CD Review – Dramatis – For Future Reference

Readers of a certain vintage may have heard the members of this band before and not realised it. Chris Payne (vocals, keyboards), Rrussell Bell [his spelling] (guitars, keyboards), Cedric Sharpley (drums), with Denis Haines (keyboards) had been a part of Gary Numan’s band Tubeway Army. When he seemed to announce his retirement in April 1981, short lived as it turned out as he soon charged on with his solo career, others of his band decided to carry on working with each other and formed the group Dramatis.

The band remained pretty much in the synth-pop realm and released seven singles and an album before calling it a day in 1982. This release of For Future Reference revisits those releases and comprises the album remastered from the original tapes, singles, some bonus tracks and a previously unreleased BBC In Concert performance from Paris Theatre, London, in 1982.  It has been curated with the full support of surviving Dramatis members Rrussell Bell, Chris Payne, and Denis Haines. Sadly, Cedric Sharpley passed away in March 2012 from a heart attack.

The resulting music inevitably sounds very much of its time. Without the new wave and post-punk backdrop, aligned as it was with the atmosphere of a rumbling grumbling Cold War, the band sound more than a little staid and posed. Commercial success was limited. Two of the single releases faired OK. A single credited to their old mucker Gary Numan & Dramatis, Love Needs No Disguise, reached the UK Top 40 peaking at a creditable number 33; while the 1982 single I Can See Her Now, reached number 57. The album itself failed to bother the album chart.

The track Human Sacrifice sounds like a more tepid version of a style that Peter Gabriel would develop with fizzing electronics allied with tribal drumming that never really takes off. It’s a decent enough sci-fi based song but doesn’t quite muster the futuristic nightmare that the lyrics suggest. That’s fairly typical of all the pieces really, offering much more than is achieved. The band bring out some interesting sounds from the synths and there is some beefy guitar now and then. This shows up best on Pomp And Stompandstamp, an instrumental that is jolly enough. A common feature in most of the tracks that give it a dated air and a sort of “rinky-tinky” rhythm is the over use of electronic percussion. There’s no beef in the sound and it is all just a little too ephemeral.

The songs actually work best when the group shifts to more “traditional” sounds. I Can See Her Now has an enjoyable piano opening section and elsewhere some songs have the occasional use of viola, recorder or saxophone that gives the music some much needed colour. That said, there’s some fine song writing on display here but, there are far too few moments of magic that would have given the band and its releases a tag on which to announce themselves rather than perhaps being remembered solely as Gary Numan’s backing band. It doesn’t quite have the hooks to make it a pop sensation, nor the muscle to appeal to the rock crowd. This scene would eventually become crowded with the likes of Ultravox, Orchestral Manouvres In The Dark, Japan, Soft Cell, Yazoo, Eurythmics, Pet Shop Boys, and many others.

The liner notes for the album have a question and answer style session with Rrussell Bell that gives some illuminating comments on the songs. There’s also plenty of photographs of the band.

In 2019, Chris Payne and Rrussell Bell released a single called A Torment of Angels, and announced that they were working on a new album as Dramatis.

It is very easy to reflect on this album with overly modern eyes, forgetting that it was created in another time and reflects that different era. What sounds trite or banal now could, and probably was, quite different four decades ago. The dystopian approach provides the music with lots of its edginess and portrays the band’s imaginative side. This is far from progressive rock, but it displays a progressiveness of its own, bathed in its own lifetime. You would think the re-released album would appeal to those who liked the band at the time as a nostalgic remembrance, to fans of Gary Numan, and to those who like the early days of synth-pop.

Disc One: For Future Reference

1. Oh! 2025

2. Human Sacrifice

3. I Only Find Rewind

4. No-One Lives Forever

5. Love Needs No Disguise

6. Turn

7. Take Me Home

8. On Reflection

9. Ex Luna Scientia

Bonus Tracks

10. Lady Dj (12” Version)

11. The Curtain

12. Face On The Wall

13. Pomp And Stompandstamp

14. The Shame (12” – Dance Party Mix 1)

15. I Can See Her Now (12” Version)

16. One Step Ahead (12” Version)

17. No-One Lives Forever (12” – Remixed Long Version)

Disc Two: Single Mixes

1 For Future Reference

(Selections From The Forthcoming Album ‘For Future Reference’)

2. Oh! 2025 (7” Version)

3 .Ex Luna Scientia (7” Version)

4. L.ady Dj (7” Version)

5.The Shame (7” Version)

6. I Can See Her Now (7” Version)

7. One Step Ahead (7” Version)

BBC In Concert – Paris Theatre 1982

8. Sand And Stone *

9. I Only Find Rewind *

10. Face On The Wall *

11. I Can See Her Now *

12. Turn *

13. Love Needs No Disguise *

14. Pomp And Stompandstamp *

15. The Shame *

* Previously Unissued

Chris Payne – keyboards, viola, cornamuse, recorders, backing vocals

Russell Bell – guitar, Chapman Stick, synthesizer, Vi-tar, saxophone, backing vocals

Cedric Sharpley – drums, percussion, electronic drums, backing vocals

Denis Haines – keyboards, vocal noises, backing vocals

Gary Numan – vocals (“Love Needs No Disguise”)

Release date: 15th April 2022

Label: Cherry Red Records

Format: Double CD Digipack

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