Get In Touch,
Publishing Inquiries

45 at 33: Vince Clarke and Paul Quinn’s one-off One Day

It appears some artists just aren’t suited to life in the spotlight. The initial rush of success, and the recognition which follows, can rapidly subside. In my youth, this often resulted in some very jaded pop stars signing copies of their third single, sitting behind a desk at a high street record store with their sunglasses still on, while glancing at their watches every couple of minutes. The need for acceptance seems to be almost instantly replaced by a somewhat hypocritical resentment of invaded privacy and an uncontrollable desire to evacuate the UK, fly to the Bahamas and start recording album number two.

While it’s obvious the rewards can be excessive, the accompanying aggravations and inevitable pitfalls are similarly plentiful. It’s hardly surprising to find certain individuals who seem to spend long periods of their careers desperately trying to avoid mass acceptance and unceremoniously throwing themselves into the popvoid over and over again.

Perhaps pop’s most notorious misanthrope and prolific fame dodger has to be Vince Clarke who, prior to a two decade bunk-up with Andy Bell in Erasure, had earned the reputation as the proverbial Greta Garbo of pop.

As a founder member and chief songwriter for the first incarnation of Depeche Mode, Clarke appeared to be the dominant creative force during the Basildon band‘s formative years – writing all but two of the tracks on their debut, Speak And Spell, including all three of the quartet’s early singles (Dreaming of Me, New Life and Just Can’t Get Enough). Shortly after the latter delivered the band’s first Top 10 hit (reaching No. 8 in October 1981), Clarke decided to quit.

Stating certain aspects of their sudden rise made him uncomfortable – such as touring and interviews – Clarke retreated to the blissful solitude of his synthesiser lab and began nurturing the ‘Mad Professor of Pop’ persona he time-shared with Thomas Dolby for much of the 1980s.

In terms of hastily ushering him towards complete pop obscurity which he seemed to crave, Clarke’s first post-Depeche experiments can only be viewed as a complete and utter failure. It’s easy to see his thought process. In the pre-Adele days of 1982, Alison ‘Alf’ Moyet didn’t exactly look like your average female pop star, when the norm was the considerably more glamorous and eye-liner caked Kim Wilde, Siouxsie Sioux or Toyah Willcox. Musically, Clarke seemed to be exhibiting similarly self-destructive tendencies in trying to cram a bluesy/rock peg into a synth-pop shaped hole. But that particular rattle of pop test tubes resulted in an almost unparalleled run of near-perfect pop singles (including three top 5’s) and two no.1 albums. What a disaster! For someone trying to fade into the background, Clarke was as conspicuous as Elton John was at his own wedding to Renate Blauel.

Clarke’s next attempt to re-set the fame button involved teaming up with his old Yazoo studio engineer, Eric Radcliffe, with the idea of producing a series of one-off singles under the name The Assembly. Surely this sounded suitably production-line and boring to evoke general disinterest from Joe Public, while roping in the post-Undertones Feargal Sharkey for vocal duties – fresh from two-year cold streak which saw every single released by the band fall short of the Top 75 – must have felt like the perfect misstep to ensure a devastating non-starter. Never, Never gave Clarke his fourth Top Five single and moved him one step closer to getting his own celebrity calendar and an appearance on This Is Your Life.

But Clarke was nothing if not determined. This time he needed to pull out all the stops. Ditching the Assembly moniker, Clarke sought out former Bourgie Bourgie front man, Paul Quinn, a singer who virtually no one had even heard of – except for a few Scottish art students who still insist they have all his early records – and proceeded to record the sublime One Day.

While the 45 saw the fruition of Clarke’s obscurity masterplan, sending him tumbling resoundingly into the popvoid, it’s hardly a huge step away from the type of synth-pop ballad which was delivering Top Ten singles for him only a couple of years earlier. Quinn, singing in the same mid-Atlantic croon which was much-favoured by the lead singers of every Scottish band at the time – from Hipsway, Goodbye Mr Mackenzie and Love And Money to Lloyd Cole and Edwyn Collins – adds a touch of heartbroken, world-weary pathos to the typically cool, but twinkly, electronic backing.

Written by Clarke with the duo Morgan-McVey (who, years later, would go on to spawn what became Neneh Cherry‘s Buffalo Stance) Lyrically, it sounds like an early draft of Somewhere from West Side Story, while stylistically its acoustic guitar mimicking synth strum anticipates the shimmering elegance of one of Erasure’s finest moments to come, the sublime Ship Of Fools.

It’s fairly clear Vince didn’t really like the view from the bottom rung of the pop ladder and unsurprisingly, following an anonymous ad placed in Melody Maker delivering him Andy Bell, he soon found a more stable and considerably more commercial outlet for his pop confections with Erasure. But, in what then looks like the worst possible case of pop karma and a ‘careful what you wish for’ two-fingered “f*ck you” from The Pop Gods, the first three Erasure singles – despite being uniformly brilliant – all failed to break the UK top 40 singles chart.

It seems ridiculous now to think of Oh L’amour floundering at No. 85, allowing a Dollar cover to steal their thunder and prompting a whole generation of ill-informed pop fans to assume the Erasure recording was one of the few examples of a cover version being superior to the original. Of course, it was merely a temporary setback and following Sometimes (No. 2 in December 1986), Erasure went on to enjoy a two decade-long unbroken run of Top 40 singles.

What are the lessons we take away from Vince Clarke’s attempts to manipulate pop fate? Firstly, Clarke, it seems, is virtually incapable of creating anything less than pop perfection – even when he’s trying his hardest not to, oh, and secondly, never trust anything a Scottish art student tells you about his record collection.

Stewart Allan

Liked it? Take a second to support Steve Pafford on Patreon!
Become a patron at Patreon!

We use cookies to give you the best experience. Cookie Policy