The next band in the “Why I Love…” series is about a band that although not huge on the international, or even national, stage, were quite simply THE reason why I have the burning passion for music that I have. They have shaped my entire musical journey from birth and as they are unfamiliar to the vast majority of people these days I will try and tell their story and the impact they continue to have on me.
Sad Café were a band formed in Manchester, England in 1977 featuring Paul Young (Vocals), Ian Wilson (Guitars), Ashley Mulford (Lead Guitar), John Stimpson (Bass), Vic Emerson (Keyboards), Tony Cresswell (Drums), and Lenni (Sax). Further down the line Des Tong (Bass), Dave Irving (Drums), and Mike Byron-Heir (Lead Guitar) would all become essential ingredients to the bands sound. In total they released 7 studio albums and 1 live album over a 10 year period before calling it a day. A band impossible to pigeonhole into any specific genre, sounding totally different on each subsequent album, with the ability to pen songs so rich in melody and so far reaching in their appeal, it is one of life’s great tragedy’s that the band, having been on the cusp of worldwide fame thanks to monster hit single “Every Day Hurts” in 1979, were not more successful on a wider international scale.
To sum up the band in as few words as possible would be to say that they were a rock band with pop sensibilities. They covered such a wide range of genre’s including rock, prog, jazz, acoustic, classical, reggae, heavy rock, classic rock n’ roll, funk, pop, etc. You name it, and chances are the band tried it at least once. You would think that this would mean the band would lose their identity, particularly as all this genre-hopping would not just be album to album, but track to track on EACH album! But, what they were also able to do was keep a sound that was very much theirs, and a mentality of, even though with all the different sounds they were using, THE SONG itself was absolutely key. Every song they wrote, no matter what genre, had a ‘hook’, with the shared sense of what worked melodically no matter which combination of the band were writing together.
Their live shows were also what set them apart from a lot of others. They developed a reputation for being one of the most formidable and best live bands in the country, even when times were bad they were able to sell out venues wherever they went. In Paul Young they had one of the most engaging, energetic, versatile, and passionate vocalists in the country. His enthusiasm and stage presence, along with the impeccable musicianship of the band, cemented their reputation as a must see live band. Ian Wilson, was the musical director of the band and a strong rhythm guitarist with a distinctive sound to his rhythm playing. He had a clear vision of what the band should sound like and possessed a fine voice too. Ashley Mulford was an exceptional guitar player, with a huge melodic sound to his solo’s, reminiscent of Carlos Santana. John Stimpson was a classic bass player in the “Why play 5 notes when you can play 1” variety. But listening to his playing on albums he possessed a great groove as well as helping provide high harmonies on the bands wonderful backing vocals. Vic Emerson was an absolute maestro on the keyboards and was a key ingredient to the bands distinctive sound. A classically trained musician who was able to programme his banks of keyboards to sound authentically like a 100 piece orchestra. A truly gifted and talented composer who also co-wrote a lot of the bands best known songs. His contribution to the band and the high esteem I continue to hold for him as a musician can not be underestimated.
As mentioned in my ‘About’ page, my earliest memories are from a life that was completely involved in the music industry. My father Gerry was involved with the band from quite early on in their career as a Marketing Manager for Polydor and RCA records, who then went on to become the bands manager for a 6 year period which, rather than riding high on a wave of success that they had enjoyed, became a nightmare due to the financial mis-management of the previous management, leaving the band skint, and the previous management profiting from the bands success.
Some of my earliest and most vivid memories are attending band rehearsals, weekends away at recording studio’s, as well as attending the actual shows. There were various times when I would wake up and find a couple of the band members asleep on my bedroom floor after a night out, along with various times where musicians, sound technicians, etc would be coming and going from our house. While my dad was away a hell of a lot with this kind of work, the times when he was around with all this stuff going on around me have always stayed with me.
So, I am going to attempt to give an overview of their career as I have interpreted it, covering each album and give a glimpse of what they were about, together with why, despite my personal connection, they mean so much to me.
(I have featured a lot of video and audio links from Youtube. Many of these video clips have been transfered from very old VHS tapes and as a result, visually the quality is not the best, nor is the audio. But they give a glimpse of how brilliant this band were and for that reason are worthy inclusions. Personal thanks to all who put these up at the bottom of this piece.)
FANX TA RA (1977)
Their debut album Fanx Ta Ra was released in 1977 in the height of punk and represented all that that movement despised. A progressive, inventive, and expertly crafted work of melodic rock music. It sparked controversy with its front cover, supposedly depicting the image of a naked female looking forlornly as her lover/rapist is seen walking out of the door. Despite the controversy, the content within the album is exceptional, and remains (if I was forced to make a choice) probably my favourite record of the bands.
“Babylon” burst into life with pummelling drums and great descending guitar riff before melding into an acid-jazz flavoured verse. Paul Young’s vocals show their power early on and the chorus line gives us the first glimpse of the vocal harmonies that are so prevalent during their entire career. The mid-section see’s them segue into a Santana influenced beat with chanted harmonised vocals and Ashley Mulford’s guitar work taking centre stage. Its an astonishing opening to a debut album and still sounds fresh over 30 years later.
