One of the most grandiose and ambitious acts to emerge from the early 80s British pop landscape, ABC have stood the test of time better than most of their peers, and are touring a set built around their finest hour, 1982 LP The Lexicon Of Love. Besuited ABC vocalist Martin Fry took a call – while out in Barbados, if you please – from Buzz’s Billy Edwards.
Upon release in 1982, ABC’s The Lexicon Of Love was an all-slaying synthpop album that made a star of stylish, luscious-voiced frontman Martin Fry. The group’s latest tour features an orchestra to recapture the original symphonic arrangements. One of the first major British stars of the MTV generation, Fry still holds fond memories of this period. We touch on his views of his voice and hits today, yet first we admire his impressive surroundings: “I’m in Barbados today!”
Such an attractive location allows Fry to stew on his career. Despite the good sunshine, he can’t help his compulsion to take to the stage. “It’s funny, revising and going back to songs you sang when you were 22 as an older guy. There’s a lot of complexity to songs like Forever Together and All Of My Heart, so it works really well.”
However, it’s tough work; he assures me that a live performance in this unique style “absolutely” takes a lot of dedicated rehearsal. Around 15 years ago, somebody said to me, “Wouldn’t it be a good idea if you went on the road with a full orchestra?” Subsequently, we’ve played a lot and refined it into a two-hour show. It’s a whole different ball game to playing with a rock’n’roll band.”
Fry recalls with excitement the spectacle of the sumptuous Southbank Sinfonia on stage. “You’ve got 20 violins there, and maybe eight cellos over there, and some violas… it’s a mammoth, epic sound! It’s like being inside a wind tunnel with all those violin bows moving.”
It’s proved such an attractive prospect for fans that tickets have “sold out before being bumped up to the arena there,” says Fry (regarding the Cardiff show, the closure of original venue St David’s Hall would have necessitated a relocation in any case). Describing himself as “very excited,” he’s hugely appreciative of his ABC fandom turning out to each show and recruiting new family members.
“The audience has expanded a little bit because our original, core fanbase has grown up – they’ve had mortgages, families; life has happened to them. But then I noticed there was a phenomenon where their sons and daughters would come to the shows as well… sometimes reluctantly! I realised there’s a whole generation of younger people into that sort of period of music.”
What is immediately striking about Fry is his confidence and pride in his voice. Fry has a captivating determination to keep sounding great and beating the clock. “When I first started, I just blagged my way in! I was the tallest – I grabbed the microphone, and I started singing.” He’s endearingly self-effacing about ABC’s hit period, spanning 10 top 40 singles across the 1980s, and quick to sing the praises of those who helped him get there, such as producer Trevor Horn and arranger Ann Dudley, the latter of whom conducts his tour.
“We made some good records back then, of course. I was lucky to be working with great people. But as a singer, I think I’ve developed a lot more in the last 10 years. I’ve got to sing, because at some point, it just runs out and stops.”
It’s here that Fry sits back and ponders the development of his voice with careful wisdom and thoughtfulness. “In fact, I’ll tell you something: after about 40 years, I finally think of myself as a singer. I always thought of myself as a songwriter first and singing as a side effect – something you had to do to get the songs out there. I think I could put it on my next passport. I’m going to put ‘singer’ on there!”
ABC, Utilita Arena Cardiff, Fri 2 Feb.
Tickets: £44. Info: here
words BILLY EDWARDS