The Leather Boys
Photo of Dave Gahan by Steve Pyke. Reproduced without permission
BOYS KEEP SWINGING
by Max Bell
No. 1, 19th January 1985
Pop groups come and go, but Depeche Mode keep on getting bigger and better. Max Bell joined them on tour in Germany – and if you thought they were just quiet lads from Basildon, you must’ve been listening to some blasphemous rumours… Photos by John Stoddart.
On an autobahn outside Dusseldorf, in the heartland of industrial Germany, Depeche Mode clamber onto their luxury coach and stake out their territory.
After 16 weeks of living in each other’s pockets, travelling from one side of Western Europe to the other, the four have a silent agreement about who sits where.
Alan Wilder, last to join the group and only a fully fledged Modey a year after Vince Clarke’s departure, sits at the back. Dave Gahan’s place is in the middle.
"Dave won’t like it if you sit there," Andy Fletcher warns me before settling into his own nest upfront where he can annoy the driver.
Only Martin Gore flits around, laughing a lot at nothing in particular while keeping his gaze fixed firmly on the middle distance of the Germany countryside.
Four months riding high in the saddle could drive a man to drink from sheer nervous exhaustion – though in the Modeys’ case tea and Stollen, the local cake, is the usual tipple. Dave Gahan muses over a mug on the side effects of Depeche Mode’s roadbound lifestyle.
"By the end of this tour I reckon I’ll have lost a stone and a half. It’s a very unhealthy way to live.
"I get ill anyway so now I travel with a full medicine bag – anti-biotics, blood cell restorers, glycerine, vitamins, the works.
"Thing is, the hours are so dodgy. The concerts are great but the rest of the time is essentially wasted. You’re getting no exercise and not eating properly. After the shows you’re so wired up you stay awake until all hours.
"When it’s over and I go home I’m totally disorientated. I find myself rushing around the house feeling really speedy. It takes weeks to adjust to a normal routine like doing the washing, paying bills, buying stuff for the place.
"When I moved into a new house in Basildon I got some weights. They didn’t help for long…"
But Depeche Mode are used to this now. Since 1979 the group has evolved from New Age Romantic chic, surviving a long period of critical disapproval, to emerge as the only outfit still waving the electronic pop banner in the chart marketplace.
They’ve managed to do that while producing their best work in "Construction Time Again" and "Some Great Reward", a credit to their unassuming intelligence.
Depeche’s consistent success is a result of a hardcore following who have stuck by them regardless of fashion. That trust hasn’t been abused.
The simplicity of Depeche Mode’s approach shouldn’t be confused with naivety, as recent singles like "People Are People", "Everything Counts" and the wickedly intriguing "Master And Servant" prove.
Martin Gore, the main lyricist, has watched them creep up to challenge the biggest groups with gentle satisfaction.
"I’ve got a theory that if you don’t over-expose yourself you stick around longer. Generally we don’t have a lot to say – as far as interviews go we’re quite boring. I’m not interested in any social limelight either.
"When we started we got a lot of flak because we had such a terrible image, very sickly. Even I thought we were wimps. Gradually we’ve changed that around.
"It’s been a challenge."
The change matches the growing up of the group. The departure of Clarke gave them "the kick up the arse we needed to make our own decisions, though without Vince we’d never have been successful," says Gore.
It made four quite different people pull together.
Dave Gahan was the extrovert youth who went to juvenile court three times and got through twenty jobs in six months before going to Southend Art College.
"I was a real wide boy with a chip on my shoulder. I got done for nicking cars and motorbikes, setting cars alight, spraying walls, vandalism – a real yob."
Punk and art calmed Dave down a bit but he still bears the scars of backstreet tattoos on his arms. Now he gets his kicks on stage.
"It’s a very sexual feeling, a sense of immense power. The more people in the crowd the better.
"Our live shows are so different to the records, far more aggressive, and I take responsibility on my shoulders. Telling nine thousand people what to do is like being on another planet."
In Germany Depeche regularly thrill large audiences. They’ve had No. 1 hits in the biggest market in Europe, selling over three million records in a country where the top act isn’t Frankie or Duran but old fogey Roger Whittaker!
THAT LEATHER MINI
Germany is of obvious importance to them. Martin Gore recently went to live in Berlin and they’ve recorded all their best material there.
Gore, by his own admission, used to be a quiet respectable lad, totally lacking in self-confidence and without the motivation to make even the half hour train journey to London until he got a job working as a clerk for the NatWest bank on leaving school.
His transformation has been subtle but complete. Now he walks around dressed from head to toe in leather, bristling with German cop badges, handcuffs and an array of metallic objects that fit the sado-masochistic mood of "Master And Servant" like a glove.
Out of his shell Mr Gore is quite happy swapping clothes with his German girlfriend Christina or wearing a black leather zip-up mini. And why not?
"I bought the skirt in Kensington Market," Martin recalls.
"It’s a size 12 I think. There were even a couple of girl fans in there at the time. I think it looks good, not poofy at all."
