Stowaway Heroes – Stephen Hague

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 DarkPet Shop BoysCommunardsErasureSiouxsie 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 DisappointedBlur‘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 Systema-haRobbie WilliamsClient, and this astonishing comeback from Claudia Brücken:

Yes, we owe a lot to Stephen Hague, and he’s a very worthy stowaway hero.

Stowaway Heroes – Vince Clarke

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.

Stowaway Heroes – John Peel

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.

Stowaway Heroes – Trevor Horn

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.

Stowaway Heroes – William Orbit

For a while, William Orbit just seemed to be everywhere. Comfortably among the most influential producers worldwide, he was working with MadonnaAll SaintsPet 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.

Stowaway Heroes – Robert Moog

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 WendyCarlos, who provided many people’s first taste of the Moog Synthesizer with Switched-On Bach (1968).

(video removed)

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.

Edited, 25 Feb 2018 – formatting.

Stowaway Heroes – Delia Derbyshire

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.

Stowaway Heroes – Shep Pettibone

One of the most important names of the 1980s is Shep Pettibone. You’ll know him from multiple remixes and production credits, but there’s a good chance that you don’t actually know anything about him. Me neither, frankly, so let’s start with something we can all agree on – the brilliance of his 1986 remix of Love Comes Quickly, by Pet Shop Boys:

The New York-based DJ would work with Pet Shop Boys a number of times between 1986 and 1988, working on ten tracks in total. But by 1986, Pettibone was already half a decade into his career, having cut his teeth on Afrika Bambaataa‘s Jazzy Sensation in 1981:

His CV for the late 1980s is impressive to say the least, including remixes and production work for Art of NoiseThe B-52sBee GeesBrosDavid BowieDepeche ModeDuran DuranDusty SpringfieldElton JohnErasure, FalcoGeorge MichaelJanet JacksonNew OrderRun DMCWhitney Houston and many others. But his most prolific collaborator seems to have been Madonna, who used his services no less than sixteen times between 1985 and 1993. Here’s Into the Groove:

His mixes were undeniably of their time, with huge drum fills and solos, and a lot of orchestral hits – so it shouldn’t come as any surprise that his remix work dried up somewhat in the 1980s. But if you’re looking for someone who heavily impacted the sound of a particular era, Shep Pettibone should be very high on your list.

Stowaway Heroes – Ian Levine

This is the first, and potentially also last, mention here for an unlikely Stowaway HeroIan Levine is a divisive personality, who has been involved in three main spheres that are relevant to this blog: first and least relevant is northern soul. If you’re not familiar with what that means… well, frankly, you are:

Yes, Fatboy Slim joins the ranks of Soft Cell and many others who have appeared on this blog previously as acts who have been influenced by northern soul, the gentle black American pop music that surprisingly took the north of England by storm in the late 1960s.

By the mid-1970s, Levine was one of the better known DJs who was bringing northern soul to Blackpool, and in more recent years, he has put his name to several compilation albums covering the era.

Over the decade or so that followed, he also made his name in the world of television show Doctor Who, writing the theme for the 1981 spin-off K-9 and Company, and also being responsible for this awful and rather tasteless charity single to try to persuade the BBC to bring the main series back in 1985:

Astonishingly, Hans Zimmer helped out on fairlight for that recording, along with a lot of people for whom this hopefully wasn’t the highlight of their career.

More specifically though, for this blog, Levine was the man who produced this hit single for Evelyn Thomas, later also covered by Erasure:

While the electronic parts of the song are almost depressingly simple, there’s a lot to be said for the vocal performance. His subsequent remixes for Pet Shop Boys (of Paninaro and It’s a Sin) definitely deserve to be forgotten, as does this (subsequently deleted) shockingly misogynistic tweet about the casting of a female Doctor Who:

CHRIS CHIBNALL MAKES ME WANNA VOMIT He has put the final nail into Doctor Who. RIP

But for all of that, I think we can agree that Ian Levine has influenced this blog in his own way, and for that we should be grateful!

Stowaway Heroes – Daniel Miller

Our first stowaway hero is Daniel Miller, boss of Mute Records, and one of the most influential and seemingly hands-off individuals in the world of electronic music. In his late twenties, he was working as a film editor, and scraped together enough money to buy a synthesiser. His resulting 1978 solo double a-side single T.V.O.D. / Warm Leatherette, released as The Normal, is fundamentally brilliant:

It’s not clear to me whether Miller actually intended for Mute to become a fully fledged record label or whether it was all supposed to just be a one-off, but always way ahead of the curve, he also came up with his own virtual group Silicon Teens, who released a couple of great singles including Memphis Tennessee:

(video removed)

But of course, Mute is most famous for the astonishing roster of artists who were signed over the decades that followed, including mainstream acts such as Depeche ModeYazooMobyNick CaveNew Order, underground and cult successes including Fad Gadget and I Start Counting, and even (briefly) Kraftwerk. And he didn’t completely keep his hands off their output either – here’s his take on Erasure‘s Supernature:

He also presented a radio show on Berlin’s Radio Eins and remains well respected throughout the music industry, despite the slightly questionable sale of Mute to EMI for £23 million in 2002 (which was fortunately rectified by a split in 2009). It’s rare for someone so influential to turn up in so many places but be so unknown. So he’s a worthy first hero for this blog – hats off to Daniel Miller.

Edited, 25 Feb 2018 – removed Silicon Teens video that is no longer available.