Modern English – Gathering Dust

1st February 2024 · 1980s, 1981, Music, Postpunk

Not many bands slipped through the cracks of my post-punk world in the early 80s but Modern English seem to have passed me by completely.

More’s the pity because this song, Gathering Dust, is right up my street, building from its tribal intro beginnings into a gloomy but exuberant anthem filled with dissonance and weird electronic effects. If I’d bought it I would have filed it alongside records by the Glaxo Babies and Theatre Of Hate.

Formed in Colchester in 1979 by Robbie Grey (vocals), Gary McDowell (guitar, vocals), and Richard Brown (drums), they were originally called The Lepers – an excellent name for a punk band, which is what they were.

They expanded both name and band with the addition of Mick Conroy (bass) and Stephen Walker (keyboards), becoming Modern English and expanding their sound by the time they released their first single on their own Limp Records.

The song was a brooding spoken-word number called Drowning Man, with a clear influence of Joy Division and Wire. I actually prefer the B-side Silent World, which has eerie echoes of Bauhaus (if Peter Murphy had had an estuary accent).

Those enough for 4AD to snap them up, releasing another single called Swans On Glass, followed by this one – Gathering Dust – and a debut album called Mesh & Lace.

They took a softer, brighter pop direction on their second album, sounding more like Simple Minds and even Duran Duran, and enjoyed a minor US hit single with I Melt With You (more than 50 million views on YouTube) before the original trio became involved with This Mortal Coil.