Fans of Department S will agree on two things; their stay was too short, but the results were definitely sweet. Department S’ modernist approach – freely drawing on influences as wide ranging as Roxy Music, the Clash, Kraftwerk, and the nascent Mod revival – included the utilization of synths, dance percussives, creative guitar flourishes, and futuristic fashion and then served it all up with an edgy knowingness, cunning, and passion. The band were definitely “mods” in the truest sense of the word; be seen, be heard, be cool, stay one step ahead style-wise, and always, always stay firmly in the groove. A run of classic – though shockingly only mid and low-level chart entries – singles and energetic, high-profile stage appearances solidified a growing legions of fans (Smash Hits cover shots and Top of The Pops appearances didn’t hurt either) but sadly it all went pear shaped after the label (Stiff) started dicking about, terminated their contract and refused to let the newly recorded LP out of their hands for anything less than a whole heap of cash. Oh well, shit happens. Especially in the music biz! For all the lost followers who have been pining for a hot new collection of the band’s recorded legacy what we now have here is the all the singles and their b-sides (no foreign versions though), some killer live tracks showing just how good these guys really were, and a rare unreleased demo track in “Another Route Home.” Y’know they can tout all the rubbish of the 80s they want on their “Lost 80s Weekends” and all that kind of crap but Department S fans know who the real heroes of the 80s were. Vic is here!
by Mimi at gigreviewer.com
Entering the O2 Academy, Islington isn’t far removed from a scene in ‘Midnight Express’. A security guy removes my friend’s bottle of water from his bag and bizarrely pours the contents over the floor but my deadly packet of mints go undetected while the other security guard adjusts her scrunchie.
Once through passport control, we make our way to the stage where Department S opens with ‘Clap Now’, a track originally produced for them by Mott’s Dale Griffin and Pete Watts. They had to go on stage 30 minutes earlier than scheduled due to Riders of The Night being cancelled at short notice, but already the floor is bouncing as people make their way from the bar.
Eddie Roxy on lead vocals strides across the stage like a designer-clad black panther. He never takes long to warm up a crowd. Former Back to Zero member, Sam Burnett, is on guitar and plays with eloquence and direction, though you could be forgiven for thinking he has a Crystal Maze to get through. Mark Taylor plays throbbing bass with a natural cool-mannered delivery while providing backing vocals with Burnett.
The Mighty Stuart Mizon already breaks out a sweat as he mercilessly attacks the drums, he’s more than the heartbeat of the band; he’s the cardiac arrest and completely unstoppable.
Mike Herbage (‘Bage’) on lead guitar is a joy to watch, his focus and pure pleasure in the music he produces is obvious to all. Anyone who has seen him live will be familiar with his hard-driving, layered guitar playing while maintaining a distinctive sound of his own. His fingers fly around the fretboard in the midst of technically dazzling slide guitar. He’s not afraid to take risks while making it all look so easy.
Moving through crowd-pleasers such as ‘Monte Carlo or Bust’ and ‘Age Concern’, we are treated to a new version of Syd Barrett’s ‘Lucifer Sam’. The unmistakeable opening chords flow beautifully into fast, assertive rhythms which dart deep beneath Roxy’s commanding vocals as he drapes his arm around Taylor’s shoulders, reminding me of a vintage Bowie and Ronno moment. The chemistry on stage between all band members is reminiscent of The Faces, when musicians really connected with each other.
Department S give each song its own twist, and even their old material has been re-worked without hurting the originals such as the poignant ‘Ode to Koln’, while new songs are equally enjoyed as the upbeat ‘Wonderful Day’ demonstrate. ‘Slave’ is introduced as ‘one for the ladies’. We’re teased with a gentle guitar intro and rich Lou Reed vocals, then assaulted with punked-out, demonic sounds. They don’t seem such well-behaved boys now.
All too soon, we near the finale and their rousing version of ‘Is Vic There?’ is met with a huge cheer on each cartwheeling chorus. Moving swiftly into the classic, bass-driven ‘I Want’, Roxy strides off-stage after wishing us all a happy Christmas and thanks everyone for a great year.
