Bette Bright

Bette Bright is an English singer who emerged in the proto new wave band Deaf School, which released three albums on Warner Bros. She formed her own band, the Illuminations, for a pair of singles on Radar Records, followed by the 1981 album Rhythm Breaks the Ice. Soon after, she married Madness frontman Suggs and retired but made sporadic returns at Deaf School reunions.


Background

Bright was born Anne Martin in Whitstable, Kent. A colorful dresser from an early age, she found work at Swanky Modes, a cutting edge fashion boutique at 193 Royal College Street in London’s Camden Town district.

In 1975, she enrolled in a teaching coarse at Liverpool Art College, where fellow student Clive Langer asked her to join his band, Deaf School, a theatrical big band named after the nearby school for the deaf. They won a Melody Maker contest and signed with Warner Bros., which released their debut album, 2nd Honeymoon, in the summer of 1976. It features twelve songs in the cabaret–glam mold. Bright harmonizes on “Bigger Splash,” trades lines on “Where’s the Weekend?” and “Hi Jo Hi,” and sings lead on the closing ballad “Final Act,” an after-hours showgirl’s lament.

Deaf School fused cabaret with new wave on their spring 1977 album Don’t Stop the World, where she takes lines on four tracks (“Taxi,” “Capaldi’s Cafe,” “Hypertension Yeah Yeah Yeah,” the title track) and belts out the closing “Operator,” a sultry ’60s Stax number. Warner combined the two albums as a double-set in the US, where Deaf School embarked on a summer tour and witnessed the nation’s malaise (references to Presley’s death and the NYC blackout appear on their subsequent album).

Bright is more prominent on Deaf School’s third album, English Boys, Working Girls, a blend of punk, new wave, and lavish Spector-style ‘wall of sound’ numbers. She takes spots on “Working Girls” (about prostitution) and sings lead on three cuts: the dramatic Motown pastiche “Thunder & Lightning,” the punked-up belter “All Queued Up,” and the melodramatic ballad “Morning After” (about one-night-stand regret). The album’s cover spotlights Bette with the words “English Boys” etched through her tight red vinyl dress (a variation of the amorphous dress, the signature Swanky Modes design).

Of the five Bright-led Deaf School numbers, three (“Final Act,” “Operator,” “All Queued Up”) were among the five writing contributions to the band by bassist Steve Lindsey. After Deaf School disbanded in mid-1978, Lindsey formed The Planets while main vocalist Steve Allen (aka Enrico Cadillac Jr) formed The Originals Mirrors with guitarist Ian Broudie, recently of Liverpudlian punks Big In Japan.

Bette retained Langer and assembled the Illuminations, an informal backing band with Yachts keyboardist Henry Priestman and the Rich Kids rhythm section, bassist Glen Matlock and drummer Rusty Egan, plus former Deaf School colleague and original Stealers Wheel guitarist Paul Pilnick, a onetime member of sixties Merseybeat legends The Big Three.

Bette signed with the Yachts’ label, Radar Records, a nascent Liberty–UA offshoot that inherited Stiff’s core roster (Elvis Costello, Nick Lowe).


“My Boyfriend’s Back” / “Hold On, I’m Coming”

On September 15, 1978, Bette Bright and the Illuminations released their debut single, which pairs versions of the Angels’ girl-group classic “My Boyfriend’s Back” with the Sam & Dave Stax chestnut “Hold On I’m Coming.”

A. “My Boyfriend’s Back” (3:29) originated as a July 1963 a-side by the New Jersey girl trio The Angels; a Billboard No. 1 hit group-written by the New York songwriting team of Bob Feldman, Jerry Goldstein and Richard Gottehrer (a.k.a. FGG Productions). The song had since been covered by Martha & The Vandellas, Sylvie Vartan, and The Paper Dolls.

B. “Hold On I’m Coming” (3:17) originated as a March 1966 Stax–Atlantic a-side by the Miami soul duo Sam & Dave; written by Stax Studios in-house team Isaac Hayes and David Porter. Their original hit recording (Billboard No. 21) inspired dozens of covers over the ensuing twelve years, including versions by Erma Franklin, Herbie Mann, General Crook, The Walker Brothers, The Soul Children, and Genya Ravan. The Illuminations’ version coincided with a cover by Bryan Ferry on his September 1978 fifth solo album The Bride Stripped Bare.

