>>1983 – History
A Formal Sigh.
This band was formed in 1980, and was inspired by one of its members, Flo Sullivan, a.k.a. Gayna Rose Madder having been in an Art College band (ie. all members were at Liverpool Art College) known as the ‘Experimental Muzak Society’. This misnomer described an untenably large band of (almost exclusively) non-musicians who produced ruinaceous versions of wonderful Tamla Motown songs for public consumption, thankfully mainly within student circles. The other founder member of EMS was Mark Peters, attending the Fine Art faculty as a painter, who had purchased a bass guitar and was determined to use it.
Three girls fronted this band, and one of them happened to be ‘Flo’ as she was then known. Belonging to the Graphic Design department of the same college, she became lead singer. When the various courses ended, and with them the band, she wanted to continue the activity so asked the aforementioned Mark to form a new band.
He had moved into a less-than-luxurious house-share, and one fellow inhabitant turned out to be an aspiring guitar player whose name was Robin Surtees. The three formed the core of what was to become a talented five piece but there were still some obstacles to overcome beforehand. Advertisements were duly placed for a drummer, and a motley selection were interviewed. Several joined and quickly left or were evicted, including a direct relative of the drummer in a very famous act, locally derived and boasting worldwide success, and the owner of a kit which boasted seventeen cymbals, which though helping to keep in business a company beginning with’ ‘Z’ left little room (sonically or on stage) for other members and equipment. At that point the band was performing as ‘This is This’, but one member of the core threesome was never happy with the name.
Eventually a newspaper ad attracted two musicians from Zimbabwe who had come to Britain and Liverpool due to the troubles in the formerly named Rhodesia. Roger Sinek quickly proved to be undoubtedly the rightful long-sought drummer for the band; but he arrived as a package with Greg Milton, a wonderfully talented but, at first it seemed, supernumerary, guitarist. His genuine Fender Telecaster impressed all, regrettably, as much as his unusual and developed technical skill and proclivity toward innovation. We decided both must join if willing.
The next step was the decision on a name. We agreed to think of five names each then make a short list, but one member arrived with a list of over 100 and a determination that, on grounds of sheer weight of numbers, one of his would succeed. We failed to reach accord and did at least one concert under the terrible disadvantage of the title ‘Unit Germane’, which the chooser had thoughtfully emblazoned on a large, bright yellow poster to fit on the bass drum. The rest of us united in an unprecedentedly solid manner to refuse to appear under this name again.
The following few gigs the band still appreared as ‘This is This’ (which some rather liked for its lack of commitment to anything at all), but the ‘Unit Germane’ proprietor was unhappy and insisted on yet another change. More lists were produced and this time the lesser of many greater evils was the name which was to stick, ‘A Formal Sigh’.
Under this name the band quickly achieved a degree of attention. A first demo was recorded and all four tracks were released on the firest two ‘tapezines’ from a well-thought-of music rag/ fanzine entitled ‘Merseysound’.
An intensive period of gigging around the North West of England brought lots of interviews and reviews, and was followed by a Radio 1 Peel session, prior to which first broadcast John Peel decided to do his first ever live radio interview with a band member (‘Flo’). There seemed to be quite a degree of media interest.
But all was not well. Constant arguments (mainly non-musical differences) caused first tensions then major and seemingly unresolvable fall-outs within the band. Gayna decided to leave and asked Robin if he wanted to form a duo with her.
A Formal Sigh were in existence for two years from 1980-1982. The band members were:
Greg Milton guitar
Mark Peters bass guitar
Roger Sinek drums
Flo Sullivan vocals, keyboard
Robin Surtees guitar
Shiny Two Shiny
The resultant pairing at first found the new format wonderfully easy to manage. With only two to please, there were few if any disagreements. Multi-tracking was the way forward as a four track recorder (‘Portastudio’) was purchased to overcome any instrumental shortcomings. Robin played guitar, ‘Flo’ sang, played keyboard and programmed bass and drums, and both wrote. In the early 1980s, they played at venues such as Erics alongside bands who would go on to become household names.
An initial demo was produced; the pair sashayed to London with a view to knocking the music industry dead, not having had the forethought to even make a single appointment.
Surprisingly they managed to get to see A&R personnel from several major and independent labels. The trip eventually elicited offers of single releases from four companies, but an even more exciting possibility was the recording of a mini-LP on the ‘Red Flame’ label. The latter was accepted; eight tracks were chosen and recorded and released as RFM 16 in November 1982.
This debut mini-album, ‘Halfway across the rainbow’, recorded on a shoestring with mainly borrowed instruments, amazed everyone when named Melody Maker’s ‘Record of the week’, as well as getting a hugely favourable review in NME. There were also other rave notices in the week of release.
The duo toured Europe a few times, with a longish trip around Germany, Holland and Switzerland, and shorter ones around Northern Europe, supporting such luminaries as Patrick Fitzgerald and Vini Reilly, and playing at such prestigious venues as the Concertgebow in Brussels on occasion. They appeared on the Belgian TV music show ‘Graffiti’.
For a while the future looked rosy for Shiny Two Shiny (whose name derived from a line in the Velvet Underground track ‘Venus in furs’). The mini LP made it into the indie top ten, and suddenly there was major label interest.
The 7″ and 12″ single, ‘Waiting for us’ b/w ‘Ritual hate’ was released as Red Flame 29 in 1983, and received daytime Radio 1 airplay; almost unprecedented for an indie release at that time. At the start of 1984 the band played at the ‘Big Brother’ music festival at the ICA in London, supporting Pink Industry. But by this time the writing was on the wall for this duo.
Shiny Two Shiny were in existence from 1983 -1984.