At the start of the year somebody posted a track of Candy Opera in the Sophistipop Lounge, which went almost completely unnoticed but not entirely. I picked it up, and buzz frenzy around them ensued. At first listen, “What a Way to Travel” brings that whole era back to me: the dreamy cloud I was on, whilst walking the streets with my walkman in the 80s’, listening to Prefab Sprout and Style Council. The breezy vocals, crisp synths, the sparkling jazzmasters that carried me off to visions of blonde disheveled hair, and sleek suits at Cafe Blue.
Candy Opera was one of those bands that embodies the time spirit as no other band, they had the aura that sat well between the proto-indie /C86 stuff and the slicker Sophistipop bands-sound. Fronted by songwriter/singer/ guitarist Paul Malone, Candy Opera recorded, and played from around 1983-1993. There were quite a few other bands that had that same jangle-jazzy blend. To mind spring, The Lotus Eaters, Friends, and The Pale Fountains. But commercial success didn’t await all of these bands, and this Liverpool based musical highlight just faded into oblivion. Until head-honcho of Firestation Records in Germany, Uwe Weigmann, stumbled upon a mention in a forum and went digging for this mythical band, and luckily unearthed them.”45 Revolutions Per Minute” is the lustrous result of his mining, undusting and polishing.
“What a Way to Travel“, is a Sophistipop fan’s wet-dream: it’s a kaleidoscope of all the elements that we so loved about this genre. We hear the luscious airy quality of Prefab Sprout, the jazz chords of Aztec Camera, the funky rhythm guitar of Haircut 100, and the catchy verve of the Style Council. Malone‘s vocals have perfect phrasing and that winsome dash that reminds me a bit of Ricky Ross .”The Good Book and the Green” is a splendid, but less overtly sentimental “When Love Breaks Down“: a real grow, one that has slowly lodged itself inside my mind. The bubbly, poppy “Fever Pitch” is kindred to the unbridled energy of some Heyward classics, like “When it Started to Begin”, with jangly traces of Lloyd Cole thrown in for good measure. “Time” is a more rocky sparkler with lush brassy outbursts and echoes of Thin Lizzy, and “Nine Times Out Of Ten” is an irresistible Northern Soul groover that presses all the right buttons in the way that (until now) only the Style Council could do. What adds to the whole appeal of the album, is that the lo-fi production makes it sound very different from all the other, more polished stuff, that we have been listening to from the same era and genre. It somehow sounds more genuine, more raw. More indie? 9 out of 10, guys!!
The album resulted from the collection of demo’s and recordings that span Candy Opera’s entire history. The release date of the record is March 23.j It will be available on limited edition 18-track CD and deluxe 16-track vinyl, and will come with extensive sleeve notes and archive photographs: it will sit very neatly amongst all your other Sophistipop classics!
Candy Opera – 45 Revolutions Per Minute
Review by Calle Falksten; Sophisticated pop afficionado and host of the radioshow “Calles Carameller” for five years on Radio 88 in Gothenburg
If the release of “Free as a Bird” had Beatles fans gasping for air there in 1995, the prospect of another Liverpool band delivering unreleased recordings from the 80’s in a certain musical style is almost the same for some of us in 2018. They called it Sophistipop. They still do. For some of us growing up in the 80’s this kind of musical style was as powerful as the Merseybeat sounds of the 60’s, I believe.
When I start listening to “45 Revolutions Per Minute” by Candy Opera, the lost Sophistipop band that never quite was, I almost have to pinch myself. When the lush chords and sheen of “The Good Book and the Green” sweeps out through my speakers, a beautiful Friday morning in February in Gothenburg, its like being put in a musical time-machine. Once again it’s 1988 and I am 15.
At the turntable, I am slowly laying the foundation for my future music-obsessive self by spinning the records of Prefab Sprout, Aztec Camera and Andy Pawlak. When I hear Candy Opera, the instant flashback to the music that was being made in this particular era, is almost spooky. If someone had told me that this were an award winning art-installation or fake documentary about a lost Sophistipop band from way back I almost would have believed them. Luckily, this isn’t the case: it is very much the real thing.
The key question, and what any sane music fan would ask themselves, is perhaps; “Is it better than “Free as a Bird“? A resounding yes to that question. These are no leftovers I should add. This is a beautiful collection of songs and songwriting that should have made it onto record in the 80’s. After the first couple of listens, I am a bit suspicious, I should add: “Isn’t it a bit to similar to Paddy and company?” ; “the kind of lo-fi quality that pervades the songs (for the most part demo’ s) don’t really do the songs any justice either“. But having lived with these songs a couple of weeks now they start to feel more like a couple of long lost cherished friends you had forgotten.
