Composition Of Sound

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Band members

  • Vince Clarke – synthesiser, guitar
  • Martin Gore – synthesiser
  • Andy Fletcher – synthesiser, bass
  • Dave Gahan – vocals

History

Composition Of Sound is a band that operated from late 1979 till September 24th 1980, and then continued under the name 'Depeche Mode'. After Vince first created the band with Andy Fletcher and then Martin Gore, he asked Dave Gahan in spring 1980 to join them.

Andy Fletcher and Vince Clarke knew each other through St Paul's Methodist Church's Boys' Brigade, and would hang out often. Around May 1979, Vince Clarke started the "pretty much a guitar band" No Romance In China and more or less forced his friend Andy Fletcher to join this band, who was just there "for the social bit of it".[1] Vince would quickly ditch No Romance In China, and start a synthesiser band with Robert Marlow called The Plan, self-described as an "Ultravox rip-off". However, Vince wanted to create another synthesiser band, with Andy Fletcher, which he named Composition Of Sound.[2] Vince Clarke sees this moment as the beginning of Depeche Mode: "And that's really how Depeche Mode started; it was just me and Fletch."[3] It did not take long before The Plan disbanded, the reason being Marlow's and Clarke's big egos, which is not only acknowledged by Marlow and Clarke themselves but also by No Romance In China's drummer Pete Hobbs. Hobbs: "Once Vince got into keyboards and then started off with Martin, there was a bit of jealousy, rivalry between them. Fletch couldn't play, and from my point of view it was really weird because you've got Rob with all this talent, but who Vince didn't want to be in the band, yet Fletch who couldn't even play a guitar was in the band. But Fletch was such a character - I think his character pulled him into that. I think with the way Vince and Martin were, very shy people, you needed that. Fletcher made them laugh. He just bound them together in the sense of personality rather than musical talent. If Rob had been in there, lots of egos flying around... they didn't need that."[4]

Andy Fletcher knew Martin Gore because they were in the same class together at Nicholas School, and would also hang out often. Martin would also occasionally accompany Andy during Boys' Brigade outings. In late 1979, Martin developed an interest in synthesiser music. His friend (and Vince's The Plan colleague) Robert Marlow asked Martin Gore to be in his new band French Look and lent his synthesiser to Martin for two weeks. After these two weeks, Martin wanted to buy a synthesiser of his own. Vince Clarke was still saving up money to buy his first synthesiser, and liked the idea of creating a new synthesiser band. So once Vince and Andy heard that Martin was planning to buy a Yamaha CS5 synthesiser, the twosome accompanied Martin on the train to a London music store.[2] Vince and Andy then asked Martin to be in their new band as well, to which Martin agreed. Vince: "That's why we got him in - because he had a synth, not for any other reason; certainly not for his outgoing personality! Fletch knew Martin, obviously, from school, so we started rehearsing together.[3] [Martin] was the first musician I'd met who had a synth, and it seemed obvious to me that he didn't need any special effects or amplification, because his instrument was really just like a big effects box with a keyboard on it; he didn't need anything else outside it."[5] Martin needed some time to learn to play this equipment, and confessed around September 1982: "It was the first time I’d ever seen a synth and I knew nothing about them. I didn’t find out how to change the sound for a month… actually I still don’t know. Every sound I had was either a long one or a short one and I didn’t even realise you could change the waveforms.[6] You know that sound that goes – WAUGH? I was stuck on that for ages. And when we made our first demo all the tracks have the same sounds on it."[7] Not long afterwards, Vince would buy a Kawai 100F, which he used for both Composition Of Sound as well as The Plan. Andy Fletcher would continue playing bass guitar up until the band starts getting gigs, in June 1980.[6] Then he borrowed a Korg 700, but just after that he bought a Moog Prodigy.[5][8]

Depeche Mode would rehearse a lot at the Woodlands Youth Club, in spring 1980. Andy: "The earliest Depeche songs like 'Photographic' were written then."[9] Judging by scans of early setlist sheets from 1980, songs like 'Big Muff' and 'Tora! Tora! Tora!" were also some of the first songs written by Composition Of Sound. Composition Of Sound would also play several covers in their performances, such as The Price Of Love, Television Set, Lieutenant Pigeon's Mouldy Old Dough, and Phil Spector's Then She Kissed Me (visit the page Early live-only songs for more information). Vince Clarke would also record a four-track demo tape by himself.

