Sunday, 11 February 2018


Bryan Ferry may have been the trailblazer from the North who developed what I term White British Soul, but he was swiftly followed by others. As mentioned in the last article on the subject, Roxy Music's album Flesh and Blood influenced a new generation of artists. Such was the Über-coolness of Roxy Music's lead singer that in Sheffield the nightclub Crazy Daisy hosted Bryan Ferry nights. It was therefore no coincidence that Sheffied would become one of the epicentres of the 'New Romantic' subgenre of synthpop.

One such band that arose here was ABC. Formed by a couple of local lads, Mark White and Stephen Singleton, and Sheffield University student from the wrong side of the Pennines, Martin Fry, and later joined by drummer David Palmer, they were also heavily inspired by another of the 1970s' musical movers and shakers in David Bowie. Bowie had also charted a similar trajectory as Ferry, from experimental and glam to dance and soul. Whereas Bowie went full crossover, including a future marriage to Negress model Iman, ABC were very conscious of the difference between Black American and White British aesthetics, Fry stating in interview:

When we first formed the group, we were interested in making records - dance records, very polished sort of records, records that competed with Earth, Wind and Fire and Rose Royce, but records that were very English.

As with Ferry, Fry sings in a polished English accent (but with more of a slight Northern twang), which perfectly offsets the orchestral arrangements of ABC's debut album The Lexicon of Love. It is this album we are concerned with, for ABC were never to reach the heights of this album again, as Fry in particular wished to explore new musical avenues - a move that inevitably ended in failure and the break-up and demise of the band. 

We might as well start with the orchestral arrangements, for these are what gives the album its distinctive sound, and distinctive Englishness. They were provided by Anne Dudley, extraordinarily in her first job as strings arranger as a twenty-year-old. She has gone on to become a founder member of the Art of Noise and compose film and television scores, her favourite genre for scoring being romantic drama, which suits the lyrical nature of this album perfectly, as indeed does her love of both classical instruments and the synthesiser, Anne having started her career with a Wurlitzer electric piano.

Lyrically, the album explores the narrator/singer's serch for love in the postmodern Western world in which the male has been disempowered and, like the industry and society of Sheffield, the bonds that once held society together were breaking down and being broken down by government policy. The sphere of politics having entered sexual relations is alluded to in the song 'Many Happy Returns':

Like the world, spinning 'round
On its axis, uh-huh
I know democracy
But I know what's fascist
When she's gone, all I got to learn
Is the law of diminishing return
When she's here, one thing I've found
Things get better second time around

It is an interesting lyric that is ambiguous in its use of the two political systems mentioned. Perhaps the sexual politics here equates the relationship as fascist in its dictatorial and authoritarian element by the woman that is yet also seductive. One notes also the language of industry reflective of the steel city in the law of diminishing returns as a warning to men who invest too much for adequate gain.

As with Roxy Music's 'Avalon', ABC produced a standout music video, which accompanied the song 'All of my Heart'. In it, the industrial cityscape of Sheffield is transformed into film noir, a femme fatale adorning the chandelier-lit interiors, which continues the theme of the album cover in which the masculine and feminine archetypes of film noir are seen in iconic imagery as gun-totting hero and damsel in distress respectively. These scenes are interspersed with shots of a light orchestra, both in keeping with the film noir theme and reminding us of the classical side of ABC's music that elevates it from mere throwaway pop.

The videos for 'Shoot that Poison Arrow' and 'The Look of Love' too take in a whole gamut of British culture from theatre and opera to circuses and Punch and Judy, seemlessly transcending the high and the low. Indeed, 'The Look of Love' gives us a Mary Poppins wholesome vision of an all-White Britain. Yet in its campness, perhaps we can already see bourgeoisification setting in, which would permeate the New Romantic genre, especially the likes of Duran Duran and Spandau Ballet. Indeed, these two latter bands in particular would usher in the fetishist Orientalism that seems to plague the bourgeoisie. Yet in The Lexicon of Love, we can enjoy an album that is firmly rooted in Sheffield, in its Englishness and Eurocentrism.


  1. oh bloody hell Dave - spot on. This album (with its Film noir and Traditional assertions) was the album for me in the early 1980s. It seemed (in a 'pop' sense) to theatrically encapsulate everything I was (as a teenager) searching for at that time, a past, a tradition and a future. To top it all off it was Northern. I do agree it was commercially compromised (evaluating it in retrospect) but when you are a kid you see beyond that to the thumping heart that speaks to your soul, it was about US at a specific place and a specific time.

  2. From John;

    Some very good observations in your article Mr.Yorkshire.
    You say;
    'Yet in its campness, perhaps we can already see bourgeoisification setting in, which would permeate the New Romantic genre, especially the likes of Duran Duran and Spandau Ballet.'

    I agree with this. I have been thinking about this and although I think there is room for the imaginitive elements you have described when talking about the band, what I see at this time generally is the decline and decay of a culture.
    This is no criticism of the band itself, since they did what they did well and were of their time, but in retrospect, it is easy to see now that other forms of music like reggae and (with the emergence of hip hop) there was a testosterone which white music was losing or had lost. You can even compare the robust power of music of Vaughan Williams and Elgar to music of the 1980s and see a significant difference in terms of masculinity,confidence and power
    What you had at this time were whites who turned their backs on their own masculine traditions. White bands who wanted to be black (eg; UB40,The Specials,etc) A promulgation of the multicult' philosophy (John Peel who ignored the earlier music he had promoted & played only punk and reggae.) White music generally just became fey frivolous party music or bed sit art college bands but crucially the music had no masculine power. It was, and increasingly became superficial weak and effeminised - especially in its representation of males. Consequently young(er) white boys inevitably turned away from it towards non white music - first with the (white) audiences for non native/traditional/music and then hip hop where they mimicked even the way black people spoke (which was later parodied by Ali G - 'Is it'cos I is black?') It is weak minded inauthentic, perhaps desperate,affiliation and shows a degeneracy among white society. You cant blame working class young males from 'acting black'since there is no based white testosterone culture or music for them. Hiphop or rapping was based on battles. The middle class lefty and/or hippy fakers had taken over (working class) folk music and had made it an embarrasing anachronism Metal or rock does not have the same drum or bass power and what other examples are there of white warrior masculine music that werent either nihilistic or degenerate and with which working and middle class white males could identify with? It is not only a reason why white young males turned to black music but middle class males turned to the left and also left wing popular music, (which itself looked to black examples)...ts a shame. If white culture is to be restored it has to be stronger and rediscover its OWN roots.