'We managed to live a 10-year band life in three years. We then became belligerent and it turned very sour'
Soft Cell burned bright and fast. Marc Almond, who performed at Let's Rock Belfast last Saturday, tells Alex Green how their sudden success ultimately came to destroy them
The name Soft Cell will forever be tied up with two things: Soho's sleazy Seventies underbelly and, of course, Tainted Love. Lead singer and pop auteur Marc Almond, however, would argue the band's legacy extends far further.
Often we forget the galvanising effect Soft Cell had on electronic pop, or how they spawned the careers of Marilyn Manson, Nine Inch Nails and A-ha.
Last year Almond and musical partner Dave Ball had a chance to address this legacy and correct a few misconceptions in front of an audience of 20,000.
Soft Cell's one-off reunion at London's 02 saw them dip into their surprisingly deep back catalogue - with a few hits thrown in.
"People thought we were just a band that wrote about sleazy things, about red light things, Soho and all that kind of thing," says Almond at the premiere of the documentary about that show.
"Our debut, Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret, we set it in that setting.
"But follow-ups The Art Of Falling Apart and This Last Night In Sodom, and Cruelty Without Beauty, they are all very eclectic subjects.
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"A lot of the time we wrote on the darker side of love songs.
"Songs about everyday things, about consumerism, quite political themes sometimes and social commentary.
"Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret, that was our reflection of Margaret Thatcher's Britain. It was the other side of Margaret Thatcher's Britain."
He adds with a hint of defiance: "We got labelled with that moniker... we got stuck with that. But it was only a tiny bit of what we were about."
The pioneering synth-pop duo's September show at London's O2 stretched for a mammoth three hours and delved deep into the duo's rich musical history.
Almond (62) and Ball (60) met at Leeds Polytechnic around 1977, bonding over a shared love of Motown, film soundtracks and northern England's burgeoning industrial dance music scene.
Their platinum-selling debut album Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret explored the seedy, often lonely, world of London's Soho, bedsits and all-nighters.
Of course, it contained the single Tainted Love, a cover of the Gloria Jones soul stomper, which topped the charts worldwide and shot Soft Cell to international fame.
But it was a fame neither Almond nor Ball were ready for.
"It took its toll on us very quickly," admits Almond.
"We lived a 10-year band life in three years. We became very belligerent. It was always us against the record company.
"We liked the fact we could make pop records and they would be played on the radio and they were hits.
"That gave us a chance to be quite subversive - a bit against the grain.
"But all the time there was that battle. More Tainted Loves, more this, that and the other.
"It wore us down. We went to New York to record our first two albums, which was an amazing thing, but it was probably the beginning of the end.
"It destroyed us. Really it was the worst thing you could have given us at the time."
Among the drugs and the late nights, the pair fell apart. And although Soft Cell never ended for good, they went their separate ways.
Almond went on to work with Jools Holland, Coil and Berlin-based composer Michael Cashmore.
Ball embedded himself in the intricacies of electronic music production.
In 2002 the pair reunited to produce the well received Cruelty Without Beauty.
But their truce lasted just two years and ended in tragedy when Almond was knocked from his motorbike outside St Paul's Cathedral in London.
He suffered two huge blood clots and lay in a coma for weeks. When he finally emerged, he had damaged his hearing and developed post-traumatic stress disorder.
"It all turned very sour on that second time," he recalls.
He blames "outside influences" that "came in and surrounded" them, but a chance meeting in the street put the nail in the coffin for any Soft Cell reunion.
"It did end with animosity," he says.
"I ended up being very offhand in the street when I met him.
"I just said, 'Look, I don't want to do this again. I don't want to speak to you again'.
"I always regretted it and felt very bad about that. I had just had my motorbike accident at the time. I was in a very bad place. I was very reclusive."
His opportunity to make amends came 13 years later, prompted by the release of a 40th anniversary box set.
Almond wanted to mark the milestone and, encouraged by his record label bosses at Universal, decided to make contact.
The pair thrashed it out over a coffee and discovered there was still a spark.
"I met up with Dave and it was like seeing an old friend again," he says as a grin creeps across his face. "It was like the past 17 years hadn't happened."
Like that, the animosity dissipated and the pair started plotting a one-off show at one of the capital's largest venues.
That performance marked the band's final live outing and proved two things, says Almond.
First, that the music of Soft Cell will continue to connect. And second, that he and Ball will forever be connected.
"He is part of my history and I am part of his history - we are connected always," he says.
"I never would have had the success I have had without Dave Ball."
Soft Cell's Say Hello Wave Goodbye, which features Almond and Ball as they play their final sold-out show, is out on CD and DVD now