For several weeks now, over the winter period following the release of Miles Away in October 1980, Foxx has become, in his own words, something of a “media ghost”. The manifestations of a pop star with all its associated news, reviews and gossip create a smoked glass effect behind which the artist can slip away privately into the persona of The Quiet Man, writing quietly away from the spotlight.. There are occasional reported sightings in Europe, most notably Brussels as discussed previously, but it is also entirely possible that The Quiet Man spent some time during this period in France and Italy when he wasn’t hiding in plain sight in Highgate writing material for his next album.
Meanwhile, the media ghosts pop up all over the place: in the form of pull-out / pin-up posters in Japan and Australia (a “classy hero”); or interview repeats in the UK press.
The latter serve to keep John Foxx in the record-buying public eye while his “former band” begin their own rise to a new kind of stardom. Comparisons between John Foxx and Midge Ure provide shallow, disposable light-reading and they appear on the same compilation albums available at this time. In just a few short months, electronic music has become the fashionable “new thing” and the pop charts are about to undergo a paradigm shift as tastes rapidly change. Releases like Ariola’s “Double Art” features Underpass, alongside tracks by Ultravox, Human League, Japan, Simple Minds and Orchestral Manouevres In the Dark. Visage in particular (featuring one Billy Currie) were riding high in the Top 40 with Fade To Grey, and no-one reading this will need reminding that Ultravox’ third Chrysalis single Vienna was gloriously stuck at Number Two for several weeks. The Uk’s only posthumous Number One I believe as it became thirty something years later…?
And deservedly so.
Island Records continued to exploit the band’s back catalogue as the ‘new’ line-up dominated both air-play and music / style magazines. On 23 February, they released Slow Motion as a 7-inch single in a black, embossed sleeve, with two tracks on the B-side. These include – and collectors will correct (and hopefully forgive!) me if I get this wrong – the single version of Quiet Men, and a slightly edited cut of the album version of Hiroshima Mon Amour from Ha! Ha! Ha! As I understand it, a 30-second section of the intro is cut out, and the song fades more quickly. That’s on the single-disc version… There is also a limited edition two-disc set in which the lead song is backed with “Dislocation” and a second 7-inch features the single version of Quiet Men backed with Hiroshima Mon Amour. Only this time it’s the original guitar version without the saxophone solo.
And the label and sleeve each list the tracks in a different order.
I hope you’re following this, because there’s more…
In response to the exploding market for home recording on chrome cassette (following the invention of the Sony Walkman, and amid much outrage and objection from the BPI) island’s Chris Blackwell had just introduced the “One Plus One” cassette series, a tape that provided a full album on one side, leaving the other blank for home recording purposes. The first new release in the series was Steve Winwood’s ‘Arc Of A Diver’, but all three original Ultravox albums (and Three Into One) were among those re-issues that quickly followed.
Slow Motion was made available in this same quirky format, with all four tracks on Side A, including the original album version of Quiet Men.
Despite continued objections and complaints from the band, and a detached lack of interest from Foxx, the idea (and the marketing) worked: this package in its various formats sold enough copies to reach No. 33 in the UK Top 40, and remains the only example of John Foxx-era Ultravox having a chart “hit”. There was a plan to issue a follow up: Island assigned a catalogue number to Someone Else’s Clothes but (for reasons unknown) this was neither cut or issued.
Underpass wasn’t the only John Foxx single to feature on compilation albums. No-One Driving makes a couple of appearances too and both tracks appear in the soundtrack to a contemporary art film. Barney Broom’s “Knights Electric” was released in cinemas in February and features four songs from Metamatic: the two singles mentioned above as well as the instrumentals Mr No and Film One; among pieces by many other popular acts from the time including Gary Numan, The Ruts, The Pretenders and Madness. The film, considered a harbinger of the music video,parallels the story of the emerging new romantic sound of electronica washing away the debris of punk. Four punk hooligans make a sortie into an amusement park (in Great Yarmouth), where they antagonise other customers and come on to a group of teenage girls. But they are constantly thwarted by the apparition of four ‘futuristic’ youths (bearing a spectral resemblance to Bowie and Kraftwerk) who ultimately squire the girls away. Knights Electric was not favourably received by the critics though and was described by a BFI reviewer as ‘inescapably second-hand’ and ‘dubiously ambivalent’ despite the remarkable ‘fluency and gusto’ of the dialogue-free narrative. It was used as the opener for a poor-quality sci-fi B-Movie called “Inseminoid” starring Judy Geeson – but much preferred to that feature by most audiences.
“It was spring time, there was sunshine…”
John Foxx in Europe
Thanks for reading. This project is all my own unofficial work and is not endorsed by John Foxx or any agent representing him; it is part of a larger project commissioned for metamatic.com and supports the John Foxx archive.
The narrative is based on extensive research and attempts to be a true represention of the events described, but some chronology is assumed to assist narrative flow.
Any factual inaccuracies are entirely deliberate.
Please do get in touch to discuss the articles, or if you can add information or anecdotes that may further the John Foxx biography