Thompson Twins entered the British music industry in the late 1970s as an independently produced pop music combo. After signing a deal with a major record label, they went on to release seven chart hits in seven years. Although the name of the group is a misspelled allusion to the Thomson brothers in the French cartoon TinTin, the members of Thompson Twins were never siblings, much less twins. At its largest the group was a septet; at its smallest a duo. After losing all but two members of the band, remaining members Tom Bailey and Alannah Currie flirted with New Wave music and electronica. They signed with Warner Bros. Records in the early 1990s, and after releasing a final recording as the Thompsons in 1991, opted to shed their pop identity. Bailey and Currie comprehensively reinvented their sound, style, and format, adding a new band member and reemerging in 1993 as a trio, recording for Reprise Records under the name Babble.
If any one person can be identified as the Thompson Twins founder, Tom Bailey, a British vocalist and pianist, fills the bill. Born on January 18,1956, he grew up outside of London, the middle child and only son of Horace, a doctor, and Vivienne, a nurse, both now
Members include Tom Bailey (born on January 18, 1956; married band member Alannah Curile; two children. Education: Attended Teacher’s College, Cheshire, England), vocals, keyboard; Chris Bell (group member, 1979–82), drums; Alannah Currie (born on September 28, 1957, in Auckland, New Zealand; married band member Tom Bailey; two children; joined group, 1981), percussion, saxophone, vocals; Peter Dodd (left group, 1982), guitar, synthesizer, percussion; Joe Leeway (born c. 1955 in London, England; left group, 1986. Education: Studied acting at Cheshire College), percussion, composing/arranging, keyboards, synthesizer, vocals; John Roog (left group, 1982), guitar; Matthew Seligman (left group, 1982), bass.
Began as an independently produced quartet consisting of Bailey, Bell, Dodd, and Roog, 1977; signed with Arista, released major-label debut, 1981; expanded to a septet by adding Currie, Leeway, and Seligman; released one album as a septet, 1981; pared back to a trio consisting of Bailey, Currie, and Leeway; became a duo, 1986; debut on Warner Bros. Records, 1989; released final album as Thompson Twins, 1991; reinvented as Babble, 1993; released The Stone, 1994, and Ether, 1996.
Addresses: Record company;—Reprise, 3300 Warner Blvd., Burbank, CA 91505–4694.
retired. Because of the rural environment in which he lived, he had little association with outsiders beyond his contacts with friends during the course of each school day.
Bailey attended an Anglican secondary school that was housed in a centuries-old building. The environment was rigorous, both religiously and academically, and the instructors at the school wore scholarly robes as a matter of daily attire. Fascinated by music from an early age, Bailey spent his mornings playing the piano and listening to records before retiring to the solitude of his room to read. He acquired the substance of his musical education in school and church choirs; his repertoire included Baroque music from northern Germany, a particular favorite of his father, who was also an amateur musician.
In the early 1970s Bailey moved to Cheshire to attend college, intending to become a classical pianist. After graduating in 1975 he took an extended vacation to India to satisfy his interest in its mystical culture. He became ill soon after his arrival and spent the duration of his stay in the care of the residents of a Himalayan monastery. The atmosphere of peaceful calm and introspection was a memorable experience for Bailey who had always placed a high value on solitude.
After returning to England, Bailey went to Sheffield, where in 1977 he teamed up with guitarists Peter Dodd and John Roog. After moving to London in 1979 they added drummer Chris Bell and became the earliest incarnation of the Thompson Twins. The quartet spent the remainder of the decade recording and releasing independent singles. Their first work of note, “Squares and Triangles,” was a self-produced single released in 1980. Band members personally peddled copies of the recording and managed to sell an impressive 1,500 copies.
From a makeshift headquarters in an abandoned building, the Twins performed at venues in and around London. They signed with Arista Records in 1981 and released a debut album that year. A Product of Participation failed to make a splash, however, and the group responded by adding former Soft Boys bassist Matthew Seligman, who had worked with Sinead O’Connor, Knox, Ghostland, John Kirkland, and others.
New Zealand-born saxophonist Alannah Currie also joined the group in 1981 after leaving a punk-style girl band. Though Currie had no musical training, she attributed her talent instead to an intense childhood interest in music. Prior to finding her niche with the Thompsons, she had worked at an assortment of odd jobs, including sweeping floors, picking tobacco, packing hats, and waiting tables. In addition to a penchant for writing and singing, and her experience on the saxophone, she brought the Thompson Twins an affinity for percussion, playing marimba, xylophone, and drums.
In the early 1980s Currie lived as a so-called squatter in an abandoned neighborhood of London, a living arrangement common among the London artists’ community. The inhabitants displayed considerable creativity in improvising makeshift apartments, called squats, from the vacant space in abandoned buildings. Jury-rigging the electricity, telephone, and water service, they lived communally in a stark but utilitarian lifestyle. Currie’s and Bailey’s paths crossed when he stayed for a time at the squat of a tyro actor named Joe Leeway, who lived across the street from Currie.
