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Erasure's Andy Bell on The Neon, Being in Love, & the '80s Gay Scene

Erasure's Andy Bell on The Neon, Being in Love, & the '80s Gay Scene

Andy Bell and Vince Clarke

Erasure's legendary vocalist joins Inside With the Advocate for a deep dive into just who was hanging out at the queer nightclubs in the '80s. 

At a time when the world could use a little joy, the synth-pop duo Erasure released The Neon, a new album that is a synth-filled celebration of life and love, earlier this month.

The Neon is "a place, but not a specific place. It's a place that lives in the imagination, that we put in the real world. It could be a nightclub, a shop, a city, a cafe, a country, a bedroom, a restaurant, any place at all," according to press notes from Andy Bell and Vince Clarke (Erasure), who released their first album, Wonderland, in1986. Songs from the new album, including "Nerves of Steel" and "Tower of Love," have that early Bell-Clarke feel that makes you want to head to the dance floor of the nearest queer club.

In a Zoom interview for Inside With the Advocate, Bell shares that he and Clarke (who was with Depeche Mode and formed Yaz with Alison Moyet before Erasure) were in a place of joy and appreciation when they wrote The Neon in Brooklyn last summer.

"Last year, I was with my partner, which you can't help take it for granted [when] you're together," says Bell, who's stuck in London while his partner, Stephen Moss, is in Miami. "It's hard because of the pandemic. And you just don't think about what a blessing it is to be with the person that you're in love with."

The legendary vocalist on hits including "A Little Respect" and "Chains of Love" adds that The Neon is a love letter to the music that's in his soul -- electronic music. His first real memory of falling for an electronic track was Donna Summer's "I Feel Love." He goes on to praise the Human League and his friend Clarke's work with Yaz as some of his favorite electronic music.

In the '80s, Bell was one of a couple of out gay singers, along with Jimmy Somerville (Bronski Beat and the Communards), who were chronicling and celebrating the queer experience through song. Bell shares that Somerville is a hero of his.

"I was so excited when Age of Consent [Bronski Beat's first and very queer album] came out, especially like, 'Smalltown Boy.' I mean, it was amazing," Bell tells The Advocate. "Still, Jimmy is a hero of mine. He's a hero. That was it, really, I just felt like I was backup for Jimmy a little bit."

Open and nostalgic in his discussion, Bell mentions that in the early days in the music scene in London, it was fairly common to run into the likes of Boy George and Divine at a nightclub called Heaven.

In 2005, Bell spoke openly about being HIV-positive, a "coming-out" that he says "took a while for me because it was a struggle."

"It was a struggle, not only emotionally, but also physically, it was a struggle," Bell says, adding that he had been diagnosed with double pneumonia at one point. "I was kind of in denial for quite a long time about it."

Since Bell first spoke openly about his HIV status, Erasure has continued to release collections of its singular music. The Neon marks the duo's 18th studio album, and Bell continues to be one of the most enduring queer voices in music.

"I know it seems like a conscious decision but it was almost a subconscious decision. It just all came out at once," Bell says of the fact that he was never in the closet. "To me, it's Mother Mature. I think she's amazing."

Watch the interview with Bell above. And watch other episodes of Inside With the Advocate, which features an array of virtual stories with LGBTQ+ artists, trailblazers, and allies including Rosie O'Donnell, Emily Hampshire, Harvey Guillen, Ross Mathews, Kalen Allen, Sherry Cola, Fortune Feimster, Brandy Norwood, Bruce Richman, Tonatiuh, Josh Thomas, Ser Anzoategui, the Indigo Girls, Sara Benincasa, Dustin Lance Black, Alphonso David, Jonica "Jojo" Gibbs, Lena Hall, Mary Lambert, Elijah Mack, Rahne Jones, Thomas Beattie, and Quintessa Swindell and Brianna Hildebrand.

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Tracy E. Gilchrist