“Shellshock” bristles with piano-lounge smoothness with funky chorus riff as Young sings of encounters with ladies of the night. The song again shows off Mulford’s incendiary guitar playing as the song ends up as full on funk-rock fest.
“Hungry Eyes”, a haunting, acoustic ballad is the first time Young’s soulful vocals are allowed to show their tenderness after the raw power showcased on the opening couple of numbers. After the acoustic opening and tender delivery of the vocals, the chorus arrives bringing with it Vic Emerson’s sweeping, lush orchestration that wraps the chorus up and pummels it into your head. The string-laden middle eight is a gorgeous example of the bands epic capabilities. Young’s vocals reach heights that you would not have expected them to, based on what had been shown so far, and the string arrangement is absolutely stunning. As the song progresses Young’s vocals show their power once again as the song reaches its climax, before gently bringing the song to a close with the haunting acoustic riff.
Live Version of Hungry Eyes from The Old Grey Whistle Test
“Black Rose” sweeps in with a great keyboard hook and was a live favourite for the bands entire career. Probably the most obvious pop moment on the album with great chorus with amazing backing vocals and great guitar solo. Once again the song is driven by the exceptional keyboard and guitar work (a common theme throughout the album) and is a classic sing-a-long anthem.
The instrumental piece “The Further Adventures Of Mad Alan” is a organ driven slice of prog rock with crashing symbols and noddling guitar work dancing around a sinister chord progression. The song then falls into a laid back, almost Pink Floyd-esque, groove as Mulford does his best Dave Gilmour impression over swelling strings, before blending seamlessly into the heavy rock riff of the albums title track. The riff is so powerful it almost blows you off your feet with flecks of strings adding colour to proceedings. Another middle eight where the song is turned on its head with another Santana influenced guitar solo and fast tempo.
“Flingus Holiday” arrives with a jazzy drum and keyboard intro before Lenni takes centre stage with a joyful sax-led instrumental piece, which like the previous couplet of songs leads seamlessly into “Immortal”, with its thumping dark bass line and weird vocal tics as the story of an sinister, immortal old man unfolds and a great guitar solo as the song turns into a great sleazy rock song.
Another complete 360 degree turn appears with the arrival of “Sail On” with its subtle opening of slow, strummed guitar chords leading into stunning vocal harmonies on the chorus before the song becomes awash in strings, with intense musical bombast and impassioned vocals. Another example of how vocal harmonies start to become a key ingredient of the bands sound.
“Clumbedextrous” another prog influenced song with nonsensical lyrics, weird vocal stylings, and an overall feeling of madness throughout. The cohesion returns with a fabulous final couple of minutes where lead guitar and lush keyboards take centre stage once again.
The finale of the album is the stunning “I Believe (love will survive)”. One of Paul Young’s finest ever ballads. A lovely piano intro and exquisite two part harmonies between Young and Wilson build the song to its simple, yet extremely effective, chorus. Young’s delivery is as great as ever, mixing it up between sweet, soulful, tenderness and rugged, raw power by the songs climax. Blending the two unlikely styles of Marvin Gaye and Mick Jagger in a four minute epic rock ballad is probably as hard a trick to pull off as it sounds. But pull it off he does and it’s a phenomenal end to a fantastic album that is just bursting with ideas and exceptional musicianship.
A mention must go to B-side “Bell Ends”. It’s a song that I was only familiar with in its live format from the “live” album and various TV appearances. Only a few months ago, with the remastered version of Fanx Ta Ra released with it tagged onto the end of the album as a bonus track, was I able to hear the studio version of the song. It was absolutely stunning and an entirely different beast to the live versions that I was familiar with. It successfully manages to mix punk and prog rock, two styles that were completely at odds with each other at the time of release, brilliantly. Both styles work hand in hand with its punky riff, shouted vocals, and angry, confrontational lyrics. This blends into a atmospheric, swirling prog verse before the punk attitude returns even angrier second time around. The song ends with a wonderful slow build up of melodic noise over the absurd refrain of “Bell Ends Forever”. If you wanted to hear what happens when Punk and Prog have a baby, then this is it!
MISPLACED IDEALS (1978)
Hot on the heels of Fanx Ta Ra was its follow up Misplaced Ideals, complete with another controversial cover that was eventually re-branded, released only a year later. Shorter in length but another album bursting with ideas as the opening “Restless” proves with a funky-as-fuck guitar and bass riff, with Young’s Jagger-esque vocal style sneering the lyrics at you. A breakdown occurs in the mid-section with twinkling jazz piano, lolloping bass playing, and a Lenni sax solo that gently re-introduces the main riff quietly as twinkling keys dance around it, before the full force of the band expodes back into the full on riff and a genius guitar solo.
“Here Come The Clowns” a straight up rocker, a verse with a killer hook, and a stuttering, rolling bar room piano chorus. Once again Lenni’s sax playing is far more involved throughout the number.
“Run Home Girl” is a jazz-lounge supernova of a track that first brought the band to the attention of the American audience receiving a lot of radio airplay. A classic 70s sound and the first real pop song they composed.
“Let Love Speak For Itself” starts as a moody, slightly underwhelming, bongo tinged number that turns into a sprawling, epic, rock song, with fantastic backing vocals, and a powerful guitar riff.