Friends of Composition Of Sound have told author Simon Spence that the band's earliest gigs would take place in each other's living rooms. Martin Gore's school friend (and later on also Vince Clarke's friend) Mark Crick says: "When Composition Of Sound started, I remember them playing in Martin's front room. There would have been a small crowd watch: me, Fletch's pal Rob Andrews; Martin's sisters, Martin's mum." Nikki Avery, Deb Danahay's friend: "I had seen Composition Of Sound play at Martin's house. They'd play in each other's front rooms on a Sunday afternoon or something. It was like that." Anne Swindell, Martin's first girlfriend: "I've got some photos of one of the first Composition Of Sound gigs in Fletcher's front room. It was more for rehearsal really - to get a sense of what it would be like to be lined up and feeling like there would be an audience." Rob Marlow: "Composition Of Sound were playing gigs in people's front rooms - each other's front rooms, basically. I seem to remember a memorable Composition Of Sound gig where the audience was made up of Martin's sisters' teddy bears. There'd be people like Anne Swindell, Denise Jekyll, Steve Burton, and Rob Andrews there. We would come around and join the teddy bears. Fletch played a bass guitar, Vince played guitar, and Martin played the Yamaha CS5 he'd bought. They were a bit like the early Cure: all the songs were in place, the ones in the early Depeche Mode set."[4] Subsequently they performed at their regular rehearsal haunt, the Woodlands Youth Club, for a bunch of children. Andy describes it as follows: "That was our first proper concert. We wasn't getting paid, it was a favour, because at that time we was rehearsing in this youth club, we played just for a favour. The funny thing was that kids had never seen a sythesizer before, and were just fiddling about with our knobs."[10]

Composition Of Sound were nevertheless feeling as if a frontman was missing. Around April 1980, Composition Of Sound were rehearsing at Woodlands Youth Club again, sans Martin, who was rehearsing in the same building with his other band, French Look. At this fateful rehearsal, French Look's Paul Redmond had brought his friend Dave Gahan with him. Marlow: "He was our sound engineer. I say sound engineer - he twiddled the knobs, turned the volume up and down."[4] During an impromptu jam session, Dave took French Look's microphone and sang David Bowie's 'Heroes'. Vince Clarke could hear Dave sing next door and was impressed. Vince called Dave a week later, asked if it was he who had been singing that song, and if he wanted to join his band.[3] Vince describes the audition afterwards: "Because no one came to our gigs, we decided that because Dave Gahan was very, very popular, we'd get him in the band. He really looked the part, so we decided to audition him to be the vocalist. I remember the interview we did with him, and I remember him singing. We gave him three songs - two that I'd written and one cover of a Bryan Ferry song... a Roxy Music song. He sang both of the original ones badly, I remember, but he sang the Bryan Ferry one quite well, because he was obviously quite familiar with it. So then we decided that he'd be alright for the job."[3] Andy says in 2006: "Vince was sort of the lead singer before [Depeche Mode], but he wasn't really comfortable doing that, so we thought we'd grab [Dave]. Dave looked better than us, and had about a thousand more contacts: we had no contacts, and he had loads of contacts. And he sang really well as well."[11]. Dave Gahan had never been in a band himself but had been on stage before: "I rehearsed a couple of times with a few bands. There was one that my friend Tony Burgess played drums in. He didn't actually have a drum kit; he played biscuit tins - never played a gig, just rehearsed after school. They were called The Vermin. They were very famous in that one area of Basildon. In our own minds we were going to be the next Sex Pistols."[3] However, The Vermin's drummer Tony Burgess denies that Dave actually joined his band.[4] Their singer Rik Wheatley echoes this statement: "When I left Basildon I heard Dave had joined The Vermin but they didn't do anything. It was one of those things that lasted for ten minutes."[4] Nevertheless, Dave did like the idea of being on stage: "I think when you're a kid it's always a dream to be a singer in a band. I used to sing along to all the 'Slade' records in front of my mirror, but I never thought that my dream would come true!"[12] Dave reflected in 2001: "It was never "I want to do what [other bands] are doing, musically" when I first went to see a band like The Clash, it was like, "I can do that". I've been doing it in front of the mirror with a hairbrush for a long time anyway so I could really do it, I really kind of had dreams of myself doing it and it wasn't long after that that I found myself in that position and it's a lot scarier when you first stand up there in front of the people than what you imagine so it took me a good few years to actually probably move like a step to one side or something during the gigs."[13]

