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(Feels Like) Heaven or hell? Forty Years of Fiction Factory

“Everything is fiction, all cynic to the bone…” — Eurythmics, 1987

I’ve never had much time for the concept of Guilty Pleasures in music because, in simplistic terms, should you feel guilty about songs and sounds that bring you joy? Fashions come and go but nobody died, right?

However, I have to admit I’m an absolute shit for letting this happen, but four decades ago there was one perennial player that pseudo qualifies, in a roundabout way. As 1983 mutated into 1984, there was a single by a new band released, and which I fully expected to bring me endless listening pleasure — only to be made to feel more than a little shamefaced about buying it within minutes of handing over my hard-earned pocket money. Let me explain.

It’s an icy Thursday night on the third week of January 1984, and a new band called Fiction Factory are making their television debut on the BBC’s weekly chart show Top Of The Pops.

Showcasing their new entry into the Top 40 at an impressive No. 28, with their second single (Feels Like) Heaven, the FF 45 found themselves nestled amidst the synthesizer-heavy backdrop of new wave wonders (Big Country, China Crisis, Thompson Twins) and old school oddities. Indeed, a posthumous John Lennon 45 also shot into the “hit parade” at 11 while, to date, Paul McCartney’s last solo single to reach No. 1 was enjoying its final week in pole position, before giving way to the Frankie Goes To Hollywood juggernaut.

A leap back in Tardis time reveals that the creative currents behind this Caledonian combo had their origins in another band — a Perth based ska outfit with the wholly unoriginal moniker The Rude Boys. The prescient pair Explain and Uruguay were the notables, however, as the country of the same name borders Argentina the latter track faced its own battles and hastened the act’s demise, as this Pigbaggy slice of Haircut 100 meets The Beat was toppled by an airplay ban during the tense nervous debate surrounding the Falklands War of 1982. Bad timing indeed.

Eddie Jordan, who played keyboards alongside Chic Medley (guitar) and Kevin Patterson (vocals), were the Rude Boys triumvirate who would go on to play pivotal roles in shaping the narrative of Fiction Factory. And with the solid support of Graham McGregor on bass and ex-Simple Minds drummer Mike Ogletree, in January 1984 (Feels Like Heaven) sealed its position in the top 10 within a fortnight of that TOTP debut.

Despite looking like Erasure’s Andy Bell on keto, I remember being struck by Patterson’s treacly baritone — very David Bowie meets Scott Walker. Though at the time I knew next to nothing about either of those veteran vocalists whose immense catalogues would end ho playing such an important part in my musical education.

New year, new band, new purchase and all that. After that telly screening I decided to tale the plunge and bought the single from our usual haunt, Virgin Records in Central Milton Keynes shopping centre.

It couldn’t have been more than twenty minutes before I was heading East to the direction of John Lewis and then homeward bound when I bumped into new chum Paul Day: he slightly older with the cool musical taste — Ultravox, Soft Cell, OMD etc — and as he co-opted me into going back to Virgin to hang out and check what’s new, he asks me what’s in the familiar translucent orange bag. 

“Oh, I’ve just got the Fiction Factory single.”

“What… (Feels Like) Heaven?”

“Yeah,” I replied, slightly nervously.

“You like that then?”

And then he starts to sing the memorable chorus line…

“Feels like HEA-VEN!”

Despite his abject cynicism Paul was a good mimic, making sure the note rose on the penultimate syllable, too. That put me off the record instantly, but in order to save face I delayed the inevitable.

The next time I ventured “up the city” I did something I’ve never done before or since. I returned the vinyl to the record shop and made some excuse why I couldn’t keep it. Whatever the reason I know I couldn’t tell them “My friend Paul laughed at me for buying it because they’re not cool enough.”

Kids, eh? I was only 14, but I do know that the same month I bought another single called Relax, which I certainly did keep, despite concerned disapproval from my patrician father.

Whether I should have listed to my initial instincts or not, (Feels Like) Heaven remains etched in the collective memory of eighties new wave. Its bittersweet narrative addresses the end of a relationship. The lyrics hint at strife, with lines such as “Twisting the bones until they snap, I scream but no one knows”. 

Yet, its subtle charm lies in Jordan’s upbeat keyboard rhythms that subtly mask the underlying pain — a happy/sad aesthetic that pop masters like the Pet Shop Boys would take to another level within the year. 

Critics, too, took note. Ian Birch of Smash Hits observed its potential, noting the 45 as “One to watch in ’84.” 

Across the pond, David Okamoto of the Tampa Tribune went one step further, calling (Feels Like) Heaven “one of the prettiest singles of the year.“

It’s fascinating how a song can be universally recognised in its opening notes, a testament to its lasting appeal.

Reflecting on it, Patterson said, “When I wrote (Feels Like) Heaven with Eddie I think I felt there was something different about the song – and so it has proved as the years have gone on.”

Indeed, as the landscapes of music shift and evolve, some melodies remain, echoing tales of times gone by, journeys taken, and stories told.

But music is often unpredictable. Despite the top 10 hit, the band’s debut album Throw The Warped Wheel Out didn’t achieve any significant success on the British charts. 

By 1987, after the release of their second album Another Story, Fiction Factory opted for an early curtain call. But the story didn’t end there, because in 2016 Welsh wonders the Manic Street Preachers issued a surprise cover of (Feels Like) Heaven. And naturally, it came via the justly old Aunty Beeb.

Hell, that’s some approval, however belated. 

Steve Pafford 

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