Mute 4.0: Fad Gadget – Fireside Favourites (Mute album, 1980)

As part of Mute‘s fortieth ‘anti-versary’, the label is making available very special limited edition vinyl versions of selected releases from their four decades of releasing and curating incredible music. Full details on the releases can be found here.

Released in 1980, Fireside Favourites was the third album to be released by the nascent Mute imprint and the first LP by the sorely-missed, still woefully-overlooked Frank Tovey. Tovey’s early work as Fad Gadget played an enormously significant role in the development of Mute’s creative aesthetic, beginning with the Daniel Miller-produced ‘Back To Nature’ single and continuing with this album.

The creative team behind Fireside Favourites was common to a number of early Mute releases – the album was recorded by Eric Radcliffe at his esteemed Blackwing studio, accompanied by his young protégé John Fryer; Miller added extra synth nous to a number of the track and the sleeve was designed by Simone Grant. ‘Back To Nature’ isn’t among the tracks on the album (not an uncommon thing for early Mute albums), but a radically reworked version of its B-side ‘The Box’ appears toward the end.

As an album, Fireside Favourites is a collection of contrasts. The are moments of near-pop that brim with vibrant synth-driven energy, such as the frantic opener ‘Pedestrian’, which has one foot in the evolving post-punk movement and another in the developing electronic pop scene. But even in something like ‘Pedestrian’ there’s a noisy, clattering interlude and conclusion; the brief, mewling sound of a baby in the background, along with Tovey’s distinctive half-spoken / half-sung vocal, keeps this and other more accessible tracks like ‘Salt Lake City Sunday’ from feeling too accessible.

Elsewhere there are moments of ugly, abrasive noise that aligned our Fad with the works of contemporaries like Throbbing Gristle and Cabaret Voltaire, the processed vocal on single ‘Insecticide’ and the theme of ‘Newsreel’ being cases in point. The vivid lyrics on those songs nodded to Tovey’s physical stage performances and also carried a nihilistic, Ballardian impulse that Daniel Miller had also employed for his own ‘Warm Leatherette’ single.

What also emerges here, perhaps surprisingly, is a dark and occasionally threatening funk angle. ‘State Of The Nation’ has some solid drumming from Nick Cash and a treacly bassline from Eric Radcliffe over which are layered all sorts of sonic events, from squalling, saw-edged synth blasts to wonky melodies, to probably anything that was lying around in Blackwing at the time that could be made to make a sound. The seminal ‘Coitus Interruptus’ does the same, but its funky disposition is subsumed under unswerving, focussed synths that give this frustrated sexual paean a robotic quality, a bit like how Kraftwerk might approach Soft Cell’s ‘Sex Dwarf’; there’s an increasingly breathless, desperate, snarling quality to Tovey’s vocal here, the perfect human foil to the menacing, repetitive electronics that surround him on this weirdly anthemic track.

Tovey had a reputation for being something of a confrontational performer, but he was also a purveyor of dark humour. There’s no better example of this than the title track, bestowed with a wandering, irrepressibly joyous Radcliffe bassline and jazzy, (qu)easy listening brassy synths. It’s a lot of fun, but if you listen to the lyrics –sung with a gentle, music hall breeziness – they are unendingly grim, loaded with vivid post-apocalyptic imagery and a bit of that Crash-style perversity: “Hey now honey, open your eyes / There’s a mushroom cloud up in the sky / Your hair is falling out and your teeth are gone / Your legs are still together but it won’t be long.”

The rendition of ‘The Box’ is perhaps the most surprising of the tracks here. In the place of the original version’s insistent, over-amped synth bounce, the version here is much more subdued, with the distinctive synths being replaced by what could be a pump organ. The whole track only emerges out of its subdued, detached mood at the very end, making this almost the inverse of itself and acting as something of an oblique clue to Tovey’s later work under his own name with The Pyros.

Why this LP doesn’t seem to carry the same sort of influential weight as the synth albums that arrived en masse the following year – such as the similarly dark Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret by Tovey’s fellow Leeds Poly students Soft Cell – remains a bit of mystery to me. Perhaps Fad Gadget was too much of an outsider figure, too linked with that grubby, confrontational DIY industrial movement to appeal more broadly. The orange vinyl re-release of Fireside Favourites for the Mute 4.0 ‘anti-versary’ provides an ideal and timely opportunity to give this album the critical appreciation it always deserved.

For Mute 4.0, Fireside Favourites is being reissued as an orange LP edition.

(c) 2018 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

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Electronic Sound #21 – Print Edition


As if I wasn’t proud already about being part of the Electronic Sound team, this month that sense of pride went up a couple of notches as the publication made the transition from being an entirely digital proposition to a fully-fledged newsstand magazine. That’s a bold move in a day and age where we’re told that everything is going in the opposite direction, but the team at Electronic Sound have undoubtedly pulled it off. You can buy copies of the print edition here.

I’m doubly proud because one of the most important features I’ve ever had the good fortune to scribe is heavily featured in the first newsstand edition – an interview with Very Records owner and one half of Erasure, Vince Clarke. The interview was conducted one extremely sticky May afternoon in Vince’s Brooklyn home studio.

As if that wasn’t seismic enough for an individual whose entire interest in music writing can be traced back to a record label flyer that fell out of the 12″ single of Erasure’s ‘Chorus’ almost 25 years ago, we were joined by Orbital’s Paul Hartnoll by Skype from his home in Brighton to discuss the Clarke / Hartnoll album 2Square. Once I’d properly decided that dance music was the place for me in the mid-Nineties, Orbital were a duo I fell for in a big way, and so getting airtime with not one, but two, idols in one go was a pretty sweet deal. I am eternally grateful to Electronic Sound for this opportunity, and also to my family for letting me duck out of part of our vacation in New York to undertake the interview.
Photography for the interview came from the wonderful Ed Walker. Ed wrote a great piece about the experience for his website, which can be read here. While you’re there, please do take a look at Ed’s surreptitious photographs of New Yorkers, which are all taken during a specific period of the day where light is particularly beautiful.

In addition to the Clarke / Hartnoll feature, I also interviewed Rico Conning for this issue. Conning will be familiar to Mute fans because of the remixes and edits he did for the label during its Eighties heyday. I had not appreciated that prior to working at William Orbit’s Guerrila Studio, Conning (and Fad Gadget drummer Nick Cash) had been in a post-punk band called The Lines. The interview tells the story of their hitherto lost third album, Hull Down, which was finally released earlier this year.

(c) 2016 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence for Electronic Sound