B.E.F. – 1981-2011

It seems strange writing a review of something that in some cases is thirty years old, but this is a fully remastered reissue, and that’s how it has earned its place on these pages. Also, B.E.F., or the British Electric Foundation are back now with their third collection, which seems a good time to look back at what they did previously.

For the uninintiated, B.E.F. are pretty much the same people as Heaven 17, a side-project which came about around the time that The Human League imploded in 1980. They’re also responsible for the name of this very blog Music for stowaways, for reasons which are unlikely to ever become clear.

The beautiful box set 1981-2011 is pretty comprehensive, bringing together almost all of their output from the thirty year period. You get three CDs – Music of Quality and Distinction: Volume 1Music of Quality and Distinction: Volume 2; and a collection of oddities entitled Music from Stowaways to Dark.

The first disc consists of the original Music of Quality and Distinction: Volume 1 album (1981) and some bonus rarities. It opens with Ball of Confusion featuring Tina Turner. Apparently, the only safe place to live is on an Indian reservation. It’s one of the better tracks on the album, although I’m not the world’s biggest Tina Turner fan, and as with much of Heaven 17‘s work it hasn’t aged especially well.

The original Music of Quality and Distinction is an album which I’d probably consider important rather than actually good, and this is highlighted by some of its less enjoyable moments, such as Billy Mackenzie wailing all over the place on The Secret Life of Arabia and then again at the end on It’s Over, and Paula Yates making a total mess of the frankly awful These Boots Are Made for Walking.

The less dreadful moments are generally listenable, such as Paul Jones‘s version of There’s a Ghost in My House, although the sound is distinctly odd – I’ve not heard the un-remastered version, but listening to this version I don’t even want to think about how the previous CD releases must have sounded.

Spectacularly vomit-inducing is Gary Glitter‘s appearance on Suspicious Minds. Obviously we can’t just wipe him from history, but it is hard to listen to this without wandering how much money he’s just made from your purchase of the album. On the plus side, it’s largely unlistenable.

Side B of the original album sees a general upturn in quality, with Bernie Nolan‘s take of You Keep Me Hanging On and Sandie Shaw‘s pleasant version of Anyone Who Had a Heart. The high-points of the album, though, are both of Glenn Gregory‘s tracks. By the time this came out, he had already appeared as the vocalist on Heaven 17‘s debut album Penthouse and Pavement, and they were clearly rather more comfortable recording with him than with any of his contemporaries.

Wichita Lineman is a pleasant electronic-soul take on the original, with backing not unlike the Music for Stowaways cassette which had appeared the previous year, and Perfect Day, which must by law be included on all cover version albums, is a great version of a great song. The first volume is then closed out by seven “backing tracks” (largely instrumental versions, occasionally with a few changes here and there), which are often better than the originals without the intervention of the less good vocalists.

Having worked through all of that, the second volume of Music of Quality and Distinction is rather more of a pleasure to listen to. B.E.F. returned nearly ten years later in 1991 with Volume 2, which is this time tempered by the sounds of the early 90s, as you might expect. It opens with the brilliant Chaka Khan on an atmospheric take of Someday We’ll All Be Free, and this is smoothly followed by Lalah Hathaway performing Family Affair. The best track on Side A is Early on the Morning, performed by Richard Darbyshire, and this is followed by the distinctly better return of Billy Mackenzie for Free.

The second volume is not without its low points. It’s Alright Ma, I’m Only Bleeding may have effectively launched the career of Terence Trent d’Arby, but it’s not great, and neither are A Song for You by Mavis Staples or Billy Preston‘s Try a Little Tenderness.

But for the most part, this is a pretty good album. In particular the moment halfway through I Don’t Know Why I Love You (vocals by Green Gartside) where it morphs into The Robots by Kraftwerk is pretty masterful. Tina Turner‘s return for A Change is Gonna Come is good too, as is Ghida de Palma‘s version of Feel Like Makin’ Love. The final track, Billy Preston‘s version of In My Life, is another of the best tracks on the album.

