardboard box,  along with Tupperware and pots and pans and make a loop out of that, and that would go on the cassette with the bass part which I'd play, either on a borrowed synth or a guitar or whatever,  then we graduated to, you know, obviously, rhythm units .... real stuff.

Blancmange - Happy Families Album

RTS - Did you feel quite on your own during those early years, or did you group together with the other of up-and-coming electro pop artists such as Soft Cell or Depeche Mode? did you plough your own furrow?

NA - No, not really, other people might categorise us, and that's fine, I can understand that, but from our point of view, we just did what we did. And the thing is because, I think it's difficult for people to hold on to this, there wasn't an easy way to know what was going on for example, with music,  you would look forward to getting your NME, or your sounds, or Melody Maker, or whatever it was, that would give you an inkling to some things that were going on. Then of course there was John Peel, who was kind of crucial, he was I would say, at the centre of it, you listened to John Peel, you find out what's going on.

 If you were lucky enough to go out to see a lot of bands as well, you kind of experience that, you'd be down rough trade getting your records, and blah blah blah, if you could afford them, or else borrow them. Also recording off the radio, I recorded John Peel many times, and listened back to it many times, but in terms of did we feel part of anything no not at that point.

RTS - I can sense in your character that you go your own way, I can see that, and I also sense in you a comedic bent, not only in your live performances, but also in your lyrics, does comedy play a part in your life?

NA - Well, I think you wouldn't get through if you weren't able to laugh at a few things,  and, you know, I would say the darker the better for me. Yeah, yeah,

RTS - And a bit of surrealism? I have seen the chair thing going on your socials, where does that come from? 

NA - Yeah, I'm obsessed with white plastic chairs. (laughs loudly)  It makes me laugh, because I love surreal stuff, and it doesn't really have to have a meaning, does it?

 Well, as much as enjoying a laugh, dark or light, I also like a certain amount of ambiguity,  it's something I also drive for in some of my songs. I say, how much ambiguity can I get in there?  So it just gives people as much space as they need if they're into figuring it out or whatever. It's all to do with what they interpret it as, and, you know, they are only bloody songs after all.  Yes, indeed, or chairs in a garden or whatever. The thing is with chairs, there's something that kind of, for me, reflects an aspect of society that I kind of see them around and you go, yeah, there they are again, there they are again, there they are again and you could parallel that with, or use it as an analogy of many things, 

RTS - Chairs are a constant in our life?

 NA - Well, yeah, constant  whether you want them or not (chuckling) Yeah, I like that, I do like that.

Neil Arthur of Blancmange

RTS - Outside of music, what floats your boat when it's like, oh, do you know what, I'm done with the studio and everything else today?

NA -  I cycle, I love cycling and I still play football. I'm not very good at it, but I've played for decades, I'm left-footed, so you tend to find your way in a team if you're left-footed.

RTS - Yeah, you've got a big advantage being a goalie or a left-footer to get in a football team?

NA - I'm certainly not a goalkeeper, even though I'm tall, I'm definitely not a goalkeeper. But yeah, so, walking, I listen to music and I don't go to the studio unless I'm confident the idea I have is good enough to spend some time in front of a screen doing programming. And then, if it's not working, I just walk out.

Tour dates for Blancmange are available from the website if you click above.

Neil will be the support act as well for this tour with offshoot band The Remainder


pre order  here

Photographs by Dan Reddick

Interview by Dan Reddick

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