Assorted scribblings of a dog-eared music journalist

Masterbag | Feature | 24 June 1982 | Photo: Bleddyn Butcher


"You're going to see Modern English? You'll be really depressed tonight, then..."

The three members of Modern English that I talk to after their gig at The Jacquard in Norwich – Robbie Grey (vocals), Gary McDowell (guitar) and Mick Conroy (bass) – seem to find my friend's opinion of them rather funny.

"We're not one of these 4AD doomy bands," says Robbie.

He's got a point. The second Modern English album, "After The Snow", came out a few weeks ago and treads quite a different path to the band's debut. The atmosphere is much warmer, much less aggressive. The vocals are sweeter and the drums have a lighter touch. The overall feel has a definite smack of – dare I say it? – commercialism.

"It's not something we've gone out of our way to achieve," notes Robbie. "It's just that, as musicians, we've got a lot better. We always want to diversify, we never want to be categorised as one thing. With the first album, people could have said, 'A bit like Bauhaus, a bit like Killing Joke', but we left all that behind and went for something new."

"We've totally confused everybody," adds Mick proudly. "Not only that, but the album is completely different from how we are live."

To promote "After The Snow", Modern English have recently completed a 15-date UK tour, concentrating mainly on clubs. By the time of their gig at the Sound Cellar in Cambridge, exactly one week after Norwich, the band were getting to grips with performing the new material live.

"We could play the old set with our eyes shut and now the new songs are starting to slot together quite nicely," says Gary.

But whatever good things were happening onstage, the tour itself seemed to have taken a step sideways. Two or three poorly attended dates prompts Robbie to qualify the early signs of promise.

"Half the time it's a bit of a waste," he says.

Modern English may not be impressing the masses left, right and centre, but there is a steadily growing interest in the band and a hope that their new single, "Life In The Gladhouse", will help to expand their hardcore following. The three London shows on the tour, including a final stop at The Venue, were well received and if "After The Snow" takes off, Modern English plan to set off into the regions again, this time playing larger venues.

"Anybody who has anything to offer doesn't stand still," declares Gary. "They change and progress all the time."

After the relative coldness of their debut has come the thaw of "After The Snow". And after the thaw...?

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