His songs 'spoke of the diseases and fears poorly hidden from view. They spoke for and against the little man, the ubiquitous civilian bewildered by the speed of events threatening to sweep him up or leave him behind. And they spoke in a variety of voices: dead pan, severe, sardonic, satirical and, finally, disarmingly sincere....' -Biba Kopf '91.
The first band signed to Mute Records (which was started by Daniel Miller of The Normal, and jumpstarted the careers of bands such as Yazoo, Depeche Mode, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Erasure, Virgin Prunes, and many others), Fad Gadget was at the forefront of the electronic/dance/synthpop scene in Europe. Frank Tovey would played solo with a drum machine on stage. This confused many audience members who were used to seeing the standard guitar/bass/drums format in popular music. Fad Gadget was a huge inspiration for future Mute Records bands such as Depeche Mode and Erasure (who used a similar formula). Fad Gadget would also inspire bands such as Einstürzende Neubauten with their use of drills and electric razors on their performances and records. What set Frank Tovey apart from many in the early darkwave scene was his avoidance of scifi themes in his music, instead focusing on machinery,construction and human sexuality.
The first three Fad Gadget albums (Fireside Favorites, Incontinent, and Under The Flag) were mostly recorded by Tovey himself. On their fourth record Gag, he finally hired a group of musicians and you can hear a definite change in quality. Einstürzende Neubauten also toured with Fad Gadget during this time in 1984. He also recorded a solo album with famed noise artist Boyd Rice entitled Easy Listening for the Hard of Hearing. Fad Gadget was known for his confrontational live performances, which included Tovey covering himself in tar and feathers, leaping into the audience, and playing instruments with his head. Tovey was particularly infamous for spreading his naked body in shaving cream onstage, an image of which is depicted on the cover of The Best of Fad Gadget.
In 1989 he changed musical directions, recording an acoustic album of protest songs called Tyranny and the Hired Hand. He then recorded a series of solo albums until his departure from the music business in 1993.
In 2001, after a near 10 year retirement, Frank Tovey brought back the Fad Gadget name to tour with his former labelmates Depeche Mode on their Exciter tour. He continued to perform live until his sudden death of a heart attack on April 3, 2002.
It's sad we will never hear another note from Frank Tovey and they often get ignored when discussing the early 80s electronic/synthpop scene. Bands like Depeche Mode, New Order, Pet Shop Boys are always mentioned but Fad Gadget was there before any of them. Mute Records has had a reputation of being trailblazers in electronic music and Fad Gadget was the band that led it all. On March and April of this year, New York City will be hosting a tribute to Fad Gadget/Frank Tovey with a screening of a documentary on Frank Tovey's life, examining his music and his influence which will take place at Dixon Place. The loss of Frank Tovey is huge in the underground scene and though they never saw any real mainstream success, the world is a colder place without him.