I thought press conferences for bands had become a thing of the past. With albums ‘dropping’ and social media giving instant access to all breaking news I just thought their day was gone. But it would appear, thankfully, I was wrong.
I got a call inviting me to a media event in Berlin. They had me at Berlin obviously but I was more than a little intrigued. It all seemed so old school. It was Depeche Mode, but apart from that details were scant and we were sworn to secrecy. For the first time in a very long time, I was asked to stay off Twitter.
I was reminded, as I packed a bag, of the words of my old friend, music journalist George Byrne. Once asked to go see a band he didn’t like play the Baggot Inn, he declined. But when later invited to their New York showcase he replied, “I wouldn’t cross the road to see them. I would, however, cross the Atlantic.”
This was not the case with me. I love Depeche Mode. I thought their Spirit album in 2017 was, like so many of their albums, a class work. It was the Trump era and the darkness of Where’s The Revolution chimed perfectly with the times. A proper band, with lots to say and the ability to say it brilliantly.
Their connection with Berlin is a long one. They had recorded part of their third album, Construction Time Again, in its famous Hansa Studios as far back as 1983. Germany gave the band its first number one. They became one of that tiny number of Western bands to play East Berlin in 1998. The 2014 Live in Berlin DVD was superb, and The Spirit tour ended in Berlin in July 2018.
I had no such connection. I had never even been to Germany, but I’d made up for this with an obsessional interest in German history. At this stage I feel I know the names and addresses of everyone who fought in World War II. Plus, there is that whole ‘Berlin Trilogy’ angle.
Bowie’s output from Berlin’s Hansa studios is a defining part of his catalogue. The song he wrote about a couple kissing in the shadow of the Berlin Wall, ‘Heroes’, is one of the most perfect evocations of a time and a place in history as was ever recorded.
Arriving in my room I discovered I was within walking distance of Potsdamer Platz, Hansa and the Brandenburg Gate. When I walked to each in turn I was overwhelmed. It was a lot to take in. I may return to this topic when the torrent of my emotions settle.
But back in my room, the oddity of a press conference in 2022 remained. At the appointed time I made my way to the Berlin Ensemble Theatre, a stunning building made famous by Brecht in the late 1940s. Versions of me and my ilk were everywhere. There were fans too. I felt something in the air. I think it was called ‘excitement’.
By the time I had got my passes and taken a seat it was all starting to make sense. Then the lights went down and a promo for the upcoming tour played. It was mostly to the music of ‘Personal Jesus’. The footage of the arena performances was jaw-dropping.
That was when the penny dropped. A proper press conference like this, is old-fashioned theatre. It creates a sense of occasion. The amazing city and venue help to focus your mind on just why it was that Depeche Mode have sold 100m albums and are one of the greatest live bands on the planet. It's called talent. It’s called Star Quality.
Sometimes you just need to be reminded why the band that Andy ‘Fletch’ Fletcher formed with Vince Clarke became so great. They became great because within that band Martin Gore developed serious songwriting chops (14 albums, no duds) and Dave Gahan became one of the most charismatic, electric frontmen on earth.
The shadow of Andy Fletcher’s sudden tragic death in May hung heavy over proceedings. You got a sense that Gore and Gahan are still processing it. He was the only other person who has lived through the life they have had. It was a bolt from the blue and is still fresh.
They have resolved to continue, finding, as they said, “stability in what we know and love”. The clips they played from the new album, available in March, sounded stunning.
- Depeche Mode play Malahide Castle in Dublin on June 14, 2023. Tickets go on sale Friday, Oct 7