Langer co-produced this and the following Illuminations single with Deaf School soundman Rob Dickins, who also worked with mid-seventies hard rockers Shanghai.

“My Boyfriend’s Back” was the fifteenth Radar single release (ADA 18), slotted between a reissue of “Gloria” by The Shadows of Knight (cancelled) and a one-off by Tanz Der Youth, the post-Damned project of Brian James. Radar issued Bette’s single in a blue–red picture sleeve designed by Assorted Images, a Central London graphics firm responsible for 1977–78 sleeves for Buzzcocks, Magazine, Neon, and Yachts.

Bette dons the red pageboy during a split-second office cameo in The Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Swindle, a Sex Pistols mockumentary film by director Julien Temple.


“The Captain of Your Ship” / “Those Greedy Eyes”

On February 2, 1979, Bette Bright and the Illuminations released their second single: “The Captain of Your Ship,” another girl-group cover backed with “Those Greedy Eyes,” an original that Langer co-wrote with former Deaf School band-mate Eric Shark (credited by his real name, Sam Davis) and former Shanghai member Brian Alterman.

A. “The Captain of Your Ship” (2:42) originated as a January 1968 Bell Records a-side (UK No. 13) by the Manhattan girl trio Reparata & The Delrons; co-written by Ben Yardley and (future FoxYellow Dog mastermind) Kenny Young.
B. “Those Greedy Eyes” (4:15)

Radar Records issued “The Captain of Your Ship” as its eighteenth 7″ release (ADA 21), between singles by Metal Urbain and The Red Crayola. Langer co-produced the single with Deaf School–Shanghai soundman Rob Dickins.

Active Images (Assorted renamed) designed the color-schemed picture sleeve, which uses red bars and letters matches to the Bette’s hair and body-hugging dress, another variation of the Swanky Modes amorphous design. Another image from the same photo-shoot appeared on the February 3, 1979, issue of the UK music weekly Record Mirror.

Bette Bright and the Illuminations previewed “The Captain of Your Ship” with an in-studio performance on the January 25, 1979, broadcast of the Granada variety show What’s On, presented by Mike Riddoch and future Coronation Street actress Margi Clarke. The Illuminations first perform a brief portion of “My Boyfriend’s Back” and later close out the show with the Delrons cover. Bette sports a crimped red pageboy and dons a slant-shoulder Swanky Modes outfit that joins black spandex low-riders with a slashed red bikini.

Between this and Bette’s third single, Langer formed The Boxes, which cut the 1979 Radar EP I Want the Whole World with Bright on backing vocals. He also formed a production partnership with UA–Liberty soundman Alan Winstanley (999, The Stranglers). Their main client, Madness, became instant chart mainstays with their October 1979 debut album One Step Beyond….


“Hello, I Am Your Heart” / “All Girls Lie”

On February 22, 1980, Bette Bright released her third single: “Hello, I Am Your Heart,” a perky ska-pop cover backed with “All Girls Lie,” a Bright–Langer original that erupts into sheer exuberance.

A. “Hello, I Am Your Heart” (3:09) originated on the 1973 self-titled second album by American songwriter Dennis Linde.
B. “All Girls Lie” (2:33)

Bright dropped the Illuminations moniker for this release, which features backing by Clive Langer, Madness saxophonist Lee Thompson, and members of UK reggae merchants The Cimarons.

Clive Langer (under the portmanteau Clanger) co-produced the single with Dickins and a character named Alted (real name Alexander Minto Hughes, who performed sexually explicit reggae covers under the stagename Judge Dread).

This was the first of three Bette Bright singles on Korova, a Liverpool indie started months beforehand as an outlet for Echo & The Bunnymen. Months later, Manfred Mann’s Earth Band rendered “Hello, I Am Your Heart” as a slow, lurching synth-rock epic on their October 1980 album Chance.

Despite the single’s chart placement (UK No. 50; likely higher had the sides been reversed), Bette let seventeen months pass before her next release. Meanwhile, she guested on one track (“I Don’t Need You”) on the 1980 Ariola release Copy Copy, the third album by Dutch kitch-pop ensemble Gruppo Sportivo, a band sometimes likened to Deaf School (with ’50s and early ’60s references in lieu of ’30s–’40s ones).

