You thought The Thompson Twins’ hairstyles and fashions were cool—even if a little weird, perhaps too ahead of their time—when the band started popping up on MTV.
The band’s early hits (“In The Name of Love,” “Lies,” “Hold Me Now”) were part of your junior high soundtrack, while later gems (“Lay Your Hands On Me,” “Doctor! Doctor!” “King for a Day” ushered you into high school.
You forgot about the British group after a while, and that’s not your fault: The tide had turned by the mid-1980’s, and commercial radio and MTV—following smash albums from Michael Jackson and Van Halen—kicked a lot of New Wavers (Flock of Seagulls, Human League, Level 42, Duran Duran) to the curb to accommodate the R&B, hip-hop, and hair-metal darlings of the day.
Heck, Thompsons Twins only lasted into the early ‘90s, anyway, downsizing from trio to duo as grunge reared its flannel head. You went to college. Maybe listened to Pearl Jam, Nirvana, and Extreme. Got married, had kids. Were it not for your impressionable offspring, you wouldn’t know diddley about today’s “artists” at all.
You’re not thinking fourth-dimensionally, Marty.
Here’s to future days…and to yesterday’s music.. New Wave is back with a vengeance. You can hear the percolating Linn drum machines, jangly guitars, and swirling synths of the ‘80s in millennial bands like Neon Trees and Panic! At the Disco. And some of those old-school keyboards pioneers—like Howard Jones (“No One Is to Blame,” “What Is Love?”)—are still alive and well, thank you very much.
Jones was instrumental (pun very intended) in nudging Thompson Twins front man Tom Bailey from semiretirement recently. Since the late ‘90s Jones confined his musical activities to England—and Bailey hasn’t performed his old hits in nearly thirty years. But now the two dance pop maestros are co-headlining The Retro Futura Tour 2014.
The tour—which also features Katrina (without The Waves), Midge Ure (of Ultravox), and China Crisis—pulls into Cleveland’s Performing Arts Center at Masonic Auditorium on August 25th for a four-hour throwback party that’ll have concertgoers feeling like it’s 1984 all over again.
Minus the pimples and corduroy pants.
Bailey was happy to discuss the tour—and revisit the time when Here’s to Future Days seemed prophetic—during an e-chat last week. The architect of The Thompson Twins’ trademark dance-rock sound seemed genuinely excited to be rolling back the clock (and radio dial), which has us that much more stoked for the show.
CLEVELAND MUSIC EXAMINER: How did the Retro Futura tour come about?
TOM BAILEY: Retro Futura is a regular annual touring bill of musicians who have worked in the 1980’s.
EXAMINER: What made you decide the time was right for revisiting some of your Thompson Twins material now, after so many years?
TOM BAILEY: I had a very fixed idea that I would never do something like this. I never really entertained the possibility at all. Then, about nine months ago, I was working with Mexican artist Alex Syntek on co-writing a song. He suggested that I sing on it with him and his enthusiasm carried me over the line. It was the first time I had sung on anything "officially" for decades. Then Howard Jones asked me if I was interested in touring this year...and I found myself starting to take it seriously.
EXAMINER: I understand former Thompson Twins Alannah (Currie) and Joe (Leeway) aren’t on the tour, but will you have a backing band with you on Retro Futura, and if so, who is in it?
TOM BAILEY: I have a fantastic band of electronic musicians: Amanda Kramer and Angie Pollock on keyboards and Emily Dolan Davies on electronic drums.
EXAMINER: I loved hearing your songs on the radio in the ‘80s but was still too young to attend any shows, so it’s great to have you back in the U.S. playing them. Do you find that a lot of people attending the shows feel the same way?
TOM BAILEY: Well, I'm writing this before any of the shows, so I'm still waiting to find out!
EXAMINER: The 80’s are often unfairly maligned as having lots of novelty bands and one-hit wonders, but that's true of any era. I think 80’s music is coming back around, just as music of the 60’s and 70’s did, and that a lot of younger people are checking out what they missed and giving it a new kind of validation. Do you see this cross-generational thing going on?
TOM BAILEY: I spent the 80’s being seen as new and revolutionary, the 90’s as mainstream, the 2000’s as irrelevant…so it's kind of strange to wake up in this decade and find myself being described as "classic!” But I'm one of the people looking back and learning from the past as well as the present, so I don't complain.