Ian Wilson takes lead vocals for the first time on “No Place To Go”, an acoustic rock number in the vein of Crosby Stills and Nash with a pop hook before the arrival of “Relax” the bands first foray into the reggae pop genre.
‘Mario’ is a low key number consisting of just Young’s voice and Vic Emerson’s vast orchestration and is beautifully composed. It shows off Emerson’s talent as a classical composer with swelling strings, and translating that into song.
“Feel Like Dying” is a jazz-blues number telling tales of repeated heartbreak and mourns the end of the final relationship. It’s full of sorrow and self pity and delivered with great female backing vocals. You can just picture Young singing it in a deserted smoky bar with whisky in hand. The definitive version of this song though is on the “Live” album where the female backing vocals are replaced with the band members themselves. To say it is a masterclass in vocal harmonies would be an understatement. The perfect execution of the 3-part harmonies in the middle eight really shows how good the bands vocal capability was.
Album closer (and set opener for many years) “On With The Show” is the undoubted album highlight and remains my (as well as my fathers) favourite Sad Café track of all time. It successfully melds all the best elements of their creativity that they had shown up to this point and wrap it up in a slice of uplifiting, epic, pop-rock, chopping and changing styles throughout it’s 5 minute length.
The verses are sunny and uplifting with a jazzy tempo. Lyrically it covers the familiar ground of not letting life get you down and avoiding potential heartbreak. At the end of each verse they get sucked into a vortex of strings, electric guitar and vocal harmonies. After a couple of verses the song suddenly grabs you by the neck and throws you into a rock n roll frenzy as Young declares that he “just play my rock n roll, gives you something that satifies your soul, come on baby let the good times roll” as the song reaches the heavens with a glorious, soaring guitar solo. As the verse returns with the sunny disposition still in tact the production gets bigger with the flurries of epic strings and Mulford’s lead guitar punctuating each line. The harmonies converge on the lead vocals before the song reaches its peak of perfection as it takes another turn into spellbinding, epic genius, the whole band sing as one leading into the final outro, filled with hazy, swirling sounds and a frantic wall of noise fade out. Perfect.
At the tail end of the Misplaced Ideals tour, original drummer Tony Cresswell left the band and was replaced by Dave Irving as the band entered their most successful period. Their third album, their most successful, saw the band still maintain their eclecticism with the song-writing but was more polished and focussed with the aid of Eric Stewart (10cc) on production. While previous producer John Punter created a wall of sound and reverb drenched backing vocals, with Young’s voice encouraged to be loud and in your face, the result on this third album was more of a glossy sheen to the songs with Young showcasing his versatile vocals more. The songs had a slightly more pop orientated sound as demonstrated by lead single “Every Day Hurts”. A song that was their biggest hit, it peaked at number 3 in the singles chart, remained in the top 40 for 12 weeks, and was amongthe biggest selling singles of 1979. A song that almost every body knows even if they do not know who it is by. A song that when played to people who do not know the band say “Oh Yeah, I love this song!”, and a song with one of the biggest pop hooks ever written with a string drenched chorus partnered with heavy drums, heartfelt lyrics, and four part harmonies. It is a perfectly executed ‘Power ballad’. Everything just clicks and works perfectly with the piano and acoustic guitar led verse, before leading into the wondrous chorus. Years later Q magazine would refer to the song as ‘softened genius’ and it has been included on countless romantic compilation cd’s and a staple of mum-orientated commercial radio. Due to its mega success across the board it would eventually become the bands albatross as it cast a shadow over all future material and saw the band lumped in with all the other soft rock acts of the time and were under constant pressure to deliver material of a similar nature for the rest of their career. But, as a glimpse of how good the band sounded at the peak of their powers, then this song is definitely where it is at.
(Big thanks to the youtube nazi’s who have blocked every version of this song on Youtube so follow this link below to see the video.)
If anyone bought Facades expecting an album chocked full of syrupy ballads they would have been in for a shock. The different styles that they had embraced on their opening two albums were still there in abundance on this album. Opener “Take Me To The Future” with its almost post-punk guitar riff and electronic bleeps and glitches scattered throughout. It has a great chorus with elements of The Undertones in its delivery. This leads into the atmospheric keyboard intro to ballad “Nothing Left Tolouse” with acoustic guitar and fiddle playing prominent parts in key points in the song. By all intents and purposes it was ‘the one that got away’ in the bands eyes in terms of its potential to be a massive follow up single to “Every Day Hurts”. Instead it was left and released as fourth single that failed to chart as the band were already on album number 4 by the time 1980 had come to an end.
“Strange Little Girl” was the brave follow up single to “Every Day Hurts”. Brave in terms of it vastly different sound to the power ballad lead single. Its twinkling nursery rhyme intro is usurped by a menacing acoustic guitar and what sounds like a double bass tracked over the top. This leads into a sinister bass driven verse that sees the return of the sneery vocal delivery from Young and punctuated with heavy riffing from Mulford. Mulford penned the song that re-tells the story of the film “Little Girl Who Lives Down The Lane”. Despite all these elements the chorus reveals a massive pop hook with multi-layered harmonies that reach their peak during the songs outro. The final minute of the song turns the song from a rather menacing pop song, to one that is quite tender and beautiful, with Wilson and Stimpson singing lovely high harmonies over Young and Mulford’s “what’s your name girl?” refrain.
