Blancmange, synthpop pioneers with their unforgettably peculiar 1982 hit Living On The Ceiling, return with a striking new album, Semi Detached, released by Cherry Red on March 23. Lighting the way is an agreeably fritzed finger-popper called The Fall, where Blancmange mainman Neil Arthur (pictured above) declares his debt to an unlikely friend of synthpop: Fall mainman Mark E Smith.
You can hear the excellent new track below, then read Neil Arthur’s reminiscences of the night in northwest London when Mark E Smith changed the course of his life forever.
What was the inspiration behind the song?
I met Mark E Smith just by chance in 1980. Me and my friends were fans of The Fall. We’d be listening to Live At The Witch Trials, Rebellious Jukebox, Industrial Estate, stuff like that. We used to go to a club in West Hampstead called The Moonlight Club and we saw loads of bands there: Young Marble Giants, Joy Division. We ended up playing there later. I had this idea in my head for a lyric for a song. “When I saw you by The Moonlight / Walking in the flotsam by the bay.” It was this story about a dead body. But then I was reminded of the Moonlight club in West Hampstead. That took me on a journey. Memories of my mates, going to these gigs. So I started writing this little story about somebody watching somebody else, a story set around London where the person telling the story also happens to be dead. I was linking all these things together and then I got to the chorus and… I just thought of The Fall. It was as simple as that. It fitted in. The Fall would have been the characters’ default soundtrack. Because it was for us all. The Fall were our security blanket.
“Mark liked that we’d covered Concentration Baby by The Dave Clark Five.” Neil Arthur
Didn’t you send the first Blancmange EP, 1980’s Irene & Mavis, to Mark E Smith?
I was at The Nashville, watching someone like, possibly, Young Marble Giants and The Yachts, not a particularly busy night. It was an exciting time. Off the back of punk everybody was searching for something new. It was such an upheaval, it was wonderful. Everything was closed before. I looked at the bar and Mark E Smith was there. Nervously I went up and introduced myself. I was at college and a mate of ours had helped me and [bandmate] Stephen Luscombe put Irene & Mavis together. He’d had a tax rebate and had £200 and said, “I want to help you make a record.” We had it cut by Porky Prime Cuts [aka famed Liverpool record-cutting engineer George Peckham], stuck all the sleeves together, took them down to Rough Trade, and we were still left with 900. So I’d taken a few out with me that night and I gave Mark a copy and I said, “It would be really nice if you listened to it.” He said, “Oh, I’ll listen to it.” I said, “Fantastic. Thanks very much.” And he wrote back to me. He wrote a really long letter.
Do you still have the letter?
I don’t know. Maybe. In the attic. I remember that it was really encouraging. He liked the DIY experimental aspect, but he particularly liked the idea that we’d done this cover of Concentration Baby by The Dave Clark Five. He suggested that we send it to John Peel. And John Peel played it. Thank you very much, Mr Smith. I did reply but I was severely dyslexic. I’d be embarrassed to read what I wrote back.
Did ever meet him to thank him?
The only time I met him since was in the ’90s. I happened to bump into him in a pub, but we didn’t have much to say. But his early encouragement was so important.
The new album, Semi Detached: is this the first Blancmange album without any contributions from Stephen?
Yeah. I’m going to see him later. I’m taking him the new album. He’s not very well at all. He came in the studio for [2011 Blancmange comeback LP] Blanc Burn. We were able to collaborate on those tracks but he hasn’t really been able to do things of late. His health is not good at all. I’m on my way to see him next.
Blancmange play live at Red Gallery London on Fri 15 & Sat 16 May 2015
Interview by: Andrew Male Portrait by: Hana Knizova