A Flock Of Seagulls: Beaks On Broadway

“AND THAT was a Flock with ‘Space Age Love Song’ here on K-ROQ Los Angeles. For those of you who don’t know yet, that’s A Flock Of Seagulls, from England…”

Unaccustomed as one is to cruising down Sunset Boulevard in a rented Mustang, it has to be said that American radio and A Flock Of Seagulls make a perfect couple. By American standards, K-ROQ is hip – no Journey or Foreigner, a guarded preview of the New Fleetwood Mac single followed by a phone-in from irate listeners giving it awesome stick, and a lot of English music (even Killing Joke!).

And they like A Flock. Certainly, their cleanly melodic pop songs, blow-dried harmonies and singing guitar lines (plus some discreet synth tintings) make perfect top-down soundtrack. Nothing new, nothing offensive, but you can lip-sync along to it as you point the car towards the beach. Maybe that’s all you can expect these days.

Entertainment! Is this what we all want? A Flock Of Seagulls are a Liverpool quartet who have suddenly found the limelight beckoning in the Americas. When I spoke to them they were into the fifth week of their American tour, though they’d done some Canadian dates plus a quick dash to Germany for a TV show in that time.

“We’re gettin’ used to it,” says Mike. “We’re not goin’ back.” They’re a strange group in that they have no personality. Perhaps that’s the key to Stateside acceptance – don’t define yourself too tightly.

Their sound features some electronics, while their first couple of singles were produced by boffinish Bill Nelson. But they write whimsical little songs about UFOs, love and the more harmless aspects of technology – nothing remotely 1984 or dangerously warped about this lot.

And really, they don’t want to talk about it all too much. Still, in fairness we’re doing this interview the afternoon following A Flock’s first night at New York’s New Peppermint Lounge, where they’d gone on stage at 2.30am before a well-over-capacity crowd which was producing violent symptoms of claustrophobia and heat prostration in people like me. They’re all worn out.

At the Pep, A Flock deliver a tight, professional performance which finds instant favour with the crowd, many of whom seem to know the songs, especially the singles ‘Telecommunication’ and ‘I Ran’. Mike Score says most of the right things (“Are you having a good time?”, “This is a song called ‘I Ran'”, “Welcome to our early evening show”). It’s all tiresomely off pat, but obviously the crowd don’t notice.

They are, I suspect, an infant high-tech megaband. They’re suss enough to ride the smart money and already know enough not to close any doors. For example:

Do you think you might give up on England?

Mike: “I don’t think you ever give up on anywhere. If your market is, say, America first, you just concentrate on that first. I mean we’re English, we can’t give up on it.”

MEET BASSMAN Frank Maudsley, the most drily, thickly Liverpool of the four: “Bill Drummond (Zoo supremo) liked us, cos it was different. All these Liverpool bands were giving it this jangly guitar and long macs and scruffy ‘aircuts.”

Now, A Flock are adding dates steadily to their open-ended American jaunt, and probably won’t come back to England before mid-August. In New York, queues for the first Peppermint Lounge show were growing by 9.30pm, some four hours before they were due on stage. In Long Island, a thousand people were turned away.

The blossoming Flock saga is another testament to the inestimable value of getting a good team together. You can have a band consisting of four young Mozarts and still blow it utterly by bad management, dozy PR, duff gigs etcetera. A Flock will not make these mistakes, not least because of people like tour manager Mick Rossi. He’s a Scotsman who used to work for EG Productions and consequently saw touring a-plenty with Roxy Music among others.

Backstage at the New Peppermint Lounge, Rossi proves to be a fund of invaluable information and experience. He casts a casual eye over the groupies who have mysteriously appeared in the dressing room – part of the NY scenery.

He glances at his watch. “Right, another ten minutes and I’m clearing this lot out.” He invites me to help myself to the chilled cans of beer sitting in a bucket – neither he nor the band are going to touch them before they go on. Herbs and chemicals are out, too. I begin to feel like a stand-up comedian in Westminster Abbey.

BASSPERSON Maudsley wanders up, looking a bit lost and complaining about lack of sleep. He points up towards the ceiling.

