Bronski Beat were a popular British synthpop trio who achieved success in the mid-1980s, particularly with the 1984 chart hit "Smalltown Boy". All members of the group were openly gay and their songs reflected this, most often containing political commentary on gay-related issues. At the height of their popularity the band consisted of singer Jimmy Somerville backed by Steve Bronski and Larry Steinbachek, both of whom played keyboards and percussion. Somerville went on to have success as lead singer of The Communards and as a solo artist.
1983–85: Early years and The Age of Consent
Bronski Beat formed in 1983 when Somerville, Steinbachek, and Bronski shared a three-bedroom flat at Lancaster House in Brixton.
Bronski Beat signed a recording contract with London Records in 1984 after doing only nine live gigs. The band's debut single, "Smalltown Boy" (about a gay teenager leaving his family and fleeing his hometown) was a hit, peaking at No 3 in the UK Singles Chart, and topping charts in Italy, Belgium, and the Netherlands. The single was accompanied by a promotional video directed by Bernard Rose, showing Somerville trying to befriend an attractive diver at a swimming pool, then being attacked by the diver's homophobic mates, being returned to his family by the police and having to leave home. (The police officer was played by Colin Bell, then the marketing manager of London Records). "Smalltown Boy" reached #48 in the U.S. chart and peaked at #7 in Australia.
The follow-up single, "Why?", while focusing on a Hi-NRG musical formula, was more lyrically focused on anti-gay prejudice. It additionally achieved Top 10 status in the UK, reaching #6, and was a Top 10 hit for the band in Australia.
At the end of 1984 the trio released an album entitled The Age of Consent. The inner sleeve listed the varying ages of consent for consensual gay sex in different nations around the world. At the time, the age of consent for sexual acts between men in the UK was 21 compared with 16 for heterosexual acts, with several additional countries having more liberal laws on gay sex. The album peaked at #4 in the UK Albums Chart, #36 in the U.S., and #12 in Australia.
Around the same time, the band headlined "Pits and Perverts", a concert at the Electric Ballroom in London to raise funds for the Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners campaign. This event is featured in the film Pride.
The third single, released before Christmas 1984, was a revival of "It Ain't Necessarily So", the George and Ira Gershwin classic (from Porgy and Bess). The song questions the authenticity of biblical tales. It additionally reached the UK Top 20.
In 1985, the trio joined up with Marc Almond to record a version of Donna Summer's "I Feel Love". The full version was actually a medley, additionally incorporating snippets of Summer's "Love to Love You Baby" and John Leyton's "Johnny Remember Me". It was a success, reaching #3 in the UK, equalling the chart achievement of "Smalltown Boy". Although the original had been one of Marc Almond's all-time favourite songs, he sang "What'll it be, what'll it be, you and me" instead of "Falling free, falling free, falling free".
The band and their producer Mike Thorne had gone back into the studio in early 1985 to record a new single, "Run From Love". PolyGram (London Records' parent company at that time) had pressed a number of promo singles and 12" versions of the song, sending them out to both radio and record stores in the UK. Notwithstanding the single was shelved as tensions in the band, both personal and political, resulted in Somerville leaving Bronski Beat in the summer of that year.
"Run From Love" was subsequently released in a remix form on the Bronski Beat album Hundreds & Thousands, a collection of mostly remixes (LP) and b-sides (as bonus tracks on the CD version) as well as the hit "I Feel Love". Somerville went on to form The Communards with Richard Coles while the remaining members of Bronski Beat searched for a new vocalist.
1985–present: Post-Jimmy Somerville
Bronski Beat recruited John Foster as Somerville's replacement (Foster is credited as "Jon Jon"). A single, "Hit That Perfect Beat", was released in November 1985, reaching #3 in the UK. It repeated this success in the Australian charts and was additionally featured in the film, Letter to Brezhnev. A second single, "C'mon C'mon", additionally charted in the UK Top 20 and an album, Truthdare Doubledare, released in May 1986, peaked at #18. The film Parting Glances (1986) included Bronski Beat songs "Love and Money", "Smalltown Boy" and "Why?". Throughout this period, the band teamed up with producer Mark Cunningham on the first-ever BBC Children In Need single, a cover of David Bowie's "Heroes", released in 1986 under the name of The County Line.
Foster left the band in 1987. Following Foster's departure, Bronski Beat began work on their next album, Out and About. The tracks were recorded at Berry Street studios in London with engineer Brian Pugsley. Some of the song titles were "The Final Spin" and "Peace And Love". The latter track featured Strawberry Switchblade vocalist Rose McDowell and appeared on several internet sites in 2006. One of the additional songs from the project called "European Boy" was recorded in 1987 by disco group Splash. The lead singer of Splash was former Tight Fit singer Steve Grant. Steinbachek and Bronski toured extensively with the new material and got great reviews, however the project was abandoned as the group were dropped by London Records. Also in 1987, Bronski Beat and Somerville performed at a reunion concert for "International AIDS Day", supported by New Order, at the Brixton Academy, London.
In 1989, Jonathan Hellyer became lead singer, and the band extensively toured the U.S. and Europe with back-up vocalist Annie Conway and had one minor hit with the song "Cha Cha Heels", a one-off collaboration sung by American actress and singer Eartha Kitt. The song was originally written for movie and recording star Divine, who was unable to record the song before his death in 1988. 1990–91 saw Bronski Beat release three further singles on the Zomba record label, "I'm Gonna Run Away", "One More Chance" and "What More Can I Say". The singles were produced by Mike Thorne.
Foster and Bronski Beat teamed up again in 1994, and released a techno "Tell Me Why '94" and an acoustic "Smalltown Boy '94" on the German record label, ZYX Music. The album Rainbow Nation was released the following year with Hellyer returning as lead vocalist, as Foster had dropped out of the project. Bronski Beat then dissolved with Steve Bronski going on to become a producer for additional artists. Larry Steinbachek became the musical director for Michael Laub's theatre company, 'Remote Control Productions'.
In 2007, Bronski remixed the song "Stranger To None" by the UK alternative rock band, All Living Fear. Four different mixes were done, with one appearing on their retrospective album, Fifteen Years After. Bronski additionally remixed the track "Flowers in the Morning" by Northern Irish electronic band, Electrobronze in 2007, changing the style of the song from classical to Hi-NRG disco.
- Steve Bronski – keyboards, percussion (1983–95)
- Larry Steinbachek – keyboards, percussion (1983–95)
- Jimmy Somerville – vocals (1983–85, 1987)
- John Foster – vocals (1985–1987, 1994–95)
- Jonathan Hellyer – vocals (1989–94)
- Studio albums