Isolation Ward \ Biography
Formed in Brussels in 1979, Isolation Ward centred around musicians Stéphane Willocq and Jean-Pierre Everaerts. Following gigs at venues such as Plan K, the sextet recorded haunting classic Lamina Christus as their first single, produced by Peter Principle of Tuxedomoon, and released by Les Disques du Crépuscule in April 1982. Following live dates with diverse artists including The Birthday Party, Antena, 23 Skidoo and Siouxsie and the Banshees, the band released their second Crépuscule single Absent Heart a year later. However line-up changes troubled the band, and Isolation Ward played their final gig in May 1983.
1979 Stéphane Willocq and Jean-Pierre Everaerts, editors of Brussels punk fanzine Isolation Ward, sell their skateboards to purchase an electric guitar and a bass.
1980 Stéphane and Jean-Pierre decide to form a band with two friends attending the same high school: Thierry Heynderickx (also attending the Creative Electro-acoustic Music Workshop (ACME)) on keyboards and Etienne Vernaeve on drums. They agree to start rehearsing as soon as Thierry and Etienne purchase instruments. In the meantime, Stéphane and Jean-Pierre start playing as a duo, attempting some covers (including Closed Groove by Stiff Little Fingers) and writing a few songs of their own. The four members of the future band become close friends and spend much time in local record stores (Popper 21, Caroline and Casablanca Moon) and at local concert venues (Ancienne Belgique, Klacik and Plan K).
The first rehearsal with four band members takes place on 7 September, each with their own instrument, in Etienne's basement on the outskirts of Brussels. After an initial period of exploration, the band writes a few instrumental pieces. Word gets out that the band is looking for a singer.
1981 Nathalie Bourlard joins as the band's first singer. Although fairly young, she comes with some experience, and also proposes to add her friend Nanou (Anne Kinna) as backup singer. Now rehearsing once or twice a week, the band is then approached by Eric Van Houte (one of Nathalie's friends) with an offer to record three songs for the free radio station FM Bruxel, his own band (Frozen Boys) having turned down the opportunity. Eric then joins Isolation Ward as second guitar player. On 13 August, the band, now consisting of seven members, finds itself in the Sega Studio, a modest four-track studio located in Ninove. Erik Wauters, guitarist for the band De Kreuners, serves as producer for the session. In just a few hours, the band records three tracks: pop/funky Dangerous, heavily influenced by Eric's guitar playing, and two darker songs called Trackers of the Night and High & Low.
The tape quickly becomes a mainstay on FM Bruxel, and Dangerous rises to the station's Top 50. This alternative bilingual radio station enjoys high popularity and influence in the Brussels music scene. The station allows a number of people to make their first steps in radio: Xavier Ess (Pseudo Code), Ray Cockes (MTV), Marcel Van Thielt (Arbeid Adelt) and Marc Ochinsky.
On 17 September, FM Bruxel organizes a concert at the Ancienne Belgique with the three bands featured on the tape: Isolation Ward, Unit 4 and The Topplers. In a superheated room in this renowned concert venue Isolation Ward make their stage debut, only one year after forming. The setlist already includes Lamina Christus as well as a pop cover of Cheree by Suicide. The following day, 18 September, Isolation Ward play at the legendary Plan K before the performance of a play, No Place to Die, the first show by the avant-garde Théatre de Banlieue. This theater group, which both Thierry and Jean-Pierre joined following a summer training course, is directed by Baba Mebirouk, a former member of the Plan K troupe.
One week after these first two concerts, the four founding members of the band decide to continue without Eric and Nathalie due to differences in musical orientation. Eric and Nathalie's interests being along the lines of pop and funk, while the founding members are more interested in bands like Cabaret Voltaire, Joy Division, A Certain Ratio and Clock DVA. Nanou therefore becomes the lead singer, and the band now experiments with new instruments - trumpet, melodica, flute - and writes a dozen new songs.
In December 1981, the band travels to Nancy for its first and only concert in France. During this trip they meet Digital Dance, another band from Brussels for whom they have a lot of admiration, and with whom they establish a long-term friendship.