Bette also sings backing vocals on Splash, the 1980 F-Beat release by Clive Langer & The Boxes. Between Bright’s singles, Langer produced the 1980–81 Madness albums Absolutely and 7. Bright started dating Madness frontman Graham ‘Suggs’ McPherson.

Along with Boxes bassist James Eller and members of Rockpile and Squeeze, Bright provided backup on the 1981 F-Beat release Blue Nun, the fourth album by producer Nick Lowe’s wife, American country singer Carlene Carter.


“When You Were Mine”

On July 10, 1981, Bette Bright released her fourth single: “When You Were Mine,” a Prince cover backed with the ’60s R&B chestnut “Soulful Dress.”

A. “When You Were Mine” (3:45) originated nine months beforehand on Dirty Mind, the October 1980 third album by Prince. The lyrics expose lingering affection for an admittedly lackluster former flame (“I love you more than I did when you were mine”). Whereas Prince made these revelations as the subject walked with someone new (“I know that you’re going with another guy”), Bette has the same thoughts despite having moved on in her love life (“I know that I’m going with another guy”).

B. “Soulful Dress” (2:58) originated as a June 1964 a-side by Brooklyn soulstress Sugar Pie DeSanto; co-written by Chess Records songwriter Terry Vail and Radiants frontman Maurice McAlister, the same team behind the 1966 Maurice & The Radiants song “Baby You’ve Got It” (covered immediately by The Action).

Bette’s “When You Were Mine” is the earliest documented cover of a Prince song, predating the standardization of his 1979 composition “I Feel for You” (first covered in 1982 by the Pointer Sisters and made famous through a 1984 version by Chaka Khan). In 1982, Seattle-based rockers Hi-Fi (featuring onetime Fairport Convention singer Iain Matthews and former Pavlov’s Dog frontman David Surkamp) included a perky guitar-synth version of “When You Were Mine” on their singular album, Moods for Mallards. In 1983, ex-Blue Angel singer Cyndi Lauper covered “When You Were Mine” as a deep cut on her platinum debut solo album, She’s So Unusual.

“When You Were Mine” appeared as the fourteenth Korova 7” release (KOW 14), slotted between titles by electro-pop singer Greg Vandike (“Parallel Universe”) and Echo & The Bunnymen (“A Promise,” the first of two singles from their second album Heaven Up Here). Korova issued “When You Were Mine” as both a standard picture-sleeve single and a special picture disc collectible. Both versions show Bette posed against a white backdrop in a red dress with white polka dots and a blue-trimmed, ascotted Quaker collar. Her trademark red tresses are now replaced with a short, bleached haircut.


Rhythm Breaks the Ice

Bette Bright released her singular solo album, Rhythm Breaks the Ice, in September 1981 on Korova. It features both sides of her earlier third single (“Hello, I Am Your Heart,” “All Girls Lie”) and the recent Prince cover “When You Were Mine.”

She also covers Betty Wright (“Shoorah, Shoorah”), Sharon Tandy (“Hold On”), Irma Thomas (“Take What You Find”), and The Persuaders (“Some Girls Have All the Luck”). Side B contains a remake of the Deaf School belter “Thunder and Lightning” and two songs co-written between Bright and Clive Langer: the ethereal “Talking Whispers” and the ballad “Tender Touch,” inspired by her recent engagement to Suggs.

Langer plays rhythm guitar and electric sitar on Rhythm Breaks the Ice, which features guitarist Ian Broudie, drummer Jo Allen, bassist James Eller, and keyboardist and marimba player Ben Barson, the brother of Madness keyboardist Mike Barson. The presence of Clive, Eller, and Ben makes this Illuminations nearly identical to the Boxes’ Splash lineup.

