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Ian Peel - Interview

  by John Clarkson

published: 21 / 1 / 2011

Ian Peel - Interview


Music journalist Ian Peel speaks to John Clarkson about 'The Art of the 12', a new double CD he has curated which compiles together twelve inch vinyl remixes from the ZTT label, many previously unreleased

Even amidst all the other excesses of the 1980s, no other label except for ZTT released 12” vinyl singles so prolifically. The brainchild of producer Trevor Horn, his businesswoman wife Jill Sinclair and former ‘NME’ journalist Paul Morley, ZTT became quickly renowned after it formed in 1983 for the high quality of its product - its lushly packaged sleeves, “Minister of Information” Morley’s tongue-in-cheek sloganeering on them, and Horn’s clever and imaginative remixing of songs often time and time again. For a period of eighteen months from late 1983 to early 1985, ZTT completely dominated the singles market. Their main act Frankie Goes to Hollywood released in 1983 and 1984 with ‘Relax’ and ‘Two Tribes’ the fourth and eleventh most popular singles of all time, their lengthy stays at the top of the chart undoubtedly prolonged by Horn’s endless reinventing and remixing of both tracks. Other acts on ZTT’s roster such as German electro pioneers Propaganda and Horn and Morley’s own band, instrumental synth pop group the Art of Noise, who again went through multi remixes, were also successful in the charts. Horn and his depute Stephen Lipson were even-handed, however, in what they remixed, spending nearly as much time focusing their energies on some of the other acts on ZTT’s books that did not make the Top 40 such as minimalist composer Andrew Poppy, Propaganda singer Claudia Brucken’s follow-up group Act and French chanteuse Anne Pigalle. In the late 1980’s ZTT reinvented itself as a dance label with the induction into its line-up of acts such as techno outfit 808 State and rappers Nasty Rox Inc. While it has remained largely inactive for the last decade as a current label, ZTT has focused instead from as far back as the mid-1990s on re-releasing material from its 1980's back catalogue, sometimes as straight reissues and sometimes as remixes. The last year alone has seen the re-release in double CD format of Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s 1984 first album, ‘Welcome to the Pleasuredome’; an Art of Noise compilation, ‘Influence’; Propaganda’s debut CD, ‘A Secret Wish’ and ‘Shades’, the sole album of dance pioneers, ‘Shades of Rhythm’. Released at the same time as a Claudia Brucken retrospective, ‘Combined’ and a deluxe reissue of Frankie’s second and last album, ‘Liverpool’ is ‘The Art of the 12”’, a compilation double CD of ZTT 80’s 12” remixes. ‘The Art of the 12”’ has been curated by Ian Peel, a freelance music journalist who has written regularly for ‘Record Collector’ since 1988 and for ‘The Guardian’ since 2004. Peel, who runs as well his own music consultancy and PR firm Let It Beep, has also freelanced for ZTT since the mid-2000s. Most of the tracks on ‘The Art of the 12”’, which has been described by Peel on its cover as “150 minutes of blockbusters, rarities, vanities and mysteries”, have either never been released before on CD or sometimes at all. There are unheard of versions of ‘Relax’ and ‘Two Tribes’; Propaganda’s first release, ‘Dr Mabuse’ and the Art of Noise’s classic second single, ‘Close (to the Edit’), as well as more obscure tracks by Andrew Poppy, Act and Pigalle. Other highlights on the 29 track CD include 12” versions of ‘Sleepwalking’, an unreleased single by “lost act” Instinct, and Act's single 'Snobbery and Decay', which features samples of several TV and film stars of the day including Stephanie Beacham, Cybill Shepherd and Bruce Willis. There is also a vastly extended and surreal remix of Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s single, ‘Rage Hard’ entitled ‘The Young Person’s Guide to the 12” Mix’, which has comedian Pamela Stephenson in a deadpan spoken monologue written by Morley taking her listener on a “tour of the 12”. Pennyblackmusic spoke to Ian Peel, who spent a year putting together the album, about ‘The Art of the 12”’. PB: You also acted as the curator for the reissue last year of Claudia Brucken’s album, ‘Love and a Million Other Things’. Was that your first experience of curating an album or have you done others as well? IP: Oh, no. It goes back to 2004 when ZTT asked me to do an Andrew Poppy box set. They very kindly gave me a blank canvas and told me to write as little or as much I liked for the accompanying booklet and choose what I thought should go on the box set. Andrew had done two albums for ZTT in the 80s and he amazingly dug out a third which had been recorded but had never been released, so that went into the box set. That was the first curating job that I did and since then I have done lots more on ZTT and Stiff Records. PB: What have you done for Stiff Records? IP: In 2007 I helped on a bunch of Stiff reissues, Jona Lewie, Tenpole Tuder, Graham Parker and the Rumour and Any Trouble. I also worked on a