Tik & Tok
Tik & Tok
Big night in Bristol
From robotics in Star Wars and XTRO to stage work with Gary Numan... ES&CM investigate a versatile duo
Tik and Tok are best known for their many television appearances as robot dancers, but since their performances as support act on the latest Gary Numan tour the public is beginning to accept them as a musical act as well as a visual show. Their recording career has been varied and not altogether successful; commercial though their sound has always been, they're still waiting for a hit single. Tik explained that the two met in 1979 — "in mime school — I was part of a rock-mime group called Shock at the time. We were working all around the country, playing every sort of venue; then we met Rusty Egan of Visage, and he asked us to front a new version of the old Glitter Band song Angel Face, for which he'd recorded the backing tracks with Richard Burgess of Landscape. I wasn't writing at the time, but here was an opportunity to get a recording deal, so we signed to RCA through a production company called Survival Records. Rusty and Richard had done all the backing tracks with the Roland MC4 Microcomposer and live drums, so we just added the vocals over it. It was a very danceable version, and got some radio play, but the distribution was poor. So then I started writing with Richard — I wrote the lyrics and he fitted them to his music. Out of this period came the second Shock single, Dynamo Beat, which charted around 110 — that time they had the distribution but not the marketing, so we didn't get anywhere with that one either!"
"The trouble with working with someone who does all the music is that very little of your own ideas come through — we were hoping that we could let them do it for the moment, and our chance would come later. Dynamo Beat was a good song but needed more guts to it — I liked the Landscape sound but it was rather clinical, and not exactly what we wanted. So the group split, with two members leaving, and we couldn't make up our minds what to do — we had our own ideas, but the girls didn't know, so they left, and it was down to us."
Tok commented that "RCA wanted us to be a sort of Futurist Buck's Fizz" — "we really didn't want that — I wasn't interested in churning out music like a conveyor belt with other people playing it and producing it. I was determined to do a cover version of Summer in the City, and got a friend, Peter Godwin, to produce it. Russell Bell of Dramatis played keyboards and guitar, and we took it around all the major record companies. They liked it but couldn't get it out in time for the summer, so we went to Survival and they put it out in four weeks. The trouble was that all we had for a B-side was an instrumental recorded on Fostex four-track, with a jokey telephone conversation slapped over it — Survival liked it and wanted to use it, but we had to mix it in two halves and they somehow got out of phase, so that in stereo it sounded awful! We were determined that nothing like that would happen again, but we're still limited by financial pressures."
The next single, Cool Running, was based on the robot dance music Tik and Tok use in their stage show. "For that one we used the LinnDrum for the basic patterns, the Sequential Circuits Pro-One and Roland SH-101 for sequences, and the Roland Juno 6 for chords and a couple of lead lines. We did the bass lines on the 101, and there are four or five guitar lines. I'd just heard an album by Yellow and liked the way they used flanging on their sequences — we tried to get that sound, with the help of Richard Austin, the engineer, who worked with us on two other tracks. We'd try to describe a sound to him and he'd always get it for us! There are several versions of Cool Running available, the 7" A-side, the 7" B-side which has more of the lyrics, and which I still think we should have used as the A-side, plus the 12" version and a four-track version as a bonus on the 12". We're pretty pleased with the arrangements — it's sparse, but it builds up well."
"RCA wanted us to be a sort of futurist Buck's Fizz"
Asked about their future plans, Tik concentrated on their ambitions to tour with a band; "Although we can get away with singing against a backing tape because our show is so visual, there's no real power to it because you don't have the ability to improvise, to extend parts that are going well or shorten less successful sections. We really want a four-piece band, which will have to be carefully structured so that it looks good but isn't obtrusive. We don't want to do anything in a half-hearted way — there's nothing worse than compromising the visual aspects of the act. We also have to write at least four more songs for the act, which is limited to about half an hour at the moment. We also want to expand the range of the music we do — one of the new songs is very loud and punky, just drums, guitar and bass, and there's another one called Lust, a sleazy sort of love song, which probably won't have synths either. We wouldn't want to sound like Kraftwerk all the time — a whole album of synthesizer dance music would just become boring. One of the reasons Gary Numan is so popular is that not all his songs are danceable, and he doesn't always rely on synthesizers. I like Celtic rhythms, and I'd tike to do something like Alan Stivell's music, with Celtic structures and funky rhythms. Brass and sax don't interest me, but we'd love to get our hands on something like the Emulator — we could do amazing things with it in conjunction with our visual show.
"We wouldn't want to sound like Kraftwerk all the time — a whole album of synthesizer dance music would just become boring."
"One of the nice things about working together", Tok adds, "is that since we're not musicians, in the sense that we don't count bars and so on, we aren't limited by musical conventions. Also the public doesn't expect a particular sound from us — we want to use a live drummer instead of the LinnDrum, and get away from the precise, logical sound of music created with the MC4."
After the Gary Numan tour ends the band will be taking a rest, then producing a new single for release in January, while rehearsing their new stage show. Tik concludes "Musically I think we've got a lot of surprises in store — nobody has any preconceived expectations of us at the moment, so we can get away with anything we like!"
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