1982 Isolation Ward make rehearsal room recordings of several songs in the hope of getting a record deal or an agent for live gigs. Pascal Stevens, a music journalist for Télé-Moustique magazine, discovers Lamina Christus and falls under its spell. Unbeknownst to the band, he plays the song for Michel Duval and Annik Honoré from Les Disques du Crépuscule and urges them to release a single as soon as possible. On 7 February the group performs at a Crépuscule night at the Bloomdido jazz cafe in Brussels, along with Antena and The Durutti Column. The event is part of the pan-European Dialogue North-South package tour.
The following month, Isolation Ward record two tracks in Studio LBO with engineer Gilles Martin and producer Peter Principle, of Tuxedomoon. For the B-side of the single, Babes and Sucklings, a brand new instrumental piece, is chosen to replace Illusions. On release in April 1982 the single is well received by the European press. In Belgium, the national Radio Cité and FM Bruxel play the song frequently, while in Paris it rises to the #2 spot at the New Rose store. Alas the single is released by Crépuscule's Section Francaise (RAD 008) and limited to 500 copies.
In parallel, Isolation Ward launch cassette label Présence as a means for band members to release solo projects as well as to release music by other bands and compilations. The band decides to postpone recording a full-length album to allow some time to mature. Band members learn that famous Manchester/Factory producer Martin Hannett likes Lamina Christus and that he is interested in a future recording session. However, the band is more than happy with Gilles Martin and Peter Principle, and does not pursue this option further. Jean-Jacques Burnel (The Stranglers) also offers his services as producer, following an Isolation Ward concert at La Papaye in Brussels he attended with Roger-Marc Vandevoorde (Polyphonic Size). In this instance, it is Michel Duval who objects to this possibility. Later still, Will Sergeant (Echo and the Bunnymen) would also offer his services as producer.
On 21 May Isolation Ward give their last concert with Nanou, as she decides to leave the band to form an electronic duo (Chemical Hours) with Jerry WX (Digital Dance). Marc Portée (photographer and IW manager) then meets Sylvie Honnay, who sings in Mensen Blaffen. She agrees to join IW while continuing to sing for Mensen Blaffen. Sylvie performs at four gigs, including a Crépuscule night with Pale Fountains, 23 Skidoo and Cabaret Voltaire in Leuven on 6 October, and opening for The Birthday Party at Plan K on 15 October. She records both Absent Heart and A Request with the band, tracks that appear on the second Isolation Ward record, a 12" released by Crépuscule (TWI 135) in April 1983. The artwork is designed by Amsterdam graphic artist Saskia Lupini, Peter Principle's partner. Thierry also sings on A Request, and after Sylvie leaves the band, it is as a quartet that Isolation Ward will resurface with Thierry as lead singer.
1983 Now back to its original lineup, the band delivers some of its best performances, most notably as opening act for Siouxsie and the Banshees at the Vooruit in Ghent, and for The Birthday Party in Eindhoven, and finally as headliner at the Ancienne Belgique in Brussels. During the concert in Ghent, the band notices that Siouxsie, Robert Smith, Steve Severin and Budgie hang around backstage to listen to Isolation Ward. They ask the band to play as the opening act for the rest of their tour but this proves impossible since arrangements have already been made with other bands. Robert Smith learns that Isolation Ward is booked as opening act for Echo and the Bunnymen in London a few months later, and plans to attend the concert with his tour manager. He proposes to feature IW as opener for the Cure's next English tour. However, the arrangement with the Bunnymen falls through as their record company imposes an opening act from the same label. Ironically, this act cancels at short notice.
Isolation Ward perform their last concert in May 1983 in Brussels, with Niki Mono as lead singer on three songs. As Chemical Hours dissolve, it is now Jerry WX's turn to join IW in July 1983. The band jams throughout the summer and plays lengthy, uninhibited pieces. Unfortunately, this new direction ends up breaking the band apart. The Présence label releases a tape (Point Final) featuring those last recordings as well as another tape (Point de Départ) with the demos recorded two years earlier with Nanou. Jean-Pierre and Etienne join forces with Jerry under the name Arte Magica, a band joined by singer Krishna (Liaisons Dangereuses) for a short while. Jean-Pierre and Thierry later form the band Vertical Slums with singer-violinist Pip Knapp. Stéphane forms a short-lived duo with Marc Portée named Sonofabitch.
Twenty-six years later, LTM provides the impetus to release this compilation of 17 songs, a record mid-way between a musical documentary and a testament to the vibrant New Wave scene of the 1980s.
Visit Isolation Ward at MySpace