Of White and Bleating
A Flock of Seagulls
The Three-Sided Circle
1. If it moves...
Like so many bands of the early 1980s, A Flock of Seagulls was named in such a way as to project an aloof image of detachment. They were not "The Flock of Seagulls", and there was no attempt to equate the imaginary flock with the individual members of the band; whether in the extreme fashion of The Ramones
, by adopted the band's name as a collective surname, or in the more insidious way members of The Beatles
and The Rolling Stones
are often referred to as 'Beatles
' or 'Rolling Stones
'. No-one referred to Mike and Ali Score, Frank Maudsley or Paul Reynolds as 'Seagulls', or 'Flockers
' or 'The Flock' or 'The Seagulls'. They were instead, on those few occasions when the media referred to them as individuals, they were instead 'members of A Flock of Seagulls'. The band existed as an entity separate of the people who manned its guitars, keyboards and drums. It was a ship within which its crew sailed - from their native land of Liverpool
to the land of America
, but that is a story for later.
The most extreme example of this trend must, of course, have been Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, a band whose name was not a person or a thing or a philosophy, but an entirely abstract concept. Granted, the band's name made reference to the process of making music, and can be construed as a description of the band's oeuvre - although it cannot be in a literal sense, for OMD's music was precisely-sequenced synthesiser pop - but the name nonetheless remains today as the most prominent and extreme example of a bygone fashion. In contrast, the top New Romantic bands all had names which at least suggested the glamour and style to which their members aspired; Duran Duran took their name from the high-camp science fiction film Barbarella, Visage was surely a reference to the striking make-up of lead singer Steve Strange, and Spandau Ballet were of course in thrall to the matchless sartorial style of Rudolf Hess, the barmy ex-top Nazi, then imprisoned in Spandau prison in ultra-fashionable Berlin. Berlin remains fashionable today. Rudolf Hess remains fashionable today.
No, A Flock of Seagulls was not a thing or a person. It was a flock, a purposeful collection of individuals, for there can be no accidental flocks. An unintentional flock is a mob. In the animal kingdom, two kinds of animals can be grouped in flocks - birds, and sheep, although only certain kinds of birds (a group of crows is, of course, a 'murder', whereas a group of Starlings is a 'catchment'). The one thing that a flock of sheep and birds has in common is distance, for a flock cannot be discerned from close-up, or from within the flock. I know this from experience, for I have been with the sheep. In their midst, the sheep are a mass of white and bleating, an explosion of white, an overpowering cloud of bleating. There is no flock, there is simply a mass. I have not been with the birds, but I am sure that the situation would be no different. No, a flock can only be discerned from a distance. It only exists when it is far away, but not so far that it is a speck. The band was neither A Speck of Seagulls or A Mass of Seagull, it was most definitely a flock, a distant assembly of identical individuals. Distance, aloofness. Apartness.
Four people manned the tank that was A Flock of Seagulls. Mike Seagull sang, and played the electronic synthesiser keyboard - and because this was the early 1980s, he almost certainly played a Sequential Circuits Prophet 5 - whilst his brother Paul Seagull played the electric guitars, and ironically although Mike was a hairdresser, he was genetically predisposed to baldness, and indeed his brother Frank was losing his hair even at the height of the group's success, and both have lost their hair now. There were two other Seagulls, being Frank Seagull, who was also a hairdresser, and Ali Seagull, who respectively played the bass guitar and the drums and was the brother of Paul Seagull. A Flock of Seagulls did not pride themselves on their ownership and use of a drum machine. Frank is an uncommon name nowadays.
It is easy to forget, nowadays, that although so many bands of the early 1980s used synthesisers, the vast majority also used traditional electric instruments, and drums, which are not electric at all, although they are often amplified with electric currents and microphones and amplifiers and so forth. None of the aforementioned leading lights of the New Romantic movement entirely dispensed with their drummers, and indeed some of the groups which were even more heavily in thrall to the space-age world of the electronic keyboard - particularly New Order and Depeche Mode - either retained their drummers or, in the latter case, made Alan Wilder play the drums because the rest of the band didn't like Alan Wilder very much, they were jealous of him, standing there behind the keyboard, like Chris Lowe of the Pet Shop Boys, but with leather trousers. Many groups have metaphorically made Alan Wilder play the metaphorical drums, although only one group has literally made Alan Wilder play the drums, that group being Depeche Mode, in which group Alan Wilder was in. He is like Jesus Christ; just as Depeche Mode in 1990 made Alan Wilder play the drums, so too did the society of wherever it was that Jesus Christ lived in BC 30 or whenever... that society made Jesus go from playing the keyboards to playing the drums, and then he left to do a solo project and was never heard of again. By the end of the 1980s the technology which powered the drum machine had advanced to such a state that it could also power musical synthesisers; the machines which had once held rhythm patterns could now hold melody as well, and poor Alan Wilder stroke Jesus Christ was left with nothing to do. But I digress.
