One album wonders: World of Twist’s Quality Street

WORLD OF TWIST – QUALITY STREET (1991)

World of Twist Quality Street

World of Twist are one of the greatest one album wonders, on par with The La’s and The Sex Pistols — if unfortunately much more obscure than either. Although they’ve been broken up for more than twenty years, their cult still remains small although it seems inevitable that they will some day be granted the adoration which they so deserve. It seems only a matter of time before an excellent documentary on them screens at Don’t Knock the Rock or appears on video. 

World of Twist

As with many one album wonders, though not prolific as recording artists, the World of Twist’s members were involved in music for many years. From 1977-1979, Dave Conner (vocals), Gordon King (bass), James Fry (guitar), Julia Adamson (guitar), and Tony Ogden (drums) played in a punk band called The Blackout when all were art students in Art & Design at Stockport College in Greater Manchester.

Around 1982, King and Fry followed the latter’s older brother, Martin (of ABC) to Sheffield, then one of the most musically interesting cities in the UK (see Made in Sheffield). Over the next few years the line-up grew to included Ogden, Andy Robins (synthesizer), and Rory Connolly (saxophone). After Robins quit they were joined by Andrew Hobson (bass) and Nick Philips (organ) and by 1984/’85 they had a repertoire of about a dozen songs which they recorded as demos. Three songs from 1985 were released in 1992 after World of Twist had split up.

World of Twist – “The Sausage” (1985)

As the Sheffield scene grew increasingly predictable and homogeneous, solidified around bleak, industrial post-punk sound, World of Twist were increasingly and defiantly at odds. They opened started a club, The Wigwam, at which aimed to meld Northern Soul vibes with the aesthetic of Andy Warhol’s Factory. Aside from Julian Cope and Dexys Midnight Runners, they weren’t just out-of-step with Sheffield, but music of the era. In 1988 the band gave up on Sheffield and Hobson, King, and Ogden moved to Manchester where they shared a house with Martin Wright of Laugh. Fry moved to London to pursue photography and Ogden took over vocals. New members of World of Twist included Alan “Adge” Frost on synthesizers and visual effects, Julia “MC Shells” McGreechin on “swirls and sea noises,” and Angela Reilly on visual effects. Before long, Nick Sanderson (formely of Sheffield’s Clock DVA and later, Los Angeles’s The Gun Club) came along to fill Ogden’s vacant drum kit.

World of Twist Record Mirror

World of Twist gained attention in part for their live show, inspired by that of The Residents and progressive rock bands and which included an elaborate set pieces and effects. Their live show was described by various writers as “a dry ice fantasia” and “ a mesmerizing mix of Bacofoil, ancient technology, and Brylcreem” but because they were danceable, based in Manchester, and this was the late 1980s, that World of Twist were to be lazily lumped in with the Madchester/Baggy scene was inevitable. In reality, only fellow pastichists Happy Mondays approached the breadth of World of Twist’s bricolage, drawn as it apparently was from the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, bubblegum, Detroit proto-punk, glitter rock, Joe Meek, Krautrock, mod, and space rock.
A series of demos were recorded at the beginning of 1990 but the only label which showed interest was Virgin subsidiary Circa — then known for sort of adult alternative and sophisti-pop bands like Hue & Cry, Neneh Cherry, Julia Fordham, and Millions Like Us but as with all majors, Virgin were eager to sign a band from Manchester, which they did with World of Twist. In August, World of Twist sold out Manchester’s International 1. On 22 September, the newly-signed band recorded a Mark Goodier Session at Studio 5 in London.
World of Twists’s debut single, “The Storm,” was released 15 November, 1990. It was famed producer Martin Hannett’s last production work — he died in April 1991 of heart failure brought on by obesity and drug abuse. The band made their national television debut on Channel 4’s The Word. Guest Holly Johnson of Frankie Goes to Hollywood described them as great and likened them to “The Velvet Underground on acid.” On the other hand, when it was reviewed on BBC‘s Juke Box Jury, a bit normal guest Bernard Sumner derided them as “a bit ‘we are weird’.”
Although hotly tipped and huge at home, “The Storm” failed to connect outside the north and only reached #42 in the charts. On 23 December they sold out the Manchester Ritz, supported by Laugh, who’d recently changed their name to Intastella.
By the spring of 1991 World of Twist’s fame had grown sufficiently to the point that they sold out the London Astoria on 27 March, 1991 — supported by Saint Etienne (whose then-new singer, Sarah Cracknell made her live debut with them that night) and Sensurround. On 29 December, World of Twist returned to Sheffield for a homecoming band, supported by another band who’d left Sheffield in 1988, Pulp. Five recorded songs from the show were shown on Granada. On 25 June, they recorded a Peel Session.
Music writer Simon Reynolds summed up World of Twist’s sound as “kitsch-adelia” but their next single, albeit again seemingly delivered with tongue-in-cheek, was the stomping “Sons of the Stage,” released the same month they again played The Leadmill again with Pulp, the then growing increasingly kitschadelic themselves.

