Yazoo Time

It's quite a shock meeting Vince Clarke. Conversations with his former colleagues Depeche Mode had led me to expect an introspective, painfully reserved sort of chap - Vince, The Great Enigma. As it turns out, young Clarke is as agreeable and unmysterious as the other Basildon boys - but maybe Alf has brought him out of his shell.

Ah yes, Alf. Born Genevieve Alison Moyet, she grew up around Basildon and knew the Depeches from school and college days, not that teaming with Vince was inevitable. Alf was a music student at the college where David Gahan was pursuing art and Alf’s kind of music was, most definitely, blues. More an aficionado of the Canvey Island sound than the Basildon one, was Alf.

After quitting Depeche Mode, Vince sat around for a while, then finally set out to look for a singer to record a single with. Alf was advertising in the music press at the time, for a “rootsy blues band” – yet somehow, she ended up with Vince.

“It was going to be a one-off thing,” she explains over coffee in a horribly healthy veggie restaurant. “Then we decided we wanted to carry on and see what else we could come up with.”

The one-off thing that got the unlikely collaboration off the ground was ‘Only You’, a Clarke-composed ballad which cleverly combines his deadpan electronics and Alf’s lovely deep, soulful voice. Their musical pairing seems as well suited as their appearance is disparate – this is one odd couple I can’t wait to see on TOTP.

For while Vince is small and pale, attired in very un-Depeche leather jacket and sporting a savage crop fronted with a long veil of a fringe, Alf is a large, warm young lady whose generous proportions are swathed in voluminous black, caught up in the back with a big bow.

So, the first and obvious question, Vince: why leave the highly successful Depeche Mode, when you’d written most of the LP and the singles?

“I was just getting fed up. Getting bored. There’s so much pressure being in a successful band: we had commitments for a whole year. It doesn’t do anything for your imagination – there’s no time to write, experiment or develop.”

How did all this affect your personality?

“I just kept meself to meself, really,” he replies, which more or less corresponds with Depeche Mode’s hurt comment, “He used to sit in the front of the van on his own.”

Aren’t you like that normally, then?

“Well, I’ve never been as friendly with the others as they were with each other – apart from Fletcher, who I grew up with.”

But then Andy Fletcher is the least bouncy Depeche …

“I know. That’s why I like him! I didn’t make up my mind suddenly to leave them, I really thought about it a lot on our European tour. Then I stayed on in Paris for a few days and that’s when I finally decided.”

That over with, Vince lay down for a while – then came Alf. Her name, apparently, is a diminutive form of Alison; reasonable enough. By why did the duo christen themselves Yazoo, which I for one think is a perfectly dreadful name?

“Her idea!”
“I just hate the way so many groups have these fashionable names. I like Yazoo because it means nothing, so with luck it wont date. I got it from an atlas – it’s a small town in America.”

At the time of our conversation, the single looked as much like setting the world on fire as a damp box of Swan Vestas, but now the late starter is making a mark on the charts. What if, I asked Vince, the new set-up became as successful as the last? Would you go through with it this time?

“I think once you’ve found out a bit about the music business – how your record company works, what an agent does – you’re more able to see things in perspective. The music is the most important thing, not the hotel you’re staying in. The way things generated around Depeche Mode, I felt we’d lost control over it, but now I feel I’ve got a lot more freedom. I know it’s early to say that, but we can do what we like in the studio – experiment, be self-indulgent or whatever, and nothing gets in the way of the music.”

The end results of this studio work will emerge as a Yazoo LP, to be followed by some gigs, which Vince want to be technically adventurous and which Alf admits she’ll feel more at home with than the pop round of interviews and photo-sessions. They’ve been doing “lots of experimental stuff – you know, mucking about,” according to Vince, while Alf bluntly describes their efforts as ranging from “disgustingly commercial” to “unlistenable”.

“On one of the commercial ones,” she enthuses, “we decided we wanted an operator talking, so we rang one up and just didn’t speak. This operator woman was incredible!” She adopts a sort of East End-Lily Tomlin voice. “Hallo? You’re playing with the phone! Person with no voice – I’m speaking to you …” We all dissolve.

Alf says they were lucky to get that operator, but I’m inclined to think that it was Meant To Be, as was the meeting and musical mating of Alf and Vince. The partnership now looks to be sealed by the success of ‘Only You’ – a success that she will embrace and that he will probably stick around to enjoy – this time.

By Sunie

Originally printed in the May 8th 1982 edition of Record Mirror.
Reprinted without permission for non-profit use only.

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