24 May 2010
The pop charts of the mid-eighties were crowded with electro crooners, their unabashedly romantic yearning standing in stark contrast to the icy and distant synthesizers and white boy funk grooves that filled out the sound. David Sylvian hoped for visions of China. Peter Godwin wished for images of heaven. And Midge Ure longed for Vienna. But no electro crooner could touch the heart strings better than Trevor Herion.
Born in Cork, Ireland, Herion moved to London in the late seventies, and was living in a squat with members of The Psychedelic Furs when he hooked up with drummer Paul Simon, brother of Robin Simon, the guitar player who would would later have notable stints with both Ultravox and Magazine. Together with Mark Scholfield on guitar and Michael French on bass, Herion and Simon formed The Civilians, and released a single for Arista entitled "Made For Television" (1980). The singer and his drummer friend left the band before its sophomore single had appeared, and joined with Matthew Seligman and Thomas Dolby to form The Fallout Club. Here Herion's powerful voice, every note seemingly touched with some irrepressible sadness, came most fully to the fore, offering a powerful embellishment to Dolby's rapidly maturing song writing and arranging abilities. The analogue joys of "Pedestrian Walkway" have been recently rediscovered by a generation of Dolby fans thanks to its inclusion on the remastered, 2 cd version of The Golden Age of Wireless, while its majestically over-the-top follow up, "Wanderlust," has graced several minimal synth compilations in recent years.
Herion's solitary solo album has been less well remembered, however. Released in 1983 on Interdisc Records, Beauty Life is a highly polished slice of electro pop. Graced with a Peter Saville cover, it featured a stellar cast of backing musicians, including another Dolby alum, Kevin Armstrong, and Martin Young of Colourbox. Moreover, the label brought in one of the most in-demand pop producers of the day, Steve Levine, who had previously worked with Culture Club and China Crisis among others. But the album is still very much Herion's, his powerful voice surging up as from some unknown depths of world weary despair, gliding effortlessly over the thick slab of eighties beats, and ascending to its own lonely orbit.
Among its many highlights, the album included "Kiss of No Return," a pre-album single released by Imperial Recordings and distributed by Island in 1982. Arranged by Thomas Dolby (the drum program has a distinct resemblance to some of the beats heard on "Europa and the Pirate Twins"), and produced by Mike Howlett (who also lent his talents to Martha Ladly's sublime solo debut), the song somehow manages to transcend its faux Parisian instrumentation (accordians and violins), and become something almost otherworldly, a loving lament to a more elegant age.
Three further singles were released from the album: "Dreamtime" and "Love Chains" are cast very much in the ABC - Heaven 17 mould, replete with gated snare drums, funky guitars, and towering backing vocals, while the dreamy chord progressions and slap bass of "Love Chains" are strikingly reminiscent of Levine's work with China Crisis. Gathered as the first three tracks on side one, these singles make a muscular statement of purpose, but in some ways it's the album tracks on the second side, full of European longueur and jazzy interludes, that more fully capture the essence of Herion's sound. "Big City," "Betrayed," "The Jazz Age," the titles alone evoke the elongated shadows and dimly lit alleys in which Herion's imagination preferred to walk.
Amid the welter of electro crooners, however, Beauty Life seems to have gone unnoticed, its failure to dent the charts not helped by a feud with Levine that resulted in his name being removed from the album's credits. In the aftermath of its failure, Herion slipped into a prolonged period of depression. He took his own life on October 1, 1988. A retrospective anthology of his best work, including both his solo recordings and contributions to The Civilians and The Fallout Club, is long overdue.
-- Crash The Driver