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This “Flash Tracks” segment profiles influential Gothic Rock band Bauhaus and their post-breakup progeny
In this Night Flight episode which originally aired on May 6, 1988, we offered up a “Flash Tracks” profile on the influential Gothic Rock band Bauhaus and their post-breakup progeny. Watch it now on Night Flight Plus.
Peter Murphy and Daniel Ash were originally schoolmates in Northampton, a provincial country town in the East Midlands dating back to the Bronze Age. It’s where the North of England begins, Lying roughly 40 miles south east of Birmingham and 60 miles north of London.
Murphy and guitarist Ash both attended the same Catholic school, while future bandmates David J. Haskins (bass) and his younger brother Kevin Haskins (drums) were, in Murphy’s own words, “miserable, selfish Church of England heathens.”
Murphy would later claim he had a lot of “repressed psychodrama that had been leftover from Catholicism.”
In 1978, Ash and the Haskin boys asked Murphy to join simply because they thought he had the right look, which reminded Ash of David Bowie (he would later say that seeing Bowie on TV in 1972 was the single most important moment in his musical life).
Murphy — 21 years old at the time — had never really sung even though he’d announced to is family at age 14 that he was going to be a singer (he says they pretty much ignored him), and found that his dark baritone voice was a perfect match for his darkly glum lyrics, which were often about his boredom living in East Midlands (“In the flat field I do get bored“).
Their first gig was at a pub on New Year’s Eve, December 31st, and subsequent early gigs were described as “chaotic” (they would often gate-crash other bands’ shows, insisting they were an opening act and would play until they were tossed offstage or their amps were unplugged).
They began calling themselves Bauhaus 1919, after the German Bauhaus art movement of the 1920s, because of its “stylistic implications and associations,” according to David J (he dropped “Haskins” at some point early on), and decided to record a demo after being together for just six weeks, entering Beck Studios in Wellingborough to record five songs.
One of those — a nine-minute “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” — was recorded in just two takes, with Murphy singing lyrics written by David J, who was inspired by watching several vampire movies on British television airing back-to-back.
He’d shaped the song around the idea that a vampire never really being able to “retire,” but the song was also about actor Bela Lugosi, who wasn’t able to escape playing the role that had made him famous (he’d died of a heart attack, age 73, in 1956, and was buried wearing one of his “Dracula” cape costumes).
The band released it as their debut single in August 1979 on the Small Wonder Records imprint, credited to just Bauhaus. A reviewer in the UK publication Sounds praised the single, which charted at #8 on the UK Indy charts and charted for the next two years.
Bauhaus would also appear on John Peel’s radio show — their session was broadcast on January 3, 1980 — and that same month a second single, “Dark Entries,” was released (charting at #17 on the UK Indy chart).
It was released on a new imprint, 4AD, founded by two staffers at Beggar’s Banquet Records, Ivo Watts-Russell and Peter Kent, whose label was considered a “testing ground” for Beggar’s Banquet.
Sounds wasn’t nearly as impressed with it as they were with the band’s first single, calling the band’s debut album, In The Flat Field “Gothic as a brick.” New Musical Express, meanwhile, described it as “Gothick-Romantick pseudo-decadence.”
In The Flat Field topped the indie charts, and charted for 1 week at #72 on the UK album charts.
By the end of the year, Bauhaus would pay homage to a 70s influence, glam rocker Marc Bolan, releasing their speeded-up version of the T. Rex 1972 hit “Telegram Sam,” and they made a video for it, directed by Mick Calvert.
Bauhaus would eventually move up to 4AD’s parent label, Beggar’s Banquet, and released a few more singles and a new album, Mask, in October 1981, but in ’82, there were signs of an internal strife among their membership related to the fact that Murphy was now being sought out for distinct Bowie-esque appearance.
That year, Murphy appeared in a popular British TV ad (“Break The Sound Barrier”) for Maxell audio cassettes, which was produced by Ridley Scott & Associates. The advert led to hurt feelings for the other three in the band, who began insisting that they only appear in group photos as they were not Peter Murphy and “his backing band.”
Things got only worse when they appeared in the opening scene of the erotic thriller about aging vampires, called The Hunger, which was the directorial debut of Tony Scott, Ridley Scott’s younger brother.
The film — starring David Bowie, Susan Sarandon and Catherine Deneuve — was released in April of ’83, and although the entire band were filmed for the NYC nightclub scene, three of them resented the fact that the camera seemed to focus mostly on Murphy while he sings their most famous song, “Bela Lugosi’s Dead.”
A highlight for the band was meeting Bowie, who hung out with the band in their dressing room. Their next single, by the way, was their version of Bowie’s “Ziggy Stardust.”
A music video — directed in August ’82 by Mick Calvert — was shot in a series of complex tunnels beneath Camden Lock market known as the “Camden Catacombs.”
“Ziggy Stardust” launched Bauhaus in the UK Top 20 in October ’82, and they released their third album, The Sky’s Gone Out, which charted at #4, but then Peter Murphy was stricken with viral pneumonia.
By the time he’d rejoined them, the band had recorded most of what would be their final album, Burning From The Inside, breaking up onstage at the Hammersmith Palais on July 5th, just a week after the album’s release.
Despite launching into the Top 10 in the UK, the album’s new musical direction showed that Daniel Ash, David J and Kevin Haskins were already thinking ahead to their next project, Love & Rockets.
Peter Murphy, meanwhile, would focus on his solo career, releasing his first album Should The World Fail To Fall Apart (and a single covering Pere Ubu’s “Final Solution”), and then formed Dali’s Car with Japan’s bass player, Mick Karn, for just one album.