Stiff box set which was four CDs and a book. Someone at Stiff compiled a chronological set of all their singles and I wrote a one hundred page book that went into the box set. It is called ‘The Big Stiff Box Set’. PB: How did you first become involved with ZTT? IP: The first thing that I did for ‘Record Collector’ in 1988 was a three part history of ZTT and I have been in and out of there off and on ever since then. They did some Frankie reissues and also a label compilation in the 1990s for the tenth anniversary of ZTT as well and I had had a hand in those. In terms of overseeing and curating it has, however, only been the last few years. PB: How did you get the job of curating ‘The Art of the 12”’? Was it something that you suggested to them or was it something that they suggested to you? IP: Unlike some of the other recent ZTT reissues, ‘The Art of the 12”’ was my idea. There were quite a few high profile compilations of 1980’s twelve inches the Christmas before last. The Ministry of Sound did one, but in fact there was a whole series of them called things like ‘12” 80’s Dance’ and ‘12” 80’s Pop ‘on Universal. I put it to them that, as ZTT in fact invented the 12” and all the best 12”s came from ZTT, it was time that we blew our own trumpet and that we could do a brilliant compilation of 80’s 12” mixes without having to licence anything and with just using what was on the catalogue. PB: You imply in the sleeve notes to ‘The Art of the 12”’ that the initial appeal to you of the 12” was it had bigger art cover and there was more music for very little more cost. You write a download review column for the ‘Record Collector’. What is the appeal to you now of the 12”? Is that still its principle attraction? IP: I am a big fan of physical product. It’s the hunter-gatherer instinct of having something to show for your money. I am also a big fan of art work and sleeve artists and graphic designers. The appeal really is that you actually get quite a lot of things in one package. The best 12”s would have maybe a fantastic ten minute mix, two different tracks on the B side and a twelve inch work of art. PB: How did you decide what went on it? IP: I did this one differently to the other releases that I have curated. I did a ZTT box set three years ago which consisted of three CDs, a DVD and a book and with that one, like the other things I had done, I made a massive list of everything that could possibly go on it. There were hundreds and hundreds of tracks and I sat and looked at this list and started deleting things down and worked at shrinking things back until it fitted on the disc. That is how I normally do it, but with this one I did it in a more sensible way. I thought, “What are the absolute essentials that have to go on here? Let’s get the essentials down. How much room have room have we got left? Okay, we have got this much room left. What would be a load of great treats and previously unheard stuff? Let’s put those on and then see how much room we have left.” I think by that point I was running over by about an hour (Laughs). Then I had to start trimming back again. PB: Were you familiar with all the remixes beforehand? A lot of them are tracks that have been previously unreleased or never before been released on CD. Was there anything that was unfamiliar to you? IP: Overall, yes, but I had never heard the Instinct track, ‘Sleepwalking’, before. In the ZTT archives I found the 12” mix of it and I knew that it was kind of mythical, so we dug it out and had the tape transferred. In my opinion anyway it turned out to be brilliant, so it went on. PB: In the sleeve notes to ‘The Art of the 12”’ it says that Instinct released one track on a ZTT compilation tape and then never released anything else. Who were they? IP: Two of the three members of Instinct came from Pigbag who were this 80’s jazz funk group. The two guys from Pigbag joined together with a female singer, Angela Jaeger, and it wouldn’t have surprised me if it had turned out that they had only ever recorded one track and it was that one track, ‘Swamp Out’ which appeared on the compilation in 1985 (‘ZTT Sampled-1985). When I was going through the vaults, however, I found that wasn’t true and they had worked really hard and they had recorded maybe a dozen tracks for ZTT and ‘Sleepwalking’, which was going to be a single but was never released, was pretty much ready musically. That was a track that I hadn’t heard before. I am not sure what happened to them. I am not really sure how they came to leave. PB: Were there any other tracks that you hadn’t heard before? IP:I had never heard the remix of the Nasty Rox Inc track, ‘10th Wonder’, either. I had heard ‘10th Wonder’, but not this version which is very different from the version on their album. The other thing that I hadn’t heard before was Art and Act and ‘Life’s a Barrel of Laughs’. They were an Art of Noise offshoot. PB: Was that a combination of Act and the Art of Noise? IP: No, three fifths of Art of Noise left ZTT and the two that remained were Trevor Horn and Paul Morley. They tried for quite a long time to make a new Art of