2. Red dawn
A Flock of Seagulls is - are? - a good example of how the past can be altered and reshaped by those who have control of the present. I believe that many people have false memories of A Flock of Seagulls, memories which are not real memories of actual experience, but instead memories which have been implanted by a succession of nostalgic television programmes and by magazines. Just as there were more people in the mid 1980s who could swear to having seen the Sex Pistols swearing on Bill Grundy's television programme than there were people who had actually watched the programme as it happened, just as there are people today who claim to have driven the tank in 'Battlezone' into the distant volcano, despite this not being possible, or to have witnessed a friend do this, so there are more people in Britain today who remember A Flock of Seagulls during the height of their success than there were people who were aware of A Flock of Seagulls during the height of their success, at the time of the height of their success, at the time of the height of their success.
In Britain, the band did not have a height of their success. The most popular A Flock of Seagulls single, "Wishing (If I Had a Photograph of You)", reached number ten for a week in 1983. It is a pleasant song, but it was not a radio hit. Few people remember it today, fewer people remembered it in 1989, or 1990, or 1991. U2's "New Years Day" also spent a week at number ten in 1983, but it was played extensively on the radio, and it had a memorable video, and I can remember that song. The Thompson Twins' "Love on Your Side" peaked at number nine in 1983, and I can remember that song. Barbara Dickson's "January, February" peaked at number eleven in 1979, and I remember that song. I do not remember "Wishing", except as a memory implanted into my head by a media juggernaut which crushed my will and forced me to purchase a copy of "The Best of A Flock of Seagulls" in mid-2001. Looking at the pop music charts from 1978-1983 it becomes apparent to me that the media has lied, and continues to lie, about the past; we should wake up to their lies. 1977 and 1978 and 1979 were not the years of punk, they were the years of Abba and ELO and disco and mid-paced soul ballads and Donna Summer and Earth, Wind and Fire. But still.
Plenty of other bands and solo artists had odder and more extreme hairstyles and clothes than A Flock of Seagulls' Mike Post, and indeed they are often confused with the similar Kajagoogoo. The random Englishman on the street, in 1989, would have been baffled if you had mentioned A Flock of Seagulls, even if that person had been a devotee of pop music during the time of A Flock of Seagulls' greatest success, which as I have explained already was hardly a peak to rival K2, or even Ben Nevis. Indeed the vast majority of the population of Britain which was alive and conscious in 1983 had been unaware of the group's existence, even the majority of pop-buying kids who read Smash Hits and loved pop in all its forms. The group did not even have the kind of passionate fan following that helped the other vanished acts of the same period to pay the rent; by 1989 they had been erased from Britain's collective consciousness.
And yet, something stirred. In America the band had similarly been and gone, but they had been; their promotional videos had been played several times on MTV, and by the mid 1990s the generation of Americans who had been children in the early 1980s were in a nostalgic mood. MTV did not take off in the United Kingdom. It was only available on satellite or cable, which did not enter the mainstream until the 1990s, and did not really achieve saturation point until the twenty-first century. There are still households that do not have satellite or cable, and therefore do not have MTV. MTV was not a part of Britain in the 1980s. It had no impact and broke no bands. Pop videos appeared on 'Top of the Pops' and other television programmes, but this was subject to the qualification that they formed the lesser part of only a small minority of programmes, at least until the hour-long, video-driven 'The Chart Show' of the 1990s. I am sure, however, that if MTV had been widespread in England during the 1980s, harassed mothers would have left their children to be brought up by it, and the people of England would now be more sophisticated and media-savvy, instead of being the pie and potato-eating luddites which they are. I want to live in America, it is the future. Please, Americans, find me a home in America. I want to go there. And understand.
Therefore, the only things which stood A Flock of Seagulls apart - the odd hairstyle of Michael Seagull, which was as previously noted not particularly odd at a time when Nina Hagen, Lene Lovich, Siouxsie Sioux, Toyah, and Spandau Ballet's kilts were riding high in the popular consciousness, PLUS the odd eyeglasses of Paul Seagull, which were presumably overshadowed by the similarly odd eyeglasses of The Buggles' Trevor Horn, PLUS the group's videos - all these things were nullified in the United Kingdom, as surely as paper swallows a stone or scissors cut through paper.
