The Art And Activism Of Jimmy Somerville
April 28, 2012 6:57 PM   Subscribe

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]

Bonus tracks: Never No More, When The Walls Come Tumbling Down (b-sides to So Cold The Night),
Mike Thorne reflects on recording The Communards, and the end of his relationship with the band. [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.

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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 [translated], 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 by Almighty).

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]
His website 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.
posted by hippybear (60 comments total) 134 users marked this as a favorite

 
This post is made as part of a personal commemoration of the 25th anniversary of the creation of ACT-UP, which happened this past week in April of 1987. ACTION = LIFE, SILENCE = DEATH. Thanks Jimmy, for everything you've done to change the world, one falsetto note at a time.
posted by hippybear at 6:58 PM on April 28, 2012 [27 favorites]


Fabulous post, hippybear.
posted by catlet at 7:14 PM on April 28, 2012 [5 favorites]


Fantastic. Lots of meat here; looking forward to exploring the links.
posted by immlass at 7:16 PM on April 28, 2012


Holy crap dude. I was just thinking about this guy today, trying to remember the name of the song that turns out to be Smalltown Boy. I got that question answered and this incredible run-down of the artist to boot. Awesome post.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 7:24 PM on April 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


Oh my god, hippybear. What a post. Thank you, thank you so much. This is pure time-travel material.
posted by rtha at 7:28 PM on April 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


If you want time travel, just listen to the remixes in chronological order. The way the approach to making dance mixes has evolved is clearly shown over this one man's career.
posted by hippybear at 7:38 PM on April 28, 2012


Wow. Lots here to poke through. Thank you.

I met him once, in a small club in San Francisco. He was very nice. And very short.
posted by gingerbeer at 7:41 PM on April 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


I met him once, in a small club in San Francisco.

You're not the one he describes in this one anecdote are you?
A short stay in San Francisco [was made an honorary lesbian only because I couldn't seem to hit it off with the men out there. Picture this - me, rolling drunk in a club, the place is packed and then I hear in that whiny west coast queenie drawl "scuse me but you really are invading my personal space" yeah me and 2,000 other homos ya freak. It was all too much for me but them dykes, what a blast]
(To find the whole self-penned biography this comes from, go here. Four pages of Jimmy telling his own story in capsule form.)
posted by hippybear at 7:45 PM on April 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


Slow buildup.... Minor key riff : House beat : Falsetto...ooo.....oooooooo!. Rinse, wash, repeat.

Mutherfreaking bravao hippy bear. Awesome post.
posted by lalochezia at 7:45 PM on April 28, 2012


Awesome post -- thanks for taking the time to put all this together. My bully of a straight roommate in college freshman year pretty much hated all my music but Jimmy Somerville's ear-piercing falsetto on "Why?" was pretty much guaranteed (much to my satisfaction) to drive him out of the room.
posted by blucevalo at 7:50 PM on April 28, 2012 [3 favorites]


Awesome post. The reminders of the 25th anniversary of ACT-UP bring up a lot of memories, of people we lost, and gratitude for the friends that are still with us.
posted by ambrosia at 7:50 PM on April 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


Wow -- no that's not me! I met him in the club that was then the Kennel Club, and is now the Independent. I was there with a friend of mine from NYC who was (and still is) deeply involved in the music scene and knew him from that. We were there early for the show, and sat in a booth and chatted. I was a bit star-struck. My friend and I were both core ACT UP folks and that's what we talked about.
posted by gingerbeer at 7:56 PM on April 28, 2012


I was so worried this was an obit post.

Sommerville's voice is gorgeous. I've had to do a certain amount of falsetto singing in my life and have come to realize that both his range and his strength are truly exceptional. Trying to hit the high notes on, for example, "So Cold The Night," is really, really challenging.

Great post!
posted by Joey Michaels at 8:10 PM on April 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


I had the good fortune to be in London in the third month of my coming out back in '85, with Bronski Beat on many of the mixtapes that I carted through the various checkpoints, and it felt like the world of the future to me over there. Everyone had an earring and my timely penchant for rattails, paint-splattered muscle shirts, and espadrilles blended in in some odd way. I'd been put onto the band my my super-cool-living-in-the-Village sister, who described them as the "gay Eurythmics," which wasn't entirely accurate, but was a good enough start. My big jam was "It Ain't Necessarily So," because I was more of a Gershwin freak than a politicized queer kid, but it's all produced with that nice sharp English synth sound, and I roamed the tube with a soundtrack of Bronski Beat and Thomas Dolby and the Eurythmics, feeling very modern indeed.

