Modern English are an English rock band best remembered for their songs "I Melt with You," "Hands Across the Sea," and "Ink and Paper". The group disbanded for a period in 1991, but later recorded in 1995 with some new members. The original members reformed in 2009 and are currently touring with plans for a new release in 2016!
Formed in Colchester, Essex, England, in 1979 by Robbie Grey (vocals), Gary McDowell (guitar, vocals), and Michael Conroy (bass, vocals), Modern English were originally known as The Lepers. The group expanded to "Modern English" when Richard Brown (drums) and Stephen Walker (keyboards) were subsequently added to the line-up of the band.
After a single on their own 'Limp' label in 1979, the band signed to 4AD the following year, with two further singles released, and a session for John Peel recorded before the band's debut album, Mesh & Lace, in 1981, the band in the early days showing a strong Joy Division influence. A second Peel session was recorded in October 1981. The follow-up, After The Snow (April 1982), was more keyboard-oriented and was compared to Simple Minds and Duran Duran. It was also released in the United States by Sire Records the following year, where it reached number 70 on the Billboard chart, and sold over 500,000 copies. Grey said of the album, "We used to think 'God, we'll never make a pop record. We're artists!', but things don't always turn out as you planned and when you actually create a pop record, it's so much more of a thrill than anything else". The second single from the album was also a hit in the US, the jangly "I Melt With You" reaching number 78. When he reviewed the album, Johnny Waller of Sounds described the track as "A dreamy, creamy celebration of love and lust, which deserves to be showcased on as 12" single all by itself, with no b-side", while his colleague Tony Mitchell described it as "susburban amateurism at its most unrewarding". The band relocated to New York City and worked on a third album, Ricochet Days, which again made the top 100 in the US, after which the band left 4AD and were solely signed to Sire. The single "Stop Start" (1986) was the last record Modern English record released by Sire, the band splitting up.
Grey and Conroy along with Modern English worked with This Mortal Coil before re-forming Modern English with Mick Conroy and Aaron Davidson for a new album in 1990, Pillow Lips, now on the American TVT label. The album featured a re-recorded "I Melt With You", which was released as a single, and saw the band again in the Billboard top 100. The band split up for a second time in 1991, after contractual problems with TVT, with Grey forming Engine. In 1995, with the legal issues with TVT sorted out, Engine evolved into the next incarnation of Modern English and signed to the Imago label, with Grey and Matthew Shipley (keybaords). This line-up recorded the 1996 album Everything Is Mad.
Robbie Grey toured the US with a new Modern English lineup coast to coast across the US and recorded a new album with Hugh Jones (producer of Melt With You). The songs written with guitarist Steven Walker and other memebers came together on the road and back home in London between tours , after a few years on the shelf this collection of songs was released in May 2010 called "Soundtrack", along side the reissued and remastered "Stop Start" album also released at the same time. The original members reunited & reformed in 2009 and are currently touring; planning for a new release in 2016!
A BRIEF HISTORY OF MODERN ENGLISH
Perspective by Steve Walker (Keyboards)
After the punk explosion in 76/77, Colchester’s first punk band The Lepers formed. With little success and few gigs by the tail end of 78 they were falling apart. The scene had changed and affordable synthesizers had arrived. I was working at Parrot records a small independent and was a friend/helper of the band so it was suggested that if I brought a few synth‘s it would give the band a different sound, moving away from the 2/3 chord thrash which had become old and tired. Mick and Richard had joined and a new direction was being established anyway. I was invited to join and at first just made some weird noises on a few songs which at the time kinda worked. Gradually my sounds improved and I became a full member. I believe it was Richard our drummer who came up with the name, it was from a George Orwell book it seemed very apt at the time for five young cock-sure adolescents who dreamed of leaving a dull and hum drum life for the bright lights etc...
We formed a label and released the first single Drowning Man/Silent World with financial help from Mike Marsh a local entrepreneur who believed in and briefly managed us.
The late/great John Peel played it a few times, enabling us to get some London gigs.
Ivo Watts-Russell and Peter Kent heard it, saw us, liked us and signed us to their new record label, funded by Beggars Banquet called 4ad (though originally it was called Axis).
Swans On Glass followed by Gathering Dust were released, once again John Peel endorsed them and our first session for his show followed.
Smiles & Laughter was released next.
Our first album Mesh & Lace followed and was received well as it climbed the Indie charts.
We then shared a tour with our Essex rivals Depeche Mode as support to Wasted Youth, quickly followed by a short tour with Japan, both bands gave us loads of encouragement and our confidence was high. We did our first gigs around Europe, with good reactions in France, Holland, Belgium, Germany and Italy coming back to our first headlining dates in the U.K. Then our first gigs in the States.
Up until then we had self produced everything we had put out although we had great engineers thanks to Mike Kemp(singles) and Ken Thomas(album) and in-house sleeve designers 23 envelope cannot be excluded. A sound and a style had been created.
