John Foxx video compilation (Virgin Music Vault, VVC582, 1989)

This odd little release was one in a series of short video compilations of Virgin label catalogue artists issued in 1989, while VHS was still the format of choice. Amongst other acts of interest in the series (at least for me…) were Skids and Magazine. This video was the first time I was able to view again some promo videos I had seen only a handful of times anyway back in the very early ’80s, and some I had never seen before, so it was a welcome purchase, despite the brevity (clocking in around 25 minutes). Being a UK based Top Of The Pops viewer, the videos were less common sights due to the frequent and memorable John Foxx appearances in the TOTP studio, not least for ‘Underpass’, ‘No One Driving’ (the latter with no less than four Yamaha CS80’s for the backing band!) and ‘Europe, After The Rain’.

John Foxx 1989 UK VHS video EP
^ John Foxx 1989 UK VHS video EP

Opening with minimal, cheapo title graphics, it goes straight off into ‘He’s A Liquid’, in its alternative mix form that has since gained a re-release on various CDs, but was first issued as one side of a white label promo-only 12″ single along with ‘Underpass’ on the other side (Virgin VDJ31, 1980). Its like the ‘Metamatic’ LP cover come to life at times, but with Foxx in a mysterious slow-motion mystery dance of recognition with a female clone of his personae come to life from the familiar ‘Metamatic’ screen, that ultimately replaces him.

It is followed by ‘Underpass’ – notably, in its original, colour, video form – as videos for ‘Underpass’ were made available many years later on the ‘Metatronic’ compilation, but re-worked. This is properly Ballardian in its scope and very early 80s – all glowing strip lights, video screens, characters illuminated by film projectors, post-apocalyptic children playing/sheltering with an abandoned shopping trolley, while Foxx and musical conspirators coolly mime to the music -all on synthesizers, natch. Interspersed is footage of motorway driving, underpasses and the like.

The ‘Metamatic’ era continues with the promo video for ‘No One Driving’. Foxx mimes and dances to the music lit by eerie green light or against a broiling sky background or with that classic early ’80s illuminated Venetian blinds trope, while his band of keyboard players are this time surrounded by twirling strip-light cube constructions. For the middle-eight, two ‘Come Dancing’ style ballroom dancers take to the floor. A field day for any early ’80s/new romantic/futurist haters who like to take the piss on anything remotely pretentious – by God, Foxx looks good here though and you can see why this video in particular has been plundered for various record covers – firstly the ‘Burning Car’ 7″ picture disc in 1980 and most recently the limited edition ‘Burning Car’ vinyl LP from 2016. On this video, it is a shorter, sub three minute edit of the album mix that is used, not the re-recorded single mix. When re-issued on the ‘Metatronic’ compilation, that video uses an edit of the single mix instead.

John Foxx 1989 UK VHS video EP - rear cover
^ John Foxx 1989 UK VHS video EP – rear cover

‘Miles Away’ is up next and of all the videos contained on here, it has the one with the most personal resonance I think – it was such a rarity on UK terrestrial television (1980, a grand total of three TV channels to choose from!) to see these kind of videos at one time and this one I recall seeing only the once on some later afternoon ITV show during the week and being struck by the imagery. While it starts off all a good bit more animated and upbeat, Foxx having discarded the stiff, crisp suit, shirt and tie of the previous videos, the strange dissolved man / empty suit is recreated from the front cover of the single’s picture sleeve. But even further than the sleeve… the same empty suit/dissolved man transplanted to a commuter train and a park bench – while scenes of a deserted swimming pool and Foxx floating still on his back, fully suited and booted add to the eerie and mind-boggling for a youngster experience.

Moving on to the era of ‘The Garden’ – while John had appeared on the UK chart show Top Of The Pops to mime along to ‘Europe, After The Rain’, a promo video was produced for ‘Dancing Like A Gun’ – it was shown on Saturday morning’s kids TV, ‘Swap Shop’, I think – but I wasn’t in to see it – my younger brother was and he described it to me on returning home. I thought he was having a laugh. He described at as having characters that were kung-fu kicking and each time they did there was a lightning flash appeared from their feet. What a wind-up, I thought – this wasn’t right, surely – not in a John Foxx video. I’d seen ‘No One Driving’! It wasn’t until I watched this VHS for the first time in 1989 I realised that – gasp!! – he hadn’t been fibbing and there were indeed scenes just like this after all. Something of a cast of surrealist set-pieces, and that illuminated strip-light cube in the background once again, this one above all probably brings together many an early ’80s cliche.

