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The Chinese Way: The Time Neil Tennant interviewed China Crisis for Smash Hits

While British pop in the 1980s was all over the map with an inordinate number of styles and sub-genres, Kirkby’s China Crisis had something of a distinct signature sound which wasn’t easily imitated. 

China Crisis is never over the top, but instead pulls in the reins, is patient, is tempered, is balanced. Another case of a minimalist approach paying big dividends. 

Another plus is that the Merseyside band never took themselves too seriously: even the subtitle of their second album Working With Fire and Steel – Possible Pop Songs Volume Two is a delicious self-jab. Just as well when you have a famously cutting future Pet Shop Boys turning up to quiz you, as was the case for a 1983 issue of pop Bible Smash Hits. 

On the occasion of vocalist Gary Daly’s 60th birthday, here’s the magazine exchange in full unexpurgated form. You can thank me later.


By Neil Tennant, Smash Hits, 17 February 1983

FIRST WE WENT on the Ferry across the Mersey. Then we walked through Liverpool for some tea. Gary Daly and Eddie Lundon of China Crisis had caught the train up from Kirby, a suburb six miles out of the centre of Liverpool where they both live with their families. With Gary’s little case and Eddie’s neat tweed jacket, they didn’t really look like pop stars, but this week they were celebrating their first week in the Top 30. To make the point, two young girls stopped them in the street to ask them for their autographs. Eddie ran off embarrassed; Gary signed. It was time to sit them down separately and ask them a few questions.

How old are you?

Ed: I’m 20. 21 in June.

Gary: 20. I was born on May 5, 1962.

What’s your first memory?

Ed: I was really ill as a baby, I remember that. I had all sorts of things so I remember I used to have to go to the doctors a lot.

Gary: Getting bathed in the sink at my Auntie’s and staying with her and her son in her bed. The three of us. I was really small.

What was your first day at school like?

Ed: I don’t remember it. I should remember it because it was a local school. I come from a big family – there’s eight children – and all the other children went to a school in another part of Kirby. Just before I started we moved so I went to a different school right opposite. I can remember being in the Infants but not the first day.

Gary: I can’t remember it. Not at all.

What did you want to be when you grew up?

Ed: Always something in music. When I was in junior school I used to like Slade and Bowie and T. Rex. I used to have other interests, though. My brother was an electronics engineer so I was really interested in circuits and things like that.

Gary: A Hell’s Angel. I can remember being in the second year at junior school and we had to write down what we wanted to do and draw a picture of ourselves. I drew myself on a motorbike.

Do you work in the shadow of The Beatles in Liverpool?

Ed: Yeah, I think everyone does. My oldest sister is 29 so she was, like, there when it was happening, but I never lived in their shadow until recently when we started doing it ourselves and you feel the pressure of how big they were. You’re never going to achieve what they achieved – no one is.

Gary: Yeah, you’re always in the shadow of them because they were so colossal. It’s like if you wanted to be a fireman and the person next door was chief fireman.

First musical moment?

Ed: When I was at school, in the second or third year at St Kevin’s, about 13 or 14, I got a guitar. I could pick things up really easily – I was always competent – so I thought then: this is it. Then I got a synthesizer and I just carried on from there.

Gary: Singing in a nativity play at school. Well, I wasn’t actually in the play, I was in the choir. The teacher said I couldn’t sing but, because I really wanted to be in, she let me be in. I was about 8 or 9.

When did the two of you first meet?

Ed: At school. We were in the same class at St Kevin’s when I was thirteen. In the first and second year, I was in a higher class but at the end of the third year I got moved down because I was never in. I couldn’t stand school; I used to go to my sister’s. I came back one day and I wasn’t in the same class – I got put in Gary’s class so we just kicked off from there.

Gary: I can’t remember first meeting him. It seems like he’s been there for eternity. As far back as I can remember, Bighead was there.

What’s the most irritating thing about Gary?

Ed: He won’t give in in arguments. We’re both the same. Very stubborn. He’s a bit more stubborn than me, actually. It makes things hard sometimes when you just argue and you can’t come to any compromise.

What’s the most irritating thing about Eddie?

Gary: He says yeah and I say no. We always disagree. He’s sweet and I’m sour. He’s got dark hair and I’ve got light hair.

How does living in Liverpool affect you?

