16 December 2008
The Pre-Curve Toni Halliday Entry
Year of Release: 1984
Ah, Toni Halliday... it's impossible for her name to be mentioned without my eyes glazing over in a dream-like state as I remember my adolescent fondness for her. When the band Curve were at the peak of their powers (in 1992) I had a poster of her on my wall which stayed put for many years. Besides being involved with some of the more interesting, dense and adventurous alternative pop of the period, where clattering drum patterns, effects laden guitars and revving bass lines all collided, she also coated the singles with her own gentle, honey-sweet singing voice, delivering lyrics which were frequently barbed and defiant.
At the time, though, they were greeted with a great deal of suspicion. Far from being fresh, naive young souls on the indie block, Curve had a history which was considerably less credible. Not long before their first EP found its way out into the world, Toni Halliday had been releasing very middle of the road pop singles - this lead to accusations that she was "cashing in on alternative rock" from some sources. I still find this somewhat unbelievable. "Alternative Rock" - in its truist, non-Kaiser Chiefs, non-Ting Tings form - is a particularly tricky beast to cash in on, seldom paying a musician's rent. Had Halliday and Dean Garcia wanted to make a fast buck, it seems more logical to me that they'd have tried releasing some novelty dance singles sampling children's TV theme tunes, or perhaps attempted some cynical cover versions. Playing with effects pedals on guitars and releasing songs with lyrics like "It's never enough to swallow those pills/ Now I'm sick, and always will be" is an odd way to approach multi-platinum success.
Nonetheless, to have some understanding of where the cynicism came from, it's really worth listening to some early Halliday singles. The first proper release she was involved with was The Uncles "What's The Use of Pretending" which is actually a piece of utterly forgettable pop music with cheap, brassy synth noises and Tears for Fears inspired electronic oriental instrumentation. Toni's voice doesn't yet have any subtlety, yelping the vocals in a jerky, eighties style rather than the soft but savage approach she later developed. The B-side "Deep Water" even goes so far as to be outright crap - it's a long, long way from here to the "Doppelganger" album, and that's for sure.
At the tail end of her solo career in 1988, not long before Curve came into being, "Love Attraction" saw the light of day on Dave Stewart's "Anxious" label...
....and in terms of ideas and range it's a huge improvement, albeit not one which is likely to have set many Curve fans' pants on fire. There's not a big difference between this and a great deal of the middle of the road solo artist pop that scattered itself throughout the lower half of the Top 100 in Britain at the time, but there's a confidence about it which is impossible to entirely dismiss.
Of course, all of this begs the question of how the giant leap from middle-of-the-road solo artist to alternative hero was achieved so quickly, and I'm afraid my answer isn't very interesting - it was probably a case of somebody with a varied musical taste suddenly deciding to do her own thing after years of having a rather unimpressive solo career filled with compromises (see also: Tori Amos). Feel free to download the above two examples below, although I apologise for the scratches on "Love Attraction" and its B-side "Child":
Probably the best thing I can do is leave you all with a YouTube video of Curve's "Coast is Clear" just to remind you of what we're talking about...
sixties seventies eighties novelty nineties second hand record dip psychedelia The Beatles one hit wonders glam rock KLF comedy easy listening library music garage noughties reggae compilations disco Bill Drummond eurovision romo/ new romantic Microdisney earl brutus mark wirtz animals that swim cover versions Morgan Studios Wales bob morgan creation embassy the spectrum Bam Caruso C86 KPM blessed ethel dora hall elton john Inaura Joe Meek Medicine Head john pantry peter cook Birdie Lieutenant Pigeon Peel Sessions Salad The Critters The Tages czech rock skunk rock the lover speaks British Gas Walham Green East Wapping Steam Beating Carpet Cleaning Rodent and Boggit Exterminating Association one of these days I'm going to cut you into little pieces pete the plate spinning dog