Tuesday, 1 August 2017

Stock's Fizz

As is very clear from the header and strapline above, this is a blog which explores the work of Mike Stock, Matt Aitken and Pete Waterman. So bear with me as I take a slight diversion to talk about 80's pop group Bucks Fizz.

Under the auspices of songwriter/producer Andy Hill, Buck's Fizz's original 1980s run of material (running from 1981's Making Your Mind Up through to 1988's Heart of Stone) is a strong, and often underrated, back catalogue, with its reputation perhaps undermined by the band's initial Eurovision status. Making Your Mind Up is a fun, frothy party track, but its late 70s pub band sound is unrepresentative of what was to come later. However, Hill's adoption of new technology for second album Are You Ready? album saw him give the Buck's Fizz sound a much needed boldness and modernity. The result were two number hits with The Land of Make-Believe and My Camera Never Lies, both tracks displaying Hill's love of complex vocal harmonies and tricksy drum programming. Third album Hand Cut was again led by Hill, albeit with songwriting and production contributions from others, resulting in hits with If You Can't Stand the Heat and When We Were Young. A terrible coach crash had a devastating impact on the band, not only personally (the band suffered serious injuries, most notably Mike Nolan) but also professionally, with 1984's I Hear Talk album not achieving the success it deserved. The band took time out to recover from the accident, but also had to deal with the departure of Jay Aston. The band (with new member Shelley Preston) would return to the charts with 1986's New Beginning (Mamba Seyra), but worthy follow-ups failed to make any huge chart impact. Ironically, the band's final single of the 1980s - Heart of Stone - would later be a huge hit for Cher, but missed the Top 40 in its original incarnation.

The intervening years have been a fascinating if frustrating time for the original members of Buck's Fizz; the band saw members drop out of the line-up, then saw a spin-off led by Mike Nolan and Dollar's David Van Day, followed by further re-groupings. There now exists two "splinter" versions of the band; Bucks Fizz, led by original member Bobby G with three non-original performers, and The Fizz (aka Formerly of Bucks Fizz), which comprises original members Cheryl Baker, Mike Nolan and Jay Aston, plus Bobby McVay (who was part of the line up for the 1983 UK Eurovision act Sweet Dreams).

Which brings us right up to date -- and the reason I am writing about all this on a SAW blog.

The Fizz have teamed up with Mike Stock, and have been working on new material over the past year or so. (Indeed, fans had a sneak preview of this new material with the limited release of a Christmas-themed The Land Of Make Believe 2016).

It's an interesting collaboration, but one that probably makes sense for both parties at this point in time. It's not entirely without precedent, as Pete Waterman states in his autobiography that RCA A&R man Peter Robinson approached him in 1985 to see if SAW could come up with some new material for Bucks Fizz -- although it appears nothing came of this request. It's also worth noting that it is believed that Stock and Hill knew each other; indeed, Stock and Aitken recorded their first post-SAW release -- No More Tears (Enough Is Enough) by Kym Mazelle and Jocelyn Brown -- at Hill's Comfort Place studio.

Whilst there was no tangible collaboration between SAW and Bucks Fizz in the 1980s, it does sound like Mike Stock had some kind of long-held desire to work with the band; in a 2016 interview with Xanthe Bearman, he referred obliquely to The Fizz project, citing that he was working with them "for reasons that I have deep within my soul"!

Now, thanks to a very successful Pledgemusic campaign, The Fizz are due to release a brand-new album, The f-z of Pop, in September 2017. Produced by Mike Stock and Jimmy Junior, the album comprises 8 new songs, 3 remade BF songs plus additional mixes. And today (Tuesday 1 August 2017) saw the first airplay of the album's lead track, Dancing In The Rain.

It's a great, catchy track; it has the trademarks of classic Buck's Fizz but one can hear elements of Steps in there too. Some nice percussive elements, guitar work and incidental synth sounds, but it has a nice laidback feel which would see it sit well on the Radio 2 playlist (here's hoping!).

Overall, it's a solid return to form, and any new pure pop track is very welcome these days. I'm certain the dedicated The Fizz fanbase will be pleased, but whether the SAW purists will be as pleased remains to be seen. I for one look forward to the album and hearing the full results of this interesting collaboration.