I am pleased to announce that the Animal Nightlife album Shangri-la, published only on vinyl in 1985, has been released for the
first time as a deluxe double CD (with one disc of
inspired re-mixes) on Cherry Pop Records
Posted on December 10, 2016
My impressions of Philadelphia as a British teenage soul boy had always centred on the vast impact the city made with high-calibre records. Where soul and disco met at a crossroads with the church and the dancefloor. From the glamour of British television favourites The Three Degrees (also favourites of Prince Charles so that we would joke at school that he would marry Sheila Ferguson and have a royal mixed-race baby), to the gospel power of Harry Melvin and the Bluenotes. Wake Up Everybody, which remains a “woke” classic cry to the community, transcended its roots to become a global commercial hit.
The TSOP (The Sound Of Philadelphia) label turned out stars and million-selling hits to rival Motown. Their lush productions with real strings and brass were played in their original form and later remixed/sampled at the influential black gay underground clubs in NYC, Philly and DC that eventually evolved into house music.
Images of Philly life were sparse and perhaps only Brian De Palma’s recent Blowout 1981 – with John Travolta as the sound technician who records a murder and where the frenetic climax takes place in the city – offered the only memorable clues. Walking those strange city streets alone at first I must admit I was nervous about crime and being targeted as a tourist and easy prey. I was looking around at everything, in the way only visitors constantly drink it all in. It wasn’t long before I was approached by a young black guy dressed in casual B-boy style puffa jacket, sweatshirt and Red Wing boots. The question that undid my attempts to remain discreet was “Where did you get them shoes?” I had made the mistake of not wearing trainers or boots, but slick Bass Weejun loafers in the late autumn/winter. I might as well as have been wearing a sign saying “tourist”.
Thankfully, my sartorial street detective was genuine and had a friend who worked at the best club for me in the city, The Catacombs, which proved influential because labels vied to get their new releases previewed there. Among many future stars who appeared at the club were Natalie Cole, Divine, First Choice, Gloria Gaynor, Dan Hartman, Nona Hendryx, Thelma Houston, Millie Jackson, Grace Jones, Chaka Khan, Gladys Knight and Patti LaBelle….
All of which is a scene-setter for the fully remastered digital re-release of Animal Nightlife’s debut album Shangri-la, which we recorded in 1985 at the home of the legendary Philly World Records label in South Philadelphia. When the band signed to Island Records in May 1984, we had slimmed down to five members who were myself on vocals, Leonardo Chignoli (bass), Paul Waller (drums), Steve Brown (guitar) and Billy Chapman (saxophone). First single Mr Solitaire was released in July and was our first real success, making the top 30 chart and spending 13 weeks in the top 75.
That gave us our debut on Top of the Pops (above). But before we recorded our debut album Island Records sent us off to Philly World Records to acquire some professional sheen. Philadelphia, the city of brotherly love, was where David Bowie’s Young Americans had been recorded and another British band Loose Ends were recording with Nick Martinelli, releasing the hypnotic Hangin’ On A String which later blew up in the US and UK.
It was the first time the rest of Animal Nightlife had been to America. I had visited in ’79 but living and working there on an album was completely new. The band worked with arranger-producer-guitarist Bobby Eli who was one of the founding members of TSOP, along with Donald Robinson and Pete Pellulo who owned the PWR label. Also recording albums at the time were Joanna Gardener (Pick Up The Pieces) and Eugene Wilde (Got to Get You Home Tonight), both having success with beautifully sung quiet storm ballads.
I have good memories of the recording although it was intimidating at first. To be honest, a group of working-class lads from London’s East End were being thrown into the deep end among accomplished musicians with smooth skills in both song-writing and production. There were some frustrations about how the producers wanted to mould us and we resisted as we had our own ideas. In retrospect the experience was a learning curve and the veterans did pull some stronger performances out of all of us and expanded our sound.
When the album was released in the UK in 1985, Island launched it with party at London’s Scala cinema where we showed, amongst other film clips, Douglas Sirk’s The Imitation of Life with Lana Turner. It was launched in Europe with a gig at the famous Ku Club in Ibiza and The Face magazine ran a huge story about our time in Ibiza for their summer issue. The Daily Mirror did a feature on Ibiza “Island of the Stars” and had a photo of me at the Ku also mentioning how you could visit Pikes Hotel where our old label mates Wham! shot their Club Tropicana video which featured Dee C Lee. She would later tour with us and appear on Channel 4’s music show, The Switch.
The Shangri-la album cover was photographed by Iain McKell and was inspired in part by the cover of Fassbinder’s Querelle while the title symbolised a voyage to a mythical earthly paradise.
The band toured and promoted the album in France, Germany, Spain, UK and in Italy where we enjoyed bigger crowds and toured extensively. The album charted but didn’t stick around long enough for us to consolidate our live success, despite getting some favourable reviews. Things were not helped by a later change at the top of our record company Island. Radio playlists and slots on primetime mainstream TV shows were crucial in the 1980s and most of those machinations were beyond our reach without the support of the label.
