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Foreign Press \ Biography

Foreign Press formed in Manchester in January 1979 by brothers Ralph and Stuart Bowe, Dave 'Chubb' Murray, and Dave and John Midwood. The quintet had previously played as Emergency, but as Ralph Bowe recalls: 'We had punk attitude but more of a pop sound, and did a lot of dates as the support band at venues like Rafters and The Factory. But the name Emergency became restrictive in itself, so we needed a new name to go with our developing sound.'

Settling on Foreign Press, the group wasted little time in cutting their first single at Cargo Studio in Rochdale on 25 March 1979, recording Downpour, Crossfire and Behind the Glass. Engineered by John Brierley, the three tracks were co-produced by the band and Joy Division manager Rob Gretton. Bowe: 'Before Rob managed Joy Division he was the DJ at Rafters, which is where we got to know him. We knew he had good ears and was someone we could have a laugh with. Lots of good records were coming out of Cargo at the time, all engineered by John Brierley, so that's where we wanted to record. Rob tried to rein in some of the guitars, 'less being more' being his mantra. However he didn't get all his own way, and I think the record was all the better for that compromise.'

The 7" was released in June on small Manchester label Streets Ahead, in an early sleeve by Trevor Johnson, later an associate of Factory and Peter Saville. The single received limited airplay from BBC deejays John Peel and Peter Powell, and was favourably reviewed by Paul Morley in the NME: 'Foreign Press are Manchester's brightest brand new loved ones. Their music is choppy, spiralling, edgy and well rinsed with guitars; they're like a well-cushioned Joy Division. Joy Division's flamboyant manager Rob Gretton in fact shares production chores with the group. Although Foreign Press stop short of achieving the channelled psychotic blitzkreig thrust of the very great Division, they manage a fluctuating, fortified sort of '79 psychedelia that makes them A Group To Look Out For. Foreign Press make good patterns.' Andy Hero of City Fun was also impressed, writing of Downpour: 'Light guitar like the psychedelic shadows, penetrating over the top, subverting my brain. It's great.'

Towards the end of 1979 the Midwood brothers left the band, and were replaced by Stuart Smith and Les Carey. The band then spent several months rehearsing new material at the TJ Davidson rehearsal studios on Little Peter Street, in the process trading rooms with Joy Division, whose subsequent tenancy of the large upper room is recorded in the video for Love Will Tear Us Apart. The new line-up recorded a session for Piccadilly Radio in May 1980, and played their first gig on 2 July at the Beach Club, the semi-legendary venue run by Richard Boon and other New Hormones/City Fun alumni. On 24 August the group played at the basement bar of the Clarendon Hotel in Hammersmith, and returned to London again on 8 September for a show at the Hope and Anchor in Islington. When not gigging, the group devoted considerable energy to recording studio demos, with the object of securing a deal with a larger label. During this period the group were managed by Martin Dunlop, who also took care of Mosside reggae band X-O-Dus.

On 6 February 1981 the group supported New Order at Manchester Polytechnic, with Stockholm Monsters also on the bill. Melody Maker judged Foreign Press the more impressive opening act, offering that they 'played with real commitment and displayed a hint of promise.' Reviewing the same gig in the Manchester Poly student newspaper, Andy Roston enthused: 'Foreign Press took the stage to prove also that a rockist approach can still deliver too. This is by far the best band I've seen on the Manchester circuit, and they impressed the hell out of all those around me with a tight, accomplished set. They were very original too, working in much the same way as Japan and The Comsat Angels with some excellent rhythm patterns beneath their songs. There are very few name bands worthy of following Foreign Press these days - this band deserve a record contract and are well worth catching if you've nothing else to do. You won't be disappointed.'

The group followed this success with a headline show at Manchester club Devilles on 27 February, and three dates in Scotland in March. In April the group were also booked by Tony Wilson to appear on Granada TV programme What's On, on which they performed Remember You, and in May were rewarded with their first feature in a weekly music paper, NME. Writer Mick Duffy was also a member of Object Music group IQ Zero, and well understood the difficulties faced by any provincial band striving to be The Next Big Thing.

'We need a major deal to be successful,' said Stuart Bowe. 'Major companies are geared towards selling in large quantities, unlike independents who we're not really interested in at the moment. You've got to chart to be really successful these days.' On the subject of their slightly nondescript image, brother Ralph told Duffy: 'We haven't changed the way we look in all the time we've been together. And that's because we think the quality of our music puts us above fashion.'

Although demo tapes failed to secure the desired major deal, Foreign Press did at least cut their second single for a London label. Recorded at Regent's Park Studios with producer Duncan Bruce in September 1981, the EP comprised Climbing, Remember You and Open Secret. A fourth track, Can You Hear Me?, was also taped. Ralph: 'Duncan Bruce was setting up a production company at Regent's Park Studios. He was a friend of a friend, and came to see us at the Rock Garden. He sold us a deal based on his label being a subsidiary of a major, with whom he was negotiating at the time. We got a small advance, and it seemed like a good idea at the time, but the major label backing didn't materialise, and the record took a good eight months to come out. So what we thought was a great record - and still do - got little in the way or promotion, airplay or even press reviews.'

The 12" eventually appeared on Music International Records in August 1982. Bowe: 'The sleeve was again designed by Trevor Johnson. But when the record came out, to our mutual horror they'd stuck a big semi-circular logo on it. It kind of summed up that whole experience. Guitarist Stuart Smith left soon afterwards. He had a wife and a mortgage to support, and had become disillusioned.' Manager Martin Dunlop also departed, after which the band handled their own affairs for more than a year.

