Author: SJ Smith
Source: Spiral Scratch
Publish date: March 1991
Although Propaganda only lasted in it’s original entity on Z.T.T. for a couple of years, they left a legacy of collectable guaranteed to give the record collecting enthusiast a headache. In addition the former members have been very active since 1986 and there is now a regenerated 1991 version of Propaganda signed to Virgin. So for the fans who have spent three figure sums already, there is lots more.
In 1983, Claudia Brucken, Michael Mertens, Susanne Freytag and Ralf Dorper came to England to follow through with their ‘music project’, as Dorper christened it, and attain a record contract.
Claudia and Michael had previous musical experience. Claudia has been a member of The Eggolinos, an all female German band which came to nothing. Michael used to be a percussionist in the Dusseldorf Symphony Orchestra but left because he had to “wait for two and half hours for one cymbal stroke and the missing it because I’d fallen asleep!” Obviously he though there was more to life!
The line up was set and a name was decided upon. It was Dorper’s theory that “pop music has always been propaganda, establishing a certain image, not by lying but by leaving out certain truths”, as Michael was to explain later. Demos were also recorded, with another musician, a certain A. Thein whose Christian name is a mystery. One person who received a copy of the demos was Paul Morley. He was impressed and invited Propaganda to work in Z.T.T.’s studios where he was the marketing head.
In March 1984 the product of Propaganda’s labour was released. It arrived in the form of Dr. Mabuse and was backed by another track, a cover of Lou Reed’s Femme Fatale — although this only featured on the twelve inch and cassingle. Dr. Mabuse is a fine example of Paul Morley’s “line extension” experiment. This basically means a series of extensive remixes featured on a number of format produced in limited quantities. This has two effects, first there were larger sales as fans wanted all the versions, second the formats quickly became collectable rousing interest in collectors and retailers for future releases. To illustrate, Dr. Mabuse was issued on two seven inches, three twelve inches, and a cassingle. A finer example is P-Machinery (see the discography).
Dr. Mabuse fared very well in the charts peaking at number 27 and making it on to The Now That’s What I Call Music Volume 2 LP. With the success of Dr. Mabuse, Propaganda wanted to continue by releasing another single directly after. But this was not to be as they had to wait for over a year until Trevor Horn has completed his work on Frankie Goes To Hollywood. This caused tension as Holly Johnson of Frankie Goes To Hollywood was to reflect on this later: “There would be Propaganda hanging around the studio waiting to start work with Trevor when he was spending all his time with us. This sort of thing led to a lot of unhappiness.”
The tracks Duel — Jewel were released in May 1985 — a year and two months after the release of Dr. Mabuse. Duel — Jewel are actually one song with completely different arrangements, an effective idea. Duel is the more melodic version thus making it on to the A-side for the ‘third side’ as it is known.
Although this single did not receive remixing treatment to the extent of Dr. Mabuse, there are many different versions, including a white label promo entitled Bejewelled (12 ZTAS 8-DJ) and a version on the remix LP Wishful Thinking entitled Jewelled. Both of these combine Duel and Jewel. The track actually fared better than Dr. Mabuse in the charts. It hung in there for twelve weeks reaching an impressive 21. The release was accompanied by a promotional video, pictures from which are reproduced on the flip side of the picture disc (the A-side of course featuring the Z.T.T. logo). The video was given an airing on Top Of The Pops as a “breaker” along with the ever innovative Gary Numan.
Another effective Z.T.T. marketing ploy was used with the release of Duel. There were a couple of seemingly unreleased tracks that featured on the seven inch double pack (Duel 1). These are actually remixes. Lied is a remix of The Chase, which can be found on the Secret Wish LP — the actual Lied remix is on the cassette version of the LP. The Lesson is yet another remix of Dr. Mabuse but it is just basically vocal fragmentations and samples.
At the same time Claudia Brucken moved to England to live permanently with her newly wed husband Paul Morley. This is important as it explains her actions when Propaganda tried to leave Z.T.T.. All of this will be explained further into the article.
In June 1985 Z.T.T. staged a show of their signings at the Ambassador Theatre in London under the title The Value Of Entertainment. The bill consisted of Instinct, Andrew Poppy, Art Of Noise, Anne Pigalle and Propaganda. This was their first opportunity to perform their songs live. They were joined on stage by Steve Jansen, ex-Japan, on drums and Derek Forbes, ex-Simple Minds, on bass. Both have very interesting and successful backgrounds.
GOOD BREEDING SHOWS
Steve Jansen is the brother of David Sylvian who together with Mick Karn, Richard Barbieri and for a couple of years Rob Dean comprised Japan. They struggled for about four years to break the British market, having taken Japan by storm and achieving success in America too. They finally managed it with the classic Ghosts and then split. Sylvian now has a successful solo career with Steve appearing on most of his releases.
