January/February 1981

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.

Next month
“It was spring time, there was sunshine…”
John Foxx in Europe

___________________________________________________________________________

Disclaimer
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

November 1980

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.

Please get in touch if you have anything to add or comments to make.
If you otherwise wish to ‘talk Foxx”, follow me on Twitter at
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Join the Lord Foxx Of Chorley community of Facebook:
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All anecdotes, research, pictures and other information submitted will be used to develop and expand the archive at John Foxx official website:
www.metamatic.com

Click, click. Drone…

October 1980

Before leaving for Belgium, and at the same time as rehabilitating ‘Burning Car’ for its release on parole in the summer, Foxx, Jones and company were encouraged to provide ‘something’ for a promotion in Smash Hits magazine. To fulfil this, they applied a little spit, polish and an ARP solo to another early demo track called ‘My Face’. This rather incredulously appeared as an exclusive flexidisc, attached to the cover of the magazine’s October 2nd issue, with a large photograph of Gary Numan peering out through the garish yellow plastic. Someone in the magazine’s editorial team was clued up and set to make a subtle point…


On the accompanying press release Foxx admits to having “no plans” for a Metamatic follow-up album, suggesting that this song is just one of many that started life as a thought experiment in a notebook.” In a more expansive interview (published in The Service in 1981), Foxx suggests that this song examines the identity of ‘the people you pass in the street without noticing them.’ The quiet men in grey suits:

“I began to wonder if, for one or two of these people – the ones we never notice and don’t remember at all – what if their anonymity might be deliberate for some private reason of their own. Many people could deliberately not want to be noticed. I read an article someone that pickpockets for instance, deliberately wear completely ordinary clothes so that they can get close to their victims without attracting any attention, and if detected at all their appearance dis so unremarkable that any description of them would be virtually useless to the police.”

The song itself, for all its free distribution of over 100,000 copies is rather clunky and does sound as if it was put together in a hurry. The CR-78 drum machine is set to ‘frantic’ and the rest of the track is quite simplistic; even the over-dubbed ARP solo could be considered a little clumsy and unimaginative by Foxx standards. Nevertheless, it is a catchy song and does hint at a new more expressive singing style. There are at least two vocal tracks: one in the ‘spoken’ style of Metamatic, but another more open style wherein Foxx sings more freely and gives his voice space to soar and fade.

Although My Face, the original flexi release, was never meant to be more than incidental, it did serve well to whet the appetite for the next ‘proper’ single that came out on Virgin records two weeks later. One wonders if there was some residual obligation to Island behind its release, given there is no reference to either Virgin or Metal beat on the yellow plastic?

Either way, it was Miles Away that Virgin were interested in, though adverts for the single were few and far between at the time. Money was even invested in a video to promote the song, but this never appeared on Top Of The Pops and in fact is only known to have one television broadcast at all, and even then a month after release.
In order to develop a new image, a new sound and significantly distance himself from the previous album, John Foxx chose to work in a different studio to record Miles Away. On Gareth Jones recommendation, they decamped just a few miles up the A1 to The Music Works studio and put the song into the hands of house engineer Jo Julian. Not only known to Jones, Julian’s respected CV also included a few sessions with Eno, working with him and Gavin Bryars for Onskure Records.

Every single strand’s connected…

Keen to generate interest in his own project (a pop-sensitive dance/funk band called Shake / Shake) Julian took the opportunity to play a cassette of songs to his guests. Both were immediately impressed. Foxx followed the lead, and arranged with Julian to meet the other band members – bass guitarist Jo Dworniak (working at the studio as tape operator), and keyboard player Duncan Bridgeman. In Shake/Shake, John Foxx found enthusiastic young musicians keen to gain experience and credibility by working with seasoned professionals, and thus the potential to develop his own work in a new direction.
Between them, Shake / Shake and Foxx recorded three songs at Music Works; two versions of Miles Away and a new song (written as a collaboration) especially for the back of the single. Of the lead song, the ‘alternative version’ is slower, heavier (more laboured?) and the ‘dual’ vocal harmonised tracks are given more differentiation. There’s a slight shift in the lyrics too as Foxx introduces the emergent “new man”…
Foxx then took the tapes back to Pathway where live percussion was overdubbed on the lead track courtesy of popular Virgin-favoured session drummer Paul ‘Ed Case’ Edwards.

