Jimmy Somerville looks like a lentil and sounds as though he’s about to come to the boil. [NME]
There you are. You see, it’s not all wilfully obscure stuff. [JP, 1984 FF]
Bronski Beat were originally known as ‘God Forbid’ (as in ‘god forbid I let you play that screechy-voiced singer on my hi-fi’). Steve Bronski, Larry Steinbachek and Jimmy Somerville shared a flat in Brixton and played only a handful of live gigs before they were signed to London Records in 1984. They were not so much a band as a concatenation of outwardly gay guys, drum machines and keyboards. Nonetheless, bands have been formed on much less, and Smalltown Boy (FF 1984 #48) led one into a netherworld of homophobia and gay-bashing (more immediately apparent on their follow-up, Why, a powerful, thrusting (if you get me) dance classic) and misunderstanding. Their sophomore single, though, was a dark tale of a young man leaving home in an attempt to find the love that would ‘never be found at home’. It begins with a sinister minor key motif that is shattered by snare drum whips and the keening vocals that are to this day an acquired taste. It made number 3 in the UK charts, and was accompanied by a video that made the heavily implied subject matter abundantly clear.
Despite the efforts of Frankie Goes To Hollywood and others, this was a time when being gay was still not generally mainstream material. Obviously, there was a market, though: the band went on to sell with and without the politically inclined Somerville, who formed the Communards, of which the NME said in the same review quoted at the head of this post, ‘Their songs are all either thumping 70s disco or lachrymose ballads about people dying of AIDS’ (and my wife still loves So Cold The Night). I still can’t hear the opening of Smalltown Boy without a frisson of recognition. They did a Peel session, too.