I must say, I really enjoyed the Thompson Twins’ Tom Bailey performance at Sydney’s Enmore Theatre last night (22 October 2022).

They had a very tight, modernised electronic sound with Tom accompanied by “the sisters of mercy”, as he called them – a younger, all girl band dressed in white. In particular, the bass player Alice Offley had a chic look with great stage presence. Tom played a Strat, synth leads and some of the percussion parts that his ex Alannah Currie presumably would have played in the past. His lively keyboard player also played a modern looking electric cello, also in white.

The ‘Into The Gap’ album was performed in full, but re-ordered so that the sing-along anthems ‘Doctor! Doctor!’ and ‘Hold Me Now’ were at the end of the set. They kicked off the show with some of their early 80s singles and a very cool version of The Talking Heads ‘Psycho Killer’ – brave move to tackle that one! Tom also snuck in ‘Science Fiction’ from his solo album of the same name, which came out around the same time as my Space March ‘Future Memories’ album in 2018 – I remember seeing some overlap in audiences at the time.

‘Into The Gap’ was IMHO the Thompson Twins’ finest album and one of the great pop records of the 80s, with quite a unique flavour. The semi-title track ‘The Gap’ has such a cool, moody sound with its eastern inflections – I love it! But of course, the best pop records from the 80s didn’t have just one or two hits, this one had four – ‘Doctor! Doctor!’ / ‘Hold Me Now’ / ‘You Take Me Up’ / ‘Sister of Mercy’.

Interestingly, despite the undeniable success of the album, music critics have reframed the record much better today than how many of the critics of the day saw it – Smash Hits gave it 2.5 out of 10 – ironically, too trashy for a trash magazine. But of course, 80s synthpop was in many ways a direct confrontation with the music establishment, challenging many of its notions about how pop music should be made, performed, and sound. I recall an interview with John Mellencamp in the 80s where he used the Thompson Twins as an example of this machine made music (synthpop) that was destroying the world. But 80s Synthpop to pop music was akin to what the Bauhaus was to 20th century art – it was fully embracing the modern technological world and finding that interface between man and machine. An uneasy concept for many to accept.

One of the things I like about ‘Into The Gap’ is how playfully it explores different approaches to songwriting and production. Most bands do just one thing, which can soon become monotonous. But great pop bands like The Beatles or Pet Shop Boys give us a wide diversity of song styles on an album that becomes a kind of adventure.

On a side note, the ‘Into The Gap’ record was produced by Alex Sadkin, who in my opinion was one of the great 80s producer / mixers – Duran Duran ‘Seven and the Ragged Tiger’, Arcadia ‘So Red The Rose’, Talking Heads ‘Speaking in Tongues’, Grace Jones ‘Nightclubbing’, and many others… All his records have a splendid spatial quality to the mixes.

I must admit, I never expected I would see Thompson Twins live, but so glad I did. As a show, it reminded me in some ways of a Howard Jones gig – more about the musicianship than theatrics. Having said that, there was a giant red orb that found its way into the audience making me feel like I was living through an episode of the trippy British TV series from the 60s – ‘The Prisoner’.

Criticisms. The Australian support acts were so clearly inappropriate – what were they thinking? I would’ve liked to have seen some bold, graphic, modernist video graphics on stage as Pet Shop Boys, New Order, and Kraftwerk do, but I realise that this was a modest gig in the antipodes, and I suspect bigger events may get the video backdrop.

Yours truly at the Enmore Theatre, Sydney, 22 October 2022.