“This is the stage entrance,” he explains, indicating a hole in the floor above with a ladder leading up to it. Pete Shelley had played here a couple of days before, on the New Pep’s opening night. At that point they hadn’t even got the ladder organised, and the diminutive Shelley had had to be winched up through the floor on the end of a rope. Damned undignified.

And for a second night, the place is packed. The Seagulls take it in their stride, though I wish there was some sense of danger in their playing, some hint that they could either fry your brains or have the whole thing fall apart in the most catastrophic manner.

Their live sound is pretty much like their album – plenty of space and clarity, not much dirt or skulduggery. In other words, the Seagulls are likeable but never storm the beaches of the imagination.

What do you call it, I’d asked Mike Score, pop or rock or…”It’s Seagull music,” he says. “It’s a compilation of everything known to mankind.” “It’s been loosely termed electronic rock,” offers brother Ali. “We only play the way we play…”

Frank: “When we’re playing I don’t feel it to be commercial, but when I listen to our records I do.”

Are you entertainers purely and simply?

Mike: “More simply than purely, I think.” Hmm, not what I’ve heard.

I think some of your songs really work, like ‘Space Age Love Song’, while others just remain earthbound.

Frank: “I know what you mean.”

Mike: “I don’t know what you mean. I like them and that’s it.”

Ali: “You can only produce so many rock gems per album, can’t you? It’s the spirit of the actual day you record it as well. Some days you obviously go in and you record three great tracks. Another day maybe it won’t be so great.”

Paul Reynolds speaks! “I think Mike Howlett’s production really worked on some of the songs on the album, like ‘Space Age’ and ‘I Ran’, and on some of them it did make them sound a little flat.”

Mike: “I don’t think any of them sound flat. I mean, there are producers for songs and Mike Howlett has got a much smoother kind of production technique than say Bill Nelson or, y’know…”

Frank: “Bill’s production is very harsh.”

Mike: “More electronic and percussive.”

Ali: “Basically with Bill you run through it and he goes ‘that’s it! I’ve taken it. Now I’ll just stick 24 harmonisers on it’.”

Frank: “When we were recording ‘Telecommunication’, Bill heard this little squeaking noise and pulled it in – it was the spring on the bass drum pedal. On the track, you hear this sort of (makes sawing noise in throat) and it’s the spring on the bass drum pedal, harmonised. This is where Bill’s at, like.”

Bill is also into UFOs, like Mike and Ali who think they saw one between Southport and Liverpool. “It started off with this huge flash, didn’t it?” Mike asks Ali. “It sort of lit up the whole sky and we sort of looked up at it, and then suddenly it wasn’t there. We looked at each other and said ‘one more whisky’.

“I was interested in UFOs anyway, and I wrote a song called ‘Bright Lights’ which was kind of inspired by that as well as a couple of other things. That song more or less started the band off, it just became the thread of the songs in some way or another.”

WHAT WOULD you all be doing if you weren’t in the group?

Paul: “I’d still be a motor mechanic.”

Ali: “I’d still be an electrician. No I wouldn’t, I’d have been sacked.”

Frank: “I’d be unemployed.”

Mike: “I’d be in debtors’ prison.”

Currently, things look rosy. There’s enough money around, the album’s in the American Top 100 and so far nobody seems to be sick of touring.

Mike: “Actually, Bill Nelson gave us invaluable advice. We didn’t take it – ‘Spend all your money before your manager takes it off you’.”

Frank: “He said accumulate as much as you can in as short a time as possible, thinks like Walkmen…get things. I like to possess things, I don’t like money.”

Mike: “We’re the same as any band – we haven’t got enough money. No matter how big you get, you just want more money.”

Ali doesn’t seem to see it quite the same way. “We’re touring here, it’s hard work, but it’s just a holiday. We’re having a good time and we just happen to do a few gigs while we’re here as well.”

It seems possible that America will simply swallow up A Flock Of Seagulls and you’ll never see them again. They’ll just be another name in the American charts. Meaningless, somehow.

© Adam SweetingMelody Maker, 19 June 1982

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