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THE LOW DOWN

THEY CAME OUT OF THE STEEL CITY WITH A SILKY POP SOUND THAT SEDUCED A GENERATION OF NEW ROMANTICS IN THE 80S AND CAN STAKE A CLAIM FOR THE ALBUM OF THE DECADE WITH THE LEXICON OF LOVE. WHILE MARTIN FRY IS NOW ABC’S LAST MAN STANDING, THE SOPHISTI-POPPER’S LEGACY REMAINS AS SUAVE AND IRREDUCIBLE AS EVER.

ABC/MARTIN FRY

If ever Martin Fry is immortalised at Madame Tussauds, his waxwork doppelgänger will surely be wearing that gold lamé suit. Until ABC’s frontman appeared in the outfit on Top Of The Pops, only Elvis Presley had previously dared to make such a bold fashion statement and get away with it.

But the group of mainly Sheffield natives (Fry actually hails from Stockport) had more going for them than mere sartorial elegance – pop excellence was more their thing.

Formed in 1980, from the band Vice Versa, ABC was the brainchild of synth duo Stephen Singleton and Mark White. Fry was asked to join (as a third synthesiser player) after interviewing them for a fanzine. The fair-haired new recruit would soon assume lead vocal duties.

A debut single, Tears Are Not Enough, made the UK Top 20, but it wasn’t until 1982 when they broke the Top 10 three times with Poison Arrow, The Look Of Love and All Of My Heart, all culled from their classic debut album, The Lexicon Of Love.

This represented the culmination of their commercial success, although there were occasional chart forays in the following years.

Among them was When Smokey Sings, lifted from the group’s fourth record Alphabet City, which peaked at No.11 in the UK and No.5 in the US in 1987. By this time, Fry and White were the only remaining original members.

There was a flirtation with house music on 1989’s Up and techno on Abracadabra two years later, before White quit and ABC was put on hold for six years. When the band returned in 1997 with the Skyscraping album, Fry was the sole member.

Another lengthy break followed, during which the VH1 show Bands Reunited attempted to get the band’s classic line-up back together. Despite a Singleton and White no show, Fry and drummer David Palmer went on to put together a new ABC LP, Traffic in 2008. In April 2009, Fry performed The Lexicon Of Love album live at the Royal Albert Hall, accompanied by the BBC Concert Orchestra. Anne Dudley of Art Of Noise, who arranged and played keyboards on the original record, conducted the performance and she teamed up with group again for The Lexicon Of Love II in 2016.

Of course, it’s pure hypothesis to suggest that had ABC capitalised on the Lexicon… formula in 1983, rather than release the aimless Beauty Stab, their narrative might have taken a different trajectory. However, there is no questioning the significant impact the band made with that magnificent debut.

THE MUST-HAVE ALBUMS

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