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Hard Corps - The Definitive Exposé

by Graham Needham (© 14th March 2014)

with contributions by Clive, Hugh and Robert themselves

Hard Corps' electronic music shone briefly in the mid eighties. Robert Doran, Clive Pierce, Hugh Ashton and Regine Fetet didn't produce a lot of material and the album that Polydor signed them up for never happened. They headed out the door, around Europe with The Cure and played to the masses with Depeche Mode. And then they faded away. Finally, after twenty-five years with the help of digital communication and distribution Hard Corps can once again be enjoyed. CyberNoise presents the definitive exposé of the band.

Hugh was born in October 1951 and grew up in the comparatively affluent London suburb of Wimbledon. By the end of the sixties, still in his teens, Hugh got an electric guitar only to end up swapping it for a bass guitar. Learning to play culminating in a 'gig' at his boarding school. In 1970 he started a professional apprenticeship by joining a band called Danta (an 8 person Afro-Rock outfit with three percussionists). They got a record deal with Epic/CBS and put out a few singles. They ended up doing an album with a French record producer (Claude Delcloo), which only got released in France. A promotional tour around France climaxed with a two-week residency in the disco of the Hotel Byblos in Saint Tropez.

Hugh left the band and moved from Wimbledon to Brixton (South London) where Danta's guitarist (Derek) was now squatting. They indulging in their own purist late 60s inspired instrumental improvisations under the name of Specta. They played a couple of Free Festivals (with Steve Hillage's Gong) and when he took a cassette to Richard Williams (editor of listings magazine Time Out but formally a respected journalist at NME) Richard said it reminded him of a German group called Neu. The band needed an engineer and it was at this time (circa 1973-74) that Robert (a friend of their drummer Sean O'Reilly) visited.

Robert met up with Hugh and ended up living in the same large Victorian house. Eventually Robert would run the recording studio (which was called Mekon) built in the basement of the house. He was confident enough now to start using the studio to record local Reggae acts. Hugh formed the Murderers (1st gig) which became Dole Q (2nd gig) who then became punk group The Skunks in 1977. Robert was the sound engineer/designer for the band. The ethos of punk surrounded the music industry and Robert experimented with live dubbing The Skunks and adding subtraction mixing to the sound, which was really treating a punk sound to dub treatment.

They spent a couple of years doing the Punk venues until one night at the Vortex in Wardour Street (Soho, London) they were 'discovered' by Pete Townshend and Keith Moon of The Who out on a drunken night of 'research'. Drunk enough to offer one of The Skunks guitar player's one of his guitars Townshend probably did not expect it but Frank (the guitarist) followed up and contacted Pete. Pete sponsored The Skunks and he spent two years helping them with equipment, advice and even a record label (Eel Pie) to release a single "The Good From The Bad". Access to equipment allowed Robert to visit Eel Pie Studios to play around with a Korg MS10. The Skunks wanted to replace their old-style rock drummer so they held auditions.

As Clive grew up he was more captivated by the machinery than by the music itself. He started to beat out the rhythms of the 45s he played on his Volmar valve record player handed down from his older brother. Finally, Father Christmas brought him not just the snare drum and stand that he yearned for but a complete drum kit. You could not get him off of the thing and he immediately started having a few proper drum lessons. He became good enough by the age of eleven to be given the chance to accompany a singer/guitarist playing covers at a Greek wedding reception in, of all places, a restaurant. He was paid the princely sum of £1. It was a one off and he continued his lessons until at the age of fourteen he joined a teenybopper group but that only lasted a year or so and all they played were cover versions.

By the time he was sixteen he was desperate to join a 'real' group playing original modern original material. He was chaperoned by his father to various auditions (his father's builders van made great drum kit transport as he had yet not passed his own driving test). He was mostly applying to bands through the small ads in the back of a newspaper called The Melody Maker. A few other fruitless auditions followed until one day he answered an advertisement from a band based in Brixton, South London - The Skunks.

