Bronski Beat - Biography
By Scott Feemster
Bronski Beat were not only a popular synth-pop trio mainly active in the 1980's, (and forever associated with that decade), but were also leaders and a lightning rod for the emerging gay rights movement, as all three members of the band were openly homosexual men, and many of their songs documented the difficulty of trying to be proud of who you are in a world that either hates you or doesn't understand you.
The members of Bronski Beat met each other in London in the early 1980's. Steve Bronski, (born Steven Forrest on February 7th, 1960 in Scunthorpe, England), was introduced to Larry Steinbachek, (born Lawrence Cole on May 6th, 1960), through mutual friends at a nightclub, and the two realized they had much in common, including both being amateur musicians. The two became lovers, and eventually moved in together to a three bedroom flat, called Lancaster House, in the Brixton area of southwest London. Bronski and Steinbachek were both involved with a government-funded program called “Framed Youth”, which was intended to teach video and editing skills to young gays and lesbians to help them document their lives and lifestyles. On one of these videos, they heard an original song called “Screaming” that consisted of just a drum machine and the falsetto vocals of a young Scottish vocalist named Jimmy Somerville,(born June 22nd, 1961 in Glasgow, Scotland). The pair contacted Somerville and asked if they could flesh out the track more with keyboard parts. Soon the trio started recording other tracks together, and Somerville moved into Lancaster House as a third roommate. Somerville noticed an announcement for a gay festival called September In The Pink that was happening in London, and suggested the band submit some of their material so they might be included. Judges for the event included representatives from record companies, including London Records, and when the new group was picked for the festival, they were able to take advantage of free studio time donated by The Who's Pete Townsend to record some material and prepare backing tracks for live performance. Originally the group was called God Forbid, but the group decided on Bronski Beat as both a pun on Roxy Music's name and as a tribute to the main character in the Gunter Grass novel The Tin Drum. The group was almost immediately a success, and within a few months of playing gigs in and around London and scoring a choice opening slot for Tina Turner, were signed to London Records. The group recorded what would be their first album at The Garden, the London studio of former Ultravox leader John Foxx. Their first single, “Smalltown Boy”, was a danceable but harrowing tale of a young man being cast out of his family for being gay, and became a big hit almost immediately, reaching as high as #3 on the U.K. singles chart. The group made a memorable video for the song, and on the strength of the single and video, the band released another Top Ten charting single, “Why?”, followed by their debut album, The Age Of Consent (London) in late 1984. True to the title, the inner sleeve listed the different age of consent laws in different countries around the world for consensual male homosexual activity. The album was a both a critical and commercial hit in the U.K as well as in Europe, North America and Australia, and instantly thrust the young group to the forefront of the gay and lesbian movement as visible spokespeople. Bronski Beat released another single from the album, a cover of the George and Ira Gershwin classic “It Ain't Necessarily So”, and that single also climbed into the national Top 20.
The trio joined up with another gay icon, Soft Cell singer Marc Almond, in 1985 to record a cover of the Donna Summer/Giorgio Moroder disco classic “I Feel Love”. Released as a single, the song climbed as high as #3. The band had gone back into the studio to record some more material, including a new single called “Run From Love”, but tensions in the band were running high, and the sessions and the single had to be shelved. Soon after, Somerville announced he was leaving the group, and went on to found the group The Communards with collaborator Richard Coles before embarking on a somewhat successful solo career. A compilation album of some of the band's material with Somerville, including “Run From Love”, was released in 1985 under the title Hundreds & Thousands (London). The remaining two members of Bronski Beat recruited a new singer with a voice similar to Somerville's named John Foster, who performed under the name John Jon. The new line-up released the single “Hit That Perfect Beat” in January of 1986, and it continued Bronski Beat's string of hit singles. Another single, “C'mon C'mon” was released soon after, followed by the band's second album, Truthdare Doubledare (London), released in May of 1986. While Truthdare Doubledare didn't sell to quite the levels of its predecessor, it was still a hit worldwide. Later that year, the group teamed with producer Mark Cunningham to record a cover of the David Bowie song “Heroes” under the name The County Line. By the next year, Foster left the band, and the group went through a period of inactivity for a couple of years before re-emerging in 1989 with a new singer, Jonathan Hellyer. The group, along with backing vocalist Annie Conway, toured throughout Europe and North America, and had another hit with their collaboration with American vocalist, actress and icon Eartha Kitt, the single “Cha Cha Heels”. Originally the song was written for transvestite movie and singing star Divine, but he passed away before being able to complete it. With Hellyer, the band released four more singles in 1990 through 1991; “One More Chance”, “What More Can I Say”, “I'm Gonna Run Away”, and “Zed Beat”, before entering another period of inactivity. Bronski Beat emerged again in 1994 with Foster and released a remixed techno version of “Tell Me Why” called “Tell Me Why '94” backed with an acoustic song, “Smalltown Boy '94” on the German ZYX label. The group released another album, Rainbow Nation, on the same label in 1995, this time with Hellyer as lead vocalist. Since then nothing has been heard from the group. No mention was made of them formally breaking up, so projects could emerge from them some time in the future.