Tuesday, 26 March 2019

Sheffield Music Interview: FLOY JOY


 They’re probably best known for writing 
 “Weak In The Presence Of Beauty” – a major hit for Alison Moyet
 But there’s more to Sheffield’s jazz-funk band FLOY JOY than just that, 
as this early January 1985 interview indicates… 

I have seen the future of Jazz-Funk, and its name – gentle readers, is Floy Joy. But soft you say, reaching for your ‘Guinness Book Of Hit Singles’, ‘wasn’t Floy Joy the name of a vintage Supremes hit single?’ You’re right, and I’m right. Floy Joy is the Sheffield six-piece you saw on ‘Old Grey Whistle Test’, they add up to a music of love, lust, life and cool. The sum is greater than the parts, but the parts begin with brothers Mike and Shaun Ward, so let’s take it slower – rewind to the start. Like, when did the Ward’s start playing? ‘Well, previous to Floy Joy we’d just been sidemen – Mike and I, just playing in bands. I’ve never known anything else since I left school’ Shaun declares. ‘I didn’t go to college or University. Mike did a short stint at Art College, then we just – sort of, worked. Doing the Working Men’s Clubs was soul-destroying. We didn’t want to do it, but it was the only option open to us. When you’re living in the North, and you don’t particularly want to move into London for various reasons – there’s only one way to live, and that’s to…’ – take what work’s available? ‘Exactly.’

Is that a good way to learn musical discipline? ‘Mmmm, it’s fairly good. It was alright, but it was no great life-style. You just work through a certain agent who’s asked to find a certain band for a certain club.’ And the other musicians you’re working with on the chicken-in-a-basket circuit? ‘It seems their only motivation or ambition for getting into music is financial, or the attractions of the ‘Pop World’ they imagine they might get into. That never attracted me anyway.’

Outside, Sheffield is freezing in sub-zero temperatures. We sit in the Ward’s kitchen, talking across the table. Every now and then he bears a passing resemblance to David Byrne, hair neatly razored. Floy Joy – as has been pointed out, was a March 1973 post-Diana Ross Supremes hit, written by Smokey Robinson. ‘I get a thrill when I hear your voice now, Floy, Floy, Floy, Floy, Floy Joy! You’re the man.’ And it’s rumoured, nay, written that the Brothers Ward once played back-up to a Supremes tour. ‘I don’t remember saying that’ he protests. But the quote was attributed to Mike and reported by a certain Don Watson (‘New Musical Express’ November 1984). ‘We didn’t actually PLAY with the Supremes. They came to a Club where we were playing, but it was third generation Supremes – Mary Wilson period. Girls had come and left, and it was Mary Wilson with two new girls. But we DID do a small tour with James & Bobby Purify (Soul legends whose vintage “I’m Your Puppet” was finally a UK hit in April 1976). That lasted for about three months, and they were great. It was actually James Purify and Ben White, they were cousins, but he was named ‘Bobby Purify’ for the act. Jim was a great guitarist. They were really good. But it was just something that came up. It wasn’t a ‘let’s get into backing visiting American Soul artists’ scam. It was just a work thing.’ But that pick-up band system seldom shows the artists at their best, and it’s not good for the musicians either. ‘No, it isn’t.’ Except for the economic benefits part of it. ‘Exactly. That’s what it is!’

But there was also session work in the studio. These guys have served their time, paid their dues… ‘I did a few sessions with a couple of bands’ he concedes modestly. ‘There was a band called Gonzales, I don’t know if you ever heard of them? They had a few sort of late seventies Disco hits.’ Rifled memory-banks divulge the information that Gonzales did indeed score a no.15 hit with “Haven’t Stopped Dancing Yet” (on Sidewalk Records). That was March 1979. The rest is silence. ‘I did a bit of recording before DVA, but DVA was…’ The first band you were prepared to put your name to? He grins, ‘yeah.’

The DVA in question is Sheffield’s most incandescent experimental band – Clock DVA, which the Ward brothers join in time to record a fistful of material. Some of it emerged on record – “Noises In Limbo” and “Sons Of Sons” on the ‘Passions Still Aflame’ EP (Polydor POSP 437, May 1982). Some of it – the most accomplished according to Shaun, is yet to emerge. ‘That period was quite influential on Mike and myself. We’d been – as I say, sorta involved in quite a dirge-like musical area. A tainted musical circle. And to get into DVA was really fresh. It was a good band with Dave Palmer (drums), Paul Browse (sax), Adi (Newton), Jon Valentine Carruthers (bass, later a Banshee), myself and Mike. It felt good. They gave us a new depth on interest. ‘Cos we sorta picked up their attitude that anything CAN happen, you CAN go anywhere and do anything – musically or otherwise. Although it didn’t turn out as well as I’d hoped, in the end.’

