It’s the look, it’s the look, the look of ABC! Shoot that poison arrow!
Sheffield new-wave band ABC celebrated 40 years of chart hits in 2021. Yes, back in 1981 the fresh faced 20-somethings released their debut single, “Tears Are Not Enough” (which broke the top twenty), and they became 80’s icons, along with the likes of Spandau Ballet and Duran Duran, ABC remain one of the most recognisable sounds of the new era as pop music developed and utilised the most modern and advanced equipment available. Despite the comings and goings of various artists, the heart of ABC always remained the three founding members, singer Martin Fry (b.1958), percussionist Stephen Singleton (b.1959) and guitarist/keyboard player Mark White (b.1961), although for the hit-making years, drummer David Palmer would even the numbers out.
Singleton and White had formed the group Vice Versa in 1977 and had already released four albums before meeting with Fry, who was writing for a fanzine and interviewing the duo and ‘happened’ to mention his own ability to sing! Long story short, they formed ABC! Signed to Neutron Records, they released the aforementioned debut in October 1981. But it was the follow up, “Poison Arrow”, which made their name globally in early 1982 when it went to No.25 Stateside and produced a top ten hit internationally including a No.6 placing at home. With their first album ready for release, the third single would deliver a number one hit and a No.18 chart position in America, whilst reaching No.4 in the UK.
“The Look Of Love”, arguably their signature tune, was presented to a UK audience on Top Of The Pops with Fry wearing an all gold suit! Very new romantic. Very 80’s. It worked as the song became one of the biggest sellers of the year. As did the album, “The Lexicon Of Love”, which topped the UK chart and won Platinum discs all over the globe, including in America. A trio of top ten hits in the UK was achieved with “All Of My Heart” but before the band moved on to the next chapter, David Palmer left as the original threesome regrouped for album number two. The first single, “That Was Then But This Is Now” came the following October, but despite great expectations, seemed to fall short on both sides of the Atlantic, reaching No.18 in the UK and No.89 on the other side. The short-lived second album, “Beauty Stab”, was also received ‘lukewarm’ and after just one more single, “SOS”, Steve Singleton left the band.
Journalist Fiona Russell Powell (b.1962) and US musician David Yarritu joined the remaining Fry and White for part three in 1984 as the ‘refreshed’ quartet released “How To be A Millionaire”, which did put them back in the US top twenty, but missed the UK top 40. Further success was accorded Stateside with the album, “How to Be A…Zillionaire!” in 1985 along with a top ten hit there, “Be Near Me” (UK No.26). Powell and Yarritu made this their only ABC work and after two more low charting singles, left the band the following year. Considering all their options, Fry and White decided to continue ABC as a duo and hit back in 1987 with “When Smokey Sings”, their tribute to Smokey Robinson as well as a number of other ‘legendary’ performers and it’s catchy, upbeat tone seem to reignite something in us all as it produced their biggest chart hit in five years (US No.5, UK No.11).
A top ten hit album, “Alphabet City”, followed and a further UK chart hit with “The Night You Murdered Love”, all in 1987 as the pair now seemed to settle into this new format and capitalised with the release of their fifth album, “Up”, in 1989. A small UK hit was afforded the lead single, “One Better World” (No.32), upon release but after that, the album and subsequent releases fell flat. 1990 brought the Gold certified a best of, “Absolutely”, along with a remix of “The Look Of Love” while the following year, ABC released a new album, “Abracadabra”, which featured the single “Love Conquers All” (UK No.47). After the release of a second single, “Say It” (UK No.42), Fry and White, decided to take a break for an unknown length of time…
…that lasted six years with Fry, alone, releasing new material in 1997. Still using the ‘ABC’ name, Fry released the album, “Skyscraping”, and the lead single, “Stranger Things” on the deConstruction label, better known for it’s dance/club anthems of the early 90’s and, of course, it’s big signing of 1994, one Kylie Minogue. Sadly, the label, or the music, was no “Confide In Me” and the project was only appreciated by a very small audience. Fry continued to play ABC’s hits live and released the new song, “Peace And Tranquility”, in 2001 in support of another best of compilation. What was notable about this period was the reacquaintance of former drummer David Palmer, who made ABC a duo once more in 2003 and after a twenty year absence from the group. The pair would eventually record and release the album, “Traffic”, in 2008 as well as the single, “The Very First Time”.
But after six years as a duo, Palmer left Martin Fry to go it alone. And that’s what he’s done ever since. Touring and guesting at numerous 80’s festivals and keeping the ABC flame alive to his legion of fans who have followed the band for four decades now. The ABC story comes full circle with the release of the new album, “The Lexicon Of Love II” in 2016. Using the title of the band’s debut release 35 years earlier, Fry worked with noted songwriter and producer Anne Dudley to bring the past into the future and it worked! The album entered the UK chart at No.5, the best chart position since part one in 1981! The album featured the singles “Viva Love”, “The Flames Of Desire” and “Ten Below Zero”, all of which were as well received by critics as well as the public.
A new ABC best of, “The Essential ABC”, was released in 2020 along with a brand new track, “Look Good Tonite”, as Martin Fry seems set not to retire just yet and give the fans what they want for as long as possible. Not so much “When Smokey Sings”, more of when Martin sings…I hear everything!
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