MAGGIE K DE MONDE in Conversation

Scarlet Fantastic emerged during a particularly creative period in the mid-1980s. Consisting of Maggie K De Monde and Rick P. Jones, the duo were former members of pop outfit Swans Way (who had a hit with ‘Soul Train’ in 1984). Scarlet Fantastic are best known for their hit single ‘No Memory’, which reached No. 4 in the UK charts.

We caught up with Maggie to discuss Fantastic things…

Scarlet Fantastic’s ‘No Memory’ is an amazing song. Did you have any idea at the time that it would become so popular?

‘No Memory’ was the first song that Rick and I wrote as Scarlet Fantastic so it kind of defined us and where we were going with our music. It meant a lot to us as it was our first and it was very exciting. We wrote it in Feb 1986 which was a dreary time of year and also the feel of the times was pretty low. We had written a manifesto for ourselves and we called it the “Anti Depression Act.” We found solace in nature and in making music. It’s very much a song about being in the moment, letting go of the past and discovering a sense of freedom, whatever the extenuating circumstances might be. It always made us feel good and we felt it had some kind of intangible magic attached to it.

When we played it to friends it got great reactions and when a producer at Radio One heard it and asked us to do a session we were over the moon. Someone from the TV show The Tube heard it and they made a film of us performing it to the early demo, so I guess we got an inkling that it could become quite popular. By October ’87 we had recorded the final version and signed to Arista and the song entered the charts and we appeared on Top of the Pops.

However, it wasn’t really until 90/91 that the song began its journey to becoming the iconic little treasure that it still is today! I say that with a smile on my face btw, It fills me with great joy that people still rave about it! It was the late great Andy Weatherall who discovered a 12 inch mix we had done, the ‘Extra Sensory Mix’. Andy started playing it at his legendary club nights and very soon afterwards it was picked up by many of the other happening DJs of the time. It became a big Balearic tune too. Annie Nightingale played it on her BBC radio show saying that she had heard it in a club one night when she was DJing and that she had returned home and listened to it 13 times in a row! She actually said that on the radio! It was just wonderful and so amazing that it gathered its own momentum and has been appreciated by so many far and wide! I don’t think that we could have ever foreseen its re-emergence and popularity  several years later and still today! 

How did PWL get involved with that release? 

Our manager at the time, Jack Steven, who had been an A&R man for Patsy Kensit and who originally signed The Eurythmics, played it to Pete Waterman. Pete absolutely loved it; he invited us into the studio to record it on the basis that he could publish it through his company All Boys Music. PWL was an amazing studio and Rick and I got the opportunity to co-produce it with their team of engineers and mixers. This was rather unusual at the time as most of the music recorded at PWL was produced exclusively by Stock Aitken and Waterman.

We felt it important that we retain our individual identity so we agreed to co-produce with their team. We ended up doing our whole Scarlet Fantastic album there. We recorded the whole album on the night shift, hence the name 24 Hours. We would start work at midnight or thereabouts. It was an extraordinary and memorable time! I think being in that surreal time zone contributed to our creativity which helped the recordings.

You released the Maggie & Martin EP last year, which showed a much more reflective side. How did that project come about?

In 2013 I released an album Union with Martin Watkins who plays keyboards for Marc Almond. Martin is an amazing piano player and we performed a few times just piano and vocal which suited some of the chanson style songs on our Union album. After the release we recorded some of our favourite songs stripped down to piano and vocals, we both loved the way they turned out but we never actually released any. Last year Martin asked me if I wanted to release an EP featuring 4 of the songs, ‘Dreaming’ by Blondie,  ‘Amoureuse’ originally by Veronique Sanson and then Kiki Dee,  ‘Wild World’ by Cat Stevens and ‘The Dancer’ by Leo Sayer. I agreed and so we released the EP, it’s called I’ll Always Remember You. I’ve always enjoyed doing stripped down acoustic versions with either guitar or piano, even back in the late ’80s I was doing so. There is an acoustic version of ‘No Memory’ called ‘No Memory No Technology’, also a piano and accordion version of our Scarlet Fantastic track ‘Plug Me In’!

Does the modern musical landscape make things tougher or easier for you as a musician? 

Interesting question! I think it works both ways. In some ways, it’s easier and other ways it’s tougher! There are definitely pros and cons. Back in the ’80s and ’90s if you worked hard enough and were lucky enough to procure a record deal you would have the backup of the label. If it was a major label there were pretty good sized budgets for touring, recording, videos and PR etc. However, it wasn’t easy or straightforward to get a deal, it took a lot of effort! There were also more TV and radio platforms for unsigned bands which sadly are lacking today. Currently, on the upside we have the internet and modern technology so it’s possible to record albums in bedrooms, make videos on phones (all of which I’ve done) and release your stuff online through all the digital platforms. Unfortunately, there is no quality control so it sometimes takes a long time to seek out the good stuff! The internet didn’t exist back in the ’80s, it’s a very different climate today.

You’ve brought Scarlet Fantastic back in recent years. Can you talk a little about what your current plans are? 

Yes, that’s correct! I released an album Reverie in 2016, I decided to go with the name again as I realized that many of the themes I was writing about echoed the original Scarlet Fantastic sentiments. Although the sound on Reverie is quite different to the earlier Scarlet Fantastic there are definitely recurring themes.

More recently I’ve released a series of singles ‘To Hell’, ‘Make Way for Love’ and ‘Better Day’ mixed by my friend Hifi Sean from Soup Dragons and currently McHifi. There is a website  which is updated regularly with all my projects.

I recently co-wrote a song with German producer Roland Sebastian Faber and it’s on his album Metropol Nights along with Boy George and Andy Bell. The song is called ‘Crazy Love’. I’m currently about halfway through recording a new album which I feel is a natural progression from my last album. It should be finished before the year is out. Songs I’ve written and a Bowie cover, featuring some fantastic players, I’m really enjoying the process, music is still a great passion for me. I’m sure it always will be 🙂 

This interview originally featured in issue 7 of Blitzed in March 2023. Order here: Issue 7