Thanks to Patricia Na for this!
On stage at the Deep Ellum live club on downtown Dallas, the big bloke in
the blue spangly T-shirt looks as if he's having the time of his life.
Erasure's singer Andy Bell is belting out Love To HateYou like he wrote it
yesterday. Actually, it was a hit, their fourteenth, in 1991, but the madly
enthusiastic fans here - mostly handsome gay men, transvestites and young
couples - insist that Erasure songs are 'timeless'.
Critics of Erasure's new album Cowboy, their ninth, say they're dated,
boring and irrelevant.
Nevertheless, seeing these most English of pop stars in Dallas, home
to gleaming skyscrapers, workaholics and surprisingly, a thriving
alternative scene, is compelling.
Halfway through this short American 'warm up' tour - Erasure's British
dates start on Sunday at the Birmingham NEC - it is a miracle that Bell
has made it on stage at all. He has had two antibiotic shots before
showtime to blitz the flu he caught in Chicago. Earlier he had staggered out
of the hotel lift, drip white, sweat pouring. Bell's Erasure partner, synth
wizard Vince Clarke, was concerned. In the restaurant Vince passed a
napkin and tenderly urged him to wipe his face.
Intriguing relationship these two have. Beefy Andy, who once remarked
'I've been a woman many, many times, but being a man is new to me'. Wiry
Vince, straight, protective. "I have to look after him," he says, unusually chatty
today, "or he puts on that face." He remains tightlipped on personal questions.
Andy's longstanding relationship with American boyfriend Paul sounds
cosy. "He was a dental technician when I met him and was on the verge of
a nervous breakdown, now he looks after all my finances."
There's a beautiful diamond and sapphire band on his wedding finger
which, he tells me proudly, Paul bought him on a Carribean holiday. They
live 'virtually next door' to Annie Lennox in Highgate, North London with
a second home in Majorca.
Erasure formed in 1985. Vince, formerly of Depeche Mode, Yazoo and
The Assembly, put an ad in the music press for a singer. Forty One
auditions later he found Peterborough-born Andy, pop star in waiting, then
21 and formerly a professional mincer (in a meat factory).
So what are they doing in Dallas? "This was somewhere we wanted to play,"
Vince explains. "We've not toured America for three years, so we were a
bit nervous. But it's exceeded our expectations. It's quite funny really, we
could have a career here just touring, without selling any records." The
1000-capacity venue sold out in a day.
But isn't Texas a bigoted, Right-wing place where men are men and the
horses are nervous? "Well, that's the cliche isn't it?," says Vince.
"Generally in Texas, people have always taken us into their arms."
Andy recalls "Last time we were in Dallas we were just DJing in drag.
We had to have a police escort. But by the end of the show I was sitting
on the policeman's lap. It was really brilliant."
"The main reason why we're as popular, though, is because of one radio
station, Kirby in Houston, which has always supported us. And the Texans
are quite affectionate to us because we've always been survivors".
A young accountant at the gig told me that Erasure has a devoted
following amongst the computer-obsessed South East Asians who work in
Dallas's hi-tech industries. However, the obvious gay icon status aside,
their electronic sound is only part of Erasure's appeal here.
With their simple song sructures, predeliction for lovelorn lyrics
and delight in dressing up, there is something of the country and western,
the Ordinary Joe, in Erasure.
It's the same in blue collar England. Regardless of the critics, the
white stilleto crowd still appreciate them. Erasure made music for common
people long before Jarvis Cocker had a hit.Vince, a Willie Nelson fan,
nods sagely. "We write quite traditional songs," he says. "But it's
never been important to us to make a record into whatever's trendy at the
moment, to turn it into a House sound or a Fusion sound or whatever." The
man credited with inventing techno-pop has never had to conform.
Andy perks up, "I love country music. I grew up with it. I'd sing along
to my parents' country and western songs and Elvis. Embarassing isn't it?".
This years Cowboy, as mentioned in the album title and the tour,
wasn't really inspired by Texas. "We didn't have a title and it's quite a
good word for presenting a stage show and photo opportunities." says
All very neat, but the album has been panned. Their British fan-base
is ageing. Tickets still remain for their dates. Their first single from
Cowboy, In My Arms, released in January, only made no.13 and didn't
hang around. The second, Don't Say Your Love Is Killing Me, peaked
Andy admits, "We're having a really hard time in the UK. It's the
music industry media. They just have their own interests at heart.
They're trying to get the promotion for all the Britpop bands and they
don't really care about us."
Erasure could already be yesterday's men. Surely they're worried. "Put
it this way," says Andy. "We can never be out of fashion if we're not in
it. The one thing that's wrong with the reviews is that the people forget
about the songwriting. They just talk about the sound and whether we're
relevant or not."
And the recent flak? "I'm the eternal pessimist, so I'm not fazed,"
says Vince. "If we were doing bad work or drying up with ideas then I
would be more concerned."
The dedicated Dallas audiences would love them whatever. The trouble
is that back home - the country that welcomed their quirky outsider stance
in the first place and loved their Saturday night disco tunes - is a far
more cynical place.