Martin Fry, b. 9 March 1958, Manchester, England; Mark Lickley; David Robinson; Stephen Singleton, b. 17 April 1959, Sheffield; Mark White, b. 1 April 1961, Sheffield

ONE OF THE most accomplished new romantic groups, ABC were an instant success in the early ’80s through Fry’s yearning lead voice and well-crafted songs. After a slump in popularity and inactivity because of Fry’s illness, ABC returned to the British charts with the homage to Berry Gordy’s Motown sound, ‘When Smokey Sings’ (1987).

Sheffield-based Fry had previously edited the fanzine Modern Drugs through which he joined the synthesizer group Vice Versa. In 1980 he formed ABC with ex-Vice Versa members White (guitar) and Singleton (sax), plus Lickley (bass) and drummer Robinson. After ‘Tears Are Not Enough’ (1981) reached the Top Twenty on the independent Neutron label, the group was signed to Phonogram by Mark Dean (who later discovered George Michael).

Trevor Horn produced the chart-topping The Lexicon of Love (1982), which was heralded by critics as a return to the classic pop love song represented by Motown, Phil Spector, Don Kirshner’s Brill Building writers, and even Frank Sinatra. Fry’s crooning and the group’s lush harmonies gave ABC three hits in 1982: ‘Poison Arrow’ (also an American Top Twenty success on Mercury), ‘The Look of Love’ and ‘All of My Heart’.

The concept video Mantrap and the album Beauty Stab (1983) suffered from a critical backlash, in part because of the political themes of ‘Bite the Hand’ and the British hit ‘That Was Then but This Is Now’. After the less successful How to Be a Zillionaire (1985), whose ‘Be Near Me’ was an American Top Ten hit, Fry’s illness prevented further recording for two years.

Co-produced by Nile Rodgers’ former partner in Chic, Bernard Edwards, Alphabet City (1987) proved to be a triumphant return. ‘King without a Crown’ and ‘The Night You Murdered Love’ were minor hits while ‘When Smokey Sings’ entered the Top Twenty. The tribute to Smokey Robinson confirmed Fry as the heir (along with Paul Young) to the British tradition of blue-eyed soul singing.

Up (1989) saw them experimenting with house music, but their biggest hit was the compilation Absolutely ABC (1990). After that the group moved to EMI to record Abracadabra, by which time it consisted of only Fry and White. The group’s fortunes briefly revived when material was featured in the film When Saturday Comes (1997), which led to the album Skyscraping (deConstruction), but by the end of the decade Fry (sometimes with White) had become a staple item on the growing number of ’80s revival tours. He also contributed a reading of ‘Thunderball’ to the album of James Bond cover themes, Shaken, Not Stirred (1998).

© Phil Hardy, Dave LaingFaber Companion to 20th Century Popular Music, 2001

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