ZANG TUMMM TUMB ARTICLES “the first draft of history”


…or first steps in Funk.

MARTIN FRY, singer, chintzy dresser and be-quiffed one-fifth of Sheffield “radical dance” merchants, ABC, has a saying: “Get out of the galleries and burn up some calories”. And another: “Move your body and your mind will follow”.

Martin Fry, in fact, has enough sayings to fill a Dictionary Of Quotations. Taken together they make up a kind of funky manifesto for ABCs “Democratic Dance Party”.

Heres another: “Wed rather be a magnificent failure than a mediocre success”.

ABC arent either yet. But with a name thats not only been dropped in all the right places but printed in Capitals and underlined too — and with a decidedly danceable debut single, “Tears Are Not Enough”, threatening to storm the charts — theyre certainly shaping up to something. Quite what, only time will tell. For now, the music does seem to be living up to Martins mouth.

Something that certainly wasnt true of ABCs immediate ancestors, the drab electronic combo, Vice Versa who lasted from ‘77 to ‘80. Three of ABC were involved — Martin, Stephen “Sax Equals Sex” Singleton and Mark “Six Strings At His Disposal, ‘60s Soul In His Hold-All” White. Coping with these names alright? Good.

In summer 1980, they teamed up with Mark “Let Mr. Bassman Do The Talking” Lickly and later with David Palmer, “The Salvador Dali Of The Tympali”. Thats drums to you and me.

“We just started from scratch with the first three letters of the alphabet,” Fry explains, grinning. “We got the funk vision one morning and saw the future in beats per minute.”

First steps were to start writing “songs we all had confidence in and songs which had confidence in us”. Three months of rehearsal followed. For much of this time Singleton and Fry were working different shifts and never rehearsed together. How did they write songs then? “We kept in touch by boomerang.”

The first ABC gig was in September last year. Since then their concerts have barely reached double figures. But the ones they did do led to such enthusiasm that at one point ABC were thinking of not releasing a record.

“We thought it would be a letdown after some of the reviews wed got.” But they fortunately realised that “the jiving can take you so far but youve got to have the music to back it up”.

Having got a “handsome” deal from Phonogram, ABC set about their ambition of recording songs “that hit that perfect balance between being durable and being disposable”. They cite Smokey Robinsons “Tears Of A Clown” as an example of the kind of quality theyre aspiring to achieve, and assert: “Youve got to aim high.”

I like ABC. Theyre sharp, intelligent and have a fine sense of fun. Martin Fry might make some absurd claims, but he grins while hes making them. He also jokes a lot about forming a “radical dance faction”.

“Radical Dance” is becoming a familiar phrase. What do ABC mean by it?

“Nobodys told you? Its a mystical term that stretches back through centuries. Its a keystone. We unearthed it in a discotheque one evening and weve never looked back since.” Fry chuckles at the thought.

“No,” he decides. “Its a new idea. An attempt to reach a mass disco audience with a form thats got one foot in syncopated dance music, and the other foot stepping out using intelligent lyrics and avoiding every cliche like ‘boogie on down.”

He pauses before the proverb: “Its like the idea of ‘move your body and your mind will follow but making peoples minds follow with lyrical ideas about themselves. About the way they treat each other; About personal politics.”

New? What about Linx, Heaven 17, Tom Tom Club, Human League, Japan, Pigbag, Grace Jones… to name but a few. Theres no short supply of intelligent dance music these days.

No matter. Please welcome ABC to the list.