She Who Laughs Last...

Here's a question for you: what's the missing link between the punk silliness of Spizz and the cool electro lane Carl Craig lives in? We'll come back to that shall we?

Gary Crowley, the endearing and enduring London broadcaster, has a passion for picking up old tapes in charity shops. Well, here's a bit of one-upmanship for you. I picked up a copy of Allez Allez's Promises tape for 39p last week. So, okay I admit it's not the greatest record in the world. It is, shall we say, a record very much of its time. And its time was 1982, so it's processed new pop, all synthesised symphonics, chicly European, suffocatingly glossy, but charming nevertheless.

What is significant is the fascinating lineage Allez Allez have. They ought to have been as wonderful as the Associates occasionally were. Singer Sarah Osborne should have been as special a star as Billy McKenzie occasionally was.

Promises, however, was produced by Martin Ware for the British Electric Foundation, and you can draw your own conclusions from that. There's no space to breathe, and the backing vocals sound like the Red Army Choir. It's still quite charming though.

Speaking of the BEF, Sarah married Heaven 17's Glenn Gregory, but no one's perfect. She sang at one time with Repetition, who were part of the Factory Benelux/Crepescule scene. You probably have their triple CD retrospective on LTM, or caught their sell-out US reunion tour.

Sarah to avoid Repetition threw in her lot with Marine, the Belgian group that had produced for Crepescule one of the all-time great scratchy pop singles in 'Life In Reverse', the missing link between the Contortions and Josef K. It even stole the thunder from acr's contemporaneous 'Shack Up' work out, but has been overlooked by the ever more frantic punk/funk salvage squads.

Marine, with Sarah, produced the occasional track for Crepescule compilations, but split acrimoniously with their answer to James Chance (Marc Demerais) going one way, and t'others going off to be Allez Allez.

A wise man recently said the spectacular glamour of Grace Jones and Ze Records destroyed small groups like the Fire Engines by hinting at dreams and aspirations that were too much to live up to. Allez Allez were one such group. They could have been so great. They are however perhaps still the only group in the world to record a tribute to the occasionally glorious Grace Jones.

Like a lot of young hopefuls in the early 80s, Allez Allez signed to Virgin and got buried alive. Sarah apparently went on to record with Propaganda associates as Kino. I know nothing about them though.

Propaganda though were better known than Allez Allez, but were basically the same sound a few years on. I also picked up a cheap copy of their Secret Wish last week, and it still sounds horrible. It is chiefly still of interest for the version of Josef K's 'Sorry For Laughing'. It's still a lovely idea, but it doesn't work. It's flat and soulless, and lacks the funky playfulness of the JK original.

Propaganda I guess are also of interest for the links between singer Claudia Brucken and their label ZTT's creative patron Paul Morley. She also went on to record with the great lost Thomas Leer as ACT if I remember rightly. That all passed me by. It's not a sound or time that interests me.

One of the more interesting things about ZTT was the liaison with Anne Pigalle, and it's very sad her music's been lost along the way. She is however still out there vamping it up as the epitome of a modern Parisian torch singer, a glamorous diva of the demi-monde.

She has a couple of great bespoke CDs available via her website, where her people rightly make connections to Subway Sect and Adrian Sherwood, drawing a line from punk to Bukowski. And if you are going to make connections, those are ones worth making.

The CDs are great, and I am becoming more fond of the idea of these talented people who refuse to give in, and follow increasingly odd career paths.

Which brings us all the way back to that missing link between Spizz and Carl Craig, and the answer is Sarah Gregory nee Osborne. For Spizz emigre Pete Petrol put together the group Repetition, and Sarah down her days in pop pursued a parallel career as an artist. This activity took her to Detroit, where she worked with some of the techno scene's pioneers, designing sleeves for Rhythim Is Rhythim, and yes getting to sing with Carl Craig. She can be heard on More Songs About Food and Revolutionary Art, and that's a wonderful bit of one-upmanship over old spouses, colleagues and contemporaries hamming it up on 'back to the 80s' package tours, and pretty cool too. She who laughs last ...

© 2003John Carney


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