MUSIC INTERVIEW: Claudia Brucken, Propaganda

A minute into our conversation Claudia Brücken's mobile phone rings.

She answers it in German. It's Suzanne Freytag, her former bandmate in 80s synth pop group Propaganda.

"I told her we were talking about the past," she says in soft tones a few moments later, apologising for the interruption.

Coincidentally it's their former group that we're due to discuss, and their classic debut album A Secret Wish, which is this month reissued in a deluxe edition to mark its 25th anniversary.

Claudia joined the group in 1982, shortly after they were founded in Dsseldorf, Germany by Ralf Drper, Suzanne Freytag and Andreas Thein. Suzanne "had a great speaking voice" and the trio had already recorded a demo but found they needed "another voice to do all the melodies". Suzanne thought of her then 18-year-old friend.

"The Dsseldorf crowd, they all knew each other," remembers Claudia. "It's a small town atmosphere; everybody is in bands and knows the other one who's in bands."

She jumped at the chance to "join the club".

The first track Claudia sang on was Dr Mabuse, a tribute to the 1920s film villain who was a master of disguise. At the time it was "very hardcore" and "very German", she recalls, but in the hands of English record producer Trevor Horn, who signed the fledgling Propaganda to his new record label ZTT, it was to become a sizable European hit.

"It had all the elements so when Trevor met us everything was in it," says Claudia. "But he's a great producer and he managed to accentuate those things. We translated it into English because we wanted to be internationally recognised."

That was in March 1984. The problem the band faced was following it up. Britain was in the grip of 'Frankie-mania' and Trevor Horn was committed to producing Frankie Goes to Hollywood's debut album, Welcome to the Pleasuredome.

With the option on their record contract running out, Propaganda had to find another producer and crack on with their LP. In stepped Stephen Lipson, a musician and engineer who'd previously worked with Horn.

He proved a good choice, says Claudia, doing "a wonderful job" in nurturing his inexperienced protgs, who by then had gone through a line-up change with Michael Mertens replacing Thein.

At SARM West studios this "German band from an arty background" blossomed, thanks to "a limitless budget" and the willingness of Paul Morley, ZTT's co-founder and for a time Claudia's husband, to let the band experiment.

Claudia recalls "having access to incredible musicians and machinery".

"Stewart Copeland one day walking in playing drums – how cool was that? It was all fun. From an experience point of view I thought it was amazing."

At the end of each day, Horn, who was A Secret Wish's executive producer, would drop by and "demoralise us or inspire us" with his opinions on their work.

Claudia evidently looks back on this creative period with fondness. "For me it was like winning a lottery," she says. "All these serious bands that I've known would have given their right hand to be produced by Trevor Horn. It fell in my lap. It was amazing."

A Secret Wish was eventually released in July 1985, three months after the band's second hit single Duel. It reached No.16 in the UK and charted across Europe. Claudia remembers "Duel did really well in Italy and it captured the imagination of the Dutch people". Propaganda were also popular in France, Spain and their homeland – but not so popular that they were mega-stars.

A Secret Wish's greatest legacy has been its consistent sales over 25 years.

"What was special about this album was not that it came out and charted and everybody knew about it. It was very different. Years later people would say, 'Have you heard that album?' It kept selling well over the years."

Sadly the band's time in the sun was rather more short-lived. Tensions began to mount over the "terrible deal" they had signed with ZTT. Efforts to renegotiate it were not helped, Claudia says, by "a manager who would just split us up all the time". In 1986 the rest of the band decided to leave the label; Claudia opted to stay because "I enjoyed working with them so much".

Band-less, however, she felt lost, "even though I left them". ZTT encouraged her to form the duo Act with Thomas Leer but their debut album, Laughter, Tears and Rage, flopped. The great shame, she says, was that their single Snobbery and Decay was not a hit.

"It was quite critical toward Thatcher. It was such a strong record. I was surprised how it was not received at all. I wonder whether my nationality had something to do with it – that they did not want a German to tell them about English decline."

Claudia made a lovely but equally unsuccessful solo album, Love and a Million Other Things, in 1991 then disappeared from public view. "I became a single mum," she explains. "It was really hard to bring up a child on your own."

She continued to dabble in music, however, recording with Barry Adamson and the Bristol band Startled Insects ("they make music for animal programmes") but sadly neither was released. In 2005 she made covers album with the pianist Andrew Poppy and also appeared on albums by Erasure singer Andy Bell and Depeche Mode's Martin Gore.

In 2007 she paired up with Paul Humphreys of Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark on the album Instead. Their band, Onetwo, had been instigated by "a lovely A&R guy" at the German label Logic and continues to last. In between Humphreys' work with OMD, they're currently writing a follow-up.

Its release, though, has been temporarily put on hold while Paul helps work on Claudia's 'best of' album, due out next February. "Paul is remixing some Onetwo tracks for it," she says. "I'm also working with Stephen Hague on some new songs which are going to appear on the album as well."

Despite the difficult climate in the recording industry, the 46-year-old singer is enjoying working once more.

"We were very spoilt in the 80s, we had everything," she notes. "Now it's so different. Especially for bands from the 80s it's a big shock... From unlimited budgets that I had, to finance it yourselves it's testing, but I love what I'm doing."

The re-release of A Secret Wish may at least help financially.

"I've a feeling that it was something special for people," she says of the album's lasting impression. "I still get lovely letters and emails. I know it has been an album that's influenced people. I did not know it at that time, but Suzanne and I were quite tough. There were all these smiling girls and we were the dark side. Our first rule was 'never smile'.

"What I love about A Secret Wish," she adds, "is it's a journey. It's not just 12 songs in a particular order. Some things sound dated now but it's a nice fantasy. It still carries that weight. It would be nice if it could reach a younger audience."

A Secret Wish: deluxe edition is released on July 19.

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