Smash Hits meets Secret Affair
So sings Ian Page of Secret Affair. cool, huh? In fact about the coolest, neatest way of winning a teenage street corner confrontation you could possibly imagine. A clean KO without even loosening your tie. Great.
Of course that’s not the way things really happen for you and me, but Secret Affair have that quality shared by the best pop groups of being able to put their finger on the pulse of your dreams. For three minutes life is that slick and you are the youth with the 007 comb.
Yes, Secret Affair have that mystery ingredient ‘style’. But it’s a style that might come as a surprise following a decade of denim and a couple of years of bondage pants. Smart suits in the forefront of youth culture and rebellion???
Yet mod seems to be happening and, on the basis of a sensational gig at Canvey Island in Essex and an irresistible single in “Time For Action”, I’m convinced Secret Affair are hot, no matter what becomes of the rest of the mod bands.
Perhaps it’s like this. The punk followers made a lot of extravagant claims and wore wild clothes but when the excitement died down not all that much had changed except, significantly, the rise of independent labels. But the powerful people were still the businessmen in suits. So maybe this time if you take over their clothes . . .
Secret Affair are certainly that serious about mod. Fierce independence has been their theme since Ian, 19, and guitarist Dave Cairns, 20, formed the band by advertising in the music press for a drummer and bassist who “must have a grudge against the music business”.
Seb Shelton (drums) and Dennis Smith (bass), who’d had unhappy and unsuccessful experiences with the Young Bucks and Advertising respectively, filled the bill with their ability to turn bitterness into positive action.
Ian and Dave’s past horror stories are from the New Hearts, their first ever group. Though barely out of their nappies musically speaking, they were signed up by CBS and got as far as releasing a couple of singles and touring as support to The Jam.
But that was more frustration than glory. Dave lamented: “We got involved with the wrong manager, the wrong deals, wrong everything.”
Ian: “There we were in our neat ’60s clothes knocking out Who-type numbers but we got pushed into powerpop, which was solely a creation of the record companies, not the fans, and that lost us credibility. It finished us.”
Back home in Ilford for a year while getting out of various contracts, they re-thought their whole approach and became the hard-nosed operators frowning across the Canvey dressing-room. They decided on self-management. They launched their own label, I-Spy, linking it with Arista for marketing and distribution only.
Ian: “It means they can’t choose what we release or when we release it. We paid all the recording costs ourselves rather than asking a company for a big advance which would take ages to pay back. We got a loan from our publisher on the understanding that if we didn’t return it in 60 days he’d sue us. We took the gamble because we knew ‘Time For Action’ was good.”
time for action
Dave: “Managing yourself is quite easy so far. When it gets heavy we’ll pay people to look after various aspects of it. But we’re not going to give away 25 per cent of all our earnings and our creative control into the bargain the way we did before.”
They are so sure of themselves that they have now signed another mod band, Squire, to I-Spy and financed their first single. In fact the interview was interrupted by a five-minute commercial break while Dave gave me the full sales talk about his proteges like any other eager-beaver young businessman.
All very impressive up to a point but it makes you wonder whether their long-term aims are entries in the Top Twenty or the Financial Times.
However, Secret Affair emphasise that the business side was just a necessary chore.
Ian: “We want to create music you could dance to without losing the . . . aggression is too rough a word. It’s commitment. Our music is ordered. A Tamla dance beat with contemporary lyrics and guitar sound.”
Dave: “It’s cool, precise, good pop.”
Ian: “Mod isn’t stopping anyone being angry but there are different ways of expressing it. You can rant and rave like punk or you can make thoughtful comments and hopefully be understood better.
“You can be much more sussed. Not ‘no future’ but ‘no future unless we do something about it’. The most important thing about mod is individuality. We aren’t saying you can beat the system: no-one can. But you can change your own world within it.”
Having said that, Secret Affair made further contradictions by denying any connections between Secret Affair and politics, and then claiming that they function as some kind of mouthpiece for working-class youth.
As Ian sees it: “One of the things about a movement like this is that the kids who follow it are working-class. They can’t say what they want always, but we can express it for them. Really, we write our songs because they live their lives.”
Phew! This from lads who left school at 16, mind.
“We are rejecting imposed values. So that a kid whose school won’t train him for anything but bricklaying might decide he will do something different. Then on stage we celebrate one another’s ideas, us and the audience. That’s why there’s no class division in mod. We are unified. The suits take away the difference between kids.”
Eh? What about your important individualism then?
“We still aim to look better than each other, better than everybody else.”
Er, so you can have ‘unity’ in competition, even though it means the majority inevitably end up losing? To have some looking sharp means others looking blunt by contrast surely . . . but maybe I was letting Secret Affair’s intensity draw me into treating their opinions as if they were a party manifesto.
Ian quoted a Who song: “I have to be careful not to preach, I can’t pretend that we can teach.”
Secret Affair’s best arguments are stated on stage and in musical form. They talk the way they talk, tough and bolshie, because they got messed about at school (they wouldn’t let Ian study music) and they got messed about in their first bands. What’s more, Ian was trying to give up smoking which may have deepened the frown.
They’ve all been through failure and a spell on the breadline. Now they are bursting with a lust for achievement – an album in October, a tour with Squire to follow, more hits and a second album already partly written and planned to show much more of the musical breadth (Ian and Dave can add brass and keyboards to their current stock-in-trade).
You wanna know what I think, he said boldly as if he was a glory boy himself, Secret Affair will be as big as Boomtown Rats by next year – that’s what
(Smash Hits, September 1979)