21 September 2022

Steve Voice - UFO/ Radio Blue

Sci-fi rock of the Electric Light Orchestra kind

Label: EMI/ Red Bus
Year of Release: 1979

I'm a sucker for science fiction and Arthur C Clarke-esque ideas on 45, which makes it a pity there's so damn few of them. Given that the seventies were riddled with speculation about UFOs and ghosts with the occult even having its own section in most municipal libraries, one would have thought that more artists out there would have wanted to profit from the fascination. You can only conclude that perhaps they didn't want to be dismissed as a bit silly, and ultimately only Jeff Lynne really took the brave step of regularly setting that weird world to music(*).

Perhaps not unexpectedly, the influence of Lynne is all over the A-side "UFO" here which enters your ears via a series of bloops and bleeps, dramatic thrusting cello lines, and mystical vocals. Generally when I state a record's influences I inwardly cringe, as it's normally a failing on my part rather than the artist's - if all you can think of to say is "sounds a bit like Gene Pitney crossed with some garage rockers" (for example) it's usually because you've been too damn lazy or unimaginative to use any other descriptions. In this case, though, "UFO" could easily be the work of the Electric Light Orchestra Part II in 1992. That doesn't mean it's a bad record - in fact, the creeping atmosphere really grows on you across subsequent listens - but it does mean that Steve Voice was undoubtedly inspired by the bearded Brummie wonder in this instance.

Before you inwardly dismiss him as a coat-tails grabbing chancer, though, it's important to remember that Voice was no Johnny-come-lately. He had been in a duo with Peter Yellowstone (this disc's producer and co-author) in 1972 and they issued a brace of singles and two LPs throughout the decade, some of which were hits in other countries - "Well Hello", for example, reached the Australian Top 20 in 1973. Bouncy, almost folkish tracks like that are a far cry from the laser-fired melodrama on offer here. 

Sadly, away from the duo and operating as a solo artist (albeit with Yellowstone continuing to operate as a producer or co-songwriter or both) Voice didn't pick up as much interest domestically or internationally. His work recorded by Red Bus failed to sell as well. A pity, as singles like "On The Shelf" show sophisticated songcraft which wouldn't have been out of place on the albums of numerous artists more successful than him. 

He also wrote and co-wrote songs for artists such as Kelly Marie, Helen Reddy, Geordie, Demis Roussos and Joe Dolan which probably generated enough royalties to keep both himself and Mr Yellowstone in comfortable conditions throughout the period. It's not clear whether he's still active in the music business or not with much of his work seeming to halt in the mid-eighties, but there's a large back catalogue to explore for anyone who is curious.

(* note - I know there are plenty of one-off examples of sci-fi rock out there, and even borderline cases like Bowie, but it just feels as if Lynne is the unmatchable figurehead here. Anyone who can squeeze emotion and great songwriting out of faintly unlikely ideas like "Mission" deserves all the plaudits that have been thrown at him). 

If the previews below aren't working properly, please go right to the source.


Arthur Nibble said...

"On The Shelf" must be the only complete UK chart flop to have obtained two different apppearances on "Top Of The Pops", firstly for Steve Voice's original (which apparently peaked at an unofficial number 88) and secondly for a cover version by Donny and Marie Osmond - and both were on the show within six months of each other to boot!

Mark G said...

I remember the single "on the shelf" which was pretty good, but his totp performance was not.

Unfortunately, his behaviour later in life was somewhat shocking, let's just say.

JamesTrash said...

I kind of like 'UFO' but the follow up as Steve Voice With Revolver is so much better, a post-glam A-side and punk/powerpop flip. Pity he ditched Revolver and went 'pop' again.

It should be noted that the later 'shocking behaviour' wasn't Steve Voice but another Steve who was also an in-houser at Red Bus.

Mark G said...

Um, are you sure?

JamesTrash said...

Didn't know about that Mark, thought you'd confused Voice with Jolley (of English Boys).

23 Daves said...

News to me as well - and very unpleasant news at that. Not something that got caught on any of my recent internet trawls, though he's a frustratingly tricky chap to Google.

I also originally supposed that Voice's music career spluttered out around 1983/4 because he got himself a regular job, but that coincides with when he met Lisa and perhaps didn't need to work anymore.

Truly absurd post-humous legal case here as well: Drank £35,400 worth of spirits and fine wine indeed.

Steve @ Northern Pop Quizzes said...

In response to Arthur Nibble above. I can think of another TOTP double flop. What about 2 versions of 'Father And Son'?
Cat Stevens ( 29 / 10 / 70 )
Sandie Shaw ( 27 / 7 / 72 )