- 20 Mar 01
Wank, bollocks, Chris Evans. These are dirty words. Pop isn t. STUART CLARK refrains from ruining their career for long enough to discover whether IN UTOPIA have got what it takes to become Ireland s next three minute heroes. Pix: Cathal Dawson.
CAN YOU ask whoever slags it off to at least make the review funny?
Maybe it s the We Hate Fucking Boy Bands! t-shirt I m wearing, but Mark Power seems resigned to the fact that Hot Press is going to give In Utopia s Only Lovers Do single a thorough journalistic kicking.
His paranoia is understandable. The respect Boyzone have to be given for their chart-conquering exploits aside, it s been hard finding nice things to say about Ireland s bumfluff pop fraternity. Osmonds covers and copious groin-clutching may set 11-year-old pulses racing but they re not going to make editors get on the phone to Paul McGuinness and say, sorry, that exclusive U2 to split! cover story s going to have to wait till next week.
Although this is In Utopia s first foray into the wonderful world of pop, Power knows all about the machinations of the industry thanks to the year he spent fronting 4-Guyz.
Or Gayzone as the tabloids insisted on calling us, the singer laughs. I was 19 and at the stage where I d just properly come out, so the idea of being in a group that was not just honest about its sexuality but made a virtue of it, really appealed to me. Although I went to the audition, I was actually picked beforehand as the Gary Barlow-type who d do the writing. My attitude was, I may be an employee in a manufactured band but at least I ll be singing my own songs .
However, it didn t take Power long to realise that he d been sold a Cruft s-winning pup.
Having to wear identical jumpers and do stupid dance routines was just about bearable, he reflects, but what I couldn t handle was going to rehearsal with a really good song I d written and being told, great, but I think we should do this cover version instead . That was such a pain in the hole.
Another cause of discomfort in the anal region was the inter-band bitching that started before 4-Guyz had even come out of their wrapper. (So to speak Ed.)
Most boy bands have a lead singer of some sort but the others seemed to resent the fact that I was the one doing most of the vocal parts. The way the deal was outlined to us was pretty simple I d be the not-particularly-good-looking-one who d sing while they took care of all the posey stuff. Unfortunately, they weren t satisfied with that and wanted a slice of whatever musical credibility was on offer which wasn t much!
You also had the situation where we d land at Heathrow and one of them would start going, I m homesick! I kept getting all these little mouth ulcers and when I went to the doctor, he told me it was stress. That s part of the reason I ve so much admiration for Boyzone. They ve been through a hundred times that amount of hassle to get where they are today and, as far as I know, none of them have had a nervous breakdown.
Or had to invest in a tube of Bonjela. It wasn t all gloom, doom and How do I get out of my contract? , though, with 4-Guyz immediately winning over the gay media and playing to 40,000 people as part of the London Pride festival.
Oh, that was the day we had words with Boy George, Power winces.
Words? Tell us more.
It was something of nothing, really, which our publicist decided to play up in the pursuit of column inches. We were just about to go on and George said to me, Are you going to strip off on stage? Playing along, I pulled up my shirt and he went, No, you re a bit skinny, actually . One of the others heard this and shouted, Well, it s better than being a bit fat , and he stormed off in a complete strop.
As for the other celebrities Mark met during his 4-Guyz odyssey, I couldn t get over how small Jimi Somerville is. Seriously, I doubt if he s even five foot. Hazel Dean y know, searchin , lookin for love was lovely, as were Ce Ce Peniston and Chaka Khan who had this amazing dress on. It was so wide she couldn t get down the steps.
Someone who I thought would be really boring but is actually a great laugh is Johnny Logan. We ran into him in Germany, where he s still huge, and he had us in knots.
It was an earlier visit to Germany a country which hasn t so much clasped boy bands to its bosom as shagged them senseless and demanded sloppy seconds that effectively sealed 4-Guyz s fate. In need of more young flesh to satisfy the feeding frenzy, WEA s man in Hamburg went to have a look at them and only liked 25% of what he saw.
I was mortified, Power shrieks with a theatrical wave of the arms. This guy, Marco, watched us do our set and said pointing towards me I d work with him . You can imagine the daggers the others shot me. We were always going to get to the point where we went our separate ways but that accelerated the process.
Deciding that he d had enough of bloody boy bands , Power set about finding a synth-playing partner just as obsessed with Depeche Mode and Erasure as he is. His ideal man turned out to be Ian Henderson, a 20-year-old Ballyfermot Rock School graduate who admits that, If it wasn t for Vince Clarke, I wouldn t be where I am today.
Pausing only to record a seven-track demo at Cannibal Studios in Dublin, the freshly-christened Pisces Lufthansa-ed their way back to Hamburg where the man from WEA Germany immediately said ja .
We had to change our name, though, because Pisces is almost the same as their word for piss artist , Power chuckles. I thought, Great, this ll do wonders for our street cred , but they reckoned it was inappropriate given that we were mainly going to be marketed to schoolkids.
The final piece of the jigsaw fell into place when, because of Warners involvement, Team Matiz came to one of our gigs and offered to produce us.