This fetching ensemble is set off on stage by a lacey bodice worn off the shoulder. Would he consider wearing it without the trousers?
"Well, err, I might."
At the end of the tour party Martin lives up to his promise that he "goes mad on a few drinks", and does a raunchy strip. Depeche Mode are full of little surprises.
According to Gore: "After a few nice little pop singles you’re allowed a bit of perversion. In fact the working title of "Some Great Reward" was "Perversions" but we didn’t think that mums would buy it for their daughters.
Martin’s writing style is refreshingly sexy without being sexist. I told him I thought his approach was more feminine than masculine and he didn’t hit me.
"Even in Master And Servant" no sex is mentioned and it doesn’t put women down. If you interpret it as a heterosexual relationship the woman is the master. In "Somebody" I’m saying this is what I want and these are my terms but still presenting it on an equal basis."
Depeche Mode haven’t courted controversy but their last single "Blasphemous Rumours" was more or less banned by the BBC, claim the band. They say they were told that they wouldn’t get on TOTP even if the single went up, as the reference to God’s "sick sense of humour" and the subject matter, a 16-year-old girl slashing her wrists, was considered too shocking for the public.
At first Andy Fletcher, who comes from a church and Boys Brigade background, hated the song but he gradually realised it was a valid social comment.
"Blasphemous Rumours" is partly based on a girl Martin once knew, while his own interest in religion stems from going to church with Fletch and Vince at 17 "as an observer. I was never a Christian but I wanted to see what motivated those people who were.
"I am quite a pessimist and happy to be one. Sometimes I paint things too black but even when we’re doing well I tend to notice bad things.
"Conventional humour bores me. Still, I wish a few people could see some of the humour in what we do."
Dave Gahan, who has to step into Martin’s strange shoes to interpret the songs, reckons he "puts a lot of emotion into his writing. Sometimes he reveals too much.
"It was good for him to move to Berlin and a different culture because he’d been wanting to do that for ages."
While Dave and Fletch are still happy to live in Basildon, Martin wrote "Something To Do" as an expression of the boredom he felt in the suburban new town. Alan Wilder simply hates the place and lives in West London.
This doesn’t mean there is a split. All four members agree they can produce better things without planning too much, just doing what comes naturally.
Dave has no desire for Depeche Mode to become hip.
"To us, to Mute Records and Daniel Miller, those things aren’t important. We control our destiny and we don’t need aggressive marketing.
"We’ve got an image but it’s a crossover from a teen sex appeal, which is mostly girls, to beer boys ready to have a go and a laugh. When we play now it’s to more of a roar than a scream – chanting and that. Reminds me of Chelsea.
"None of us analyses our future much because it’s too frightening.
"It’s simple. Success is down to having good songs, and we’ve always had those."
For Depeche Mode, sticking to their electronic pop principles has paid off. The European men are still there, riding the Fashion Despatch from Basildon to Berlin…
Reprinted WITHOUT PERMISSION for non-profit use only.
SHAKE THE DISEASE - released April 29, 1985
"Flexible rhythms, Classic Mode stuff ... thoroughly infectious."
Sounds, 4th May, 1985
"Depeche Mode's move from brittle electro-pop to lovingly crafted, haunting tracks has been quiet but sure. Though they never seemed to court mass popularity that's the position they've now found themselves in, but it hasn't stopped them making classic records.
'Shake The Disease' (a weird title which hardly appears in the lyrics) is a moody, melancholy track with a haunting chorus - it's deceptively simple but completely charming."
No 1, May 1985
Reprinted WITHOUT PERMISSION for non-profit use only.
"I've always thought Depeche Mode made interesting records. The fact that the elusive big hit avoids them hasn't induced them to write the number one single still swelling inside them. In five years' time when people only vaguely remember Tears For Fears, Depeche Mode will be selling more records than ever. I can't believe I just wrote that."
Rip It Up
Reprinted WITHOUT PERMISSION for non-profit use only.
"Football hooligans as sensitive wimps."
Melody Maker, 3rd May, 1985
This 'Shake The Disease' lyric sheet originally appeared in No. 1 magazine
THE LAST OF THE FUTURISTS
by Betty Page
Record Mirror, 25th May 1985
Yes, leatherclad but sensitive pop craftsmen Depeche Mode aren't ashamed to admit they're futurists through and through. Betty Page discovers their flexibility and advises Martin Gore on the best stockings to buy. Photography: Ian Hooton.
There are fifteen thousand futurists in Orange County, California. Not many people know that, but Depeche Mode discovered them single-handed. Yeah, you remember futurists, running concurrent with frilly new romantics, all silly haircuts, one finger synths and even sillier dancesteps. All of five years ago it started, and America’s only just caught up. The Deps have come along a bit since then, but Orange County just lurves them.
Fletch (aka Andy, the one who still gets mercilessly ribbed): "We missed the boat in America a couple of years ago, we didn’t bother going – now there seems to be hardly any British bands there and we’ve gone and done a hugely successful tour."
