80’s pop star, 90’s solo artist, what has happened to Jimmy Somerville? You make us feel, mighty real!
For nearly forty years, Jimmy Somerville has been in integral part of the British music scene. In the 1980’s as the lead singer in two groups and as a solo artist in the 1990’s. Born in Glasgow in 1961, James William Somerville co-founded the group Bronski Beat in 1983 with Steve Bronski and Larry Steinbachek. The group debuted in 1984 with what would become their signature tune “Smalltown Boy”, which made No.3 in the UK and charted top ten across Europe and topped the US dance chart. It reached No.48 on the singles chart there.
Bronski Beat released their debut album “The Age Of Consent” in October and gained further chart hits with “Why?” (UK No.6) and “It Ain’t Necessarily So” (UK No.16). The album reached No.4 in the UK and has been Platinum certified for sales of over 300,000 copies. It climbed to No.36 in the US as well as following “Smalltown Boy” into the top ten across Europe and Canada. “Smalltown Boy” returned to the UK chart in 1991 reaching No.32 and again in 2013 making No.95. It has sold over 500,000 copies in the UK to date.
Soon after this initial success, Jimmy left the group and together with musician Richard Coles, formed The Communards. Their debut release “You Are My World” only made No.30 in the UK and the follow up “Disenchanted” did one better in January 1986 making No.29. It was their third single, a cover of Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes 1975 hit “Don’t Leave Me This Way”, that finally found success topping the chart in four countries including the UK, where it ended up the biggest seller of 1986. The song made the top ten in fifteen countries and broke the US singles chart at No.40.
The band’s self-titled debut album was released in July and made No.7 in the UK as well as charting high across Europe and No.90 in The States. “So Cold The Night” was another top ten hit later the same year and a remix of “You Are My World” released at the beginning of 1987 climbed to No.21 in the UK as well as breaking the top 40 in many parts of Europe.
The Communards were not just Jimmy and Richard, they employed two further musicians and singers with Sally Herbert and Caroline Buckley, who would later form the group Banderas (a previously featured Where Are They Now?) and had a minor UK hit in 1991 with “This Is Your Life”. Writing and recording of the band’s second album was well under way by the time the remixed “You Are My World” had been issued with the first single “Tomorrow” being released in August 1987. The track made No.23 in the UK and mi-charted across Europe. Again, it was a cover version that would give the group their next big hit, this time the Jackson Five’s 1971 hit “Never Can Say Goodbye” which took The Communards back into the top five in eleven countries and to No.51 in the US.
The second album “Red” equaled this position in the UK, also going Platinum status and No.93 in America. It peaked at No.3 in France gaining a Gold certificate for sales of over 200,000 copies there. Two further singles were lifted from the album, “For A Friend” (UK No.28) and “There’s More To Love” (UK No.20), both released in early 1988. And that was the end of The Communards! Coles and Somerville went their separate ways with Jimmy now focused on a musical career by himself.
Jimmy wasted no time at all and returned in 1989 with the song “Comment Te Dire Adieu”, a cover of Françoise Hardy’s 1968 French classic. Jimmy teamed up with musician and backing singer June Miles-Kingston and took the song to No.14 in the UK and No.3 in France, where it sold over 200,000 copies. It would be the prelude to Jimmy’s debut solo album “Read My Lips”, released in November that year.
Although sales were initially slow, things picked up pace dramatically in January 1990 with the release of the second single “You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)”, a cover of US disco singer Sylvester’s 1978 hit. Somerville took his version to No.5 in the UK, beating Sylvester’s 1978 chart high of No.8, which to date is the highest UK chart position attained by the song. “Read My Lips” would eventually sell over 100,000 copies there, gaining a Gold certification by The British Music Industry. A third single “Read My Lips (Enough Is Enough)” peaked at No.26 that Spring.
Somerville has released five studio albums since then as well as two highly successful greatest hits albums in 1990 and 2001. He achieved a second top ten hit in 1990 with “To Love Somebody” (UK No.8) and a top twenty hit with “Hurt So Good” in 1995, from his album “Dare To Love” (UK No.38). The lead single from the album, “Heartbeat”, had earlier topped the US dance chart and reached No.24 in the UK.
In 2015 Jimmy realised a long held dream of recording a disco album, taking him back to the music he grew up listening to. The album “Homage” included the singles “Back To Me” and “Travesty”. Jimmy announced “I’ve finally made the disco album I always wanted to and never thought I could”. Jimmy continues to play live and in July this year, will join fellow 80’s stars Nik Kershaw and Howard Jones for an 80’s Classical Night in Leeds as part of the Symphonic Sounds of Back to Basics tour. The show will also feature T’Pau and Johnny Hates Jazz. Click here for tickets!