An Interview with MARTIN FRY

“Writing a song is probably one of the most intimate, private little acts you could perform”

Few bands defined the musical landscape of post-punk and post-new romanticism like ABC. They did and still do resonate the aura of that era. A culmination of all the sounds that came before, they were beholden to none and carved a path clearly of their own desire.  Of course the landmark recording The Lexicon Of Love remains a testament to talent and ambition, and celebrating it is a worthwhile endeavour, as ABC lead singer Martin Fry understands better than anyone. “It is funny but when we finished that all those years ago” Martin reflects; “We came out of Sarm East Studios with Trevor Horn and Gary Langan, I remember thinking; “I think we need more songs!” I was badgering Trevor that we had to find a couple more for this. But as the years rolled by, it has kind of taken on a life all of its own really, that collection of songs (contained on) The Lexicon Of Love. I mean they were big hits back in the day, but over recent years, the more shows I play, the more I realize that those songs mean a lot to our audience. I don’t know? I think that album has really grown in stature over the years. It got a great response when it originally came out, and I’m amazed that people still like it after all these years. It is a nice feeling.”

“I think you are a product of your circumstances, and a product of your environment. Writing a song is probably one of the most intimate, private little acts you could perform pretty much. An idea pops into your head and you think; “Yeah! This is my idea for a song.” But yet you have to take it out into the world for it to become a big hit – it becomes a very public display. I have always been amazed by that really. If someone started to write a book or paint a picture or film something, most stuff is just pure ideas, plain and simple. When I go and play a big Rewind festival, there are normally fifty-thousand people there, with their arms in the air singing back ‘The Look Of Love’ to me, that is more fun than anything.”

The point is though, it is not just people of a certain age reliving their youth at any nostalgia festival, it is young people, many of whom were not even born when The Lexicon Of Love debuted at number one on the UK charts. But now they flock to see ABC amongst others. “It is funny isn’t it? There is a younger generation growing up to different eras of music, and the eighties amongst them. Some kids are into Dylan, some The Human League, some discovering stuff from the nineties.  But it is kind of the way we absorb music these days. When we were growing up, a record would be on the radio, you would hear it but it is kind of different now.”

The first single by ABC ‘Tears Are Not Enough’, reached the top twenty and introduced the band to the public, though the reality was not glamorous for them. 

“Yeah, signing on the dole and doing Top Of The Pops, that is the classic rock ‘n’ roll place to be isn’t it? You have to stop signing on the following week because they have all seen you on the television. Not that suddenly you have a wallet full of money or anything, ask any musician. It is that apprenticeship you serve for a couple of years, record companies are still running that way I guess.” 

There is more to celebrate surrounding The Lexicon Of Love, and that comes in the form of the new ABC live album The Lexicon Of Love Live. During a momentous night in Sheffield City Hall on June 21st last year, ABC performed the album in its entirety, and were backed by a full orchestra as they recorded the show. A stunning tribute to the album, and indeed the city that the band sprang from. “I realized it was forty years to the day since the release of The Lexicon Of Love, way back in time. We were scheduled to play the Sheffield City Hall, I guess it was written in the stars as we had the symphonic orchestra with Anne Dudley conducting. I am standing at the front of the stage in my tuxedo in the spotlight, and somebody said you should record it. I kind of got to thinking about all the live albums I grew up listening to as a kid – they were often the gateway to the Rolling Stones (Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out). I can remember everything Mick Jagger said on that record. I loved David Live – David Bowie live in Philadelphia, and The Who Live At Leeds. Even though a live album is very unfashionable, I thought it would be really nice to document that night, no frills, no tweaks, no editing together of twenty other shows, just that night as a legacy of what we are doing now, the present day. We had sort of spent the last ten years with Anne refining the orchestral parts, building a show around The Lexicon Of Love but also the rest of the ABC catalogue. But The Lexicon Of Love Live is a great sign to put up over the entrance to the record. So that is how it came about really.”

Back in the day, the hungry, young ABC wanted to change the world, but under their own rules, and in their own direction. “In a way what we were trying to do was sum up the times we were in. There were big changes happening with synthesizers, technology was changing, and the idea of making a record – it wasn’t going to be in a garage where we just played it. It was going to be like Kraftwerk, where we stripped it all down – put the snare there, the kick drum there and then the bass parts. That is how we did it really. It is a combination of things, a record people thought the future was going to be like, I don’t know, it is a curious one. But it was a collaboration, the stars were aligned and it just came together, and we had a good time doing the record.”

Read more in our exclusive Martin Fry interview in the latest issue of Blitzed, out now.

ABC – Lexicon of Love Live at Sheffield City Hall is released 19th May 2023.

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