Take a pop trip back to the awesome Eighties with hitmakers China Crisis
Try tapping China Crisis into Google. Your search results will yield page after page of articles on Putin, Ukraine, Russia and the current world ills. Surprisingly, nothing about pop music at all.
It would have been a very different story back in the 1980s when Liverpool was churning out some big hitters in the music business just as those lovable rogues on Brookside were getting into full swing. Think OMD, A Flock of Seagulls, Echo and the Bunnymen and the reason we’re here: China Crisis.
And for the past 40 years, the songs which bounced onto turntables, tape decks and CD racks have largely stood the test of time and meant the band’s two mainstays – Gary Daly and Eddie Lundon – are still keeping audiences enthralled, albeit slightly older ones.
Vocalist and keyboardist Gary was in a Liverpool café when I caught up with him on the eve of leaving for a series of gigs kicking off in Edinburgh and which eventually bring the band to Bury St Edmunds. I asked him what’s kept the band gigging for four decades.
“It’s the only aspect of the business we understand now – people ask what’s it like in the business after so many years and yet it’s been so many decades since we have been properly a part of it. But that’s quite a nice thing really – that we basically left school in the hope that we would make it our life’s work and that’s exactly what we’ve done.”
It’s been quite a journey for the two mates who met at school, are now connected through a family marriage and continue to please audiences who maybe grew up with their bouncy tunes as a backdrop to their lives.
1982’s Difficult Shapes and Passive Rhythms (Some People Think It’s Fun to Entertain) came in the post-punk period and thrilled with songs such as African and White, the No12 chart smash Christian and my favourite, No More Blue Horizons. Soon afterwards, more success came in the shape of Working With Fire and Steel and the sounds of Wishful Thinking and Hanna Hanna before maybe some of their most chart-worthy material on Flaunt the Imperfection (who could forget Black Man Ray?).
What Price Paradise in 1986 spawned the melodic Arizona Sky and the wonderfully crafted Best Kept Secret. These and other hits were reprised in the 1995 offering Acoustically Yours, including a version of It’s Everything which makes me purr.
Those 40 years have seen major changes in the way music is appreciated – and shared – let alone the formats of what ends up in people’s hands.
“Bands like ourselves and OMD and Depeche Mode didn’t grow up with one another or in the same towns, but we were making the same kind of music. People borrowed records from one another – no-one had more than six or eight albums really – so it was a case of your mates turned you on to everything and then the music papers would say stuff.
“When we’re in Edinburgh, we’re meeting up with our old manager who also managed Simple Minds – we supported them in 1982 and 83. And that led to Christian becoming a hit record – we had just got off the back of their New Gold Dream tour and when people heard it on the radio they knew exactly who we were then and who had made that song.”
Gary admits to being the more creative half of the duo – ‘Eddie’s more football and I’m more ballet’ – but given the chance to re-run the past 40 years, he would grab at the chance but maybe change a few things.
“I would have taken more advice; I would have realised Eddie and myself were really the core of the band and we were the creative element of it. We were keen to make ourselves a band when, really, for all the pros that came with becoming a band, the story has always been Eddie and myself meeting at school and writing these songs with a drum machine and a mini studio.
“But ultimately, this was the soundtrack to a lot of people’s lives. To us it was our work, but to other people it was like, ‘no that’s the record we got engaged to or we played at our wedding or danced to with our mates on holiday’.”
Eddie was listening to a lot of Talking Heads, early OMD, Talk Talk in his early years and that shaped the early sound, which became their trademark.
“We were then able to start imitating and mimicking the bands that we loved. We loved Magazine, we loved early Ultravox. We were trying to sound like them and look like them and that’s what you do when you’re a kid. On the first two albums I sound like I’m trying to be David Byrne (Talking Heads frontman) because you can hear me leaping about vocally.
“I don’t think I started singing properly until the third album really – it took me all that time to learn to find my own voice.”
The music business has changed beyond all recognition since the early days of the band. Gone are the ubiquitous 12-inch vinyl remixes, the gatefold albums. . . and it’s something that strikes a chord with Gary.
“I’ve only had Spotify for the last couple of years and streaming for me has been a new sort of learning curve. How to enjoy stuff without actually owning it and having the sleeve in your hand. The experience of seeing who played on the tracks, who produced it, where it was recorded, the lyrics, what studio they were in – you’ve got the treasure, but you’ve got no map anymore.”
So what can fans expect when Garry and Eddie and the latest incarnation of China Crisis arrive at The Apex?
“There’s a lot of visuals, a lot of chat between the tracks, a lot of personal stuff that people might not know, and it’s a lot of laughs. We don’t take ourselves seriously – we take our music seriously. What I tell people is basically we’re having a laugh, we’re having a chat with you and being very irreverent but you watch us when we get into this next track and then it’s bang, we’re away.”
Another album – Classic Crisis – is also due out later this year. Fans can expect a selection of the band’s classic songs and some more obscure material with an orchestrated twist.
China Crisis, Friday, April 29, The Apex, Bury St Edmunds. Call 01284 758000 or visit theapex.co.uk