CLICK ON PIX TO ENLARGE THEM
WHAT THE REVIEWERS SAID ABOUT
SHANGRI-LA IN 1985
The impressive thing about Shangri-la is that Animal Nightlife went to Philadelphia and came back with more than the music of ball bearings splashing into mercury in slow motion. There’s a suppleness to the rhythms and a stylish romanticism to the words that is definitely urban.
Blues and Soul
The first track of the set is a reborn Native Boy that epitomises the standard of the album. Its use of the rhythm section is as hot as any US music of its type. The vocals take the melody to new heights and the band’s forte for letting their instruments – the prominent sax and the always apparent guitars – do lots of taking is given vent throughout. It may have been a tug of war but the result is a magnificent tie.
Recorded in Philadelphia Shangri-la is neither swayed nor subjugated by its big production number. Rather the sum of the whole sees a positive return of the soul song. From the disco-noir of Between Lovers (a cracking single surely?) to the epic song-scapes of Native Boy and Love Is Just the Great Pretender this 10-song set is executed with consummate ease.
Love Is Just the Great Pretender – Re-recorded version of their criminally ignored first single. Smokey jazz-influenced mood and steaming horns. Deserves to do a lot better this time.
A smooth blend of jazz-influenced music pivoted on some excellent vocals by Andy Polaris.
No 1 magazine
Enough cocktail bar sleekness to make Sade sound like a heavy metal singer.
An exceptionally good first album… a clever mix of jazz and soul.
WHAT’S IN SHANGRI-LA
THE DELUXE EDITION, 2016,
FROM CHERRY POP RECORDS
The vinyl album has long been deleted and this year’s newly remastered digital Deluxe Edition consists of the album in its original form, plus a second CD containing other singles and extended remixes that were originally available only on 12-inch, including a favourite remix of Native Boy by reggae producer Dennis Bovell. Providing backing vocals on Mr Solitaire, which was recorded in London, is Paul Weller (ex-Jam and later leader of The Style Council), along with David Joseph (Hi Tension, one of the early Brit Soul bands to enjoy chart success). Sadly, a vocal arrangement by Whitney’s mother Cissy Houston on the track Preacher Preacher has not been included and was a joyous sound. (This appeared in its orginal mix only on the European vinyl release.) The Deluxe Edition CDs come with a 16-page booklet with exclusive early live photos and a perceptive biographical interview written by Lois Wilson from Mojo magazine.
DISC 1: SHANGRI-LA
1. NATIVE BOY
2. WAITING FOR THE BAIT TO BITE
3. PERFECT MATCH
4. LOVE IS JUST THE GREAT PRETENDER ’85
6. BETWEEN LOVERS
7. AFTER HOURS
8. BASIC INGREDIENTS
9. THROW IN THE TOWEL (ALL OVER NOW)
DISC 2: BONUS TRACKS
1. PREACHER, PREACHER
2. MR SOLITAIRE (12″ version)
3. LAZY AFTERNOON
4. LOVE IS JUST THE GREAT PRETENDER ’85 (Undressing Remix)
5. PREACHER, PREACHER (TAKE ME TO THE CHURCH) (A Remix)
6. BASIC INGREDIENTS (12″ version)
7. LOVE IS JUST THE GREAT PRETENDER ’85 (12″ version)
8. NATIVE BOY ’83 (Dennis Bovell Remix)
9. MR. SOLITAIRE (Panther Remix)
10. PREACHER, PREACHER (Altered)
PHILLY WORLD RECORDING OF PRETENDER
WHAT THE REVIEWS SAY TODAY
Shapers of the 80s
Lois Wilson supplies some nicely informed sleeve notes identifying Animal Nightlife’s role as innovators when the UK’s thriving underground changed the face of nightclubbing. Animal Nightlife’s swing sound with an electronic twist enjoyed its moment as the hippest trend in music while Polaris penned his own brand of torch song.
Shangri-la in its entirety is possibly one of the easiest listens of the entire decade, sharing both a political and musical ethos with Paul Weller’s band of the time, The Style Council. Indeed, Weller himself was a fan, and even provided backing vocals on their biggest hit.
Three Amazon customers
* Most underrated band of the 80s.
* Three instrumental tracks give us full-on blasts of jazz… Kick off with Disc 2, Track 4: L-O-V-E. Swoon to Andy’s slinky voice, thrill to Billy’s sax and take lessons in syncopation from Paul, Leonardo and Steve. Then get down and dirty with stand-out Track 6, Basic Ingredients.
* With gems such as Preacher Preacher and Native Boy, this is a fantastic package with the music sounding great.
WHERE TO BUY
PROMO VIDEO FOR ANIMAL NIGHTLIFE’S 1984 SINGLE
UNOFFICIAL HISTORY OF THE BAND
TAGS – Animal Nightlife, Shangri-la, Andy Polaris, CD, Deluxe Edition, Cherry Pop Records, Leonardo Chignoli, Paul Waller, Steve Brown, Billy Chapman, Philadelphia, Philly World Records, Top of the Pops, 1980s, jazz, soul music, pop music, fashion, London, New Romantics, nightclubs, nightlife, reviews, style, UK, video, vintage, youth culture