“Oh, he’s over having his picture taken with the bridegroom.” Of course, silly question.
On the whole it had been one of those weekends. The sort where mysterious wedding parties invade the hotel bar, where tipsy aunties yell “didn’t I see you on TV” at Alf from the opposite end of the carpark, and where Vince Clarke is greeted by the best man like an amnesiac cousin and made the subject of a dozen Polaroids.
During the soundcheck Sheehan, who makes an early appearance in this feature, had spend some time warning Yazoo of the impending danger. “Vince, me old mate,” he ventures to an advancing drape of blonde hair, “be careful when you get back to the hotel, there’s a WEDDING reception going on.”
Realising the deadly horror of the situation hasn’t fully registered, Sheehan is reduced to stock tactics. “When we left,” he glares, jabbing at a watch for additional stress, “the prawn cocktails were ALREADY on the table.”
Alas Vince is pre-occupied with more immediate threats than slowly congealing seafood. It is Yazoo’s third gig, their first in the wide world, away from home town Basildon, and 19.000 Pound’s worth of computer synthesizer has just suffered the silicon equivalent of a nervous breakdown. Unless it can be repaired or an alternative found they will have to play to a packed Sheffield Lyceum with a 60 second gap between every number.
The computer is Yazoo’s backing band. It contains every last scrap of rhythm track, bass line, and synth part, and the minute long interval is how long it takes to programme that information into Vince’s backup machine. They’re running two computers side by side to get round this delay and it’s the second one that is currently the subject of frantic ‘phone calls to London-based engineers in the hope of discovering the fault.
In a backstage corner a reflective trio of Sheehan, scribe and Alison Moyet sips assorted things in orange juice and watch pigeons struggling to locate an exit from the Lyceum’s gloomy upper recesses.
The two Basildon gigs had, not surprisingly, been a raging success, explains Alison. She had been very drunk for the first and dubious for the second, knowing a home crowd is a nobbled jury. Tonight would be their first legit trial. How, we wondered, had it all started? And by the miracle of journalism, an interview strode through the door …
Alison: “I put an advert in the paper, Melody Maker actually, looking for a R&B band. I got about four answers and all of them backed out because they didn’t have a demo tape … all except Mr Clarke.”
Vince: “I just wanted to do one single and I knew Alison anyway, that’s why I answered.”
Alison: “I didn’t really take him seriously.”
What was your background then?
Alison: “I played in little clubs with R&B bands for three years. We did basically the Southend circuit and were just starting to break into places like the Greyhound in London, when the band split up. We got banned from a few places. The band always preferred to drink the PA money.”
How is it working?
Vince: “It’s working alright. The album was a struggle towards the end, we were really tense in the studio because we’d been there so long.”
Was it because you didn’t have enough material, or you didn’t know what to do with it?
Alison: “It was difficult for me because every time I wrote a song I couldn’t see it in terms of synthesizers. Vince had a lot of problems when I turned round and said this is the song, these are the chords, what shall we do?”
The album is very … ah … “experimental”. Was that how you planned it?
Vince: “Not really, it just turned out that way.”
Alison: “It was a case of there being so many backgrounds between us. It was a matter of turning round for every song and saying, ‘I’d like to put this sort of feel into it’. It’s taken every part of our pasts, that’s why it’s come out so varied.”
Did it grow in any surprising directions?
Vince: “No, because I don’t think it grew in any particular direction anyway. I don’t think there is a direction to the album, do you? I’d be sorry if there was. I’d be sorry if we did just one style of music.”
Alison: “There’s far too much going on.”
But isn’t the trend at the moment towards distinction, identity is everything?
Alison: “Then that’s someone else’s problem.”
We’re interrupted by a knock on the door heralding a ‘phone call from Keele University. By this time the scene of action has moved to a dressing room high in the Lyceum’s towers that is filled by Yazoo and half-eaten ham salads. It’s the location for “the interview”, and islands of theories and conversations that will be frequently revisited before the feature’s over.
As a last resort Vince has tried to borrow another computer from the scientific campus. The call is to say it has been secured, but there is only half an hour before curtain up and Keele is 60 miles away.
Yazoo look briefly at each other and decides to stick with what they’ve got. The sound crew have emergency tapes of the backing tracks and will feed them through the PA for every other number while the program for the next is being loaded into Vince’s last functioning machine.
He’s not ecstatic. He’s spent a fortune and a lot of time mastering computer technology so he wouldn’t have to resort to pre-recorded “shows”. Vince may even be slightly hurt that his investment has let him down.
Vince is about as quiet as they come. He’ll chat about the technical side of music for hours but is difficult to draw on content or inspiration. Later probes on how songs get written are met with shrugs both physical and mental. That which arrives is unquestioned. What concerns him is the eventual production and perfection of each idea.
Alison Moyet talks and talks fast. That doesn’t mean she gabbles or chatters aimlessly. Each answer is direct, carefully thought out and efficient, it’s just that her heart seems to beat 50 per cent faster than yours or mine. The words grasp each other’s tail like elephants in a circus ring. She tacks supplementaries to Vince’s answers while the full stops are still hanging in the air. She laughs a lot.