“Crazy Oyster” is a straight up riff rocker with a driving groove, while “Emptiness” see’s the return of Lenni’s Sax, playing the addictive melodic line through the centre of the songs rather jazzy feel.
“Cottage Love” is a funk-rock tale of the “sneaking through bushes” underworld of homosexual cottaging. Full of innuendo and the bands sense of humour coming to the fore, the American version of the album ended up cutting the song from the tracklisting and, ironically, replacing it with “Time Is So Hard To Find” of which the studio version sounded like a 70s gay disco anthem. The live version of “Time Is So Hard To Find” song had a much more funk-rock edge to it, much like the song it replaced on the album. “Cottage Love” has the added texture of Emerson’s programmed, stabbing, violin lines that are used to good effect much like they are on “Strange Little Girl”.
“Angel” see’s Wilson’s return to lead vocals with a similar feel to the previous albums “No Place To Go” but this time with beefed up production and great use of 12-string guitar as the primary instrument. It is a feel good pop song, with its simple yet joyful lyrics and great vocal delivery from Wilson who sings all backing vocals too.
“My Oh My”, the third single and album closer, starts with a gentle piano and slide guitar intro and a soulful vocal before transforming into a wonderful Rolling Stones sounding rocker where Young does his best ever Jagger impression. Its all balls out groove and descends into a rock n roll party and was a highlight of every single live show the band ever did. It was also a firm favourite of mine growing up and believe it really did kick-start my love of the rock n roll sounds of the early 70s.
It’s a great album, not their best, but its highlights are amongst the strongest songs in the bands cannon. It also starts to see the transition from their earlier rock, prog, jazz, and epic production sound to the more pop-rock orientated latter period albums.
It was around the time of the album release that my father became involved in the band as their marketing manager for the record label. On the day I was born the band were due to receive their gold discs for “Every Day Hurts” and having spent the morning at the hospital, my dad went and joined the band for the presentation and was eventually poured home in a record company car in the early hours of the morning!
By this point, with the added exposure of now having hit singles to their name, the bands live reputation was growing more and more and the venues were getting bigger and bigger. Multiple nights at the Manchester Apollo were now standard.
SAD CAFE (1980)
By the end of 1980 their fourth album was released keeping their output ratio of an album a year for the four years they had been in existence. Quite remarkable when compared to today’s music industry where taking 2 years to follow up an album is considered fairly standard. The resulting self titled “Sad Café” album was, in my opinion, one of my least favourite of the albums they produced. That is not to say it was a bad album, far from it. It had golden moments and I don’t think there is one song I dislike on the album, but for me the production was all wrong and sounded very clinical with no ‘live’ feel to the tracks. Lead single “La Di Da” had a great pop chorus and lovely melodic verse, but relied on the soft rock production a bit too much so ended up sounding a bit weak.
Second single “I’m In Love Again” (that should have really been the lead single in my opinion) was a great slice of party rock n roll that still defies logic how it wasn’t a massive hit. The main riff of the song was also shamelessly stolen by Go West on their breakthrough single “We Close Our Eyes”.
Other highlights of the album include “Losin’ You”, a wonderful pop-rock song that was screaming to be released as a single. “Digital Daydream Blues” with its funky guitar line and its sax-led groove leads into a great bluesy pop outro.
The double header of the blue eyed soul of “What Am I Gonna Do” into “Keeping It From The Troops” and its tale of army officer betrayal on foreign shores is fantastic stuff. The former written by Ian Wilson see’s one of Young’s most soulful vocals and a great pop hook to the chorus. Another made for radio single that never was. “Keeping It From The Troops” turns itself into one of the darkest and heaviest sounding tracks they produced and as a live song turned into an absolute beast.
“Dreaming” is a ballad with calypso guitar and a lovely verse, leading into a chorus that doesn’t really go anywhere, BUT, the mid-section of the song turns itself on its head and starts a high tempo calypso party with multi-tracked Saxaphone leading the charge, before a gorgeous guitar solo shoots the song into the stratosphere as Ashley Mulford channels the spirit of Carlos Santana into his best ever solo, surrounded by sublime keyboards.
Despite my own personal criticisms of the production, as a live draw the band were riding on a wave and were selling out shows wherever they went. The subsequent tour of the album was hugely successful with one show at Nottingham Royal Theatre being televised on ITVs Rockstage which was one of my most treasured videos of the band that I still have in my possession to this day. It was a great live document showcasing how great they were musically and visually as a live band. Mulford was my first ever guitar hero with his axe-man shape-throwing, and I used to mimick his moves with my toy guitar in front of the TV. Dave Irving’s powerful drumming and his manic, animal-like performance also was something that stuck with me. Lenni’s eccentric stage costume (a regular occurrence) for that show was a native red indian complete with warpaint and pig tails! But, the band had an “Everyman” like quality that was endearing to the public, much like fellow Mancunians Elbow enjoy these days. In early 1981 their live album was released and shows the band at their absolute peak as musicians.