Clive immediately gelled with the bass player Hugh and they chose Clive because of his tight and non egotistical style. Clive very quickly embraced the idea of playing alongside a Roland TR66 drum machine that was coming more into the sound Hugh was experimenting with, never feeling intimidated or threatened such was his confidence in his ability unlike the drummer who he had replaced. So precise was he that in one live review Clive was referred to as "the human drum machine"!

The metronomic Clive (more disco boy than rocker) adapted easily to The Skunks new direction and so they changed their name (again!) to "Craze" and started incorporating this new hybrid sound. This led to a new record deal with EMI and in 1979 they released the single "Motions" with an instrumental B-side "Spartans" which started getting played at Steve Strange and Rusty Egan's new romantic "The Blitz" club (a freshly opened hangout in London's Covent Garden). EMI even splashed out on a promotional video with David Bowie's new pet director, David Mallet. They played on tour alongside the likes of The UK Subs. But this did not prove enough and then their teenage guitar player got his girlfriend pregnant and felt he might have to quit for more stable employment. Robert co-produced a Craze album with Hugh that was never released. After Craze split they were all a little tired, jaded and disillusioned.

Punk gave everyone the attitude of get on and do things; anyone can make music. Which is counter to its stereotypical image of destruction.

Hugh took the plunge and hung up his bass after 15 years… never to be played again!

Clive came out from behind the drum kit and was able to directly influence the music, which was hugely attractive to him.

Robert started to experiment with the Roland Pitch to Voltage synthesiser. In his case he always visualised the atmosphere of music and sound and the specific sound processes he used released his imagination, where he was not hindered by a lack of dexterity on a chosen instrument. In 1981 Robert put out his first record with Mark Beer and Anton Loach (formerly of Metabolist) as The Silent Types on a Belgian label called "Double Dose" and it achieved record of the week in NME. A record of experimentation, backward tape effects, dubs and a mix of synths, vocals, sequencers and guitars.

All three of them found that the machines enabled them to break out of their previous musical roles. Being only a machine-based band initially narrowed their options musically, but at the same time as they developed into electronic musicians, it widened their musical palette. It was incredibly liberating for Robert as he sort of understood music intuitively. He always admired Brian Eno as someone felt he had a similar relationship with music.

After establishing a price discount dealing direct with Roland UK Hugh came back with his first synth - a SH-2 together with a monophonic Digital Sequencer (CSQ-100) and a new Roland publication in four volumes called "The Synthesiser" (and instantly joined the newly formed "One-Fingered Collective" alongside other English pioneers such as Depeche Mode and The Human League).

Hugh found himself teaming up with a friend David Bunny calling themselves "Beasts In Cages" and with Robert recording the project and Clive supplying some synth percussion, produced a cover version of Alvin Stardust's "My Coo Ca Choo". They also recorded an original composition for the B-side titled "Sandcastles". David and Hugh felt having heard Silicon Teens "Red River Rock" whose creator Daniel Miller had started his own record company (Mute), might be the best person to play the tracks to. At this time he was still working from his mother's home in north London but Daniel agreed to meet them in a corner of the Rough Trade warehouse (who were distributing Mute at that time). Daniel asked various questions about how they had made the sounds (particularly on "Sandcastles') but had just signed Depeche Mode and felt he needed to put all his energy and resources in to them. It was not to be! Hugh went back and started reading the previously mentioned Roland's "The Synthesizer" book while David managed to get the single released on Fresh Records.

All this led to Robert, Hugh and Clive starting to work together in the studio and this eventually turned into Hard Corps…

Hard Corps evolved specifically because of the fact that Roland were bringing out some really innovative ideas at this point in time such as the MC4 micro composers, one of the first programmable sequencers which we would later have three of. The vast majority of their tracks found form out of the slow refinement of long jams they used to enjoy getting totally absorbed into. The highlights would be captured via an MC4 or tape and then built upon as and when a new part was stumbled upon. What was left after censorship is what makes up a Hard Corps track.