Dave Gahan (goatee-less, now blond bombshell): "And we’re the most talked about… We got nothing but good reviews and we found in Dallas, Houston, Chicago, even in the sticks, that there were futurists everywhere."
Yep, hip hop’s still huge Stateside and they’ve only just got used to hearing the twiddle of knobs. Hence the Basildon invasion and takeover. Dave: "I think if FM stations started playing more British music like ours, there’d be a big audience for it."
Back home, "Shake The Disease" shakes the charts and sees Martin Gore take his poignantly observant, melodic lovesong style to further maturity. "It’s a good song," says Dave, "which is something that’s been lacking in the charts lately – they’ve been in a real state. There’s a lot of American music there and nothing to really grab hold of, no new thing. We’re still out and out futurists, though!"
"Mart’s gone all lovey dovey now. We know it’s always the actual song quality that matters – it’s melody, and we’re more mellow now. Some of the things that have been successful recently have just been rhythm tracks, basically what we did on the new B-Side as a bit of fun in the studio."
Said B-Side is a rampantly danceable ditty called "Flexible", all about ideals popping out the window when success is sniffed. Does this happen? Dave: "Yeah – futurist bands start using bass guitars and throwing their synths out. You have to compromise, though, we’ve had to quite a lot."
Andy: "We’re basically working class kids, and when you’re shoved into stardom, when you’ve suddenly got a lot of money from nothing, it’s easy to lose perspective."
Dave: "It’s the power, too – bands get too wrapped up in their own egos. It’s a shame when a working class band come up through the clubs preaching about their roots, and then they go and forget about all that."
Andy: "I think if you want to stay successful it’s important to have something the kids can identify with; some bands might say kids love to watch us jetset around, but I think that’s rubbish really."
Dave: "I think they really appreciate it if the way you work is on the same level. Obviously, we’re a lot wealthier than we were five years ago, but it’s all down to our attitude towards money. You’ve got to be careful about greed. We’re not surrounded by people all the time, there’s no-one telling us we’re the greatest thing."
Martin arrives, freshly maquillaged, sporting his usual ensemble of leather skirt (no trews this time), and fetching black and red lace camisole, the like of which I wouldn’t mind for myself. This is the man responsible for the probing lyrics of "Flexible".
"It’s a kind of a joke," reveals Mart. "Cos I’m sure for instance if my mum looked at me now, she’d think "what has it done to you?" And the actual style of the music was meant to be quite jokey, cos if you imagine after the initial new romantic / futurist thing, a lot of bands thought we can’t make it playing this kind of music, so they all went into salsa, all those trends, trying to hit on something that might be successful. This was trying to combine all these jokey styles."
Depeche Mode have braved trends for 4 1/2 years now. I remember them then, fresh-faced naïve young lads posing nervously for photos in the Rough Trade stockroom for their first ever interview. Mute was the operative word. "Eeeech!" shrieks Dave at the memory. Do they look back and think "that couldn’t be us"? Dave: "Yeah, we do it all the time. We totally understand why people hated the way we looked, took the mickey, cos we do it now."
Andy: "We were very young then, we were just off the street and looked it. The boy-next door thing came when they told us to smile – we just smiled, we were new, we thought you had to. When you’re five, that’s what you’re taught to do."
Dave: "It’s all part of growing up within ourselves and within the band. We’ve progressed really well, the music’s matured with us cos we’ve had room to breathe rather than just being pushed into a certain style. The only thing that hasn’t changed really is that we’re an out-and-out electronic band, and we’re not ashamed of it – the only surviving futurist band! But there’s a big market for futurism, and no-one realises it – it’s the biggest thing in Europe."
Sweet little boys always grow up, especially ones that look like choirboys. Now, Martin Gore wouldn’t look out of place in that cheeky fetish club we won’t mention. "I hardly have to buy any clothes these days," he says innocently. "When the fans realise what sort of style you’re after, they throw things onstage – I’ve got tons of necklaces." Shame, but they don’t catapult leather skirts stagewards.
"I was working it out the other day," he continues, "it’s quite good, when you start off in one direction, fans throw things on, then you’re taking their style. It’s better than having a stylist."
So come on Mart, what does your mother say about what you wear?
"She accepts it now, I’m quite surprised really. When I went home this time I was wearing stockings and things. I went to me mum and said, "what do you do with stockings mum, do you just put them in the washing machine?" And she went "just put them in with the blacks, dear"." He laughs raucously.
Yet they all have a penchant for leather. Have they had any adverse reactions yet?
Alan (Wilder, the cute, gentlemanly one): "We get more stick for that in England than anywhere else. We didn’t come across any aggressive rednecks in America. You get some businessmen in America shouting "faggots", but very few compared to the carloads you get here shouting "pooftah"."
Andy: "I’m one of the most patriotic people going, and even I’ve changed my mind a bit about British broadmindedness."
Are any Dep fans taking a lead from their newly acquired sartorial leatherness?