A1. “When You Were Mine” (3:44)
A2. “On a Night Like This” (3:27) was written by Scottish-born Canadian singer–songwriter Adam Mitchell, a onetime member of Toronto psychsters The Paupers. His songs were also covered by Anne Murray, Art Garfunkel, Nicolette Larson, and Olivia Newton-John. (Langer possibly obtained this previously unrecorded song via Warner publishing.)
A3. “Hello, I Am Your Heart” (3:09)
A4. “All Girls Lie” (2:33)
A5. “Take What You Find” (3:38) originated as a 1979 album track by Louisiana soulster Irma Thomas; co-written by Baton Rouge songwriting partners Casey Kelly and Julie Didier. Irma’s disco-rock version has dark touches (tense minor keys; clipped, echoing chords ala “A Little More Love”) that inspired the Illuminations’ eerie arrangement.
B1. “Talking Whispers” (3:12)
B2. “Thunder and Lightning” (3:07) originated as track A3 on the third Deaf School album English Boys, Working Girls;  co-written by Langer and Steve Allen.
B3. “Shoorah, Shoorah” (2:55) is a song by New Orleans R&B pianist Allen Toussaint; first recorded in 1974 by Scottish belter Frankie Miller and Miami diva Betty Wright. Bright’s version coincided with a 1981 cover by Phoebe Snow. Selecter frontwoman Pauline Black covered the song (as “Shoo-Rah Shoo-Rah”) for a 1982 solo single.
B4. “Some Girls Have All the Luck” (4:01) originated as “Some Guys Have All the Luck,” a September 1973 Atco a-side by Bronx soul group The Persuaders; written by Yale Whiffenpoofs alumni Jeff Fortgang. It became a reggae standard through mid-seventies covers by Derrick Harriott, The Shakers, and The Inner Circle. In 1980, Langer associate Judge Dread modified the song with ribald humor while Junior Tucker, a feminine-voiced fourteen-year-old Kingston boy, cut a perky rendition that bears the closest resemblance to the Illuminations’ arrangement.
B5. “Tender Touch” (3:12)
B6. “Hold On” (3:32) originated as a July 1967 b-side by London-based South African soul-pop singer Sharon Tandy; recorded with Les Fleur de Lys (aka Rupert’s People) and co-written by Gordon Haskell and Howard Conder. In 1969, Parlophone one-offs Ipsissimus cut a psychedelic rock version.

Langer co-produced Rhythm Breaks the Ice with Alan Winstanley. The cover, designed by painter–photographer Nigel Noyes, shows a zoom-in of Bette rendered with pixelated colors and Ben-Day dots. On the back cover, she’s photographed by Chris Bishop in a hybrid leather jacket / midi-dress with spray-paint can pointed at the lens, having just tagged with backdrop with “B.B. Loves.”

On September 11, 1981, Korova lifted “Some Girls Have All the Luck” as the album’s second single (b/w “Tender Touch”). The sleeve uses a monochrome profile pick of Bette (also used on the Rhythm Breaks the Ice inner-sleeve) by rock photojournalist Sheila Rock.

Bright’s recording of “Some Girls Have All the Luck” preceded popular eighties renditions by Robert Palmer and Rod Stewart, whose 1984 synthpop version (“Some Guys Have All the Luck”) reached No. 10 on the US Billboard Hot 100. Bette’s version remained the only one sung from a female perspective until the 1985 cover by American country singer Louise Mandrell.


Subsequent Activity

On December 22, 1981, Betty Bright married Graham McPherson in an Edwardian-themed ceremony. Suggs marked the event with the just-released Madness single “It Must Be Love,” a Labi Siffre cover that reached No. 4 on the UK Singles Chart.

As Anne McPherson, she retired from music to become a housewife as Madness continued their lengthy chart run with the 1982–83 hits “House of Fun,” “Driving in My Car,” “Wings of a Dove,” “The Sun and the Rain,” and the global chart-topper “Our House.” The McPhersons have two daughters, Viva and Scarlett.

In 1988, Bright partook in a Deaf School reunion that produced the live album Second Coming. They reformed on a semi-permanent basis in 2006 for sporadic live work and occasional studio recordings. In 2011, they issued Enrico + Bette xx, a five-song EP with updated images of the two singers. In December 2017, Deaf School released Let’s Do This Again Next Week…, their first full album of new studio material in 39 years.


Discography:

  • “My Boyfriend’s Back” / “Hold On, I’m Coming” (1978 • Bette Bright and the Illuminations)
  • “The Captain of Your Ship” / “Those Greedy Eyes” (1979 • Bette Bright and the Illuminations)
  • Rhythm Breaks the Ice (1981)

Sources:

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