By this point you would have thought that the band would have been rolling in money with the success that was coming their way. But there were manipulative systems the management would use, utilising the bands success for their own personal gain. Drummer Dave Irving was kind enough to fill in the gaps for this piece by saying “Harvey would keep scoring high payout deals from record and publishing companies. To keep doing this he would constantly move record companies and get fresh deals for the band thus scoring large management fee cuts for doing it. The band was scoring large deals from majors labels RCA/Polydor and A&M across the globe so the amount of money coming the managements way was massive!”
“At the height of the band chart success with RCA he switched labels to Polydor -even when the band still had another 2 albums to do on RCAs contract. He did this time and again making huge amounts of money for himself everytime. The band turned over 2 million plus in 70s/80s so he was pulling in big style! That was a LOT of money back then!!
Of course all of this movement and new deals put the bands commitment to record deals into an area of non profit i.e. They would have had to sell a shit loads more records to get into a place where they could make some money for themselves.”
“Another aspect of this was Kennedy St ‘Enterprises’ owned everything about the band. Management – cut, Agency-cut, Publishing-cut, Strawberry Studios-cut, Eric Stewart -double cut from fee, and production. They even had a share in the limos sent here and there for the band.”
As 1981 arrived, after the hugely successful tour, yet still no money in the bands cofffers, the band eventually split from Harvey Lisberg’s management and it also saw the first significant re-shuffle in the bands lineup. John Stimpson retired from playing and for a brief period went into co-management of the band with my father, who jacked in his Marketing Manager job with the record company to manage the band full-time. Des Tong was then drafted in as Stimpson’s replacement. Tong was an absolute master of his instrument and possessed an entirely different style to Stimpson’s laid back playing and brought fills, and melodic, complex bass lines to the bands recordings thereafter. Ashley Mulford also left the band half way into the recording sessions for the next album “Ole” due to the pressure of trying to split his time between Canada and the U.K. He was replaced my Mike Byron-Hehir, an equally talented guitarist with a glorious melodic tone to his lead playing that was displayed to great effect on the “Ole” album tracks he appeared on.
“Ole” is one of the bands criminally overlooked and underrated albums. The sound of the album thrust the band firmly into the pop-rock market of the early 80s. Every song sounds like it could have been a single.
“Love’s Enough” opens the album with its jaunty pop bounce with Lenni’s Sax leading the line. The song sounds like one long chorus such is the power of the pop hook to the verse and chorus alike. Lyrically on this song, and for the rest of the album, the band adopt a simpler approach talking about love and loss without trying to get too deep.
“Bittersweet” arrives with a great guitar riff and chiming keyboards, with Wilson’s rhythm guitar being the focal point during the chorus with sublime harmonies.
“#Nine” is a fast paced, ska-tinged, slice of power pop, with funky bass and sax.
“Follow You Anywhere” was the bands lead single and an obvious attempt to recapture the market that fell for “Every Day Hurts”. Very similar in its arrangement and execution, with a soft piano-led verse into a string-laden chorus. It’s a lovely song, but standing next to its predecessor in the ‘power ballad’ mould it doesn’t really compete.
“Gyspy Woman” starts with a killer guitar intro as the song leads into an almost oriental tone and feel. The chorus soars with great backing vocals and possesses a great ear catching melody. The song contains a mandolin solo and builds to a great crescendo.
“Misunderstanding” was the second single from the album and you can hear why. Great fretless bass work from Des Tong powers the song, which is a glorious pop-rock classic, with a huge chorus hook that lodges in your brain and tailor-made for radio. If you love the power-pop from the 80s, there is no doubt that this song will appeal.
“L.A.” rushes in on a wave of urgent strings as the story of the American City with it’s glamorous image, gets turned on its head with a tale of shattered dreams and one of the best stories the band have penned. Tong’s fast bass playing dances around freely as the song unfurls.
“She Do For Me” is the album closer and a mournful ballad with a lovely, lovely chorus. It is almost like a more understated version of “Every Day Hurts” yet still retaining the wonderful melodic quality and is probably one of Vic Emerson’s best ever string arrangements. Subtle and powerful all at the same time, the strings rise and fall as Lenni’s sax see’s the song out and the strings wash over in waves. It is a lovely piece of orchestration and the final time Emerson was able to meticulously put a complex and interesting orchestration to a Sad Café track.
In a summary it is an album that is very much of it’s time. But the wealth of pop hooks and impeccable musicianship make it very hard to ignore and had the band had more money to get the proper promotion behind them, then it could have been massive.
1981 – 1985 (The “Road Band” Years)
This period of time the band essentially became a touring band. With no money they spent a four year period on the road. The travesty of it all was the fact that as a live draw they were still selling out and drawing the punters in. But, once the costs of touring were paid to crew, lighting, catering, etc, the band were left with very little. By this point my father Gerry was the sole manager, arranging gigs wherever possible and the band were living hand to mouth on the road. They made successful appearances at Reading Festival where they dropped “Every Day Hurts” from the set list due to the “rock” nature of the festival but were not allowed to leave the stage due to crowd wanting to hear it! The also appeared at Glastonbury Festival, playing on the Pyramid Stage in 1983. The stage times were chopped and changed at various points throughout the day before eventually the band going on just before headliner Van Morrison. Of course with all this time on their hands the band decided to just get drunk to stop the boredom setting in culminating in a glorious set, with the band half-cut, that was captured and televised years later. Their set was littered with various technical hitches but their enthusiasm and energy was captured brilliantly and it showed the band having the time of their lives. Watching it now it shows the camaraderie and the evident affection the band have for each other that comes with years of relentless touring, even if they weren’t making any money.