Andy: "I don’t think they do it as much now. Most of our fans wear Pringles. They follow the general fashion of the country. In Germany, because the general fashion is futurist, or poppers I think they call them, we do influence more there."
Isn’t it strange, all these Pringle boys coming to see you leather ‘n’ chains merchants?
Alan: "You can get away with so much more in this lark, people accept it."
Martin: "Andy was saying to me the other day, you wouldn’t dress like that if you were still working for the bank. It’s not even a question of getting away with it so much now, it’s more a question of broadening people’s minds. After a while they accept you as being totally normal dressing like that, so they must be subtly changing their attitudes towards dress, cos most dress is very boring. I really notice it when I come back to England after being away for a while. I walk around Basildon town centre and there’s no style at all."
Five years is a long time in rock ‘n’ roll and Depeche Mode have not only survived, but improved immeasurably. And they haven’t really changed – they’re real general guys who’ll buy their round in the pub with the rest of them. Still, they’re not quite like the rest of the pop whirl. Alan flashes a snapshot of Martin in Japan dressed in a Japanese schoolgirl’s uniform; Andy says he never listens to music and Dave just wants to get home to do a bit of gardening. As in the words of the song: "I ask myself / should it be a sin [sic] / to be flexible / when the boat comes in?" Adaptable futurists survive; so say all of us.
Reprinted WITHOUT PERMISSION for non-profit use only.
SEE ALSO: Coming Up Smiling
IT'S CALLED A HEART - released September 16, 1985
"Depeche Mode have reached an interesting stage in their life. In the long term, the (relative) lack of success of 'Shake The Disease' will probably be a good thing - helping the band to get away from the teeny/girly/chart image they've been saddled with. Anyone who's heard their album will know them as a band with more depth than that, but there are some [that] still need convincing. If anything, 'It's Called A Heart' is a step back - bringing them once more into the realms of the three minute pop song they'd broken out of with the last three singles. It features godawful electronic sounds, mixed into a beautifully simple tuneful concoction. That takes skill and commitment, and Depeche Mode are increasingly well furnished with both."
Record Mirror, 21st September, 1985
Reprinted WITHOUT PERMISSION for non-profit use only.
To read about the making of the promo video for 'It's Called A Heart', click here
by Chris Heath
Smash Hits, October 1985
Well, Martin did disappear to Germany for a week recently. And Alan reckons he doesn’t know who he is half the time. Certainly sounds a bit spooky, reckons Chris Heath ...
"Yeah, yeah, I freaked right out," laughs Martin Gore. The other members of Depeche Mode are teasing him about disappearing last week and, though they’re all treating it like a joke, it’s obviously quite serious.
"This business did my head right in," he explains frankly, "aannnnnnnd I had to go away for a few days. We’ve had quite a lot of work on recently, there’s a lot of stress and I’ve been moving house as well." So he escaped alone to a rural area of Germany 150km north of Hamburg. "I’ve got friends there that I’ve known for about ten years and I hadn’t seen most of them for seven years so there were reunion parties every night – lots of schnapps!"
That’s the first time Martin’s ever gone missing but the others don’t seem the least bit surprised.
"I think it does you good to freak out every now and then," says Dave Gahan. "I almost did at one point when we were recording the last album. I was moving house and then I had a bad car accident and at that point I thought ‘that’s it, it’s over’. I eventually came through it with a lot of grief and lots of drugs from the doctor."
Alan Wilder, though he says he’s never actually "done a runner", claims he’s "in a permanent state of being freaked out, I don’t know who I am a lot of the time". In fact the only one who’s never gone a bit nutty is Andy Fletcher who Dave describes as "sort of like the backbone of Depeche Mode. He keeps us together. He’s like," sniggers Dave, "the Charlie Watts (anonymous drummer of the Rolling Stones) of the band."
But why all this stress? Surely Depeche Mode, being an incredibly successful pop group, should hardly have a worry in the world? Apparently not. It seems that every time they have a hit they’re in a bit of a panic to follow it up and keep the momentum going – they almost seem convinced that if they take a long break like Spandau, Frankie or Wham! have, they’ll be forgotten.
"It’d be nice," reflects Alan, "to work at a different pace. We do things a bit more rushed than we would otherwise."
"Speak for yourself," murmurs Andy, who obviously doesn’t agree. "It’s not that we’re scared – I enjoy the pace we work at. The reason I don’t take a year off is that I don’t want to take a year off." But he does admit that "If there’s any sign that our success is going down then, yes, we do worry a bit."
There’s no need at the moment though – their new single, "It’s Called A Heart," has just shot into the charts for their thirteenth consecutive hit (of all which, bar "The Meaning Of Love" and "Somebody" – which wouldn’t fit – are on their greatest hits LP out soon). As usual Martin wrote it. "Obviously we feel fairly dependent on him – I think about that a lot," admits Dave.
