As well as reviewing releases from new and upcoming bands and established acts, TINAS also likes to shine the spotlight on long forgotten and defunct bands that have been lost in the sands of time. To kickstart this series, Mark Steele tells the story of a post punk band from the UK called Play Dead – a band who managed to secure touring slots with Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Killing Joke and The Chameleons; along with an appearance on the cult 1980s UK TV music show The Tube.
Unless you happened to be a teenager back in the days when punk died off to form the post punk movement (goth) scene between 1979 to the mid 1980s – or you’re originally well versed in that genre, it’s probably unlikely you’ve heard of Play Dead at all. Granted, people will have heard of the usual suspects such as Sisters of Mercy and The Mission – and probably have at least an album of theirs in their collection, and likely to have seen them play live too. But, if you scratched beneath the surface you’ll find yourself falling down a rabbit hole of post punk bands – both active and long defunct. Play Dead, are one of a whole host of bands that helped to form the post punk movement and one of the earliest goth bands, even though they distance themselves from such a title.
Play Dead originally formed in 1980 in the town of Branbury, UK. Originally, the lineup consisted of vocalist Robert Hickson, ‘Re-Vox’ (Barry Turnbull) on guitar, Peter Waddleton on bass, and Mark Smith (aka ‘Wiff) on drums. Their first single ‘Poison Takes A Hold’ was released in June 1981, which got them signed to Fresh Records. Shortly after this, Barry Turnbull left the band to be replaced by Steve Green who performed on ‘TV Eye’, the follow up released in October 1981. The infectious sound of these singles, with very distinctive hooks sounded hugely fresh and vital; resulting in attracting the attention of John Peel who booked them in for their first national radio session in January 1982.
However, their progress was crippled at this critical point in their career due to the collapse of Fresh Records. Nevertheless, they weren’t deterred by this and a year later the band signed to Jungle Records to release the ‘Propaganda’ single, and the mini album “The First Flower”. Late in 1983, they released the “Shine” EP and went on a series of extensive tours; the most notable of which supporting Killing Joke which further increased exposure of the band to many new fans. From this point, they went to Clay Records (a label that was remembered for releasing Discharge’s critically acclaimed “Hear Nothing, See Nothing, Say Nothing”) where they released 4 EP’s, the full length studio album “From The Promised Land”, and a live album and video called “Into The Fire”. As a result of this, the band’s exposure grew further which resulted in a TV appearance on The Tube in December 1984 – a music show that was broadcast on Channel 4 in the UK, and even more tours.
In the summer of 1985, they released their best work yet in the form of their final studio album “Company of Justice”, which they released on their own record label called Tanz due to yet another record label collapsing. This album featured Play Dead at their best, with monumentally catchy tracks such as ‘Witnesses’, ‘Judgement’ and ‘This Side of Heaven’; featuring huge hooks that sounded like a jam session involving Killing Joke, the vocal sneer and atmosphere of Public Image Limited, presented with a pop flourish reminiscent of Adam and the Ants. Tracks such as ‘Chains’ added driving synths into the mix, adding a distinctly new wave flavour to their sound, that made the whole album sound distinctly individual and a stone cold timeless classic. In an ideal world, this album should’ve projected them to stratospheric levels of fame where they would’ve been cherry picked to tour with the likes of Simple Minds and U2 – such is the colossal presence and atmosphere the album projects to the listener. However, after touring the album in Europe and the UK in late 1985, they announced in early 1986 that they decided to call it a day. Their final performance was recorded on the live album “The Final Epitaph”, and they released their last EP “Burning Down”.
Lastly, in November 2016 there was an unsubstantiated rumour that Play Dead had reformed and were going to make a live appearance in Banbury. However, the rumours were false and unfortunately the band members show no signs of wishing to reform the band. Nevertheless, stranger things have happened in the past decade where many acts have ‘risen from the dead’ – so one can only live in hope that they change their minds.