Candy Opera‘s songs may not have the production and glossy studio sheen that you associate with Sophistipop, but the more you listen, it actually proves to be an advantage! You hear the warmth of Paul Malone‘s compositions, voice and, from what I’ve gathered having studied Candy Opera‘s FaceBook page closely, the tight friendship and bond between these fellas. For a precise musical reference, think a rawer, more straightforward version of Prefab Sprout. That a young Lee Mavers from La’s stood in the audience as a fan when Candy Opera were playing live in the 80’s, also makes sense.
Ultimately, the biggest pay-off with this collection may be that it reminds me of why the genre-tag sophistipop was given birth there in the 80’s and why it lit up my heart. Media and plenty of bands have tried to hijack the name by just deploying an 80’s surface copy of it, in the recent years, and giving out a watered down version of it. Part of the problem with trying to recreate this music being made in the 80’s is that it… isn’t the 80’s anymore: Reagan isn’t in power, Sue Ellen isn’t in rehab anymore. Just bringing on 80’s production techniques, shimmering keyboards and breathy vocals isn’t enough in my book.
The trick to solve it? Adding something from the present tense and of course, great, great songwriting. The latter is what you will find plenty of examples on “45 Revolutions Per Minute” by Candy Opera. That is one of the reasons their music still resonates vibrantly in 2018. It might not scale the dizzy heights of sophistipop-masterpieces like “Steve McQueen” and “High Land Hard Rain“but anyone with a love for this kind of music will see this as beautiful souvenir in their collection.
Candy Opera interview by Estella Rosa:
So, it’s been a while right? Tell us a bit about what kind of band you were back in the days? What other bands inspired you/ were friends in certain circles?
Mal: We started out just as mates playing together in the living room, after being inspired by The Jam playing at Deeside Leisure Centre. The fear, the excitement and the intensity of the gig made us want to get up and have a go. Also, collecting records, listening and sharing music with new and interesting ideas like Josef K, Orange Juice and then later, Aztec Camera, as well as the Liverpool scene with Wah!, the Bunnymen and Teardrop Explodes just around the corner.. it all gave us inspiration. The Pale Fountains getting a record deal made it all seem to be something that was in touching distance and not something abstract that was not achievable.. everything seemed up for grabs.
Brian: The band already had a rich history when I joined at the very end of 1985, as the keyboard player. I just fell in love with them. I remember having a shared love of loads of stuff; The Paleys (Pale Fountains), Love, Prefab Sprout, Aztec, Orange Juice, anything from Postcard Records. Ken, the my predecessor on guitar, was a big influence on me. He showed me how to play things like Love’s ‘Alone Again Or’ on guitar and other great riffs that I still play today. Mal (Paul Malone) introduced me to Friends Again and Neil, our manager got us all into The Blue Nile and ‘National Avenue‘ by Red Guitars. Anything with a good strong creative song base inspired us. We had a mutual dislike of stuff we thought was crap in the mainstream, like the shoulder-padded, hair-gelled, spandex-wearing heavy metallers of the time, for example. We were inspired to do what we thought was better and I guess these feelings kind of polarised the music we made in some way. Plus, we had a great laugh together. I’m sure that’s also what kept things going over the years. Like a good marriage!
Dave: We were neighbours with The Pale Fountains in Kensington and were influenced by their debut single, ‘Just A Girl/ Something On My Mind’. They came to our first gig and Mick Head introduced us to Love‘s ‘Forever Changes’. We were also heavily influenced by the first two Aztec Camera releases on Postcard Records of Scotland. The late 1970s Liverpool scene was also an influence, particularly Echo and The Bunnymen. We were a bit of a gang ourselves and didn’t really frequent the places where bands were expected to gather and ‘be seen’. We did have one or two associates in bands we liked such as Edelweiss and Hello Sunset.. and Ken Moss joined us after a spell in The Pale Fountains.
Ken: I’d been in a band called the Love Fountains, later called the Pale Fountains with Mick Head and “Jock” Whelan from a band we’d all been in called Egypt for Now. The bass player, “Yorkie“, had introduced us to loads of 60’s stuff like Love and Scott Walker, which really opened my eyes at the time because I’d only got into playing in bands through punk. So I was massively influenced by that music and Aztec Camera and Orange Juice when I joined Candy Opera. I was in awe of Roddy Frame’s playing ever since the Paleys supported Aztec Camera in Liverpool, so much so that I contemplated giving up the guitar. But I stuck with it and found a bunch of like minded folk in Candy Opera who had a similar musical outlook and taste to me.We used loads of out of the way chords and jangly guitar phrases that were very much of their time I think. I remember we gigged quite a lot, and had a few loyal followers.
What exactly happened with Uwe Weigmann from Firestation Records? What was the overall reaction?
Uwe: “I was looking for songs by Candy Opera since some years when i first read about them on The La‘s forum, so I was happy to find some of their songs on youtube the last year. anything else is history now”
Mal: I was surprised at first then, when Uwe explained what he had in mind, it seemed very exciting.. putting it out on vinyl and CD, taking care of the packaging and making such a great physical product. Firestation has been a great fit for us, having loved Postcard and many other cottage industry labels back in the day. This partnership has all those ingredients and both parties have the same idea.. of creating something special to give the songs a platform and the listener something to cherish.. something tangible to hold onto, really just like we used to do back in the day. I’ve loved every moment of this journey with Firestation and can only thank them.
