Andy Bell talks to Rachel Pegg about a life in music, the rebirth of electronica and Erasure’s new album
They are one of the most successful pop acts of all time. It might be a while since Erasure had a top 20 hit, but Andy Bell and Vince Clarke still have a massive worldwide fanbase. Now they are releasing their definitive collection, along with a remix album.
Since 1985, Erasure have produced 13 albums and sold 20 million copies. So does releasing a collection of 40 hits bring home how phenomenal that success has been for the former butcher from Peterborough? “It’s a nice reminder when you step back and see how much you’ve actually done,” says Andy. “We’ve been round the world a few times and done loads and loads of shows and the amount of albums we’ve done is probably a record. It’s nice to see all the songs there together.”
Some people, Andy says, think the band broke up in the 90s. In fact, they’ve released five albums since 2000 and are getting back together for more writing in the autumn, with a view to touring next year.
“I’ve been working on a solo project but it’s a bit up and down,” says Andy. “This makes me appreciate what I have with Vince. It’s so easy working with him and everything’s completely split 50 50.”
The pair – who Andy described as the ‘Gilbert and George of pop’ (quinitessentially British) now rarely see each other, as Vince lives in Maine with his wife and son and Andy is in Hastings with his boyfriend of three years. So does Andy miss Vince – who was affectionately labelled by Gaydar Radio ‘one of the gayest straight men in the world’? “I do miss him, yeah. I miss his humour and him being there, especially when we’re doing interviews. It’s nice to have a sparring partner, also we’re both down to earth and quite shy, and enjoy having a little drink.”
Andy’s ‘electro dance‘ solo album should be finished next month. While he admits he “doesn’t keep up with a lot of stuff” he has been enjoying the revival of electronic music, with acts such as Hercules and Love Affair and MGMT. “I was in New York, probably in October last year,” he remembers. “This one bar I go to is called Underground, the local gay neighbourhood bar. All the music they were playing was quite minimal electronic stuff. A lot of it I thought was from way back when, but it was quite modern. It is interesting how things go round.”
These days, he thinks, fashions change quickly and in some ways it is easier to be a young woman in the UK music scene because you get more attention. “If you’re in the media and you’re the latest hyped band, it’s quite easy to get a head start, but it’s hard to maintain, so here things are short lived and go in and out of fashion quite quickly. People don’t realise how much media control there is. In America, because it’s bigger, you have to go round and do grassroots work and play to all the audiences there.” Digital radio and MySpace does make it easier for Erasure who, Andy admits, are not a ‘Top 40‘ or ‘MTV‘ band.
Just down the road from Brighton, Andy pops to the city once in a while – although not everyone recognises him. The last time he came was for Pride in 2008, when he got refused entrance to a bar for being drunk. “I wasn’t drunk at all,” he says. “I stumbled as I was going up the step and they said I was too drunk. I had to name drop myself, which I never do. They let me in then.”