HOW does Wikipedia describe ABC’s iconic, chart-topping 1982 debut album The Lexicon Of Love?
New pop. Pop. Sophisti-pop. New Wave. Disco. Dance-pop. Blue-eyed soul. Synth pop.
On Saturday at York Barbican, one word will suffice: orchestral. That night, as part of the Sheffield band’s now extended tour, Martin Fry and co will be joined by the Southbank Sinfonia, conducted by longtime collaborator Anne Dudley, who played such a key role along with producer Trevor Horn on the original recording sessions.
They will perform the million-selling album in its entirely, complemented by further ABC hits such as the two-hour set-opening When Smokey Sings, Be Near Me and The Night You Murdered Love.
Fry, now 65, first dusted off his trademark lamé suit for a one-off orchestral performance of The Lexicon Of Love at the Royal Albert Hall, but such was the reaction that a 2009 tour ensued, and 15 years later, the Fry-Dudley partnership is off on the road again.
“When we first did it in 2009, it was a novel idea, and we spent a lot of time getting the arrangements right, not a band with an orchestra in the background but a full show,” he recalls.
Anne beavered away on the orchestral charts, filling two suitcases for the 36 members of the Southbank Sinfonia. “It’s cast of thousands on stage, more than 40 people, for these shows,” says Fry.
What a contrast with the peace and quiet of his location for this Zoom interview (on January 11). “I’m in Barbados. It’s 8.30 in the morning over here,” he says. “In the Tropics, I get up every day at about five or six. It’s really nice! Running on the beach each day.”
Soon he would be heading to London for the tour rehearsals with Dudley and the orchestra, but Fry spends “quite a lot of time” in Barbados, as well as going to Miami and “being in Yorkshire quite often”.
Yorkshire was where it all started for Stockport-born Martin Fry and ABC, the band that grew out of his original group, Vice Versa, in Sheffield in 1980. “I think a lot of it came from the double dejection of knowing there were no outlets unless you were a footballer or a hairdresser. It was a very depressed area,” he says.
The result was a debut that was both velvet and steel, fuelled by the romantic longing of Motown soul and a post-punk attitude that chimed with the South Yorkshire industrial decline and strife of the time.
“We were from an experimental background, rehearsing in an old steelworks building, where I cleaned out the building for [Sheffield band] Clock DVA, but we wanted to make a record where we’d compete on an international level.”
Fry and ABC were driven by a “combination of ambition and experimentation”. The look, the suits, came from “jumble sales where widows took their husbands’ clothes”, evoking B-movie films stars, while the sound was driven by the dancefloor and the possibilities brought on by technology changing all the time.
“I loved Pere Ubu and Joy Division, but we wanted to make music that was more polished, like Gamble & Huff and Motown, mirroring what was happening in the car plants, producing something every day.”
Living in Sheffield’s Hyde Park flats [later demolished in 1992-93], Fry did not want to patronise anyone by writing “Coronation Street dramas” in song, but instead he would showcase the counterpoint: the nightlife.
“Going to Pennys; the people that would go into Sheffield city centre in zoot suits. Very aspirational. Looking incredible,” he says. “It was that romance we were capturing – and the idea that we might one day play Las Vegas.” A dream that would indeed come true.
Released on June 2 1982 and topping the charts a week later, The Lexicon Of Love and its quartet of single, Tears Are Not Enough, Poison Arrow, The Look Of Love and All Of My Heart, felt like pop perfection from the city of Cabaret Voltaire, Clock DVA and The Human League.
How could ABC and the king of the clever couplet follow it up? “We didn’t want to Xerox it but go off in a different direction with Beauty Stab and How To Be A Zillionaire,” says Fry. “But The Lexicon Of Love has never felt like a burden…no, it’s a blessing.”
He continues to write songs. “It was great to do The Lexicon Of Love II; all new songs. That came out of playing on the road with the orchestra,” he says. “It’s just therapeutic when you stumble across something good in a song.”
The thrill of “creating a new moment” still delights him as Younger Now, Older Then joins the list. “I’m too stubborn for writing songs to become a grind,” he says.
On Saturday, York can enjoy The Lexicon Of Love once more, not only the sharp suits and sharper words of Fry, but also the orchestral arrangements of Anne Dudley.
That skill was first exhibited when producer Trevor Horn wanted to do more than merely replicate strings on synthesisers on the recording sessions. Dudley was ostensibly there to embellish the keyboards, but such was her precocious talent, she said, ‘let me come up with some string arrangements’.”
“I think they were the first ever ones she did,” says an admiring Fry. Strings reattached, those songs bloom anew this weekend.
ABC: The Lexicon Of Love Orchestral Tour, York Barbican, Saturday, doors, 7pm. Box office: ticketmaster.co.uk.
MARTIN Fry will perform ABC hits and share personal stories from more than four decades in the music industry in his ABC – An Intimate Evening With Martin FryTour.
Yorkshire dates will be at King’s Hall, Ilkley, on November 21 2024 (box office: bradford-theatres.co.uk); Dewsbury Town Hall, May 8 2025 (creativekirklees.com); Scarborough Spa on Saturday, May 10 2025 (scarboroughspa.co.uk); Northallerton Forum, May 11 2025 (forumnorthallerton.org.uk); Harrogate Theatre, May 21 2025 (harrogatetheatre.co.uk) and Leeds City Varieties Music Hall, May 23 2025 (leedsheritagetheatres.com).
“I have been very lucky in my career to have played venues around the world from massive arenas in the States to Sheffield Town Hall in my hometown, where we marked 40 years of The Lexicon of Love,” says Fry. “However, this tour really is something a bit different; an opportunity for stripped-back music and conversation with my fans. It will be really special, I can’t wait.”
Fry will be promoting his upcoming autobiography, A Lexicon Of Life, now available for pre-order in two formats ahead of its summer publication. The first is a signed, numbered edition of 2,500 with an exclusive CD featuring newly recorded acoustic versions of ABC hits and two new tracks .
The second, a deluxe edition, is limited to 350 signed and numbered copies, including the autobiography, hand-bound in the gold Savile Row fabric used for Fry’s iconic jackets, an exclusive gold vinyl record featuring Fry’s new acoustic versions and a rare bonus CD of ABC’s Traffic album.
The featured songs will be Tears Are Not Enough; Ten Below Zero; Poison Arrow; The Look Of Love; When Smokey Sings; How To Be A Millionaire; Never Get To Be The King; All Of My Heart; Be Near Me and The Luckiest Man Alive.
Head to: awaywithmedia.com/buy-books/martin-fry.