Frank Tovey: Fad Gadget
~by Uncle Nemesis
(photos courtesy of the Fad Gadget site - credits listed on individual pictures in the cursor-over;
Tribute jpg by Rick A Mortis)
Frank Tovey, the man who was Fad Gadget, is dead.
He died, suddenly, shockingly, of heart failure at his home in London on April 3, shortly after returning from a successful European tour. Although Frank had a history of heart problems, he was generally in good health and was making plans for new Fad Gadget recordings and more tours, energised by the enthusiastic reaction to his comeback shows. His death came without warning, leaving family, friends and fans in shock.
Only a few hours before he died, he posted
a cheerful, optimistic message to the Fad Gadget website - http://www.fadgadget.co.uk
It's still there now, glinting with shards of his dry wit, and dropping
hints of future plans which, of course, will now never happen. It's impossible
to read his words now without feeling an aching sense of loss:
In the early 1980s, Fad Gadget was a post-punk innovator, a pioneer of electronica, a mesmerising stage performer, and an inspiration to countless other artists. Even if you've never heard a Fad Gadget track, you've almost certainly heard music which owes a debt to his influence. He was the first-ever signing to the Mute record label, and Daniel Miller, founder of Mute, remained a great friend and supporter. The label has its own tribute here: http://www.mute.com/frank.htmlThank you my children of the night. Fad loves you. The Sama festival in Gotenburg was great... The short European tour was a gas and we were pleased to see so many of our fans. I read all the messages in the guest book. Its good to see what real people think. The music biz is so full of bullshitters. The guestbook keeps me in touch so don't stop writing.
Goodbye, Fad. The world will spin more slowly and more sadly without you...
Following is a recent concert review
and CD review of Fad Gadget we ran previously in StarVox...
"....Frank Tovey - he who is Fad Gadget - probably has 'for real' written through him like a stick of rock. Right next to where it says 'hero of the old skool'"
....Frank Tovey - he who is Fad Gadget - probably has 'for real' written through him like a stick of rock. Right next to where it says 'hero of the old skool'. He crawled into our consciousness in 1979 as the first-ever signing to Mute - the label Daniel Miller initially created to release his own slice of electro-punk minimalism, The Normal's 'Warm Leatherette'. Fad Gadget's early recordings were very much up the same alley - strange electronic pulses over which Fad would intone surreal, fetishistic lyrics. Later material featured slightly more lavish musical arrangements as Fad Gadget eased gently from his original status as a solo electro-weirdo towards being a real band. Then, in 1985, Fad Gadget was put back in his box. Frank Tovey emerged as an artist under his own name (and embarked upon an entirely new career - a tale I have no time to tell here, alas) and we all thought we'd seen the last of post-punk's greatest maverick.
Until now. Quite what has prompted Frank
Tovey to awaken Fad Gadget almost 20 years after putting him to bed is
a mystery - but I'm very glad he did. He prowls the stage in orange comedy
trousers and a black rubber lizard skin shirt, as lean and fit and as intense
as ever. His band, a punk gangster heavy on electro-drums and two skinny
Manic Street Preacher types on bass and guitar, swirl and thump and grind
behind him. He gives us all the classics, like the years since 1985 hadn't
happened - 'Lady Shave', 'Fireside Favourite', 'Ricky's Hand' - even his
goth-seeking missile, 'Collapsing New People', which is greeted with cheers
by a black-clad audience who long ago adopted the song as an ironic anthem.
With a voice like a hungover Peter Murphy plus the bug-eyed stare and manic
on-stage moves of an animatronic Lux Interior, Fad is the consummate post-modern,
post-rock, rock star. It's astonishing to think he's giving us an act essentially
the same as when he was last on stage in '85. Have we moved on so little?
Or was Fad Gadget so far ahead of his time? A bit of both, I suspect. He
launches himself upon the crowd, and surfs out to the mixing desk and back.
