FOUNDATION

The details on the formation of the group(s) are a bit contradictory and confusing. This is due to three problems: firstly, there aren't any articles from 1980, and all information about that period is based on the memories of the band members in later articles. It is understandable that the further back in time it got, the more hazy the memories became. Secondly, in the early days, there were often no clear questions put forward, but rather suggestions, which the band members tended to "jump on". Journalists also often tended to refer to earlier articles instead of asking their own questions. Thirdly, DM weren't taken seriously at all when they started. They were seen as little boys who had nothing important to say, so they generally weren't asked anything of importance.
However, it was something like this:




In 1977 Vince and Fletch founded No Romance in China, with Vince on vocals and guitar, and Fletch on bass. Another source says that No Romance in China was founded in 1979. I tend to go for 1977, because Fletch once said they had this band when he was 16, and he was definitely 16 in 1977.
There are two different sources that mention a band named The Plan with Robert Marlowe on vocals and Vince on guitar in 1978. Until 1979, Martin played guitar in an acoustic duo called Norman and the Worms with Philip Burdett on vocals. Simultaneously, in 1979, Martin and Vince were in another band.
Dave: "Vince had a band. The French Look with Martin, Rob Marlowe, and Rob Allen who I mixed sound for. Then Vince started Composition of Sound with Andy and Martin. The two groups fell out because both wanted Martin. Typically, he couldn't make up his mind, being nice to everyone."[1]
Other sources say that The French Look had the following members: Martin, Robert Marlowe and Paul Redmond. As Dave was a friend of Paul Redmond - this was an explanation given in a later source - these sources are probably correct, or maybe the members of these early bands rotated continuously.



Tunnel

(A tunnel in Basildon - with friendly permission of © Leah)



It's not quite clear how much Vince, Martin and Fletch were in touch with Dave at that time. On one occasion the impression is given that they only knew him by sight. Another time Martin said, "It wasn't as if he was a total stranger. In fact we've all known each other since schooldays."[2] Of course, this could also mean that they only knew him by sight, especially because they didn't go to the same school.
There is another source quoting Dave as saying, "Vince Clarke I met one day outside a pub in the city centre."[3] So he might have known Vince better than Martin and Fletch. On the other hand, he must have known Martin - at least by sight - because of mixing the sound for The French Look, as he said.
A later source gives a further explanation. "I was just a mate of Paul Redmond, this massive punk guy in Basildon with bright orange hair who everyone was scared of," Dave said. "I clung on to Paul because no one would touch me then."[4]

However, in 1980 Vince, Fletch and Martin started Composition of Sound with two guitars, bass (played by Fletch), and a drum machine. Although Martin wrote some songs too, Vince was the leader of the band, wrote the songs and took care of the lead vocals. While Fletch and Vince were friends, just like Fletch and Martin were, Martin didn't know Vince well. This became clear from later sources.
They had two gigs as a trio - one at Scamps in Southend and another at Deb Danahay's party (the latter wasn't a real gig; Deb Danahay was Vince's girlfriend).
Fletch: "When we first started, we did concerts around people's houses in Basildon, that's before Dave joined, and it was quite good. One of the gigs we'd played, we played in front of seven people and ten teddybears." (laughs) "And we dressed up in eh ..."
Dave: "Pyjamas." (giggles)
Fletch: "Pyjamas. It was just a good laugh. We still got the tape of that concert."[5]
Unfortunately, no one seems to be sure about the exact dates. Maybe no one can remember because these gigs weren't even minor successes.
Fletch: "The crowd didn't react so Vince lost his temper with them - plugs were kicked out."
Martin: "There were a lot of fourteen-year-olds who'd never seen a synth before, so they were fiddling with the knobs going 'What does this do?'."[6]


