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Black

+ {Colin Vearncombe}

To all intents and purposes, a one-man-band plus session players (since the mid-80s), BLACK was essentially Liverpool-born Colin Vearncombe (born 26 May 1962). While the singer/songwriter/musician will be remembered for one true classic single, `Wonderful Life’ (a Top 10 deposit in ‘87), BLACK and/or a solo-billed COLIN VEARNCOMBE was behind a handful of hits and over a dozen albums…
It’s fair to state that Colin was initially a punk-rocker and, with the moniker The Epileptic Tits (a band he instigated when only aged 16), there was doubting his early aspirations. As music left 70s punk behind for fresh frontiers in a promising new decade, BLACK made their debut as a trio on New Year’s Day 1981; Vearncombe, bassist Dane Goulding (of The Blazetroopers) and an unknown drummer stuck out one solitary single under this formation on the locally-sponsored `Human Features’ (b/w `Electric Church’) for Rox Records.
Following the recruitment of another couple of musical partners in crime, keyboardist/guitarist Dave “Dix” Dickie (ex-Last Chant) and bassist Jimmie Sangster, Colin’s BLACK project re-surfaced in 1982 with the first version of `More Than The Sun’; the only other records to emerge from The World World Of Records were from fellow Scousers, WAH! and IT’S IMMATERIAL. Following the former act into Warner Brothers subsidiary Eternal Records (run PETE WYLIE/WAH! manager Pete Fulwell), Vearncombe and Dickie had a couple of chances to crack the market, although both `Hey Presto’ and a re-vamped `More Than The Sun’, failed to garner anything more than cult/critical acclaim. BLACK soon found themselves without a deal. Virtually running the show alone (Dickie was only operating in a part-time capacity and as producer), Colin finally found an outlet for his moody `Wonderful Life’ single (released in August ’86) at the tiny Ugly Man imprint. A brilliantly lugubrious indie-pop ballad with more than a hint of bittersweet irony, the song scraped into the Top 75 and prompted A&M Records to sign the outfit for a second, proper crack at mainstream success.
Although BLACK’s next single, `Everything’s Coming Up Roses’, stiffed in April ‘87, the major label’s investment was rewarded when the drama-fuelled `Sweetest Smile’ hit the charts. A re-issued `Wonderful Life’ traced its steps into the Top 10 a couple of months later and a similarly-titled debut album, WONDERFUL LIFE (1987) {*7}, chalked up a Top 3 place as music lovers clamoured for Vearncombe’s soothing balm of intelligent, ethereal rock/pop (not unlike early ASSOCIATES or BLANCMANGE); in the process, `Paradise’ would also reach the Top 40.
Although not as effective as its commanding predecessor, COMEDY (1988) {*6} reached No.32 in October ’88, although it was obvious Vearncombe’s understated musings weren’t quite to the taste of the average punter; both attendant singles, the lighter/jazz-inflected `The Big One’ and `Now You’re Gone’ only taking him to Nos. 54 and 66 respectively.
With guest stars ROBERT PALMER and SAM BROWN drafted in for cameos on 1991’s eponymous BLACK {*6}, Colin again chased a Top 40 position. Probably expecting a bit more day-time radio exposure for minor hits, `Feel Like Change’ and `Here It Comes Again’, the album was his last effort for A&M before heading back to semi-obscurity. Still, he’d left behind some good tracks and a handful of B-side covers in `Shades’ (IGGY POP), `I Can Let Go Now’ (MICHAEL McDONALD), `Whole Wide World’ (WRECKLESS ERIC) and er… `Control’ (JANET JACKSON); `Cold Chicken Skin’ (by The BLESSING’s William Topley) was a later exploit.
No doubt resigned to such a fate anyhow, the BLACK stalwart set up his own label (Nero Schwarz), to release ARE WE HAVING FUN YET? (1994) {*5}, ironically delivered the same period as `Wonderful Life’ was trundled out for a third time after being used in a TV ad.
Thereafter dispensing with the “Black” tag, a refreshed and solo-billed COLIN VEARNCOMBE would claw back the years for comeback set, THE ACCUSED (1999) {*6}; check out the acoustic and sentimental `Sleeper’ and `Number One’. Adding further sets to CV’s CV; namely ABBEY ROAD LIVE (2000) {*6}, WATER ON SNOW (2000) {*5}, LIVE AT THE BASSLINE JOHNANNESBURG (2002) {*6} – a run-through of BLACK beauties – and the double, SMOKE UP CLOSE (2004) {*7}, the singer was still staking his claim as one of music’s forgotten sons.
Although VEARNCOMBE chose not to use his birth-name until 2009’s THE GIVEN {*7}, as BLACK, the man continued to croon to his heart’s delight on BETWEEN TWO CHURCHES (2005) {*6}, ROAD TO NOWHERE (2007) {*6} and WATER ON STONE (2009) {*5}. Compared to NEIL DIAMOND, RICHARD THOMPSON or RICHARD HAWLEY in these folksy/bluesy mail-order days, there was always a warmth to Colin’s charming tones, while his lyrics and accompaniment were soul-searching and reflective.
After a several-year hiatus, BLACK received high accolade for his BLIND FAITH {*7} album of 2015, a record as moody and melancholy as in his mid-80s heyday; lush tracks such as `The Love Show’, the folk-y `Stone Soup’ and `Ashes Of Angels’ (the three also featured on LIVE 2015 {*6}), his songs were comparable to anything that a subtler DIVINE COMEDY or CHRIS SMITHER could’ve come up with. But then tragedy struck, when on 26th January 2016, while in Cork, Ireland, Colin was involved in a car crash from which he sadly, never recovered; he was only 53 and probably looking forward to a revival in the not too distant future.
© MC Strong 1994-2003/GRD // revised MCS Jan2016

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