Brian: Well, in February last year, I decided to put some of our songs on YouTube, just for posterity really. I shared it amongst our little circle of Facebook friends but I didn’t expect anything to come of it. Somehow, Uwe found our page and sent me a message out of the blue. That was at the end of July. I was stunned. I ran to the phone and called Mal straight away, who didn’t quite believe me. I’m sure he thought it was a wind-up. So, I emailed Uwe back the next day and the rest is history. I couldn’t and still can’t quite believe that we found someone who was a champion of our kind of music.. and someone with a record label as well! Incredible luck or what?
Ken: This was a complete surprise to me. I can’t believe that it’s happened the way it has but a massive thanks must go to Brian for putting the stuff out there, and of course everyone involved along the way, not least Uwe at Firestation for having the faith.
Did you have to reconnect to all members or were you guys still in touch?
Mal: I was still in contact with pretty much most of the lads. Me and Dave go way back. Brian and Ken both moved out of the city but through Facebook and Twitter we managed to reconnect. Me and Alan, the drummer still write and play music together.
Brian: By 2003 I’d moved away from Liverpool but was still in touch with Mal via the odd email now and then. To be honest, I’ve only just got my head around this social media thing in the last two years so, keeping in touch wasn’t as frequent. Mal was the only one, really. I’d pretty much lost touch with everyone else.
Dave: Mal and I first met in 1973 so, there was a longstanding friendship anyway. We used to be the antithesis of the ‘Status Quo‘ mob at school, given that we were heavily influenced by the Beach Boys and the Bay City Rollers. We then got into Punk and New Wave, culminating in us forming Candy Opera, along with Carl Hodgson, Ian Haskell and Mike Wiggins, in the summer of 1981. After Candy Opera‘phase one’, we lost touch, but reconnected in 2014 at Carl Hodgson‘s 50th birthday party. We ended up getting on stage as a briefly ‘reformed’ Candy Opera but just doing Punk and Ska covers. There is footage!
Ken: I’d been gone from Liverpool about 15 years when all this kicked off, and hadn’t really contacted anybody in the music scene there for a lot longer than that. What happened was my wife told me someone was looking for me on Twitter, which turned out to be Dave, but I wasn’t on Twitter so kept putting off contacting him. Then a friend I hadn’t seen for 8 years said someone else from the band Candy Opera was looking for me, so I decided it was time to act. It’s amazing to be in contact with the band again, and catching up with everyone.
What do you think of the current Sophistipop revival? Where you aware of it at all?
Mal: It seems to be a nod to the past and its creatives.. homemade.. something that comes from the heart.. and I think it can only be for the good so, I’m happy to be associated with it.
Brian: No, I wasn’t. This is all news to me, being a social media luddite n’all.. but it’s such a pleasure to know there are still lots of die-hard fans of this kind of pop music out there. Your Sophistipop Lounge, is a pure unadulterated pleasure. It’s been a revelation.
Dave: We were delighted to find the Sophistipop Lounge,Its users and the bands it features appear to be akin to what we were.. and are. We love the name and its vibe.
Ken: To be honest, I didn’t even know it existed as “a thing”, but I’m glad it does. I think it’s mainly a backlash against the overwhelming mediocrity of the mainstream music nowadays. And we’ve found that it’s not only our generation that are showing interest in our music, there are some younger people who couldn’t possibly have been aware of us in the early 80’s that are loving the tracks that are already on Soundcloud.
What are the future plans? Any live prospects for Candy Opera?
Mal: Candy Opera will play live again. At this moment we’re not sure what format that will be. It’s something that we are looking to do but I’m not going to book the local pub and have two or three people staring back at us. It will need planning but we will want to be in control of our performances. For the future, I’d want to be more creative and write more, as I do now, rather than becoming just a Candy Opera tribute band. I would need the challenge, I’d always want us to challenge ourselves.
Brian: Yes, definitely. Personally, I’d love to play again, it’d be amazing. We don’t have anything to announce yet but obviously we have been thinking about the logistics. We’ll be a bit like in Blues Brothers 2, ‘getting the band back together’.. but without the chaos and debauchery, hopefully.
Dave: The ‘L’ word is the big question but we’re not going to talk live shows until the album is released. We last played together some 27 years ago and, whilst we love gigging, the various band members are now spread across the UK and Merseyside. Logistically, it would be tricky but we’re currently keeping an open mind. The venues would also have to be right. We’re far too old to consider the usual touring stops!
Ken: Wouldn’t that be fantastic? Logistically it would be a nightmare, but if there was any way that we could pull it off I’d be well up for it. Whether or not I could remember song parts from 35 years ago is another question though.