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Something was still missing in order to be successful.
Martin: "So although we desperately wanted a singer we were prepared to take our time and be patient, and wait for the right person to come along."[7]
This right person ran into them short time later.
Fletch: "We needed a front man, a singer. And we got a front man. What happened was, we got him just on the strength of him singing Heroes in a jamming session. We weren't even sure if it was him singing it, there was so many people singing!"[8]
This was apparently the first time the other ones really got aware of Dave, regardless of whether they had known him before. Vince thought they should have him in the band because "he thought," Dave said, "I looked so pretty in my Marks & Spencer jumper and my corduroy trousers."[9]
Probably that wasn't the main reason.
Dave: "Vince was very smart with getting me on board because I was with the so-called in crowd in London and in Essex at the time. We would always take the train to these exclusive little clubs in London where they'd be playing Kraftwerk and Berlin-era Bowie and it ended up being a little scene. It was one to two hundred people tops, and a lot of them were my friends, so Vince saw that we had an in to these places."[10]
Vince: "Dave Gahan was the local fashion accessory of Basildon. He was the New Romantic. He was rumoured to have attended the club Blitz in London, so it was all very glamorous. So, we decided to get him in as a front man because he was flamboyant and extrovert and very, very confident."[11]
Martin: "He did have a sense of style, and I think that was one of the reasons why we recruited him as a band member. I think we recruited him because he was hanging out with a core crowd of people. He seemed to have a lot of friends, which gave us an instant audience." (laughs)
Fletch: "During the New Romantic time, he looked amazing as a New Romantic. Us generally, when we tried to become New Romantics, we weren't so successful, especially me."[12]
About a week after the rehearsal in which Dave had sung Heroes, "I got this phone call from Vince. He said 'Was that you singing?' and I said 'Yes' - it was actually a bunch of people singing, but I said it was me.[13] Vince asked me if I wanted to sing at a rehearsal. I was quite shy but it was something to do."[14]

The new band was complete now. It's not quite clear when the first common gig took place. Some people say it was 31 May 1980, other people say it was 14 June. Probably it was 31 May because at both dates Composition of Sound played at Fletch's and Martin's old school in Basildon as an opening act for The French Look. At that time, Martin was still playing with both groups. He first played with Composition of Sound, then changed his shirt and got back on stage - this time with The French Look.
Dave was very nervous and needed - according to Fletch - "ten cans of Lager" to calm down.
Dave: "All I can remember is repeatedly saying to myself: I don't want to do it, I don't want to do it."[15]
To ease his nervous tendency he invited a lot of friends - most of them so-called New Romantics - which was some kind of start-up for the project and made it go. It seems that Dave really was very useful at this early stage of their career.
Fletch: "Dave knew the Southend social scene, which enabled us to get gigs playing in front of 300 people."[16]
Dave: "I had this bunch of friends who liked to dress up and go to gigs. So we almost had a ready-made audience of about 30 people who were the cool people of Southend."[17] The number of people is different in each source - 30, 50, 100, 200, 300. Probably sometimes 30 friends came along and sometimes 100.
They started at the Bridge House in London where the promoter gave them a chance to play. These gigs were very valuable as well as the ones at Crocs in nearby Rayleigh. There was also someone who helped them along.
Dave: "The resident DJ, Rusty Egan, liked us and so we then got a spot on one of the Thursday nights he was running at the Venue."[18]
Fletch: "We must have played at Crocs fifteen times, and that gave us a lot of encouragement.[19] Every Saturday we'd go along and play in front of 300 people, 280 of whom we knew."[20]


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While the other three band members were quite satisfied with just playing some gigs in front of some friends, Vince, in contrast, had ambitions to become big and to develop musically. "When we started we wanted to sound very clear. You go and see a band, and the drums and guitars and saxophone, it's like a wall of sound. I'd rather have a sound where you can pick out each instrument, each melody line. And also, we wanted the rhythm to be at the forefront, so you can dance to it."[21]
Making dance music was important to them, not at least because of the little crowd of followers Dave organised for their gigs. They wanted to dance, and the band had the ambition to make them dance.
But it wasn't Vince then who gave the start for becoming a synthesizer band during summer 1980. Martin was the first who bought a synthesizer. He admitted that he had had it for one month before he found out that he could change the sound. "You know that sound that goes - WAUGH? I was stuck on that for ages. And when we made our first demo all the tracks have the same sounds on it.[22] It didn't take long for the others to follow suit. Synths're a lot easier to learn to play from scratch than most other instruments."[23]
Dave: "We didn't get into synthesizers just for the fashion. It just happened that way. A few of our friends were into them and we just liked the sounds."[24]
Martin: "To us, the synth was a punk instrument because it was still fairly new, its potential seemed limitless. It gave us a chance to explore."[25]
It had been quite easy for them to turn into a synth band.
Fletch: "Vince'd spent about six months trying to save up to get a guitar, and he was a bit annoyed when Martin bought his synth and it seemed pretty good so then he saved up another six months and got a synth, so we had two, and then I was playing bass. And then Vince turned round one day and said, 'I think it might be good if you get a synth as well - make it all electronic.'"[26]