Some of my earliest memories of the band came from this period. One memory that springs to mind which, considering I was only 3 at the time its amazing I have any recollection at all, comes from when my dad arranged a whistlestop university tour of England in 1983. My dad brought me along to Reading University during the daytime while the band were setting up and soundchecking. Initially when we first got there, Paul, Mike and Ian were going into town to grab some food, and with me being an insistent 3 year old I wanted to go wherever Paul was going and made my feelings known! I remember so vividly Paul perching me on his knee and turning to my parents and saying “That’s fine buddy, you come with us”. So off I trotted for some lunch and returned for the soundcheck. Again I insisted on going up on stage with the band while they performed and I stood next to Paul gazing up at my hero. My dad found me a small mic stand and microphone so I could stand and sing next to Paul. While they soundchecked Paul pretended to forget the words to “Every Day Hurts”, he then turned to me and said “Do you know the words?” I nodded, so and he bent down and handed me the microphone and I sang the song along with the band. It is one of my most cherished memories that I remember so vividly, its crazy to think I was only 3 when it happened. My dad took a load of photos of this that I would love to post up for people to see, but they were unfortunately lost when we headed up to Manchester years later to see the band perform again. It is something that truly devastates me knowing I do not have them in my possession anymore.
Another memory I have was when Ian Wilson spent Christmas with us at our house and I remember him trying to teach me how to play the harmonica on my little toy one that I had. My mum got a wonderful photo of me perched next to him at the dinner table with both of us trying to play it at the same time. Unfortunatey that photo was also lost.
A lot of other memories are fairly hazy as would be expected. I do remember going to Strawberry Studios in Stockport with its distinctive strawberry logo. I also remember attending a show at some unknown venue and my mum desperately trying to keep me awake to see my dad introduce the band onto the stage.
During this whole period of touring the band attempted to lay down tracks for a follow up album with various demo’s being made, but with such a precarious financial situation nothing solid got put down until 1984 where the band recorded two songs “Why Do You Love Me Like You Do” and “Keep Us Together”. These would prove to be the last tracks that Vic Emerson and Dave Irving would record with the band. Dave by that point had decided to leave the band due to no money coming in with a young family to support and Vic also felt he had reached the end of the line.
Politics Of Existing (1986)
In 1985 the band were able to get enough funding to start recording their next album. Two tracks “Heart (a remix of “Why Do You Love Me Like You Do”), and “Keep Us Together” were the only two tracks recorded with the 81-84 line-up. With Irving and Emerson gone, and Mike Hehir recruited by American singer Corey Hart, The core line-up of Young, Wilson, Tong, and Lenni were left for the remainder of the album sessions and they recruited new drummer Jeff Seopardi. Guest musicians also filled in, most notably Mike Rutherford on guitars, along with Danny Schogger on Keyboards. With a 4 year gap between recording an album, when they were used to writing and recording 1 a year, they had a wealth of quality songs that they had been able to bring together and it really shows on this album. It is an album that is consistently brilliant from start to finish and a masterclass in pop-rock songwriting. The production values are very much of the mid 80s. Very ‘Trebley’, with that classic 80s sheen and clarity to the music and vocals. Again it was an album full of singles. Almost every single song could have been released as a single such was the quality of the tunes and the ear they had for a good melody that refuses to leave your brain.
“I Didn’t Want You” thunders in with a big 80s production and makes the band sound like they are on a mission with something to prove such is the urgency of the delivery.
“Midnight” is a mid-tempo pop-rock pace setter. While lyrically it is a bit naïve, it is pretty and melodic.
“Trying To Reach” is the first obvious single moment on the album. A powerful guitar riff and programmed drum beats spur the song into life along with a great verse leading into an even better chorus. It is a brilliantly constructed pop song, with enough power and edge to keep fans of their rockier stuff happy.
“Saving Grace” is a slice of 80s funk while “Clocks” is a dark, atmospheric, synth-pop epic.
“Refugees” is Reggae-Pop with an outrageous amount of sound effects that help tell the story. Very much of it’s time but infectious with its simple chorus-line of “We are the refugee’s” complete with reefer-toking outro.
The 3 song run that follows are the strongest on the album. “Only Love” is an inspired, uplifting, power-pop number and is probably the bands most fully formed pop song. Released as a single, and had they had the backing of a major label there is no doubt that it could, and should have been one of the finest radio singles of the era.
“Keep Us Together” was one of the final tracks recorded with the 81-84 line-up including Irving, Emerson, and Hehir. A classic 80s power-ballad featuring lovely, twinkling, echo-y synths and keys. The bombastic and thundering final couple of minutes, complete with epic drum intro are ridiculously over the top, but also bloody brilliant.
“Heart” is another fantastic pop-song with its pounding, urgent intro, with the songs sax-led hook leading the charge. A classic ‘verse sounds like a chorus’ trick that the band excel at in the last few albums, is utilised to perfection.
