Fad Gadget – Back To Nature

21st October 2022 · 1970s, 1979, Music

Song of the Day

Frank Tovey was the first artist to be signed to Mute Records and Back To Nature was the second single to come out on the label.

Released in 1979 under the stage name Fad Gadget, Back To Nature is a compellingly strange example of Tovey’s unique approach to DiY electronica.

Brought up in London’s East End, Tovey went on to study visual arts and mime at Leeds Poly, initially creating music to accompany his own performances.

Moving back to London, he set up a primitive home studio in his bedroom cupboard, where he tinkered with an old Grundig tape recorder to create sound collages.

He had added a miniature drum machine and Korg synthesiser to his embryonic instrument collection by the time he ran into Daniel Miller in the Rough Trade record store and, inspired by Miller’s own release as The Normal, gave him a demo of Back To Nature and its eerie B-side, The Box.

Recognising a kindred spirit, Miller signed him to his fledgling label and, although never a commercial success, Gadget became an influential figure in the emerging world of electronica that included Cabaret Voltaire, The Human League and Soft Cell.

His bleak, sarcastic and darkly humorous lyrics were filled with biting social commentary toward subjects such as machinery, industrialisation, consumerism, human sexuality, mass media, religion, domestic violence and dehumanization while often being sung in a deadpan voice.

I have his second single too, called Ricky’s Hand – virtually a prototype House tune with its ravey 4/4 time signature – and his debut album Fireside Favourites, but I lost touch with Tovey soon after that, thereby missing his move into Cajun, blues and folk in the 1980s, and am sad to see that he died in 2004.

I never managed to see Fad Gadget live, which is disappointing now that I read about his confrontational stage antics, which included tarring and feathering himself, spontaneously ​leaping backwards into the audience, dancing across bar tables while kicking over people’s drinks, climbing up speakers and hanging from ceiling fixtures.

He was also infamous (but not enough for me to hear about it) for spreading shaving cream on his naked body onstage – then shaving and/or pulling out his body hair, and playing instruments with his head, “often ending up in personal injury.”

I’m amazed I never heard about these performances at the time – I’d have been there like a shot.