"Joe, I don't know why you're being such a poop about London," my mother complained as I begged off the various day trips to the stately sights of London.

"I'm just feeling kinda sick from Wimpy's."

In reality, I'd figured out that you could go into a gay bar at 17 in London and get served a cider despite being completely unable to make your eyebrows go down to a non-panicked level, buy stacks of British pornography, and hang around Gay's The Word like a spooky American ghost who doesn't understand that a bookstore is not a library under the friendly watchful eye of the guy at the counter, so seeing the dome of St. Paul's wasn't such a big thing to miss.

Where the US was a nightmare of rotten Reagan bullshit and "aren't you worried you'll get AIDS?" concern from the first people I told about my dirty little secret, it seemed like England was a place where it was sort of cool to be gay. Hell, I'd hear Bronski Beat in department stores. Such a soundtrack for a tough time to be a teenager, and though some of it is a little bit on the painfully overwrought side now, lots of it spoke volumes.

Of course, I was a little overwrought, too, so I would listen to "Smalltown Boy" and plan to leave with all my things in a little black case, too, occasionally backing that up to the Beatles' "She's Leaving Home" on my mixtapes to emphasize the no-one-gets-me pout. As it turned out, I didn't need to leave with all my things in a little black case. You have big ideas when you're a kid, but reality's usually better.

Good music, and that gorgeous falsetto...oh my.

The later work doesn't hold up as well, though Truthdare Doubledare is sort of marred in my memory on account of my crashing my Datsun into a Camaro full of drunken fratboys while my sub was throbbing out "Hit That Perfect Beat Boy" at weapons-grade volume.
posted by sonascope at 8:10 PM on April 28, 2012 [15 favorites]


Well, Truthdare Doubledare isn't really part of the Jimmy Somerville milieu, is it?
posted by hippybear at 8:22 PM on April 28, 2012


True.

It's funny, reflecting on it all now, too—I always thought of Bronski Beat and Somerville as sort of the anti-Marc Almond. Mind you, I loved Soft Cell, but where Almond played queerness into the barrage of sleazy underworldliness of the music, Somerville was the optimist, if playing a bit much on the victimhood angle that was a part of the queer character in the eighties (justified, no doubt). Two great voices, two directions, and maybe it's just me, but at the time, it was an interesting parallel.
posted by sonascope at 8:35 PM on April 28, 2012


Awesome post. As close to a time machine as you can get. I am so amazed that ACT-UP is not more prominent in the country's collective memory. I landed in SF almost a decade after Milk was murdered, and the LGBT community was reeling from the AIDS catastrophe. ACT-UP was a life-line to many, something to organize around, something that finally seemed to rally the troops from what felt like years of defeats. This is why Larry Kramer will always be a hero. But since those days, it seems to me - maybe I'm completely wrong - like the energy has dissipated. People rarely talk about ACT-UP, and the energy is gone from Castro - again, I haven't lived in SF since 80's, so perhaps I'm dead wrong, but I visit several times a year. It's a different world. Memories are short - or maybe I'm just old.
posted by VikingSword at 8:36 PM on April 28, 2012


Perhaps you've missed the ACT-UP actions which took place on Wall Street this past week, demanding a fraction-of-a-cent tax on every stock transaction to help pay for medications and housing for HIV/AIDS patients.
posted by hippybear at 8:44 PM on April 28, 2012


whymetafilterexists filter.

Incredible post hippybear.
posted by vertigo25 at 9:22 PM on April 28, 2012 [3 favorites]


Fantastic post hippybear, this takes me back to growing up in the 80s in the UK. While the in cliques were listening to Simple Minds and stadium rock, they were missing music of this sheer quality. Thanks for an evening back in my youth.

Early contender for one of the best posts of the year, how do you keep doing it? [applauds]
posted by arcticseal at 9:29 PM on April 28, 2012


VikingSword, if you want to feel old, go read this comment.
posted by rtha at 9:30 PM on April 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


how do you keep doing it?

1% inspiration, 99% perspiration, and 80% Google.
posted by hippybear at 10:11 PM on April 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


Holy damn hippybear, this is awesome. I had some 12" Communards, and to this day his voice gives me instant goose bumps. Looking forward to digging through this.
posted by hypersloth at 10:15 PM on April 28, 2012


Marc Almond and Bronski Beat - I Feel Love
posted by elsietheeel at 10:25 PM on April 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


Definitely one of the best posts of the year. Really brings me back to those San Francisco days in the eighties. Thank you.
posted by gt2 at 11:29 PM on April 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


hippybear gives 180%. I love you, man.
posted by wallabear at 12:06 AM on April 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


I was thinking about making a music post, but ... I feel so inadequate.
I'm just going to meditate on this for an aeon or so, and reflect.
This is just brilliant.

