On Track: Tracing the Synth Pop and New Romantic Scene

Nightclubs and live venues, churches, schools and courtyards—a tour of the sites where legendary pop bands began their global careers and which shaped the outlook of a whole generation.

Depeche Mode Plakette (2019)Deutsches Museum

Track-Seeking: The Stars' First Steps

In the early 1970s the synthesizer finally achieved its big break. More and more bands were getting involved with the creation of artificial tones and sounds. A lot of these groups became world-famous—from Pink Floyd and Depeche Mode to Spandau Ballet and Duran Duran. But where did these bands start out? Where did they play their first concerts? Where did they first meet? Where did they go to school? Where did they live? A journey tracing the beginnings of these major pop stars.

James Hornsby School in Basildon, Essex. When the school was still called Nicholas Comprehensive School, Andy Fletcher and Martin Gore played their first concert together with Dave Gahan and Vince Clark in May 1980 before starting their huge global career as Depeche Mode.

One of the band's most successful hits was People Are People, released in 1984. The indoor filming for the video took place on the former HMS Belfast, which is now anchored on the Thames in front of London's South Bank.

Depeche Mode Plakette (2019)Deutsches Museum

A plaque at James Hornsby School still commemorates that performance today. After leaving Depeche Mode, Vince Clarke founded another band together with his old school friend Alison Moyet…

Yazoo. Here in Blackwing Studios in southeast London in the rooms of a church that was previously destroyed by air raids in 1941, Clarke and Moyet recorded their debut album Upstairs at Eric's. They took both of their biggest hits—singles Only You and Don't Go— from this album, which reached number 2 and 3 in the UK charts. Shortly after releasing their second album You and Me Both in July 1983, the duo split up due to artistic differences.

Depeche Mode also recorded their first LP Speak & Spell here on Pepper Street near London Bridge in 1981. In September 2001, the studio closed. The building has stood empty ever since.

One of the most famous London clubs where key figures of the New Romantic genre came and went from the late seventies was Billy's on Dean Street in Soho. Musicians like Duran Duran, Spandau Ballet, and Ultravox partied in the 1730s building. Regular guests also included Boy George from Culture Club and Steve Strange from Visage. The nightclub was later renamed Gossip's. Today, 69 Dean Street is home to the Dean Street Townhouse, an elegant hotel and restaurant.

Another hotspot considered a breeding ground for New Romantics was the Blitz on Great Queen Street near Covent Garden. Opened in 1979, the club served as an escape and distraction from the harsh reality and bleak prospects at the peak of the recession. Its Tuesday evenings were legendary, with Visage duo Steve Strange and Rusty Egan inviting themselves to the party and even standing at the entrance. Only regular guests with an extravagant style and creative outfit were allowed in. Some of the most famous Blitz Kids included Boy George, Billy Idol, and Midge Ure from Ultravox. It's now the location of a strip club.

Spandau Ballet Plakette (2014)Deutsches Museum

This plaque has hung in the top-left of the entrance to the former Blitz since 2014 to commemorate the first performance by Spandau Ballet in December 1979.

However, there was also a scene across the rest of the United Kingdom in the early eighties which wanted to present a colorful antithesis to bleak and gray everyday life. One of the most famous clubs outside London was the Haçienda in Manchester. Founded by new wave band New Order in 1982, it was also the stage for numerous parties and concerts. Even Madonna played here. The Haçienda later became a center of the Madchester sound which caused a sensation from the late eighties, mixing together indie, psychedelia, dance, and funk. After closing in 1997, the club was demolished. Apartments now stand in its place. The only thing that remains is its name…

Even if people most associate Liverpool with the Beatles, countless new wave bands also formed here in the post-punk era. Here in Eric's on Matthew Street, directly opposite the famous Cavern Club where the Beatles frequently performed, one band had its debut concert in 1978 who would later play worldwide: Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, with duo Andy McCluskey and Paul Humphreys. The band celebrated their greatest success in 1981 with their studio album Architecture & Morality which reached number 3 in the UK charts.

The Warehouse in Leeds became one of the true epicenters of the northern England club scene. From Frankie Goes to Hollywood to Oasis, countless major bands of the 1980s and 1990s performed here. Two local lads who got to know each other at Leeds Polytechnic even celebrated their first stage appearance here in 1980: Marc Almond and David Ball. As Soft Cell, they took the number 1 spot in the UK single chart just a year later with Tainted Love.

