In June of 1984, the UK latched onto a single by three London mates which openly challenged Thatcherite-era attitudes toward homosexuals, and gave the ball of social change a huge push as the single climbed to #3 on the charts. The band was Bronski Beat, the song was Smalltown Boy
, and as the song charted around the globe, the world was introduced to singer and gay rights activist Jimmy Somerville
Jimmy Somerville had already begun his career as a gay activist when he was living as a squatter and participating in a film production teaching project by the Gay Video Project, 1983's Framed Youth: The Revenge Of The Teenage Perverts
[45m20s], in which gay youths in London conducted street interviews with heterosexuals about their attitudes towards homosexuality and discussed their own lives and attempts to make the world better for themselves. In the film, "Jimi" sings an early version of Screaming, which led his friends Steve Bronski and Larry Steinbachek to be interested in making music together. And thus was born Bronski Beat. Steve Bronski tells the whole story.
Smalltown Boy would eventually hit the top ten in countries around the world, and the (for the time quite innovative) 12" dance mix
would storm to #1 on the US dance chart. If the lyrics weren't clear enough, the video
(directed by Frankie video director Bernard Rose) was explicit in depicting a bullied gay youth fleeing to the big city to find himself. Producer Mike Thorne remembers meeting Bronski Beat for the first time and working with them to record the single.
Bronski Beat's second single, Why?
, with a lyric and video (again by Bernard Rose) which questioned the social treatment of homosexuals, was also a Top Ten hit in the UK, and had its own interesting 12" release
. Mike Thorne looks back at the recording process for Why?.
Bronski Beat finally released their first full-length album, The Age Of Consent
Why?, It Ain't Necessarily So (the third single from the album; video), Screaming [not available], No More War, Love And Money, Smalltown Boy, Heatwave, Junk, Need-a-Man Blues, I Feel Love/Johnny Remember Me (rerecorded with Marc Almond and released as the fourth single from the album, video)
Again, Mike Thorne recalls working with Bronski Beat on The Age Of Consent.
The band worked on and completed a new single, Run From Love
, but in mid-1985 Jimmy left the group before it could find official release.
Richard Coles had met Jimmy back in the Framed Youth days, and had contributed some instrumental work to the Bronski Beat album. He and Jimmy would come together to form The Communards (with unofficial third member Sarah Jane Morris). He also brought with him producer Mike Thorne. Before the end of the year, they had issued their first single, You Are My World
(again with one of Thorne's 12" remixes
as an accompanying release). The single was less politicly strident than Somerville's Bronski Beat material, but still wore its gay orientation on its sleeve.
The second Communards single was Disenchanted
(obligatory dance mix
). Neither of these first two singles from the album charted particularly well, and sales of the album were not great.
That is, until they released Don't Leave Me This Way
, a cover of a song which was first a disco hit for Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes over a decade previously. (Hey look, another 12" mix!
And if you remember an extended video
for this song, you weren't hallucinating.) The success of that single (top of the UK charts for 4 weeks, top of US dance charts, Top Ten in many other countries, the highest selling UK song of 1986) also propelled sales of The Communards
as high as #7 on the charts.
Don't Leave Me This Way (here in its original 6m20s length) , La Dolarosa, Disenchanted (here in its original 6m15s length), Reprise, So Cold The Night [fourth single from the album] (original 6m49s version, video, 12" mix), You Are My World (12" version above is the original version), Lover Man, Don't Slip Away [poor quality, only version available], Heavens Above [b-side version, incomplete], Forbidden Love, Breadline Britain [bonus track on some editions]
Mike Thorne reflects on recording The Communards, and the end of his relationship with the band.
Bonus tracks: Never No More, When The Walls Come Tumbling Down (b-sides to So Cold The Night),
[Sadly unavailable online is the mammoth 22m24s two-side remix of Don't Leave Me This Way he describes here.]
The first single for their next album was Tomorrow
, an anthem of support for domestic abuse victims. (12" version
by new co-producer Stephen Hague). While this single broke into the top 45 in many countries, their second advance single Hold On Tight failed to perform at all.
This all turned around, however, with the release of Never Can Say Goodbye
(12" extended mix
by Shep Pettibone), timed for release with the release of their second album, Red. The song charted all over the world, reached #4 in the UK (and #2 on the US dance charts), and helped propel Red
to #4 on the UK sales charts.
Tomorrow, T.M.T.♥.T.B.M.G. (final single from the album), Matter Of Opinion, Victims, For A Friend, Never Can Say Goodbye, Lovers And Friends, Hold On Tight [unavailable], If I Could Tell You, C Minor
The fourth single from the album was written after a close friend of Jimmy and Richard died of AIDS in early 1987. For A Friend
was well received by the public, but some outlets (specifically BBC Radio 1) were reluctant to play the song
because of its subject matter.
The toll of HIV/AIDS in the gay community in the UK was wearing on the band. Jimmy was getting more politicized, Richard was getting more spiritual. The Communards decided to go out on a high note, and in late 1988, they disbanded. Richard Coles eventually went to seminary and is currently a vicar in Northhampshire and is frequently heard presenting on BBC Radio 4.
Jimmy's first solo album, 1989's Read My Lips
, (dedicated to Larry Kramer) continued the blend of political songs, Hi-NRG dance tunes, and ballads. It featured three successful singles [Comment te dire adieu, You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real) and Read My Lips (Enough Is Enough)], the last inspired by the continuing outrage over HIV/AIDS and the recent formation of ACT-UP in the US.
