For the first time, we see a manifestation of the dichotomy between the two ‘persona’ of the post-Ultravox John Foxx: the reluctant popstar whose fourth single is making its way in to UK charts, and the Quiet Man intent on pursuing more ‘interesting’ musical ideas away from the commercial spotlight.
He has long spoken of the book he writes on his travels, describing the life of a man in the shadows, unnoticed and overlooked; and how this character helps him cope with and escape from the demands of the music industry.
Around this time in his career, Foxx starts to explore that more purposefully.
Having made the video for Miles Away (could there be a more apt title…?), to develop his idea for audiovisual work in the near future, Foxx was able to let the single do its own thing while he ‘disappeared’. As far as we have been able to establish, it was only broadcast a couple of times, and most notably on Granada’s weekly young adult’s magazine show Get It Together. 25th November 1980:
For Foxx, the Metamatic ‘machine man’ image had quickly grown tiresome and no longer represented what he wanted to sound like or who he wanted to be. It was useful for a time, and enabled him to find his feet and express the ideas that being in the band could not. Both this single and its predecessor Burning Car stood apart from that album, each looking in opposite directions. The former very much back towards the dystopian Ballardian world of concrete and carcrash, and the latter to ‘something else’ as yet unrealised and undiscovered, peering out from the confines of Pathway studio through a misted window, wiping the glass with a shirt sleeve as if to see the way out more clearly.
Between them, these two songs created an effective smokescreen behind which Foxx could ‘Slip Away’ – to Europe, and specifically to Brussels. He spent a lot of time there with his Belgian girlfriend, moving in different circles with the cosmopolitan, avant garde musicians and artists around the Plan K establishment in Belgium. Among these were Michel Duval and journalist Annik Honore who established the independent record label Les Disques du Crepuscule in June 1980.
Initially, Crepuscule released a few singles in association with Factory records in Manchester on the Factory Benelux imprint epitomising the salon-style of the Plan K live events by artists including Tuxedomoon and Joy Division. The first ‘proper’ release on the label however, was an iconic compilation album.
“From Brussels With Love” (brilliantly named to reflect its catalogue number TWI007) brings together a remarkable roster of esoteric artists who would come to release material on the label in the following year, including Brian Eno, Gavin Bryars, Harold Budd, Thomas Dolby, Richard Jobson and the Durutti Column. Vital and lasting connections…. Initially a ‘cassette journal’ embracing unique artwork and interviews, From Brussels With Love also includes three short pieces of music by John Foxx, each of which is titled on the sleeve as “a jingle”. These vary in length from between 10 and 40 seconds, effectively book-ending the collection. There is an helpful note on one of the card inserts advising the audience that these fragments were recorded with engineer Gareth Jones on 29th October, so they are quite possibly the last pieces to be included. Each is a phrase or sequence played on the ARP Odyssey, capturing a thought on a passing breeze and is intended to be little more than an anonymous melody, like birdsong outside. Incidental, overlooked abd beautiful.
In all, Foxx recorded five of these ‘jingles’ at the time and over the years various manifestations of From Brussels With Love have included all of them at different times. Good luck to anyone trying to write their definitve history: oftentimes they appear on a release without being referenced on the sleeve or track-listing; mostly they are simply labelled as “a jingle” with no associating number, raising the question of whether any ‘numbers’ or tags have ever been associated with the individual pieces. Probably not, and it matters little. The same is true of material by the many and varied other artsist whose music appears, or not, depending on which release of FWBL you are listening to… But all that is put to rights now, as curator and current label-owner James Nice brings everything together in a luxurious and definitive 40th anniversary edition which brings everything together for the first time, including all five of John Foxx ‘jingles’.
When the orignal ‘thin reel of tape’ from Belgium first dropped into the UK on 20th November 1980 it met with an unprecedented, unanimous chorus of delight from reviewers.
Let’s pretend that Chuck Berry never existed: that the first rock ‘n’ roll star was Schoenberg, the second James Brown, and that David Bowie was a properly bad nightmare. From Brussels With Love is the reminder – without really trying, without being obvious – that pop is modern poetry, is the sharpest, shiniest collection of experiences, is always something new.
(Paul Morley, NME)
FBWL is over 80 minutes of sheer scrapbookalia. It is a lovely put together way of deflating modern music, and at the same time of exalting its basic merits. A searing, sprawling, exotically chaotic way of achieving the almost impossible and restoring rock music to something that will nearly surprise you… (Record Mirror)
This tape, a long mysterious piece of collective modern overdrive, points to a future somewhere. And it looks more crimson that rosy, it’s that good”
(Dave McCullough, Sounds)
A far cry from the words of the same reviewers who wrote that Miles Away was ‘tired and vacuous’ and slated John Foxx for persisting with ‘half-realised nonsense’
While in Belgium, though without any association to the release of From Brussels with Love, John Foxx did a televison interview with the ‘Arte’ music programme. Broadcast in November, this introduces Foxx to a European audience and features not only video clips of No-one Driving and Underpass but also very early samples of Ultravox on stage.
After explaining (again) why he left the band, Foxx talks of the ideas behind Metamatic and why he is now ready to move on from that, to “humanise” his music again.
Though largely ignored by the UK media at the time, there are at least two features from Japanese music papers that pick up on this new direction and include new photographs of Foxx, taken at his garden in Highgate.
There are plants and flowers. Longer hair and casual dress.
It’s time to walk away…
Notes from the author
Thank you for reading this piece. These chapters are based on extensive research into John Foxx career over many years, and while I aspire to be factually correct I do reserve the right to ‘assist the narrative’ with conjecture now and again. ‘Forty Years Of Foxx’ is my idea and is all my own, original work. Chapters are posted without endorsement by John Foxx or any agents acting on his behalf, and so remain entirely unofficial.
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