Leeway, born in London in the mid-1950s, was raised as a ward of the court. He lived in foster care until he enrolled in a college acting curriculum during the 1970s where he and Bailey became friends. Leeway was associated with a mime troupe briefly, spent three years with an acting group, and worked as a roadie for Currie’s girl band before joining the Thompson Twins. In addition to composition and arranging skills, he brought new keyboard and synthesizer capabilities and added more percussion by playing the conga drum. By adding Seligman, Currie, and Leeway in 1981, the Thompson Twins grew to a septet. The group’s 1982 release Set—ihe only one to feature the entire Thompson Twins septet—was issued in the United States under the title In the Name of Love. It fared no better than the original Arista debut released by the original quartet.
For reasons not specified, Bell, Dodd, Roog, and Seligman departed the group without waiting for a third album to go into production. The remaining trio, consisting of Bailey, Currie, and Leeway, released Quick Step & Side Kick one year later; the album reached number two on the British charts. Two singles, “Love on Your Side” and “We Are Detective,” peaked in the top ten in the United States. Issued as Side Kicks in the United States, however, the album created a momentum that led to success; the group’s popularity endured through the remainder of the decade.
When the Thompson Twins introduced a Jamaican flair with their 1984 release Into the Gap, it became (in retrospect) the biggest hit for the band in its eleven-year existence. The album’s hit single “Hold Me Now” was the best-selling single in the history of the band, peaking at numbers three and four in the United States and Britain, respectively. Two additional singles, “Doctor, Doctor” and “You Take Me Up,” found slots on the hit parade as well. In 1998 “Hold Me Now” was featured in the Frank Coraci movie the Wedding Singer, and the soundtrack album peaked at number five on the album charts.
As a trio, the Thompsons released a final album in 1985. Entitled Here’s to Future Days, two of the album tracks—”Lay Your Hands on Me” and “King for a Day”—rose to the top ten on the American charts. Leeway left the group in 1986, after five years and five albums. With no one left except Bailey and Currie, the Thompson Twins continued as a duo, releasing an all-new album, Close to the Bone, in 1987. A compilation, Best of the Thompson Twins: The Greatest Mixes was released in 1988.
That same year Bailey and Currie went public with news of their discrete, ongoing romance, and Currie gave birth to their first child. In 1989 the couple—still billed as the Thompson Twins—signed with Warner Bros. Records.Big Trash, their label debut, appeared in 1989 from which the single “Sugar Daddy” realized moderate success in the United States. In 1990 the Thompson Twins recorded a single track, “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire,” for an AIDS benefit album. The album, called Red Hot & Blue, was a collection of Cole Porterrenditions by contemporary singers.
In the early 1990s the duo’s interest in performing pop music waned rapidly. After the Thompson Twins released a final album in 1991 called Queer, Bailey and Currie set out to reinvent their music. Enlisting Keith Fernley, a programming and production engineer, to work synthesizer and mixes, the three traveled to India in the spring of 1992 to sample new ambient sounds. Under the group name Babble they released a techno-synth debut album called The Stone in 1994, followed by Ether in 1996. In the early 2000s Bailey and Currie had established a home base in Karaka, New Zealand, where they live with their two children.
A Product of Participation, T Records, 1981.
Quick Step & Side Kick (released as Side Kicks in U.S.),Arista, 1983.
Set (released as In the Name of Love in the U.S.), T Records, 1983.
Into the Gap, Arista, 1984.
Here’s to Future Days, Arista, 1985.
Close to the Bone, Arista, 1987.
Greatest Mixes: Best of the Thompson Twins (compilation), Arista, 1988.
Big Trash, Warner Bros., 1989.
(Contributor) Red Hot & Blue: A Tribute to Cole Porter, Chrysalis, 1990.
Queer, Warner Bros., 1991.
Love, Lies…and Other Strange Things (compilation), Arista, 1996.
(Contributor) The Wedding Singer (soundtrack), Warner Bros., 1998.
The Stone, Reprise, 1994.
Ether Warner Bros., 1996.
Graff, Gary, and Daniel Durchholz, editors, MusicHound Rock: The Essential Album Guide, Visible Ink Press, 1999.
Billboard, February 19, 1994, p. 26.
Entertainment, November 2,1990, p. 64; March 13,1998, p. 82.
Teen Magazine, October 1984, p. 47.
“In the Name of Love,” New Wave Complex, http://www.lexiconmagazine.com/NWC/TT.Bailey.html (April 12, 2003).
“Thompson Twins,” All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (April 6, 2003).
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