And yet so many people in Britain today claim to remember experiencing and loving the group, just as many people in Britain today claim to have fought in the Vietnam War. I hear that A Flock of Seagulls is - are? - ubiquitous on the American-dominated internet, and the group appears regularly all over the place in American culture; apparently they were mentioned in the hit 1990s hoodlum film 'Pulp Fiction', and a search on the internet search engine for the word "seagulls" gives me over a million 'hits', the first of which is the website of Brighton and Hove Albion in England, and it has a photograph of a seagull on it, right at the top. Who has done this? Who has placed these memories in your mind and in my mind, and what other memories have they placed in your mind, and why? Have they interfered with my ability to ask questions? Am I even now a pawn in their game? Are my questions actually their questions, or my own? The people I identify as my parents are not my parents at all. They are impostors. It seems reasonable therefore that I should strip them of their skin to find the people inside, to cut them open and let the flavour flood out. No-one will miss them because they are not real; if you kill a random man in the street, there is a small but real chance that he will be one of the people sent to follow you about, and you will have struck a blow against the forces that monitor your movements. They cannot prosecute you for killing a spy, for they do not officially exist, and they would never let the case come to court for fear of their secret being let out, but this is assuming that the legal system is not itself part of the organisation... in which case, better to hang for a sheep than a lamb. If one is doomed to persecution and harassment no matter what, better to bring a few of them down as well. Perhaps, when they experience suffering and pain, they will realise the error of their ways. I am beyond help, but my sacrifice might help others.
To what extent am I capable of acting independently of them? The insights I have into the nature of the global media machine may well have been placed into my mind by the global media machine itself. My subversive thoughts may have been placed into my hands by the other side's quartermaster; the sword in my hand already broken, with a hairline crack, my rifle fouled with lead, my powder damp. I must make weapons myself, out of items which could not have been placed where I could find them. I must build an entirely original arsenal of ideas and thoughts which could not be the product of another man. I can either stand over the media machine and pound its head into the ground, or stand to one side and let its blows strike the earth.
A Flock of Seagulls still exists today, although Mike Seagull's hair has migrated to his chin and the other Seagulls have flown away to pastures new, where they suckle at the teat of the sargasso cud. There has always been a see-saw between waves of bands which project an aloof, distanced air, and bands which claim to be passionately sincere; A Flock of Seagulls was the antithesis of U2, and the group was not invited to perform at Live Aid. In general, rock bands try to appear genuine and heartfelt, whilst pop bands are obviously concerned with surface appearances, and deliberately avoid sincere feeling. The music which projects from the pop music radio is a layer which sits on top of everyday life, it is a meniscus which is easily penetrated and thrown away. It does not interfere with the peace of mind of people at work and serves no purpose other than to advertise itself; pop music and pop culture are advertisements for themselves, they are attractive shop fronts with nothing to offer other than the experience of entering the shop and examining the empty shelves. A Flock of Seagulls might have been the apotheosis of this trend, if only they had sold records; and if they had been less obvious about their goal, for they were surely a self-aware pop group, they were trapped in amber and they knew it.
In common with many other bands, A Flock of Seagulls is a plural name for a singular entity. The band is a single thing, albeit one composed of several members, yet it had a plural name. There have been all kinds of trends related to band names, and for a while it was quite common for bands to have singular names, such as The Who and The Haircut One Hundred, and then some bands dropped the The, such as Iron Butterfly and Cream etc, indeed The Pink Floyd actually transitioned from one to the other, and it would be interesting to hear the band's explanation for this move. It was a conscious choice, and quite a major one. Strawberry Alarm Clock existed as The Strawberry Alarm Clock, Strawberry Alarm Clock, and the Strawberry Alarm Clock, a minor variation but a major one nonetheless, and of course in my own childhood bands tended to have names which were actually initial letters, such as EMF and the KLF and CHER and TORI AMOS and so forth, the latter standing for "Tomorrow Or Rainbow 1 (One)? A Magnificent Orange Shemale", and interestingly the KLF were never simply KLF they were the KLF but never The KLF it was us that added the the not the group. Some bands actually use their real names such as John "Cougar" Mellencamp and some use fake names that they present as their real names such as Seal or Lynyrd Skynyrd or for that matter...
I'm sorry, I'm sorry. I'm sorry.