Black is a misleading name for this British pop outfit. After all, it has only one member, his name is Colin Vearncombe, and he's about as white as a boy from Liverpool can be. Black actually began as a trio eight years ago, with its first public performance on New Year's Day in 1981. It released one independent single, Human Features, but 18 months later it was a group no more.
"The problem with the other two members of the group was that they were nowhere near as keen as I was, and had a lot of other interests," Vearncombe said from London. "It came to a typical confrontation: like the guy who was actually least interested was the guy who had the vehicle."
"And you say, 'who was it who wrote the songs and got the gigs'?" Vearncombe went off in search of new ideas and inspiration, but kept the name Black. "I liked it, and I had a lot of problems with most people pronouncing or spelling my old surname," he said. Teaming with another aspiring musician, Dave Dix, in the middle of 1982, Black released two critically-acclaimed singles for WEA, Hey Presto and More Than The Sun, before parting with the label after the songs failed to generate commercial success. Dix left the band in 1985 to concentrate on his career as a producer, although he has continued to have input as producer on Black's projects.
The song Wonderful Life was released as an indendent single, and prompted A&M records to sign Black for an album with that hit as its title track. The Wonderful Life LP has sold 1.3 million copies worldwide, with gold albums in four countries, platinum in one, and the single scoring top ten in more than a dozen countries, including Australia.
Black's latest album, Comedy, is due to be released in Australia next week. It was unveiled in England in November, but has met with a quiet initial response. "So far it's just about as you'd expect a second album that hasn't had a hit off it yet, to do," Vearncombe said. He believes it will take a while for people to discover the music.
"The people whose opinions I respect have been saying that," Vearncombe said. "I look at the current state of the music scene in this country, and it's very unstable, very confused. I think that most people who are trying to do something, if you like, in a similar vein to me are finding at the beginning that there's a certain novelty value and then its very difficult to sustain."
Comedy delivers ten more Vearncombe compositions, including the first single The Big One. Vearncombe believes the new album is marked by a greater maturity in his songwriting, and a warmer, and more lyrical flavor than the melancholy Wonderful Life. "I suppose it's the same idea as the classic idea of a singer/songwriter,' Vearncombe said of his music. "I like to associate myself with those sort of people who can come from more or less any sound or genre - people who write songs that somebody else can pick up their guitar and do their own version of."
Black will kick off what could develop into a world tour in London at the end of February. Then he takes the show through Europe, Japan and possibly on to Australia if the album fares well here. Vearncombe believes touring is an important part of making music. "Somehow it makes it real in people's eyes. Nobody can trust their ears any more. I think people do actually like their artists to be real. There's a very limited lifespan for a couple of artists that we all know of being figureheads for production teams."
Vearncombe has hired another seven musicians for his touring band, including most of the studio artists who worked on his albums. "Half of them are from Liverpool, sort of great undiscovered talents," he said. "There's no such thing as a session musician in Liverpool. There isn't the industry to sustain it, but there are actually a few odd original players, who have nowhere near the same technical grounding as the people in London - but those guys get so bogged down in theories that quite often they can't just let rip and let you have something a bit more unusual."