I'm not a fan of Somerville's music (and I had no idea he was so politically active), but was Dark Days somehow linked to the film 'Dark City'? My brain says yes.

Now, I'm going to send this post to all the Somerville fans I know.

[Although: Sydney, not Sidney. But that's okay. It's an insignificant little city otherwise.]
posted by Mezentian at 12:24 AM on April 29, 2012


Er.... Dark SKY not Dark Days.

[I deserved that].
posted by Mezentian at 12:24 AM on April 29, 2012


Richard Coles is now a vicar in the church of england - my goodness ! JS is not from london, that kind of activism and dedication comes down from the red clydesiders etc etc. That's possibly why almond seems a sort of gothic noel coward in comparison.
posted by sgt.serenity at 2:43 AM on April 29, 2012


Disco!
They say that disco never died in Europe unlike in the US. And Jimmy Somerville et al are proof of that.
This is the 1978 Sylvester original of You make me feel btw.
posted by joost de vries at 2:48 AM on April 29, 2012


I am not going to get Sylvester out of my head all night now.
Thanks, Metafilter. Thanks a bunch.
posted by Mezentian at 2:54 AM on April 29, 2012


This is pure time-travel material.

*wavy dissolving lines*

So you're a 21-year-old deeply horny closet case college kid in Oxford, Ohio. You've managed to discover the bathroom scene and got your first blowjob under the stalls in the first-floor men's room of the student union building a couple years ago (don't laugh, you kids with your craigslists and e-handjobs and whatever, we walked barefoot uphill both ways in the snow to get our blowjobs and we liked it, dammit. We also ate dirt.), but you've also managed to wind up in the fraternity system, of all places, and are not very happy. There are other guys in the system you suspect are queer (hell, you meet some of them in the bathrooms) but this secrecy thing is really wearing on you.

Thank god there's a decent college radio station in town.

One day, they play "Smalltown Boy."

A year later, you're living on the top floor (no rooms, we're all just in alcoves scattered around with the roof slanting over our heads) of a red house everyone calls The Palace of Blood, with beautiful people like severe little Jeff, who swears he's asexual but whose haircuts and wit teach me more about being gay than any blowjob ever did, and smart little Carol, whose orange hair and trenchcoats has people throwing donuts at her from the safety of their cars, and yeah, you're still doing the bathroom scene, but you're also choked up and telling your sweet smart girlfriend you're bi and you like her feminist brain a lot but you sometimes think of boys when you're fucking, and not much later hearing her tell you she *really* doesn't want to introduce you to her last boyfriend because she *knows* you two are going to like each other and goddamn if she isn't right and soon after that you find yourself telling him to stay still because there's a wasp on his shoulder blade and you sweep it off calmly like you're the toughest, coolest guy in the world and the next thing you know you're naked and then the next morning you're smelling your hands and arms in class because he's still right there with you and a week later you're sleeping under a tree on campus because you were up all night studying for some useless shit and you wake up because he's kneeling over you about to leave a note on your chest and he's so cute cause he's mad you woke up and ruined the moment and then you're kissing right fucking there on the grass in 1985 in the middle of the quad and oh god you've never been so happy in your goddamn life and you. are. never. going. back.





I mean, I'm simplifying a little bit, of course.

There were a couple other songs.
posted by mediareport at 4:20 AM on April 29, 2012 [36 favorites]


"Read My Lips" was one of the first albums I ever bought. My mother did not know what to make of a 12-year-old girl who'd sing along to "Read My Lips", dance around the living room to "Comment Te Dire Adieu", and go all emotional over "My Heart Is In Your Hands". Looking back I don't really know either - Jimmy's music wasn't as commercial as the other stuff I listened to in those days (Erasure, Pet Shop Boys and, er, Jason Donovan) and as a non-native English speaker, I don't think I thought much about the message of the songs. I just knew I loved singing "enough is enough is enough is enough!" as I biked around my little neighbourhood.