Comment Te Dire Adieu (duet with Communard's drummer June Miles Kingston), You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real) (12" mix by William Orbit), Perfect Day [unavailable], Heaven Here On Earth (With Your Love), Don't Know What To Do (Without You) [incomplete], Adieu! (Madame Tata Mix) [unavailable], Read My Lips (Enough Is Enough) (12" mix by JZJ), My Heart Is In Your Hands [unavailable], Control [unavailable], And You Never Thought That This Could Happen To You [unavailable], Rain
Jimmy Somerville contributed From This Moment On
to the benefit album of Cole Porter songs Red Hot + Blue
, and then relocated to San Francisco
. From there, he recorded two new songs for a compilation of singles from across his career, To Love Somebody
and Run From Love
(a remake of the unreleased Bronski Beat track), and then disappeared.
He didn't really vanish, of course. He was retreating from pop stardom, but he kept himself plenty busy. He appeared in Sally Potter's film Orlando
[clip dubbed in Spanish, but featuring Somerville's appearance] and contributed the song Coming
to the soundtrack. He helped fund Postcards From America
, a biopic about artist David Wojnarowicz (whose images were featured heavily in U2's Achtung Baby and ZooTV era). In 1993 he sang with Voices Of The Beehive on a cover of Gimme Shelter
But mostly, he was working as an activst on LGBT and HIV causes. His time in California had given him direct exposure to ACT-UP, and he was involved not only with ACT-UP UK but also OutRage. Along with playing benefit show fundraisers, he also took part in direct action, which in some cases led to his arrest
After taking several years off, Jimmy resurfaced on the music scene in early 1995 with the single Heartbeat
(Armand's Cardiac Mix
by Armand Van Helden, Heartbeat II Mix
by Matt Rowebottom & Richard Stannard). The song hit at #1 on the US Dance Club chart, and remains to this day his only #1 on any US chart as a solo artist.
His followup single was Hurt So Good
, and helped kick off the release of his new album Dare To Love
Heartbeat, Hurts So Good, Cry, Love Thing [unavailable], By Your Side [third single from the album], Dare To Love [unavailable], Someday We'll Be Together, Alright [unavailable], Too Much Of A Good Thing [unavailable], A Dream Gone Wrong [unavailable], Come Lately [unavailable], Safe In These Arms (12" mix by Todd Terry), Because Of Him
Jimmy also reworked Safe In These Arms and released Safe
as a standalone single in 1997.
Meanwhile, Somerville continued his gay activism, being visible and performing at Pride events from Germany to the US to the UK. He also released Dark Sky
(12" Tony De Vit Mix
) as a preview of the new album he was working on. He contributed benefit performances to such diverse causes as The Pink Paper
, a UK gay newspaper, and the Hannover Lighthouse
], an assisted care facility for those with HIV/AIDS in Germany His appearance at Sidney Mardi Gras
is the stuff of legend.
Manage The Damage
(dedicated to Matthew Shepard) wasn't released until 1999. It was very much a homegrown project, recorded in a home studio by Jimmy and his friend and collaborator Sally Herbert (formerly of Banderas).
Here I Am, Lay Down (Hoop Laid Up Mix by Hoop, third single from this album), Dark Sky, My Life [unavailable], Something To Live For (Wayne G's Heaven Mix, by Wayne G, second single from this album), This Must Be Love [unavailable], Girl Falling Down [unavailable], Someday Soon [youtube video is much longer than the actual song, for some unknown reason], Eve [unavailable], Stone, Rolling [unavailable]
Jimmy Somerville did a few
interviews around this time, talking about the new album and such.
2001 saw the release of a one-off single from the Queer As Folk 2 soundtrack, Can't Take My Eyes Off Of You
(Almighty Definitive Mix
Jimmy gave an interview in 2003 about the progress on his next album
, which wouldn't be finally released until late 2004. Home Again
fostered three singles, none of which did much on the charts. (It was a digital only release, with the only physical product being issued in Germany, where Jimmy has had a decidedly strong following since the Bronski Beat album.) A follow-up interview with Jimmy after the release of Home Again.
Could It Be Love, Under A Lover's Sky, Come On [second single] (television performance of Jimmy with his two touring singers Gillian and Mathew), It Still Hurts [unavailable], It's So Good [first single], Burn, Ain't No Mountain High Enough [third single] [unavailable] (Deep Valley Remix by Björn Wilke), I Will Always Be Around, But Not Tonight, Amnesia, Home Again, What's Your Game [unavailable], Selfish Days, Stay [unavailable]
Again, Jimmy seems to have vanished. But he hasn't. Since 2005 he's been quite active, still making personal appearances at Pride events and summer festivals in Europe. He's joined in supporting
Moscow's troubled Gay Pride events. In 2010 he released the EP Bright Thing, and in 2011, another EP, Momentum
Bright Thing: Overlord, Bright Thing, Hearts, Freak [Soundcloud playlist]
Momentum: Mountains, Make Way Jerusalem, The Core, Was Like A Thunder, Amen, Mountains (John Winfield Remix), The Core (John Winfield Remix) [Soundcloud playlist]
states that another EP will be forthcoming soon. And he continues to tour and support gay (and human) rights issues. Nearly thirty years after he began his career and public activism, Jimmy Somerville is still going strong.