EXAMINER: A lot of people thought Thompson Twins was a new band when you began getting airplay and people first saw you on MTV, but you’d actually been doing music a few years already. How did the band start, and evolve, circa Quick Step and Side Kick, from the larger 6/7 piece group into the three-piece we’re more familiar with?
TOM BAILEY: The band began, like so many others, as a group of guitar strumming friends inspired by the punk/new wave explosion of freedom. We evolved into a synth-pop band because the time finally came when I could afford a synthesizer. I'd been waiting a long time.
EXAMINER: One of your most endearing songs is “Hold Me Now.” Could you talk about where that tune came from? It’s a nice ballad with some great lyrics, musical changes, hook, and bridge.
TOM BAILEY: “Hold Me Now” is a song based on real experience, in that it describes the feelings of uncertainty which go with drifting apart and then reconciliation. It's a study in human behaviour, not a work of imagination. It actually came quite easily. The best songs often seem to.
EXAMINER: “Doctor Doctor” uses the old love-as-ailment analogy. What inspired that song?
TOM BAILEY: So many things...but one thing I like to remember is that Edith Sitwell, having been given two honorary doctorates, insisted on being addressed with both titles! Seriously, I think that having been brought up in a medical family predisposed me to that level of the metaphor, but as you say...it's been done many times because it resonates.
EXAMINER: How about “Lies?” I remember hearing that was done partly in jest, in response to music journalists? Still, it’s a fun tune with a nice “Yeah!” chorus.
TOM BAILEY: Yes, we were playing with the truth about ourselves, so we wrote “Lies.” I've reinterpreted it as a more general criticism of the way we receive information.
EXAMINER: Can you tell us a little about “If You were Here,” which featured into the dramatic conclusion of 16 Candles? I just picked that movie up at the library to relive it.
TOM BAILEY: I like this song. It's the only one I perform now which was never released as a single, probably because it doesn't have a chorus. My take on it now is that it's not just about honesty in relationships, but also about taking responsibility for the failure of our dreams.
EXAMINER: Thompson Twins worked with producer Steve Lillywhite early on. What was it like working with him, and how did things change with Alex Sadkin? Both produced some of the biggest bands of the day.
TOM BAILEY: I've been lucky to work with Steve, Alex and Nile Rodgers , three of the all-time great producers. I could talk for hours about each one. They all contributed something special to the records they worked on, but of course I learned from each of them, too.
EXAMINER: What inspired you to start playing music? In late ‘70s London, who were some of your influences?
TOM BAILEY: I played music from a very young age, before I knew what I was doing. I guess I was around it so it became the language I spoke.
EXAMINER: How’d you decide upon the Thompson Twins name? I recall a lot of my classmates seeing you on television and asking, rather narrow-mindedly, “Which ones are the twins? None of them look like twins!” Did that ever get old?
TOM BAILEY: Yes, but people still ask!
EXAMINER: I’d have to dig up the notes in my vinyl records (they’re at home), but apart from writing most of the songs and singing lead, which instruments did you play?
TOM BAILEY: I played almost everything on the synth era recordings, other than percussion - which we shared, and guitars (see next question).
EXAMINER: There’s some stellar guitar work on the old albums. I recall a particular guitar break (in the middle of “Lay Your Hands,” I think) where it’s this almost intentional hard rock moment. I always dug that. Did Nile Rodgers have anything to do with the guitar picture, given he produced with you on Here’s To Future Days?
TOM BAILEY: I couldn't resist asking Nile to play on Here’s to Future Days. But Steve Stevens and I also played a lot.
EXAMINER: Do you tend to write lyrics first and put them to music, or do you write lyrics later, specifically for music you’ve come up with (or match lyrics to pieces of music that you think suit best)?
TOM BAILEY: I work either way. No rules.
EXAMINER: Unlike a lot of groups who were very successful in the 80’s and then stepped away from the industry, you kept making music, albeit in other forms. Can you talk about your work with Babble, International Observer, and with BSP (Bailey-Salgado), so fans know what you’ve been up to?
TOM BAILEY: Babble was a post-Thompson Twins experiment in underground trance/dance pop. International Observer is an electronic dub project. The Holiwater Band is a fusion project based on the classical and folk music of North India. These three have released ten albums between them. The Bailey-Salgado Project makes films about astronomy and sets them to music. So it uses art to engage with science.
EXAMINER: What are you working on next?
TOM BAILEY: I'm presently rehearsing for the tour!
EXAMINER: Thanks so much!
TOM BAILEY: You're most welcome. See you in Cleveland!