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Bronski Beat - Interview

  by John Clarkson

published: 16 / 9 / 2017

Bronski Beat - Interview


John Clarkson speaks to Steve Bronski from 80s synth pop band and gay rights activists Bronski Beat about 'The Age of Reason', their first album in twenty-two years, a reworking of 'The Age Of Consent', their bestselling 1984 album.

Synth pop band and gay rights activists Bronski Beat are best known for their 1984 debut single ‘Smalltown Boy’, which reached no. 3 in the UK singles charts, and ‘The Age of Consent’, the album of the same year from which it was drawn. The ground-breaking and shocking video for ‘Smalltown Boy’ showed the group’s first singer Jimmy Somerville being beaten up by a homophobic gang after trying to befriend an attractive diver he had met at a swimming pool, and then leaving home after being taken back to his family by the police after the attack. ‘The Age of Consent', which peaked at no. 4 in the albums chart, listed on its inner sleeve the different ages of consent for gay sex in various nations around the world, and, in contrast to many other more liberal countries, highlighted that between men in the UK at that time it was 21 in comparison to 16 for heterosexual sex. The group’s original line-up of Somerville, Steve Bronski (keyboards, percussion) and Larry Steinbachek (keyboards, percussion) went on across 1984 and 1985 to have other hit singles with ‘Why?’ (which again focused on anti-gay prejudice), ‘It Ain’t Necessarily So’ (a cover of a Gershwin show tune from ‘Porgy and Bess’) and ‘I Feel Love’ (a reworking of the Donna Summer disco classic which also featured Marc Almond). After Somerville left the band, Bronski Beat worked with a number of other singers including Jon Foster (with whom they had a final Top 5 UK hit single in late 1985, ‘Hit That Perfect Beat’) and Jonathan Hellyer, and released two other albums, ‘Truthdare Doubledare’ (1986) and ‘Rainbow Nation’ (1995), before finally folding in the late 1990s. Now Bronski Beat have returned with a new double album, ‘The Age of Reason’, and a line-up which consists of Steve Bronski; keyboardist and programmer, Ian Donaldson (who succeeded Larry Steinbacheck in 1995), and vocalist Stephen Granville. It reworks ‘The Age of Consent’ in its entirety with Granville on vocals, and also provides three new songs which each come with several dance remixes –‘Stars’, a cover of disco star and gay icon Sylvester’s 1979 song; the jubilant ‘I’ll Be Gone’ which celebrates the ending of an imperfect love affair, and balladic lament ‘Flower for Dandara’, a tribute to Brazilian transsexual Dandera dos Stantos who was lynched and murdered by a transphobic group of thugs. Pennyblackmusic spoke to Steve Bronski about ‘The Age of Reason’. PB: The Age of Consent has been lowered from 21 to 16. Gay marriage has been legalised, most people know someone who is openly gay, while thirty-odd years ago that was less the case and TV dramas have regular gay characters, but in 1984 at the time ‘The Age of Consent’ was released there was yet to be one in a British soap. Yet gay-bashing still exists, as you outline on ‘A Flower for Dandara’, and there is still prejudice against homosexuals. Is the title of ‘The Age of Reason’ meant ironically? SB: Yes, we should be living in an age of reason. The Trans community should not live in fear, and gay kids should not be bullied. We have come a long way, but there is still a long way to go. PB: Protest songs often by their nature become historical pieces, but in light of that songs such as ‘Smalltown Boy’ and ‘Why?’ seem timeless and as relevant today as they were back in the 80s. Would you agree? SB: The strange thing was, when we re-recorded those songs we came to realise they are still as relevant today as they were in 1984. I guess a good protest song never goes out of fashion. PB: What is the aim of ‘The Age of Reason’? Is it simply to update ‘The Age of Consent’ for the 21st century and to reveal these three new songs to show what the new Bronski Beat is working towards next? SB: To be honest, when Ian Donaldson and myself got back together, the plan was to record backing tracks for live shows. It wasn’t planned as an album. Ian let me hear some demos he had done with Stephen Granville over the years and I immediately fell in love with his voice. We recorded ‘Stars’ and then decided to demo the old tracks to see how he sounded on them. Barney Ashton at Cherry Red Records heard the demos and wanted to put it out as an album. How could we refuse? PB: ‘The Age of Consent’ was recorded on fairly primitive equipment and when synthesisers had only been on the market for a few years. How easy or difficult was it re-recording the songs from ‘The Age of Consent’ in light of that? SB: It was definitely a lot easier this time. The technology has come a long way and a lot of work could be done at Ian’s home. It was a more relaxed way of working, and meant that we didn’t have to look at a clock in a studio watching the money go. PB: Original member Larry Steinbachek died in December. Did work begin on ‘The Age of Reason’ before or after his death? Do you see ‘The Age of Reason’ as being a tribute to him? SB: We were in the middle of recording when the news of Larry’s passing came. It was a very sad day. I’d like to think Larry would have approved of the album. PB: The original line-up of Jimmy Somerville, yourself and Larry had massive success with four successful singles, a hit album and an influential video in ‘Smalltown Boy’. Yet it was barely together for two years before splitting up when Jimmy left. How much of that in hindsight was down to too much happening too soon for you all? SB: It was a sad time when Jimmy left for sure. We lost a friend, not just a bandmate, but these things happen in bands all the time. I am just happy that I was able to keep going in this crazy industry. PB: Who is your new singer Stephen Granville? What is his musical background? SB: When we took a long break in the 90s Ian went on to become a successful DJ as Sordid Soundz, playing all the big clubs in London and worldwide. He met Stephen who was doing PAs in a lot of those clubs. He had sung on a lot of tracks by Seamus Haji, Laidback, Luke and Booker T. as well as doing background vocals for Bryan Ferry and Texas. When Ian and myself got back together we needed a vocalist, Ian let me hear tracks he had done with Stephen, and I knew straightaway he would be perfect for the new band. PB: What have you been personally focusing on in the twenty odd years since Bronski Beat broke up? SB: Life…LOL. PB: ‘I’ll Be Gone’ reveals absolute euphoria at the ending of an unsatisfactory love affair. Was that inspired by a real incident? SB: Everything we write is based on our personal experiences…won’t tell who it is about though! PB: Now that the album is out, what are Bronski Beat’s immediate plans for the future? SB: Hopefully we will be doing some gigs, and back in the studio working on the next album as well as remixing for other artists. Expect to see a lot of Bronski Beat stuff coming soon. PB: Thank you.

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