Released today in 1989: Name And Number

Mercury CAT6

Mercury CAT6

“We want hits with real music, not music that’s just computerized and put out for the sake of it. We’re not apologizing for being commercial, we’re just saying we’re not manufacturing our music to be specifically that. We’re manufacturing our music to be good music, and therefore it should sell anyway.” So said 1 Curiosity Killed The Cat’s bass player Nick Thorp in 1986, around the time that their debut single Misfit was being released. The single was representative of their early repertoire: catchy, current, clever, and, like the band’s singer Ben Volpeliere-Pierrot, charismatic. But it was undeniably commercial as well, and as this was the song to introduce them to the world, from the outset they weren’t considered credible despite the quality of their output. Some of the press coverage was uncompromisingly hostile: “Are these men dickheads?” asked a cover line on the 25 April 1987 edition of Record Mirror.

The members of Curiosity were ridiculously good-looking, so much so that some parts of the media thought it was against probability that four such attractive men could have formed a band organically. Phonogram, their record company, stood accused of manufacturing the group by hiring four professional models to front it. “Bullshit! Complete bullshit,” was drummer Miguel Drummond’s response to that allegation, although he admitted: “well, Ben’s done a bit…” 1 Indeed he had: Volpeliere had modelled in a number of high profile campaigns in the mid-80s and it ran in the family, his mother having modelled and his father a fashion photographer. Another rumour, perhaps the genesis of the idea that they were all male models, was that the other members of the band had asked him to audition as their singer having picked up a copy of his modelling card; the band denied this but the origin of the story had apparently been an early interview they had given before they’d signed with Phonogram. What was true was that they were achingly fashionable: they knew how to dress, where to be seen and with whom to be seen. This led to another accusation, that they were posh socialites who had got where they were by virtue of being over-privileged, rather than by way of any talent. “Well, we don’t come from council houses but I wouldn’t say we come from rich families,” said Drummond 2. “I wouldn’t say we’ve got posh voices. I’ve heard posh voices. We’ve got friends with posh voices.”

In fact, the band had been formed gradually during 1984, with most of the members having played with other groups previously. Thorp and Drummond were members of Twilight Children, later joined by keyboardist Toby Anderson and guitarist Julian Brookhouse. They believed their first singer was holding them back, and Curiosity Killed The Cat (named after an early song they had written) was formed when they replaced him with Volpeliere. They started putting together some songs for an album in 1985, and were encouraged by Phonogram to work with a number of different producers. It took a while for them to find one who shared their artistic ideals, and it became evident that the intended release date for the album of March 1986 was unrealistic. By the summer of that year, though, they were ready to go with the Misfit single and a chance meeting with artist Andy Warhol at a Mayfair exhibition at around that time led to Warhol offering to produce a promotional clip for the song, waiving his usual fee. (Warhol was apparently rather taken with Thorp, autographing Thorp’s arm and drawing a wedding ring on his finger when they met.) Warhol himself made a cameo appearance in the completed video, one of his last before his death early the following year.

By this point, Anderson – a few years older than the others, and without the model good looks – had been asked to leave. Curiosity’s entire repertoire had been co-written with him, however, so he was credited on every track on the album Keep Your Distance when it finally appeared in 1987. Anderson summarized his contribution to the development of Curiosity as: “I took them from being two-chord wonders to five-chord wonders, and changed their rather childish 1984 pop sound into a more sophisticated soul.” 3 That sound was later identified as ‘sophisti-pop’, the key proponents of which were bands such as Sade and Swing Out Sister; Curiosity’s single Free sounded very much like the former, and their hit Ordinary Day was produced by Paul Staveley O’Duffy, who helmed the latter’s debut album. Curiosity themselves claimed they weren’t huge fans of pop, but listed the work of Rosie Vela and The Blow Monkeys as the type of chart stuff they appreciated.

Keep Your Distance debuted at #1 on release in April 1987 and two of its singles made the Top 10 in the same year, with another reaching #11. But after a minor hit in September that year, there was nothing further from them for almost exactly two years. Name And Number, the lead single from their second album Getahead, was issued in September 1989, an unusually long gap between releases for an act that hadn’t yet fully established themselves. Name And Number was a great track, but it seemed some of their audience had abandoned them in their absence: it entered the chart at the low position of #57 the week following its release, and stalled at #14. Had the wait been shorter (a lot shorter) it might well have done better. Some of their time out of the charts had been spent touring, but what else had caused the hiatus? “We’ve been working on new material and recording Getahead,” said Volpeliere 4. “It’s not like we made a conscious decision to disappear and then to suddenly reappear with a new album; we’ve been working really hard. It’s just taken longer than we’d anticipated.” He put it down to an long-standing problem for them: “We’ve had problems with producers who didn’t really suit the band.” Another long-term problem wouldn’t go away either. The press just didn’t want to talk about their music. “We did interviews earlier in the week with that tabloids and they actually said, ‘well, you see lads, the problem is we don’t want to write anything about the music – our readers don’t want to read about it,” said Brookhouse. “They’re sitting there admitting that, can you believe it?”

1 Levy, Eleanor. “This band comes recommended by Andy Warhol”, Record Mirror, Spotlight Publications Ltd, 9 August 1986.
2 Heath, Chris. “We’ve got street cred! Woooooh!”, Smash Hits, EMAP, 11-24 February 1987.
3 MacDonald, Vici. “The Curiosity Killed The Cat Story”, Smash Hits Yearbook 1988, EMAP, November 1987.
4 Jams, Mandi. “Kiddie litter”, New Musical Express, IPC Media, 30 September 1989.

NEW SINGLES on sale from Sep. 4
1981
ADAM AND THE ANTS Prince Charming (CBS CBSA1408)
The ALARM Sold Me Down The River (IRS EIRS123)
1989
CURIOSITY KILLED THE CAT Name And Number (Mercury CAT6)
MADONNA Cherish (Sire W2883)
S’EXPRESS (Mark Moore) Mantra For A State Of Mind (Rhythm King LEFT035)

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