Blancmange frontman Neil Arthur is going back to the future
As Blancmange return to the road to promote new album, Wanderlust, MALCOLM WYATT talks travel, happy families and more with the band's mastermind, Neil Arthur
At a time international debate and key government policies are focused on borders and freedom of movement, it’s clear to see where Lancashire born and bred musician Neil Arthur draws his lines.
Pop chart success may be behind the sole survivor of 80s hit-makers Blancmange, but plenty of acclaim and adulation remains for this Gloucestershire-based East Lancastrian’s body of work.
Wanderlust, his second album this year after a collaboration with electronic solo artist Jez Bernholz, is the fifth Blancmange LP since Neil’s musical partner Stephen Luscombe was forced by illness to stop touring or recording in 2011. If there’s an overriding theme to this album, recorded in Cornwall with Ben Edwards, aka Benge, it revolves around the title, a strong desire to travel. Is this him getting to grips with this Brexit farce?
“There’s certainly a lot of that. But I just absorb what’s going on around, make stories and observations. We’ve gone down a route where people scream as they don’t like something, But what’s coming’s going to be a damn sight worse. I’d rather be at the table, talking, than locked out, no longer able to. These are our neighbours. We’re all immigrants. And after all the horror, the difficulties, the pain everybody’s been through in Ireland, for these people to talk so flippantly about it … ignorance. But I’m not standing on a bloody soapbox. These are just songs – poetry with music over the top. Other stuff on the album’s more to do with slightly more personal things, a lack of empathy in the world.
“Instead of giving all the answers – which I’m still searching for – leave a certain amount of ambiguity. People can make out of it what they want.
“There’s a lot about being a parent, and everybody goes through this in families. You can’t control. Your children must be their own person. ‘Wanderlust’ is the closest word we get to it, but another German word, ‘fernweh’, carries far more weight – about this absolute need to be away. I’m writing about my children and their need to be away, and I’m in a situation where I’m observing it myself – amid all the mayhem, my own need to get away.”
Neil and Benge previously worked on 2017’s Unfurnished Rooms, and their Fader side project, and again they’ve had fun with the producer’s array of analogue electronic recording arsenal.
“He’s an absolute expert on synths, engineering and mixing. We understand each other and don’t step on each other’s toes but push each other to get the best out of one another, and surprise each other.”
Lead single ‘Distant Storm’ suggests a band 30 years younger. And across Wanderlust they’ve again proved that futuristic 80s dance fails to age as long as you avoid recording fads and throwaway ‘of the moment’ techniques.
“I thoroughly enjoy my work. That’s always been the case, regardless of songs ending up hits in terms of pop music. Fortunately, we have an audience who are appreciative, and I hope it comes across.”
On ‘Distant Storm’, vocoder touches somewhat mask Neil’s distinctive vocal, widely remembered for hits like ‘Living on the Ceiling’, ‘Waves’ and ‘Don’t Tell Me’. But his Lancastrian delivery of ‘car park’ and lyrics concerning ‘forensic detail’ prove a giveaway, as are shuddering bass-synth touches which might neatly segue into early 80s favourite, ‘Feel Me’.
“Yeah, there’s a bit of a groove on ‘Distant Storm’. I got this idea that the album was going to have quite a lot of dance tracks. I wanted Benge to have a big input, and he chose the songs he wanted to work on.
“That effectively shaped the 10 songs you hear, taking a slightly different course. But we ended up with a remix by Kincaid of ‘Distant Storm’ that’s going down well.”
Kincaid also happens to be Neil’s son, but don’t expect Neil to have mastered all new technology, as ‘I Smashed Your Phone’ suggests.
“You can’t even have a conversation these days without someone having a look at their bloody phone, like they’re umbilically attached to it … myself included at times. Also, it’s a generational thing. The world changes. We like to think we understand it, but we don’t. I’m learning all the bloody time. The one thing I’m certain about is that I don’t know.”
Elsewhere, I see nods to German electronic pioneers like Kraftwerk and Neu, plus Neil’s hero David
Bowie. And on ‘White Circle, Black Hole’ it’s almost Vangelis in parts. Might he attempt to drag fellow East Lancastrian Jon Anderson out for a version of that?
“Ha! We’ll have to have a chat! It’s actually about a repetitive nightmare I had as a child, but I try and sing it in a really nice way.”
So is this therapy?
“I suppose so, getting it out of my system!”
And you couldn’t resist a return to your native Darwen’s Library Theatre on the accompanying tour.
“Absolutely, and I’m hoping I might get a wander up on the moors. Last time we had technical issues and interviews. By the time we sound-checked it was too dark,
although I did venture to a local pub!”
This time there’s a gap before his November date here. He’s also tagged on extra dates next April and May, including Liverpool and Manchester shows.
New Blancmange LP, Wanderlust, is out on October 19, with Neil and his band due to play Darwen Library Theatre on November 7. For more details head to www.blancmange.co.uk