China Crisis found Steely Dan’s Walter Becker a taskmaster on Flaunt the Imperfection


By Steve Newton

There’s nothing like seeing a band that’s huge in another country close up in a club-size venue. For local fans of Britain’s China Crisis, that opportunity will arise Thursday (April 9) at Club Soda. It will be the pop quintet’s first Vancouver appearance since opening for SImple MInds here three and a half years ago.

Considering that China Crisis has done well in Canada with the singles “Black Man Ray”, “King in a Catholic Style”, and their latest, “Arizona Sky”, it’s kind of surprising that they’ve been booked into such a relatively small location.

Gary “Gazza” Johnson, who creates the band’s funky bass underpinnings, called the Straight from his mother’s back kitchen in Liverpool last week and informed us that the band had just finished a sold-out British tour of 1,500- to 2,000-capacity gigs.

Says Johnson: “We might find that when we get over to Vancouver and other places in North America that people have underestimated our drawing potential.” That’s a distinct possibility. Let’s just say that if you haven’t already gotten tickets for the show, you’d better be quick in lining up at the door.

Johnson joined founding members Gary Daly (lead vocals) and Edde Lundon (guitar/vocals) after the recording of their first LP, which carried a mouthful of a title: Difficult Shapes and Passive Rhythms–Some People Think It’s Fun to Entertain. Because that made two Garys in the group, Johson got stuck with “Gazza”, which he says is a popular nickname for Gary in Liverpool. At 30, Johnson is five years older than Daly and Lundon, but they’re all from the city that the Beatles made famous.

Gazza says his earliest bass-playing influences were Paul McCartney and John Entwistle, but more recently, one player that has had more effect on him than anybody else is Bernard Edwards of Chic. Edwards’ influence is quite evident on China Crisis’ 1985 LP Flaunt the Imperfection, which was bolstered by Johnson’s exceptionally fluid bass runs.

The album was also notable for its production by Walter Becker of Steely Dan. A gorgeous collection of jazzy, percolating pop tunes, Flaunt the Imperfection won critical acclaim as well as airplay. But when it came time to record their latest album, What Price Paradise, the group had no desire to work with Becker again.

“He was very much the boss,” recalls Gazza, “and when it came to actually putting the music down on tape, he was a pretty hard taskmaster. And we wanted What Price Paradise to be more of of a band album you see.”

The new album was produced by the team of Clive Langer and Alan Winstanley, whose credits include Madness, Dexy’s Midnight Runners, and the Bowie/Jagger version of “Dancing in the Streets”. For the first time, everyone in the band got in on the arrangements, including drummer Kevin Wilkinson and the newest member, keyboardist Brian McNeill.

A lot of the inspiration for songs like “Arizona Sky” came from the tour of North America that China Crisis did in 1985. “For six or seven weeks we were traveling around on a sleeper bus, which gave us the opportunity to see an awful lot more of the countryside and just to soak up a lot more of the feelin’ about it.”

Gazza also says that the latest single was partially inspired by the life of Gary’s father, an unemployed painter. “The chorus has a message for people who might feel stuck in an ordinary job and all that. It’s like, ‘There’s no need to give up on the illusion.'”

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