Up the bloody tree: Blancmange traveled to Cairo, Egypt to film “Living On the Ceiling”

By on April 13, 2018

“Named after a British pudding, England’s Blancmange went gold with this tune about love gone bad,” says Night Flight’s Pat Prescott in her introduction to the English synth-pop duo’s “Living on the Ceiling,” one of Night Flight’s “Videos from the Attic” we found in this vintage episode which originally aired on May 6, 1988.

Watch it now on Night Flight Plus!

BLANCMANGE9

The upbeat and danceable synth-pop of Blancmange — vocalist/guitarist Neil Arthur and keyboardist Stephen Luscombe – was likely meant to appeal to same fans who were buying CDs by Soft Cell, Yaz/Yazoo, Human League and Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark.

“Living On the Ceiling” — the band’s first U.S. single for Chris Blackwell’s Island Records, and their third 45 release for the UK’s London label — was combined from two pieces of music from both band members, with Luscombe offering up a rhythm and bass part he’d written for an entirely different track.

BLANCMANGE4

It also featured an arrangement that included overdubs by Pandit Dinesh on tablas and Deepak Khazauchi on sitar, an inspired idea from their manager.

Obviously. this made us wonder why and how they ended up filming their video on on location in Cairo, Egypt, since that doesn’t make a lot of geographical sense (perhaps they just wanted to go on archeological digs and ride atop camels and didn’t expect they’d be able to do those things in India).

The video was directed by Clive Richardson, who during the 1980s also directed videos for Steve Winwood, Siouxsie & the Banshees, Tears for Fears and Depeche Mode (prior to August 1986, after which they began collaborating with Dutch filmmaker Anton Corbijn).

BLANCMANGE12

Writing about the track for the All Music Guide, rock critic Stewart Mason gives the best online review of the track we could find, describing “Living On the Ceiling” as an “ear-catching blend of electronic beats (including a nagging stutter-step fill that’s the song’s primary hook) and Indian instrumentation.”

Mason goes even further, writing that the track is “not only Blancmange’s best song but a synth-pop classic,” and further posits that Neil Arthur’s “frantic, hectoring vocals.. sound perfectly placed,” declaring that he sounds like David Byrne in a full-on panic.”

BLANCMANGE19

When Blancmange performed “Living On the Ceiling” on the BBC’s “Top of the Pops” — which was also simulcast on BBC Radio — they were nearly tossed off the show forced to change the lyric “I’m up the bloody tree” to “I’m up the cuckoo tree,” which doesn’t make a lot of sense, but hey, we’re not British, maybe it does.

Read more about Blancmange’s “Living on the Ceiling” below.

IDevices-For-NF-web

Hey! Do you have a Night Flight Plus subscription?

We’re offering up original uncut air masters of Night Flight programming from the video vaults of the 1980s TV show, as well as provocative new selections from the world of music, documentaries, animation, cult films and more. Sign up today!



BLANCMANGE1

Neil Arthur and Stephen Luscombe met for the first time in 1979, at Harrow Art School in London, where Arthur was studying and Luscombe had stopped by to visit a friend.

They were both involved with experimental amateur synth-based bands at the time — Arthur’s called themselves the Viewfinders and Luscombe was in a group called Miru, which he refers to as a “musical workshop” — and realizing they had a lot of musical interests in common, they began to come up with oblique ideas which they began committing to cassette tapes and using an early industrial-sounding moniker, “L360.”

BLANCMANGE3

Luscombe was really mostly interested in the technical side of producing and creating esoteric textured sounds (even creating sounds with vacuum cleaners and kitchen utensils, or whatever was handy).

During the 1970s he’d even performed with the Portsmouth Sinfonia (read more about them here).

BLANCMANGE16

For a brief time, their membership also included a drummer, Laurence Stevens, who appeared on two UK singles before the duo moved on without him, choosing a new name, Blancmange, which appears to us to be a rather tasteless white colored British pudding, made with milk or cream and sugar thickened with Jello-like gelatin, molded and served cold. Yum.

Their debut EP release, Irene And Mavis, arrived in April of 1980, its title leading to the Normal’s Daniel Miller nicknaming them “the Maiden Aunts,” which might have been because they bickered and argued a lot.

BLANCMANGE15

A year later, their track “Sad Day” appeared on the 1981 Some Bizzare compilation album, which featured tracks from then-underground electronic bands like Depeche Mode, The The and Soft Cell, which was impressive enough that it led to them signing a record deal with London Records in early ’82.

They found success right away, with their first two singles appearing on the middle rungs of the UK Singles charts: “God’s Kitchen” (#65) and “Feel Me,” (#46), but it was their third single, “Living On the Celing,” the vaulted them into the Top Ten, peaking at #7 on the UK Singles Chart, and #5 on the Australian Singles Chart.

Their other big UK hits were “Don’t Tell Me” (#8), and “Blind Vision” (#10).

BLANCMANGE18

During the early-to-mid ’80s, they became a supporting act opening for Grace Jones at the Drury Lane Theatre — ultimately they would tour with Jones, as well as opening for Depeche Mode and Japan.

Guitarist David Rhodes — who worked with Peter Gabriel, Scott Walker and Kate Bush, among others — collaborated with the band thereafter but was never a full member.

BLANCMANGE8

Blancmange originally released three albums — Happy Families (1982), Mange Tout (1984) and Believe You Me (1985) — before calling it a day in 1986, after their last tour of the U.S. They would later reform, although Luscombe has not been perfoming with them due to health issues.

Watch Blancmange’s “Living On the Ceiling” and other “Videos from the Attic” on Night Flight Plus.

BLANCMANGE6

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.