Buy The Marbles' "Slip Into Sound"

The Buggles

Mean Fiddler, 3 Dec 98
ZTT Showcase; £5
Buy The Buggles' The Age of Plastic

The Buggles:
Trevor Horn: lead vocals
Geoff Downes: keyboards
Tessa Niles: backing vocals
The Marbles (Jonathon McGlynn, Seamus Simon and Justin Whelan): bass, drums, guitars

Not many bands have their first live gig nearly two decades after they split upóand then only play one song! The Buggles are back to remind us how video killed the radio star.

In 1979, Trevor Horn and Geoff Downes formed The Buggles. Their single, "Video Killed the Radio Star", was an unexpected hit, but the band had been purely a studio affair. Nevertheless, Horn and Downes were soon playing arenas live, but under even less expected circumstances. Working on the second Buggles album in the studio next door to Yes, they found themselves recruited to the band as replacements for Jon Anderson and Rick Wakeman. Pressurised by Chris Squire into imitation of Jon Anderson, touring on a scale wholly unprecedented for him, singing to often hostile audiences, Horn hated the experience and left the band at the end of the tour. Yes dissolved.

While Downes went on playing to huge crowds with Asia, most people know of Horn's work since as a producer of everyone from ABC to Paul McCartney to a host of ZTT bandsóZTT being Horn's own record label. However, Horn never completely abandoned performing. He was originally to have been lead singer in a band with old Yes colleagues, Chris Squire and Alan White, and new boy, Trevor Rabin. Horn soon changed his mind though and the band ended up as a new Yes with Jon Anderson's return. Horn produced 90125, but also contributed a few backing vocals and keyboards too. This rather sets the pattern for Horn went on to sing and play on many of the acts he produced, including Seal, Rod Stewart, Tina Turner, Marc Almond, Pet Shop Boys and Frankie Goes to Hollywood, as well as being a member of the Art of Noise for their first album. It is perhaps then slightly less surprising that Horn should eventually decide to return to the stage for the first time since 18 Dec 1980 and Yes's last date on the Drama tour. Perhaps work on a new Art of Noise album encouraged him or was it just next year's twentieth anniversary of "Video Killed the Radio Star"?

So what was this amazing event for fans of Trevor Horn? Squeezing themselves into a showcase for new ZTT bands, the Buggles played their first ever live gig at the Mean Fiddler, north-west London, on 3 Dec 1998.

Entrance was a mere five pounds, but only about 10-20 of us that night seemed to have paid. Most of the audienceóabout ten times the numberówere guests: record company personnel or friends of the bands. I was beginning to feel like an extra from "The Young Person's Guide to Becoming a Rock Star"... I saw Trevor Horn arrive, dressed in a dinner jacket (but no tie). He has aged gracefully since the Buggles were first around and was soon circulating in the crowd. Then Geoff Downes arrived in a bright orange bomber jacket.

The night was intended for four new ZTT acts: Lee Griffiths, The Marbles, The Frames and Headspace. After an introduction by compere Richard O'Brien, we began with Lee Griffiths. Next up were the Marbles. Managed by former Pogues member Terry Woods, this trio from County Roscommon in IrelandóJonathon McGlynn, Seamus Simon and Justin Whelanósigned to ZTT in February and have been recording since then, with Trevor Horn producing. Tonight, they played a set of about six songs: high-energy rock with touches of indie, touches of punk and touches of psychedelia.

A pair of keyboards (a Rhodes and a Solina) had stood stage right, untouched throughout the Marbles' set. Their purpose only became clear at the end of the set. After the Marbles had finished their last song, they stayed on stage as O'Brien came up to the microphone. He called for everyone in the audience over 19 to come forward for it has been 19 years since a certain song had been released: the Buggles were back.

To a burst of applause, Horn, Downes and Tessa Niles (backing vocalist) came out. The Marbles stayed on bass, drums and guitar to complete the band, arranged thus:

              bass  drums
                           guitar
     GD     TN     TH

The band launched into "Video Killed the Radio Star", an enthusiastic and energetic rendition. They were pretty loyal to the original, but with a rather faster tempo. The whole band looked as if they were having fun, including the three Marbles, and Horn looked especially pleased. For someone who has not performed live for 18 years, he had tremendous stage presence, playing to the audience, two camcorders and the official photographer with consummate skill. Much of the audience must have been too young to have heard the song first time round but were still dancing and clapping along.

Horn was just singing, although I think he played guitar and bass on the studio recording. He did have a megaphone for one verse, although it did not actually work very well, the one technical hitch of the performance. Downes' keys were a bit low in the mix, but played fluently. The Marbles played well, especially the guitarist. Niles, dressed in something of a mock school uniform(!), also gave a spirited performance.

Sadly, the band only played "Video Killed the Radio Star" and they were on and off the stage in no time. Yet they got the most applause of the evening until then. This was only a semi-public performance, with most of the audience being guests, but I hope the experience encourages Horn to come out and perform live more often. I do not want to have to wait another 18 years!

Henry Potts, 5.12.98; revised 6.12.98 and again 22 Oct 2005. I'm uncertain now whether this was the Buggles' first ever live performance. There were some TV show appearances when the band was extant. We didn't have to wait another 18 years for Horn to return to the stage and the Buggles played to a bigger audience at 2004's Produced by Trevor Horn event.


Also posted to Armada (issue #201, which includes other reviews of the evening) and Notes from the Edge (issue #212).

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