HIGH FLYING BIRDS – A Flock of Seagulls’ Bassist Frank Maudsley On The Return Of The 1980’s Fab Four

With their futuristic sound and frontman Mike Score’s outlandish haircut, A Flock of Seagulls were as synonymous with the eighties as yuppies, ET and DeLorean cars.

They achieved rapid fame – perhaps too rapid in retrospect, burning brightly but briefly – the original quartet releasing just two albums before imploding in a whirl of breakdowns and inter-band rivalries.

A Flock of Seagulls clockwise: Mike Score, Ali Score, Paul Reynolds and Frank Maudsley

But now, having first been brought back together by VH1‘s Bands Reunited in 2003, A Flock of Seagulls have returned with Ascension a series of orchestral re-workings of some of their most famous songs, along with a brand new title track.

For bassist Frank Maudsley, however, the band’s revival has been bittersweet, coming not long after he was diagnosed with a potentially life-threatening heart condition.

Happily settled back in his beloved Liverpool, he’s determined not to let a little thing like hypertrophic cardiomyopathy get in the way of the band’s comeback tour.

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Very much the joker in the pack, Maudsley, is in typically mischievous mood in his chat with EP, challenging our writer Matt Catchpole “to ask us something really daft”.

Pausing every now and again to play a flourish of chords on his baby grand piano, he outlines the band’s rollercoaster rise and fall, his fondness for “the dark side of the Seagulls” and the happy accident that led to the creation of that legendary bonkers barnet.

A photograph of you – Maudsley in his ’80s heyday

News that Flock of Seagulls were getting back together came as something of a surprise to Maudsley who had thought he was “done with being in a group”.

Although delighted to be back with his old mates again, it was something of a double whammy following the diagnosis of his heart problem.

“I’m finding everything very emotional,” he admits, “It’s a crazy time.”

Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy is an incurable condition, in which a portion of the heart becomes thickened without an obvious cause. This results in the heart being less able to pump blood effectively.

Maudsley has been fitted with a defibrillator, which restarts his heart when it stops pumping.

“I just die suddenly all the time,” he explains matter-of-factly. “And this thing in my chest wall shocks me back to life.

“And now we’ve got this fucking album coming out!,” he laughs.

With a tour in support of the album set for the Autumn, Frank admits his excitement about being on the road again is tinged with some trepidation.

He concedes his condition is likely to make for more sedate performances than in the band’s early years when he’d “be running all over the stage”.

“You had to be very athletic,” he explains. “We would be playing festivals to 200 or 300 thousand people a night and it would be a big stage to cover. I may have to ask for a stool on this tour, but I might be a better musician for that.”

The orchestral arrangements on the album were performed by the Prague Philharmonic and Maudsley is hugely enthusiastic about the recordings.

“It’s a massive dream, it’s incredibly humbling,” he says before pausing to pick out the melody to ‘Wishing (I Had A Photograph Of You)’ on his baby grand.

The band released ‘Space Age Love Song’ from the new album in June, with ‘Ascension’ the only track written solely for the album due to follow soon.

Formed in 1980, the band took their name, according to Mike Score, from The Stranglers‘ song ‘Toiler On The Sea’ and the novella Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach.

They scored a club hit with second single Telecommunication, before exploding into the public consciousness with ‘I Ran (So Far Away)‘, which went top 10 in the US and No 1 in Australia.

Their self-titled debut LP further enhanced their reputation, before ‘Wishing…’ from second album Listen gave then a first Top Ten hit in the UK.

“We were always described as a New Romantic band, but I don’t think we ever really were,” Maudsley remembers. “We were influenced by David Bowie, The Cars – all the stuff going on in the late ‘70s.”

The band’s stand out look made them perfectly suited to the emerging art of the pop video and Maudsley attributes their US success to the rise of MTV.

“MTV had a lot do with it {why we cracked America},” he explains.”Video Killed The Radio Star – know what I mean?”

Key to that look was Score’s outrageous hairstyle, which was created by accident shortly before a gig in the West Indies.

It’s a story Maudsley has told many times before, but doesn’t seem to tire of sharing.

“We were getting ready for a gig in Trinidad, it was in a miserable, dirty old dressing room. Mike was backcombing his hair and we all wanted to get to the mirror to do our hair, get our make-up on,” he remembers.

“I didn’t want to go on stage in two minutes looking like a disaster – so I pushed him away from the mirror and the front of his hair went down and the sides went up.

“And that was it – the hairstyle – we massaged it a bit so that it looked a seagull – and that was the look.”

Despite attracting its fair share of ridicule, the hairstyle made Score and the Seagulls instantly recognisable ’80s icons, on a par with Boy George or Adam Ant.

Mike Score’s iconic hairdo was copied by Chandler from Friends

The band’s rapid success demanded constant touring and all the pressures and excess that went with it.

To begin with they were a tight-knit unit, partially held together by Maudsley’s pranks and wisecracks.

Mike Score was the principal songwriter, but Maudsley insists all four contributed to the songs.

“If anyone had an idea we would all work to develop it – the song was the most important thing. I was attracted to the dark side of the Seagulls – things like Suicide Day and Remember David, because that’s what fitted in best with my writing.”

However, even at the height of their success in 1982, cracks we beginning to appear, with the brothers in the band – Mike and drummer Ali Score –frequently at loggerheads.

The group’s youngest member – wunderkind guitarist Paul Reynolds, struggled most with the pressures of fame.

Mentally and physically exhausted, he quit the band in 1983 after suffering a breakdown.

Reynolds was replaced by Gary Steadman, but he also left shortly after the band’s third album ‘Dream Come True’.

By then A Flock Of Seagulls were past their critical and commercial peak and with sales dwindling, the band tried re-locating to Philadelphia.

But when Maudsley grew disenchanted with living in America the band eventually dissolved in 1986.

Mike Score would continue to tour and release records under The Flock of Seagulls monicker with different line-ups, but the original four members would not play together again until VH1 reunited them in 2003. Ascension is their first studio album together since 1984.

Space Age fashion: Ali Score, Paul Reynolds, Mike Score and Frank Maudsley

Cackling at the memories, Maudsley admits he still pinches himself at what he and the band accomplished.

“I was a just a kid on the street when we started and I can look back and say this is all I have achieved,” he says. “There are kids who’d give their right arm to do what we’ve done.

“We did this big desert festival in America, Duran Duran and Yazoo went on before us. It was one of the best days of my life – playing to 250-300,000 people, supporting David Bowie!

“We did Madison Square Garden three times in front of 100,000 people.”

The trappings of mega-fame may now be behind him, but Maudsley says he’s happy back where he started in Norris Green with his family.

“It did happen too fast for us, Paul in particular found that difficult. We did not see music as a business proposition at the time. I didn’t want to be famous, I just went with the flow.

“We became millionaires several times over – it all got a little bit out of hand. I have lived in mansions, a chateau in the south of France, LA, London, under the Brooklyn Bridge in New York,” he says with a smile.

“And now I’m back living in Norris Green, the area of Liverpool I came from. I’m the most comfortable I’ve ever been in my life.”

With that, he plays a quick burst of slinky slap bass before it’s time to say our goodbyes.

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