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Sophie Parkin and Leeds Cosmo Club ticket

SOFT CELL - Cosmo Club
[Dream target date November 1980]

Nestling between dark terraced streets and once affluent victorian houses, the Leeds Cosmo Club provided a haven for the alternative music scene. Russ Fisher and I settled at a table near the front of the stage, drinking pints of cheap cider as the DJ played a strange mix of rhythm and blues, vintage reggae and tamla-motown.

Soft Cell were regular performers at the club and this was our first opportunity to watch them play. The band comprised of three ex-students; keyboard player Dave Ball, film-maker Steve Griffiths and performance artist Marc Almond.

We both had some prior knowledge of the antics of Marc and his band back in our native Nottingham. Russ, being heavily into the 'indie' music scene, and myself, through contact with Ex-Mansfield Fashion student Paul Booth who was responsible for some of Marc's clothes.

Rare - Soft Cell Mutant Moments Cover 1980

Leeds Polytechnic Fine Art students, Dave Ball, Marc Almond and Steve Griffiths as Soft Cell, on the reverse of their 'Mutant Moments' EP. The collage also incorporates movie scenes from '10 Rillington Place' and 'Eraserhead'.

Punkette, Pat Smith, [another Ex-Mansfield art student] occupied a table next to the dance floor along with Sophie Parkin [daughter of racy novelist Mollie Parkin] who looked almost regal in her new romantic attire. Sophie as ever, was surrounded by a court of elite art students who were sometimes refered to as the 'Poison People'.

Mainly southerners, the Poison People included Charles Waterton, Duncan Shroud, Mark Eason and Ian Hamson'. I later discovered that they refered to me as 'the Vicar' because of the little black notebooks that accompanied me everywhere. Heaven knows what they called my friend Russ with his shock of red hair and psychotic Russell Mael [Sparks] stare? Leeds Fine Art was full of these cliquey sub-groups.

Leeds Fine Art Student mugshots

Soft Cell could always guarantee a good turn-out from the fine art students. The audience was also bolstered by those lingering ex-students who couldn't quite break away from our state-sponsored lunatic asylum.

Before the show, Almond mingled with his audience dressed in a black dinner jacket. The Poison People were laughing loudly, already high on narcotics as Russ and I downed our glasses of foul orange liquid. Other fine art musso's propped up the bar and we sniggered to ourselves as Marc snubbed the socialites desperate attempts to engage him in conversation.

At that time, Soft Cell were very much an avant garde cabaret act. It was inconceivable that they would ever break into mainstream pop music and have the biggest selling single of 1981.

Frank Sinatra's 'Mac the knife' set the scene for an evening of camp posturing. The light show was really professional. They had a neon sign at the front of the stage that had been made by Nottingham stage-set designer, Huw Feather. This bore the legend 'Soft Cell' and was flanked by two large projection screens. The screens hosted Griffith's 8mm movies of Marc prancing outside the Merrion Shopping Centre in women's clothes and make-up. The colour was really garish and in stark contrast to the group's black attire.

Dave Ball's discordant basslines, car-horn chords and Blackpool pier melodies were the perfect backdrop for the dwarfish front-man. Charged with nervous energy, Marc was like one of those seaside laughing sailors, rolling around in a glass box, limbs flailing all over the place. His echo-machine gave up just as he was launching into 'Girl with a patent leather face'. Russ was red-faced with laughter as vitriolic lyrics cut through the mix, Dalek fashion, sharp as a knife.

The girl with the patent leather face
is a psychopathic mental case

A target for the freaks and geeks
a reject of the human race...

Next, one of the cine projectors failed, leaving half the set in darkness whilst Griffiths tugged away at various live cables. It was pure theatre, but Marc and his four-track reel-to-reel just kept on turning until the set was over.

At three o'clock in the morning, the club finally turned out its mawkish clientelle into the heart of Leeds' red light district. Russ and I then had the prospect of a five mile hike to the Halls of Residence in Beckett Park. By the time we got back, my feet were on fire and my head hit the pillow like a lump of lead.

Tomorrow's Brancussi lecture was definitely off!

 

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Copyright - Paul Fillingham
Last update - 19 May, 2003