The immediate, easy pronouncement upon them – and one that’s already been made in the music press – is “chalk and cheese”. The fable of opposite temperaments combining in a unique team is one too many people are ready to swallow. It’s a neat solution, yet inaccurate.
Vince and Alison are far more alike than initial surveys lead you to believe. Both are loners. Both have firm, unshakeable feelings on what they want to do with their songs. Both, I would suspect, could be politely but sturdily obstinate about their music.
Do you miss having a band?
Vince: “No … no … not at all.”
Alison: “That’s half the joy if it. You haven’t got conflicting personalities and people wanting to do other things. You waste a lot of time like that.”
Vince: “Even in Depeche we worked like this. I’d do my songs and Martin would do his. I mean, you accept ideas from other people, it’s good to listen to them, but if you have a song, you ought to see it through yourself.”
Is it lonely working that way?
Alison: “I think both of us are like that, we both like working on our own. I know if Vince is working on one of his songs then I leave it up to him. Alternatively when I sing, even on one of his songs, he leaves it totally up to me. I wouldn’t like it very much if Vince told me to do it another way, and vice versa.”
Do you think you are insular people?
Alison: “A lot of the time, yeah.”
In an ideal world would you prefer to work completely on your own?
Vince: “I would, yeah. The thought of wasted studio time really annoys me. In the beginning we had everything at home and we had all the ideas worked out and ready. We did a lot of demos.”
Do you consider yourself as outsiders?
Vince: “I should think a lot of people are like that.”
Alison: “I think we are just unaware of what other people are doing, we don’t concern ourselves with it that much.”
But for some time you were on the R&B circuit where there are a lot of people working together?
Alison: “Even then I was more on my own, specially being a girl in a R&B band. It tends to set you apart from the rest.”
Vince: “I dunno. I’ve never seen anybody else write a song anyway, know what I mean? It’s a mystery, really, it is though, isn’t it, how it exactly gets done? I heard on the radio once that Elton John writes his songs in twenty minutes, that’s about all I know of how other people would do it.”
The Lyceum is a vast armpit of humanity. By 9:30 the walls are visibly bulging in an attempt to contain the crowd that’s jammed in both upstairs and down. Three slide screens stretch across the rear of the stage. There should have been five to take the full Yazoo cinematic backdrop, but that would have meant siting the last two somewhere in the wings or out on the fire exit.
They play every track on the album barring “I Before E Except After C”, the gig is superb, the audience go wild, and Vince Clarke dances, an occurrence which leaves the sound crew in danger of bruising their knees with the bottoms of their jaws.
Afterwards Vince proves himself as demure in the face of adulation as adversity.
“What did you think?” he questions. I offer a small volcano of praise. “Yeah, it was okay,” he concurs, eyeing a nearby opened bottle of champagne at the maximum of distance and with the minimum of trust.
The reserved approval on show in the dressing room is at complete odds with the pandemonium downstairs where three encores had barely been enough to satisfy the punters.
The cork pops and so does part of the elation shared by photog and hack. We semaphore puzzled eyebrows to each other. Sheehan’s has more forehead to traverse but the message is plain. “Er, Vince, was everything … alright?”
Within reason, yes. It’s becoming apparent that Vince has little time for the past whether long term or immediate. His thoughts have already shifted to the next gig and ways of overcoming the technical difficulties of tonight. Like many perfectionists he is his own most critical judge, perhaps he even distrusts audience reaction. He will always see the small flaws in each performance and be doubtful of an audience unreservedly ecstatic in the face of them.
Alison is coping with a quandry of another type. She has rocketed from a background of small R&B pubs where approval, if won at all, comes only at the end of a hard, sweaty night. Suddenly, with Yazoo, she’s walking in front of a jammed theatre that goes crazy before they’ve heard a single note.
It must be hard to reconcile the two approaches in your mind and decide whether or not you played a good gig or a mediocre one?
Alison: “My ambition was always to get work, to get regular slots at Dingwalls or somewhere … to play support to the Feelgoods, that was the ultimate. In that sense my ambition has been fulfilled because I am getting work. I suppose my next ambition would be … to drag it out as long as possible.”
What about musical ambitions?
Alison: “Mmm … none really. I suppose I’d like to make an album of Billy Holiday stuff one day.”
There’s a song on the LP called “Goodbye Seventies” . It gives the impression that you’re shunning that part of your past?
Alison: “My youth was spent in punk rock days. I went round with a crowd of people who were into punk rock in inverted commas, it was fashionist. We did it because we were good friends, it sounds like a real old cliche, but we couldn’t afford to go out so we just hung around in the street, that was how we spent our days. But it turned out to be just another fashion and everybody left to become New Romantics. I suppose I just became really disillusioned with that, the whole fashion thing. That was just as much a fad as anything else, as opposed to something I thought was really honest.”
Did that depress you?