The song, says Martin, is about "the importance of the heart in a mythical sense, as the part of the body where good and evil are supposed to start. I’m not sure whether I believe in it but it’s a nice idea." And, whatever he thinks of that, Martin admits he’s definitely in love with Christina, his German girlfriend for the last two years. As for the others, Alan has been going out with his girlfriend for five years but thinks "falling in love is a bit of a funny idea". Andy says "there’s no-one I really hate in the world, but as for my views on love, I don’t really want to go into them. I’ll only get into trouble with my girlfriend." And Dave’s just got married. Kept that bit quiet, didn’t he?
"Aaaah, he’s very much in love," teases Alan.
"Well, basically, yeah!" laughs Dave. I’ve met a lot of girls in my time and have been with a lot of girls and, sure, I’ve been in love before, but Jo’s the only girl I’ve ever met that I could live with. I just get on with her. We have lots of arguments just like anybody else but somehow… we cross over, there’s something about it that’s special. We’ve been going out for six years and I just got up one morning and asked her and she just sort of said ‘yeah, alright’. It was that casual."
So they had a quick registry office wedding followed by a big party in a marquee on the lawn of a country hotel with people like Alison Moyet and Blancmange. But the main reason for getting married, he admits, is that they want to start having children fairly soon. "I just think it would throw a whole new perspective on life," he gushes enthusiastically. "Having to bring up a child totally puts aside all the things that were important to you before. Things like being in the band would become secondary."
While Dave’s been getting married, Andy’s been moving into a new flat – "a cardboard box with lots of plants" – in London, something which the other members of the band give him loads of stick about.
"He’s lost his roots," teases Alan. "He’s started investing in things like wine racks, you get the drift? He’s even got a couple of books on caring for plants," he adds with disgust.
"He’s moved from Baz to London," complains Dave who still lives in a Basildon suburb. "Fletch has always been known as a ‘man of the people’," he titters, "by the kids and the fans. And now he knows that he’s lost that and he’s scared. He’s desperate to hang onto it."
And on they go, continually taking the mickey out of Andy. He doesn’t seem to mind, perhaps because he’s the most down-to-earth and level-headed of them all. When he’s got his glasses on he looks just like a friendly, over-sized schoolboy. Martin, in contrast, would stand out in any crowd. Besides his hair – at the moment curly on top, shaved at the back with a long thin plait hanging down one side – today he’s wearing blue mascara, a diamante necklace and chipped black nail varnish. The rest of his clothes are quite modest but, yes, he says, he still often wears dresses whenever he feels like it.
"I don’t really like it when it’s played on because I don’t see it as such a big thing," he explains. "It’s just something that I enjoy doing. I never bring the subject up myself. I think I like it because it is different and because I find male dress in general very boring. Men are very restricted in what they wear, in what is acceptable. Obviously I wouldn’t go shopping in a dress but if I go out to a club I usually wear one.
"One thing I’ve noticed," he reflects, "is that everybody considers you gay if you dress effeminately, but the thing most people seem to miss is that most girls these days – well, most girls I know – seem to prefer effeminate boys."
So how do the rest of the band react to all this? "Occasionally," he says, "when I buy a new article of clothing and present it for the first time I get a few laughs, sort of ‘you can’t wear that’ sort of thing. Like when I got some rubber leggings recently. That’s all I’ve bought recently apart from a dress or two – nothing exceptional."
Once they’ve finished promoting this single and the greatest hits LP, Depeche Mode plan to "start programming" for the next LP, due out in March, which will apparently be "a lot heavier, harder and darker".
And until then they’re just going to carry on living the rather weird life that pop stars do. "It’s like ‘I’m happy – I’m depressed’," explains Dave, switching his face from a smile to a frown. "There isn’t really anything in between. You never just feel alright, you’re either extremely happy or you’re extremely depressed. There’s no-one that can really understand unless they’re in a successful band."
Reprinted WITHOUT PERMISSION for non-profit use only.
FAKE THE DISEASE
by Danny Kelly
New Musical Express, 5th October, 1985
Will Depeche Mode – chart-thrashing chaps though they are – ever find the energy to progress into a more adventurous avenue? This is Danny Kelly’s gripe, which he puts first to that nice young man in the leather skirt, then to the rest of the group. Photography (12" mix) by Steve Pike.
LET'S BE fair; Kensington is not Warsaw.
I mention this because the attitude of the Polish authorities – anxious to keep my corruption and shiftlessness away from their corruption and shiftlessness – had condemned me to talking to Depeche Mode in London rather than on the banks of the Vistula.
And I mention that because it says something about this odd thing we call Depeche Mode. They are big in Eastern Europe, doing well in America, and gi-bleeding-normous-thank-you in West Germany. Meanwhile, in Britain they remain "that bunch of posey Essex types you sometimes see on the telly, y’know, the ones with the cute singer and the bloke in the leather skirt; y’know, they used to be in Yazoo and then they started banging dustbin lids and frying pans together…"
ONLY IT'S not that simple. Next month Depeche Mode issue a compilation that contains 13 of their 15 singles to date. All went Top 20. That’s 15 more hits than Cabaret Voltaire, a dozen more than Heaven 17 and a good handful more than the Human League. Chartwise at least, Depeche Mode are the runaway and lasting successes of the synthclass of 1980. And there’s more; over the space of those 45s, DM have maintained critical interest (if not always approval); have constantly refizzed their pop cocktails with dashes of funk, squirts of dub and lemony slices of metal bashing; and have defied those who, unable to see past Vince Clarke’s talent for Stylophone dinkipop and Mode’s choirboyish TV turnouts, just knew they’d be a flash (bunch) in the pan, a couple of charters and then See You.