Was DVA the first band in which you were contributing something creative? ‘Rather than just as a sideman – yes, it was. I’d been writing a few things, but nothing I felt really happy with. DVA was a good experience because of their TOTAL attitude. Because of Adi’s total un-musicianly attitude! He’d talk in terms of ‘intuition’ or an ‘impressionistic thing’ instead of talking as a musician. It was refreshing to be around him because you’d get ideas from him. Musical ideas from another (non-musical) source. It was going really well for about a month, it could’ve gone somewhere… but. Dave (Palmer) joined DVA at the same time I did… well, he joined about a week before I did. It’s really ironic ‘cos he talked me into joining the band – and a month after that he did the ABC thing! We were going into the studio to do some demo’s, and he sort of turned up for rehearsals one day and… just blew it out to join ABC!’ (after recording and touring with ABC’s global hit ‘Lexicon Of Love’, Palmer went on to form Person To Person, signed to Epic.) But for the Ward brothers some semblance of the DVA link remains. Floy Joy were using Adi Newton’s ‘Backfields’ rehearsal studio the week this interview took place.

‘We didn’t go straight into Floy Joy from Clock DVA – because I went to Florida’ Shaun resumes. ‘I was working and playing – just jamming sort of things, in Florida for six or seven months, jamming with Jazz musicians in Clubs. And then I phoned Mike. He’d started writing for Floy Joy. He said ‘come back and do some demo’s, so I did. And we got a deal with Virgin. All the rest of the companies were saying ‘we’ve got to see you play live’ and we said ‘there are only TWO of us in the band – three with Gloria (the first vocalist) – and so it’s impossible.’ Plus we only had around four songs at the time anyway! It’s not as if we had an album ready to record, or even a proper ‘set’.’

And problems continued to beset the embryonic Floy Joy, Gloria quit. Soon she was working in a new ‘early Prince style’ line-up with ex-ABC Stephen Singleton. I heard their tapes and they were VERY good – particularly a song called “I See Red”. ‘I haven’t heard anything that she’s done recently’ confesses Shaun. But ‘I hope it’s good. She’s definitely got a voice.’

The first Floy Joy single was produced by Andy Hernandez (‘Coati Mundi from Kid Creole’s band’) and featured a four-piece line-up. Gloria had been replaced by Elana Harris – ex Mirror Crack’d, and they’d acquired a drummer in Kenny Cravley. The single – the razor-sharp Pop Funk “Answer Through Me” c/w “All Cats Are Grey”, came in July 1983. Yet the experience of that first single led to a new determination to control their own product. To choose a more compatible producer – such as Don Was!

Don Was
‘The producers we’d worked with in the past always seemed to think they need to put their own little stamp on it. Y’know, a stamp saying ‘I produced this song, so I’ll put this in so people will say it’s a track produced by me, not a song by a certain group’.’ But – when a producer puts his ‘little stamp’ on a record it at least means he’s providing some creative input, otherwise he’s reduced to being just an engineer? ‘Don DID engineer the record as well, but he was far more than that.’ He was a creative input? ‘Yes, oh yes.’ There was to be some debate concerning the exact degree of that input. 

The first single resulting from the Detroit recording sessions came in August 1984 – “Burn Down A Rhythm” c/w “The Flies Can’t Stand The Heat”. ‘Melody Maker’ concedes that Floy Joy are ‘a Pop group with Funk persuasions’, but ‘the most lasting memory (of this single) are the Egyptian filtered Was horns – far too close to “Wheel Me Out” for comfort.’ Opinions were revised upwards with the delivery of further vinyl evidence, the soft liquid lovers-sway of “Until You Come Back To Me” c/w “Into The Hot (Dance Mix)” two months later, showcasing the atmospheric vocals and shimmering beauty of Floy Joy’s fourth voice, Carroll Thompson. ‘It got THREE ‘Single Of The Week’s’ Shaun relates with some obvious satisfaction. ‘A couple of local stations picked up on it, and that’s great – it got to no.34 on some charts. On the nationals it climbed slowly to no.85, then just dropped, y’know. But the local station thing does take the onus off the ‘if you’re not on the BBC chart then you’re nothing’.’ He laughs. ‘You don’t do it just to get played anyway.’

The album – which also came in October, ‘Into The Hot’, seems conclusive evidence, if such evidence is needed, that Floy Joy has arrived. Hot-Hot-HOT, it’s an album of expressive irresistible vocals, clean emotive mood changes, pattering congas and oozing sax, swaggeringly seductive music, with a flawless glaze of sophistication. Promoted through an electrifying set on Channel Four’s ‘The Tube’, introduced by Jools Holland, the Detroit trip had paid off handsomely.

‘Most of our time there, obviously, was spent in the studio. But… it’s like…’ he tapers off into indecision for a moment. ‘New York isn’t a typical American town. The rest of the States are always SO different from New York. And Detroit is VERY different. It’s very, sort of, s-p-r-e-a-d out. You get an island of six apartment blocks in the middle of – nothing!’ Did you visit the home of Motown Records – Hitsville USA? ‘Yes, we went to ‘Hitsville’. And yeah, it was great. We went there about five o’ clock in the morning. But there’s nothing left of the record company now apart from a museum. You go there and it’s just like a house with a shopfront window, and all the album covers – even the modern album covers like Lionel Ritchie – but all the old ones as well. And, as I say, we went there about five o’ clock in the morning so there’s nothing happening and it’s freezing cold. It’s like minus-thirty while we were there! It froze the roots of my hair. It’s ridiculous.’

