You say you want a “Revolution”: Thompson Twins and 1986’s “most requested videos”

By on May 8, 2017

For this exceptional episode of Night Flight’s “Most Requested Videos” — which originally aired on June 14, 1986 — viewers had mailed postcards and letters to our New York HQ, requesting to see videos by some of their favorite artists, including the Thompson Twins’ version of the Beatles‘ 1968 hit “Revolution.” Have a look at what other videos they wanted to see over at Night Flight Plus.

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The band weren’t particularly interested in making videos, in turned out, according to the band’s Tom Bailey, who was quoted in Rob Tannenbaum’s and Craig Marks’ I Want My MTV: The Uncensored Story of the Music Video Revolution as saying:

“The music business was held hostage by videos. Media barons and lawyers took over the record companies, because it was about the way you spent money, to focus your bombardments of the audience. So whilst I have MTV to thank for opening America to the Thompson Twins, it also killed us off, in a way. Video was a fantastic servant, but not a very good master.”

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Thompson Twins formed in London a little over forty years ago, in April of 1977, taking their name from two bumbling detective characters — named Thomson and Thompson — who appeared in a French comic strip, Hergé’s Adventures of Tintin.

The band’s name would ultimately give the synthpop trio a lot of grief because the first question rock journalists always had was why did they decide to call themselves the Thompson Twins when no one in the band were twins nor were any of them named Thompson (their name also lacked a “the,” which vexed a lot of copy editors, it turned out).

The original band were a foursome, comprised of Tom Bailey (bass/vocals), Pete Dodd (guitar/vocals), John Roog (guitar) and Jon “Pod” Podgorski (drums). They were all squatters (although Bailey prefered the terms “spongers”) living in extreme poverty on Lillieshall Road in South London, “borrowing” electricity from the house next door.

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In the July 19, 1984 edition of Rolling Stone, it was helpfully explained to the magazine’s readers that squatting was “moving into abandoned houses and living there communally and inexpensively,” and was described further by Thompson Twin Allanah Currie as “a necessity, ’cause it was all these people who refused to get nine-to-fives to pay ridiculous rents. Basically, there were, like, 2000 empty properties in South London, and there was a grapevine connection, which was how we came together.”

In 1975, Currie had emigrated to London from Aukland, New Zealand, where she had been working as a reporter for a radio station in Wellington, the nation’s capital and second most populous urban area of the country, but it wasn’t a job she particularly was interested in (the Rolling Stone article detailed how she quit the job after a particularly nasty experience she had trying to interview Lou Reed).

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Currie had been employed in a series of dead-end jobs, and even had her own punk-era band, the Unfuckables, and crossed paths with Bailey because she was living in a squat on an adjacent street.

The band’s future manager and roadie, John Hade, however, also squatted in the same ramshackle and run-down house that Bailey and the band called home.

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Initially the seven-man band (Currie was not yet a full-fledged member) scavenged or borrowed or even outright stole their first instruments, which they began making music with immediately, having no real clue about where any of it would lead them.

The dreadlocked Leeway — who grew up in Manchester, England, with both Irish and Nigerian ancestry — did not have much experience playing music, and had moved to London in order to continue his formal training in the theatrical arts and focus on an acting career, working in both establishment and experimental theater for three years, including a year with a mime company.

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Bailey, meanwhile, had shown a musical aptitude as early as age two, taking piano and clarinet lessons and singing in the school choir, and although he had been born into a family of medical professionals — his father was a doctor, his mother a nurse, and two sisters was eventually become doctors — he would focus instead on a musical education, which continued all the way through college, where he began composing what he told Rolling Stone was “experimental music, electronics, crazy orchestral stuff that [he] saw as pop oriented.”

Early on, Thompson Twins were famous for letting entire audiences crowd onstage and bang away on percussion instruments, which lets us imagine that they weren’t taking the music too seriously, not at the start.

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Members came and went during the band’s early years, including a series of drummers who filled in when Podgorski moved on.