Derek was meanwhile in Simple Minds providing the majority of the writing duties. He was in the original line up back in 1978 through to the world wide success of Don’t You Forget (About Me) and then was kicked out as his and Jim Kerr’s musical direction differed. It was Kerr’s loss as Derek has a unique individual style which is hard to find in a bassist. He suited the Propaganda sound very well and continued to feature on P-Machinery, the Outside World tour and is in the present 1991 line up co-writing six of the nine tracks on the new LP. More on that later.
By the next month, July, the Secret Wish LP hit the shops. It too was a success reaching number 16 with twelve weeks in the album charts. But it received far more critical acclaim from journalists and is still quoted today as one of the finest albums of the eighties. Not bad for a debut album. Again Z.T.T.’s marketing tactics were in force as the three formats contained different track listings and versions.
Riding on their success a third single was lifted from the LP. It was actually advertised on the Duel sleeve back in May. P-Machinery was released in August with no less than eight formats and ten by December.
This is a most collectable release with three of the formats commanding £20 + price tags. But it was a flop, reaching only number 50. It was reissued in December with a new mix of the B-side Frozen Faces but fared worse, not charting as all. This is a shame as it is arguably the highlight of the LP.
At the same time as the release of P-Machinery, Z.T.T. released Claudia Brucken’s and Glenn Gregory’s single When Your Heart Runs Out Of Time. This was a low key release with only three formats including a “Mills & Boon” book-shaped seven inch picture disc — very rare I’m sure.
October to November saw Propaganda hit the road on the Outside World tour. “Outside World” was from a line in Frozen Faces. October was Europe — bootlegged quite well on the 25th in Rotterdam. November was the U.K., climaxing to a full house in the Hammersmith Palais. The performances were brilliant and Derek Forbes, bass Brian McGee, drums (and another ex-Simple Minder) and Kevin Armstrong, guitar, joined the band on stage. Dorper, who played keyboard, left the group either before the tour or sometime during it.
This was the first band member to leave but by late 1986 only Michael was left from the 1984 line up. This is when Propaganda tried to leave Z.T.T. It took two years of court cases before they were released from their contract by and out of court settlement.
There could have been many reasons for their decision to leave. In a recent interview Michael says it was financial — they didn’t believe they were getting paid enough. They were offered £5,000 per year after selling more than half a million record. But other reasons could have been involved. Trevor Horn’s ignorance of Propaganda. Paul Morley’s ‘line extensions’ and so on. Claudia stayed on Z.T.T. because of her marriage to Morley, this could also have been a factor, though it is her musical activities I am concentrating on now.
Act was formed in 1987 by Claudia and Thomas Leer. Although this proved to be a short lived partnership it did produce an extremely good LP with four singles lifted from it.
Act were close musically to Propaganda with the use of synthesizers and the Germanic overtones, but they were slightly lighter and in places jazz influenced. This should have warranted commercial success but this was not to be. Their popularity lies firmly with the fans and collectors.
The first release, and in my opinion the finest composition, was Snobbery And Decay, released in May 1987. True to Z.T.T. there were a variety of formats and remixes. The other three singles featured fewer formats. Although, like Propaganda’s Secret Wish the Laughter, Tears and Rage LP has different track listings for each of the three formats.
After Act Claudia planned an album entitled Prima Donna but I don’t believe it saw the light of day. The next release was this year with a single Absolut(e), which is her finest post Propaganda work to date. She is now signed to Island records and planning an album release.
Meanwhile the remains of Propaganda were involved in their court case with Z.T.T.. It finished late 1988 and by 1989 a new line up was organised and work was started on some demos. The new line up was Betsi Miller, vocalist and an American expatriate living in Germany apparently tracked down by Susanne Freytag to join the group, Derek Forbe, Brian McGee and Michael Mertens.
April 1990 saw the release of the 1-2-3-4 album. It isn’t too far a cry from A Secret Wish but there are marked differences. Tracks like Vicious Circle and Ministry Of Fear would have sat very well on A Secret Wish but tracks like Your Wildlife and Only One Word are like Soul II Soul meets the Eurythmics. And yet, as with A Secret Wish, it is all highly original.
To complement the line up Ralf Dorper and Susanne Freytag appear on the LP. So does Howard Jones and Dave Gilmour — believe it or not.
By the time this article is published the single with have been replaced. Entitled Only One Word it’s backed by a non-album track Open Spaces. They only other news is that Propaganda are lining up a major British tour — something to look forward to.