The Ron Kane Files

Writing About Music

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Department S

DEPARTMENT S

GOING LEFT RIGHT STIFF UK BUYIT 118 12"
1981 3 TRKS with pic sleeve

GOING LEFT RIGHT / SHE'S EXPECTING YOU STIFF UK BUY 118 7"
1981 2 TRKS with pic sleeve

I WANT STIFF UK SBUY 128 12"
1981 3 TRKS with pic sleeve
I WANT / MONTE CARLO OR BUST STIFF UK BUY 128 7"
1981 2 TRKS with pic sleeve

IS VIC THERE? MAU MAU UK MAUCD 633 CD
1981 17 TRK Collection ('93 issue)

IS VIC THERE? / PUT ALL THE CROSSES… STIFF DE 6.13179 7"
1981 2 TRKS with pic sleeve

IS VIC THERE? / SOLID GOLD EASY ACTION DEMON UK D 1003 7"
1980 2 TRKS with pic sleeve

IS VIC THERE? / SOLID GOLD EASY ACTION RCA UK D 1003 7"
1980 2 TRKS no pic sleeve (RCA PB 5344)

Pre-Department S: Guns For Hire

I'M GONNA ROUGH UP MY GIRLFRIEND'S BOYFRIEND… KOROVA UK KOW 6 7"
1980 2 TRKS with pic sleeve

Post-Department S: Vaughn Toulouse

CRUISIN' THE SERPENTINE RESPOND UK SBSX 2 12"
1985 3 TRKS with pic sleeve

I think my introduction to Department S was via a salesman at an importer – likely hyping it as “Cockney new wave” or some such cabbage. It was possibly the “Is Vic There?” single or maybe “Going Left Right” – which I would’ve gone for in a quick hurry, as it was produced by David Tickle, the guy who was doing Split Enz and The Swingers. “I Want” (pictured) came a few months after “Going Left Right” – and we anticipated their eventual album that never materialized. In fact, “(Sub) Stance” didn’t see the light of day until 1993! I’ve read stuff on-line about why it didn’t come out, but…listening to the unreleased album in my car on the way to work this AM…it’s a great album, and had it been released in ’81, it would be in my Top 5…er, Top 3?

At the time, if you had the 2 x 12” singles (3 each) and the “Is Vic There?” (and it’s B-Side, a T. Rex cover version) 45, you could own a total of 8 songs by Department S. In fact, I am certain I made a cassette of these 8 songs!

When are they coming to L.A.? When is the album coming out? When’s the 4th single coming? All unanswered questions, as 1981 turned into 1982. The show moved so fast in those days that I likely stopped worrying about Department S after reading that they’d “called it a day” in either Melody Maker or the N.M.E. When Vaughn Toulouse’s solo single appeared in ’85, I was overjoyed…but it was, sadly, an unimpressive single. I had a much better jolt after discovering that Department S had began as Guns For Hire, with a cracker UK new wave 45, “I’m Gonna Rough My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend Up Tonight” (Yikes, I even paid $10 for it!). Dang, I wish I’d known about this ’80 gem in ‘80/’81! But in the pre-internet age, either you read about it in the aforementioned magazines / newspapers, or the guys at the record importers told you about it.

Because we never knew for certain that there was supposed to be a Department S album – I never bothered asking anybody (at the exporters, or from the record importers) about it. I suppose I could’ve written to Stiff Records in England, but…too many other things to worry about at the time, I suppose.

What great songs! I even love their B-Sides – almost all of which are as good as the A-Sides! “She’s Expecting You” is particularly amusing – it’s Vaughn Toulouse giving you driving directions all around West London – and the punch-line: “She’s Expecting You”! “Put All The Crosses In The Right Boxes”, an ode to boredom & suicide, but a great song! Monte Carlo Or Bust” – just fantastic! Great riff! And the album is not slack – it’s a killer. Why oh why was it not released in ’81?

So, the good news is that the eventual compact disc had everything but the Guns For Hire 45! The big selling point: it has the original album (in original sequence). Great band, great album. The bad news is that the CD is likely out of print. I just sold my two extra copies to two very lucky friends! I personally thank Mau Mau / Demon for releasing this CD!

I once found an interview with the guitarist on-line – he didn’t really illuminate too much about why the album wasn’t released. He confirmed what I’d heard – that singer / writer Vaughn Toulouse died of A.I.D.S. some time in the early 90's.

Looking for some more British new wave thrills from ’81? Are you a fan of Josef K, Monochrome Set, Revillos, XTC, Magazine? I strongly recommend Department S to you. It’s not a long haul – the CD is a mere 54 minutes, and if you add the 2 x Guns For Hire songs – it’s still probably under an hour’s worth of material. I join the chorus of people proclaiming Vaughn Toulouse to be “a diamond geezer”, thank you for the music, guys – can I buy you a drink?

= = =

News flash! Department S 'exist' again in '07! New single due shortly, and they are now mingling with Madness (the band). They have their own website, and a "My Space" page and guitarist Michael Herbage is still rockin'!

5 Comments:

Anonymous Jim Donato said...

Re: Department S

Brilliant band! I immediately bought "Going Left Right" on 7" when it was released - after all, it was produced by David "do no wrong" Tickle! I was a fan of him from his stellar work engineering Blondie [Eat To The Beat] in addition to his production of Split Enz. I don't believe I had yet heard The Swingers. I bought it - and loved adding "GLR" to to mix tapes for many years. The dynamism of that cut just can't be stopped! I waited in vain for the album [or even single follow-up] that never came. I knew about "Is Vic There" but never saw a copy to buy.

Flash forward 16-17 years. I happened upon a internet book/vinyl/CD/video "cutout" dealer who offered the "Is Vic There?" CD of the album [among many other delights] that never got released for a pittance! I bought it, loved it, and scratched my head as to how in hell this super album I had been primed to buy [and how] from that amazing single had fallen off the map for over a dozen years! Fortunately, the CD is in print under its true name, "Sub-Stance" and should prove easy to purchase for all right thinking individuals! I think it offers 2-3 peel cuts in addition to what the MauMau disc offered.

My guess is that Stiff was busy in 1981 pouring money into Madness.... Hrm... "Money Into Madness" - what a great band name! When the [superior] single "Going Left Right" failed to match the charting of "Is Vic There?" they balked at releasing "Sub-Stance."

7:54 AM  
Blogger Ron Kane said...

Yes, brill band indeed, Jim-san. Must find the new version of the CD, to get the tracks I do not already have!

10:12 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jeez, I love this album, thanks Ron. More wise ass fat guy swagger like Les Escrocs or Ian Dury anytime...

7:16 PM  
Blogger Ron Kane said...

"fat guy swagger"? Bob?

10:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Fat Guy Swagger" I mean, working class intellectuals with greasy hair like Vaughn Toulouse, the dude from Les Escrocs, Black Randy, etc.. I think there's a certain tradition of these large fashionable sarcastic guys who have too much smarts and attitude to fit inside of indie rock. I love 'em all.
-Bob

9:03 PM  

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