The Comsat Angels, C.S. Angels, The Headhunters, Dream Command...  All this & more
The Closest Thing To Heaven

The Comsat Angels are in the third phase of their career, says singer Steve Fellows.  Will it bring success?  Mat Smith ponders past and future tensions…

The backstage area of the Crystal Palace Bowl is something less than exciting and a far cry from the one built for the Live Aid concert a month ago.  There again, this is a different kind of benefit gig, in aid of a different kind of tragedy – heroin.  Amid the mud and the peeling paint, a Cult, a Motorhead and a Sprout mingle.

Through these diverse heroes Comsat Angels singer Steve Fellows walks forlorn, a plastic carrier bag in one hand wearing a face as long as the overcoat draped across his shoulders.  He’s just come offstage and he’s none too happy with the way the Comsats just played.  Still, he can take comfort from the fact that, for today at least, the event is more important than individual performance.  Personally, I think The Comsat Angels are the best thing to hit the Crystal Palace stage all day (excluding the bottles during Vera Lynn’s set), but then, I’m biased.

You may remember The Comsat Angels as one of those bands most likely to.  Another in the long lines of hopefuls who despite releasing consistently good albums have yet to savour the taste of victory – a situation which came to a head in 1983 when the band split with Polydor following poor sales of their 3rd album, Fiction.

However, lady luck stepped in with Willesden based indie, Jive, who sent the band into the studio with A Flock Of Seagulls producer, Mike Howlett, to record their most commercial LP to date, Land.

Since then, an eerie silence has hung over the Comsat camp, broken only now by the Palace gig and the promise of a new album, 7 Day Weekend.  I met Fellows on the eve of the gig at his Maida Vale hotel, where he told me the reason for the long lay off.

“I think it was quite obvious to everybody that there was something not quite right about Land.  This time we decided to get everything just right, hence the long wait.  It was never in our minds to make Land so commercial, it just came out that way.  The LP sounded as though we were trying too hard to be commercial, which is a bad way to sound.”

The most unusual thing about 7 Day Weekend is that it features three different producers.  The afore-mentioned Howlett, Chris Tsangarides, who numbers Thin Lizzy among previous clients, and perhaps strangest of all, acclaimed funk producer James Mtume.  Despite the odd mix, Fellows is pleased with the outcome.

“Really the most unusual thing is that everything hangs together.  We were curious to see if we had a sound that would survive outside influences.  Jive originally approached Mtume to produce one of their R&B acts.  He told them he could do any R&B group he wanted to and asked if they had anything different.  They played him a demo of ours and he liked it.”

Do you think he was drafted in to give you that elusive hit single?

“No, although I’m not ashamed to say I’d like a hit single.  It means people like what you do – also it would bring us a bit of cash, I’m sick of being poor. There’s nothing more boring than poverty.”

Had Fellows or the Comsats ever considered taking the Robert Smith route to the charts, consciously sitting down to write a specific hit single rather than pulling the most commercial track track off the LP?

“We do do that, but we tend to farm those songs out to other people.  I’m not gonna tell you who.”

Anyone big?

“No.”

Anyone from Sheffield?

“Yes.  I find myself coming up with all kinds of songs which I know wouldn’t be right for the group but which still have value in their own way.”

So why don’t you use them to get a hit for yourselves?

“Cos we’re awkward buggers.  Too bloody-minded to play the game, but we’re realizing more and more that it can be played to our advantage.”

Realising that that blatant commerciality is not the only way out of the corner some would say the Comsats have backed themselves into, 7 Day Weekend signals a return to pastures weird but is tempered by a more subtle coupling of the confounding and the commercial.  Fellows agrees.

“We always did do things that were a little self-consciously different but we’re learning to keep things in their place now.”

His silky accent reminds me of the bands origins.  What with the Human League and ABC rapidly nearing the end of their 15 minutes and Cabaret Voltaire being touted as the next band to shine the light for Sheffield, do the Comsat's ever worry about being the Sheffield band time forgot?

“No, not unduly.  As for the Cabs, we sell loads more records than they do.  I like Cabaret Voltaire very much as people but I think that musically their ideas have passed.  They need to change and they don’t.  ABC had a lot of initial success due to the fact that there were a lot of good singles on their first LP.  There weren’t any on their second one.  The difference being one had Trevor Horn and one didn’t.”

“The Human League are a law unto themselves.  I’ve got to know them quite well and I still can’t figure out what’s going on.  Their viewpoint changes from day to day.  They’re fascinating people, they do the opposite of what people tell them to do and it always works.  There’s not really a Sheffield scene.  Everyone’s interested in what each others doing of course but each group is wildly individual.”

A term that could just as easily be applied to the Comsat’s fans.  Look around at any Comsat’s gig and you’ll see a motley crew of straight hippies and punks, the proverbial crossover band.  What is it that draws people to them when by Fellows own definition “it’s hard work being a Comsat Angels fan”?  

“I’ve tried to draw some kind of connection about the people who like us but I can’t.  The only thing I can come up with is that they all seem to be determined individuals.”

They are committed.

“Yeah, I remember around the time of the second LP I suddenly decided I wasn’t going to sign any autographs.  This guy came up to me after one gig and asked for my autograph.  I said ‘look I’m no different to you, there’s no reason why you should want my autograph.  I’m not a big star, I don’t want to be, I’m just the same as you.’  And he said ‘Yeah, but it’d be like a souvenir.’  I said ‘forget it, you don’t need it’.  This went on for about 10 minutes, in the end he said ‘oh fuck you then’ and walked off.  I thought about that long and hard and I realized it would have been far better if I’d just said ‘Yeah, nice to see you’ and signed my name.”

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