And in the tranquil town of Bath, it wasn't just the world-famous thermal spas that were bubbling. The music scene was also boiling over in the early eighties. Probably the best and most well-known club across the whole of the UK was Tiffany's on Saw Close, where local boys Roland Ozabal and Curt Smith of Tears for Fears among others played here just before they shot to the top of the British charts in 1983 with their debut album The Hurting. The band still exists today, but not Tiffany's. In its place is a small supermarket.

The steel industrial town of Sheffield was also where a group of young musicians forged a great career as The Human League. The band was born from an evening in the Crazy Daisy Nightclub in 1980 when musicians Phil Oakey and Adrian Wright met teenagers Susanne Sulley and Joanne Catherall. A year later, the quartet shot up to number 1 in the UK charts with the album Dare! and single Don't You Want Me. For its 15 years from 1973 to 1988, the Crazy Daisy was based in a 1920s art deco building on York Street around the corner from the high street.

A side note on how a city supermarket store later moved into Tiffany's in Bath. The same local offshoot of the same chain.

Nothing at all remains of the site where one band performed, a band that can never be left out of 1980s pop history: Duran Duran. Founded in 1978 in Birmingham, the Rum Runner nightclub served as both the practice room and location of their first concert. The club's owners, brothers Michael and Paul Berrow, managed the band until 1986. Today, in the shadow of a new hotel building, there are no traces of the legendary club on Broad Street that was torn down in 1987 apart from the inofficial name of this side street: Rum Runner Yard, being on one end the site of a 4-star-superior hotel.

Duran Duran had just reached the UK charts top 10 with their third single Girls on Film when 27-year-old music journalist Neil Tennant bought a cable for his synthesizer in the electronics department of this shopping center on Sloane Square, and started talking to 21-year-old architecture student Chris Lowe. It was the start of the band the Pet Shop Boys.

A good four years later in November 1985, their debut single West End Girls landed at number 1 in the UK singles chart.

Another pair met in London just a few years before the Pet Shop Boys. A 21-year-old Annie Lennox was working here on Hampstead High Street at the Pippin restaurant as a waitress to fund her music studies when she first met Dave Stewart. The two of them became a duo. They first played music together in punk band The Catch, which later gave rise to The Tourists. From 1980, the two of them started out as a duo in the Eurythmics. Although their private relationship broke down soon after, the band stayed together and celebrated their first big hit in 1983 with Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This).

Simmons was a cocktail bar on Wardour Street on a side street leading off from the Oxford Street shopping district. From 1977 to 1978, for just a short but very influential time, it was the site of the Vortex, a punk club where one of the first new wave bands would perform: Tubeway Army. The band, founded by Gary Numan in 1975, achieved pioneering work in the synth pop genre. Their single Are Friends Electric was the first synthesizer hit to reach number 1 in the UK charts.

After disbanding Tubeway Army, Gary Numan embarked on a solo career. He soon landed his biggest hit with his first single Cars which took the top spot in the British charts in 1979. One of the most legendary appearances Numan had, also immortalized on CD and DVD, was here in the Hammersmith Odeon in October 1989. For Numan, it was a performance in his hometown. He was born into this world in 1958 just nearby in the Hammersmith constituency and also grew up there under his real name, Gary Anthony James Webb.

Pink Floyd Plaque (2015)Original Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Pink_Floyd_Plaque_-_35_Marylebone_Road_London_NW1_5LS.jpg

Roger Waters, Nick Mason, and Richard Wright could well have been famous architects after completing their architecture studies at the University of Westminster, an educational institution founded in 1838 as the Royal Polytechnic Institution. However, the three young students decided to form a band during their university years from 1962 to 1965. It ended up being a great idea and brought them fame and fortune, and they started their global music career as Pink Floyd. Since 2015, a plaque has hung at the university on 35 Marylebone Road in London NW1 to commemorate its famous students. Roger Waters said during the unveiling: "We were really terrible musicians at the time."

39 Stanhope Gardens was on a quiet little side street in South Kensington with typical English terraced houses. This is where drummer Nick Mason and bass guitarist Roger Waters lived during their architecture studies. Later, guitarist Syd Barrett and keyboardist Rick Wright also moved in here. The band was first called The Spectrum Five, and sometimes also Leonard's Lodgers, after their landlord Mike Leonard. They started out playing blues. The name Pink Floyd, which the band called themselves from 1965, was also a tribute to Barrett's favorite blues musicians, Pink Anderson and Floyd Council. Under this name, they finally began to develop their psychedelic, spherical sound, as Nick Mason once said: "We significantly changed our music in Stanhope Gardens."

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