There had been some other (known) gigs on 21 June, 2 July, 16 August, 30 August, 20 September, 24 September and 11 October, at Alexandra Pub in Southend-on-Sea, at Crocs in Raleigh and at the Bridge House in London before they changed their name from Composition of Sound to Depeche Mode.
From the start they weren't good with names and titles. So they thought of many names for the band - most of them quite strange (no examples were mentioned), but nothing really occurred to them.
Martin: "Dave was doing fashion design and window display and used the magazine Mode Dépêche as a reference."[27] It means 'fashion news dispatch' or 'fashion update'; but they didn't care much about the meaning. "It's always a tough job trying to get something that you like and appeals to other people too. We saw the name on the magazine cover and it clicked. We've never bothered to find out what it stands for!"[28] (Hard to believe when you know that Martin had an A-level in French.)
It's not quite sure on which date they appeared as "Depeche Mode" for the first time. Some people say it was 16 October 1980 at the Bridge House, other people say it was 29 October at Ronnie Scott's in London. I guess it was 16 October because there is a newspaper with an ad for this gig.


trennlinie


From that point things moved on step by step. At Crocs DJ Rusty Egan introduced them to Stevo Pearce, another DJ, who asked them whether they wanted to contribute a song to the Some Bizarre Album. The album consisted of tracks by unsigned New Wave groups. Stevo believed in the music that was included on the album, as opposed to the fashion or style aspects.
Vince: "At the time we had no record company contract and we were kind of interested in this sort of thing so we did it. We kind of regret it now because of the futurist connotations."[29]
In fact, it took them years to get rid of this Futurist thing and also to get rid of the New Romantics image.

During that period they, (or at least Martin, Fletch and Dave), still didn't have ambitions to become a big successful band. Nevertheless, they wanted to make a record. So they recorded a demo tape and approached all kinds of record companies. (Many years later some of these tapes appeared on eBay, which caused a small sensation among the fans.) But it took some time until someone took an interest in them.
Fletch: "When we first took our tape round we didn't get anything from any of the record companies."
Dave: "Yeah, me and Vince went everywhere, visited about 12 companies in one day.[30] We got turned down, and no-one was interested [31] except for this Rastafarian who wanted to turn us into an electronic reggae group. Seriously! It was really weird - he had this plan to take us to Nigeria ...[32] Even Daniel [Miller of Mute Records] wasn't interested at first. We were at Rough Trade with our tape.[33] They were our last hope, we thought at least we've got them, surely they'll like it, after all they've got some pretty bad bands, but even they turned us down! They were all tapping their feet and that and we thought - this is the one! - then they went, 'Hey, that's pretty good, it's just not Rough Trade.' Then they said, 'How about this man?', pointing at Daniel who'd just walked into the room. He took one look at us, went 'Yeech!', walked out and slammed the door!"[34]


trennlinie


But on 11 November, when DM played the opening for Fad Gadget (later Fad Gadget would play the opening for DM) at the Bridge House, Daniel Miller approached them and invited them to do a one-off single.
Vince: "We've got a better chance on Mute. Daniel's been good to us and we like the way he operates. He had a big success with the Silicon Teens, and we've got that same sort of lightweight feeling to us.[35] Mute are one of the most honest companies going. We like the one to one way of working. We spoke to all the majors and found they weren't nearly as pleasant as they first appeared, we were a bit dubious about them. I suppose we were just lucky to meet the right person at the right time ..."[36]
Dave: "Daniel was the first one we could trust; he said that if either party didn't like the other, we'd call it a day."[37]

The contract was sealed on a mere handshake - and DM became, after Fad Gadget and Non, the third band on Mute that didn't even have their own office at that time.
Daniel Miller (by the way - did you know that he studied at film school and became a film editor after leaving college in 1971?) started his career as the founder and head of Mute Records in 1977, when he released the single TVOD / Warm Leatherette on his own. He never thought of approaching a major label. In fact, he didn't like them at all. The idea of being an independent appealed to him, and he started with 500 copies of TVOD / Warm Leatherette. Due to the success he started a co-operation with Rough Trade. When he met Fad Gadget, Miller decided to work with other people's music.
He became a kind of "musical father" for DM, and for a long time he was something like the "secret fifth member" of the band. These days he is still involved in everything the band is doing.



New Life

(New Life - with friendly permission of © Sandra Lara)



The band appreciated this very much and stayed with Mute, although some bigger companies had approached them after their initial success, and tried to sign them.
Dave: "All of a sudden, everyone was interested and the majors were queueing to sign us. Suddenly that style of music came in, and they were all after us.[38] They'd come to the gigs, buy us meals and generally fatten us up. They offered us loads of money, it was quite tempting really, but we trusted Daniel, didn't want to let him down."
Fletch: "I think we lose out a bit because there's things we can't do as we haven't got hundreds of thousands of pounds behind us. We've got a partnership deal, so anything we do we pay for ourselves."[39]
On the other hand, they could release whatever they wanted to, and were in control of everything concerning them. They were allowed to (as Alan would say many years later) develop and make their own mistakes - something many other artists aren't able to do, because most of them are more like victims of their record companies than their partners. There are enough examples of young bands that are just the puppets of their record companies, instead of being real artists. Some have to release one album after another, others aren't able to make a record at all because they are blocked. It's a dirty business. DM were to learn this, but they would always be in a very fortunate position. On the other hand, they have always had the status of outsiders in the music business. Maybe this is part of the mystery of why they are big, without being really famous.
Martin: "With Mute it was always step by step, as it still is. Originally it was just a one off single deal where everyone else was trying to get us to sign up to make nine albums. That seemed too much."[40]

