The Passage


About The Passage

An underexposed post-punk band from Manchester, England, the Passage were distinguished by the poetic, probing intellectualism of leader Richard "Dick" Witts, and a preference for assaultive keyboards and synthesizers in place of guitars. When the band took shape in 1978, it was a secondary concern for both Merseyside Arts Association officer and Granada TV presenter Witts as well as Fall bassist Tony Friel, who were joined by keyboardist Lorraine Hilton. Near the end of the year, after a handful of gigs -- including one for which the trio headlined over Joy Division -- they made their recorded debut, as simply Passage, with New Love Songs, released on hometown label Object Music. After that four-song EP and the like-sized About Time, a 1979 follow-up produced by the Flying Lizards' David Cunningham, the lineup gradually dwindled to Witts, who added a definitive article to the band's name and further explored his experimentalist streak on first full-length Pindrop. The album went to number ten on the U.K. indie chart in 1980. Drummer Joe McKechnie, guitarist Andrew Wilson, and second vocalist Lizzy Johnson subsequently joined Witts for performances and studio work. This lineup recorded the 1981 single "Devils and Angels," the first release on the band's Virgin-distributed Night & Day label. As a trio without the departed Johnson, the Passage shortly thereafter issued another single, as well as the album For All & None. McKechnie split, but Witts and Wilson carried on, signed to Cherry Red, and made "Taboos," their 7" debut for that label, by the end of 1981. Third album Degenerates followed in 1982 with Paul Mahoney on drums and "XOYO" as a preceding lead single -- one of the band's most pop-oriented moments, somewhere between contemporaneous Soft Cell and Travelogue-era Human League. Extensive touring abroad and within the U.K. was broken up later in 1982 with the "Waves" single. Mahoney departed and was replaced with McKechnie. Enflame arrived in 1983 as the band's fourth and final album and became their third Top Ten indie entry. A BBC session for Janice Long -- which followed three earlier ones for John Peel -- was their last time in a studio together. Witts, who had also been involved with the BBC as presenter of Oxford Road Show and reported for BBC Radio 3, became a professional musicologist. He has authored the books Nico: The Life and Lies of an Icon and The Velvet Underground, and has lectured at several universities. Friel, McKechnie, Wilson, and Mahoney have been involved with a variety of separate musical pursuits. All four Passage albums were expanded and reissued by the LTM label in 2003. ~ Andy Kellman

Manchester, England
March 1978

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