Thompson Twins were a British pop band that formed in April 1977. Initially a new wave group, they switched to a more mainstream pop sound and achieved considerable popularity from 1983, scoring a string of hits in the United Kingdom, the United States, and around the globe. In 1993, they changed their name to Babble, to reflect their change in music from new wave to dub-influenced chill-out. They continued as Babble through 1996, at which point the group permanently dissolved.
The band was named after the two bumbling detectives Thomson and Thompson in Hergé‘s comic strip The Adventures of Tintin. At various stages, the band had up to seven members, but their most known incarnation was as a trio between 1982 and 1986. They became a prominent act in the US during the Second British Invasion, and in 1985, the band performed at Live Aid, where they were joined onstage by Madonna.
In 1977, the original Thompson Twins line-up consisted of Tom Bailey (born 18 January 1956, Halifax, Yorkshire) on bass and vocals, Pete Dodd on guitar and vocals, John Roog on guitar, and Jon Podgorski (known as “Pod”) on drums. Dodd and Roog first met when they were both 13 years old.
Arriving in London with very little money, they lived as squatters in Lillieshall Road, London. Future Thompson Twins member Alannah Currie (born 20 September 1957, Auckland, New Zealand) lived in another squat in the same street — which is how she met Bailey. It was in this ramshackle and run-down house that they found an illegal way of “borrowing” electricity from the house next door. Bailey described themselves (laughingly) as spongers back then, as they were living on very little and scavenging everything they could lay their hands on. He even said that the only instruments they had were bought, or had been stolen or borrowed. Dodd managed to get a council flat(public housing) not far away. Their roadie at that time was John Hade, who lived in the same house, and who later became their manager.
As Podgorski had decided to stay in the north, the group auditioned for drummers at the Point Studio in Victoria, London. Andrew Edge joined them on drums for less than one year, and went on to join Savage Progress, who later toured with the Thompson Twins as their support act on the 1984 UK tour.
In 1980, the band (now consisting of Bailey, Dodd, Roog and drummer Chris Bell, who had replaced Edge the previous year) released their first single, “Squares and Triangles”, on their own Dirty Discs label. A follow-up single, “She’s In Love With Mystery”, was issued later that year.
In 1981, the line-up became Bailey, Dodd, Roog, Bell and two new members: former band roadie Joe Leeway on congas and percussion, and Jane Shorter on saxophone. This line-up recorded the first Thompson Twins album A Product of … (Participation), documented in the film, Listen to London (1981). Currie, who had been associated with the band for a few years, played and sang on the first album, but was not yet a full member.
After the first album, the band’s line-up shifted yet again. Saxophonist Jane Shorter left and was replaced by Currie (who also played percussion), and bassist Matthew Seligman, a former member of The Soft Boys and The Fallout Club, joined; leaving Bailey to switch to keyboards; and with Leeway starting to handle vocals on some tracks.
The band signed to Arista Records and released the album Set. Thomas Dolby played some keyboards on Set and some live gigs, as Bailey had little experience with synthesizers before then. Set contained the single “In the Name of Love”, sung and largely written by Bailey. It became a No. 1 dance club hit in the US, and an album entitled In the Name of Love (consisting mainly of tracks from Set, with two others from A Product Of… (Participation)) was released in the US to capitalize on the song’s popularity. It entered the US Billboard 200.
After the success of “In the Name of Love“, Bailey, Currie and Leeway, wanting to pursue the single’s different sound, toyed with the idea of starting a new band on the side, which they planned to call ‘The Bermuda Triangle’. When “In The Name Of Love” (and the parent album Set) failed to make a substantial impact in the UK record charts, this plan was abandoned. However, at the same time, manager Hade convinced Bailey, Leeway and Currie to downsize the Thompson Twins to a core of the three in April 1982. Accordingly, the other four members of the band were notified that the band was breaking up; they were each paid £500 and were allowed to keep their instruments and equipment in exchange for an understanding not to perform together under the name “Thompson Twins”.
The remaining Thompson Twins, who had not in fact “broken up”, decided to go abroad to free themselves of any UK influence, as well as to combine the songwriting for their first album as a trio with a long holiday. They first went to Egypt and then to the Bahamas where they recorded at Compass Point Studios in Nassau with the producer Alex Sadkin.
Bailey commented on the band’s reduction to a trio in a 1983 interview: “When we reformed the band, we were making a statement. We weren’t going to be a rock ‘n’ roll band, we weren’t going to have a guitar. We were going to move on. You know, Lou Reed said whenever he played live he ended up going back to heroin music. There are old associations, associations we don’t want because they don’t reflect the way we feel today. … Right now, technology is what’s important, and that’s what our music tries to reflect.”
