The Shamen once proclaimed they were “Phorever People”, but what happened and where did they go?
The Shamen were formed in Aberdeen in 1986 by Colin Angus (born 1961), Derek McKenzie (born 1964) and Keith McKenzie (born 1961). Peter Stephenson (born 1962) joined the line up the following year as Angus took centre stage. The group described themselves as producing ‘psychedelic electronic pop/rock’ and had actually released their debut single “They May Be Right…But They’re Certainly Wrong” in 1985. This was followed by “Young Till Yesterday/World Theatre” in 1986 that preceded their debut album “Drop” in 1987. Although neither the singles nor the album were commercially successful, they found a following in clubs and private parties, as did the tracks “Something About You” and “Strange Days Dream” from the same long player.
In 1988 Angus and Co. met musician and rapper Richard West (born 1966 aka ‘Mr. C’) who quickly established a new direction with the group and a move into more hardened rave-dance music. This was evident in the group’s second album “In Gorbachev We Trust” (1989) which included the singles “Christopher Mayhew Says”, “Jesus Loves Amerika” and “Transcendental”. 1989 was a busy year for the group with the release of a ‘mini album’ in “Phorward” and its singles “Knature Of A Girl” and “You Me And Everything”. And the end of the year they released a brand new track “Omega Amigo” which would become the prelude to the group’s third full studio album.
While this period established The Shamen as one of the foremost dance/club acts with an impressive following, it would not be until the 1990’s that the group would make the leap into the charts and get recognition commercially. That began with “Pro Gen”, the second new single that came in early 1990 and although the single only reached No.55 in the UK, it paved the way for the group to be signed to London based label One Little Indian Records. More promotion was given to their October 1990 release “Make It Mine” that went a little bit further in the UK to No.42, but more significantly it found its way to the top of the US dance chart. Result!
The third album “En-Tact” followed immediately after and would make its way to No.31 in the UK and No.138 in the US, helped by the singles “Hyperreal” (UK No.29 – their first top 40 hit) and the single which would break them globally “Move Any Mountain”. The song became their second US dance chart topper but it was its commercial success across Europe and in reaching No.38 on the US Billboard singles chart that finally cemented their name and style out in the open (the song would chart top five in the UK, Belgium, Switzerland and Finland).
Production of the group’s fourth studio album “Boss Drum” flowed very soon after this with the first new track “LSI” (love, sex, intelligence) coming in the Spring of 1992. Once again the song topped the US dance chart and made No.6 on the UK singles chart as well as reaching No.1 on the Finnish singles chart. But the success The Shamen had attained thus far would be eclipsed in the late Summer of 92 with their second single “Ebeneezer Goode”. Enough has already written about this track, even twenty six years after its release. Banned by the BBC. Debated in parliament. Sensationalised and derided by the press. Perhaps those are the perfect ingredients for a number one hit? Just as Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s “Relax” had become the pheonomenon ten years earlier, so “Eberneezer Goode” joined that elite group of songs that reached the very top with very little airing. “A great philosopher once said “naughty, naughty, very naughty”. Indeed!
“Boss Drum” came in September 1992 and would be certified double Platinum in the UK for sales of over 600,000 copies. The album was a more modest hit across the rest of Europe and failed to follow “En-Tact”‘s success in America, but the singles kept The Shamen both current and very much alive in those territories. The title track followed that Autumn and peaked at No.4 in the UK, No.2 in Finland and No.8 on the US dance chart, as well as reaching the top twenty across the rest of mainland Europe.
A fifth single “Phorever People” was released at Christmas 1992 and gave The Shamen their third consecutive UK top five his as well as being their fifth consecutive UK top ten hit overall. The song also topped the US dance chart becoming their fourth to do so and gave the group their fifth top twenty hit elsewhere of 1992. It seems a mixture of controversy and attention had worked their magic, seven years on from their debut issue. “Keep generating, joy making, keep dreaming on phorever people” was the new edict moving forward.
Two futher singles were released from “Boss Drum”, “Re:Evolution” (UK No.18) and “Comin’ On Strong” (UK No.14), the latter also charting high across Europe. The group returned with their fifth album “Axis Mutatis” in 1995, preceded by the single “Destination Eschaton” which became their last US dance chart hit when it reached No.14 there. It made No.15 on the UK singles chart, becoming their eighth consecutive top twenty hit there.
“Axis Mutatis” reached No.27 in the UK and featured three further singles “Transamazonia” (UK No.27), “MK2A” (which failed to chart anywhere) and “Heal (The Separation)” (UK No.31). 1996 saw the release of “Hempton Manor” an entirely instrumental album of drum and bass tracks. It did not chart anywhere and was the last album released through One Little Indian. The year also saw a remixed version of “Move Any Mountain” with ’96’ added on the end released. It made No.35 on the UK top 40.
“UV”, their seventh album, was released in 1998 on a new label, Moksha and featured one commercially released single “Universal”. Neither made any impact on the sales charts and it seemed the group had returned to it origins ten years earlier. The following year both Colin Angus and ‘Mr. C’ called time on The Shamen and the members went their separate ways. Angus has worked on various music projects since but has generally slipped away from the limelight. ‘Mr. C’ has continued to be a much sought after DJ and a nightclub owner. In 2002 he formed Superfreq which spanned both musical events as well as a record label. Performances have largely been in the US, but he has toured across the Far East and seven ‘seasons’ on the club island of Ibiza. His most recent release through the record label has been “Soulfuric” in 2017.
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