The rest of the band play out and are completely in sync as Bage leads the way; they create a moment of rock and roll clarity which is palpable.
Appearing in countless gigs in 2010 including festivals such as Blackpool’s ‘Rebellion’ and Belgium’s ‘Sinners Day’, Department S have proved they are the most uniquely exciting band to have reunited with their own colours and characters, and have musically collaborated with the likes of Glen Matlock and Marco Pironni. Wheels are set in motion for an album release early 2011. The late, great Vaughn Toulouse can rest easy, the boys did good.
I would have reviewed From the Jam but I only stayed for three songs and was so drenched in beer and gob from the nice balcony people, I decided that even Bruce Foxton’s half-hearted scissor jumps couldn’t entice me to stay any longer. Foxton knew he’d get a tough time from the Riders’ fans and issued a warning after their first number, but he later stormed off stage leaving the rest of the bemused band doomed for another soaking.
Will I go and see From the Jam again? Nah.
Will I go and see Department S again? Hell, yeah!
Summary: Department S have not attempted to make any radical changes in musical direction since dis-banding in 1982, but have refined and enriched their previous work while seamlessly slicing in their new songs. ‘Nutley’ features humour, perception and irony.
‘Clap Now’ opens with the crude voice of a fairground showman talking over a wind-up organ, luring us to a place where nothing is quite as it seems, followed by laughter and wild applause from a ghostly crowd, we are thrown into the depths of retro funk mayhem laced with psychedelic punk and the raw ingredients of a lethal rock cocktail. Eddie Roxy’s commanding vocals with the band’s furious, crashing pace is head-spinning. That’s just the aperitif….
‘Monte Carlo or Bust’ opens up with an original unreleased version recorded as a B-side and produced by Mott’s ‘Buffin’ and Overend Watts, it continues to keep us in a spin as it slides into the present with passages of guitar distortions and feedback. Dripping with fast and furious punk guitar clichés and they know it. It’s hard not to be drawn back to beer-sodden, sweaty nights at the Marquee.
‘My Coo Ca Choo’ ensures no leather jumpsuits are necessary as Roxy says it all with his playful, flirty vocals and a hint of neediness. This track displays one of those gems of guitar-playing from Mike Herbage which demonstrates his passionate mastery of rock and roll chording.
‘Age Concern’ begins with a sample of the original demo recorded 31 years ago, then effortlessly moves into current vocals by Roxy against a back-drop of Stuart Mizon’s reggae-style drum thumping, an effective, simple bass line thanks to Mark Taylor’s understated skills and hypnotic, compelling guitar lines by Sam Burnett.
‘Ode To Koln’ has an evocative guitar solo playing over an newsreader’s archive audio which brings us to the haunting lyrics. A difficult subject matter to listen to but it’s treated respectfully and with no theatrics. Thought provoking arrangement and produced with a sensibility.
‘Wonderful Day’ lifts the mood; it’s probably the most commercial song on the L.P. One to blast out of the car windows, if only to annoy the kids. Crashing guitars, banging percussion, coffee bar bongos, it’s all thrown in and a fine show of Mizon’s aggressive drumming and wild slamming while hitting the bass drum on every beat.
‘Going Left Right’ is always a crowd-pleaser. Burnett’s consistent multi-layered guitar-playing combined with Herbage’s driving solo is sublime. Roxy’s shouty vocals compliment the musical misbehaviour of the band. They’re having fun and it shows.
‘Is Vic There’ is probably the best known track. We are teased with the noise of the mingling crowd and a dreamy piece of guitar meandering, then the familiar opening chords come into play and we’re off. It’s like their home territory but nothing comfortable about this new version, it’s has all the power and energy of the original single but far more effective and intricate, including smashing, evocative and climactic pieces. A tip of the hat goes to Roxy who had big shoes to fill with the lead vocals after Vaughn Toulouse had done such a legendary job with this one.
‘I Want’ contains lyrics that are probably more fitting to today’s capitalist society where Reality TV seduces greed-driven misfits to disposable fame and riches. The end of the track is a driving solo by Herbage that builds into a manic, structured frenzy thanks to Mark Taylor’s pumping bass, Burnett’s masterful phrasing and Mizon’s devilish drumming.