On 30 September, 1991, the World of Twist released the “Sweets,” dripping with saccharine  and ironically promoted with packs of cigarettes. The two singles did less well than “The Storm,” climbing only to #47 and #58, respectively. Still the band were earning themselves fans, sometimes in high places.

Saint Etienne’s debut, Foxbase Alpha, was released the same month as “Sweets” and the lyrics of “London Belongs to Me” included the lines:

To the sound of the World Of Twist

You leant over and gave me a kiss

It’s too warm to even hold hands

But that won’t stop us from making plans

Likewise, Noel and Liam Gallagher were so enamored of World of Twist that they considered naming their dadchester band Sons of the Stage before settling on Oasis. They also used World of Twist’s James Fry as their photographer and Liam Gallagher’s Beady Eye went so far as to record an unremarkable World of Twist cover.

Tony Ogden

Tony Ogden (image source: Die Rache)

What was to be World of Twist’s only album, Quality Street, was released on 28 October, 1991. It included a cover of The Honeycombs“This Too Shall Pass Away” and nine, single-quality originals. However, the mixing and production of the original release were problematic. In a 2005 interview with The Guardian, Ogden claimed, “We spent £250,000 making an album with the smallest bollocks in pop history.” (A 2013 re-issue does wonders in correcting the mix and adds a disc of extras.) Quality Street only reached #50 in the charts (which were then populated with artists like Amy Grant, Bryan Adams, Roxette, and Seal) and their label dropped them. They had a meeting with Alan McGee and seemed like an excellent fit at Creation, but they didn’t sign. Ogden had let it be known that he no longer wished to sing or appear on stage.

NME announced World of Twist’s split in the 27 June, 1992 issue. Ogden became something of a recluse, moving back to his parents’ home in Stockport. He continued to write music as a solo artist (listen here) and later, as Bubblegum Secret Pop Explosion, who released the digital EP Escape in the Love Machines in 2005. Ogden also collaborated with Mum & Dad on 2000’s “Dawn Rider.” Fy, King, and Sanderson continued to perform together in a new band, Earl Brutus. The Pre New are comprises of Fry, King, Laurence Bray, Stuart Boreman, Stuart Wheldon, and Vincent Gibson.

Although World of Twist failed to top the charts or even record a second album, their influence could be heard several bands and scenes that followed. In 1992, the British music press tried to make a thing out of the so-called Glam Revival (The Auteurs, Denim, and Suede). In 1993 they pushed the junk-shop retro-futurist Crimplene Scene (Pulp and Saint Etienne). The more interesting bands of Britpop combined influences drawn from the 1960s, ‘70s, and ’80s. In 1995, Romo briefly attempted to correct for New Lad with some New Romantic revivalism. In 1997, U2‘s the sound and video of “Discothèque” suggested that the Irish veterans had discovered World of Twist.

Ogden died suddenly, at the age of 44, in 2006. Sanderson died after a long struggle with lung and lymphoid cancer on 8 June, 2008. According to his obituary, his idea of heaven was driving a train whilst listening to Steve Hackett’s Spectral Morning. In 2009, artist Jeremy Deller created a piece, Procession, which included a “We Miss the World of Twist” float. In 2012, Saint Etienne again sang about World of Twist in their song, “Over the Border,” which recounts a break-in to Peter Gabriel’s house by late Nick Sanderson. It’s only a matter of time now before the rest of the world catches on.

We Miss the World of Twist

Special thanks to World of Twist (library) for keeping their legacy alive.

*****

 Eric BrightwellAlan judging is a writer, rambler, explorer, cartographer, and guerilla gardener who is always seeking writing, speaking, traveling, and art opportunities. Job offers must pay more than slave wages and involve neither listicles nor television personalities. Brightwell’s written work has appeared in AmoeblogKCET Departures, his art has been featured by the American Institute of Architectsthe Craft & Folk Art Museum, and 1650 Gallery. Art prints of his maps are available from 1650 Gallery and on other products from Cal31. Brightwell has been featured as subject in the Los Angeles TimesHuffington Postand Notebook on Cities and Culture and been a guest speaker on KCRW‘s Which Way, LA? and at Emerson College. He is currently writing a book about Los Angeles and you can follow him on FacebookInstagram, and on Twitter.

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