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Home > Articles > Music journalism > Black

December 1993

Black interview

Sean McManus met Colin Vearncombe, aka Black, backstage in Hamburg on his 1993 tour. Click here for an interview from 2000.

Black by name, black by humour. Singer/songwriter Colin Vearncombe is backstage at the start of Black's 1993 tour, reflecting on his global hit Wonderful Life. "It's another one of life's rich ironies that because my first marriage f---ed up in a very big way, I ended up writing a couple of songs that were the most successful I've ever written. My ex-wife is indirectly responsible for me having a hit," he says. "It makes me smile," he laughs. "I don't know if it makes her smile. I was never contacted for severance pay."

Photo of Black by Stuart Mentiply

Black, backstage at Grosse Freiheit in Hamburg.
Photo by Stuart Mentiply. Used with permission.

Did he ever thank her for her inspiration? "No," he says softly. "I still wouldn't. Given the chance I wouldn't do it again." Pause for thought. "Or maybe I would. I don't know how callous I am."

In Wonderful Life he knows he has a lot to be thankful for: A top ten single in a dozen countries that secures radio play to this day, over a million sales of the debut album of the same name, and the freedom to record the following three albums. "My manager asked me: 'What's the difference between me and Thomas Lang? Because he's broke in Liverpool and you're in London making records?' I said I didn't know. He said, 'Wonderful Life. That's it. No hit: no visibility. That's a plain fact.'"

Only now has he started to enjoy playing the song, though. Its mid-tempo lilt prompted no crowd reaction after the initial wave of realisation and the need to please the crowd with a familiar rendering has been restrictive. "I was beginning to wonder if it was one of those songs that work well as a recording but wasn't fast or slow enough to play live," he says. "Now we've altered it a little- brushes, drums, two acoustic guitars. It's very simple, quite gentle and works for me now. It's finally a pleasure to sing it."

The tour promotes the album 'Are We Having Fun Yet?', which has been independently produced and licensed to major distributors. "After parting company with A&M, I didn't really want to go looking for another major record label because they're all pretty much the same. They haven't got a clue. On the one hand there is no other industry where someone will invest half a million pounds on the basis of a few songs. The downside is that when things actually start to work, everybody wants to be the father of that success and it just messes things up." The new album was recorded on Black's own Chaos Reins label, and licensed to Polydor for about eight countries, with a different distributor for Turkey and Spain. "Our decision to license hasn't worked out any better than the last lot because it's still licensed to Polygram. They release maybe twenty albums a month and if you're not at the top of their priority list, things are difficult."

One of the tracks, Ave Lolita, features the sort of string orchestra you usually hear playing out the emotional highs of early movies. "Looking back through the years, it's pretty obvious I have a fondness for overblown melodramatic music," Colin says. "Although I can play that song with an acoustic guitar and it sounds like Paul Simon. There's always the question of how to record a song once you've written it." Many approaches were tried for the album, but time and money ran out. Colin welcomes this restriction, dismissing the need to spend months in the studio recording an album. "It's very obvious then that you haven't done the first part right. Get the songs right. Do the preparation. Be sure," he says.

Find something you can't do without and do it. Just do it. Whatever the cost

Second album Comedy included the track 'All we Need is the Money', dedicated to the people of Liverpool. "Looking back," says Colin now, "that was a bloody stupid thing to write. The problems that Liverpool has have nothing to do with money. You could give them any amount of money, they'll still screw up. It's just part of the city. Most of us from Liverpool seem to have a built-in self-destruct. When I go back now the whole place has changed. The streets are empty because everybody's indoors smoking pot."

Falling record sales, he says, are the result of people not hearing things they like. Colin draws a comparison with the film industry of the seventies, when video was blamed for killing cinema while dreadful films were really digging its grave. "If the tide turns," he says, "and people become more interested in what I would call proper songs again, then I want to be sat there waiting for them. I still consider myself lucky to be surviving this far."

So. Is he having fun yet? "Strangely enough, yes," he says. "The future is anything but stable and yet that it what I've always fought for: To do what I wanted to do, the way that I wanted to do it and if it doesn't work, then that's tough. It's hard, but I think if you don't do that then you really are inviting all of the problems you're going to get. That's not just for me, that's for everybody. Like the Nike advert says: Find something you can't do without and do it. Just do it. Whatever the cost."

And life can be so very wonderful.

Set list

Grosse Freiheit, Hamburg, December 1993

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