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What’s It All About Alfie?


Johnny Waller goes upstairs and downstairs with Yazoo.

When someone like Vince Clarke falls asleep while you’re interviewing him, you start to wonder if you’re doing something wrong! Despite the apparent streamlined efficiency inherent in the quirky duo of Vince and Alf, there seems to be a lot of unnecessary protecting bluster surrounding Yazoo.

After ecstatically reviewing their eager debut LP, ‘Upstairs at Eric’s’, and then witnessing a stirring opening show in their home town of Basildon – where the crowd treated them as the local heroes they have become – I was committed to interviewing them. There was so much I wanted to ask. But then the problems began …

At first Dave McCullough requested to do it instead, and arrangements were made, only for everything to fall apart at the last moment with a certain amount of confusion and bitterness on both sides. There were rumours at Sounds that the band were refusing to talk to anyone on the paper at all, and were maybe refusing to do any more interviews. Full stop!

In a fit of unrestrained arrogance, I suddenly phoned Mute Records to ask if this was true, suggesting the band do an interview with me instead. I was told this might be possible and someone would ring me at home over the weekend to say whether or not I could travel to Manchester with the band for their show at the Hacienda Club. No-one rang.

Then at Monday lunchtime, everything was finalized – photographer Nicola and myself were to catch the train to Manchester, where we’d been booked into the same hotel as Yazoo, and we’d meet them at the soundcheck. It all seemed to good to be true. It was!

We arrived in Manchester only to be told that the band’s hotel was full and we’d been booked into a equally plush – but less convenient for our purpose – one five minutes walk away. And the band themselves were stuck somewhere on the motorway and wouldn’t be able to see us until after the show!

The performance itself – at Factory’s hi-tech Hacienda Club – was at times stirring, occasionally funny and always most entertaining.

Later, Alf seemed disappointed by what she called a “cold audience”, while Vince reckoned “I like the idea of the club, the way it’s done, but the audience seemed a bit slow to get going.”

In one sense, the perverse highlight was the instrumental ‘China’ – the only non-recorded Yazoo work on display – during which the pre-programmed keyboards took over, leaving Alison to skip off-stage while Vince stepped out front with a movie camera to film the audience, the club and even the onstage video cameraman!

Grabbing a quick word with tour manager Gerry, I’m told that maybe the best idea would be for Nicola and I to return to our own hotel and we’ll be called later on. Once in my room, I fall asleep with the TV video on – and an interview with Yazoo is the last thing on my mind!

BRR-RINGGG! BRR-RINGGG!! Ugh … the phone … ugh … what time is it? … two am! … yeah, we’ll be over …

In room 580 of the Britannia Hotel, Vince Clarke is propped up on a huge double bed drinking a cup of hot chocolate. His girlfriend sits on a chair in the corner, Alf is asleep in her own room – “I tried to wake her, but … ” he shrugs – and Nicola fiddles with a lamp to secure the right lighting. The interview begins.

When you left Depeche Mode, did you have Yazoo all planned?

“No, not really – what I basically planned was to have six months off doing nothing, just to sit around and watch. I didn’t feel tired or knackered – I mean, the work was getting that hard! I was maybe a bit fed up with the routine of everything!”

Aren’t you right back into it now?

“Well, not really – at the moment, everything’s a bit mad, but it’s different because I’m in charge of everything. The relationship Yazoo have with Mute is somewhat different than the relationship Depeche have, we’re more left to our own decisions. I think Daniel (Miller, who runs Mute Records) still feels more, er, fatherly towards Depeche!”

Do you feel you have more control because you’re just a duo?

“I’m really not sure. I don’t think so, no.”

Was it a conscious decision to be just a duo?

“No, oh no!”

So might Yazoo expand?

“No, cos we work well together. We’ve found it works really well for us as a two-piece, but it was never deliberate or planned. It just seemed obvious.”