Synth Wave Revival? “Didn’t know there was one”—A tale of four lads and three decades

Brendan Coyle. Mike Richardson. Neale Potts. Steven Lippert. A music revolution unfolding in their midst.

Synth Wave Revival? "Didn’t know there was one" - A tale of four lads and three decades

“Being part of the electronic music scene in the UK for many years now I think that music now is very easy to produce using all the software, sounds and recording packages available on the market.” When we talk about technological change we tend to focus on the same triumvirate. The phone. The PC. The TV. All were groundbreaking tech in their day. All broke the mould. But it’s the PC, the infiltration of programming that reinvents, and reasserts, itself again and again.

The same could be said for the synthesizer and the drum machine. When these instruments were first made they were an incredible leap. You no longer needed a band, you had machines to be your band. Now we don’t even need the machines. We have our laptops. The same can be said of the physical record shop. Even the physical record. It’s looking through these different filters that I spoke with three pioneers in a futuristic sound set firmly in the past.

Brendan Coyle. Mike Richardson. Neale Potts. Steven Lippert. A music revolution unfolding in their midst. Sounds like the backdrop to a British rom-com, but it ain’t; though the trio are almost reading from the same script. Influences? You guessed it: Devo, Ultravox, Kraftwerk, Cocteau Twins, Durutti Column, Talking Heads, Tubeway Army, Bowie, Eno, Moroder. But the story begins to change from there.

“When I heard TVOD by the Normal , I knew then that I could actually do this stuff , armed with punk attitude and Mike Richardson , we went about making synth music with keyboards bought on hire purchase (I had a Korg 770 and Mike had a Yamaha CS 10). That was the start of All the Madmen” recalls Neale Potts, co-founder of the seminal aforementioned synth wave group with the aforementioned Richardson.

The group were short lived. Potts recalls a “fractured scene” where “young blokes all over the Country were picking up synths and doing stuff” with no connectivity. Imagine. A time where you haven’t flicked onto a different tab or checked your facebook within the last forty seconds.

Coyle’s story is somewhat different. Living a as a musical nomad, the Liverpudlian took his trade with him from group to group. “The Games became Zephyr in The Swamp…[then] forming Some Detergents… From this I went onto play session work with China Crisis, Scritti Politti, The Blue Nile.” A journeyman, in the true sense of the word, Coyle later turned his hand to DJ’ing, mixing alongside the likes of like Grand Master Flash, Africa Bombatta, Quentin Harris and Aaron Karl in the UK and US.

But back in the 80s, Potts and Richardson were living a different life. They were “the archetypal angry guy in the bedroom banging on about any old shite!” This was an age of musical change, and political strife. “With hindsight, it was a very difficult time for me, being stuck in a dead end job and all that, watching bands like a Flock of Seagulls have hit records (to Mike and I , they were a bunch of chancers, a Rock band with a synth—nothing to do with electronic music at all) I felt the moment had passed us by.” And it was in this air of competition and disappointment that Red Fetish was born.

But it didn’t last. While Coyle was pulling together the beginnings of a career Potts was not. Le Tigre Klub formed and then disbanded. Music was all around them, but never within grasp. “I did the Hacienda a couple of times,” reflects Richardson“ (not good experiences) and started playing again—recording a bunch of pseudo psychedelic drum box infused numbers for my own amusement. I was doing a bit of dope and Ecstasy at the time, not good if you are trying to reign in your excesses! I then met my second wife, cleaned up, put all the kit away and lived a normal life…”

And you would assume that would have been it. The British synth wave documentary done. But the career of this bunch wasn’t ready to end in the late 80s.

“I started to get emails from people all over the world asking about All the Madmen and Decades by Night. A bit of a shock, even I had forgotten about them! A footnote on a footnote on a footnote! I found a lot of info on the internet about myself, stuff that only one person could know about, so after 25 years, Mike Richardson and I re-established contact!”

And Mike re-enters, from the mists of the future. “I left Stoke in 1989 to move to north of Merseyside.” Richarson had formed a website, stokebeat.yolasite.com, dedicated to the sounds of his city, a page that Potts “stumbled” across and led to a realization. Some calls to mothers a little detective work and a reunion was made.

And this is where I come in. No, not as the boss ready to reissue lost reels; as a steely eyed, hard chinned, handsome, journalist. Feel free to edit any of that, bar handsome of course. The Minimal Wave forum flared, as all music forums do at some point, with handbags flailing about poor quality pressings and exorbitant prices of All the Madmen bootlegs. Marc Schaffer from Anna Logue stepped in and did some proper re-releasing, as he does, and sorted things out.

And Coyle? The Coyle connection comes at this later date. “In 2013 I was tracked down by Steve Lippert a graphic sleeve artist through a website I was running with my photographic work.” Lippert is also the artistic brains behind sleeves for labels like Vinyl on Demand, Anna Logue and Attractive; all labels that Coyle has been involved with, some of which Potts and Richardson were releasing on. Lippert, working as a catalyst, joined the dots, connected the links and made the introductions. Last year Future Commander, followed this year by a second, released their first 7” on Attractive; more than thirty years after those first fledgling flicks of a keyboard.

You can almost imagine the quartet clashing pints of frothy beer together into the credit roll; but that’s how it went. And Coyle’s honesty is testament to the serendipity of this resurrection of synth, of chance encounters and new starts:

“Not surprised about the revival didn’t know there was one…”

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