FLOCK AND LOAD
When documentaries about the 80s are assembled to show their excess and lack of depth, you can guarantee you'll witness an edit containing some City Traders, Ra-ra skirts, ankle warmers and Mike Score, the lead singer of A Flock Of Seagulls.
You remember him... the guy with the crazy hair that made him look like Wolverine. Sadly, this is still the aspect for which the band are most remembered. Fun fact, they were all (except Paul Reynolds) hairdressers in a salon in Liverpool so they knew what they were doing apparently. And yet they were the first real stars made by MTV in America, who had never seen anything like them, and paved the way for what would become the "Second British Invasion".
Their single "I Ran" will now be all too familiar to you. It's been featured on compilations and soundtracks ever since and appeared most notably (and unfortunately, ironically) in "LaLaLand" and (more successfully) as part of the soundtrack to "Grand Theft Auto". Yet it took nearly forty years for it to achieve silver disc status in its home country where it only reached #43. Yet the rest of the world really embraced them as the vanguard of New Wave. "I Ran" is still an immense record with only really Mike Score's vocal style dating it.
They only had one Top 10 single in the UK - "Wishing (If I Had A Photograph Of You)". As a supporter of "I Ran" and the earlier indie singles, I got behind this too but if I'm honest, I still find it a bit plodding and dirge-like. It doesn't have anything like the energy of its predecessors. But it did give them some recognition in their homeland.
Truth be told, the rest of the world was much more excited by these Liverpudlians than their own country, who were seeing new bands every week in the rapidly changing charts of 1982-4. However, around the world they toured constantly in this period with diminishing returns in sales it should be said until eventually the band imploded. Paul Reynolds, their teenage guitar hero whose delays and echos were so instrumental to their success, was the first to walk out suffering something of a mental breakdown, undoubtedly accelerated by the excesses of life on the road. Then the perennial fraternal strife that exists in the world of rock (cf. Fogertys, Everlys, Gallaghers etc) , tore apart the Score brothers when drummer Ali just walked off after tiring of his brother's overbearing nature. They didn't speak for over two decades.
And that was that. Mike Score kept the name and toured with a new band largely around the States, making the odd recording as they went.
Now I know it's all the rage to make acoustic or orchestral versions of your back catalogue especially with Christmas coming and they can be interesting novelty pieces but seldom as good as the original. Indeed, if they are, then you have to wonder why they weren't like that in the first place.
Which brings me to the latest "Classic Curio" because out of nowhere in 2018, A Flock Of Seagulls decided to reform the original line-up and re-record their major songs with the Prague Symphony Orchestra. I have to be honest I rather turned my nose up at this and thought, this was best left alone.
However, in between the releases (and huge successes) of "I Ran" and "Wishing", the band had released a another strong single "Space Age Love Song" - so titled because Reynolds thought that's what it sounded like (a VERY 80s concept). It highlighted the kind of guitar work from Reynolds that one cannot help but think that The Edge must have been paying close attention to (!). It wasn't a huge hit (#34 in the UK) but it showcased Score's writing style and built it against tight rhythm and a whole fireworks display of synth effects. If anything, when listened to now the only minor let-down is the strength and personality of Mike Score's vocal which has that echoing detachment so beloved of early 80s indie synth bands.
The version of "Space Age Love Song" performed with the full orchestra is, however, a thing of real beauty.
If anything, Paul Reynolds's guitar part is even more biting than before and whilst Ali Score always plays behind a real kit there are no synth effects on this. Instead we have a wonderfully rich layered performance of a song that you will now believe you've known all your life. Where once there was a whooshing effect from the Roland electronic box of tricks, there's now a lovely French Horn riff over a bed of real lush strings. These little riffs and hooks build throughout the record acting as counterpoint to the main melody and opening up a whole new landscape for what was once a seemingly quite slight recording.
And if anything, Score's vocal remains largely unchanged in its delivery and yet somehow finds a way to seem fragile and (this time) deeply involved when buoyed up by the constant interaction with the orchestra It gives the song a sincerity you never knew it could achieve. Perhaps more listeners will realise that they were a lot more than just a crazy haircut.
Shut your eyes and tell me it doesn't sound like the best ever final scene to an 80s teen movie.