All these things – added to a healthy addiction to their 12-inch monster mixes (the foot-wide version of the puerile "People Are People" seven-inch, for instance, is a miraculous transformation, the nearest anyone’s yet come to the perfect arc-welding of pop and industry, funk and factory) send me in Depeche Mode’s direction with a more than sneaking regard for them. But because all their little victories, their refinements and tricky subversions of the norm, have happened over so long a time and at such an evolutionary, definitely careful, pace, I also carry an armful of complaints, grumbles and reservations as I approach them.
OR RATHER, at first, quarter of them! As Depeche Mode have metamorphosed in the unrelenting glare of pop’s spotlight, from little boys to, well, bigger boys, they’ve (naturally) changed, and Martin Gore’s the one who’s altered most startlingly.
When Clarke’s departure thrust the yoke of DM songsmith onto him, Gore was a shy Basildon boy, engaged to the girl next door. Passing him in the street, you wouldn’t have spared him a second glance. And now, three years on, he’s…
Well, he’s sat in front of me in a pub where a chess match (complete with chess rowdies!) is in progress. You’d now afford him that second look, and probably a few more besides. His tiny, girlish fame is armoured from head to foot in creaking black leather. His platinum quiff has been squeezed, like toothpaste, through a hole in his otherwise shaven head. His makeup is ghostly white and thick, his nail varnish iron-cross black and chipped.
Martin, you see, caddishly ditched the G-N-D, took up with a fraulein called Christine [sic] and deserted Basildon for the last stop on rock’n’roll’s main line, siege city Berlin, a place which for the purposes of this story is entirely populated by Turkish wage slaves and the totally wired, next-stop-hell (or, failing that, the ICA) artistic community so lovingly chronicled by our very own Don and Biba.
The effect of this relocation on our hero was pure Road To Damascus. Martin Gore (who’s probably more pleased with his surname now than ever before) has attempted to take on the heart-of-darkness trappings and attitudes of the likes of Messrs Bargeld (indigenous Berliner), Cave and Thirlwell (honorary Wallflowers).
Now, it’s sometimes hard enough to take this latter trio entirely seriously in their chosen roles as decadent, death-defying delvers into the unlit recesses of the psychic junkyard, so what price a cherubic Essex lad with a voice that should, if there was any justice, have seen him a member of his local council’s Parks, Gardens and Floral Verges Department? No, try as he might, Martin Gore comes across as a viralpop YOP, a Reasonable Seed, a Chad Valley Nick Cave.
But he does try. From the mind that once rhymed "should it be" with "awfully", catch some of this:
"I’m quite a pessimistic person and I see life as quite boring. So I kind of see our stuff as… Love And Sex And Drink Against The Boredom Of Life.
"When I write love songs people think they’re really soppy, but I see love as… a consolation for the boredom of life. And drink and sex…
"Personally speaking I think we’re quite decadent. When we’re on tour, which is generally very boring, we, or some of us, tend to go out every night, have a lot to drink and generally have a good time. Consolation, see? I know it’s all expected of rock bands, but going out is enjoyable, drinking is enjoyable and collapsing is enjoyable."
There’s miles more of this loving and humping and boozing stuff but you get the general drift.
A bargain of sorts has been struck here. In return for the Neubaten / Atatac (a German label much admired by MG) flourishes that add a new dimension, an undreamt-of depth, to the 12-inches of "People" (Different Mix), "Master And Servant" (Slavery Whip Mix, natch) and "Shake The Disease" (Something To Do Mix), we have to tolerate the sad spectacle of the only son of Mrs Gore of Basildon, Essex, boozing and shagging his frail body to a soggy string. Sort of. But, as it doesn’t seem to be doing him too much harm – lots of people wear leather skirts and dresses, don’t they? – it doesn’t strike as too bad a deal.
Actually, cowhide couture, miserabilism and consolatory sex aside for the moment, Berlin has been important and good for Martin Gore, leaving him more outgoing, confident and, having absorbed a lot of music he wouldn’t necessarily have heard on Radio Basildon, a better writer. So Depeche Mode, though it’s hard to believe that the band’s internal cohesion has been helped by Martin’s lifestyle transformation, have benefited too.
SO, WHILE Martin downs another whiskey in his bid to compensate for the boredom of a life that sees him jetting around the world to make pop music (his father drives lorries in Basildon), it seems, what with all this confidence in the air and an ego-massaging LP on the blocks, a good time to get my gripe about Depeche Mode off my chest.