Noise themselves. This would have been ’85, ’86 and they called themselves Art and Act. The Act connection was quite coincidental. ‘Life’s a Barrel of Laughs’ was going to be their debut single and that was another thing which was shelved. I came across that when I did the Art of Noise “best of” last year and there was a bit of that on there, but this is the full 12” finished version. PB: It seems excessive and wasteful that there all these brilliant remixes that have just lain unheard for years. Do you think was something that was exclusive to ZTT or is a reflection of the era? IP: It is a reflection of the era, but it was just heightened with ZTT because they worked so intensely. They were the only label that would really do ten remixes of one song, while other labels might two remixes. Other labels would have unreleased artists as well because in that era the expense to release a record was vast. It had to be physically pressed and designed and then transported. Nowadays if you signed Instinct you could float their first track out on download and see if people would go for it. It is cheaper to put a recording out because there is no physical cost. You could record it on a laptop and send it to iTunes but then it involved real instruments being recorded on real physical tape in studios that then had to go to a manufacturing plant. It is less surprising to me when you look at it like that they then fought shy of spending another hundred thousand pounds to get it out into the public domain. PB: When Frankie Goes to Hollywood were in the charts, it seemed that every week there was a new remix of ‘Relax’ and ‘Two Tribes’ in the shops. How much of that was financially motivated, to get the record collectors buying as many different remixes as possible, and how much of it was an artistic thing and trying to come up with the definitive remix? IP: It was the view of the press at the time that it was 100% financially motivated, but in hindsight I think that was wrong because it is not taking into account the fact that Trevor was a producer who was so meticulous and creative that he couldn’t stop remixing a record until it was wrestled from him basically. That is the reason there are so many different remixes. Say, for example, with ‘Relax’ if there were six different issues, they were only six of sixty remixes that Trevor would have done and none of those other fifty four mixes were financially motivated. They were creatively motivated because he was striving to find the perfect mix. PB: Do you see that as being obsessive? IP: Yeah, it was obsessive, but in a creative, positive way. It is just so happened that it coincided with a time in which you could put out a single on cassette and 7” and 12” and on picture disc. EMI might have done that and put the same mix on each one, but ZTT didn’t, however, need to as they had a massive pool of content to choose from. PB: Trevor Horn largely stopped doing remixes in 1989. Why do you think that was? How much of it was down to complete burn out? IP: I don’t know if it was so much burn out. Trevor himself has said that he was just bored. He got bored of making twelve inches (Laughs). Things like ‘Two Tribes’ are amazingly remixable records. He always gives the example of ‘The Power of Love’. What can you do with ‘The Power of Love’? Not a lot. IP: Was that ever remixed? IP: Yeah, there were twelve inches of ‘The Power of Love’, although they are relatively kind of straightforward. Another straightforward remix was Grace Jones’ ‘Slave to the Rhythm’. The 12” 1985 remix of that is the 7” instrumental segued into the 7” vocal and, hey presto, you’ve got the 12” remix. He had realised that enough was enough with that. He had won his awards and he had done his contribution to the 12” mix. PB: There is an amazing version of Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s ‘Rage Hard’ on ‘The Art of the 12”’ which features guest vocals from Pamela Stephenson. Is it true that Joanna Lumley originally did those vocals in her place? IP: It is true. There are reels of tape of Joanna Lumley in the archives which I haven’t yet listened to because they are on 2” tape. She did do that that, but then Pamela Stephenson came along and did it instead. The rumour is that Joanna Lumley was worried about it going out because it was slightly rude and asked for it to be scrapped. I don’t know whether that rumour is true or not as there isn’t really anything rude on the arrangement that was finished. PB: If there is an opportunity to do a second compilation, is that something that you would be interested in? IP: I would love to. There would definitely be enough. We might have to approach it slightly differently because I have put the absolute classic crown jewels on here. It was compiled with it being a one off in mind. If I had had two volumes in mind, I might have held back something like the ‘Close to the Edit’ and the Act remix to keep some of the familiar hooks in, but, there is definitely enough. You could certainly do another three or four or more. PB: Thank you.

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