Month: May 2003

SUB-STANCE REVIEWS

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A broad abroad by Jo-Ann Greene – Goldmine #594, May 2, 2003:

Department S were one of the bands that emerged out of the late 1970s British punk scene but never, ever, truly fit there. Fronted by the flamboyantly mysterious Vaughn Toulouse, the group developed out of an imaginary band, Guns For Hire, whose renown exploded nationwide after the “members” flooded the market with badges and T-shirts advertising the group. Encouraged by the interest that a band could garner simply from having a catchy name – including, believe it or not, a coterie of scenesters who frequently insisted that they’d actually seen the band play – the men responsible picked up their instruments. Having earned the interest of The Specials’ Terry Hall, they cut a 2-Tone flavored demo that won them a record deal, then promptly played a shambolic live show that saw them feted as rock’s latest second coming. So, they did what all self-respecting legends do and self-destructed on the spot – only to promptly reform as Department S. Over the next two years, that band would live up to all the promise (and much of the hype) expended on Guns For Hire, debuting with the still-classic, much praised minor hit single “Is Vic There?” in 1980. The following year they signed with Stiff Records and cut an excellent album – only to reel with horror when they discovered that the label had no intention of releasing it. Rather, when a couple of further singles failed to pick up on the interest generated by “Is Vic There?,” Stiff dropped them, leaving the group to fold up their tent in 1982. A decade later, this sad story reached its tragic conclusion when Toulouse died of an AIDS-related illness. The Department S catalog began stirring soon after, the first reissues appearing on the Mau Mau label in 1993. Now the entire catalog, including that unreleased album, five live tracks and an early demo, has been gathered together on Sub-Stance (LTM, U.K.), a 22-track anthology that should go a long way in re-establishing Department S as every bit the legend they once threatened to be.