Secret Affair was firmly part of the British mod revival of the late 70s, and like the scene itself, did not make it far into the 80s. The group initially disbanded in 1982, but founding members Ian Page and David Cairns are keeping the music alive with an upcoming 40th-Anniversary tour.
Formed in 1978, Secret Affair released their debut album “Glory Boys” the following year. Their first single “Time For Action” reached number 13 in the UK charts. More singles chart success followed with “Let Your Heart Dance,” “My World,” “Do You Know” and “Sound of Confusion,” and the group put out three albums during their initial time together. Secret Affair reunited in 2002 for a series of concerts featuring the original line-up, then Page and Cairns continued the band. They recruited new live members and released a fourth album, “Soho Dreams,” in 2012.
What inspired you to do this 40th-anniversary tour?
Ian Page: “It seems like something of an achievement for us to have managed to stay alive to do a 40th-anniversary show. We thought it was worth celebrating. We did a 35th-anniversary show before. Quite a lot of the people who come to see us do so for sentimental reasons, like a walk down their childhood days of rock ‘n’ roll. So, that’s really the thinking behind it. We’re not really just going to focus on one album, though. Our intention is to try to make the concert representative of everything we’ve done over the years.”
What are your thoughts looking back on your debut album “Glory Boys”?
Ian Page: “I feel quite a lot of the songs have stood the test of time musically. My biggest recollections, of course, were of being the band’s producers as well as one of the singer/songwriters. It was my first proper foray into professional recording at the highest level. And looking back at it now, I’m amazed they let me do it. Dave Cairns and I were very forceful and focused individuals, and by the time we brought the ideas, concepts, imagery and everything that went with our first album, we knew exactly what we wanted to do. I think people were quite impressed by that, and that’s how we were given the leeway to do what we wanted to do creatively.”
Do you have a favorite song from the album?
Ian Page: “I think the main song for us, and the one we always finish our sets with, is the song ‘My World.’ It appears on the US releases of the first album, and on the second album in the UK. ‘My World’ was a chart success for us, but it was another big ambitious experiment in which I got to utilize a full classical string section. It was similar to those classically influenced pop records like “Eloise” by Barry Ryan and “Everlasting Love.” That was still poppy but had classical instruments and string arrangements going through it. That song now has superseded what we were previously known for. We were known for our first single, ‘Time for Action.’ As the years have gone by, ‘My World’ has matured and now becomes the big sort of party-rousing song we end all our sets with. It’s my favorite, anyway.”
When Secret Affair emerged, you were associated with the mod revival. I’m sure there were pros and cons to that?
Ian Page: “After all these years, I have a number of mixed thoughts about it. It was the perfect way to describe our sound and our influences and to shape our visual imagery and to bring a kind of pop culture to what we did. It separated us from a number of other bands. The trouble with some labels is they can be rather polarizing, and you end up with groups of people who either love the thing or people who really don’t want to be associated with it. Over time, that can impact both positively and negatively on your audience. We still have diehard older mods who were part of that movement at the time, but the audience is much more mixed now. Half the audience is there because they remember us from a ‘Top of the Pops’ appearance they liked and fancy us in that context, just as a band they can reminisce about. “
How were things different for the band in the early days?
Ian Page: “When we initially started, we went to great lengths to retain creative control over what we did. We were very successful. Subsequently, we allowed outside parties from record companies and other places to exert more and more influence on our ideas. This weakened and diluted what we were doing, and I would urge any musician now who has a clear idea about what they want and what they want to do to stick to it no matter what anybody says. It’s your conviction as a musician that makes the music important to people, not what the record company executive in London thinks.”
Did those outside parties have any positive impact?
Ian Page: “No, not at all. People need to be immersed in what the musician is doing, or the artist, in any art. If they are not completely immersed in it, and are motivated solely by profit, they’re going to produce the wrong results. It certainly did for us.”
There was a 20-year gap between “Business as Usual” and “Soho Dreams.” What was it like getting back into making music with Secret Affair?