Alison: “Yeah, at the time it really did. That’s when I got into R&B, the joy of that is the joy of being an anti-poser. You go to an R&B club and everybody has a good time. No one could give a shit what everybody else is wearing.”
Do you feel you’ve rejected certain parts of your past, that you’ve finished with them?
Vince: “Having a job I suppose. Do I regret any of it, you mean? No, it was all good experience. The only thing I regret is going to school. I don’t understand why I ever went and why I had to go, and I refuse to understand as well … ”
Alison: “I don’t see anything as final. Anything I’ve missed I’m bound to go back to and fill in one day. Sooner or later Vince is gonna want to be a fishmonger or something … ”
Vince: “You said that in the last interview … ”
Alison: “Sooner or later Vince is gonna want to be a librarian or something … ha, ha.”
We shall pass over the evening spent with the wedding guests. I shan’t mention the stories about Alison on “Top Of The Pops”, being asked if she knew where Yazoo’s singer was, or of the problems Vince has convincing barbers to leave the bit at the front – “it started as a rockabilly quiff”, explained his girlfriend, “now look at it.”
Nor shall I dwell on the two goddesses who arrived at 3.00 in the morning when hack and photog were the only ones still propping up in the bar.
” ‘Ere, are those Yahzoo lot ‘ere, let’s wake ’em up for a party.” Er, no, I don’t think so. Quick Sheehan, your good at this sort of thing, change the subject.
“What are you ladies up here for then?” sidetracks the Chief.
“Were at a trade exhibition. We demonstrate Portaloos … ”
Barman, another drink.
No, instead we shall proceed directly to breakfast the following morning. It’s 11.00 and Alison puts forward the first sensible proposal for the day. “Anyone fancy a drink.” Tears of gratitude and admiration mingle equally in the Chief’s eyes.
We compare surnames , analysing the french angle. One of my ancestors designed the Panama Canal. Four of her family work in the Martell brandy business. It is a resounding victory for the Moyets. There is a family house in France, but she hasn’t been there for four years, music having taken up all spare time. Now here she was back on the road again.
Alison: “I couldn’t wait. It’s the only place I feel at home. It’s so strange when you haven’t played for a a couple of months and you’re stuck in front of a TV camera miming.”
Don’t you think you might have rushed into doing gigs?
Alison: “If we have I think it’s a good thing because the songs are still fresh in our minds.”
Vince: “And all this stuff has been planned, we were talking about it months ago.”
Alison: “If we didn’t give ourselves a date, we’d drag it out for ever until it was so bloody perfect, we’d go on stage and die.”
But you don’t sound like lazy people?
Alison: “I am, I’m terribly lazy.”
Vince: “Yeah, she is.”
Alison: “Well, it’s not so much that I’m lazy, it’s that I don’t get a kick out of going in to the studio from nine in the morning to 12 at night which Vincent tends to enjoy so much. I prefer my own company to that of a mixing desk.”
Vince: “It would have been very easy for us never to gig, but it’s just … interesting.”
Do you expect the audience to like all your material, or even 50 percent?
Alison: “No, not really. Because we haven’t gigged before we can’t tell what sort of an audience we’ve got.”
Supposing they only like a little, or shout out for old Depeche numbers?
Alison: “I don’t know. Without being offensive I think they’ll have to develop with us. There’s room for every sound nobody ever has to limit their own record collection.”
Vince: “I don’t think anyone does, maybe those who dress for music but not the real record buying public, they’re just ordinary spans … ”
Alison: “Like us … spans … ”
Vince: “Just general spanners … People who buy records because they’re in the charts and you get all sorts of records there, so it doesn’t really count for much.”
Alison: “What doesn’t really count for much?”
Vince: “I dunno, I can’t remember what he said .. ha, ha.”
Sheehan has taken Yazoo on an expedition into the hotel’s shrubbery in pursuance of snaps. Alison has retained her glasses in deference to last night’s snifters and Vince is winching the quiff down over his face. Light zephyrs occasionally gust the Chief’s instructions in through the window, “Come on Vince, we’ll have to see ONE eye or the other,” and hotel staff seem at loss to understand why someone should be photographing their herbaceous borders.
It would be poetic, not to mention tidy, to say that as I sat there watching sunbeams convert the upturned toast into golden triangles and hearing Sheehan swearing in the undergrowth, my mind sped back to the dressing room interview where Yazoo had divulged the secret of their charm and attraction on stage. Unfortunately they have no idea.
Alison: “I have no idea.”
Vince: “It’s natural, I suppose.”
Alison: “I think that’s a polite way of saying, Alfie Nokaes, you’re not meant to go on posters.”
But you do make a unique team, you complement each other, the electronics and the warm, bluesy voice keep each other in balance, don’t they?
Vince: “It’s weird, everybody says that, all the papers say it, but I’m not sure, it’s really nothing special.”
Alison: “It’s always been there. There have always been singers who like to sing, it’s just that the people who first picked up on synthesizers like to keep it robotic. The capability has always been there, it’s the people who limit themselves.”
Originally printed in Melody Maker on September 25th 1982.
Reprinted without permission for non-profit use only.