It’s just this, Mart: yes, DM have made some spanking good records, and yes, DM have kept us all on our toes by incorporating, using, then moving on, but it’s all happened at such a sedate, civilised pace. Depeche Mode never do anything extreme, disturbing or dirty.
Don’t you ever get the urge to smash through this self-imposed restraint to set yourself and Depeche Mode dizzyingly free? Don’t you ever feel like casting off all the consideration, all the ticka-ticka Timex precision, and pummelling this music into extremis, to really let rip?
"I want to represent life’s boredom…"
Sorry I asked.
"… and if you take things to absurd extremes you’re not really reflecting life. Real life is not extreme, so we’re not, and nor is our music."
There’s an obvious trap here; if DM’s records attempt to reflect life which is drifting dully by, won’t the records follow suit?
"But if I represent life…" a thought dies somewhere between Martin Gore’s brain and lips, "…that’s all I want to do."
You seem to be suggesting that you somehow deliberately make less than riveting records.
"Sometimes I do change things because they’re too bright or summery or poppy. But if I make boring records and people identify with them, then I’ve achieved my aim."
In a pop world feverishly concerned with gilding life’s sometimes tatty lily, Martin Gore’s avowed project, apparently to make a music as dishwatery dull as the greyest grey day (a project with Gore’s passion for, and expertise in, Perfect Pop dooms to finger snappin’, humalong failure) is indeed remarkable. Not to say unique. Not to say a touch loony.
As a parting shot – the table is littered with dead ‘uns, the chess matches juddering to their titanic conclusions – I wonder if Martin’s dabblings in Berlin meant that he’d outgrown his fellow Moders.
"To an extent that may be the case… they seem to accept what I think though…" The pansticked face contorts with the strain of serious thought. "At the moment they’re most worried about the way I dress, about my dresses in fact. Maybe I’ll get them all wearing them…"
"WHA’SH THE difference between an egg anna wank? You can beat an egg but you can’t b…" Thank you, thank you, Mr Disgustingly Loud and Drunk Nuisance.
Another evening, another pub, and the other 75% of Depeche Mode have attracted an unsolicited cabaret.
They’ve changed too. Dave Gahan’s old angelpuss has been replaced by a stubbly leer better suited to a car thief turned pop star. He, unlike the dastardly Gore, has recently married his childhood sweetheart. Alan Wilder looks what he is, a sensible working musician, while the beanpole Andy Fletcher, earnest and straight as a Mother Theresa-dealt poker hand, would make a great inner city vicar. These people will not take easily to wearing leather skirts. So Martin’s dream of a full scale Depeche Mode Leather Lovelies Revue is liable to remain unfulfilled. In other matters, however, the remaining Modemen are well aware of their reliance on Gore.
"Yes, we are very dependent on Martin’s ideas, his writing," begins Al. "Whatever his whim of the moment is, that’s what the songs are about. We have to accept that."
"We’re usually happy to accept that," the newlywed takes up the theme. "We get our say in the studio. Sometimes Martin’s not entirely with what’s happened to his demos, but he’s the kind of bloke that doesn’t say much…"
"…’til after it’s released."
DAVE, AL and Fletch watched the transformation of Martin Gore with an assortment of eyes. As mates they were pleased that he’d found new love and turned his back on an England that stultified him. As Moders, adrift without Martin’s songs and, lyrically, prisoners to his changes, they looked on with a mixture of fascination, bemusement and trepidation.
Their worst fears having proved unfounded – Martin didn’t become a coke-encrusted axe murderer and his songs were not suddenly peopled with smack-wrecked bluesmonster shamen – they’ve each come to terms with the post-Berlin model Gore in their own way. Fletch, in his role as Best Mate, loyally feels that it was all very necessary. His escape from a relationship that he could no longer come to terms with, rather than where that escape propelled him to, liberated Martin.
Dave Gahan and Alan Wilder take a less romanticised view.
"He has totally changed," offers Gahan, adding psychiatry to his list of accomplishments. "But he’s just being the way he wanted to be anyway. Mart missed out on his teens, just generally going out, seeing different girls every night and getting drunk all the time, y’know, not caring. He’s living all that now. It’s not a bad thing. Everybody should go through that phase.
"Personally, I think he’s just doing all the things I did when I was 16. All that stuff about boredom is exactly the attitude that I went through. I went to clubs with people much older than myself. I wore tons of makeup, and dresses too. But now if I go to a club I just want to have a good time, not to shock. Nothing shocks any more. Shocking is over, unless you cut your head off or something.
"But Martin says that he hates going into the street and feeling normal. As soon as he gets into a normal situation, he gets scared."
"He does enjoy it," it’s Alan now, "when we go through Customs and they ask him if he wants to go into the men’s or women’s cubicles to be searched."
David Gahan has the last word. "I look at a lot of things Martin does now, and I just laugh…"
FROM ALL this it sounds like there’s plenty of scope for, shall we say, friction within the ranks of Depeche Mode, that the upcoming compilation could be an epitaph rather than a watershed or a springboard. In fact, though, they all seem remarkably committed to a band that is now, after all, six years old.