Composition Of Sound's concerts outside of their living rooms and the rehearsal venues would each be a step forwards towards getting paid gigs: the first gig was at friend's Deb Danahay's party on 1980-05-30; the second gig was supporting The School Bullies at Scamps on 1980-04-17; the third gig was at Martin's and Andy's school on 1980-06-14. After two performances at Top Alex, they would quickly get a residency at Crocs and Bridge House respectively, due to Dave's connections and Vince's perseverance.

Composition Of Sound continued rehearsing as a foursome at the Woodlands Youth Club, the St Paul's Methodist Church, the Trinity Methodist Church[10], and also at the Congregational Church (now United Reformed Church) in Billericay.[14] If not there, then they could always rehearse at home. Marlow: "When Composition Of Sound were beginning to rehearse I used to go round to see them at Vince's mum's house. She was at home all the time and Vince used to rehearse the band with their drum machine in the garage. You opened up the garage door and there'd be these four guys standing round with headphones on, clicking away."[4] Dave said in 1982: "[The way we make music] changed a lot from when we started. When we first recorded we’d just go into a room and play along live. Vince would come along with a song and it would go from there. Andy would put on a bass line and then Mart would put on another synth."[6] Eventually they would make a demo tape in the summer of 1980. Vince and Dave would take one of the very few copies of this tape with them to London, and ask record companies such as Beggars Banquet Records to listen to it. On or shortly before September 1st 1980, they took the tape to Rough Trade Records; while Rough Trade did not like the tape, they forwarded the duo to Mute Records, who had an office within Rough Trade's building. Daniel Miller was not only angry about an album pressing mistake on Fad Gadget's first album[15], but he also took one quick look at the pair and judged them to be "fake new Romantics"[16], exclaimed a sound of disgust, and walked away. However, Daniel would meet them again at 1980-11-12 Bridge House, London, England, UK, and be so impressed that he offers to sign them.

While Composition Of Sound would become so embarrassed of their first band name that they refused to mention it in interviews later on[17], it is rumoured that some even worse band names were being considered: Airport Coffee or Airport Cafe, Changes (presumably a reference to David Bowie's eponymous song), Peter Bonetti's Boots (a reference to Chelsea's goalkeeper from Andy's favourite football team), The Lemon Peels, The Runny Smiles and The Glow Worms. The name 'Musical Moments' was also suggested by Vince for as both a band name and the name of their first album.[18] Starting at the 1980-09-24 Bridge House gig, they changed the name to Depeche Mode, which was derived from the French fashion magazine 'Dépêche Mode', minus the accent marks. Martin explains: "Originally we had a very bad name, and we had to get rid of it, and we spent a lot of time thinking about the name but we couldn't come up with anything. And at the time, Dave was at college doing Window Display and Fashion Design, so he used the magazine Depeche Mode quite a lot, the French fashion magazine. So we just stole the name, because we couldn't think of anything better."[19] Andy clarifies: "[Depeche Mode] was the only reasonable one we could find. I tell you, when you form a band it's the hardest thing to find is a decent name. That's why there's so many naff names around. (laughs) Actually people have criticised us on all levels basically but no-one's ever criticised the name so that must be something."[20] Instead, Depeche Mode would have to keep explaining for a few years afterwards where the name comes from and how it's pronounced.[21]

