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Bronski Beat


Initially spurred by the soaring vocal chords of gay Glaswegian JIMMY SOMERVILLE, Anglo-Caledonian trio BRONSKI BEAT elongated their 15 minutes of fame in the shape of some hi-NRG singles; none better than their gripping breakthrough smash, `Smalltown Boy’. When the boy himself ventured on an overtly-political career spearheading The COMMUNARDS, the remaining Bronski’s (Steve and Larry) were beaten.
In 1983, in Hackney, Jimmy and fellow Glaswegian Steve Bronski (keyboards) formed a bond with local London lad Larry Steinbachek (also keyboards/synths), and decided the time was right to brand their own post-new wave dance sounds. On the back of a prestigious support gig to legend TINA TURNER, BRONSKI BEAT kick-started their own Forbidden Fruit imprint in conjunction with London Records. The trio defined their agenda with the aforesaid landmark `Smalltown Boy’ single the following summer. The track itself was a heartfelt portrayal of a young gay man’s exclusion from mainstream society. Somerville’s piercing, yet soulful and impassioned falsetto; together with a haunting synth-bop backing, carried it comfortably into the Top 3; helped along by a fairly candid video.
Almost its musical cousin, Top 10 follow-up 45, `Why?’ was aimed directly at the prejudices of the moral majority in the form of an up-tempo Hi-NRG workout, whilst platinum-selling parent album, THE AGE OF CONSENT (1984) {*8}, left no doubt as to what its title referred to. The record came complete with a comparative graph of sorts detailing the lower age limit of consenting homosexual sex in various European countries. Needless to say, a Conservative-run Britain at that time didn’t rank too favourably. The album itself was a wildly promising debut, rooted in Euro-disco, but expansive enough to include interpretations of classic material like George & Ira Gershwin’s `It Ain’t Necessarily So’ (their third Top 20 hit), and a medley of DONNA SUMMER’s `I Feel Love’ and JOHN LEYTON’s `Johnny Remember Me’. Across the Atlantic Ocean, both `Smalltown Boy’ and the LP shocked many in the industry by gate-crashing the Top 50.
The fuss also turned Jimmy into an 80s gay icon; his staunch left-wing political stance only adding to his appeal, whilst no doubt further pissing off his conservative (small or large C) detractors. Spring ‘85 saw a faithful rendition of the aforenoted `I Feel Love’ (a medley interpolating SUMMER’s `Love To Love You Baby’ and featuring MARC ALMOND) tear up the dancefloors in its way into the Top 3.
The subsequent departure of Somerville to form The COMMUNARDS stunned Steve and Larry, who were left to their own devices. The ironically titled pick ‘n’ remix set, HUNDREDS AND THOUSANDS (1985) {*5} was, in many ways, a stop-gap prior to the unveiling of Basildon-born substitute singer, John Jon Foster. Nonetheless, BRONSKI BEAT were pushing out the envelope and again pounding the discos a la `Hit That Perfect Beat’, a song subsequently used for the British-made film, Letter To Brezhnev.
While the track hit the Top 3, and follow-up `C’mon! C’mon!’ dented the Top 20, critics and fans were generally in agreement that the forgettable TRUTHDARE DOUBLEDARE (1986) {*4} album, was badly in need of Jimmy’s high-octane falsetto and charisma. Despite a critical meltdown, the record somehow still managed to reach No.18. A third spawn, `This Heart’, was typical 80s fodder and, as a result, failed to chart. For a few years after the departure of Foster, BRONSKI BEAT faded from view. Then in October ’88, with singer Jonathan Hellyer on board, not even a one-off minor-hit collaboration (`Cha Cha Heels’), in summer ’89, with tigress EARTHA KITT, could revive their fortunes. On the back of a litter of independently-released 12-inch singles and an album, RAINBOW NATION (1995) {*4}, Steve and Larry duly threw in the towel.
Steve Bronski (real name Steven Forrest) continued to spin out the odd disc as a producer, and in 2007, he’d a modicum of success via working with alt-rock act All Living Fear (on `Stranger To None’); he also morphed Northern Ireland’s Electrobronze single, `Flowers In The Morning’, from classical to hi-NRG. Ironically, around the same time as the sad death from cancer of Steinbachek finally filtered through (he passed just before Xmas), Steve and BRONSKI BEAT were drumming up support for some fresh remixes. Together with programmer/keyboardist Ian Donaldson and vocalist Stephen Granville, there came a re-vamped update of their debut set, now entitled THE AGE OF REASON (2017) {*6}; noted too was a bonus CD that extended some mixes from an exclusive piece, `A Flower To Dandara’, that featured Rose McDowall (ex-STRAWBERRY SWITCHBLADE).
© MC Strong/MCS 1994-2002/GRD-GSM // rev-up MCS Nov2018

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