Ghost Dance : Stop The World : Expanded Edition (Cherry Red)
2 CD/ DL
What happened when a cool independent so-called Goth band signed to a major label in the late 1980s …. ? (well, take a look at the before and after video-clips). Ged Babey remembers & reassesses.
Ghost Dance were an incredible live band. They had their own fanatical following (the Spook Squad) just as The Mission had their Eskimos – mental but devoted followers who trailed all round the UK and Europe to see the band. Like their predecessors The Sisters Of Mercy, they were one of the most visceral and powerful live acts of their day. I went to all of their London, Bristol and Southampton gigs – a part-time would-be-one-man-spookette.
Gary Marx and his guitar were integral to both the Sisters and Ghost Dance – one of the most underrated musicians of his generation. I used to love watching him play. He’d prowl the stage like a panther, had the stance of a gunslinger and would teeter on the monitors squeezing out guitar solos.
Anne-Marie Hurst was cool too. A great voice, not as harsh or teutonic as Siouxsie’s and not quite so honey-ed or sensual as Debbie Harry’s – somewhere betwixt and between. She always had great hair – an important consideration in the world of Goth – and she was one of the few Goth singers who wasn’t afraid to smile (occasionally) and visibly enjoy the sheer drama and energy of the songs and the vibe of those spell-binding gigs.
I loved Ghost Dance. Somehow it was as if I’d imagined them into existence as I’d never seen one of my most-loved bands, Pauline Murray’s Penetration (until they reformed years later). Ghost Dance had that same grace and power and similar romantic, yearning songs that rocked, swooped and soared.
I never owned any of the band’s early independent records as I could always listen to them at mates’ houses but also because I had two brilliant bootleg tapes of them live. Both mixing desk recordings, one Chelmsford one Hammersmith (I think, they’re in the loft somewhere). In the early 80s you could buy great (and sometime awful) live tapes at the monthly record fairs and consequently get to hear new bands like the Sisters, Flesh For Lulu and Playdead before they’d release an album. I got to know a couple of bootleggers, a Hugh Cornwell lookalike from the North called Keith and his son Rob (who moved to Amsterdam) because they seemed to pop up at every London gig I was at. I can remember Keith’s catchphrase echo-ing round Camden tube – “best band int’ fookin wuuurld are Playdead!!”
Anyway, I digress Corbett-style. Ghost Dance’s recorded output never seemed to capture the power and the glory of their live shows, whereas a good bootleg did (maybe being there and the drugs helped). The giveaway to their roots and ambitions lay in the bootleg’s encores and the blazing versions of Radar Love and Can The Can (glam pop classics by the Dutch band Golden Earring and Suzi Quatro for the benefit of the under 45s). Ghost Dance may have reluctantly accepted the Goth tag but they were in reality a glam rock band – a very good one – whose childhood ambitions were to score a Top 30 hit…. not that I’d have considered that notion as a serious Goth in the mid 80s.
When they were snapped up by Chrysalis Records (home to Blondie among others) it must have been a dream come true for both parties. Here was a popular band with a devoted fanbase, a great live act and who looked fabulous … so what happened? Well, the whole story is there in the 12 pages of sleeve notes that come with this glossy two disc reissue…. but, in short, Chrysalis fucked up Ghost Dance by trying to make them sound more commercially viable for the American market. They wanted Tina Turner-type stomping ‘n’ funky rock hits, Belinda Carlisle-style ballads and epic guitar solos. Soft, malleable metal for mallrats. For their part, the band pretty much relented and gave them what they wanted, or at least met them halfway… meaning that the album didn’t really sound like Ghost Dance any more. The sleeve art was garish and awful. Anne Marie was pictured eyes closed, lips parted…. similar to a Madonna record sleeve image. At the time, it was a massive disappointment and the band disintergrated soon after.
Stop The World has remained untouched for decades, forgotten and unloved – until now, and it actually sounds pretty good and nowhere near as awful as I remember it.
It does sound a bit kitsch and oh-so 1980s in places – the keyboards that aim for a Motown brass-section sound and the pumping Eye Of The Tiger bass lines. Opening track Down To The Wire is quite possibly the worst culprit and you’d never know it was originally written about the Leeds riots.
Celebrate, however, is a great pop anthem with sinewy metal guitar – how it wasn’t a hit Christ knows.
Walk In My Shadow is a ballsy-rocker with Anne-Marie’s vocal particularly strong as she out Benetarr-s Pat and Gary Marx’s guitar out Slash-es Slash.
Cinder Road is a nice slow-build ballad with a hint of November Rain. The title track has a touch of Everybody’s Talkin’ and Burt Bacharach about it and has chart-topper written through it like a stick of (FM) rock.
The second disc is what makes this album worth buying. It has half a dozen live tracks including faster numbers When I Call and Where Spirits Fly which are near perfect examples of goth pop. Add to that some ace b-sides (Mirror Blind – like Thin Lizzy re-writing Patti Smith’s Dancing Barefoot) and it makes for an interesting, flawed yet somehow easy-listening pleasure of a reissue. A guilty pleasure, but far more listenable and enjoyable than anything by their nearest rivals and contemporaries All About Eve.
Anyone who remembers Ghost Dance as a great live band should get hold of this as the songs do shine through…
All words Ged Babey, read his Louder Than War archive here