‘Slave’ provides the greatest surprise on the L.P. Roxy delivers a menacing strong, vocal and there’s an almost malevolent tone in which the band communicates. Roxy sleazes in with ‘Girl, won’t you be my slave tonight?’ while the band steam in with hard-core rock music pulsating through the speakers. It’s the final track and there’s no let up. It ends with a delicious and exhausting ecstasy followed by the fairground showman’s satanic laughter….
If you were told that a band had reformed decades after their moment in the sun then it follows that it’s a cash in. An exercise in the rehashing of the past to appeal to those who are caught in the the grip of rich amber tinged memories. It’s rare for these bands to match their past endeavours and ever rarer for them to be surpassed. Yet every once in a while one band comes along and does just that. Everything that they do screams that the past is the past, and even while the may reference it you know it’s in the context of celebrating the present as they keep one eye on the future.
Department S are one of those rare beasts. Right at this very moment in time they are in fact ‘that’ band. With ‘Mr Nutley’s Strange Delusionarium’ they have neatly side stepped expectations and made wrong footing the listener a theme. Misdirection is the name of the game. Take the hit single ‘Is Vic There’ as an example. Those familiar with it would consider that they would know exactly what they were getting, but they would be wrong…….very wrong. It’s now a toned and muscular demonstration of how to grab the attention of the jaded. The casualness of the original is completely lost in the mists of time and to all intent and purpose this is a new song. Every track on the album leads you to a comfortable point, and then it blindfolds you, spins you round and pushes you disorientated in yet another – ultimately rewarding – direction.
The musicianship is breathtaking in scope, as is the energy and imagination that they have brought to playing . It’s very obvious that this is a band who can take an idea and give it life. If relevance in the modern world was their goal then they achieved it, and more. If musical reinvention was elevated to an art form then Department S would be on the receiving end of a Turner
IT’S A **** THING
Clap Now…Opens the funfair theme and cockney voice Intro Powerful guitars appear and a jolly lead with a touch of funk rolls into a rhythmic funky cruse. The vocals are slightly reminiscent of Jello Biafra in places A melodic voice and a great opening song, which features a strong drum beat and the bass is flowing with energetic consistency.
Monte Carlo or Bust…A upbeat track here, with a great feel similar to something the Fall might be proud to play, however I am not suggesting they sound like the fore mentioned.
Coo Ca Choo…Yes folks it could only be a cover with a title like this…This version isn’t bad actually It’s more in touch with how it would fit in with a modern twist to it, as it’s missing the Elvis impersonation. I like this album so far.
Age Concern…Is more up my street in terms of vocals and being a singer myself. Eddies voice suits this tune perfectly. The bass is very dominant and the guitars are slightly of a ska nature. I like the production of this, a mixture of punk Reggae and funk all rolled into one, highly original.
Ode to Koln…A voice of a news reader intro followed by a distant guitar.Enter a reggae bass and drumbeat to create a great melodic tune and a powerful clear vocal. A moody tune with a nice production. So far this is my fav song with some lovely guitar and Drum work.
Wonderful Day…Enter the percussion /bongo Guitars and a strong rhythm section burst in to hit us with a catchy pop song equally as good as their hit from the 80s Is Vic There, though has a more 60s feel to it .It has a nice combo of power and pleasantry to it, definitely one for the jukebox.
Going Left Right…I remember this song from Rebellion festival 2010 when the lads performed a memorable gig after an absence for a number of years. This song has a great simplicity to it, a strong bass and the guitar twists are quite impressive By Michael D Herbage. Great stuff this.
Is Vic There…Well what can I say about this song that we don’t already know, except that this version is probably even better than the original one. Superb vocal and guitar work. An all round Gem.
Positive mention from a radio presenter intro I Want…Another pop song with a great catchy happy feel, If you like to feel good when you hear music then play this, again I can hear many influences from the 60s and the 70s coming out in this, Oh hang on there’s a 50s guitar too followed by a more up to date one.
