Do you ever wonder why some vocalists or bands just suddenly stop? Some carry on for years, either churning out the same old stuff to legions of devoted fans, or changing their style to reach out to new followers.
In the early 1980s, I heard a record that caught my attention. The song had a good beat, and a highly unusual falsetto vocal. I caught the title, ‘Smalltown Boy’, and the group was called ‘Bronski Beat’. I popped into my local record shop and bought a copy of the single. They couldn’t tell me much else about the artists, but I was happy enough to take it home and play it. The record was soon high in the charts. The vocalist was widely interviewed, and appeared on many TV pop shows too. He was a tiny Scottish man with a hairstyle reminiscent of the cartoon character Tintin, and seemed to make much of being gay.
By 1985, Jimmy Somerville was very well-known, and he had formed a new group, The Communards. They released covers of Harold Melvin’s ‘Don’t leave me this way’, and Jackson Five/Gloria Gaynor’s ‘Never can say goodbye’, as well as some excellent tracks on their eponymous debut album, and the follow-up, ‘Red’. For the next couple of years, they were always high in the charts, but then split in 1988, with Somerville embarking on a solo career.
His first effort, ‘Read my lips’ was very successful, and gave us his superb cover of Sylvester’s ‘You make me feel mighty real’, as well as the charming cover of Francoise Hardy’s ‘Comment te dire adieu’. By 1990, he was reduced to releasing a ‘Greatest Hits’ album, and soon slipped from the scene completely. Five years later he returned, enjoying moderate success with his new record, ‘Dare to love’. But his moment had passed, and his disco sound was no longer flavour of the month.
He continues to perform and record, but has not achieved any chart success since 1995, despite releasing his disco album, ‘Homage’ in 2015. I look back on his brief time of fame with great fondness, and wish that he had let go of his disco mania, and adapted to changing trends. Here are some examples of his distinctive style. It’s a very much love it or hate it sound.
Don’t leave me this way
Never can say goodbye
You make me feel mighty real
Comment te dire adieu