Ian Page: “It was a little unnerving to start with, particularly in relation to the songwriting. Dave Cairns and I hadn’t worked together for many, many, many years before we came back together to start writing a newer album outside the time period of the [original] three. He worked in a guitar shop on Cherry Cross Road in what used to be called Tin Pan Alley. There was a room above the guitar shop where we would meet when we decided we were going to write together again. We would meet up from time to time, and it was exactly the same chemistry and the ideas and the putting of things together—it was exactly as it had been 25 years before. It was really quite uncanny. But I must admit, I approached it with some trepidation thinking, what on earth are we going to come up with? But it worked out.”
To what degree were you consciously thinking about the past, either in terms of not repeating yourselves, or in terms of remaining recognizable?
Ian Page: “It was of primary importance that anything we did would reference what was in the past, or it wouldn’t be respectful to the audiences and fans that really love the band. Both David and I are more than capable of writing other styles of music and other ways because we’re both experienced musicians. We always made sure that what we did was consistent with what we’d done. But in the making of the newer album, I happily embraced new technology and computer technology. A lot of the album was composed on my PC and then put onto a hard drive and taken into a big recording studio and gradually translated over. I used things that I’d put together at home; you couldn’t do that back in the day. It was very useful for expensive bits of recording, like string sections and session musicians, because I was able to bring outsiders into the recording studio, play them a computerized version and say, ‘Just do that please.’ And then they’d do it, and it would save us time in recording costs. Everything was done with the new recording techniques of that time.”
Did you ever see potential dangers with the technology, such as perhaps having too many options and therefore not knowing when something was truly complete?
Ian Page: “I tended to try to use the technology to improve and enhance what we did. So, for example, if I’d brought in a sampled and sequenced track with the drums on, we would lay that down and record it all. Then I’d bring in a real drummer and say, ‘Can you be as tight as that?’ So, a lot of the acoustically-based instruments, like bass guitar, were done electronically so I could make sure everyone knew the notes I wanted them to play, and then they were re-recorded by real musicians.”
What’s your approach to putting together set lists these days?
Ian Page: “It’s difficult. There are always songs we have that are a bit more introspective and thoughtful, and sometimes slower tempo, which I always want to do. But you have to show respect to the audience. They want to hear all the hits, so you always have to play those. That’s 6 singles, so there are 15 minutes of your stage time taken up already. A lot of these people have come for a good night out, so we tend to focus on the stuff that makes you dance. We always try to come up with one brand-new cover song people have never heard us do, just for the interest. And then we always try to play at least one or 2 songs, particularly from the later albums they might not be quite so familiar with. Everybody who comes to see us is familiar with the first album, but not so much with the latest album ‘Soho Dreams.’ So, we try to make it a dancey, representative celebration of the band. And that’s really the essence of having a 40th-anniversary celebration; we’re trying to celebrate everything that we did, really.”
Will you be touring outside the UK?
Ian Page: “We’ve got some European stuff coming up, and we’re still trying desperately to get over to the States, but it’s a very expensive business with visas and travel. We do have some promotion friends who put one event on the West Coast and we are trying very had to get out to LA.”
Beyond this upcoming tour, currently how active is Secret Affair as a band?
Ian Page: “We play at least monthly and have done so for about the past 10 years. It’s only Dave and I from the original lineup, but the musicians we work with now have been in the band longer than the original Secret Affair were together. So, they really are the band. We’re still writing. Dave and I meet up regularly in the rehearsal room, just the two of us with a bit of technology around, and put our songs together and shape and form them. But of course, nowadays, it’s very difficult to get anybody to pay for a brand-new recording unless you’re Taylor Swift or someone. So really, we’re using the profits from our touring to invest in recording. We’ll certainly put out a single this year, but what we really want to do is put out another album, and that’s going to take some real planning.”
The Secret Affair 40th-Anniversary UK tour kicks off April 12, 2019. For more info on the band and the latest news, visit secretaffair.info.