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Jimmy Somerville

+ {The Communards}

An 80s gay icon, the diminutive JIMMY SOMERVILLE (born James William Somerville, 22 June 1961, Glasgow, Scotland) had been a regular chart fixture throughout the various twists and turns of his career, in addition to being a vocal proponent of gay rights and left-wing politics in general. His journey south to the bright lights of London was apparently more harrowing than most, as evidenced on his debut BRONSKI BEAT hit `Smalltown Boy’. Jimmy had formed the trio in 1983 with fellow Glaswegian Steve Bronski and Londoner Larry Steinbachek.
Angst-ridden, Euro-influenced synth-pop with a nagging commercial edge, the “Bronski” sound dominated the Top 10 by way of a 1984 debut album, `Age Of Consent’, picking up widespread critical acclaim. Jimmy’s bollock-busting falsetto and gay activist manifesto was pivotal to the trio’s approach, while subsequent covers of the Gershwin’s `It Ain’t Necessarily So’ and DONNA SUMMER’s `I Feel Love’ (alongside MARC ALMOND) proved that he could easily handle more mature material.
Amid growing tensions, Jimmy quit the band shortly afterwards and, together with some-time BRONSKI BEAT clarinetist Richard Coles (born 26 March 1962, Northampton, England), he formed The Committee. In Coles (now on keyboards), Jimmy had found a fresh writing foil. The pair duly renamed themselves The COMMUNARDS (after objections from another band) and come up with the piano-thumping neo-gospel of `You Are My World’ as their debut single in autumn ‘85. Released on London Records and produced by Stephen Hague, the Top 30 track certainly marked a welcome break from the norm and, while follow-up track `Disenchanted’ sounded more familiar, the pair’s eponymous debut set, COMMUNARDS (1986) {*8}, was characterised by swooning strings and brassy horn flourishes. A pumped-up cover of HAROLD MELVIN & THE BLUE NOTES’ (Thelma Houston-styled) `Don’t Leave Me This Way’ paired Jimmy’s soulful scream with co-vocalist, Sarah Jane Morris, a thrilling combination that took the track to the top of the chart that summer. This success spurred on sales of the album, an album that explored Somerville’s trademark lyrical terrain of gay alienation (`Forbidden Love’) and left wing politics (`Breadline Britain’); earlier that year, the group had played alongside BILLY BRAGG and The STYLE COUNCIL under the Labour-promoting “Red Wedge” banner. A third single, the excellent Middle Eastern-themed `So Cold The Night’, made the Top 10 a few months later, while early ‘87 saw a remixed `You Are My World’ narrowly miss the Top 20.
Following the replacement of a solo-bound Morris with ex-MODETTES singer June Miles-Kingston, the ensemble were back with a fresh Top 30 single, `Tomorrow’. Lifted from The COMMUNARDS’ sophomore set, RED (1987) {*7}, which climbed to the upper regions of the chart (Top 5) on the strength of the Hi-NRG injected disco classic; this time around, Somerville and Coles turned their hand to JACKSON 5 via GLORIA GAYNOR’s `Never Can Say Goodbye’, and duly cracked the Top 5. The moving `For A Friend’ was the third single (Top 30), its lyrical concerns representative of the more direct approach taken to gay issues on the album as a whole. Tracking the Top 20 success of follow-on single, `There’s More To Love (Than Boy Meets Girl)’, The COMMUNARDS unexpectedly went their separate ways later in ’88; Coles became a born-again Christian and hooked up as an ordained vicar.
JIMMY SOMERVILLE embarked on a solo career the following year, almost immediately making the Top 20 with Miles-Kingston on `(Comment Te Dire) Adieu!’, an old FRANCOISE HARDY hit. His parent album, READ MY LIPS (1989) {*7}, careered into the Top 30 a couple of months later, but as ever, it was a storming dance-floor cover that put him back in the chart spotlight. An obvious choice perhaps, but SYLVESTER’s Hi-NRG classic, `You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)’ was a perfect vehicle for SOMERVILLE’s vocal acrobatics; as was the Top 30 title track of sorts, `Read My Lips (Enough Is Enough)’. More sober but no less heartfelt was his subsequent Top 10 cover of the BEE GEES’ `To Love Somebody’, a taster of the more romantically-inclined fare on “The Singles Collection 1984/1990”, which featured Jimmy S under his three guises.
It’d be a further five years before SOMERVILLE’s next album, DARE TO LOVE (1995) {*5}, which saw him score with the club-friendly `Heartbeat’ and a cover of `Hurts So Good’, the latter originally a reggae hit for Susan Cadogan. While he’d been notable for his absence from the recording front for another extended period, SOMERVILLE – dead ringer for EastEnders’ Phil Mitchell – continued to play live, especially abroad in more conservative cultures where he was regarded as a hero by many young gay men unable to express their sexuality.
On the album front (besides another BRONSKI / COMMUNARDS / SOMERVILLE hit combination CD), Jimmy continued every so often with albums of various strengths: MANAGE THE DAMAGE (1999) {*5}, the German-only HOME AGAIN (2004) {*6} and SUDDENLY LAST SUMMER (2010) {*6}. While one can only vouch for the latter of these sets, SOMERVILLE tried his hand at a range of genres, from the respective folky and jazzy `Where Have All The Flowers Gone’ and `Black Is The Colour Of My True Love’ to his torch-song takes of BLONDIE’s `Hangin’ On The Telephone’, The DOORS’ `People Are Strange’ et al, this set showed the singer’s versatility in spades.
Fast-forward another half decade HOMAGE (2015) {*6} was a comforting return to disco, spinning out a dozen self-penned tracks that paid tribute to his favourite era – the mid-70s. While one was aware that falsetto Jimmy could write the odd classic, he was in a seventh heaven here as he strode out in his disco shoes for `Some Wonder’, `Freak’, `The Core’ and `Bright Thing’; some tracks stemming from mp3s he’d released a few years back.
© MC Strong 1994-2002/GRD // rev-up MCS Mar2015

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