The bonus tracks for this album are equally pointless – you get a couple of acapella versions, an instrumental, an alternative version, and a version of I Don’t Know Why I Love You with a bit less of the electro middle eight. But in general the second volume is very strong.

The same cannot really be said for the third. Curiously titled Music from Stowaways to Dark, it essentially brings together the tracks from their early Music for Stowaways cassette with a couple of early demos from Volume 2 and the then-forthcoming Volume 3.

Unfortunately, much as I love the title and concept, the original Music for Stowaways is, frankly, pretty awful. Highlights are Wipe the Board Clean and The Old at Rest, as well as Honeymoon in New York which wasn’t on the cassette version, but the openers Optimum Chant and Uptown Apocalypse are dreadful, as is Rise of the EastGroove Thang, an alternative version of (We Don’t Need This) Fascist from Penthouse and Pavement, frankly just makes a mockery of the whole thing.

In fact, I’d possibly go as far as to say that the only good track on the album is the B.E.F. Ident which closes it. But then you get the three Work-in-Progress mixes which close the album – two apparently unfinished 1992 tracks, and one from the forthcoming album.

First up is Trade Winds, with a vocal by Mavis Staples, which is entirely pleasant, as is Co-Pilot to Pilot by Kelly Barnes, even if it does contain the word(s) “fiddle-dee-dee”, and the latter seems to have made such an impression on the artists that it now appears on the third full album Dark. Finally, you get an early version of Smalltown Boy starring Billie Godfrey, which is suitably excellent, and the box set is finally over.

Grab the CD or download version of the box set from Amazon if you’re in the UK or your local retailers if that’s where you’re at.

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The BRIT Awards 1990

The annual British music industry bash had been growing in every way for a number of years. In 1988, it decided to improve itself by stopping being quite so corporate. In 1989, it changed its name to the BRIT Awards and nearly destroyed itself. After the unmitigated disaster of the 1989 ceremony, the 1990 awards switched to a different venue and was altogether a little more self-conscious.

The ceremony would sadly see the last public appearance of Freddie Mercury, but on a lighter note would also see Fine Young Cannibals justifiably return their awards in reaction to a video of Margaret Thatcher choosing her favourite pop song (How Much is That Little Doggie in the Window? although it sadly didn’t win any awards in 1990).

For now, though, it’s February 18th 1990, we’re at the Dominion Theatre in London, and Cathy McGowan out of The 1960s is your host for the evening.

There’s also an introduction video here.

Best British Newcomer

Presented by Tina Turner. Nominees:

  • Lisa Stansfield
  • Shakespears Sister
  • Soul II Soul
  • The Beautiful South
  • The Stone Roses

Longer video here.

Winner: Lisa Stansfield.

Best British Producer

Presented by Andrew Lloyd Webber. Nominees:

  • Coldcut
  • Dave Stewart
  • Kate Bush
  • Peter Gabriel
  • Steve Lillywhite
  • Stock Aitken Waterman

Winner: Dave Stewart.

Best Classical Recording

Nominees:

  • Jeffrey Tate – Piano Concerto 24 & 25
  • John Elliot Gardner – St Matthews Passion – Bach
  • Nigel Kennedy – Four Seasons – Vivaldi
  • Ricardo Chailly – Walton – Façade – Stravinsky
  • Simon Rattle – Porgy & Bess – Gershwin

Winner: Simon Rattle.

Best Soundtrack/Cast Recording

Presented by Sinitta, who gets carried on on a stretcher. Nominees:

  • Aspects of Love (Original Cast Recording)
  • Batman (Prince)
  • Beaches (various artists)
  • Henry V (Simon Rattle)
  • The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover (Michael Nyman)

Winner: Batman.

Best British Group

Presented by Iron Maiden. Nominees:

  • Erasure
  • Eurythmics
  • Fine Young Cannibals
  • Simply Red
  • Soul II Soul
  • Tears for Fears

Video here.

Winner: Fine Young Cannibals.

