Biography | The Names | News, discography | Official website
Brussels-based dark-wave synth-rock outfit The Names were formed in 1977 out of the ashes of the not-dissimilar The Passengers. Co-founders Michel Sordinia (songs, bass) and Marc Deprez (guitars) quickly recruited a drummer/keyboardist Christophe den Tandt, plus another guitarist Robert Franckson and lead-singer Isabelle Hanrez. The band soon slimmed down to a trio, with Sordinia becoming the frontman and a debut single being recorded.
Perky major label debut single Spectators of Life was issued in 1979 on WEA/Celluloid and although it wasn't a hit, the band hit gold after performing as support for Joy Division at Plan K in Brussels a year later. After hearing a copy of Spectators of Life, JD's manager Rob Gretton was suitably impressed, enough to urge Factory supremo Tony Wilson to 'sign' them (with a handshake, a typical Factory tactic for taking on artists). By the summer, they recorded a whistle-stop session with Factory's in-house maverick producer Martin Hannett, before finally seeing the remarkable Nightshift and I Wish I Could Speak Your Language hit the shops as FAC 29 in a typically anonymous sleeve.
The relationship between band and producer was a mixture of wide-eyed wonder and exploitation – Sordinia and co welcomed Hannett's experience, while Manchester's 'Phil Spector' busied himself by gently testing the Belgian outfit's patience and good nature with his insistence at being alone for the mixing process and adding aptly-aquatic sound samples to the running order. The Names were only too happy to fuel Hannett's compulsive hunger for sonic perfection on the next single, Calcutta (issued on Factory Benelux in 1981), a mutually advantageous arrangement that finally came to a conclusion on the band's swan-song EP release, a melancholic masterpiece entitled The Astronaut (issued on stylish boutique independent label Les Disques du Crépuscule in 1983). But this was not before recording their definitive release.
Despite the occasional lazy music-press critique citing them (perhaps rather unfairly) as Joy Division clones, The Names released their debut album on Crépuscule in 1982. Dressed in a smart arty Benoît Hennebert sleeve, Swimming was and remains an important musical document that sounds as fresh, vibrant, moody, enlightening and esoteric as it did in 1982. This is due in part to singer Michel Sordinia's sombre vocal delivery and Martin Hannett's bleak, yet sparkling, production work. However, the timeless quality of the songs also carry the album. Discovery, Life By The Sea and The Fire are the equal of anything their comparable peers (Magazine, The Cure, Comsat Angels, Simple Minds – circa Life In A Day – and Psychedelic Furs, circa Sister Europe) had produced around that time – no bad thing, of course.
Typically, family duties, careers and financial restraints dictated the next move for The Names – a split, permanently. Well, not quite...
Aside from a brief return in the mid '90s under the misguided name Jazz (try Googling them - nightmare), the music bug didn't bite again until Sordinia and co reconvened for an emotional reunion at the same venue that changed their fortunes some twenty-five years before. Performing a set at Anderlecht's Plan K venue in 2007 as part of A Factory Night (Once Again), an evening of Factory-related performance from the likes of Section 25, Crispy Ambulance and Kevin Hewick, Sordinia, Deprez and den Tandt vowed to regroup and try again. Another inspiration at this time was John Cale with Sordinia declaring in an interview with this writer (for Allgigs) - "Cale is still performing in his '60s, he looks amazing and has so much energy. So, I thought, 'I can do this'. So we just had to regroup and give it a try".
In 2009, The Names next 'proper' album finally appeared. To a certain degree, Monsters Next Door continued the dark themes of Swimming, albeit without the alienation of its predecessor and with more of a rock stance throughout. They even paid homage to Martin Hannett on the track Zeroes, a fitting tribute to the man who pretty much gave The Names their earlier sound. They promoted the album with a selection of European dates, including another Factory Night (subtitled And Then Again) in 2009 with Section 25, Biting Tongues, The Wake and A Certain Ratio. Employing the addition of a strings trio might have been commercial suicide but the experiment worked within a live environment, particularly on the more recent material.
Some of the band's finest moments from Monsters Next Door can be found on In Time, the 2014 compilation released on the revived Factory Benelux imprint which also pulls together tracks from their Jazz era. In addition to In Time, a double-vinyl reissue of Swimming appeared on Factory Benelux in 2013. Presented as a lavish double-vinyl album and crammed with extra tracks including their one-and-only Peel Session recorded in 1982, plus liner-notes by Martin Aston, this definitive package is strengthened with a CD version (and a slightly different track-listing).
In 2009, long-serving member Christophe den Tandt left the band, replaced by another Christophe, this time Boulenger. Whilst the band line-up may have altered a few times in subsequent years, the core writing partnership of Michel Sordinia and co-founder/guitarist Marc Deprez is still producing miracles, like 2015’s new album (CD + double vinyl special edition) Stranger Than You, featuring 16 songs and including the highly emotional My Angel of Death and Die Mauer Is No More, plus new Names instant classics as Lights and Hands Off Love.
With Julien Van Aerschot as their new keyboard player, The Names recently gave a string of highly succesful concerts in Italy, Germany and Greece. More gigs are planned for the Autumn and in early 2017. You may catch the band live not far away from you any day now...