"it's a Him And Us situation," according to Depeche Mode. The Him (songwriter Vince Clarke) has gone off on his own. The Us (Messrs Gahan, Gore and Fletcher) fearlessly face the future. Mark Ellen buys omelettes and alcohol. Eric Watson provides the longer-lasting snap. "I never expected the band to be this successful. I didn't feel happy. Or contented. Or fulfilled. And that's why I left." Vince Clarke prods at an almost forgotten chicken omelette and then resumes his tale of woe. "All the things that come with success had suddenly become more important than the music. We used to get letters from fans saying: 'I really like your songs'; then we got letters saying: 'Where do you buy your trousers from?' Where do you go from there? There was never enough time to do anything," he adds, mournfully. "Not with all the interviews and photo sessions."

The obvious reaction to all this would seem to be: what did he expect? By way of reply, Vince embarks on a succession of old music biz chestnuts about "wanting more control" and wanting to "keep playing small venues", the kind of things The Police were always rabbiting on about 'til they found they could fill Wembley Arena three nights running. The reason's obvious. When the time came to cross that crucial bridge between Basildon cult heroes and British public property, Vince simply decided he wasn't the man for the job after all. And left. Contrary to the statement by Mute Records, he won't even contribute songs anymore. He's now devoting his time to recording with a 20-year-old blues singer called Genevieve Alison Moyet in their new electronic duo named Yazoo. "I met her," he recalls, wistfully, "as she floated ashore on a boat from Afghanistan. heard her singing and formed the band..." I'm not so sure about this. "Oh, alright then--she comes from Basildon," he grins. If it's any help, the rest of the band call her "Alf".

Success, on the other hand, seems to settle on the three remaining sets of shoulders with all the ease of a tailor-made suit. They're just off for a brief club tour of the States, their LP's just charted there before even being officially released, they've signed distribution deals just about everywhere bar Japan, they've a new UK single out--"the band's best ever", Vince modestly claims--they've secured his replacement, Alan Wilder, for stage work, they haven't got a single day's holiday in the next five months and--frankly--they're loving it. Who's complaining?

Over a couple of glasses of lager in a pub in South London, they don't appear to regard those early amateurish days in the band's career with quite the same nostalgia as Vince: "Remember when the 'light show' was one neon bulb in a wooden box?" Peals of laughter rise above the blaring juke-box. A mention of Vince's departure and silence is swiftly restored. "There's a bit of a block between us... It's a Him and Us situation". It soon transpires that they've seen or heard little of the errant Vince since he opted to leave at the close of the last British tour. Even that was after a European tour on which he'd tended to "sit up the front of the van, saying nothing". Noting these early warning signs, Martin began to take on the lion's share of the song-writing which, Andy claims, "has brought us together much more as a band. Before we used to rely on Vince: now we've got to try a lot harder. And it'll be different," he adds. "Martin writes music around his words whereas Vince used to write the tunes first and then fit the lyrics to them."

No bad thing, I suggest. After all, the words to "New Life" were a little on the 'twee' side. Andy can't suppress a smile. "Words," he declares, "were never Vince's strong point. As a matter of fact, we were sometimes quite, er, embarrassed by his stuff! We didn't understand a lot of his songs. He'd never tell us what they were about!" "I remember," says Dave, with a distinctly pained expression, "walking through town in Basildon one night and I saw these two girls following along behind me. I knew they'd recognised me. And they start singing, y'know, (high-pitched squeak) 'I stand still stepping on a shady street'. And I start walking a bit faster," he laughs, "turns me collar up like this! And then... (wails) 'And I watch that man to a stranger.' And I'm thinking: 'oh no, this is embarrassing! Do they understand these lyrics?! Perhaps they do and we don't!" "After 'New Life'," Andy takes over, "a lot of people thought Depeche Mode were 'sweet' and 'cute' and everything, and we wanted to show them we could be a lot of other things as well. On the new B-side, 'Reason To Be', we tried to..." pause while they all burst out laughing again... "we tried to sound... really... mean! Didn't work though," he admits.

Perhaps part of the blame for the band's slightly self-conscious image could be placed on their lack of on-stage visuals. Rocketed from virtual obscurity to three fair-sized hit singles in a matter of months, they readily admit they hadn't had the time to adjust the live act accordingly. One minute, Croc's in Basildon; the next, the Lyceum Ballroom in London. Six times as big and no way to fill up the vast empty space behind them. No film, no slides, no backdrops. A couple of straw hats, a few suits and that was your lot. It speaks reams for the quality of their music that they still set the whole place on its feet.

"Better than fifteen months ago," says Dave defiantly. "You should have seen us then! Andy used to wear these plus-fours football socks and slippers. It was so funny!" He waves an arm to silence the protesting Andy. "And Martin had half his face painted white. And Vince looked like this Vietnam refugee-- he'd tanned his face, had black hair and a headband! "We've had loads of ideas since then, but ended up using none of them. One idea was to have these drum majorettes on stage. Another was to have someone up top operating these life-sized puppets. The thing is, he points out, faced with the eternal problem that tend to afflict motionless synthesiser bands, "you can't have films and slides and things like that because it's all been done before and people'll say: 'oh it's not as good as The Human League' or whoever!"

Still, nothing's proved quite as strenuous as the shaking off the dreaded "New Romantic" tag. Dave puts it this way: "Obviously the sort of people who buy Duran Duran or Spandau Ballet records might buy ours as well, but I think we're in a slightly different market. A slightly older market. There's not so many New Romantics in our audience as there used to be. Not so many frilly shirts. I mean we've done about thirty interviews--mostly in Europe-- where they say (hack German accent): 'are you zese Bleetz Keedz please?' Or 'Are you zis Futurist scene?' and getting the cameras to focus on my 'nose earring' as they call it. And all we can do is deny it and then they go and print this right next to these awful photos of us in frilly shirts! That was from the first photo session we ever had done and they were so bad! They keep turning up all over the place." "That," asserts Martin, "is why we'll never be like Duran Duran. 'Cos our photos are so awful!"

These minor hurdles aside, they're doing alright for a band who agree they were "in the right place at the right time," though Andy's approaching the new year with caution. "We realise 1982's the most important year for us. We either establish ourselves or go to pot. What do I hope to achieve?" he ponders. "A couple more hit singles in the bag and a copy of the album that doesn't jump."

"We just want our fans to stay with us," Dave decides. "Because we'll deliver the goods, don't you worry. Here... that might get into 'Quotes Of The Year' next Christmas!"

Well, 'Quotes Of January' at very least.

VINCE CLARKE -- "a loner, I don't think anyone knows him"-- Dave; "he'd starve himself to save up for something" -- Andy; "tries hard, if he sets out to do something he does it" -- Martin.

MARTIN GORE -- "nice hair, funny beard, you could never hold anything agains him" -- Dave; "very quiet, introvert, reliable" -- Andy; "He's a genius but he doesn't know it" -- Vince.

ANDY FLETCHER -- "nice enough bloke, bit clumsy at times but he can't help that" -- Dave; "likes to wind people up" -- Martin; "a great make-believe sense of humour, a bit tactless" -- Vince.

DAVE GAHAN -- "Good-looking chap (so he tells us), worries a lot, doesn't get a lot of sleep, generous" -- Andy; "very argumentative" -- Martin; "his greatest charm is his vulnerability" -- Vince.

© BEYOND words 2003 - 2005