David came in and they did a new song "Sacred Heart" and managed to get a support slot to play at the Marquee Club in Soho, London. David hurriedly plucked the name Hard Corps (which was a sort of opposite of Soft Cell who had recently gone to number one in the UK with "Tainted Love") from a shortlist of possible names Hugh had in his notebook. Thus under the gaze of a few disgruntled and confused rock fans being subjected to a weird reimagining of gay disco with David's one and only live outing as front man… Hard Corps was born! Soon after David became very busy with his new role as a London Taxi driver. Hard Corps were in need of a vocalist. 

The answer was to arrive at a party Hard Corps were giving at their HQ. Someone approached Hugh, who he did not know that well, and basically said, "There is this girl somewhere here who you really should meet. She is looking for people to work with because she wants to sing and she is… different and I think she might suit your music!" Regine Fetet appeared, a gaunt 29-year-old figure with a fine-featured, almost medieval visage below a fiery red mane of hair shaved away at the sides. She spoke with a mysterious clipped French accent with almost Germanic overtones, a consequence of hailing from Alsace Lorraine. She suggested she would like to revisit with a cassette of her 'work'.

Regine did come to their studio and they found that a song she had already written about a lovelorn petrol-station attendant worked well with a backing track they had recently recorded and thus the legendary track "Dirty" was born. Intrigued by the way it all seemed to combine the three men found they could create several more tracks that combined tracks they had already prepared with lyrics Regine had already written. So with this 'flesh' now added to the 'metal' the monster that was "Hard Corps" was now truly born. 

Regine's lyrics were from a deep and very private place within her harbouring a very dark and tragic past and whose present was equally as complex. The three men had to find the colourful middle ground. Clive states to this day that he personally enjoyed the French versions far more than the English versions. Regine was not really influenced by other writers or singers. She was just very keen to express herself creatively to balance her life. Something other than whatever she was getting from her work as an artist's model and her "Soho" stuff i.e. striptease, Peep Shows and other black market activities connected to the selling of flesh… which was not feeding her soul enough.

Around the end of 1983 a duo (Perfect Strangers) were in the Mekon studio being recorded by Robert. One of the member's husband (Steve McGowan) who was their manager offered to take Hard Corps' recordings around some record companies. Having got some positive feedback he effectively became their manager and developed the strategy that led to "Dirty" being self-released as a 12" white label early in 1984. Contrary to belief this was not released by Survival Records. Survival got wind of the band and offered to release the single themselves. They even used the same master plates, just crossing out the HARDCORPS1 catalogue number with their own SUR12026. They did, however, pay for and press an edited 7" version too. At the time it attained record of the week in the NME music newspaper, acheived number 7 in the Independent Charts and a place in John Peel's 1984 Festive Fifty.

Hard Corps got an offer to debut at Diorama (venue changed last minute to Busbys) for Steve Strange's birthday party in June 1984. This was organised by Rusty Egan and Steve Strange who still had a strong presence in London's clubland. After organising a party of their own, locally in Camberwell south London, getting airplay on John Peel and Richard Skinner radio shows and performing at John Peel's Rock Week on the Tuesday at the ICA in the Mall, London they then got an offer to perform on The Tube (a hip music show on British TV's brand new Channel 4) alongside Ultravox. Recordings of this show do exist but it has never been officially released. Steve then secured Polydor's interest and squeezed a complicated "album deal" out of them that was supposed to give Hard Corps creative control over all aspects including music production, press and artwork. When you only have yourself to please you can go wherever you choose musically and artistically. Signing to Polydor moved the goal posts.

Polydor wanted to gain exposure with a single release and wanted to find a producer who could supervise the recording in a proper studio rather than a "basement in Brixton". Hard Corps were suspicious but when Polydor offered up Martin Rushent they were tempted into agreeing given his achievement producing "Dare" for the Human League. "Je Suis Passée" and "Clean Tables Have To Be Burnt" were recorded at Martin's studio, "Genetic" in Berkshire. They then signed a publishing deal with Fiction, the company behind The Cure and went back into the studio with Martin.