We now considered ourselves serious contenders. It was albums like Japan’s Quite Life, Simple Minds Sons And Fascination, Psychedelic Furs, Wire, and I would say Echo and the Bunnymen’s Heaven Up Here, that made us realize that we needed a producer to add that extra weight to our sound.
Enter the God-Like genius of Hugh Jones, in my humble opinion one of the finest there is.
To say we jelled would be an understatement, it was magical.
Previous recordings were rehearsed until we could record in1or 2 takes then add extra parts and overdubs. Hugh stripped us right down and re-built from the drums up. All the instruments were layered and fantastically textured. The band had never sounded so good.
Released in 1982 After The Snow, received mixed reviews and initially sold poorly, in fact it’s never really sold well in the U.K. We did get a little dispirited. However in America things started to take off. A new management team Side One East & West and great support from radio, particularly W.L.I.R. and K.R.O.C. and college stations all over.
I Melt With You was the stand out single choice, we made our first video, which received heavy rotation from the newly established M.T.V. Things started to look a whole lot better.
Back in the studio once again with Hugh the band continued to experiment with different instruments enlisting the help of many great musicians including:-Nicky Holland, String Arrangements Kate St John, Cor Anglais and Oboe Caroline Lavelle, Cello. I am still very proud of the Ricochet Days album and believe it to be a forgotten classic.
The singles and songs chosen for radio play failed to make any real impact in the States and I especially had problems recreating some of the songs live. After another lengthy American tour and some internal problems both myself and Richard Brown were dismissed from the band. There was no big fall-out, both of us just accepted it and went our separate ways. I had little or no contact with the band for the next ten years therefore I can’t really comment on the next three albums, Stop Start, Pillow Lips and Everything Is Mad.
Although I had many regrets and was at times bitter about the split, I went back to record shops managing the Beggars Banquet stores in Kingston and Putney, working with music is my passion and the years flew by. They were such great shops to work in that I gave the band little or no thought.
I attempted band management and production with True Colours releasing a single on our own label, Falling apart at the seams on Body and Soul records, before changing their name to; I Can Crawl and releasing Desert on Zinger records a subsidiary of Static records (home of other underrated bands The Chameleons, The Sound and Jeffrey Lee Pierce)enlisting Hugh Jones for production on a few tracks and Martyn Young of Colourbox helped us with the mixing. Sadly I couldn’t drum up enough interest for them and I parted company before they released a second album Lovenest.
A real shame they were a good band with loads of potential. With the dance boom of the late 80’s I started many tracks that never got finished or if I did finish them they were never released, with the exception of a track called The View by Oosh( better known as Soho who had a hit with Hippy Chic) which I re-mixed with Dj Dave Jarvis who worked with me at Beggars.
After ten years with Beggars I set-up IS Records with a partner, Ian Huckle opening two shops in Northcote Road, near Clapham Common selling new and second-hand music, we lasted six great years before the slow down of record sales became very apparent.
We closed up in 2001, I took some time out became a house hubby looking after my daughter, studied gardening and set-up in business doing that.
During the IS years I had met up with Robbie Grey a few time generally for a kick about (football) on the common and got to meet the new M.E. the other Steve Walker and Matt Shipley, there was talk about a new album and were hoping to get Hugh involved. Also I had a fair bit of contact with Mick Conroy who was keeping me informed on all things M.E. even though no longer in the band, he had spent his time playing in Stereo Lab and Moose but that had come to an end. Also Gary McDowell who now lived in Thailand was in the UK and came to my Birthday Party along with Robbie.
Anyway to cut along story short we were all back on talking terms and I began to take more interest in everything that was going on with the band, there had been quite a few cover versions of I melt with you and it had been used for some commercials and was still getting good airplay particularly in America. Then Nouvelle Vague’s version became a bit of a hit both here and the rest of Europe.It was picked up and used by T-Mobile here and suddenly the song was all over peak time T.V.
Soundtrack was recorded with Hugh Jones at the helm in 2001.I never got to hear it then, neither did many others. The owner of the masters died, the recordings were lost for a while and the band kind of fizzled out.
Mick meanwhile had kept in contact with Josh Zieman from our original management team Side One.
They decided there was enough going on to get the original band back together, so he set the wheels in motion, at the same time the masters were returned to Robbie who managed to secure a release of Soundtrack with Darla records and Stop Start finally came out on CD on Wounded Bird I was asked to rejoin along with Gary, Robbie and Mick, Richard has a few problems which I won’t go into now. It was agreed that Robbie’s songwriting partner of the last ten years, the other Steve Walker should be invited also, he’s a great guitarist and has added an extra dimension to our sound also he’s probably played the songs as much if not more than the rest of us. Ric Chandler joined us on drums. Rehearsals began, we did two short U.S. tours in 2010 and are currently putting together more dates for 2016! We are back. Watch this space.