Pete Burns became a pop icon as the lead singer of Dead Or Alive. They topped the charts with You Spin Me Round in 1985. The band went on to sell over 30 million records.
In 2006, Pete came to prominence once again when he appeared on Celebrity Big Brother, becoming one of the most popular contestants to enter the house. His appearance was not without incident. His coat was seized when he claimed it was made from a gorilla – “My coat’s been arrested!’ Pete had joined the pantheon of the great English eccentrics. He was better known for his ever changing looks and ferocious put downs than his songs.
Since his death in 2016, the focus has shifted back to his musical legacy. We caught up with Michael Neidus from Demon Music to find out more about the Dead Or Alive box sets and a never before heard album.
First of all, how did you discover Pete Burns? “It was That’s The Way I Like It, their first hit. I wasn’t aware of the singles that came before. It was something you heard on the radio and you’d see them on Top Of The Pops. I remembered the original KC and The Sunshine Band version. You could see there was an energy and excitement with the band.”
They followed-up with You Spin Me Round which put them on top of the charts. “It was just a great pop record. They wrote everything themselves. They didn’t go to producers and act as puppets for them. They were their own band. They went to Stock Aitken Waterman with the finished masters. They just wanted that extra something added to it.”
They did have more hit singles and made several more albums, although they wouldn’t go on to match the success of You Spin Me Round. “For a lot of artists, their best songs aren’t the songs that went to number one. In those days you never had a simultaneous release. Songs would be released in different territories, giving artists time to do promotion in one place. Now everything is immediate.”
“Dead Or Alive just ran with it in Japan. There are certain territories that will embrace what an artist has to offer. The hits may have slowed down in the UK, but there was still a market for them and people still wanted to see them play live. That went right the way through the 80s in Japan.”
They continued to record and tour in the 90s. “Pete teamed up with the Italian group Glam and did Sex Drive. After the perceived peak period, Dead Or Alive was really Pete and Steve Coy. Steve would always say it’s not me, it’s Pete. But Pete would equally admit that without Steve, Dead Or Alive may not have continued.”
“After Fan The Flame in 1990 they worked very much together. I think that was their strength. They were both so different but they had the desire to progress things.”
How would you characterise the Dead Or Alive sound? “Nowadays we’d call it electronica but it’s very much dance and pop. I’d hear some of the tracks that were hits in Japan, and I’m sure if the tracks had been played in the UK they would have been embraced and charted. But the focus from the label was elsewhere.”
“With Fan The Flame it’s on the cusp of the 80s and 90s, so it’s very reflective of what was going on in the clubs at the time. In 1995 with Nukeopatra it was more industrial sounding. And then for Fragile in 2000 there was a change of pace; there were some great songs on that album. They were showing their vulnerability a bit, reflecting what was going on in their lives at the time. Each of those albums are different.”
“Then of course you have the Japanese remix album of Fragile called Unbreakable. We know a lot of fans aren’t into that album. If you actually listen to it some of the tracks are really good.”
Since Pete Burns’ death in 2016, there have been two box sets. Sophisticated Boom Box MMXVI was a sprawling 19 CD collection of all their released work. Pete and Steve oversaw the release of that project. This was followed up with Invincible, a box set of their later albums.
“We were very close with Steve. Pete was going through some personal struggles at the time. We didn’t know how bad it was. The first box set was due for release the week Pete passed away. I got the call on an Italian number from Steve – he said ‘Pete’s dead.’ They came over from Italy and had to do all the formalities.”
“Working with Steve afterwards on subsequent releases, I knew he wasn’t well either. I didn’t know how ill he was – he kept it very private.” Steve Coy passed away in 2018.
“Pete did do an interview about the first box set with Super Deluxe Edition. It was one of his last interviews. The bigger box set was very expensive and very large. We wanted to put out something more manageable too.”
With none of the original band members left, Demon Music put together the Invincible box set. “We also knew that there was unreleased material. We wondered if there was enough for another album. Finding the multi-tracks in the archive was a godsend. We had no idea what state they were in. When we digitised them we heard what they were going for. And that was the plan after Boom Box came out – to go back and finish what they started and bring out something new. Or at least a new version of something they’d done before.”
That being Fan The Flame (Part Two) – a collection of songs they recorded in the early 90s. “It follows Fan The Flame and there’s a progression in the sound. Fans will hear where they were going with it. It was a stepping stone towards their later work. Fan The Flame was quite soulful. The unreleased recordings reflect that sound – it later became a heavier sound.”
How do you go about curating an artist’s unreleased work? “Usually, if something’s unreleased it’s unreleased for a reason. If you see something from a PWL sideboard unit from 1987 that says ‘Do Not Use’ it means don’t use – not you can use it in 30 years. We found some other recordings that were great but they didn’t have vocals – Pete hadn’t finished them. There’s no point putting out a full instrumental album.”
“I feel like I’ve got Steve over one shoulder and the shadow of Pete over the other. You do feel a bit of pressure. You think what would they have done?”
How would you sum up Pete’s legacy? “Timeless because we’re still talking about it. Invincible because both Steve and Pete thought that they were.”
“I wanted to get the artwork for Fan The Flame (Part Two) right. The photographer who worked with them at the time sent me a lot of stuff. That included a selection of seven or eight photos from the same session, so you had some continuity. With Pete’s arms raised it looked like a phoenix rising. That’s why it’s called Fan The Flame (Part Two) (The Resurrection).
– 2CD A5 Mediabook
– 2LP Translucent Orange Colour Vinyl
– 1LP Clear Vinyl