ABC: Tongue in Chic

Martin Fry spells out the ABC manifesto to MARK COOPER

A AND B and C, it’s the new commodity, designed to appeal to the market of their choice, a conspiracy with feet in mind and hand on heart. ABC… my God, I’m talking like them already after a mere two hours in their company and then with only two out of five and one of them a largely silent partner, Mr Mark White. It’s leading man, Martin Fry, visionary entrepreneur and all-round gangly human being who’s giving me the rap, filling me up with epigrams, bon mots, and his own peculiar pop wisdom.

ABC are catching and designed to catch as well. Martin Fry has launched a total project, a pop vision in which music, style of socks and style of speech, marketing campaign and venue of appearance, all spell ABC, a united abracadabra whose first algebra sum, ‘Tears Are Not Enough’, has justified its purveyor’s prophecies and begun to perform the chart dance. In pop, if the rap’s strong enough and the swindle is self-confident and sure, then prophecy’s enough.

The thing to know about ABC is that they’ve got their tongue-in-chic, that parody and irony are as much a part of their game as the passion that pokes out of parts of ‘Tears Are Not Enough’. ABC have designed a career and a Campaign in order to enjoy the same while remarking upon it. They’re making it up as they go along, two steps ahead of the game.

Isn’t this a trifle calculating, Mr Fry? Even a little presumptuous?

“When I put the bass down, the job isn’t finished. Promoting, marketing are all part of what we do and bands that ignore this fact are just being lazy. The medium is the message and it’s there to be used. We have an attitude and it’s our job to express it. Our manifestos are a blend of fact and fiction and we enjoy parodying sales talk. ABC indicates that you can plan your own destiny. The point of the manifestos is that they are a way of organising ideas plus a way of giving yourself something to live up to. But they’re also tongue-in-chic, a way of being intelligent and stupid at the same time.”

So ABC come out of their Sheffield corner spieling ten-to-the-dozen and most of their foot-tapper patter is wise enough and witty enough to win. They come out talking so hard that for a moment you’d be forgiven for thinking that it was them that was being pompous, contrary to their claims. “Pop isn’t precious,” claims Mr Fry, “it’s not classicism. Pop should be seen as the same as other commodities, from talcum powder to spaghetti soup, the best thing since sliced bread. It’s already sold on jukeboxes in pubs, now I think they should sell records in supermarkets alongside other products. We wanted to have an offer of a frozen pizza as the B-side of our last single but we discovered they would go off too quickly.”

Martin Fry gets carried away quickly, the decadent gangly. Because pop is a relatively disposable product, quickly made and soon forgotten, his trash aesthetic has placed it on a level with pizzas. Martin knows that pop’s impermanent: “If you sell 100,000 records one month, someone else will do it the next. There’s no point in spending the whole of your life coming down to earth because you had a hit record. You’ve got to keep on the move.”

After all this talk, ‘Tears Are Not Enough’ came (almost) as an anti-climax. Martin himself jokingly admits that the group wanted to release the first thousand copies with sleeves alone!

There’s a fine balance between remembering the packaging and forgetting the rest: “After supermarkets, there’ll be hypermarkets. Everything in this business is a commodity and is to be sold as such, you can’t pretend otherwise. Even now, someone is selling Elvis Presley’s corpse.” So half amused and half disgusted by the business world, ABC set out to parody the same and get themselves sold in the process. Unfortunately, irony doesn’t protect you from the consequences as Blondie and the Pistols found out in different ways.

Comment all you like, Martin is saying, you’re still a commodity and you might as well be a witty and a fine one. Accepting the stakes, ABC get on with the job. “There has to be a glint in your eye, a smile and a frown. Boisterous bravado is the name of the game.” James Brown and Co. learnt Fry how to talk but the proof’s in ABC’s musical soup, promotion is not enough. “ABC aren’t going to be chocolate boxes without the chocolates. In the end it all comes back to the music, you can have the best intentions, but if it isn’t palatable, you haven’t done your job. The music is the basic lasting message.”

ABC, projected passion, ABC, wait and see, they’re right on course and not rushing. “When things get too London and too trendy, we can always withdraw at strategic moments. Right now, we’re on a surveillance trip.” Quite right too, Martin, a life lived walking and talking is better than life lived on the dole in Sheffield. “Why not exaggerate away from your immediate surroundings, is that escaping?” I don’t know, but it’s close to the end of the alphabet.

© Mark CooperRecord Mirror, 21 November 1981

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