A Long Time reinforces the shift in focus at which Miles Away hints. Not only is it John Foxx first co-written song since 1978 (the single sleeve introduces ‘Shake / Shake’ confidently on the back) it also carries a new picture of John by celebrated pop-photographer Herbie Yakamuchi. His tie has been cast aside, the suit is gone and his hair is longer.

It’s a relatively long piece too, running over four minutes, driven by a powerful drum track, ARP rhythms and pulsating dance-orientated bass guitar. John’s vocal is softer, there are more poetic words and harmonies with qualities that echo later-period Beatles, and the mix gives his vocal a lot of air and space to float around, delivering lyrics that clearly announce a new psychedelic frame of mind is emerging. Neo-romantic imagery of green lanes, hazy sunshine and ‘shafts of summer’. Foxx is acknowledging his absence, aware that he has been away, but has returned without regret. Instead his longing to come into focus again is apparent, gently acknowledging that it has indeed been ‘a long time’ since he was here last…?

Miles Away may bear the hallmark instrumentation of the Metamatic ‘sound’ but it is distinctively more triumphant’. The mix introduces rhythms and bass guitar overdubs and the song has lyrical themes that set the scene for a more psychedelic, pastoral and romantic approach to composition more akin to some of the material back on Systems Of Romance. There is a sense that Foxx is somehow returning to something – the first suggestion that the whole Metamatic period was some kind o finterlude…?
The idea for the title and perhaps even an early lyric comes from a note he scribbled down in mid 1979, and Foxx makes reference to it in an interview with In The City magazine:

“You know when you’re looking out of a window or you’re not quite present? You’re with someone but your mind is on something else? That is quite often my state of mind…”

It is a English colloquial phrase. One my Dad still uses when distracted.

And its release in October 1980 is perfectly timed, when Foxx himself (or at least the host organism Dennis Leigh) would rather be anywhere else than the UK charts and pop magazines!
He is physically ‘miles away’ too during the song’s entire chart journey. In Brussels, recording material that would appear with much less fanfare on a tiny European record label a few weeks later…

This distancing is manifest by Dennis Leigh in the superb and now iconic artwork that carried the single into the record shops.
The monochromatic presentation is immediately striking, sleek and modern – a single picture on a plain white field, with the artist’s name and song title simply presented alongside in a black sans-serif typeface, re-creating the presentation of a painting in an exhibition.

But it is the image itself that really catches the eye. By carefully arranging an empty grey suit, white shirt, black tie and shoes in an armchair, Leigh deliberately created an ‘absence’ – putting himself at one remove from his composition. A significant statement at a time when the Eighties mainstream publicity was based on ‘presence’ and artist wanted their faces everywhere. Look at Numan, sneering out on the Smash Hits cover. “Look at My Face…”
Instead, here was mystery – a combination of sci-fi, film noir, and French cinema, created by an educated artist with an awareness of art history and visual communication. Who had been vapourised, leaving only their clothes behind? Was this a comment on prevailing trends in the music business? Perhaps, but it is actually a deliberate transposition of a promo poster for Honda Studios 1958 horror movie H-Man, minus the trickle of (He’s A) Liquid and some vapour. Foxx collected these things throughout his childhood and teenage years
The Quiet Man: asleep by windows and set in English front room!

Only Sounds continued to respond positively, recognising that the song was much more ‘up’ than his previous work and thereby more accessible, being “virtually a continuous chorus lifted by spiralling synths”. This time round though they stood alone in favouring the release. Most other reviewers paraphrased those who wished the ‘trite and unbearably vacuous’ John Foxx were indeed – to put it politely – “miles away”.
The strongest hint yet that Foxx was changing his image and working to a new brief is captured in a photoshoot conducted at the time with Michael Putland. Dressed casually, a fopp-haired Foxx stands in a colourful summer garden, surrounded by flowers and trees instead of buildings and cars. Natural light, outdoors.

The ‘artificial life’ is coming to an end, and the man who would be a machine is unplugged and starting to defrost…


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