The band broke into the UK Singles Chart and the US Billboard Hot 100 chart at the beginning of 1983 with “Lies” and “Love On Your Side“, which became the band’s first UK Top 10 single. They then released their third album, Quick Step and Side Kick (called simply Side Kicks in the US), which peaked at number 2 in the UK and was later certified platinum. Further singles followed with “We Are Detective” (another Top 10 UK hit) and “Watching” (UK No. 33). All three band members worked collectively on songwriting with Currie providing lyrics and Bailey melodies. In addition Leeway was responsible for stagecraft, Currie for videos and imagery and Bailey for musicianship and production. During 1983, the band had the opening spot on The Police concert tour in the US.
“Hold Me Now” was released in late 1983. The song was an international chart success, peaking at No. 4 in their native UK where it became the band’s biggest seller earning a gold disc, and reached No. 3 in the US in the spring of 1984 becoming their biggest American hit. The band’s new album, Into the Gap, was released in early 1984 and became one of the year’s biggest sellers, selling five million copies worldwide. It topped the UK Albums Chart and was later certified double platinum there. Further hit singles from the album followed with “Doctor! Doctor!” (UK No. 3) and “You Take Me Up” (UK No. 2, their highest UK singles chart placing and which earned a silver disc). Other singles included a new version of the album track “Sister of Mercy” (UK No. 11), and “The Gap” (though this was not released in the UK). The band embarked on a world tour in support of the album, which had also made the US top ten.
A brand new single, “Lay Your Hands on Me“, was released in the UK in late 1984 and reached No. 13 in the UK charts. Following this, the band parted company with their producer Alex Sadkin and opted to produce their new album, Here’s To Future Days, by themselves in Paris. However, in March 1985, while promoting their new single “Roll Over” and the forthcoming album, Bailey collapsed in his London hotel room from nervous exhaustion. The “Roll Over” single was then cancelled at the last minute and the new album postponed. Though the band had chosen to produce themselves, the postponement caused them to rethink the project and producer Nile Rodgers was subsequently called in to rework the album with them. The album was eventually released in September 1985, reaching the UK Top 5 and US Top 20, though failed to come close to the success of Into The Gap. It was preceded by the single “Don’t Mess With Doctor Dream” (UK No. 15) and followed by the single “King For A Day”, which peaked at No. 22 in the UK, but reached No. 8 on the US chart. Other singles included a new US version of “Lay Your Hands On Me” (US No. 6), and a cover of The Beatles‘ 1968 hit “Revolution“, which failed to make the UK Top 40.
Prior to the album’s release, the Thompson Twins performed on the American leg of Live Aid in July 1985 and were joined onstage by Madonna. The planned summer 1985 tour of the UK (and a headlining appearance at the Glastonbury Festival) had to be cancelled due to Bailey’s health problems (fans with tickets received a free live album as compensation), though international dates were rescheduled and the latter half of 1985 saw sell out tours for the band in the US and Japan. A second planned tour of the UK in 1985 was also scrapped due to the promoter declaring bankruptcy.
Leeway left the band in 1986, and the remaining duo of Bailey and Currie carried on making music for another seven years. The act’s first release as a duo was the North America-only single “Nothing In Common“, issued in July 1986. It peaked at No. 54 in the US, and No. 68 in Canada.
1987 saw the release of Close to the Bone and the single “Get That Love”, which climbed to No. 31 in the US but failed in the UK. “In the Name of Love” was given a new lease on life in 1988, after a remix by Shep Pettibone made the Top 50 in the UK. 1989 saw the release of another album, Big Trash, and a new recording contract with Warner Bros. Records. The single “Sugar Daddy” peaked at No. 28 in the US and would be their last brush with mainstream chart success.
1991’s Queer would be the band’s swansong, and was supported by various techno inspired singles under the moniker of Feedback Max (in the UK) to disguise the identity of the band to club DJs. The single “Come Inside” reached No. 7 in the US Dance Chart and No. 1 in the UK Dance Chart.
Prior to this, Bailey and Currie (who were now a couple) had their first child together in 1988, and in the following years they spent a lot of time writing material for other artists including the hit single “I Want That Man” for Debbie Harry in 1989. In 1990, Bailey and Currie contributed the song “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?” to the Cole Porter tribute album Red Hot + Blue produced by the Red Hot Organization. In 1991, Bailey and Currie were married in Las Vegas and the following year moved to New Zealand with their two children. In 1992, the Thompson Twins contributed the song “Play With Me” to the soundtrack of the Ralph Bakshi film Cool World; Bailey alone contributed a second track, “Industry and Seduction”. The following year, the duo teamed up with engineer Keith Fernley and changed their band name to Babble. They released two albums, in 1993 and 1996.
The Thompson Twins declined to follow the examples of many of their contemporaries and reform to tie-in with a nostalgic rebirth of the 1980s, although Bailey, Currie and Leeway appeared together on the UK Channel 4 show Top Ten Electro Bands in 2001. The Thompson Twins were placed ninth.
80s Studio albums
- A Product of … (Participation) (1981)
- Set (1982)
- Quick Step and Side Kick (1983)
- Into the Gap (1984)
- Here’s to Future Days (1985)
- Close to the Bone (1987)
- Big Trash (1989)