Gosh, remember Blancmange?
Despite a unique sound that brought together electronic and eastern influences and made them fit for the dancefloor, Neil Arthur (vocals) and Stephen Luscombe (keyboards), for one reason or another, never quite got the credit they deserved.
Maybe it was the throwaway name, the oh-so-‘80s-sounding singles, the endearing lack of an image, the ABBA cover. Yet, look under the surface and they were so much more than that: a commanding voice, clever drum programming and bass hooks they wove together to create intriguing soundscapes.
Writing about his relationship at the time, Neil Arthur*, who celebrates his 60th birthday today, used the lyrics of Living On The Ceiling to describe the claustrophobic panic of feeling hemmed-in.
Seamlessly and cleverly composed without succumbing to the contrivance of shoe-horning ‘world music’ into the mix (hallo Peter Gabriel and Paul Simon), this boisterous and compelling marriage of synth riffs with an irresistible Middle Eastern exotica was a bona fide smash, giving the duo their first and highest placed Top Ten hit when it peaked at No.7 in the UK charts in November 1982.
Though I fully confess I was certainly one of those who effectively dismissed Blancmange at first. The first time I heard Living On The Ceiling I assumed it was a comedy record, though with good reason.
Curiously, the song, with its distinctive Indian rhythm section, was in the charts just as the much-hyped Gandhi was being released. The film starred Ben Kingsley in the title role, though try telling my interminable classmates that, who, because I had olive skin and John Lennon-style horn-rimmed spectacles, decided it would be “hilarious” to give 13 year-old me the nickname Gandhi and pretend it was me in the film.
I‘m still laughing. Not.
Neil Arthur hails from Darwen in Lancashire. That in itself is no great revelation, but imagine my mirth when in researching this feature I checked the town’s Wiki page and discover that ”One of Darwen’s biggest claims to fame is that it hosted a visit from Gandhi in 1931.” Freaky, especially as the town’s name is actually pronounced the same as my middle name, Darren.
Incidentally, Arthur has released more ‘solo’ albums under the Blancmange name than when they were a duo, but that’s no reason to expect the worst. My favourite? 2016’s Commuter 123, which is kinda like what Kraftwerk would have sounded like if Brian Eno and Moby had joined them. Yes, it’s that good.