In 1981, synth-pop five-piece Landscape scored a surprise chart hit when Einstein A Go-Go climbed to No. 5 on the UK charts.
It was the second track to be lifted from the band’s sophomore LP, ‘From the Tea-rooms of Mars… to the Hell-holes of Uranus’, and their first appearance on the charts, after the instrumental act opted to experiment with vocals on their latest project.
“We were about to make a new record and we’d started writing it,” Richard James Burgess tells RETROPOP’s August issue. “I was sitting around at home that Christmas and I was working on some stuff when I called the other guys and said, ‘Look, making another instrumental album is a waste of time, because they’re incapable of understanding an instrumental record of the nature that we’re trying to make’.
“We thought about bringing in a singer, but we’d all played in enough bands to know that means another personality and another ego, so we said, ‘Screw this, we’ll do it ourselves’. None of us had ever sung on a record, ever, but we divided up the vocals and started writing lyrics.”
It was a decision spurred by the commercial failure of their previous, self-titled album, their first on RCA – “We sold more copies of our first two EPs on our own label than RCA did of the first Landscape album,” he notes – which brought with it a culture shock for the band.
Before being signed, their independence meant that, between them, the band was responsible for all aspects of recording, releasing and promoting their music, including booking gigs, PRing their releases and ensuring their records made it onto shelves. “We actually allocated pseudonyms to each of us,” Richard reveals. “I remember I went out and bought a manual typewriter and we would type the letters up under these pseudonyms, depending on what we were doing.
“We’d show up at gigs and people would say, ‘I really enjoyed talking to so-and-so, is he here?’ and we’d go, ‘Oh no, he’s in the back office’. Because it would be us talking on the phone, but the old phones weren’t that clear so they never really figured out that we were trying to look bigger than we were.”
During the week, the group would work on various day jobs, with Richard continuing to secure session work, the fruits of which paid their living expenses and whatever was left over was reinvested into the band. “We really felt that we were the most essential punk band, because we were a DIY band, we had our own label and we delivered through the same distributors like Rough Trade and Lightning,” he continues. “Sonically, we were not aligned with punk per se, but if you look at where we stood in relation to jazz or funk at the time, we definitely had a punk attitude.”
The musician adds: “We knew we had a really great band and we were doing something really innovative and believed that if we just kept doing it, we’d get better and better. But we really weren’t looking for commercial acceptance; we just thought, ‘If we keep hammering away at this, we’ll get there…’”
Ultimately, the band released three albums before parting company and revisiting their work for a new box set release has given Richard a newfound appreciation for the material. And although their commercial success was a flash in the pan, he looks back fondly on their rise through the pop ranks.
“We had a lot of theories in Landscape,” he chuckles. “Before we got the RCA deal, the theory was that instrumental music is more universal than vocal music, because internationally you don’t have a language barrier. And that obviously proved to be wrong.
“The other theory was we shouldn’t write songs about love. You know, ‘Everybody writes songs about love, let’s write some songs about something a bit more meaty’. And obviously, that proved to be wrong as well.”
‘Landscape – Landscape A Go-Go: The Story Of Landscape 1977-83′ is out July 21 on Cooking Vinyl.
Read the full interview in the August 2023 edition of RETROPOP, out now. Order yours or subscribe via our Online Store, use our Store Finder to locate your nearest stockist, or get Digital Copies delivered direct to your devices.