A personal tragedy derailed the 1980s star duo's tour last year, but they're back to play gigs in Killarney and Dublin, writes
TEARS For Fears were the moody outsiders of the Smash Hits generation. Materialising in a dark cloud in the heyday of Wham and Duran Duran, the duo of Roland Orzabal and Curt Smith radiated a murky unease even as they stormed the charts.
Such contradictions were their secret ingredient. They posed and pouted in their videos while their music explored alienation, cultural dissonance and unprocessed rage. There was time, too, for Gallagher brothers’ level of internal band conflict.
Awkward and strong-willed, they never fully got on — but from this tension emerged some of the classic singles of the age: ‘Mad World’, ‘Everybody Wants To Rule the World’ and ‘Sowing the Seeds of Love’.
Now they’ve reunited for a new tour which begins at INEC Killarney before moving to Dublin. The dates were rescheduled from early 2018. That was a difficult time for Orzabal, whose wife, Caroline, had passed away six months previously.
“When I became a parent I forgot about the part of myself which was very emotional, very dour a little depressed — but very good at writing emotional songs,” he says. “In the past year and a half I’ve had to confront that. Partly because of the death of my wife.”
He looks back with a degree of bafflement and wonder at the teenager who wrote songs such as the devastating ‘Mad World’ — an unlikely hit for Tears for Fears and a track that has been covered by generations of artists.
“I’m proud of the younger Roland,” he says. “Very proud of some of the lyrics. They stand up today. I’m cool with it, though some of it is a bit painful.”
Having emerged from the obscurity of Bath — a bit of a backwater in British pop — they were aware of how unlikely their story was. They were a pop group with a heart of pure, gothic melodrama. Listening to them was like reading an Emily Dickinson anthology you’d hidden inside the latest Smash Hits.
“We fitted into two places,” he recalls. “One was the dark and brooding side of pop. And the other was being able to feature on the cover of Smash Hits. We were once described as the ‘thinking schoolgirl’s Wham’, A very bizarre thing. We were very young, very good looking — but what we were singing, it was almost at odds with all that.”
Did they see themselves as subverting pop?
“We didn’t stop to think about it. we were certainly outsiders. Bath was hardly known for its rock’n roll. We weren’t part of the London scene or the New Romantics or any of that. We were stuck out on our own. All the serious bands, all the punks, came from Bristol. We had nothing to do with them.”
Orzabal and Smith slotted together perfectly as collaborators but their relationship was never smooth. They would release just three albums at the height of the powers and Smith would temporarily depart the group.
“I don’t think we’ve changed at all,” says Orzabal. “I have the same relationship with him now as when he was 14, 15. He would walk out of rehearsals when he was 15 the same way he will do now.”
Not always getting on with your foil isn’t necessarily a bad thing he believes.
“I’m a bit of a perfectionist. If you’re going to partner with someone like that, you have to be pretty tough. If they’re tough you’re going to have arguments. It wouldn’t have worked if I’d been with someone less feisty.”
Many of their tracks have taken on a life of their own. But that’s especially true of ‘Mad World’, which reached number one when covered by Michael Andrews and Garry Jules for Donnie Darko in 2001. Listening to the new version, Orzabal was hit all over again by the emotional devastation of the song.
“With ‘Mad World’ — that was a shock. By the time Gary Jules released it I had two sons. My youngest was about seven, eight — and we played the song in the kitchen in the West Country and it came to the part that goes ‘children waiting for the day they feel good, …happy birthday… happy birthday’. My youngest son starting singing along to it. It was a shock to me, an absolutely shock. The words came home to haunt me, almost.”