At the beginning of 1983, Foreign Press were one of several promising Manchester bands showcased at celebrated venue The Haçienda, a run which also included shows The Chameleons, Diskobolisk, 52nd Street, James and The Smiths. Foreign Press played with The Chameleons on 28 January. Shortly afterwards, Bernard Sumner of New Order agreed to produce tracks for a third single, which were taped at Revolution Studio in Cheadle Hulme. Sumner: 'Basically I did that because we'd known them since Joy Division days and they still had the enthusiasm. They've stuck together and they still practice together. What we did first was a demo, recorded off their own money. Then they issued the tapes out to various record companies and got some offers. They also got a deal with the guy who managed Japan, Simon Napier-Bell. They didn't go with Factory because they wanted to go with a major and try it that way.'

Lead track The Great Divide was then remixed by Sumner at Britannia Row in London after new management company Nomis secured a major deal. Bowe: 'I don't think we ever considered releasing a record on Factory, since from a group point of view they never seemed to indulge in any normal business practices, like promotion, and by that stage in our career we wanted to earn some money. But Donald and Bernard were a good production team. The label slated us for not hyping up that Bernard produced it. Basically Donald concerned himself with rhythms and percussion, whereas Bernard was more into electronics and sonics. He didn't particular mind whether the guitars or the vocals were in tune. That's not meant as a criticism, because a warts-and-all approach made it more real, and gave a more human feel to an electronic dance track.'

London management company Nomis was run by Simon Napier-Bell and Jazz Summers. Bearing in mind that Napier-Bell had previously managed Japan, and would soon take on Wham!, it might seem an odd choice for Foreign Press. However, in mid-1983 the Nomis stable also included Danse Society, Blue Zoo and Late Show. Bowe: 'Our dealings with Nomis were mostly with Jazz Summers, who later ran Big Life. They got us a deal easily enough, and in fact there were offers from several majors. But it was a strange time, and I can't say Nomis contributed much to our future development. We were a hardworking gigging band, whereas they didn't see much point to us playing live, so any live dates we played were at our own instigation. Looking back, they did open a few doors for us, but in some ways it was as if we were still managing ourselves. Nomis were definitely more comfortable with pretty boy Wham-type bands than a bunch of arsey Mancs with attitude.'

The Great Divide was released in October. Amusingly, the press release revised history in shameless fashion, fibbing that the group had formed in December 1981, and that The Great Divide was their first single: 'An impressively complete song, The Great Divide couples anthemic vocal melodies with a shimmering dance track, and employs economical lyrical images to evoke what Ralph terms "the friction within love that somehow makes it all interesting and worthwhile."' No group photo appeared on the sleeve, which left one Sounds reviewer confused: 'Tidal wave pop, devoid of category until we see what the boogers look like. Could well be a teen market hit, especially if the macho-boy vocalist can swivel his hips the way he does his tonsils.'

Although the single was a classic hard Sumner/Johnson electro-dance production, the single was not a hit. Ralph Bowe: 'When the single came out Radio 1 said there was a tuning issue with part of the vocal. Maybe they just needed an excuse not to play it, and found one.'

Unperturbed, the band planned a fourth single, Set Your Love In Motion. Interviewed for Melody Maker by Manchester stringer Frank Worrall, 'pin-up' frontman Ralph Bowe was keen to promote artistry as well as ambition: 'Any record we put out will be aimed at the charts. We didn't sign for any other reason than that. We want to be pop stars! If we'd have been intent on just getting into the charts we would have hyped up out first single by harping on about who produced it. But we didn't ask Bernard to do the record for that reason. If you've got a good record, it should stand up on its own merits. Then the record company slated us for not mentioning it.'

Bowe also revealed his principal lyrical inspiration as love - its complications, its ecstasies, and its agonies: 'I want to create something that's easily danceable, but that is also easy to listen to and articulate, so that people can think about the ideas behind the music.'

Produced by Dave Allen at Genetic Studios, Set Your Love In Motion b/w The Spell was finally released in October 1984, and vigorously promoted with hometown gigs at the Gallery, Manhattan club and Middleton Civic Hall, as well as the Fulham Greyhound and Half Moon (Herne Hill) in London. Foreign Press also supported H20 on a short Scottish tour, followed by dates with Orange Juice around Britain, then headlining their own 12 date tour in November, under the banner Love In Motion. Commencing at The Haçienda on 7 November, the tour chiefly comprised university and club dates, including Hatfield, Colchester, Norwich, Cambridge and Torquay.

Despite strong press promotion and an intensive live schedule, Set Your Love In Motion failed to sell, having been dismissed by Melody Maker editor Allan Jones as anonymous pap pop. Although a remix of The Great Divide was considered as the next single, the label dropped the group in May 1985, Nomis and Foreign Press also parting company at around the same time by mutual consent. Bowe: 'Not having a hit with Set Your Love In Motion didn't seem like the end of the world, as we were already planning a re-release of The Great Divide. But early in 1985 our A&R guy left, so things looked bleak for us from that moment on. So when the inevitable happened we were expecting it.'

While many bands might have quit at this stage, Foreign Press persevered. Bassist Les Carey left, and was replaced by Derek Johnson, formerly with Factory soul-funk band 52nd Street. Although Johnson left in 1986, in 1989 the group recorded further demos co-produced by his brother Donald. Bowe: 'These recordings were quite literally our last throw of the dice. We planned to record a whole album and present it as the finished record.'

However, the band were unable to place this slick new material with another major label, and disbanded in 1989. In Manchester, few punk-era bands outside the Factory stable had lasted anything like as long, a fact which owes something to the fact that Ralph and Stuart Bowes were brothers. Bowe: 'I remember asking Donald what kept ACR together for so long, and his answer was, 'the music'. Sure, it helps that you're playing in a band with your brother and some close friends, but at the end of the day what kept us going for ten solid years was the music.'

James Nice

March 2009

Foreign Press