Polydor allowed Immaculate to release "Je Suis Passée" in a faux-independent manner, commissioning a promo video from John Scarlett-Davis who had worked with Derek Jarman. Polydor then officially released the single, which got little airplay but squeezed into the UK Top 100. The fact that Polydor mispressed the initial copies of the 7" couldn't have helped. There are various remixes of Je Suis Passée and the UK limited edition 12" "Hard Mix" is one of the rarest coming in a gorgeous plastic gatefold wallet and including a poster. A UK promotional 12" also includes this mix but it is split in two across sides A and B. Polydor agreed to pay friends of theirs, talented art students Rebecca Kader and Sarah Bayley to do the logo design and other artwork.

The whole album project was subject to the typical major record company ploy of promoting a single and delaying an album until you have a hit or if not they just drop you. Hard Corps' A&R man Malcom Dunbar scouted around for another 'name' to help record a second single and to his credit, gained Daniel Miller's interest. They worked in the studio with Daniel Miller and Flood recording "To Breathe" (the original title was "I Live To Breathe").

During the course of 1985 and with all its problems Regine and Steve developed irreconcilable differences and, forced to act, Hard Corps parted company with Steve rendering themselves without a manager at an arguably critical moment in their career. Hugh took over the spokesperson/acting manager role. After performing at Islington Town Hall in London (26th March) with the men on stage in 1950s surplus store, ex-police motorcyclist's jodhpur uniforms plus members of Nitzer Ebb standing at the front of the audience dressed in long leather SS type overcoats, Hugh's first job was to have a crisis meeting with a new CEO of Polydor, John Preston panicking over just what kind of band they had signed. On the 7th June the "Live At The Fridge' video was shot on a small budget by Network 21's Bruno de Florence and mixed by themselves.

Having done a few live performances of their own in the first half of 1985, Chris Parry (CEO at Fiction) offered them the support on the up and coming "The Head On The Door" tour by The Cure ending in December 1985 to 18,000 The Cure aficionados at Bercy in Paris where someone backstage afterwards let them know that Malcom their A&R man, who had persuaded them to take on the tour, had without even telling them left Polydor to head A&R at WEA. After a meeting in January 1986 with new head of A&R (Carol Wilson) she maintained the "hit single before any album" line so Hard Corps decided they would have to try and finish with Polydor otherwise the whole situation could go on forever. This got them into a protracted legal wrangle that was to drag on for most of 1986 where Polydor legally still owned them and they were unable to release any more recordings with anybody else until the matter could be resolved by the lawyers. During this period Polydor pressed "To Breathe" as a single in several countries but did not try very hard to promote, distribute or sell it. Thus the UK promotional 12" is actually the easiest item to find. The rarest is the UK 7" single which is practically impossible to find!

Recording continued with a few new tracks such as "Rain In The UK", "Desire", "Lovers & Strangers", "Lucky Charm", "Change Your Heart" but Hard Corps decided to just send these recordings to Daniel Miller rather than playing them to Polydor. Daniel called up offering Hard Corps the UK leg of Depeche Mode's Music For The Masses tour. Porte Bonheur was the last number of their live set and Regine decided to continue her new disrobing routine. The first concert was in Newport in Wales (9th January 1988 - the moment CyberNoise's editor Graham Needham got his teenage mind blown!) and the concert promoters were furious because parents, who had accompanied their young children, were suddenly confronted with what was effectively a French stripper! Hard Corps had recruited a private detective friend to manage them for the tour and he had to deal with the fall out. Regine had to sign a letter for the tour promoters, promising specifically not to expose her nipples again. So she did the rest of the tour with a rubber band across her breasts inscribed with the word "censored".

The Daily Star UK newspaper write up, the day after the infamous Newport gig.

Picture credit: Stuart aka Depeche Mode Bong on Twitter.

