New Band, New Variety
And so the Passions entered their third and final phase reduced to a core partnership of Barbara, David and Richard plus the two ‘hired hands’, Kevin Armstrong and Jeff Smith.
First of all the band replaced their backline which had been destroyed in the Verona fire, new amps and a stunning black Gretsch kit for Richard, replacing his seriously scorched white Rogers kit.
The band then retired to their rehearsal room at Chumleys (later to become the Mean Fiddler) in Harlesden High Street and set about knocking into shape their collection of new songs as well as rehearsing the old ones with the new line up. This proceeded quite smoothly with Kevin and Jeff filling out the sound considerably. Jeff was using a brand new digital synthesiser which was, so we were informed, ‘the only one in the country’.
Polydor suggested Mick Glossop as the producer for the next album and the band met up and got along fine with him. He started coming along to rehearsals, making useful suggestions about the arrangements for the new material. Mick booked the band into the Garden Studio in Shoreditch which was owned by John Foxx of the original Ultravox. John had just opened the studio and was around for much of the recording. He gets a mention on the album’s credits. Just as the band was about to start recording there was a minor dispute over musicians’ fees and royalty points but this was soon settled and the sessions began.
The recording went remarkably smoothly, Mick being an excellent producer. Everyone used to go to this strange late night East End restaurant after the sessions which was full of workers from the theatres and clubs of the West End. The bloke from Dollar was in there one night. When the recording was finished everyone de-camped to Maison Rouge in Fulham for the mixing. This also went well and there was a great party in the studio the night it was finished. In retrospect, the record is good but over heavy on the synth. The band’s original idea in getting a synth on board was to fill out the sound but on ‘Sanctuary’ it seems to have taken over completely.
While waiting for the album’s release the band played some UK dates and European festivals including one in Belgium with Tears for Fears as a support act. Their guitarist hadn’t turned up so Kevin, ever the muso, offered to step in and he learned their entire set in a couple of hours. Other gigs during this period were Crewe and Alsager College and Lincoln Drill Hall where Dale Farrow, a keen Passions fan, actually played guitar with the band during the encores.
After a few months of gigging Kevin left to pursue his own career. He had been offered his own recording deal and went on to release a single, play with David Bowie on Absolute Beginners and appear with him at Live Aid.
The band urgently set about recruiting yet another guitarist as they had the album to promote. They asked Dale if he’d be interested in joining and he came down to London and auditioned for the band at a rehearsal studio in Camden. He remembers the Boomtown Rats were rehearsing in the next studio. Unfortunately Dale wasn’t up to speed and the band needed a guitarist urgently. Then through Jeff Smith the band auditioned and recruited Steve Wright who had been playing with Bim.
These are Steve’s recollections:
‘After one last single, produced by Mick Jones, Bim were dropped by Warner Brothers and fizzled out, leaving me stuck in a depressing East End bedsit with not even a telephone. A few weeks later David Rogers, who knew Jeff Smith, sent me a postcard saying The Passions needed a guitar player. After meeting Barbara, Richard, and David and being given a copy of the yet to be released Sanctuary album to learn, I auditioned in a dreary rehearsal room in Camden Lock. It was clear to all of us that I was up to the task. My first show was the sold out Paradiso one that Barbara mentions, and that was just amazing. Other memorable shows - Aston University with John Cooper Clarke and the Monochrome Set, a May ball in Cambridge in a tent playing to bunch of overdressed and baffled rich kids, The Ritz in New York City where a fight broke out amongst a couple of Hells Angels... Mostly though it's the last ever show the band played, that one at The Marquee. We were all so happy that night.’
It was at this point that band, always desperate for someone to take the weight of the ‘business’ from their shoulders started working with Cairo Management run by Ian Grant and Alan Edwards who Barbara and Richard knew from their time in the Derelicts. Ian and Alan used to run the Albion Agency which was responsible for booking bands into most of the London pub rock venues such as the Nashville and Red Cow.
Next came the question of how to promote the album. For some long forgotten reason the band were unwilling to tour at that point and so together with Cairo Management came up with the idea of doing a week of variety shows at the Bloomsbury Theatre in central London instead. ‘New Variety’ or ‘Alternative Cabaret’ was taking off at the time with the CAST theatre group running shows at pubs across London. Quite how a band such as the Passions fitted into this concept is puzzling to say the least. However the idea was followed through and acts were booked including a strange little play about someone who lived inside a sofa, the band’s friends Kevin McNally and Veronica Quilligan (who acted as comperes in addition to performing comedy sketches) and Tom Robinson. The show was booked for five nights and apart from the first night, ticket sales were abysmal so the band pulled out after only two shows. As a result of this the band were sued for loss of earnings by the theatre group performing the strange play.
As a tie-in with the Bloomsbury shows the album title was changed from ‘Cars Driven Fast’ to ‘Sanctuary’ and the artwork changed even though StyloRouge had already come up with a design for ‘Cars Driven Fast’. Needless to say, Rob at StyloRouge was not very happy about this, and who can blame him? StyloRouge had previously designed the Swimmer, German Film Star, Skin Deep and 30,000 Feet covers for the band.
