English band b-Movie emerged on the back of the late 1970s new wave explosion. Singles got into the Top 100 in the UK and they were in the Top 10 in several European countries but, mysteriously, mainstream success always eluded them. With a handful of brilliant singles and just one studio album (1985s "Forever Running" on Sire) as their official legacy, b-Movie petered out into obscurity, whilst the bootleg releases, particularly of the early material recorded during their time with the Dead Good label, continued apace - even to this day.
Almost twenty years on, it's hard to think of another British band that more fully deserve a second bite of the success cherry than b-Movie. Time then to celebrate the news that they have reformed.
DSO's Rob Dyer had a friend paint a T-shirt with the cover of b-Movie's
second single "Marilyn Dreams" when it came out in 1982, we could think
of no one better ask lead vocalist and founding member Steve Hovington
a few questions. So he did...
DSO: There will be tens of thousands of fans across the globe that will be surprised but delighted to hear that the band has reformed. How did this happen - what prompted thoughts of a reformation?
Steve Hovington: The Internet has revived interest in many bands whose careers seemed dead and buried. Our website definitely breathed new life into the ghost that was b-Movie. Somehow the situation had never been resolved in my head. We were sort of undead. I never really wanted the band to split up - it had been my life for six years as lead vocalist and lyricist. Some bands just carry on regardless. We reluctantly decided to call it a day - it was like breaking up with a long term girlfriend with whom you'd spent your formative years.
We'd captured a unique sound over the years and achieved a lot considering where we'd started out from. But I suppose it all came down to the fact that we'd never had that hit record or made an album that could have provided foundations for our career. b-Movie created hugely melodic and atmospheric music that somehow didn't fit in with the times. We were out of step with what was going on. Recently I played Remembrance Day live acoustically and it felt fresh and relevant. I started to think it would be good to play it again in a band context. Listening back to some of the old songs I feel they haven't dated that much, many contemporary bands use the same analogue synths we were using in 1981.
I recently moved to South East London and became a neighbour of Paul Statham who was the original guitarist then keyboard player in the band. It seemed to coincide with renewed interest in b-movie and over a few pints both of us agreed it would be a fun thing to get back up on stage together and play some of the old classics again. I put the idea to my manager Andy Woods who contacted Flag Promotions and the Elektrofest gig was arranged.
I've recently seen John Foxx at The Scala and Air at The Brixton Academy both inspirational gigs fuelling the desire to bring b-Movie back to life. We wouldn't do it unless we felt we still had something to offer and it's a chance to lay some ghosts to rest.
Is this just for the Elektrofest festival or will it be permanent, and who is in the new line up?
Who knows? I'm keeping the door open to further possibilities. If it goes well why not? Although at the moment The Elektrofest show is the only thing planned. The line-up features myself on vocals, Paul Statham on guitar, keyboards and programming and Martin Smedley on keyboards and guitar. There may yet be some guest appearances.
I'd come across the Amethyst project featuring Steve (Hovington - lead vocalist) a couple of years ago, but what have the original members been up to since the original split?
After b-Movie I formed a band called One. We signed to Chrysalis in 1987 and recorded an album "Upstream" as well as releasing two singles. In the early nineties Rick Holliday originally keyboard player with b-Movie joined One. We recorded a TV show for ITV live at the Town and Country Club. The band split in 1992 after which I played a lot of solo acoustic shows with view to recording my own album unfortunately it never got released.
A short-lived musical project followed called Burst again with Rick. After that I was in a band called The Deadbeats with Jerry from the Clay People. We made a video for the one of our songs "Angel" produced by Andy Bird. In 1993 I formed Laughing Gas, releasing a single called "Baroque Chick" in 1994 produced by Johnny Dollar (Massive Attack, Neneh Cherry). In the late nineties I recorded an album with Amethyst "Golden Fish Fever" contributing three songs, in particular the single "Electric Jesus".
Recently I have been playing acoustic shows again in London and recorded a radio session for Resonance FM last year with John Shillibeer. Last year I also composed some music (along with Peter Glennie of Exit52) for acclaimed French Photographer Dolores Marat's Oblique exhibition at the Open Eye gallery in Liverpool. The music is as haunting as Marat's photographs, centred on a singular dissonant beat of the heart, wrapped around with lonely and echoing sounds to make the sort of regretful late night melodies that compliment the images perfectly.
