If you know anything about pop music from the last three or four decades, you have probably come across Stephen Hague‘s name. Producer of Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, Pet Shop Boys, Communards, Erasure, Siouxsie and the Banshees, and many more, his impact on music really is immense.
Here’s one of his biggest hits from the 1980s, and a fantastic video to boot – this is New Order‘s True Faith:
In the 1990s, Hague was to be found producing Electronic‘s Disappointed, Blur‘s lovely To the End, and Dubstar‘s brilliant debut Disgraceful. Here’s Stars:
In the 2000s and 2010s, Hague has worked with Afro Celt Sound System, a-ha, Robbie Williams, Client, and this astonishing comeback from Claudia Brücken:
Yes, we owe a lot to Stephen Hague, and he’s a very worthy stowaway hero.
One of the most prolific names in music is Vince Clarke. After a couple of excellent false starts including Yazoo and The Assembly, he’s spent most of his career as the knob-twiddling genius responsible for Erasure‘s backing tracks.
Things started out, of course, with Depeche Mode, and we can’t really overlook his sunglasses and designer stubble in their breakthrough hit Just Can’t Get Enough:
Of course, Erasure is where he’s spent most of the last thirty years, and it would be difficult not to give him credit where it’s due for his exquisite performance in the video to Abba‘s Take a Chance on Me:
In recent years, he has branched out, working again with his old bandmate Martin L. Gore as well as half of Orbital, all of Jean-Michel Jarre, and others. From 2Square, his project with Paul Hartnoll, here’s Better Have a Drink to Think:
Genius is an over-used word without a doubt, but it’s absolutely fair to say that Clarke should be one of our stowaway heroes.
This week’s stowaway hero really is somebody who needs no introduction. John Peel remains a household name, not just in the UK, although people further afield may not quite be sure why he’s so special. A highly influential BBC Radio 1 DJ for five decades, I’ve always thought it was fair to say that he was single-handedly the inspiration for the radio station BBC 6 Music as well.
His blissful semi-professionalism was a wonderful part of his show, as he regularly played records at the wrong speed, and often made them sound much better in the process. It’s tempting to wonder if that might be why he championed the Cuban Boys (see here if you don’t know what I’m talking about).
An early champion of Joy Division, they appeared twice on his show and were played many more times. Here he is with the sad announcement of Ian Curtis‘s death in May 1980:
Pretty much any act worth their salt appeared on his show at some point, and you could pick any of them to showcase just how good the show was. Here’s my choice, The Human League, performing Being Boiled in 1978:
Sadly, Peel left us much too soon, dying in 2004, aged 65 – and while that would have made him nearly 80 at the time of writing, the world was a much richer place with his show in it. We all have different reasons to like Peel, but there’s really no way that he can’t be one of our stowaway heroes.
You probably know Trevor Horn‘s name, but you might not realise quite why. Let me give you a clue – after a few years as a session musician, he formed a group called Buggles. You’ll know them for this UK number one from 1979:
He then launched the career of Dollar, produced an ABC album, and then brought us this from Frankie Goes to Hollywood:
But for me, what makes him a stowaway hero is Left to My Own Devices, one of the most iconic songs from Pet Shop Boys:
So welcome to our mini-hall of fame, Trevor Horn! You are a stowaway hero.
For a while, William Orbit just seemed to be everywhere. Comfortably among the most influential producers worldwide, he was working with Madonna, All Saints, Pet Shop Boys, and many more.
His career started out with the trio Torch Song, who saw heavy underground success in the mid-1980s. In 1993, they reappeared with a final album Toward the Unknown Region, which included the brilliant Shine on Me:
He famously launched Beth Orton‘s career with this, the sublime Water from a Vine Leaf:
But this was the moment where he really became a household name – in 1995, he recorded Pieces in a Modern Style, which was briefly released and then quickly pulled due to copyright issues. Five years later, it reappeared, heralded by this brilliant Ferry Corsten remix of Samuel Barber‘s Adagio for Strings:
So let’s give respect where it’s due, to the brilliant stowaway hero William Orbit.
The last of our Stowaway Heroes for now is one of the fathers of electronic music, Robert Moog. He might not have actually made a lot of music himself, but his fingers have remotely touched more genres than you can name in the last few decades. Here he is, demonstrating his own creation:
Moog famously started out in the 1950s, selling kit Theremins, launching his first modular synthesiser in 1964. After a couple of years of early devices, he met Walter (later Wendy) Carlos, who provided many people’s first taste of the Moog Synthesizer with Switched-On Bach (1968).
Picking a Moog Synthesizer classic from later in his career is difficult, as his devices turned up on music by everyone from the Beach Boys to Gary Numan. So instead, I think we should keep it predictable, and go with Kraftwerk‘s breakthrough hit from 1974, Autobahn:
Sadly, Robert Moog passed away relatively young in 2005, but his legacy – and company – are still going strong, and you’ll find his sounds throughout the last fifty years or so of pop music. So he’s well-deserving of his place amongst the Stowaway Heroes.
Edited, 11 Feb 2018 – removed Wendy Carlos video that no longer works.
Time for another of our Stowaway Heroes now. This week, one of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop’s most important and influential musicians. Delia Derbyshire is the person who brought Ron Grainer‘s Doctor Who theme music to life in a quite extraordinary way.
Derbyshire joined the BBC in 1960, and stayed for thirteen years, working on numerous well-known and loved series and one-off shows, one of which was The Last Caravans, an episode of The World About Us, for which she composed the brilliant Blue Veils and Golden Sands:
Little is known of her work after leaving the BBC, although following her untimely death in 2001 an extensive collection of tapes were found in her attic and digitised. Perhaps her most famous non-BBC work was as a member of the group White Noise, who released the early electronic album An Electric Storm in 1969.
Delia Derbyshire‘s musical career was a lot shorter than it really should have been – somebody this influential should definitely have a back catalogue of albums to their name. Maybe one day she will. But for now, with a career shrouded in mystery, she is one of the most important of our Stowaway Heroes.