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Yazoo: Worlds Apart


Alf and Vince probably "wouldn't be friends if we weren't working together". They often don't meet up 'til just before going on stage. Dave Rimmer finds out what makes the Odd Couple tick.

Alf: “Entertainment!”
Vince: “Post-Futurism!”
Alf: “Dress sense!”
Vince: “Good looks!”
Sat next to each other on a couch in a pokey Top Of The Pops dressing room, the two who make Yazoo are inventing explanations for their popularity … and falling about laughing in the process. Your reporter suggests that, apart from the fact that they make undeniably excellent pop records, much has to do with the contrast between them. Alf, who simply sees the coupling of her bluesy vocals with Vince’s sequenced electronics as “very logical”, replies:

“I think it’s strange that people think we are a strange combination. As far as we see it: a synthesizer is just another instrument, I’m just another singer. We’re a vocalist and an instrumentalist – like any other group.”

But things are never that simple are they? The contrasts in their musical inclinations aside, on stage, in photographs, on record and through interviews Alf and Vince project two very different personalities. You can’t help chuckling at Vince’s cheek in replying to the advert for “rootsy blues musicians” from which Yazoo first sprang, just as you can’t help enjoying the joyous roughness of Alf’s voice next to the digital precision of Vince’s computers.

Meeting them, all impressions are confirmed. I talk to the pair of them separately. Vince is shy, mumbles so quiet you can hardly hear him, gives the briefest possible answers to questions and elaborates only if you press him. Alf is enthusiastic, talkative, giggly and ever-ready to relate some linh, involved anecdote.

Ask Vince how he relaxes and he’ll tell you he watches television. “It’s pretty mundane, I know,” he mutters apologetically, flicking his massive quiff out of his eyes – “I can’t see otherwise”. His favourite programmes are Minder and The Professionals.

Ask Alf how she relaxes and a whole series of things tumble out. She goes out to the pub with friends. She enjoys playing pool on Southend sea front, especially on winter days when there aren’t many people about. When she gets “a load of money” she’s going to buy her own pool table. She sleeps. She used to enjoy riding around on her motorbike, but she failed her test, hasn’t had the time to re-take it because of the group, and has had to sell her bike.

Ask Vince what he enjoys most about his work and he’ll reply: “Recording. The satisfaction at the end of a track. Starting off with an idea and ending up with an emotion or a meaning.”

Alf on the other hand prefers live work: “I really like audience participation. The one big plus of being in a group is that you’re able to gig.”

Alf still lives in Basildon, or “Baz” as she calls it, and has no thoughts of moving. She’s still hanging round with the same group of friends she was six or seven years ago. Vince, meanwhile, is thinking of leaving the town he grew up  in for the bright lights and bustle of deepest Surrey.

“Don’t ask me why. It’s just a change of scenery  really. It’s nice and quiet there: I’m getting old I think. Probably start writings songs like John Denver. The countryside, you know … ”

Vince’s history you know, of course: how he threw in fame and fortune with Depeche Mode simply because he was “fed up with it” and then bounced right back with Yazoo. Things between him and his former colleagues are “fine now”. Vince went to see a recent Depeche show at the Hammersmith  Odeon and found it “weird. I thought: “So that’s what we sounded like.’ But I enjoyed it.”

Alf’s career in music began rather falteringly with a ’77 Basildon punk band called The Vandals. “A brilliant band!” she exclaims, and then tells me that initially it was just herself and two friends singing as they walked into town of an evening. They would boast, however, that they had a band, and one day met a group of blokes  who were in a punk group. Phone numbers were exchanged and a couple of days later they got a call. To their horror, they’d been offered a gig.

“We were really in trouble,” Alf giggles. Rather than admit they’d been lying, they bandaged one girl’s arm up to give her an excuse not to appear – “she couldn’t play a note” – roped in a schoolfriend who could play guitar and somehow got through the concert.

Half-way through this “really awful” event, the singer just gave up and sat down. Alf, who was supposed to be playing guitar, took over. “It just went on from there.”

A brief but chequered career of youth club performances came to an abrupt end when the guitarist left because no-one else was interested in rehearsing, and skinheads began beating up the few fans they had.

There followed a brief spell in a “Canvey Island-based R&B-cum-punk band”. This was apparently “pretty dire”, and when it split Alf formed a blues band called The Screaming Abdabs with the drummer and the guitarist. This combo she remembers fondly, even though she was eventually slung out because thought that a real blues band should have a man playing mouth-organ instead of a girl singer.

And then, while Alf was advertising for a similar line-up with the intention of making a demo, Vince rang up.

Alf is still interested in blues, and has a hefty record collection to prove it. Blues is normally associated with guitars, and when I ask how she feels about synthesizers she thinks carefully before replying.

“It’s difficult. I could say that a synth is just another instrument and also that it’s irrelevant what instrument is playing behind me – if the chord structure is there I can sing  on top of anything. But personally, the idea of blues on a synthesizer just sounds like blasphemy! It’s such a ‘roots’ thing, a feel … The thing is, with computers you can’t speed up or slow down or improvise which is so important in blues … Just getting off on the feel – you can’t do that with synthesizers.”

Alf doesn’t have a boyfriend at the moment. She only likes “earthy people” and “you don’t meet many of them nowadays”. When I wonder if she’d describe Vince as an “earthy person” he replies much to my astonishment: “I don’t really know him.”

It seems that they hardly ever see each other. Working in the studio accounts for only a couple of weeks in the year. While touring, like they have been recently, Vince spends most of his time with his girlfriend.

“We don’t really see each other until five minutes before the gig and then on stage,” she says. “I’ve been hanging around with the support band, Boys Own – they’re really earthy people.

“Vincent and I are just basically different people, but we’re very alike in a way. Were both very set in own ways, in our own beliefs. We get on fine, but that doesn’t warrant an out-of-work relationship. He wouldn’t choose me as a friend if we weren’t working together, and I wouldn’t choose him as a friend. We’ve just got different likes and dislikes.”

While my chat with Alf ranges over a variety of subjects, my conversation with Vince is mainly about equipment. It may just be my line of questioning, but the pros and cons of particular computers and matters relating to the science of sound do seem to be the subjects he’s happiest with, even though he protests he’s “not really very technically minded”.

It’s rapidly becoming a cliche but I’m afraid it’s true: Genevieve Alison Moyet and Vincent Clarke really are an odd couple.

That’s what’s so great about them.

 

Originally printed in Smash Hits on December 9th 1982. Reprinted without permission for non-profit use only.

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