The Festival Experience with... ABC

Henry Lewis spoke to Martin Fry about outrageous outfits, the longevity of '80s pop and his passion for cycling ahead of this year's Eroica Britannia.

Henry Lewis

Last updated: 24th May 2017

Image: ABC

Some 35 years ago, Sheffield New Wave outfit ABC released debut record The Lexicon Of Love, an album that at it's time defied conventions, telling a heartbreaking love story of its lead protagonist as he struggles to maintain a meaningful relationship. 

The album entered the charts at Number 1 in 1982 and has since been certified platinum, whilst it continues to be named among some of the finest records of all time. In the years that have followed, it has been lead singer Martin Fry who has continued to push the music of the band, as well as the ABC name, with a string of album releases that saw Fry collaborate widely with other musicians.

In May 2016, ABC's ninth record The Lexicon Of Love II was released, this time with Fry looking retrospectively at his love life whilst still leaning heavily on the lush orchestral moments that made ABC's debut so enjoyable all those years earlier. However, in its 35th year it is the Look of Love that Fry will be bringing to captive audiences across the UK later this year, following a string of summer festival shows. 

Ahead of Eroica Britannia, we spoke to Martin Fry about some of his most memorable festival experiences.

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Hi Martin, how are you?

I’m well thanks, really well I had a good weekend doing a bit of bike riding.

Was that in preparation for Eroica? Is that how you say it? [pronounced er-oh-ica by the interviewer]

E-roi-ca It’s Italian. Yeah it was a bit yes. I’ve not done it for a while but it was nice to get back on my bike again. You probably saw the pictures did you? 

Yeah I saw some stuff on Twitter…

I used to do a lot of cycling a while back, I used to cycle in Majorca – do you know Mike Pickering at all? A long time ago we used to meet up and cycle quite regularly.

You were saying the festival started in Italy ?

The word means heroic in Italian, and then obviously the Britannia bit relates to Great Britain. Anyway the pictures you will have seen were of us, we went on a ride in the Peak District last week, with all the organisers from the festival and a load of journalists. I think the whole event is sponsored by Maserati and yes the car you can see is our broom wagon.

What are you looking forward to most at the festival then, performing or riding your bike?

Probably a little bit of both. It’s still so great playing now because we can go out and deliver the hits and people still loving see us play them live. It’s so good because we see so many different people coming down to our festival shows but this will be so special because of the cycling aspect. There’s going to be a huge group ride on the Sunday so I’m really looking forward to getting involved with that.

So not too much boozing then really on the Saturday night?

Well you know you get to a certain age where you have to take a little bit easier. When it comes to cycling anyway I find there’s a lot of coffee and cake involved, which is definitely one good reason to part of it.

What are some of the best festivals you’ve played?

Well back in the early days they were all pretty basic, I’m pretty sure we were playing before they even got portaloos involved. We have played some great ones though, we were on the bill with Culture Club at Camp Bestival once and that was brilliant. We’ve also played Carfest, Chris Evans’ festival which was also great but it was when we were doing the shows with the full orchestra and we needed 12 chairs, which proved to be quite an issue finding a place for them all on stage.

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What was the very first festival you went to?

I am very very vintage so I’d have to say it was The Clash in London in 1978. It was the rock against racism gig and it was so good. I’ve been to plenty of others down the years, there’s been a lot but with playing them it’s hard to remember. 

In the 1980s there were an awful lot of pop acts, of which you were one. Was it good to have that friendly rivalry with other groups?

I think every era is the same. Look at the Britpop era you had Pulp, Oasis, Blur and it was the same with us if not more. Even just in Sheffield, you had us The Human League, even the likes of Def Leppard so yeah there was loads going on. Top Of The Pops was the best example of all the great music that was out there.

If you were on that you were in some sort of holy place and no one could really criticise you and you couldn’t criticise other bands because you had to be good to be on there. If anything the biggest rivalry was to see who could get the best suits! We’d be rushing down to the shops in London to get the latest outfits and some weeks the other bands would get there before you!

In fairness though in looks like you got there first most times….

Well the thing is, it’s best to be noticed for wearing something bad than not be noticed at all, and that was all we wanted - to be noticed!

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It’s been 35 years since the Lexicon Of Love was released, did you have any idea at all how forward thinking it would prove to be?

The thing is I grew up with all the punk bands like The Clash and people like that and they were so forward thinking themselves. With our generation we just wanted things to sound really polished and we wanted to get fit a lot of ideas into the tracks. We wanted to get across the drama and the emotions and 35 years on it’s stood the test of time.

You’ve got a greatest hits tour coming at the end of the year, will your festival slots pave the way for them?

They will do but we’ll have a lot less time so we’ll have to cram in all the big ones and not mess about too much with solos and things like that! Although we won’t be doing any…what are they called when you put loads of songs into one?

A medley…?

Yeah that’s it, there’ll be none of that - or any covers either.

Do you feel a sense of pride when you see you contemporaries on festival line ups?

Yeah it’s brilliant, I think anyone that is still going nearly forty years later deserves an awful lot of credit. When I look at say Madness, or Blondie and they’re still going it shows how good the music we were making really was. When you go up on stage it’s only really about that moment anyway, it doesn’t really matter about how long ago it was recorded as long as everyone’s enjoying it.

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