I will say this: what you listen to as a 12-year-old girl in Nowhereville, Denmark can leave a lasting impression. Some of my personal choices down the line? Aspects of my political views? Yeah, I can see how Jimmy Someville's work have help shape me. I cannot say the same for Jason Donovan's oeuvre, thankfully.
posted by kariebookish at 4:49 AM on April 29, 2012


I once almost literally bumped into Jimmy Somerville at Stockwell station, at the time when Bronski Beat were pretty well-known. The man is tiny. He looked at me like he thought I was going to hit him or something. Instead I mumbled something inane about how much I liked the single. I've often wondered what became of him and what he's up to. Now I know. I'm glad (and unsurprised) that he didn't become a bloody trendy vicar like his erstwhile Communards partner.
posted by Decani at 5:41 AM on April 29, 2012


Here's a cover of Smalltown Boy from the third and final album of a German prog metal band.
posted by ersatz at 6:12 AM on April 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


Somerville's music isn't my cup of tea, but I definitely admire his courage and commitment. For his more rock and roll equivalent, check out Tom Robinson, the man behind "Glad to be Gay" and the classic "2-4-6-8 Motorway."
posted by jonmc at 6:30 AM on April 29, 2012 [4 favorites]


Here's a cover of Smalltown Boy from the third and final album of a German prog metal band.

That's peculiar and totally awesome. Now my brain is going to be turning Somerville songs into metal versions constantly.
posted by hippybear at 7:48 AM on April 29, 2012


What an amazing post, hippybear! Thank you so much!

Growing up in suburban Kansas City, there wasn't a lot of access to the very latest in British music. So I first heard of Bronski Beat only from the pages of Star Hits magazine (the US version of Smash Hits from the UK). There was an interview with the band talking about being openly gay and I was just so excited, even though I'd never heard them. It took a little while before I found a 12" single of Smalltown Boy, and then later the whole Age of Consent album.

My dad took me on a trip to London when I was in high school, and it was right when "Don't Leave Me This Way" was all over UK pop radio. I couldn't wait for the album to be released in the US. I love the Communards sound - the mix of synth and acoustic piano, old jazz and modern disco.

Now, if anybody can hook me up with an MP3 of "Never No More"... I've been trying to find one for years. I think it's one of the best things they ever did, a classic blues tune that's openly gay, and that campy spoken bit in the bridge is just over-the-top fabulous.
posted by dnash at 8:13 AM on April 29, 2012


Now, if anybody can hook me up with an MP3 of "Never No More"...

Well, I've been digging around online and had found a couple of leads on an mp3 download, but they all turned out to be dry springs.

Here is the song on YouTube. Perhaps you can use one of those programs or services which captures YouTube audio to grab this for your own collection.
posted by hippybear at 8:29 AM on April 29, 2012


In a moment of "just how far we've come over the years" ... I remember in the mid 1980s a friend of mine getting death threats at our college radio station (in the heart of the Midwest, indeed we were all Smalltown Boys!) for playing Bronski Beat. In today's world it is hard to remember that their themes were once bold and shocking.
posted by kuppajava at 8:53 AM on April 29, 2012


Actually I would honestly guess that the Smalltown Boy music video had some non-negligible impact towards me slowly getting rid of my adolescent homophobia. It's certainly one of those things that stuck to my mind as a kid.
posted by Anything at 9:33 AM on April 29, 2012


check out Tom Robinson, the man behind "Glad to be Gay"

Heard that one a few years later but it sure took guts in 1977. The sneer on his face as he sings "so try and sing if you're glad to be gay" is perfect.
posted by mediareport at 10:20 AM on April 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


> Perhaps you can use one of those programs or services which captures YouTube audio to grab this for your own collection.

Google "chrome extension youtube download". Install one of those. Get MPEG Streamclip (free and super). Open the video in that. Export audio. There you have it. For added bonus, import into iTunes and burn to a CD. A friend told me.
posted by stonepharisee at 11:24 AM on April 29, 2012 [3 favorites]


Oh, and kudos Hippybear. Fantastic post and deserves all the love it is getting.
posted by stonepharisee at 11:24 AM on April 29, 2012


you're kissing right fucking there on the grass in 1985 in the middle of the quad and oh god you've never been so happy in your goddamn life

So lovely. One thing I've learned over the years (and I was young in the 80s, too) is that life gives us handfuls of moments like this, if we're lucky, and that they are absolute treasures and deserve to be held as such.

I remember being in a local record store around 1977 when one of the clerks put Glad to Be Gay on the sound system. I was nearly dizzy with anxiety, listening to it, and sure enough some guy started shouting about faggots and it was taken off. Times have changed, and I'm grateful.

Wonderful post hippybear, thank you.
posted by jokeefe at 12:07 PM on April 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


So, after immersing myself in Somerville's music while writing this post, what is the song which stands out to me? It's Home Again. Very different sound/feel from most of his work, still sticks in my brain over everything else. Great song.
posted by hippybear at 2:03 PM on April 29, 2012


It's a beautiful day here in San Francisco, sunny and warm enough to sit in the backyard without a jacket. I've got a bourbon lime rickey in a tall glass and Bronski Beat on the boom box.

