HUNCHED OVER scrambled eggs in his mother’s airy flat, Dave Stewart looks more like the late John Lennon than the D’Artagnan-style dandy familiar from The Tourists.
He’s gaunt and sits with shoulders slightly hunched — the legacy of a last few months spent in hospital, after surgeons sculpted an entry through his back and stripped the outer lining off one lung to forestall another in a long series of collapses. Hardly a pleasant prospect for any guitarist. Stewart served his time as profitably as possible, though: making friends with the 70-year-old magician in the next bed and assembling a Polaroid diary of daily life in hospital. Now, back in the ‘real world’, he’s got a fresh break (the demise of The Tourists, founded in ’77) and a new band (Eurythmics, just signed by RCA under the same favourable terms The Tourists enjoyed there) to contemplate. And he and partner Ann Lennox want to talk about Starting Over.
It’s a long time now since the duo took a decision that their original band — a corpus of identities and product within which they felt increasingly trapped and restless — must dissolve. The end came by surprise in Bangkok, when an airline strike stranded the group. But the split had been building, with changes in five different personalities bound together over three years aggravated by the strains of touring with its inevitable undertow of drink, drugs and arguments.
The real rift was between the original Tourists, with Stewart and Lennox diverging from the interests of singer-songwriter Peet Coombes. It was Coombes who called a halt to proceedings, flying home to sort out a new band (Acid Drops) which will include ex-Tourist Eddie Chin. “Now Peet can be his own spokesperson,” says Ann. “It was always part of Dave’s and my dilemma that we were acting as spokespersons for someone else’s work within a pop context, yet we weren’t able to put across how removed he was from that whole scene.”
By ‘that whole scene’, Ann says she means the Smash Hits persona which descended on The Tourists after their hit cover of ‘I Only Want To Be With You’. “We were on a funny boat, The Tourists,” says Ann now. “A strange craft… When we did that song it was purely for fun. But after that it became bizarre. The things that happened to us were so wild, yet everyone got the impression of nice, clean poppy people.
“I’m not saying ‘I was manipulated’ or ‘I was misunderstood’. Because I made conscious decisions and some were mistakes — the mistakes are what I’ve grown from. I just want people to realise I’m not this nice, popsy, happy-go-lucky Annie which I absolutely detested.
“That was Tony Brainsby’s real point-of-sale,” says Stewart. “The publicity thing just became like a bigger and bigger black cloud, until the only way we probably could have continued to exist with any dignity as people was to step aside and say, ‘Look this just doesn’t exist anymore. Let’s do something else’.”
THE SOMETHING else ironically manifested itself in exactly the same spot where The Tourists began: Conny Plank’s famous studio outside Cologne. Arriving for Plank’s annual New Year’s Eve party, Dave and Ann ran into old mate Gabi of Deutsch Amerikanische Freundschaft at the airport. At the party itself, they ended up jamming with DAF drummer Robert Gorl and, says Ann, “Eurythmics began there in the studio — just people listening to the music for a whole concept instead of their keyboard bit or whatever.”
The ‘people’ were Gorl, excellent ex-Can drummer Jackie Liebezeit, and Dave and Ann’s friend Holger Czukay. Plank (who originally encouraged Dave, Ann and Peet to form The Tourists) co-ordinated the rough demos which won RCA’s backing: tapes which encompass a fair range of styles and present the Lennox vocal skills with a new strength. The new band is also a new format: though Stewart and Lennox are “the nucleus”, Conny Plank is on one-third of the royalties and will do some performing as well as all the production (the latter probably via his new mobile studio). Satellite members so far are the same as on the demos: Gorl, Czukay, and Liebezeit.
Both Czukay and Plank’s names carry the sort of ‘contemporary’ clout which the popular mind has not associated with The Tourists. Ironic, because Czukay took Stewart and Lennox aside four years ago to play them the rough mix of ‘Persian Love’, and asked their opinion of its potential as a single. Czukay is currently put up chez Stewart & Lennox during UK sojourns, and in the next two weeks Plank will be taking five days out of his current work on Ultravox, to fly over for The Eurythmics’ debut 45.
“Conny’s a hip name now,” says Stewart. “But most people don’t delve into everything he does. He really loves recording Eddie and Finbar Fury, for instance — this famous old Irish folk duo who go over there with their grandad. Then he might record some German organ music or a heavy metal group from Cologne.”
It didn’t pass unnoticed to the new colleagues that the first Eurythmics press release gave rise to immediate reports that the ex-Tourists were “anxious to concentrate on a futuristic sound.”
“What a piece of crap!” says Ann. “Robert (Gorl) was as insulted by that as we were. We’re not even ‘anxious’. There are no sour grapes about the band splitting and we’re not looking for any bandwagon to jump on. It’s something we want to work at for ourselves. Dave and I feel that again — like in ’71 — music has become a thing for specialists. And we’re not interested in that. For us the old concept of rock and roll is dead — not for others maybe, but for us — and we don’t want to go on using this dead old formula, a group playing all around the world just to flog its flamin’ albums. We want to create something new which is flexible and can grow, and people can work in it for six months or two weeks; it won’t matter.”
“What will matter,” says Stewart, “is that we can both write again. And we can write about anything, collaborate on anything — anything at all. Annie and I go to see Throbbing Gristle and we see The B-52’s — we understand that there are groups who feel they want to concentrate on love songs and groups who want to concentrate on political songs. I think it’s dead healthy and obviously, there are a lot of them I really really like. But this is what we want to do — involve the full range of capabilities and the full range of interests of everyone who wants to work in Eurythmics.
“All we’re really saying, you know, is that we’ve changed and we’ve grown and we’re excited about it.”