Slave…Vocal sounds great on the intro, upbeat musically I hear THE stones somewhere in there, I guess this cd has it all…Well for all its worth, A thumbs up from me.
Definitely a band that doesn’t visit the recording studio enough.
The beat and guitar work is superb, love this album !!
Go and buy it.
‘Is Vic There’ vets come back brighter.
Not many bands come back from their glory days sounding fresher than they originally did, but 1980 new wave punks Department S have finally released their new album after reforming quietly in 2007, and have hit pay dirt.
With four original members onboard, and with former keyboard player Eddie Roxy taking over lead vocals, this record shimmers with ’70s new wave and rock ‘n’ roll.
Famous for their 1980 hit, ‘Is Vic There’, this time covers of Alvin Stardust’s ‘My Coo-Ca-Choo’ and Liz Minelli’s ‘Cabaret’ ooze sleazed-up pop charm.
Typically English, this is the sound of 1979, neon-lit basement clubs and power pop. ‘Slave’ rides a ’60s groove machine riff and ‘Wonderful Day’ (featured on VLR’s issue one cover CD) is a perfect slice of new wave.
Look out for them on their VLR sponsored tour in November.
British DEPARTMENT S formed in 1980 and took the inspiration for their name of a TV series of the same title. Subsequently to making their live debut, the first single ‘Is Vic There?’ came out in 1980. Around the same month of releasing that single, the band recorded one of the famous sessions for deceased John Peel. The second single ‘Going Left Right’ didn’t reach the success of its predecessor. Differences led to them being dropped by their label. The debut album done by the time called ‘Sub-Stance’ didn’t come out before 20 years had passed in 2003. Sadly, vocalist Vaughan Toulouse wouldn’t be there anymore to witness the release. He passed away already in 1991 due to AIDS-related causes. In 2007, they recorded their first new single in decades, followed up by a second one called ‘Wonderful Day’, which is the newest one to date.
It is a while ago that we’ve seen British DEPARTMENT S performing live for the first time around at another Belgian festival. They represent the post-punkish fraction which I personally am quite a fan of actually. Singer Eddie Roxy is quite the opposite of what you might call the usual crowd entertainer from next door. AT first, that is, for the first few songs, he performs them without too much movement. Tapping a little to the beats was the most you could get to see then. Then, just as if somebody’s turned a switch, he started dancing a lot like the last minutes never happened. One of their, if not THE, biggest hit of the band ‘Is Vic There?’ was placed almost at the end of the band’s setlist. But actually that was no bother at all. The band easily managed to entertain the crowd, and even I liked it a lot more than at the time I first saw them. Perhaps, the lack of sleep at the time did his fair share in marring my first live show with the band a few years back.
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.
With NYC’s bright new hopes (Liars, Yeah Yeah Yeahs) openly worshipping at the altar of scratchy early-80s UK punk-funk (PiL, Gang of Four), it now seems doubly outrageous that Department S were denied the release of this like-minded debut at the time – “Whatever Happened To The Blues” alone is 20 years ahead of Radio 4. An even greater shame that singer Vaughn Toulouse (who died of AIDS in 1991) isn’t around to savour the overdue recognition this should grant him – SIMON GODDARD
The atmosphere of a clandestine gig pervaded the Clarendon basement, with people overflowing from every nook and cranny. It’s the type of place where probably half the audience is in some band or another. Department S had no problem in pulling a fair sized crowd, probably because the band have received more than the occasional airplay on the John Peel show, even though their name sounds more like that of a TV programme. Many of their songs were about vision, including television. They put all the crosses in the right boxes. ‘Take a Bow’ was an apt beginning, followed by the single ‘Is Vic There’ to fill your ears with music while the night is young. But there is not here. The vocals, guitars, and synthesiser blended together to give depth to their songs. A couple of cover versions were thrown in: an old Roxy Music number for one, and another, Bolan’s ‘Solid Gold Easy Action’ fused in perfect unity with The ‘Stones’ ‘Satisfaction’. Very clever, and very stylish.
AMANDA NICHOLLS – ‘Record Mirror