He strips off his lizard shirt to reveal a torso painted with latex and
covered in feathers. He is, quite simply, magnificent. Whether his return
heralds new material is something I don't know - so far, there's a new
compilation to be going on with, but I hope new stuff is on the way. Paradoxical
though it may seem, I'd say Fad Gadget - 80s vintage weirdo that he is
- has a few things to teach us in the 21st Century...
"There was nobody like him then, and there's nobody like him now."
Set the coordinates for the aftermath of punk. It's the end of the 70s, but instead of everything dying away as punk coasts to a halt, it's all starting to get *very* interesting. Punk provided a necessary kick up the arse, but in purely musical terms much of it wasn't particularly radical stuff. Sure, it was played with suitably enhanced levels of fire and brimstone, but most of it was meat and potatoes rock music. It took the bands of the post-punk era to apply the principal rule of punk - that there *are* no rules - to music itself. And all of a sudden the really intriguing stuff started to come through. Public Image Limited, Magazine, Cabaret Voltaire, Bauhaus, Killing Joke, Sex Gang Children, UK Decay, Lemon Kittens, The Birthday Party, to name a few of the more famous names. And also - rustling in the undergrowth - a veritable swarm of lesser-known curious creatures. Among them, a parallel universe performance artist going by the name of Fad Gadget.
Over a career-span of six years, from 1979 to 1985, Fad Gadget's music ran the gamut from bleakly minimalist electronic workouts to loping, sleazy, virtual-jazz. His live shows were legendary - you could usually rely on Fad to do something ludicrous like hang himself upside down from the lighting rig while clad in nothing but tar and feathers. Now, almost 20 years on, Fad Gadget is touring again (the tar replaced by latex body paint - that's progress!) and this compilation of his finest moments has been released to tie in.
Obviously, it's not new material. It's not even the first compilation of the old material. To a great extent, this album covers similar territory to the 'Fad Gadget Singles' album of 1985. But 'The Best of Fad Gadget', as the title implies, goes further than just singles. There are choice album cuts here too - and an entire second CD of 12" versions and remixes. Some of these, it has to be admitted, sound dated now - remember the days when a remix involved taking the song down to the basic beat, letting this run for a bit, and then bringing everything back in? Oh, how simple things were! However, most of the tracks have a certain timeless cool. It's particularly pleasing to hear the glorious Toasted Crumpet Mix of 'Fireside Favourite' - a meanacing, swaggering bassline with a wonderful TCHOK! snare sound, and *those* lyrics: 'Melting flesh on my front room floor/That's what the fireside favourite's for.' Ah, they don't write 'em like that any more. There's also the Regurgitated mix of 'Swallow It', a pounding runaway subway train of a song. These two justify the remix CD by themselves.
The unremixed CD provides a quick-access guide to the essential musical landmarks of Fad Gadget's career: the bleak, windswept, grey skies electronica of Back To Nature', the miniature soap opera of doom that is 'Ricky's Hand' ('Six pints later he waves goodbye/Picks his nose and squashes a fly - RICKY'S HAND!'), the croon-to-a-scream of 'Lady Shave' and the warped big-band sound of 'I Discover Love', in which Fad comes on like Frank Sinatra (if you dug him up tomorrow). There's also 'Collapsing New People', a controversial song in its day, in which Fad bit the hand that fed him with a swipe at goths: 'Stay awake all night/But never see the stars/It must take hours of preparation/To get that wasted look.' Curiously enough, that song is now regarded as an ironic anthem in goth circles today. What the hell - Fad shamelessly stole (and mutated) the intro to the Addams Family theme for 'One Man's Meat', so we can forgive him.
Exactly who Fad Gadget's audience might be these days is a bit of a mystery - he was never famous enough first time round to command an instant crowd of diehard old-skoolers almost two decades on - as (for example) Bauhaus managed to do. Judging by his recent London gig, he's pulling in the younger industrio-goths for whom this album will doubtless sound very fresh. But then, it sounds fresh to me, too, and I've known most of these tunes for years. That's Fad Gadget for you. There was nobody like him then, and there's nobody like him now.
Reviewed by Uncle Nemesis: http://www.nemesis.to