By ’81, Thompson Twins were down to Bailey, Dood and Roog, and three new members — Chris Bell (drums), Joe Leeway (congas/percussion/vocals) and Jane Shorter (saxophone) — and its this lineup that would record the band’s first album, A Product of… (Participation), with Currie — who had long been associated with the band in one way or another — singing on several songs, even occasionally honking along on sax (an instrument she would ultimately abandon.

Currie would eventually become an official members, playing percussion — choosing to focus on marimba and xylophone — and singing, when Shorter moved on, and a new bassist, Matthew Seligman (ex-Soft Boys, and ex-The Fallout Club), would join the band, leading to Bailey moving over to keyboards and guitar and becoming the band’s lead vocalist and frontman, although that was a term the band apparently bristled at hearing.

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They would sign a recording contract with Arista Records, releasing their album Set, which featured Thomas Dolby on keyboards and synths (at the time, Dolby wasn’t too familiar with synthesizers). Their Steve Lillywhite-produced track “In the Name of Love” — a bouncy, dance-oriented synth-pop number written and sung by Bailey — would become a #1 dance club hit in the U.S., which led to Set being re-configured and re-released — as In the Name of Love — with tracks from their first two albums.

The album landed on Billboard‘s 200 chart, but failed to make an impact in England, which led to Bailey, Currie and Leeway deciding to downsize the Thompson Twins to a synth-pop dance trio in April of 1982.

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Each of the remaining band members were paid £500 and allowed to keep their instruments and equipment.

Bailey commented on the band’s reduction to a trio in a 1983 interview:

“When we reformed the band, we were making a statement. We weren’t going to be a rock ‘n’ roll band, we weren’t going to have a guitar. We were going to move on. You know, Lou reed said whenever he played live he ended up going back to heroin music. There are old associations, associations we don’t want because they don’t reflect the way we feel today. … Right now, technology is what’s important, and that’s what our music tries to reflect.”

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In that Rolling Stone article, their vibrant and colorful neapolitan appearance — clothes, image, videos, et al — was singled out as one of the key marketing images, focusing on the fact that they were a trio comprised of “one black, one blond and one redhead,” which obviously added to their mystique, a calculated “look” that, it turns out, was designed mostly by Allanah Currie.

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It was during this time that Thompson Twins decided to split their songwriting credits three ways, although Bailey and Leeway wrote the music and Currie wrote the lyrics; Leeway, meanwhile, also focused on the lighting and sets for their elaborate stage show, which would, according to Rolling Stone, cost about 8000 pounds a day (about $12,000) to keep on the road.”

They decided that they needed to leave their native country in order to re-establish themselves as a trio, and after first spending some time in Egypt, they ultimately ended up in the Bahamas, where they recorded new tracks with producer Alex Sadkin at Compass Point Studios in Nassau.

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In 1983, quite a few of those tracks — including “Lies” and “Love on Your Side,” the band’s first UK Top Ten single — landed on the charts in both the UK and in the United States, on the Billboard Hot 100.

That same year they landed the opening spot on a tour with the Police.

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The band’s third album, Quick Step and Side Kick — released in the U.S. as Side Kicks — gave the band more hits, including “We Are Detective” (a UK Top Ten hit) and “Watching,” and by the end of ’83, they were enjoying their biggest-selling hit to date, “Hold Me Now,” which peaked at #3 in the U.S. in the spring of 1984 (#4 in the UK).

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More hits followed in ’84, including”Doctor! Doctor!,” “You Take Me Up” (at #2 UK, it was their highest charting hit in Britain), “Sister of Mercy,” and “The Gap,” which served as the title track for their 1984 album Into the Gap, the long-player, released in February 1984, topping the UK album charts and selling five million copies worldwide.

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Thompson Twins — now an internationally successful synth-pop dance act — embarked on their first worldwide tour, scoring yet another hit late in ’84 when “Lay Your Hands on Me” landed in the U.S. Top Ten (#13 in the UK), likely finding the band at their peak.