They mightn t have much of a profile over here, but in Germany the mere mention of Team Matiz s name is guaranteed to bring cash-registers to orgasm. Not content with selling 22 million records under their U96 alias, the Teutonic technocrats have earned themselves a few extra pfennigs by remixing the likes of Diana Ross, Aretha Franklin, Sting and Kim Wilde.
What concerned me wasn t the number of platinum discs they had but whether or not we d hit it off in the studio. Fortunately, the answer to that was yes . There are three of them Ingo, Hiho and Helmet who are all really funny guys and brilliant to work with.
They may be world leaders in heavy industry and sauerkraut production but when it comes to pop, the Germans are still in the fields with an ox and plough.
What they re into at the moment is this Puff Daddy-style thing of taking an 80s hit and sticking a rap in the middle of it, Ian Henderson reveals. They re crucifying these songs and millions of people are buying them. They ve also become a dumping ground for crap American boy bands. You ve heard of Backstreet Boys well, their manager s started another group, N Sync, who are ten times as cheesy.
Even worse was this bunch we played with at the Berlin Film Festival. The lead singer, jaysus, not only did he sound like a cat whose balls hadn t dropped, but he insisted on wearing this ultra-tight pair of leather shorts over his jeans. We were going, Please don t put us on after that .
That was a mad night, Power agrees. We were standing there having a natter when all of a sudden, boom, this drag queen pushes me against the wall and tries to stick his tongue down my throat. I was trying to push him off while Ian and our manager stood there pissing themselves laughing. Later on in the evening he comes up, all accusingly, and says, Did you pour champagne in my handbag? The bloke was a lunatic.
While more than happy to keep playing the gay circuit, In Utopia realise that to passify WEA s accountants, they re going to have to broaden their audience.
We re a band that has a gay member, not a gay band, Mark resumes. Even if Ian was a raging queen, rather than a rampant heterosexual, I wouldn t want it to be like 4-Guyz where the music was secondary. We re just back from a 31-day promotional tour of Germany which was right across the board in terms of the stuff we did. Y know, one interview would be with a gay magazine, the next with their equivalent of Smash Hits.
That said, when In Utopia gig in Ireland, it s almost exclusively in gay venues.
Trad and rock have their own circuits but if you re a young pop band trying to build a following, there s nowhere else to play. We re launching the single next week in the Wonderbar which is mixed but predominantly gay because we know that the 500 or 600 people who go there are into what we do. They like pop music.
It should also be pointed out that the man who s guided Power s career for the past three years is Wonderbar supremo John Pickering.
With 4-Guyz he was the boss, now he s the manager, his charge points out. The relationship works better that way because we can have a screaming match and get things sorted without anyone pulling rank. I m not really a scene person but I like Wonderbar because it s so up everybody wants to party.
Casing the joint a few weeks ago, it struck me that if John Pickering s ever in need of a new name for the kitschest club in town , he could happily go with The Hit Man & Him. By the time last orders were called, there must have been 100 punters up on stage giving it loads in a manner that Pete Waterman would wholeheartedly approve of.
Just as much fun but for entirely different reasons was the P.A. by gay Newcastle boy banders Over 18 who, having murdered Johnny Hates Jazz s Shattered Dreams not once but twice, ended proceedings by getting their pecs out for the lads.
They were pretty ghastly, Power acknowledges. We have two rules when we re doing personal appearances the vocals have to be live and I don t take my shirt off. If other bands want to do it, fine, that s their prerogative but I just think it s a rather cheap way of gaining people s attention our songs aren t much good but look at my body!
So what do In Utopia make of the Irish competition?
Boyzone are probably better at doing what they do than anyone else in the world at the moment, proffers Ian Henderson. OTT have improved a lot and with the right material, I could see The Carter Twins becoming a sort of Righteous Brothers for the 90s.
Talking of Stephen and Tony, what s Henderson s take on them flunking out of Eurosong?
I think (their manager) Louis Walsh has made a few enemies over the last few days. I get the impression that all he thought The Carter Twins had to do to win was turn up. Apart from anything else, it s not a great song. Ronan Keating s a talented fella, no question, but he s come up with better songs.
I d personally have voted for The Vard Sisters, Power picks up. For Louis to say oh, she shouldn t have won cos she s a hairdresser is very petty. I know he probably had a big marketing campaign and everything planned around the Eurovision but there s a reason it s called a contest.
RTE were just as bad. The Guide billed it as The Carter Twins at Eurosong which implied that the other artists and writers were only there as window-dressing. I can t remember who it was but someone else said that, It was just another case of Ireland playing it safe . That s ludicrous. How much less safe can you get than picking a total unknown from County Louth?
Power s perfectly cheekboned face suddenly clouds over. Here s me slagging people off when you re probably going to rip us apart in Hot Press.
Well, I begged, I pleaded, I promised to go to a Mark Eitzel gig, but singles reviewer Nick Kelly steadfastly refused to apply his steel-toecapped Doc Martens to Only Lovers Do .
Laughing all the way to the Bundesbank, he reckons. A supremely catchy slice of, well, New Romantic that s very remiscent of Vince Clarke-era Depeche Mode.
Lads, we ve let you down. n