Clive Langer & The Boxes

Clive Langer & The Boxes were an English new wave band that released the 1979 EP I Want the Whole World on Radar, followed by the 1980 album Splash on F-Beat. Langer served beforehand as the guitarist–songwriter of Liverpool legends Deaf School. He produced subsequent albums by Madness, Elvis Costello, and former bandmate Bette Bright.

Members: Clive Langer (vocals, guitar), Ben Barson (keyboards), Budgie (drums, bass), James Eller (bass), Martin Hughes (drums)


Background

Langer was born on January 19, 1954, in Hampstead, London. In January 1974, he formed Deaf School with fellow students at Liverpool Art College. Also that year, he played impromptu flute on the Transatlantic Records release Hallelujah, the second of three albums by the Portsmouth Sinfonia, a ramshackle orchestra assembled by composer Gavin Bryars.

Deaf School trimmed from twelve to nine members and won a Melody Maker competition that earned them a contract with Warner Bros. On their 1976 debut album, 2nd Honeymoon, Langer wrote the old-timey “Knock Knock Knocking” and co-wrote nine additional songs, including the grim vaudeville ditty “What a Way to End It All,” the campy blind-date caper “Cocktails at 8,” and the nostalgic, melodramatic title track.

Langer co-wrote eight of the ten tracks on Deaf School’s 1977 second album, Don’t Stop the World, including the head-spinning “Hypertension,” the Spectorian “It’s a Boy’s World,” the melodramatic “Taxi,” and the revved-up title track, which coils boogie-woogie piano and French accordion around punk buzzsaw chords. The album’s cover shows Langer’s zoomed-in face under stress as he struggles with an elevator.

Deaf School toured the US, where Langer did an interview for the LA punk fanzine Slash, in which he shared his new wave expertise. The tour coincided with news events (the NYC blackout, Elvis Presley’s death, Ronny Zamora’s televised trial) that poured into subsequent lyrics. Between albums, Langer encouraged Liverpool friend Bill Drummond to form a punk band, Big in Japan, which soon welcomed guitarist Ian Broudie and assorted luminaries of the Merseryside musical renaissance.

In early 1978, Deaf School released English Boys, Working Girls, a strident set with nine Langer co-writes, including the Clash-like “English Boys (With Guns),” the sex-charged “I Wanna Be Your Boy,” and the tumultuous “Fire” (likely inspired by the Kentucky Supper Club inferno). “What a Week” recounts the US tour and surrounding atmosphere in light of breaking news events.

After Deaf School’s breakup, the band’s main vocalist and co-writer Steve Allen (aka Enrico Cadillac) teamed with Broudie in the Original Mirrors, which released two 1980–81 albums on Mercury. Elsewhere, third-writer Steve Lindsey formed The Planets, which released two 1979–80 albums on Rialto.

Langer retained ties with Deaf School’s female singer, Bette Bright. He produced and played on her first two solo singles as part of her backing band, the Illuminations, which also included the Rich Kids‘ rhythm section, Yachts keyboardist Henry Priestman, and original Deaf School guitarist (and early Stealers Wheel member) Paul Pilnick. Langer produced the 1978 Yachts singles “Yachting Types” and “Look Back In Love (Not In Anger).”

Concurrently, he formed the Boxes with keyboardist Ben Barson and drummer–bassist Budgie. Ben belonged to a musical brood that included twin brother Dan Barson (of the unsigned mid-seventies rockabilly band Bazooka Joe) and keyboardist Mike Barson (of the Camden Invaders, a nascent R&B group). Budgie cut one single in Liverpool punks The Spitfire Boys and joined the late-period Big In Japan lineup.


I Want the Whole World

In May 1979, Clive Langer & The Boxes debuted with I Want the Whole World, an EP on Radar Records. It features five self-produced Langer originals that with Clive on guitar and (for the first time) vocals. Deaf School colleagues Bette Bright and Steve Allen appear as backing vocalists.

A1. “The Whole World” (3:30)
A2. “Lovely Evening” (3:12)
A3. “I Know I” (3:36)
B1. “Those Days” (4:04)
B2. “Simple Life” (3:35)

The Boxes recorded select tracks at Wessex Studios, Highbury, with staff engineer Gary Edwards, a soundman on 1978–78 titles by City Boy, Fischer-Z, Generation X, Rainbow, The Shirts, and Trevor Rabin.

Additional sessions took place T.W. Studios, Fulham, with engineer Alan Winstanley, a soundman on the first four Stranglers albums and 1977–79 titles by 999, Buzzcocks, Trickster, Joe Jackson, Steve Lindsey’s first Planets album, and Bette’s debut Illuminations single “My Boyfriend’s Back” (b/w “Hold On, I’m Coming”).

Budgie, an emerging drummer of note, assumes the bassist role with the disclaimer “average bass.” The back-sleeve credits Ben Barson with “pyrotechnic keyboards.”

I Want the Whole World shows a crumpled world map inside a hexagon, photographed by Rick Rayner-Canham, who also earned 1979 visual credits with Flying Lizards and Magazine. The back cover shows a shady film noir profile of Langer by Chris Gabrin, whose imagery also appears on the first Human League album (Reproduction) and John Foxx‘s solo debut Metamatic. The Boxes EP sports sleeve design by Angular Images artist Malcolm Garrett, whose graphics also appear on Another Music in a Different Kitchen, Real Life, and Devo‘s second album Duty Now for the Future.