Ed: It’s a very down-to-earth place, Kirby; industrial. There’s no clubs or anything like that. Most of the people are college, school, industry or dole: there’s really high unemployment, the highest in Liverpool, in fact. It’s a friendly place but it’s a bit of a sad place – you don’t know what’s going to happen. It was good a few years ago when the industry was much better, because that’s all there is, that’s all they know in Kirby: it’s a big industrial estate. But two places that my brother worked in have closed down; the factory Gary’s dad worked in closed own. It used to affect what we wrote in the early days, but it doesn’t as much now because we’re writing about more personal things.

Gary: Just having friends and family. Knowing that your Mum works nights at Jacobs and your Dad goes out and works as a painter and decorator and your two brothers go out doing roof-tiling – that’s what I was doing before I was in the group. It’s just that basic reality – and knowing that what you’re doing is not a job, it’s a career.

Will you stay in Liverpool?

Ed: Yeah, most definitely. Kirby’s down-to-earth and everyone just takes things as they come.

Gary: Yeah. I haven’t seen anywhere else that hits me as much.

How did the name China Crisis come about?

Gary: There was a gang of us and they were saying names like “Russia In Winter” and someone started saying about Gary’s eyes.

Ed: At school I used to get called “Chink” anyway because of my eyes so when we were in this pub one night there were loads of Eastern suggestions coming out, Chinese this and that. It just came out that night and we kept it. I don’t know why – it’s a bit naff.

Do you have a washing machine or go to the launderette?

Ed: We have a washing machine. It broke though. We just got it fixed the other day. Fifteen pounds it cost to get a pump put in it.

Gary: My Mum’s got a washing machine.

What do you dream about?

Ed: I can’t remember many of my dreams. I stay up so late usually that I just conk out when I go to bed and I can’t remember. The ones that I can remember are always horror ones, though.

Gary: I very rarely remember dreams but when I do, every dream is that I’m getting beaten up or someone’s inflicting pain on me. Usually I’ve said something sarcastic to someone and they visit me with a punch. It’s really distressing. I hate remembering my dreams because I feel like I’ve just lived a whole day when I should have been asleep.

Are you just another synthesizer duo?

Ed: We’re more acoustic than synthesizer! The synthesizer only holds a melody line for us. We’ve only got one synthesizer between us. We’ve also got a couple of guitars, a bass, drums. We write the songs acoustically or on electric guitars or drum machine and the synthesizer bit comes afterwards.

Gary: You can’t be a synthesizer duo with only one synthesizer! When we got our advance we went out and bought loads of synths and drum machines and started to write electronic songs because of what we bought but we gave all that up within month or two.

What’s your home like?

Ed: It’s a four-bedroomed house and it’s really run-down. We had to have big house because there was a lot of kids. Until I was 15 I never had my o* bed; I had to share with my brother because there was so many of us. But now I’ve got my own room.

Gary: It’s in one of the first parts of Kirby to be built, so it’s not as run-down because the population’s older. I don’t think adults go round ripping up bus shelters, do they? Our houses has got three bedrooms and I share one of them with my younger brother and my sister’s got a room to herself. I spend most of my time in the parlour – I’ve got all our equipment there.

What was the last film you say that made you cry?

Ed: Being There with Peter Sellers. One of my favourite films of all-time. I cry very easily at television as well – Boys From The Blackstuff and plays.

Gary: I haven’t seen a film that’s made me cry. I’ve seen a film that’s made me cry with laughter. It was a Woody Allen one but I can’t remember the title.

What’s the most embarrassing record you’ve got?

Ed: An E.L.P. triple album. That’s the one I keep at the back of the collection.

Gary: My Roger Whittaker album’s pretty embarrassing. It’s like a K-Tel compilation. I like it. ‘I’m Gonna Leave Old Durham Town’ is one of my hit picks of the century.

What would you like to forget?

Ed: I haven’t done anything to be ashamed of.

Gary: I slagged off the promotion officer of Virgin in the press. I didn’t know what I was talking about.

What’s the most boring job you’ve ever had?

Ed: I’ve only ever had one job – in a garage. It was really exciting at first but towards the end it did become boring. I packed it in and went on the dole for a year, writing songs and that

Gary: I’ve done a few. Working on pumps in a beer factory.

What’s the point of China Crisis?

Gary: A sense of understanding. Just being able to associate with certain things in the lyrics.

Ed: There’s no big point about it. The songs that we write are obvious, you could call them statements, like ‘African And White’. They don’t need thinking about much. The whole point of it is just to carry on and enjoy it. I’m not trying to preach to anyone or tell anyone what to do. They’re really simple songs: just observations.

© Neil Tennant, 1983


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