By 1985, their videos were in regular rotation on MTV, but it would prove to be the most difficult year in the band’s long career.

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One of the first changes was parting company with their longtime producer, Alex Sadkin, electing to produce their next album in Paris, France, by themselves.

In March 1985, while promoting their new single “Roll Over” and the then-forthcoming album, the pressure of achieving or at least maintaining their successful stature proved to be too much for Tom Bailey, who collapsed in his London hotel room from nervous exhaustion amid the recording sessions for the band’s next album, Here’s to Future Days.

Their “Roll Over” single was then canceled at the last minute and the new album postponed.

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Producer Nile Rodgers — who first came to public attention as the founder and guitarist of Chic, the hugely successful and influential ‘70s group, before going on to produce an unprecedented string of platinum albums — was later brought in help finish the album.

In the summer of 1985, Thompson Twins had ended up canceling the UK leg of their tour in support of Here’s to Future Days, including a headlining appearance at the Glastonbury Festival (ticket-holding fans were compensated with a free live album), although international dates were re-scheduled and the latter half of 1985 saw sell out tours for the band in both the U.S. and Japan.

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The band made headlines when Madonna — Nile Rodgers had produced her Like A Virgin album — joined them onstage on July 13, 1985, at JFK Stadium during the American leg of the Live Aid concerts.

Their appearance — witnessed live by a huge global audience on MTV — was marred initially by the fact that Bailey’s guitar cable wasn’t long enough and as he walked toward the mic stand at the front of the stage, the chord stopped — Bailey had to decide at that moment whether or not he would play guitar on the song.

He unplugged the guitar, and finished that song, before a roadie managed to find a long enough guitar cable for their next song, “Revolution.”

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A second planned tour of the UK in 1985, meanwhile, was also scrapped due to the promoter declaring bankruptcy.

Here’s to Future Days arrived in September of 1985 after a delay of many months, stalling the band’s forward momentum.

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The album — which ultimately landed in the Top 20 in the U.S. and the Top Five in the UK — featured a number of charting hits, including “Don’t Mess with Doctor Dream” (UK #15), “King For a Day” (U.S. Top Ten, #22 UK), and what proved to be an unsuccessful cover of the Beatles’ 1968 hit, “Revolution,” which became the band’s first single to fail to make the UK Top 40 in three years.

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The video for “Revolution” was directed by Irish filmmaker and music video director Meiert Avis had started directing videos in his native Ireland with a then-unknown U2.

He came to America in the Eighties and directed his first Thompson Twins video in Chicago in 1986, for their title track to the Garry Marshall-directed motion picture comedy Nothing in Common, starring Tom Hanks in one of his earliest film roles.

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Avis ultimately directed videos for many other musicians, such as Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, and Van Halen. He would ultimately win several MTV Music Video Awards and a Grammy (for U2’s “Where The Streets Have No Name”) before moving on to focus on feature films, directing Far From Home (1989) and Undiscovered (2005).

By the time their video for “Revolution” was airing on Night Flight’s “Most Requested Videos,” the band were already splintering, with Joe Leeway leaving the core duo of Bailey and Currie to soldier on by themselves for another seven years, releasing more charting albums — Close to the Bone (1987), Big Trash (1989) and Queer (1991) — and a slew of singles, although they had were likely aware that they’d peaked as a group several years earlier.

Tom Bailey and Allanah Currie, a longtime couple, would play their last live show in August of 1987. They ultimately had their first child together in 1988, and got married in Las Vegas, Nevada, in ’91, before relocating to New Zealand with their two kids a little more than a year later before, officially disbanding the Thompson Twins in May of 1993.

Check out Night Flight’s 1986 episode of “Most Requested Videos” — featuring videos by Kate Bush, Prince, Culture Club, Duran Duran and more — over on Night Flight Plus.

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, assistant editor for the When You Awake blog, 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.