“Rescue Me”: Ireland’s underrated new wave band Zerra One were “always the bridesmaids”

By on July 1, 2019

In the first half-hour of this nearly hour-long episode — which aired sometime in 1987, and you can now watch on Night Flight Plus — Night Flight’s “Take Off to Ireland” offered up music videos by a handful of Irish bands and artists, including underrated new wave band Zerra One’s “Rescue Me,” the bombastic first single from their second album, The Domino Effect.

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“Rescue Me” was considered quite a departure from the sparse, gloomier sound of their first album, 1984’s Zerra 1.

Just a few years later, they were going for a more mainstream sound. “Soaring harmonies and ringing guitars to follow in the footsteps of compatriots U2″ is how the All Music Guide describes it (their bio, however, gets a few band details wrong).

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At the time, Zerra One — sometimes Zerra 1 — were actually opening for U2 and similar commercial arena-rock bands like Simple Minds.

Early on, they also shared the stage with the Cure (on their UK and European tour in April-June 1983), Bob Geldof‘s Boomtown Rats (February-March 1984), and other mostly UK-based bands.

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The Domino Effect was released in October of 1985 via Polygram’s rock imprint Mercury Records in the U.S.

Polygram was owned by one of the largest electronics companies in the world, Dutch-owned Philips, which is likely why “Rescue Me” was featured prominently in Philips’ TV commercials hawking then-cutting edge compact disc and VHS players.

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Mercury/Polygram certainly benefited from having Zerra One’s song in the advert, but the band themselves didn’t benefit much personally.

“We recorded that advert for three days,” Paul Bell (lead vocals/keyboards) told journalist Anne Marie O’Connor in one of the only interviews we could find online. “We didn’t even get a CD out of it. Nothing! Even the extras got paid and had their lunch!”

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You’d half expect “Rescue Me” to have charted higher, particularly in Europe, but the single only made it to #82 in the UK in early ’86, and American listeners remained largely indifferent to the band for their entire career.

Read more about Zerra One below.

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There were essentially two incarnations of the band Zerra One, which began as duo in 1982.

Paul Bell and Andreas “Grimmo” Grimminger (guitar/vocals) formed their new wave-inspired combo in Wexford Town, in the southeast of Ireland, using a drum machine at first.

They later added Mike Mesbur (drums) and Adrian Wyatt (bass) and eventually re-located to London, signing with Polygram Records, who, like every major label at the time were looking for their own cropped & layered New Wave-ish version of U2.

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Zerra One’s debut album was recorded with producer Todd Rundgren at his Bearsville Studios in Woodstock, NY, where the Psychedelic Furs and many others had also recorded during the 1980s.

Celebrated photographer Robert Mapplethorpe took their photos for their CD sleeve, and Bell provided the stark black & white cover art, showing three mask-like figures with x’s over their ears, eyes and mouth (essentially mime-like figures in the proverbial “hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil” pose).

Their single “The Banner of Love (How I Run to You)” climbed to #33 on the UK Independent Singles Chart in 1983.

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From what we’ve read, Zerra One was “the definitive opening act,” an always well-received supporting band opening for some of the biggest ’80s-era bands and artists, including Siouxsie & the Banshees and Echo & the Bunnymen.

“We were always the bridesmaids,” Bell told journalist Anne Marie O’Connor.

“We were traveling all over with all sorts of bands like Ultravox, Peter Gabriel, U2 and Big Country. Big Country were on the same label as us at the time. We went all over Europe on tours. I remember from January ’84 to January ’85 I spent only one month in my own flat in London.”

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There were eventually conflicts within the band — including Mesbur’s problems with tinnitus (something the author of this blog post always deals with on a daily basis, not fun) — which caused a shakeup in their membership.

Mesbur and co-founder Grimmo departed in 1984 (Grimmo, a.k.a. Andrías Ó Grúama, would form the Fatima Mansions).

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Mesbur’s replacement was drummer Korda Marshall, who once said about his time with the band, “I got the job because I could play the drums and roll a joint at the same time.”

Bell assembled a new version of Zerra One with old friends Anto Drennan (the guitarist is noted for his involvement with the Corrs, Genesis, and Mike + the Mechanics), and Eamo Doyle (bass), with Alison Kelly providing occasional cello.

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During the recording sessions for The Domino Effect, Marshall left the band (Pete Thomas and Gavin Harrison played the drums on all tracks).

Marshall went on to much success as a music exec, first as a talent scout & A&R man for RCA (signing the Blow Monkeys, the Primitives, and Psychic TV, among others).

He launched his own label, Infectious Records, and ended up as one of the key components of Warner Music UK’s A&R team, signing Muse, Gnarls Barkley, James Blunt and many, many others.

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Alas, commercial success eluded Zerra One, and finally decided to call it quits in 1987.

Paul Bell and Brendan Wade (a friend from Wexford, ex-Cry Before Dawn) formed a duo called the Wild Swans, who went to #1 in Ireland and toured with Mike + the Mechanics, Elton John, and David Essex.

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Watch “Take Off to Ireland” — which begins with the Chieftans’ “Irish Anthem” before rocking on with videos by the Pogues, Van Morrison, Cactus World News, Bob Geldof (“Love Like a Rocket,” with Eric Clapton), and U2 — on Night Flight Plus.

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.