Deaf School

Deaf School are an English art-rock band that released three albums on Warner Brothers between 1976 and 1978. On its first two albums — 2nd Honeymoon (1976) and Don’t Stop the World (1977) — the band pairs ’30s/’40s ambience (cabaret, music hall) with the lavish arrangements of contemporary theatrical pop (Sparks, Sailor, Cockney Rebel, Brian Protheroe). Deaf School’s third release of the period, English Boys, Working Girls (1978), mixes New Wave vigor with Spectorian flourishes.

Members: Enrico Cadillac [aka Steve Allen] (vocals), Bette Bright (vocals), Cliff Langer [aka Cliff Hanger, aka Clive Langer] (guitar, piano), Max Ripple (keyboards, accordion), Steve Lindsey (bass, piano, vocals), Tim Whittaker (drums), Ian Ritchie (saxophone), Eric Shark (vocals, ?-2010), Paul Pilnick (guitar, accordion, bass, banjo)


Inception

Formed by students at Liverpool Art College, Deaf School’s initial lineup comprised 13 members. On account of their theatrical presentation and melodramatic showpieces, the band beguiled a new generation of music-goers. Their audience included future members of Madness, Dexys Midnight Runners, and Frankie Goes to Hollywood.

Paired to a manageable nine-piece with ex-Stealers Wheel Paul Pilnick, Deaf School won a Melody Maker talent contest that earned them a recording contract with Warner Bros.

Most of the band’s material was composed by guitarist Clive Langer, sometimes in collaboration with main vocalist Enrico Cadillac (aka Steve Allen). Bassist Steve Lindsey was the most prolific third wheel in the writing department. On select numbers, vocals were delegated to Eric Shark and Bette Bright.


1976: 2nd Honeymoon

Deaf School released their debut album, 2nd Honeymoon, on , on Warner Bros. It was produced by Muff Winwood and shares some of the retro-pop flavors of other acts he worked with during this period (Sparks, Burlesque, Fabulous Poodles). The mood ranges from vaudevillian comedy (“What a Way to End it All,” “Where’s the Weekend”) to contemporary urban chatter (“Snapshots”, “Hi, Jo, Hi”). 

Several tracks contrast subdued verses with swelling choruses, as heard in the giggling false-bravado of “Cocktails at Eight,” the exuberant trade-offs of “Bigger Splash,” and the epic nostalgia of “Second Honeymoon.” A melancholy tone pervades the ballroom drama of “Nearly Moonlit Nite Hotel” and the film-noir heartbreak of “Room Service.” Bette Bright takes the spotlight on “Final Act,” a glamor/glory lament from the perspective of an aging diva.

A1. “What a Way to End It All” (2:56)
A2. “Where’s the Weekend?” (3:13)
A3. “Cocktails at 8” (3:06)
A4. “Bigger Splash” (3:34)
A5. “Knock Knock Knocking” (3:28)
A6. “2nd Honeymoon” (4:57)
B1. “Get Set Ready Go” (2:44)
B2. “Nearly Moonlit Night Motel” (4:19)
B3. “Room Service” (4:00)
B4. “Hi Jo Hi” (2:23)
B5. “Snapshots” (5:05)
B6. “Final Act” (3:58)

An additional number from this period, “Princess, Princess,” was intended for the album but ultimately dropped from the tracklist. A live version of the song would appear on Deaf School’s 1988 live reunion album 2nd Coming: Liverpool ’88.


1977: Don’t Stop the World

Deaf School issued its second album, Don’t Stop the World, in April 1977 with production work by Rob Dickins (Shanghai). The brisk title-track and crackling “Capaldi’s Café” bookend side one with newfound energy. Overside, the galloping “Hypertension” and “Rock Ferry” cut to break-neck mid-sections that show the band’s improved knack for interplay.

Moodwise, the album ranges from the shadowy verse and groundswell swoon of “It’s a Boy’s World” to the desperate pleas and lustful cries of “Taxi.” Stylistically, the numbers dart from the staccato soul-funk of “What a Jerk” to the ’50s street-corner harmonies on “Darling.” As before, Bette closes the album, this time as a belter on the ’60s Stax/Volt pastiche “Operator.”

A1. “Don’t Stop the World” (3:14)
A2. “What a Jerk” (3:42)
A3. “Darling” (3:18)
A4. “Everything for the Dancer” (1:08)
A5. “Capaldi’s Cafe” (4:51)
B1. “Hypertention Yeah Yeah Yeah” (2:56)
B2. “It’s a Boy’s World” (3:27)
B3. “Rock Ferry” (2:50)
B4. “Taxi” (3:27)
B5. “Operator” (2:02)

“Taxi” was issued on 7″, backed with the ominous non-album track “Last Night.”

The band toured the states that summer. During a stop in New York, they were profiled in Trouser Press. Their visit marked a promotional blitz that saw their first two albums combined as a double-LP for the American market. The band’s impressions of the country and the coinciding news events would be referenced in the song “What a Week,” which appeared on their next album.


1978: English Boys, Working Girls

Deaf School’s third album, English Boys, Working Girls, appeared March 1978. It was produced by Robert John Lange, who helped the act achieve a more aggressive, New Wave-influenced sound. The songs range from blaring wall-of-sound exercises (“Working Girls,” “I Wanna Be Your Boy,” “Golden Showers”) to Clash-like rockers (“English Boys (With Guns),” “O. Blow”) and the occasional rootsier fare (“Refugee”).

Certain numbers are notable for their timely subject matter, such as “What a Week” (which references the 1977 NYC blackout), “Ronny Zamora (My Friend Ron)” (about the 15-year-old killer), and “Fire” (presumably inspired by the May 1977 Kentucky nightclub inferno).

Bette Bright sings lead on three of the songs: the melodramatic Motown pastiche “Thunder & Lightning,” the lilting punker “All Queued Up,” and the anguished ballad “Morning After.” Her torch-song delivery, when combined with the rockier backdrop, is comparable to some of the female-led acts of this period, namely The Shirts, Penetration, and Blondie.

1. “Working Girls” (3:16)
A2. “Golden Showers” (2:49)
A3. “Thunder & Lightning” (2:56)
A4. “What a Week” (3:17)
A5. “Refugee” (2:57)
A6. “Ronny Zamora (My Friend Ron)” (3:45)
B1. “English Boys (With Guns)” (3:30)
B2. “All Queued Up” (3:08)
B3. “I Wanna Be Your Boy” (3:21)
B4. “Morning After” (3:53)
B5. “Fire” (2:48)
B6. “O. Blow” (2:33)

Deaf School disbanded a few months after the album’s release. Later in 1978, Bette Bright issued her debut single with backing act The Illuminations. Steve Lindsey also cut a solo single under the moniker Mr. Average.


Spinoff Bands | Reunion

Bette Bright issued four further singles between 1979 and 1981, culminating with her singular solo album Rhythm Breaks the Ice on Korova. Clive Langer fronted the ska-pop/R&B combo The Boxes for a 1979 EP and the 1980 album Splash. He also formed a production partnership with Alan Winstanley that hit instant paydirt with Madness. Steve Lindsey recorded two albums with new wavers The Planets. Steve Allen did likewise in The Original Mirrors.

Deaf School reunited in 1988 and recorded a live showcase of their classic material (plus the lost track “Princess, Princess” and a suitable cover of “Blue Velvet.”) Drummer Tim Whittaker died in July 1996. The surviving members reunited on a long-term basis in the late 2000s, gigging regularly in the U.K. and Europe. Eric Shark passed away in 2011.

In 2017, Deaf School released Let’s Do This Again Next Week…, their first album of new material in 39 years.


Discography:


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