Depeche Mode agreed with Stevo Pearce to record their first song for his Some Bizarre compilation album in December 1980. Photographic was recorded at Stage One recording studios, owned by John Bassett, located at 14 Sebert Road, Forest Gate, London E7 0NP. The studio was presumably Stevo Pearce's suggestion. Simultaneously, Depeche Mode would start working with Daniel Miller on what would become Speak & Spell.

The success of Composition Of Sound and eventually Depeche Mode is generally credited to Vince Clarke. Martin Gore confesses: "I didn't take it very seriously. I think that Vince was very, very driven, at a very young age, and I'll give him a lot of credit for that."[2] Robert Marlow admits: "Vince spent all of his time getting gigs or trying to get record company interest.[22] In hindsight, Composition Of Sound had a lot more going for them [than French Look] in that they had Vince actively seeking gigs and really putting his mind to it."[3] Andy Fletcher echoes this: "Vince was so driven back then. It was his aim to make money and drive a Rolls-Royce through the centre of Basildon. He used to work in a yoghurt factory and earn £30 a week, of which he’d save £29.50. Without Vince’s drive Depeche Mode wouldn’t have happened."[16]

Throughout 1980 and 1981, Vince Clarke would manage to pull more and more gigs outside of their home turf (see the page 1980/1981 background info). However, he would tell the band in September 1981 that he no longer wanted to be in the band, and was quickly replaced by Alan Wilder.

References

  1. Source: 1993-05-xx - Pulse! Magazine (U.S.) - Fashion Victims, interview by Marc Weidenbaum.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Source: 2016-01-25 The RobCast, Los Angeles, CA, USA
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 Source: Stripped by Jonathan Miller, 2001.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 4.5 Source: Just Can't Get Enough by Simon Spence, 2011.
  5. 5.0 5.1 1984-03-xx - Electronics & Music Maker (UK) - Downstairs At Erics.
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 Source: 1982-11-xx - One Two Testing no.1 (UK) - When The Wave Forms
  7. Source: 1981-11-07 - Sounds (UK) - Modish Musings
  8. Note: Fletcher would switch to a Moog Source a year later, and Alan Wilder was given the Moog Prodigy when he joined the band in early 1982. Source: 1998-01-xx - Sound On Sound (UK) – Unsound Recordings
  9. Source: 1985-05-18 - No.1 (UK) - Andy Fletcher: The Brigade Boy
  10. 10.0 10.1 Source: 1982-02-18 BBC Radio Stoke, UK
  11. Source: 2006-04-03 - Mute Records - Speak and Spell: remaster DVD documentary
  12. Source: 1982-05-29 - Tops nr.34 (UK) - A Sally James Almost Legendary Interview With Depeche Mode
  13. Source: 2001-03-13 Electronic Press Kit, Mute Records
  14. Source: Depeche Mode fan Mike Sims, who attended a rehearsal here at age 9.
  15. Source: 2011-02-27 - Welt (Germany) - Depeche Mode: Just can't get enough
  16. 16.0 16.1 Source: 2005-11-xx - Mojo (UK) - Songs of Innocence and Experience
  17. Example: 1981-08-xx - New Sounds New Styles (UK) - PLAY FOR TOMORROW
  18. Source: 1982-09-28 - Fan Paul Davies receives a reply from Martin Gore who explains all vinyl etchings to him, including that of 'New Life' which has the etching 'Musical Moments'.
  19. Source: 1984-12-16 Wereldparade, KRO FM, Hilversum, Netherlands
  20. Source: 1988-03-xx Talking_Music SPEEK013, USA
  21. Example:1982-02-27 - ITV (UK) - Tiswas
  22. Source: Interview with Robert Marlow for Erasureinfo.com, 1999.