After the tour finished Hard Corps made what would turn out to be their last appearance together performing at a Skin Two event (a 'fetish' club night at Zeetas in Putney, south London) organised by Tim Woodhead (17th February 1988). In the last minute of the last number of the last ever Hard Corps performance Regine finally had an audience sympathetic enough to her cause to finish her stage career… completely naked!

From the new recordings Daniel Miller selected "Lucky Charm" to be released as a single and a French language version "Porte Bonheur" was also used. Completely different long versions were also recorded with Pascal Gabriel. Some of these versions were only released on the French 7"/12" singles. The UK singles were released on the Rhythm King subsidiary Transglobal, which Daniel had started with Martin Heath. Lucky Charm was released in May 1988.

Although the band had now disbanded and had started moving on to other things Hugh and Regine prepared a couple more demos ("Tu Te Trompes" and "Des Hommes") which Robert and Clive added to. Regine also got her friend (Youth of Killing Joke) to come in and produce another song "C'Est Pas Moi" which turned out to be her last ever recording… her swan song.

Hard Corps never got to support Depeche Mode in the USA or the rest of Europe (that job fell to Nitzer Ebb). If Hard Corps had toured the states with Depeche Mode it is believed they would have worked together for at least a few more years and realised a lot of the potential that was developing as ideas in the band.

In February 1991 Concrete Productions released a retrospective compilation "Metal And Flesh". Physical releases are very rare and the vinyl LP was limited to only 1,500 copies worldwide! It is now easy enough to obtain though, specifically as a digital release through iTunes.

Robert carried on writing plus producing music and sound design for film, television and radio commercials.

Hugh joined The Sun Kings in 1992 and using the same equipment as Hard Corps they had an enjoyable time through the rest of the 90s doing their take on ambient techno incorporating their love of 60s psychedelia and 70s German music. They released three albums "Hall Of Heads" (on G.P.R 1994), "Soul Sleeping" (on Blue Room 1997) and "Before We Die" (on Chill Tribe) retrospectively released in 2009 having disbanded in 1999.

Music is now a hobby for Clive but at the time of the split he left it behind completely going to work alongside his father in his small building firm. He then moved on, with his father's blessing, to take a sideways step and use the skills he had acquired in the building trade to start working in the exhibition industry.

Regine passed away from cancer in 2003.

In 2012, strangely within the space of one hour, Clive had two record labels knocking on his (digital) door. They were Veronica Vasicka's Minimal Wave and Josh Cheon's Dark Entries. Both wanted to do a Hard Corps release, one a re release and the other a release of the pool of unreleased tracks. For a while it looked like both labels could be happily accomodated but as negotiations moved forward track lists requested became increasingly similar and now with this conflict Hard Corps had to choose one or the other. Minimal Wave won out and have released a mini album of material "Clean Tables Have To Be Burnt" and more recently the tidying up of loose ends "Rarities" compilation.

CyberNoise gives grateful thanks to Clive, Hugh and Robert for their time and energy in helping with this article and piecing together the necessary facts, dates and places.

Albeit a pet hate of Hard Corps they have kindly provided a list of equipment used on their original recordings: 

  • Roland System 100m
  • Roland MC4 micro composer
  • Roland MC500 micro composer
  • Roland TR 808
  • Roland Chorus Echo
  • Casio CZ101
  • Roland Jupiter 6
  • Roland Juno 60
  • Casio VL tone
  • EMU SP12
  • Roland SVC 350 Vocoder
  • Roland SDE - 2000
  • Tascam 85-16B 16 track tape machine
  • Roland D110
  • Big Muff Distortion Pedal
  • Akai S 900
  • Akai S 950
  • Aphex Aural Exciter
  • Revox 2 track
  • Roland SBF - 325 Flanger
  • Simmons Suitcase Pads
  • Drumulator Pads
  • Roland Octapads
Hard Corps primary artist page
Hard Corps discography

Notable Releases Officially Available To Buy

Hard Corps

• Metal And Flesh album

Hard Corps

• Clean Tables Have To Be Burnt album

Hard Corps

• Rarities album

Hard Corps

• Radio Sessions album


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