After the failure of the Bloomsbury shows the band parted company with Cairo Management and started playing more conventional gigs again. These included the Hammersmith Palais with the Au Pairs and more college dates. The band’s agency then set up a UK/European tour for November and December 1982. Further rehearsals for this tour followed and then Jeff announced that he would be unavailable due to commitments with Lena Lovich so, undeterred, the band recruited Penny Tobin and set off on what was to turn out to be their final UK/European tour. Penny played a Prophet analogue synthesiser, the sound of which was warmer and chunkier than Jeff’s digital machine. She also played a sax solo on an extended version of German Film Star. We don’t have any recordings of this version but would love to hear from anyone who does.
The tour included the UK, Holland, Belgium, France and Switzerland. Barbara remembers a couple of highlights:
‘We did some of our most memorable (at least to me) gigs during this period when all was going downhill with Polydor, especially the women's festival at the Paradiso in Amsterdam, where the Italian women from La Cetina (a women’s village in Tuscany) who'd ridden up on a fleet of motorbikes to be there, whipped off their shirts and flung them onstage and another one in Eindhoven or Appeldorn where the audience was still calling for more and we were out of earshot in a dressing room far away. I only found out because I'd gone down to get my jacket from the stage’.
The tour included a couple of TV appearances, one on the ‘Whistle Test’ which was recorded in Manchester and another for the Channel 4 programme, ‘Whatever You Want’ which was recorded at the Ace Ballroom in Brixton which was later to be converted into the Fridge nightclub. After the tour ended Penny departed (never to be seen again, anyone know where she is now?) and Jeff returned for the remainder of the life of the band, except for the very last gig when he was again unavailable.
At this point it became clear that Polydor wasn’t going to re-sign the band for a third year due mainly to poor sales and the departure of the staff members who had signed and looked after the band. Polydor paid for a session in a demo studio but obviously didn’t like the results and the band was left without a deal. This came as a shock, particularly financial, but luckily they were now being paid reasonably well for live shows due to having a particularly good booking agent and so managed to struggle on. Gigs were interspersed with song writing sessions and making demos but somehow the elusive spark never returned.
Memorable gigs during the spring of 1983 included a festival in the bullring in Lisbon and the Rock-ola club in Madrid:
This was to be the band’s last mainland European gig. The beauty of this series of gigs was that the promoters supplied all the equipment so the band was able to fly out with just their guitars, plectrums and drumsticks.
In June 1983 the Passions set off on their first ever (and long delayed) US tour which had been set up by their agent in conjunction with a New York agency. Without record company support finances were extremely tight and as a consequence the band’s crew consisted solely of Mick Shepherd who acted as both sound engineer and tour manager. There were no roadies or lighting crew. The tour was quite short and confined to New York and the East Coast. The gigs, which included the Ritz in Manhattan, went well and the band met with Polygram on a couple of occasions to try to secure a US record deal. Nothing came of this however.
Barbara stayed on in New York for a few weeks and the rest of the band returned to the UK. On Barbara’s return the band made their last ever demos in Jeff’s home studio and handed them to yet another manager who they had been put in touch with by their booking agent. He took them to the US in a final, failed, attempt to secure a record deal.
The agency then set up what was to prove to be the Passions’ final gig at the Marquee in Wardour Street on Friday 12th August. The band had one quick rehearsal at Ginger Baker’s rehearsal studio in Acton the day before with Adele Bertei who had been invited to sing backing vocals at the gig. Jeff was unable to play due to his other commitments. The gig itself was memorable indeed, a sold out Marquee packed with Passions fans and the band were on top form.
‘I’d stayed in touch with the band and in August 1983 went down to the flat in Shepherd's Bush on the afternoon of the gig at The Marquee. Adele Bertei was curled up on a sofa and I had quite a chat with her, she had just recorded "Build Me A Bridge" and had recently done some stuff with Thomas Dolby (she was the female voice on "Hyperactive"). The line up for that gig was Barbara, Richard, David, Steve Wright on guitar, Adele sang backing and hit some percussion and the keyboards had been dispensed with. It was a great return to form with one or two new songs ("Photograph" I think was one that has never yet seen the light of day on record). The Marquee was a notorious sweatbox and the band had the crowd heaving and bopping that night and the walls and ceiling were literally dripping with excitement and bodily fluids! After the gig we all piled into the tiny dressing room behind the stage, the atmosphere was fantastic and everyone seemed more than happy that the band had found its feet and direction again with no obvious hints from anyone that this would actually be the end. The walls of the dressing room at the Marquee were covered with the autographs of artists who'd performed there down the years, some huge names, some known only to a few and I imprinted the sole of my DMs next to David Bowie's signature: I wonder if it stayed there until they pulled the place down?!’
This is the ‘Sounds’ review of the gig (apologies to Adele for the sizeist comments):
After the Marquee gig the band just drifted apart, it was never really discussed that the Passions should finish but in reality everyone knew things couldn’t carry on as they were. Barbara returned to the US and the band never played together again.
2008: The band get together at a rehearsal room in Shepherds Bush for a run through of the old tunes.
2018 October/November: Barbara plays solo shows in Europe.
October 2018: the two Davids and Richard rehearse in Pirate Studios, Notting Hill.
November 2018: get together in Brockley Studios, S E London.