Best Music Video

Presented by Bobby Brown. Nominees:

  • Billy Joel – We Didn’t Start The Fire
  • De La Soul – Eye Know
  • Eurythmics – Don’t Ask Me Why
  • Farley Jackmaster Funk – Free At Last
  • Four Tops – Loco in Acapulco
  • Guns ‘n’ Roses – Paradise City
  • Holly Johnson – Love Train
  • Janet Jackson – Miss You Much
  • Kaoma – Lambada
  • Lisa Stansfield – All Around the World
  • M – Pop Muzik
  • Neneh Cherry – Manchild
  • Paul McCartney – My Brave Face
  • Prince – Batdance
  • Queen – Invisible Man
  • Salif Keita – Nous Pas Bouger
  • Simply Red – If You Don’t Know Me by Now
  • Tears for Fears – Sowing the Seeds
  • The Alarm – A New South Wales
  • The Beautiful South – Song for Whoever
  • The Cure – Lullaby
  • Tina Turner – Simply the Best

Fortunately nobody had to read out that full list of nominees! Video here.

Winner: The Cure.

Best International Group

Presented by Ray Davis, a little too keen to remind us that The Kinks still exist. Nominees:

  • Bon Jovi
  • De La Soul
  • Guns ‘n’ Roses
  • Gipsy Kings
  • Milli Vanilli
  • U2

Video here.

Winner: U2.

Best International Newcomer

Presented by Gary Glitter, back in the days before we knew what we know now. Ugh. Nominees:

  • Bobby Brown
  • De La Soul
  • Guns ‘n’ Roses
  • Neneh Cherry
  • Paula Abdul

Video here.

Winner: Neneh Cherry.

Best International Solo Artist

Presented by Adam Ant. Nominees:

  • Bobby Brown
  • Gloria Estefan
  • Neneh Cherry
  • Prince
  • Tina Turner

Video here.

Winner: Neneh Cherry.

Best British Female

Nominees:

  • Annie Lennox
  • Kate Bush
  • Lisa Stansfield
  • Mica Paris
  • Yazz

Winner: Annie Lennox.

Best British Male

Nominees:

  • Chris Rea
  • Cliff Richard
  • Phil Collins
  • Roland Gift
  • Van Morrison

Winner: Phil Collins.

Best British Album

Nominees:

  • Eurythmics – We Too Are One
  • Fine Young Cannibals – The Raw and The Cooked
  • Simply Red – A New Flame
  • Soul II Soul – Club Classics Vol 1
  • Tears for Fears – The Seeds of Love

Winner: Fine Young Cannibals.

Best British Single

Voted for by the listeners of the Simon Mayo Breakfast Show on BBC Radio 1, and presented by Simon Mayo. Nominees:

  • Band Aid II – Do They Know it’s Christmas
  • Jason Donovan – Sealed With a Kiss
  • Jason Donovan – Too Many Broken Hearts
  • Jive Bunny & The Mastermixers – Swing the Mood
  • Jive Bunny & The Mastermixers – That’s What I Like
  • Jive Bunny & The Mastermixers – Lets Party
  • Lisa Stansfield – All Around the World
  • Marc Almond & Gene Pitney – Something’s Gotten Hold of My Heart
  • Phil Collins – Another Day in Paradise
  • Simple Minds – Belfast Child
  • Sonia – You’ll Never Stop Me
  • Soul II Soul – Back to Life
  • Various Artists – Ferry ‘Cross the Mersey

An astonishing number of nominations, three of which were for Jive Bunny, but fortunately they didn’t manage to win. Unfortunately, um… well, watch the video here.

Winner: Phil Collins.

Outstanding Contribution

Winner: Queen.

Performances

  • Lisa Stansfield -Been Around the World
  • Neneh Cherry – Manchild
  • Nigel Kennedy – Vivaldi’s Four Seasons
  • Phil Collins – Another Day in Paradise
  • Soul II Soul – What is Soul II Soul

Further Reading / Viewing