Outside, as we talk, Sheffield is freezing in sub-zero temperatures. And simultaneously the fourth Floy Joy single is emerging. It’s 1985, and “Operator” comes courtesy of a remix by John ‘Tokes’ Potoker. I have heard the future of Jazz-Funk, gentle readers, and it sounds a lot like this record.

Floy Joy is the title of a vintage Supremes hit. And all this talk of Motown, Sheffield, and group names reminds me how I once asked Martin Fry if he got the name ABC from the Motown Jackson Five record of the same title.

Shaun Ward smiles, ‘what did he say?’

He denied it, but claimed it was the first record he ever bought. He even sang the first lines of it for me. ‘ABC, easy as one, two, three, are simple as do-re-mi, ABC, one, two, three, baby, you and me girl.’ I’ve still got the tape should anyone be interested? No reasonable offer refused.



July 1983 – “Answer Through Me” c/w “All Cats Are Grey” (Virgin VS 573-12) produced by Andy Hernandez, with Elana Harris (vocals), Michael Ward (horns), Shaun Ward (keyboards, guitar). The band formed in 1983, and this line-up release only one single

August 1984 – “Burn Down A Rhythm” c/w “The Flies Can’t Stand The Heat” (Virgin VS 683) ‘undulating melody’ with echo-trumpet solo, produced by Don Was at The Sound Suite in Detroit

October 1984 – “Until You Come Back To Me” c/w “Theme From The Age Of Reason” plus “Into The Hot (Dance Mix)” on the 12” (Virgin VS 716) Carroll Thompson (vocals), Michael Ward (horns), Shaun Ward (keyboards, bass, guitar). UK chart no.91

October 1984 – ‘INTO THE HOT’ (Virgin V2319) with ‘Burn Down A Rhythm’, ‘Baby You Know I…’, ‘Holiday’, ‘Until You Come Back To Me’, ‘Operator’, ‘East Side West Side’, ‘Into The Hot’, ‘Mission’, ‘Sebastopol’, ‘Theme From The Age Of Reason’, New Zealand chart no.40. After the album, Thompson and Shaun Ward quit, leaving Michael Ward to draft singer Desi Campbell and bassist/drum programmer/co-writer Robert E Clarke and put together a new all-male Floy Joy

January 1985 – “Operator” c/w “Mission” (Virgin VS 744/12), with phone effects, honking sax solo, and Desi Campbell backing vocals, remix by John ‘Tokes’ Potoker, UK chart no.86

June 1986 – “Weak In The Presence Of Beauty” (mixed by Chris Lord Alge) c/w “You And Me” (mixed by Frank Filipetti) (Virgin VS 833-12), Desi Campbell (vocals), Michael Ward (horns), Rob E Clarke (keyboards, bass, guitar). UK chart no.85, Australian chart no.29. The song is later covered by Alison Moyet which becomes a large European hit, reaching no.6 in the UK 28 March 1987

1986 – ‘WEAK IN THE PRESENCE OF BEAUTY’ (Virgin V2368) with ‘Weak In The Presence Of Beauty’, ‘Friday Night (In This Cold City)’, ‘Penny In My Pocket’, ‘Too Drunk To Funk’, ‘Ask The Lonely’ (written by W Stevenson and I Hunter), ‘Chinese A-Go-Go’, ‘Crackdown’, ‘Walking In The Night’, ‘This Is My Time’ (Desi Campbell), ‘It Makes No Difference To Me’ – all other songs by Michael Ward with Robert E Clarke, produced by Don Was, like the previous album. It peaks at no.100 in Australia. Shaun later says ‘the first Floy Joy album was an anthology of R&B, jazz... all the things we’d grown up listening to and absorbed. Though we liked it, we came to realize that maybe it was a bit too personal. So that’s why the second album is more direct and commercial. Unfortunately when we did that no one wanted to know’

1986 – “Friday Night (In This Cold City)” c/w “Friday Night (Joyce Davenport Mix)” (Virgin VS 848)

The band split shortly after. By 1990, Desi Campbell and Shaun Ward are working under the name Everyday People with Lloyd T Richards and producer Stewart Levine, releasing one album titled ‘You Wash… I’ll Dry’. Two singles in 1990, “Headline News” and “I Guess It Doesn’t Matter”, reach the charts in both the UK and Germany, and the album also charts in Germany. The band release two more singles in Germany and tour Europe extensively. After the demise of the group Desi Campbell commences a solo career which results in two self-produced singles “Stranger” and “L.O.V.E Poem”. Having previously sung backing vocals with Was (Not Was) on the album ‘What Up, Dog?’ he goes on to work with Errol Brown, the dance outfit Fraud Squad, Bludog and Concrete Nation

Published in:
‘HOT PRESS Vol.9 no.3’ (Eire – February 1985)
‘BACK PAGES no.2’ (UK – April 1985)

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