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  • Writer's pictureTony Harris


There’s a sub-genre (is that what we’d call it?) of music that seems to be still bandied around and yet I remain a little unsure of its relevance.

Guilty Pleasures.

It seems to be a catch-all that covers a range of 70s AOR and shiny 80s pop that seems to never trouble The Clash / Hendrix loving critics and yet still seems to find favour with listeners who never felt moved to follow the guidebook of Rolling Stone magazine.

The concept began with an excellent show on Radio London presented by Sean Rowley which became a club slot and even some rather fabulous compilations. In fact, so popular was it that I remember their roadshow supporting George Michael at the inaugural concerts at the new Wembley Stadium – “Wham’s superb “everything She Wants” was a staple of their playlist.

And yet in this grouping you would also find ELO, Hall & Oates and even my favourite single of all time “What A Fool Believes” by The Doobie Brothers.

These records sold millions. They are all in the Rock N Roll Hall of Fame and The Doobies were winners of “Record Of The Year at The Grammys. So as the kids would type… WTF?

Were they just too mellow? Were there just too many moustaches? Were the trouser legs a little too wide?

I would be the first to agree that the world we live in now does not feel best represented by something such as “The Pina Colada Song” but it still has the power to put a smile on your face even if one is a little dubious over its political correctness.

And to be honest – who would place a classified ad in the paper these days?

Now I have a fairly broad ranging taste - as I am sure you, dear reader are starting to twig. However, there are those things I don’t like but plenty I do and I certainly do not feel guilty about them. Neither should you.

So in the spirit of confession and without any form of irony, I am happy to introduce to you for this latest vinyl voyage, an album that I doubt has troubled your consciousness in the last forty odd years, if indeed it ever did at all. Modern Romance’s “Adventures In Clubland”.

Now if you haven’t immediately moved away to check your bids on ebay, or defriended me but are still slightly mortified by this choice, I don’t care and for the equivalent that is doubtless lurking in your own woodshed, neither should you.

That’s right Modern Romance.

You might remember them from that all time Christmas party conga line classic “Best Years Of Our Lives” – there was even a Mistletoe Mix. A perfect floorfiller for those who’ve been a little too hard at the festive sherry.

But this is Mark III of the band when Michael J Mullins had joined and together with original member David Jaymes became the rather over-bouffanted face of the band as they put out a series of unswervingly pop singles to regularly bother the Top 40.

My preference is Mark II who probably have left no deeper dent in your pop consciousness but were a much more “zeitgeist” act.

Modern Romance… surely not I hear you cry.

And you wouldn’t be alone because there was always an element of unjustified sneering towards them. The root of this was the fact that in their previous guise as The Leyton Buzzards they had released one of the most revered records of the post-punk era “Saturday Night Between The Plastic Palm Trees” in 1979. It was part Ian Dury, part Clash and part Cockney Rebel – all with perhaps a smidgen of parody. However, it wasn’t so revered that the record broke the Top 50.

However, their lead singer, the fascinating Geoffrey Deane very clearly had his finger on the pulse of what sounds were bubbling under were. He had also been working as a music press journalist writing reviews and so in 1980, with Jaymes formed Modern Romance.

Mark I of the band launched a couple of heavily electronic singles – that being the time of Human League, OMD, Ultravox etc – but these proved unsuccessful. So the band went back to the drawing board and instead drew their influence from the Blitz Kids sound that was proving so popular on the London Club scene and relaunched as an uptempo spirited Latin salsa unit not unlike Blue Rondo A La Turk and the magnificent Kid Creole & The Coconuts.

Wedge haircuts and pastel-coloured suits certainly date the performance of "Everybody Salsa" and so feel like fashion statements that will never find a revival. However, they really found their feet with this new sound with an incessant percussive rhythm punctuated by stinging trumpet. It might all feel a 'little chicken in a basket' to a cynic but this is a record that has been covered many times by genuine latin salsa artists - not least Tito Puente Jr. It was a mainstream way of channeling what was so popular in the underground - particularly if you were not within 200 miles of Soho.

In fact so successful was it that they repeated their top 20 trick with the virtually identical "Ay Ay Ay Ay Moosey". In fact they were so close in beat and sound the they became one of the first successful clubland mash-up megamixes.

And my final point of order for the defence, is that a rap-style version of this under the title "Can You Move It" topped the US dance charts - so infectious was it. Their 12" mixes of both hits "Salsa Rappsody" and "Moose On The Loose" also found a home across the Atlantic.

They are both immaculately performed with driving bass lines and authentic rhythm patterns but also some very skilled remixing techniques highlighting almost Chic-like scratching guitar melodies. I kid you not.