Lineup Change

Budgie sat in with The Slits for their 1979 album Cut and joined Siouxsie & The Banshees as the permanent replacement of their absconded drummer, Kenny Morris.

Ben Barson played on the 1979 Decca release Solid Logic, the second of two albums by Jim Rafferty (Gerry‘s brother). Elsewhere, Mike Barson’s band morphed into Madness and emerged as front-runners in the ska revival with their 2 Tone single “The Prince.” Their debut album, One Step Beyond…, established Madness as chart mainstays and inaugurated the production team of Clive Langer and Alan Winstanley.

The Boxes became a quartet with bassist James Eller and drummer Martin Hughes, who recently appeared (as ‘Martin from Resistance’) on “All Sewn Up,” a 1979 single by punk poet Patrick Fitzgerald.


Splash

Clive Langer & The Boxes released their singular album, Splash, in July 1980 on F-Beat. It features eight Langer originals, including both sides of the pre-released “Splash” / “Hello” single. Eller co-wrote “Never Wanted You” and “Hope and Glory.”

Splash also contains covers of songs first popularized by The Rolling Stones (“It’s All Over Now”) and Amen Corner (“Half as Nice”).

A1. “Hello” (3:02)
A2. “Never Wanted You” (3:10)
A3. “Ain’t Gonna Kiss Ya” (2:30)
A4. “Hope and Glory” (3:48)
A5. “Best Dressed Man” (3:18)
A6. “Half as Nice” (3:10) originated as “Il Paradiso Della Vita,” an Italian song by composer Lucio Battisti and lyricist Mogol; first recorded by singer Ambra Borelli under the alias La Ragazza 77.> In 1969, Patty Pravo scored a Top 10 Italian hit with her version titled “Il Paradiso.” English journalist Jack Fishman translated the song for Amen Corner, a Welsh soul-pop band whose version, titled “(If Paradise Is) Half As Nice,” became a UK No. 1 hit in February 1969.
B1. “Splash (A Tear Goes Rolling Down)” (3:10)
B2. “It’s All Over Now” (3:09) originated as a May 1964 single by the American R&B family group The Valentinos (aka The Womack Brothers), whose leader Bobby Womack co-wrote the song with his sister-in-law Shirley Womack. In July, the Rolling Stones scored their first UK No. 1 single with their rocked-up cover version.
B3. “Burning Money” (3:42)
B4. “Take You Down” (3:25)
B5. “First Thing in the Morning” (2:44)
B6. “Had a Nice Night” (1:52)

Clive Langer (under the portmanteau Clanger) co-produced five songs with partner Alan Winstanley: “Hello,” “Hope and Glory,” “Best Dressed Man,” “It’s All Over Now,” and “First Thing in the Morning.” F-Beat superstar Elvis Costello produced “Ain’t Gonna Kiss Ya” and “Half as Nice.” Clanger co-produced the remaining tracks (“Never Wanted You,” “Splash,” “Burning Money,” “Take You Down”) with ‘Bassman’ (aka Paul ‘Bass’ Riley), a soundman for The Ruts, The Sinceros, and Lew Lewis Reformer.

Splash shows xerox cutouts of actual photographs (shown on back) of the Boxes submerged underwater, taken by “Frogman Keith” and “Frogman Pete.” Langer offers “a big ripple for” musical guests Bette Bright, Steve Allen, Ian Broudie, the Rumour brass (of Graham Parker & the Rumour), and harmonica player Will Stallibrass, a prior sessionist for Mick Farren and Chilli Willi & The Red Hot Peppers.

“Splash (A Tear Goes Rolling Down)” first appeared in April 1980 as an advance single (b/w “Hello”). “It’s All Over Now” became the second Splash single, backed with the Want the Whole World track “Lovely Evening.”

Clive Langer & The Boxes previewed Splash as the opening act on the spring 1980 tour by Elvis Costello & The Attractions. Langer later returned the favor by co-producing (with Winstanley) Costello’s 1983–84 albums Punch the Clock and Goodbye Cruel World. On the former, Clive and Elvis co-wrote the cabaret ballad “Shipbuilding,” a UK Top 40 hit for Robert Wyatt.


Post-Boxes

Ben Barson plays on 1982 albums by The Nitecaps and (with Eller) Nick Lowe. Concurrently, Eller played on titles by journeyman Paul Carrack (Warm Dust, Ace, Squeeze) and Lowe’s wife, Carlene Carter. Hughes joined Any Trouble for their 1981 second album Wheels In Motion.

Langer produced “Stories,” the second of two 1980 singles by The Spectres, a post-punk band with ex-TRB guitarist Danny Kustow and ex-Rich Kids bassist (and early Illuminations bandmate) Glen Matlock. The Langer–Winstanley team oversaw the 1980–81 Madness albums Absolutely and 7. Langer also produced 1981 titles by the Teardrop Explodes and The Belle Stars.

The Splash lineup (minus Hughes) plays on Rhythm Breaks the Ice, the 1981 solo album by Bette Bright. It features two Bright–Langer originals, including “Tender Touch,” a ballad inspired by Bette’s engagement to Madness singer Suggs.


Discography:

  • I Want the Whole World (EP, 1979)
  • Splash (1980)

Sources:

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