BY J. KENNEY
Over the summer, Limelight Magazine had the opportunity to catch British rock band Modern English in concert at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center in Providence, R.I. The band was taking part in the month long Retro Futura tour that also featured Howard Jones, Men Without Hats, The English Beat, Paul Young and Katrina (formerly of Katrina and The Waves). It was our first time seeing any of these acts live in concert.
While we were impressed by everyone’s performance, Modern English’s short set was the highlight of the entire show. Rather than stick to their ‘80s material, the band included a new song in their set called “Moonbeam” which is featured on their most recent studio album Take Me To The Trees. The song had the audience on their feet with a standing ovation. Since I couldn’t get the song out of my head, I purchased the physical CD on Amazon after the show and I’ve been playing it non-stop ever since. The album had such an impact on me that I also purchased their other studio albums, including some from private sellers on E-bay.
Take Me To The Trees is the band’s first studio album in 30 years and features four-fifths of the original lineup. The album reconnects the band to their roots, as it was co-produced bv Martyn Young of Colourbox and M/A/R/R/S fame, whose last production job was 1986. The album’s cover was also done by Vaughan Oliver, whose first sleeve design was Modern English’s “Gathering Vibes” single in 1980.
Modern English is currently rehearsing for a fall tour of the U.S. that will hit ONCE Ballroom in Somerville, Mass., on November 13th. (Purchase tickets HERE). Despite his busy schedule, lead singer and guitarist Robbie Grey, who has been part of every incarnation of the band, answered some questions Limelight Magazine had for him about the Take Me To The Trees album and tour.
LIMELIGHT MAGAZINE (LM): According to the band’s Facebook page, Modern English is currently rehearsing for their upcoming tour of the US. How are rehearsals going so far?
ROBBIE GREY: The rehearsals are going well. It’s great to be playing a mixture of really early Modern English material with the new album and figuring out how to arrange the set.
LM: Earlier this year, Modern English released its first album in over 30 years with four-fifths of the original line up. How was recording this album with this line-up different than recording your first three studio albums?
ROBBIE GREY: “Well we did the new album in our own art studio space using the art gallery as the live room. Before we always used recording studios. Also, using the music program logic was new to us. Recording over a couple of years was new as we could never afford that before using professional studios.”
LM: Do you have a favorite song off Take Me To The Trees and why is it your favorite?
ROBBIE GREY: “Trees” is my favourite. It reminds me of a film soundtrack. It’s very cinematic. I love the arrangement of the instrumentation. Also the lyric is very nature based. I like that.
LM: Take Me To The Trees was a PledgeMusic supported album. Why did the band choose to take this approach?
ROBBIE GREY: It’s the new way. Great to touch base with our fans. We were surprised after all the time away to do so well with the Pledges. We had a lot of control which was a real bonus.
LM: Does recording new music through a fan driven campaign create more or less pressure on the band than having the support of a record label to produce a hit single?
ROBBIE GREY: It’s a lot less pressure I think. No record company means no interference.
LM: Speaking of the new album, Take Me To The Trees is one of your best. I’ve played it non-stop since buying it on Amazon. At this point in time, do you know how much of the new album will be part of the set list for the upcoming US tour?
ROBBIE GREY: “Trees,” “Sweet Revenge,” “Moonbeam” will all be featured on the tour.
LM: As for the older songs, will you primarily focus on material from Mesh & Lace, After The Snow and Ricochet Days with the original line up or will there be songs from Stop Start, Pillow Lips, Everything Is Mad and Soundtrack as well?
ROBBIE GREY: The shows will feature songs from Take Me To The Trees, in addition to early 4AD singles and tracks from Mesh and Lace’ and After the Snow.
LM: I got to see you perform for the first time this summer in Providence, RI, on the Retro Futura tour. One of the highlights of your set was hearing “Moonbeam” from Take Me To The Trees. You were the only band to play a new song and the audience loved it. Many bands at retro shows typically stay away from performing new songs but you included one in your set. How do you feel when the audience appreciates your new music just as much as what you created in the past?
ROBBIE GREY: We agreed to the Retro Futura tour only if we could play new material. “Moonbeam” fit into the short set really well. People really liked it. Always good when new stuff goes down well.
LM: You’ve had various lineups of Modern English over the years. What makes recording and performing with this core group of individuals different than the rest?
ROBBIE GREY: It’s the original band. Always had a magic about it. There’s no comparison really. Get us in a music room and it works.
LM: You may have been asked this before but looking back on your long career with Modern English, what has been one of the biggest highlights for you personally?
ROBBIE GREY: “We just picked up an award in London for 5 million radio plays for “I Melt With You.” More than Bowie’s “Changes” and ABBA’s “Dancing Queen.” I mean that’s pretty good!
LM: Is there anything else you’d like to add?
ROBBIE GREY: We always just want to make music. We’re still very creative. It’s an exciting feeling. I hope people can see that.