In the mid-1980s, I was incapable of imagining the life I have now. But Jimmy and his compatriots let me know I wasn't alone, and that there was some kind of future for me, or at least, gave me enough hope to struggle for one. Thanks, all of you. You helped saved my life.
posted by rtha at 2:21 PM on April 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


That's peculiar and totally awesome. Now my brain is going to be turning Somerville songs into metal versions constantly.

I'm glad you liked it. Here is a cover of the same by Paradise Lost, which got more exposure in its day.

And for the grand finale here is a cover of My Sharona with a mean bass by an Italian prog band on a cd influenced by nu metal and with a smattering of synths.
posted by ersatz at 3:03 PM on April 29, 2012


This post is full of awesome. It makes me think of being in my 20's and going to Campus on Sunday at the Man Ray club in Cambridge, smoking clove cigarettes as a defense against all the tobacco, wearing black jungle combat boots with "ACTION = LIFE" written on them in bright pink (along with the assorted pink triangles and purple labryses and whatnot).

I totally forgot that Somerville had covered "You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)"! I've got a copy of the Sylvester original (Yes, I have a playlist called "When Gay Disco Attacks")
posted by rmd1023 at 4:13 PM on April 29, 2012


So it was just brought to my attention that a lot of the links in this post don't load on the iPad, while they all work fine on laptops and desktop computers.

I have no idea why this is the case, as none of the links are non-standard forms or anything, just plain old youtube URLs using the watch?v=XXXXXXX format.

I'm sorry for any inconvenience.
posted by hippybear at 5:40 PM on April 29, 2012


Oh wow. This is a piece of gay history I never (had to? got to?) live through firsthand. I'll be spending some time digesting this over the next few days.

Thanks, hippybear. Sometimes it's good to be reminded of everything I've taken for granted growing up in New York and Berkeley this last decade.
posted by spitefulcrow at 7:35 PM on April 29, 2012


Okay, after only one track it's amazing how apparent the influence of this on just about all the dance music that came after it is. I think I have a lot of things to put on my Spotify queue.
posted by spitefulcrow at 7:45 PM on April 29, 2012


Ohhhh, this is forever and always the joyous sound of walking into a gay dance club for the first time.
posted by desuetude at 10:29 PM on April 29, 2012 [4 favorites]


Not sure if anyone is still following this post...

I can't believe I overlooked Jimmy's extraordinary 2010 release Suddenly Last Summer while writing up this post.

It's a bit of a departure from the dance pop fare we're used to from Jimmy, but it's pretty incredible. It's a covers album, with a wide range of songs, and it's a much more stripped down, acoustic affair than one might expect. And it's brilliant.

Here are the tracks I've found online:

Hanging On The Telephone
Black Is The Colour Of My True Love's Hair
Where Have All The Flowers Gone?
People Are Strange

Also, his new EP Solent comes out at the end of this month. Here's a brief review and some samples of what to expect.
posted by hippybear at 8:25 PM on May 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm really enjoying the covers. Thanks for the update!
posted by immlass at 8:41 PM on May 24, 2012


Fans might be interested to hear that Bronski Beat - The Age Of Consent, and The Communards - Communards and The Communards - Red will all be re-released on July 2 as 2-cd sets chock full of remixes, b-sides, and such.
posted by hippybear at 12:20 PM on May 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


(And, BTW, the liner notes for these re-releases are going to be written by me based on interviews I'm doing with Jimmy, because of this MeFi thread. Just kind of strange, but there it is.)
posted by hippybear at 2:12 PM on May 28, 2012 [4 favorites]


Um, what? Details please!
posted by gingerbeer at 3:49 PM on May 28, 2012


OMG OMG OMG hippybear

*squeeeeeeee*

I saw your askme but didn't put the pieces together, why would I, I guess, until now. OMG.
posted by rtha at 3:51 PM on May 28, 2012


Details please!

There aren't a lot of details, really. Somehow Jimmy saw this write-up and liked it, and his management got in touch with me about a week ago, and I'm interviewing him about these albums and doing write-ups based on the interview and whatnot to provide liner notes for these re-issues.

It's all happened very quickly (it's been less than a week since they contacted me), but I figure, I'll hop on this wave and ride it. Seems like fun!
posted by hippybear at 6:11 PM on May 28, 2012 [3 favorites]


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