Overall it is a fantastic, 80s, pop-rock album. Almost every song is a killer and I have always thought that had it broken America at that particular time it would have taken off like a rocket. The classic 80s sheen in production is there, which may sound dated when listening now, but as an album of the time it is perfect.
The Final Tour (1986)
Sadly, despite completing a fantastic album with so much potential to reach out to the masses, the dwindling money supply meant that major promotion just could not happen. As always, the resulting tour in 1986 sold-out, culminating in triumphant gigs at Manchester Apollo and Hammersmith Odeon. For the live shows along with the album line-up of Young, Wilson, Tong, Lenni, and Seopardi, Ashley Mulford returned from Canada to tour with the band for the first time in 5 years. Phil Lanzon was brought in on keyboards for the tour. As an added bonus Mike Hehir joined the band for their final night at Manchester Apollo.
The tour rehearsals were held at a country house owned by Simple Minds that had its own studio set-up for the band to rehearse along with rather large gardens. I remember my dad taking me along to watch them rehearse and perched myself on a stool for the majority of the day completely in awe surrounded by it all. I sat next to Lenni who would turn to me occasionally and honk his sax which I found hilarious no matter how many times he did it! Easily amused when you are 6.
I wandered around and spent time next to each musician just watching them play and perform songs that had become so familiar to me for as long as I could remember. I sat next to Ashley and watched him play his guitar that I had seen so often on the TV and thinking to myself “That’s the guitar. That’s THE guitar!”
As was customary at that age I wanted to have a go on Jeff’s drum kit! Just as I had done with Dave’s before that.
When it came to the tour itself I attended the show at Hammersmith Odeon (now Apollo) with my mum and some family friends. Although I had been at gigs before, this is still the one I would class as my very first one due to the fact that I can actually remember it! It is also the reason why the Hammersmith Apollo remains my all time favourite concert venue. Even though I was only six I still remember so many aspects of it vividly. I remember being in the car circling the venue as my mum’s friend searched for somewhere to park. The bands name was lit up in lights at the front of the venue and with each circle we made of Hammersmith I kept looking for the bands name and getting more and more excited. As we entered the venue with the hustle and bustle of the foyer I demanded that my dad get me a Sad Café “Comic” (tour programme) that I had seen people walking around with. I remember being in the upstairs bar area of the venue and hearing the 10 minute and 5 minute calls before the band came on and jumping around with excitement with my friend who had come along with her family.
As for the gig itself I just remember standing on my seat, dancing around and loving every moment. My dad would occasionally come out front and join us to check we were ok. Little was I aware that this was the last night of the tour and the band had only just found out that they were all essentially bankrupt and that the end of the line had been reached. One of things that stood out for me was during the encore when the band invited loads of the fans at the front onto the stage with them as it turned into a riotous rock n roll party throwing the rule book out of the window. I stood on my seat mesmerised by the band partying with their fans on stage for what would be the last time.
After the show my dad took me back stage. I remember being squeezed between the narrow corridors full of people to the bands dressing room, to be confronted by 7 naked men as I entered the room fresh out of the shower! While this would potentially mentally scar a young boy of my age it didn’t really bother me. My dad decided to take me to the stage so I could see what it was like. He walked me out from the side of the stage and remember looking out into the room and what a vast space it was. All the equipment, guitars, drums, etc, were all still there and thought to myself how awesome it must be to be in a band and play on these stages every night.
Ashley’s son was also there and he took me onto the tour bus outside. Looking back on it, it was cool and I remember the lounge area that was situated on the top deck at the front of the bus along with the rows of bunk beds. But my enjoyment was tamed by the fact that the engine was running and my 6 year old paranoia kicked in thinking that the bus was going to drive off with me away from my parents, despite the fact it was just me and this other lad on the bus at the time!
The gig signalled the end of the band. My parents were getting divorced, the band, along with my dad’s management company, went bankrupt. Most of them lost their homes including our own.
Young and Wilson briefly reformed the core of the band along with Des Tong and Mike Hehir for 1989’s Whatever It Takes album which came out of the blue. While the title track, ‘So Cold’, ‘This Hearts On Fire’ and a couple of other songs were strong, overall I could not connect with the album the way I had before. My dad spoke so fondly of his time with the band. He would bring them up constantly in conversation with his own “During the war” storytelling that always started with “When we were on tour…”. It was truly the happiest time of his life being a part of it all. His love for the band and their music would sometimes cloud his judgement a lot of times. He gave up a very well paid job with the record company to go on the road with the band which ultimately led to the breakdown of his marriage and bankruptcy.
Paul Young went on to have a successful career as co-lead singer with Mike And The Mechanics. My dad and I admired the work he did with them from afar but never really grabbed the opportunity to go and see them live. A fact we both regretted deeply when the news came of Paul’s untimely death in the summer of 2000 when he died from a massive heart attack at his home in Cheshire aged just 53. My dad, my brother and I were away on holiday at the time and didn’t find out until we returned, by which point we had also missed the opportunity to attend the funeral. I found out the news almost as soon as we got off the plane and returned home and called on a neighbour to say we were back safely, when she informed me that “Someone from Sad Café” had died while we away. I instantly thought of Paul as he had been the most high profile member since the band had finished and got that huge sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach when news like that comes along. Once I had found out for sure I broke the news to my dad and he was absolutely devastated, even more so when he found out the funeral had been and gone. He always felt that there was unfinished business with the band and always hoped there would be a reunion somewhere down the line.