Have you any idea why the band never achieved its mainstream potential? This is something I know many (myself included) have never understood.
As I said before we were out of step with the times. We had more in common with Pink Floyd and The Doors than Vince Clarke's school of plinky-plonky synth pop. We used synths and experimented but our quirky brand of psychedelia was never fashionable enough and we were as Steve Sutherland put it "as out of place as plaster ducks on a high tech wall".
We could have gone down the Soft Cell route but decided to stick to our vision which brought us into conflict with our record company. We should have released an album around the time of the Radio 1 sessions in 1981. We could have gone on from there but were held back by lack of singles success which seemed to determine whether or not we would record an album. In the end we did but it was too late.
You had quite a bit of success outside the UK - what was that like?
Our first European tour was in December 1981. We played Holland, Belgium, France and Spain. It was fantastic. We were following in the footsteps of our idols Simple Minds round Europe. We toured America three times in all. Once in summer 1982 playing just the East Coast. We were thrown right in at the deep end and it was a mad rollercoaster ride from start to finish. It was all a bit much and I came back an emotional wreck.
The following year we played Israel and Spain where "Nowhere Girl" was big hit then America again as well as Canada playing two nights at The Roxy in LA. It was great having some success elsewhere after the disappointments in the UK. Our final American tour was in July 1985 to promote the album "Forever Running". It wasn't as good as in previous years and we lacked promotion from our record company Sire. Our last ever shows took place in Madrid a city where we had experienced our biggest success.
How do you feel about that period?
It was great playing to appreciative audiences abroad but I think we would have preferred to have had an album under our belts. We were promoting a single "Nowhere Girl" that had already failed to chart in the UK so it felt a bit like after the fact. The original lineup had split and it we had a succession of line-up changes which eventually resulted in a more electronic dance sound in The New Order ilk.
We worked with Jellybean in the mid eighties as well as other Dance producers. I think the radio sessions of 1984 show a return to form and a new maturity, definitely in songs like "Furnishing the Empty Dream" and the Sire single "A Letter from Afar". It was really b-Movie Mark 2 and whose to say it was any less relevant than the first incarnation.
I heard that the "Forever Running" album has recently been reissued on CD (with extra track as "The Platinum Collection" on WEA)?
Yeh. Mixed feelings. Not our finest hour. Over-produced. Too big sounding. But still it was our only ever proper studio album and maybe my feelings towards it have softened over the years. It would be great to have the Some Bizzare material on an album proper.
Do you find the structure of the music business now more exciting than twenty years ago, or does he whole thing fill you with fear that it is harder than ever to make a living out of it?
I never got into music to make a living out of it. The creative process and the desire to earn money out of it were two separate things. It's only comparatively recently that people go in to music to have a 'career' - take the manufactured groups of today. I was more fired up with the passion for creating music. Maybe that was our downfall we weren't sussed out enough business wise and when your managed by a 17 year old lunatic it's hard to see how we were ever going to have a sustained career in music.
Paul has become a really successful songwriter and good luck to him but there must have been many times when he thought of jacking it in. You've just got to persevere and not give in. I earn a living like many normal people but my creativity is undiminished. If I make some money out of it one day then I think I've earnt it. I still want to make music for pleasure above all else.
Do you have any new material? What writing and recording plans do you have?
I've recorded a couple of songs with Martin Smedley, very much in the b-Movie style. We're hoping to record them properly soon - watch this space. We're updating our sound and along with it there is a new energy for writing new stuff. We'll see how the Elektrofest gig goes then take it from there.
(May 2006 Postcript: Sadly, due to circumstances beyond their control, b-Movie never did appear at Elektrofest that year. However, they did perform at The Metro in London in March of this year - but we missed that [damn].)
A shorter version of this interview first appeared in Kaleidoscope Magazine - http://www.kaleidoscopemusic.org.uk
Official b-Movie website: http://www.b-movie.co.uk
See also: Amethyst on DSO