STEPHEN FELLOWS' structured face comes into view. His image is shot against scenes of chaos, rockets launching and American flags. It's 1980 and the Comsat Angels have just released the video for their hit Independence Day.
"That song had a lot of potential but I refuse to be judged by that video, I'm not happy with any of our footage," says Fellows, 29 years later in an Abbeydale Road caf. He's older, greyer, but his face still has the angular intensity it did when Comsat Angels were first signed to Polydor Records.
Now, with thick dishevelled hair, a scarf and an Oxfam carrier bag stuffed with intelligent reading, there's something of the academic professor about Fellows. And it's not just his appearance. To talk to, Fellows pauses between thoughts, carefully considering his responses and peppers conversation with theories, insights and ideas. From New Labour to looming economic apocalypse, there are few
subjects Fellows doesn't cover.
But more of that later. Today we're here to talk about Comsat Angels and their forthcoming date at the O2 Academy, next week.
"It's not a reunion tour," says Fellows, "when we stopped playing in 92/93 nobody stormed out. Kev (bass player) wanted to pursue a career as a producer, he set up Axis and we literally built the studio
ourselves. The rest of us would have carried on but that ran out of steam."
"We played our last gig in Swindon, where I told them at the last rehearsal that I was leaving and I folded it up with a letter. It was the honorable thing to do, like when you resign from a job. I felt like I was resigning from myself but something had to give."
Speaking of Comsat's new date he says: "We're not deciding about what to do until after the gig. We'll take it as it comes."
Their gig at the O2 Academy brings into focus the Comsat Angels' significance as one of most significant post punk acts of the early Eighties. Originally known as Radio Earth, guitarist and vocalist Stephen Fellows, drummer Mike Glaisher, keyboardist Andy Peake and bassist Kevin Bacon changed the name to Comsat Angels as a reference to a short story by J.G Ballard. With a loan from Glaisher's father, the band recorded an EP, which they sent off to BBC Radio DJ John Peel, who lapped up the band and requested more copies.
The band – famous for its dark pop, brooding lyrics and tribal, driving drums, were first signed to Polydor, with whom they produced three records, Waiting for a Miracle, Sleep No More and Fiction, until the group decamped to Jive Records. While with Jive, the band's I'm Falling track appeared in the film Real Genius, starring Val Kilmer.
"We also released Seven Day Weekend," says Fellows, "that was when we were trying to be pop. The title was an ironic description of what it was like being in a band – everybody thinks it's a seven day weekend but it's not."
Among Comsat's fans was Robert Palmer, who was instrumental in securing the band's deal with Island Records in 1983. The Addicted to Love star even sang on one of their hits, Chasing Shadows, "because I made him," laughs Fellows.
While it can be argued the Comsat Angels didn't receive the recognition they deserved in the early Eighties, the band's legacy endures.
Yorkshire poet Simon Armitage appeared on the Culture Show discussing his fondness of Comsat Angels with fellow fan and BBC Five Live film critic Mark Kermode, who said Comsat Angels were 'what Joy Division should have sounded like.'
"It occurred to me at an early stage to be a unique sound. I don't know who said we sounded like Joy Division and when," says Fellows, "but you can't compete with a dead popstar."
He describes the Sheffield music scene of the late Seventies/Eighties: "I don't think Sheffield had a uniform sound. During the early Eighties, for example, there was The Cab (Cabaret Voltaire), Human League, ABC, Def Leppard. Unless the bands were connected, like Heaven 17 and the Human League there was no musical connection. As a band you create your own musical world."
Fellows likens the climate from which the Comsats emerged to today's grim economy: "Now everybody's pissed off. It's like the early Eighties and the early Nineties, it's familiar territory. We need a period of chaos. There's imminent public disorder with the recession."
But however dismal the economy, Fellows continues to write songs,
prolifically: "I've written hundreds of songs." The singer songwriter managed Mercury Music Prize winning Gomez for a number of years and even then, he continued writing.
"I work hard on words for my own satisfaction, you're writing your own thoughts. It's a strange paradox because most of what you write as a songwriter has the potential for public broadcast."
"We've got new songs and they haven't been written to a deadline so there's no fillers," says Fellows, who sums up his songwriting approach in one swift statement: "Gritty realism is the greatest fiction of all."
The Comsat Angels play at the O2 Academy on Sunday, April 26 as part of the Sensoria Festival of film and music, which runs from Friday, April 24 to Thursday, April 30. BBC film critic and Comsat Angels fan Mark Kermode will be hosting the live show.
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