Later on that year rumblings of a tribute show began to surface before finally the official word came out through Paul’s newly established website, set up by his son Jason, that there would be a tribute show at Paul’s beloved Manchester Apollo with appearances from a clutch of bands that he had performed with over his career. Mike and the Mechanics, Sad Café, SAS Band (supergroup who Paul performed with off and on for the last few years of his life), and The Toggery 5 were all due to perform. The Sad Café members who had signed up were Ian Wilson, Dave Irving, Mike Hehir, Lenni, Vic Emerson, and Des Tong. My dad and I booked tickets and I managed to establish contact with Des Tong on the internet days before the show. We were staying at the Brittania Hotel in Manchester (the bands hotel of choice during their touring days) and had a loose arrangement to try and meet up at some point.
An open invite from Paul’s widow Pat, for fans and friends of the band to meet up at Manchester ’s Hard Rock Café before the show was put out and my dad and I met up with some old fans, along with Jason Young and old stories were exchanged and reminisced upon.
The gig had sold out (as Café had always done at the venue), and my dad and I took our seats 4 rows back. Purely by chance I went off to the toilet and bumped into Ian Wilson at the bar. It had been 15 years since he had seen me as a snotty 6 year old so introduced myself, and he asked if my dad was with me. He immediately sorted us out with tickets to the aftershow party at a bar up the road. I returned to my dad with the tickets in hand. I still remember his face when I handed them to him and said “Courtesy of Ian Wilson”. His smile lit up the room.
The show itself was very emotional. Even though for some reason the SAS Band played Café’s biggest hit “Every Day Hurts” It did not stop me from bawling my eyes out throughout the entire thing.
Sad Café came on and played “Black Rose”, “I Believe (love will survive)” and “My Oh My”. The atmosphere and energy in the room during their set was brilliant. For that brief 20 minute period watching the band play again, even without their front man, was an absolute joy for me, especially being so young when they split first time around.
Mike and The Mechanics played a full set with a deeply touching gesture of an empty mic stand at the front of the stage where Paul would have stood. Paul Carrack said a few numbers in “This is as strange for us as it is for you”, and you could tell the band were very emotional throughout.
After the encore of Pauls biggest hits with the Mechanics performed with every artist of the night, we set off to the after show venue. Seeing my father reunited with the old band mates was the happiest I had seen him for years. I loved being reintroduced to the likes of Vic Emerson, Mike Hehir, and Lenni after so many years. For a large chunk of the evening I was sat down with Lenni bending his ear (much like I am now) and telling him how much the band had meant to me throughout my life. By this point I was rather drunk and memories of the rest of the night, and particularly back at the hotel, were very hazy to say the least. It did allow us a bit of closure after missing the funeral and it helped re-establish contact with the band members afterwards who I have stayed in touch with regularly.
My dad and I travelled up to Manchester a couple of years later and met up with Dave Irving and Ian Wilson and had a great afternoon and evening together telling old war stories of the bands years. So many hilarious stories were told that I could not even begin to start to tell on a piece that is already as long as this. I spent the entire night in stitches and was again, a lovely time for my dad to re-connect with them.
It all came full circle in 2009/2010 when old tapes that Paul had been working on in his home studio had come to light and old friends of the band, Darren Hirst and Alistair Gordon, set about maybe making them into an album with the former members of Sad Café along with Mike Rutherford, Paul Carrack, and various other friends of Paul from over the years. It eventually saw the light of day in March 2011. It was very strange hearing Pauls voice on new material after so many years, but also quite heart-warming too with virtually all members of Sad Café contributing to a large number of the tracks. It was put together with a lot of love and care and is a fitting send off for one of our countries most gifted, and charismatic front men.
I apologise for the length of this piece. I knew it would be long, but I did not know quite how long it would end up being! If you made it to the end then thank you. It has been a deep, personal experience for me putting my feelings down in print and If even a small part of this piece has encouraged anyone to check the band out then I am happy. I would like to extend thanks to Dave Irving for the additional information for this piece along with his Youtube videos as well as ‘sadcafefan90′ who’s audio clips from YoutubeI have used for this piece.
I just hope my personal take of the band has been an enjoyable read to anyone, even if they are unfamiliar with the band. For anyone who is reading who was a fan of the band then I hope that you enjoyed it and felt like I have done them justice. Future blogs will not so long, but ever since I started doing this a few months ago I knew that I wanted to write something about them due to the significant impact they have had on me throughout my life. My brother and I grew up singing their songs, much like any other kid growing up listening to their parent’s record collections, but instead of disregarding them once we hit teenage years, we have regularly returned to their music again and again. No matter what mood I may be in, I always know that there is something of theirs I can stick on. Reading comments on their official site, along with stories people have told when reviewing their back catalogue show just how passionate people have felt about this band for so many years, and how it is absolutely criminal that they were “Held Back” from branching out further, because they had such potential to do so much more. But, I will always treasure, as do so many others, what they have given to me through their music.