Now I know I just mentioned a rap version and this may surprise you but I am fairly certain that Modern Romance (with Deane absolutely at the cutting edge of what was going on in the clubs) may well have been the first mainstream British act to embrace the genre. I know there will be many who will find this shocking coming from such a clearly pop band but the dance floor was their milieu.

This would emerge on their third single the excellent but rather mysterious "Queen Of The Rapping Scene" which must be the first British rap record which has a rap duel between Deane and unaccountably, the French Queen of the title. Yet it has all the flavours of the Blitz, Beat Route and Wag allying a dance beat with an unusual European flavour best exemplified by the accordion backing. If you read The Face at the time this is what it would have sounded like etched on vinyl - not that they would ever admit it.

The rest of the album has great highlights on it such as "The Running Song" which sounds like the most marvellous segue for "Oops Upside Your Head" - it has a great lolloping shuffle about it. "I Stand Alone" could be a Chic-record but for Deane's quaintly aloof vocal style. He is not the greatest singer but it his energy and belief in what he is doing that still makes it so compulsive

The album's opener - with admittedly a terrible title - "Bring On The Funkateers" is the most infectious song you've never heard with a classy guitar polish on it that is plugged right into the dance floor.

Of course, if you even hinted that this album was an important clubland record on both sides of the Atlantic - you'd be laughed at but it was called "Adventures In Clubland" after all and clearly Modern Romance had found an authentic way to live up to that particular title with their focus on mixes, extended rhythms and polished syncopation, tied to a Latin groove.

I know that the naysayers will be throwing all sorts of kitsch and inauthentic claims at this album but I assure you, it was a decidedly "modern" record.

Deane would only stay with the band for one more single - their rather camp version of the old Perez Prado number "Cherry Pink And Apple Blossom White". But I have to say that even comparatively recently when I have been asked to take a spin on the decks, this record has regularly brought cheers of approval and a mass outbreak of "disco bottom" from even the most normally cynical of listeners.

Famously, the trumpet used on their version by band member John Du Prez was the very same instrument that Eddie Calvert had used on his version in 1955 when the song had charted as a number one. Interestingly the B-side was in fact called "Who Is John Du Prez?" - another club classic, that has a kind of sixties spy-caper vibe.

The band would go on to even greater success in 1983, when they even achieved one of those secret popstar accolades by appearing in a Japanese whiskey commercial using one of their tracks "Juanita" - so do not under-estimate their popularity at the time. Their rather mushy ballad "Walking In the Rain" is still one of the best selling singles ever in Thailand.

However, for me - much as I have always liked "Don't Stop That Crazy Rhythm" - always felt something changed in the dynamic after Deane left. They moved into an uptempo party band, borrowing the oft-trodden path of assimilatinging more Motown tempos - listen to their cover of "Band Of Gold". They didn't seem to be thinking so much about the dance floor apart from the ones at weddings or barmitzvahs, more about chart placings. Deane may've seemed a little too spivvy but he worked particularly hard to experiment to find a sound that was completely current.

Deane, Jaymes and Du Prez all went on successfully to make commercial and soundtrack music; Deane with the soundtrack to "Kinky Boots" and Du Prez famously wrote the theme tune to hit comedy "One Foot In The Grave" amongst others.

Of course, I am now hoping that having played a few of these clips they have brought a smile to your face too. Modern Romance, of course wanted to be successful and they would go on any kids TV show to shift some more units. But they never wanted to make "Dark Side Of The Moon" or play Madison Square Garden but for a short and dazzling while they absolutely had the sound that the very coolest kids wanted to hear - even if now as then, to their shame, they would vehemently deny it.

I however, won't.

This isn't a confession because I have banished all sense of guilt, it's simply a pleasure. And in the spirit of confession, I urge you to dig deep into the attic and spend an afternoon with some music you would never normally admit to owning.

"Kick out the junk..."

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Apr 25, 2021

Well said, Tony!

I've always worn my so-called Guilty Pleasures on my sleeve: Idle Race, ELO, Stephen Bishop, Michael McDonald (with you on What A Fool Believes, although I pass on a lot of the Doobie stuff), and Rupert Holmes.

His Pina Colada song is a novelty noose, but look beyond it and much of his work is stunning (the Widescreen album for example). He was Barbra Streisand's MD, won Tony's for stage plays he wrote and Emmys for TV shows he wrote. And he's a Brit by birth (Northwich, Cheshire).

I wrote to him once, to tell him how much I appreciated his work, regardless of what the world said, and got back a lovely hand-written five page letter.

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