That being the case, and given Martin Gore’s evident excitement about the new Mode noises currently vying for space in that head awash with wine, women and song, everything in the DM garden looks rosy. So it’s time again for gripe-airing. Same complaint, same question – when will they abandon their demure, stately progress? Are they going to be brave enough to push?
Feet are mentally shuffled, like guilty schoolboys. Eye contact is avoided: they answer in relays.
"We sometimes feel that we want to but then we start rationalising." Alan shuffles the buck sideways.
"We like our success, the fact that we sell a lot of records. Our very first single charted so we got to like the feeling of success." Fletch passes it on.
"I don’t think we go far enough… it frustrates me. I always feel we could go much further than we do." Dave’s got it now. "I like the success too, so it’s difficult… but surely…" CLANG!! The penny drops like a collapsing new building.
"…the fact that we’ve kept in the Top 20 all this time means that we’re in a position to do it, to push, to take a few risks."
Yes, Dave it does. Yes Alan, you can. And Fletch, the $64,000 question, will you?"
"I’m gonna push."
"I think you’re being a bit naïve."
"But I think we will do it, given time…"
Given time!! Given bloody time?? Gggnnraahh!! "Gggnnraahh" is an approximation of the sound made by the journalist-fan, eyes bulging from their sockets, simultaneously eating a tape recorder and a copy of "Some Great Reward".
Given time? After taking five whole years to advance, however stylishly, their perfectly imperfect pop from A to somewhere past C, Depeche want more time with their big toes in the water before finally shutting their eyes and taking the plunge of which they’re so obviously capable.
But, in the end, I don’t know why I’m giving myself blood pressure about it. In another five years Fletch, Al and Dave’ll probably be respected members of their local Rotary Club – no, they don’t play imported funk at the Rotary – while Martin may well have a huge spanner through his nose and a harem of alkies. And the second volume of Depeche Mode hits – all Top 20 stuff, mind, no fillers – will be ready for issue.
The question to which the chaps of Depeche Mode must urgently address themselves is will there still be anybody listening?
Reprinted WITHOUT PERMISSION for non-profit use only. Photo by Steve Pike. Reproduced without permission.
THE SINGLES 81-85 - released October 1985
"‘Dreaming Of Me’. Dreaming of those halcyon (?) days of New Romanticism, when the Deps were pretty darned hip and Martin Gore looked vaguely masculine.
‘New Life’. The new life was the pop star life. The single was a new, vibrant pop sound in ’81. Still sparking in ’85. Makes me shudder, though, remembering a stiletto-clad pogoer at a fateful DM gig. The sprightly young thing proceeded to drill a hole in my foot to the strains of this ‘un.
‘Just Can’t Get Enough’. Just couldn’t get enough. A frequent dancefloor filler at flagging parties, when every last drop of alcohol had been downed. Ah, the memories.
‘See You’. Ta ra, Vince. Manly Martin’s first stab as songwriter, a superlative one it was, too. Startlingly simple but effective. A classic.
‘Get The Balance Right’ opined Basildon’s bravest, but did they heed their own lyrics? Nah. Pedantry creeps in.
‘People Are People’ and Depeche Mode are only human. Like all great authorial talents, they dry up, hit mental blocks, exhaust their verbiage. Painfully infantile.
‘Blasphemous Rumours’. What’s up with MG? The advent of the nifty little leather numbers saw the crucifixion of the big, brash beat.
‘Shake The Disease’ and I’ll shake off the cynicism. The frilly shirts may be gathering dust but the Deps have never looked like retiring to the closet." * * * 1/2
Record Mirror, 19th October, 1985
Reprinted WITHOUT PERMISSION for non-profit use only.
"It's a tribute to the 'Pechers' cultural penetration that I know almost every tune on this album, without having ever bought, owned or liked a Mode single. As a chronological replay of our most successful synth-band's career, 'The Singles' is a savage indictment of the British record-buying public, who've dependably shelled out for this naff tat, usually in inverse proportion to the songs' merits. Thus the three most interesting Mode singles of the last two years - 'Love In Itself', 'Blasphemous Rumours' and 'Shake The Disease' - are also the only three not to have reached the Top 10, whilst diabolically predictable rubbish like 'People Are People' is their most successful shot to date.
A couple of years back I noticed D'Mode doing three nights of excellent business at Hammy Odeon, and wondered why anyone would wish to see a band whose singer can't sing, whose melodies are maddeningly obvious and infantile, and whose music sounds like a hungover Ultravox misinterpreting Kraftwerk by numbers. 'The Singles' doesn't answer my question but, if 'Blasphemous Rumours' and 'It's Called A Heart' are anything to go by, it bodes well for the future. With its colourful chronicling of all their record sleeves, and its very '70s gatefold hotchpotch of private snapshots, 'The Singles' may well be a lavishly-packaged vinyl tombstone."
New Musical Express, October 1985
Reprinted WITHOUT PERMISSION for non-profit use only.