Why does it hurt when my heart misses the beat? We’re here to see a rare concert appearance by an icon of the alternative 80s pop pantheon, Claudia Brücken, and we couldn’t be more excited.
Context. Brücken was lead singer in Düsseldorf group Propaganda, one of the three major bands in the brief heyday of super-producer Trevor Horn’s chart conquering Zang Tumb Tuum empire (Frankie Goes To Hollywood and Horn’s Art Of Noise forming the triad). Propaganda’s extravagant debut ‘A Secret Wish’ was a breath-taking album of ambitious, theatrical European pop, destined never to be repeated. Brücken jumped ship to form a new duo, Act, with bedroom electropop pioneer Thomas Leer, satirising the excesses of 80s big business and the music industry. Act, too, were short-lived, and Brücken has recorded only occasionally since, more regularly now with husband Paul Humphries (of Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark) in their duo Onetwo.
We’re still not sure quite what to expect tonight, however, as without support or fanfare Brücken’s five-piece band take to a stage cluttered with gear. Locking into an electronic groove, Brücken appears, looking and sounding as striking as ever as she slips into her ’91 single ‘Kiss Like Ether’. We’d almost forgotten this minor hit before tonight, but then much of this evening’s show – and indeed Brücken’s recording career – works by awakening nostalgic pop memories.
Brücken’s recent solo album ‘The Lost Are Found’ is primarily a record of covers, produced by another 80s pop architect, Stephen Hague. Picking from it tonight, she drops in lesser-known songs from the pens of David Bowie, ELO and the Bee Gees along with those by such cult artists as Stina Nordenstam and The Lilac Time. To hear the latter’s delicate folk lullaby ‘The Road To Happiness’ transformed into a shuffling electro ballad by Brücken, Humphries and band, well, it’s like we fell asleep at the end of the 80s and dreamed our way through the ensuing decades, all our favourite groups getting mixed up in our slumber.
Act’s ‘Snobbery And Decay’ and ‘Absolutely Immune’ near-hits are performed back to back, literally by Brücken and co-vocalist David Watson, both revelling in the spotlight and laughing their way through it. Act’s chart failure set the tone for Brücken’s subsequent drift into cult stardom, but there’s no bitterness tonight.
Of course, it’s those huge Propaganda songs that draw the biggest cheers. With two guitarists, two banks of keyboards and an exceptional percussionist, the challenging task of reproducing the complexity of ‘A Secret Wish’ live is met. ‘Dr. Mabuse’, ‘Dream Within A Dream’ and ‘p:Machinery’ are towering, with biggest hit ‘Duel’ saved, inevitably, for the encore. Propaganda split too soon to capitalise on their original success, so to hear these songs in person has been a long, long time coming.
By the time of the stirring closing version of The Band’s ‘Whispering Pines’ we couldn’t have asked for much more, although sadly Brücken’s “lovely friend’, Propaganda’s Susanne Freytag, couldn’t join her on stage tonight. Crush, sigh.
Ah well, to borrow a couple of phrases: It is still 1985. Tonight is forever.
Concorde2, Sunday 17th March 2013
Words by Stuart Huggett