Cult heroes are all very well, but you can't live on reputation alone.
That, in a nutshell, seems to reflect the story of Glasgow's Altered Images, a group who quickly movid from indie-style to unpretentious, chart-conquering pop of a consistently high quality. Their early career gained much credibility from an association with Siouxsie and the Banshees, to whom they were sometimes initially compared. They emerged from that substantial shadow to establish themselves in their own right as a lively and entertaining new wave act with personality a-plenty.
Altered Images from the sleeve of
Happy Birthday (dance mix)
|Lead singer Clare Grogan, born, 17 March 1962, grew up with her fishmonger father, hairdresser mother and two sisters in Glasgow. She came to the pop scene with a high profile, having played the major role of Susan in Bill Forsyth's engaging 1980 film "Gregory's Girl". March the previous year had seen her first link with fellow Scots Michael 'Tich' Anderson (drums), Tony McDaid (guitar) and Johnny McElhone (bass - born 21 April 1963). School friends inspired by the burgeoning post-punk UK inde scene, had turned to music making in the wake of the Undertones, performing local club and pub dates in their home town, Glasgow. A demo tape sent to Siouxsie and the Banshees secured the group as opening slot at the Banshees Glasgow date in June '80. Altered Images continued in the support slot on the Banshees' "Kaleidoscope" tour, and were filmed, during September, in an appearance at the Leeds Futurama festival. A powerful champion of their work was the influential UK disc jockey, John Peel. Their BBC radio sessions (October 1980 and March 1981) resulted in the offer of a major recording contract by CBS subsidiary Epic, and two unsuccessful singles followed, "Dead Pop Stars" (EPC A1023) and "A Day's Wait" (EPC A1167). The release of "Dead Pop Stars", causing controversy because of the recent death of John Lennon, although recorded prior to it. Both singles were produced by Banshees bassist Steve Severin, who did likewise for the majority of the band's first album "Happy Birthday" (EPC 84993) - but not significantly, the title track. For this their label introduced Martin Rushent, whose credits included the Stranglers and the Human League. Not surprisingly, the result of the band/producer paring veered more towards the latter act's classic pop as exemplified by the chart topping "Dare", and proved nearly as successful: the third single, featuring additional guitarist Jim McKinven, opened the Images' Top 40 account, in the UK charts, at a staggering Number 2 in the summer of 1981, establishing the elfin Grogan as a punkish Shirley Temple.|
|A Day's Wait|
release of "Happy Birthday", was backed-up with their first UK tour,
headlining. One venue, the now demolished South Pier Pavilion in Lowestoft,
where on August 27th '81 for the price of a few beers I managed to
'plug in' to the sound system and record the gig - feedback and all.
The end of that year saw the Images voted best in the 'new group/most promising' artist category in the prestigious NME poll. "Happy Birthday's" (EPC A13-1522) 12-inch bonus cut was a joyous cover of Marc Bolan's "Jeepster", giving plenty of clues as to where they were aiming. But while John Peel kept the faith and offered them a third session, others more interested in where they'd come from than their future direction disapproved of the danceable Altered Images sound as represented by the similar follow-up "I Could Be Happy" (EPC A13-1834). That these prophets of doom were outnumbered by new converts was confirmed when "I Could Be Happy" reached Number 7, and "See Those Eyes" Number 11.
Clare from their fairwell concert at
the Penthouse in Glasgow in 1984
Courtesy of Les Johnsone
Clare in a little black number
|By this time, media attention was firmly focused on Clare Grogan, whose undeniable good looks and bubbly personality made her the natural star of some strikingly effective videos: the clip for "See Those Eyes", for example, took the form of a clever parody of the cult TV show "The Prisoner", she also made a guest apperance on the video "Young At Heart" for The Blubells. Clare also wrote "Pinky Blue", a minor (Number 35) hit single and was the title track of Altered Images' second album, released in May 1982; this improved 14 places on their debut by reaching Number 12. The album received some barbed reviews from those who'd previously feted the group: "Deliberately calculated for maximum commercial return", sneered Melody Maker, while Sounds likened it to "biting into a cream egg and finding no yummy centre at all". The split in the fans' and critics' ranks was soon to be reflected in the musician credits, with McKiven and Anderson leaving the fold after a cover of Del Shannon's "Little Town Flirt" was recorded for the "Party Party" film soundtrack. They were replaced by just one person - multi-instrumentalist Steve Lironi - but even more crucial to their musical development was the employment of Mike Chapman as producer. The experiment brought another Top 10 hit. "Don't Talk To Me About Love", a disco-beat epic reminiscent of Chapman's work with Blondie's chart topping "Heart Of Glass"; it reached Number 7, but most significantly of all, its blatantly studio-created sound left Clare Grogan firmly in the spotlight, the band members were now mere extras.|
Three more singles were released: "Bring Me Closer", "Love To Stay" and "Change Of Heart", but showed diminishing chart returns at Numbers 29 and 46: by "Change Of Heart", the audience had changed allegiance and it flopped altogether. In 1983 the third album "Bite", produced by Mike Chapman and Tony Visconti, had progressed to Number 12. Following a brief tour with the addition of David Wilde (drums) and Jim Prime (keyboards) the group disbanded.
Clare as Kristine Kochanski
Clare Grogan had returned to the world of celluloid, augmenting another Forsyth film appearance in "Comfort And Joy" with selected television work (notably as the original Kristine Kochanski in the BBC sitcom "Red Dwarf"). A solo musical comeback on London Records in 1987 resulted in an unsuccessful single and an unreleased album, "Love Bomb", after which Grogan again left the music scene. By the time she reunited with Steve Lironi, fronting Universal Love School, former Image guitarist Johnny McElhone had found fame afresh as bassist, first with Hipsway then with Texas.
The Best Of Altered Images
From the British release
The two anthologies that have been released in recent years, "The Best Of Altered Images" (Connoisseur Collection VSOP CD 177) and "Reflected Images - The Best Of Altered Images" (Epic 484339 2), bring together the hits with choice album tracks and 12" mixes. Altered Imaged are more than overdue for a critical reappraisal. A chart devoid of quality songs cries out for material of this calibre: buy these albums.
From the American release
More recently Grogan has begun to present on the popular BSkyB music channel VH1, where in particular she hosted " Summer in the City" from Glasgow. During '96 Grogan returned to the recording studio, making a guest appearance on Rosta Mota's album 'Bionic', performing on one track 'This Grudge'. Recent television appearances for Clare have seen her as the earnest private eye, Ros Blackwell, in the popular, if depressing, soap EastEnders.
Clare as Ros Blackwell
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Last updated by Peter Lyell on Thursday, 20 August, 1998
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