Originally formed in 1977 the Thompson Twins, who took their name from the two bumbling detectives Thomson and Thompson in Hergé’s comic strip The Adventures of Tintin, went on to become of the most popular bands of the mid-80s. So much so that when they played the Philadelphia stage at Live Aid they were joined by none other than Madonna.
However, the original line up was very different to the iconic trio of Tom Bailey, Alannah Currie and Joe Leeway, which took to the stage that day. In fact, classically trained former music teacher Tom was the only member of the original incarnation in that trio. The group originally looked and sounded very different. Alongside Tom that early inception also consisted of Pete Dodd on guitar and vocals, John Roog on guitar, and Jon Podgorski, known as “Pod” on drums. When Pod later declined to move to London with the band he was replaced by Andrew Edge who joined them on drums for 18 months before he was in turn replaced by Chris Bell. It was this line up that appeared on the group’s first single Squares and Triangles in 1980, which was released on their own record label called Dirty Discs.
The new wave track is very different to the classic Thompson Twins sound and it failed to chart but that didn’t discourage them from releasing a second single that same year. A follow-up single, She’s In Love With Mystery, that same year.
Although that also failed to trouble the charts in two new members joined – Jane Shorter on saxophone and their former roadie Joe Leeway on congas and percussion. Of course, Joe remained with them throughout their heyday. This was the line-up that recorded their debut studio album A Product Of… (Participation). The album produced four non charting singles – Perfect Game, Animal Laugh, Make Believe and Politics.
New Zealander Alannah Currie, had been associated with the band for a few years, having met them when they all lived in squats on the same street, played and sang on this album but was not yet an official member. It was when Jane Shorter departed that she officially joined the band who were still struggling with line-up changes. Despite all the comings and goings, they signed a record deal with Arista and had their first taste of chart success in 1982 with their track In the Name Of Love from their second album Set.
It became a No. 1 dance club hit in the U.S and even featured on the Ghostbusters soundtrack. It also broke into the UK charts peaking at number 79. This marked their first foray into a pop sound and following its success Tom, Alannah and Joe, toyed with the idea of starting a new band on the side, as they wanted to build on its success. However, their manager convinced them to downsize the group. Accordingly, the other four members of the band were paid £500 and were allowed to keep their instruments and equipment in exchange for an understanding not to perform together under the name Thompson Twins. And so the classic trio was born with Tom on bass, guitar, keyboards, vocals, Joe on congas, percussion, keyboards, vocals and Alannah on drums, percussion, vocals. From this point on things took off very quickly for the band. In 1983 they had their first UK top 10 hit with Love On Your side which reached number nine.
Taken from their third album Quick Step & Side Kick, which peaked at number 2 in the UK and was later certified platinum, it was the first of four singles from the LP including We Are Detective and the anthemic Hold Me Now.
Released in late 1983 Hold Me Now was an international chart success becoming the bands biggest selling single and their biggest American hit. Riding high on the crest of this success their fourth studio album, Into the Gap, was released in February 1984 and became one of the year’s biggest LPs, selling five million copies worldwide. It spawned some of their most popular songs including Doctor! Doctor!, Sister of Mercy and their highest charting UK single You Take Me Up which reached number 2.
Embarking on a world tour in support of the album things were starting to change within the group. They parted company with their producer and opted to produce their fifth studio album, Here’s to Future Days, by themselves. But the heavy workload took its toll and in March 1985, Tom collapsed from nervous exhaustion. Realising they had taken on too much they drafted in the legendary Nile Rodgers was to rework the album with them. Although it did well, reaching the UK Top 5 and US Top 20, it failed to come close to the success of its predecessor. Spawning singles including Don’t Mess with Doctor Dream and King for a Day the band continued to enjoy chart success although their cover of the Beatles’ 1968 hit Revolution, failed to make the UK Top 40.
Tom’s health problems also continued to cause issues for the band with a planned summer 1985 tour of the UK cancelled (fans with tickets received a free live album as compensation). Later in the year they performed sell out tours for the band in the US and Japan. Unfortunately, a second planned tour of the UK in 1985 was also scrapped due to the promoter declaring bankruptcy. When Joe left the band in 1986 it was the end of an era. Although Tom and Alannah, who by now were a couple, continued to make music as Thompson Twins for another seven years they would never again reach the heights they had as a trio. Three more albums followed but 1991’s Queer would be the band’s swansong. The single Come Inside reached No. 7 in the US Dance Chart and No. 1 in the UK Dance Chart.
The Thompson Twins as we know them were no more. Tom and Alannah carried on as a group called Babble until the mid-90s, but they never came close to Thompson Twins success. They also wrote songs for other artists including the hit single I Want That Man for Deborah Harry of Blondie. Joe dabbled in acting and an unsuccessful solo career but ultimately moved into the field of hypnotherapy. Alannah eventually returned to New Zealand working primarily as a glass artist and environmental activist.
Meanwhile Tom continued to make music. It would be 27 years before audiences heard Thomson Twins songs live again when Tom finally gave in to requests to perform at retro shows and played at the Rewind Festival in Oxfordshire.
He continues to perform the bands tracks around the world and we’re delighted he will be joining us at Forever Young this year.
Tom Bailey plays the ‘Forever Young’ festival in Palmerstown House Estate on Sunday July 16th, 2023. ‘Forever Young’ is a 3-day celebration of the music of the 1980s featuring artists such as Andy Bell (Erasure), Bananarama, BIlly Ocean, Tony Hadley, ABC and many more.
Full line-up and tickets are available here