John Foxx 1989 UK VHS video EP - cassette / label
^ John Foxx 1989 UK VHS video EP – cassette / label

‘Endlessly’ is up next in its glossy, Zeus B Held produced re-recording from 1983, rather than the original electro-psychedlia 1982 single take. A much softer, more classically romantic take on the John Foxx look… the cold, ‘Metamatic’ visuals banished altogether by now. Endlessly chasing deserted corridors and country lanes, climbing the spiral staircase to nowhere. Should have been a hit. he gets the girl in the end though…

‘Stars On Fire’ is a short but sweet John Foxx record sleeve animated into life, while for the closing ‘Lose All Sense Of Time’ the video taps into the spirit of glossy magazine cut-outs collage and Monty Python inspired, Terry Gilliam-esque stop-motion animation, with no trace of Foxx himself to be found on either of these two.

The packaging design, by The Leisure Process, is vaguely in a similar territory to what Foxx himself might have fashioned, though not quite. It also comes with some sleeve notes of a fairly balanced nature, by John Tobler.

The whole lot is uploaded there on YouTube if you want to view it in its original, scuzzy VHS form… If you want to find them in more pristine digital form, then you can find ‘He’s A Liquid’ and ‘No One Driving’ on the ‘Metatronic’ CD/DVD compilation from 2010. ‘Underpass’ is there too, but in a new ‘black and white’ version which retains plenty from the original but is quite different nevertheless. The colour elements are featured on the version for the Mark Reeder remix – and combined with elements from ‘the ‘No One Driving’ video too. Meanwhile, ‘Miles Away’, ‘Dancing Like A Gun’, ‘Endlessly’, ‘Stars On Fire’ and ‘Lose All Sense Of Time’ can be found on 2013’s ‘Metadelic’ CD/DVD compilation – which also includes that 1981 Top Of The  Pops appearance for ‘Europe, After The Rain’ too.

One thing that remains missing to this day though is the unique performance mix on short lived ITV Saturday morning show ‘The Fun Factory’ of ‘Burning Car’… scuzzy quality only, presumably long since wiped (or maybe never recorded) from the Granada television vaults… oh for a time machine!

2 Replies to “John Foxx video compilation (Virgin Music Vault, VVC582, 1989)”

  1. It’s hard to believe that I’ve owned a copy of this ever since it came out. I bought my first multi-standard VHS and TV monitor in 1990 at a now eye-watering cost, but I did have the money back then. Just the freight shipping on the 27″ monitor alone would break my budget now! As an American, I never saw any of this until in 1985, when a friend of mine [Ron Kane] made a four hour set of music videos that were all PAL and SECAM which he paid to have standards converted to NTSC [he was friends with the editor of the TV show “The Wonder Years” so he had relatively cheap access to such services] he then duplicated the two tapes of rare music videos for his American friends, and I finally got to see the clips for “Underpass” and “No One Driving.”

    But that was 1985. In 1990 I bought this and finally got to see what for Foxx was everything and then some [minus any TV show appearances]. Remember that in 1990 there was no way to heard anything but “In Mysterious Ways” on CD, so the hi-fi-stereo tracks on the video was the first time in ages that I’d heard anything from “Metamatic.” I did not play records or tapes by this time as I was living the CD lifestyle by 1985. It sounded very good, and what was that…??! A remix of “He’s A Liquid??! That wasn’t a single, was it??! No one knew anything about the remix at this point. The video was the first I heard of it.

    The strange, incomplete animated clips were pretty Foxx-like using some of his collage technique. I was shocked that they included incomplete fragments but they probably needed to pad out the brief running time with anything they could get! We finally got to hear “Metamatic” music on the silver disc in 1992, when “Assembly” happened. And you’re right. The “Dancing Like A Gun” clip was pretty bonkers.

  2. A fascinating comment, reminding me of the hard work and expense involved pre-internet in tracking down footage or releases – hell, even just knowing about the existence of stuff in some cases, such as the ‘He’s A Liquid’ promo 12” mix. Like yourself, ‘Assembly’ was my first Foxx CD – since then I think that various re-releases of ‘Metamatic’ are definitely up there in the high numbers of copies of an individual album along with ‘A Secret Wish’, ‘Sulk’, ‘Rage In Eden’, ‘Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark’ and ‘Architecture and Morality’ – the last three more to do with sleeve design variants than the others, which slice and dice versions and running orders much more.

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