There was still the Some Bizarre-project, but as Miller also had some connections to Stevo, both projects were fulfilled in the end. At the end of 1980 DM recorded Photographic for the Some Bizarre Album - with Daniel Miller as producer. The band set up their equipment in the studio, and ran through some of their live tracks, finally selecting Photographic. It was recorded and mixed in a day.






References:
[1] Dave Gahan: The Wild Boy, No. 1, 4 May 1985
[2] Angels with shining Faces, Record Mirror, 1 August 1981. Words: Mike Nicholls
[3] Dave Gahan: The Wild Boy, No. 1, 4 May 1985
[4] Interview with Dave Gahan, Mojo, 22 March 2013. Words: Martin Aston.
[5] Interview with Dave and Fletch, Radio 1 (UK), 19 February 1982. Interviewer: Unknown.
[6] Going U.P.!, Smash Hits, 9-22 July 1981. Words: Steve Taylor
[7] Depeche Mode, Bobcat Books, London 1986. Words: Dave Thomas
[8] Depeche Mode: Hurried Fashion, The Face, June 1981. Words: Ian Cranna
[9] Depeche Mode, Published by HMV / Melody Maker, September 22nd 1990. Words: Uncredited
[10] "Through That Darkness You'll Find the Light", EB Magazine, 12 March 2013, Words: A.J. Samuels.
[11] The Story Of Depeche Mode, BBC Radio London Live94.9, 7 May 2001, Producer: Tony Wood
[12] My interview with Depeche Mode, 29 January 2010, words: oyvindholen
[13] Just Can't Get Enough, Uncut, May 2001. Words: Stephen Dalton
[14] Dave Gahan: The Wild Boy, No. 1, 4 May 1985
[15] Going U.P.!, Smash Hits, 9-22 July 1981. Words: Steve Taylor
[16] Andy Fletcher: The Brigade Boy, No. 1, 18 May 1985
[17] Just Can't Get Enough, Uncut, May 2001. Words: Stephen Dalton
[18] Angels with shining Faces, Record Mirror, 1 August 1981. Words: Mike Nicholls
[19] Going U.P.!, Smash Hits, 9-22 July 1981. Words: Steve Taylor
[20] Mode Ahead, Muzik, July 2001. Words: Ralph Moore
[21] Play for Tomorrow, New Sounds, New Styles, August 1981. Words: Pete Silverton
[22] Modish Musings, Sounds, 7 November 1981. Words: Uncredited
[23] Angels with shining Faces, Record Mirror, 1 August 1981. Words: Mike Nicholls
[24] Basildon a La Mode, NME, 21 March 1981. Words: Chris Bohn
[25] Depeche Mode, Published by HMV / Melody Maker, 22 September 1990. Words: Uncredited
[26] Depeche Mode: The Interview, Talking Music SPEEK013, 1988
[27] Martin Gore: The Decadent Boy, No. 1, 11 May 1985
[28] The Name's the Game! Zig Zag, November 1982. Words: John Kercher
[29] Basildon a La Mode, NME, 21 March 1981. Words: Chris Bohn
[30] The Bright Side of the Moon, Sounds, 4 September 1982. Words: Karen Swayne
[31] Modish Musings, Sounds, 7 November 1981. Words: Uncredited
[32] The Bright Side of the Moon, Sounds, 4 September 1982. Words: Karen Swayne
[33] Play for Tomorrow, New Sounds, New Styles, August 1981. Words: Pete Silverton
[34] The Bright Side of the Moon, Sounds, 4 September 1982. Words: Karen Swayne
[35] This Year's Model(l), Sounds, 31 January 1981. Words: Betty Page
[36] Mute Speak, NME, 2 May 1981. Words: Vivien Goldman
[37] Going U.P.!, Smash Hits, 9-22 July 1981. Words: Steve Taylor
[38] Modish Musings, Sounds, 7 November 1981. Words: Uncredited
[39] The Bright Side of the Moon, Sounds, 4 September 1982. Words: Karen Swayne
[40] Everything Counts (in Large Amounts), Number One, 19 October 1985. Words: Paul Bursche



Biography: 1981

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