Biography of Bronski Beat
Bronski Beat are a British synthpop trio which achieved success in the mid-1980s, particularly with the 1984 chart hit «Smalltown Boy», from their debut album The Age of Consent, which was their only US Billboard Hot 100 single. All members of the group were openly gay and their songs reflected this, often containing political commentary on gay-related issues. The initial line-up, which recorded the majority of the band’s hits, consisted of Jimmy Somerville (vocals), Steve Bronski (born Steven William Forrest, keyboards, percussion) and Larry Steinbachek (keyboards, percussion). Somerville left Bronski Beat in 1985, and went on to have success as lead singer of The Communards and as a solo artist. He was replaced by new vocalist John Foster, with whom the band continued to have hits in the UK and Europe through 1986. Foster left Bronski Beat after their second album, and the band used a series of vocalists before dissolving in 1996.
Steve Bronski, the only remaining original member, now leads a revived touring version of the band, and has recorded new material alongside 1990s member Ian Donaldson. Larry Steinbachek died in 2016.
Bronski Beat formed in 1983 when Somerville, Bronski (both from Glasgow), and Steinbachek (from Southend) shared a three-bedroom flat at Lancaster House in Brixton. Steinbachek had heard Somerville singing during the making of Framed Youth: The Revenge of the Teenage Perverts and suggested they make some music. They first performed publicly at an arts festival September in the Pink. The trio were unhappy with the inoffensive nature of contemporary gay performers and sought to be more outspoken and political.
Bronski Beat signed a recording contract with London Records in 1984 after doing only nine live gigs. The band’s debut single, «Smalltown Boy» (about a gay teenager leaving his family and fleeing his hometown) was a hit, peaking at No 3 in the UK Singles Chart, and topping charts in Belgium and the Netherlands. The single was accompanied by a promotional video directed by Bernard Rose, showing Somerville trying to befriend an attractive diver at a swimming pool, then being attacked by the diver’s homophobic associates, being returned to his family by the police and having to leave home. (The police officer was played by Colin Bell, then the marketing manager of London Records). «Smalltown Boy» reached 48 in the U.S. chart and peaked at 7 in Australia.
The follow-up single, «Why?», adopted a Hi-NRG sound and was more lyrically focused on anti-gay prejudice. It also achieved Top 10 status in the UK, reaching 6, and was another Top 10 hit for the band in Australia, Switzerland, Germany, France and the Netherlands.
At the end of 1984, the trio released an album titled The Age of Consent. The inner sleeve listed the varying ages of consent for consensual gay sex in different nations around the world. At the time, the age of consent for sexual acts between men in the UK was 21 compared with 16 for heterosexual acts, with several other countries having more liberal laws on gay sex. The album peaked at 4 in the UK Albums Chart, 36 in the U.S., and 12 in Australia.
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