Andy Bell is known by generations of pop fans all over the world as the singer for the synth-pop duo Erasure. It's not hard to figure out why his name and face have become synonymous with the band, as his smooth, gentle voice and kind, optimistic lyrics have helped the pair sell more than 25 million records worldwide during the band's 33-year existence. Erasure's early hits, such as "A Little Respect" and "Love to Hate You" became a quintessential soundtrack to being young or young at heart: driving during sunsets, partying in dorm rooms, and exploring what it means to love unconditionally. These heart-stopping anthems made Bell one of the biggest pop stars of the 1980s and beyond.
But long before Bell was the singer of Erasure, he spent his younger years in the small town of Peterborough in the U.K., a place he attributes to playing a major role in his interest in music and art. "I was very quiet, but a bit arty back then. I always went to second-hand shops and made my own clothes, which of course looked quite stupid," he recalled with a chuckle over the phone from a hotel room in London. "Most of my friends were great artists and painters, and I'd always go to their houses and watch them work and either listen to punk records or John Peel's radio show."
Eventually, however, Bell's dreams of starting anew and living a more vibrant and open gay life outgrew the streets of Peterborough. "I truly had a lot of fun there," he remembers, with a slight hint of sadness. "It just, well, became a little too small."
Once Bell made his move across the country to London, he spent countless late nights in the iconic gay club Heaven, dancing with strangers until the wee hours of the morning and using his unemployment card to pay for cheap drinks. He recalls partying under the neon lights alongside the glittering likes of Boy George, Leigh Bowery and even Freddie Mercury, making Heaven "a really special place" for him. It was there that he, "after about a year of being too shy to really talk to anyone," made a network of close friends and "learned so much" about confidence and self-image from the performers and drag queens. One can wonder whether, without Heaven, Bell would have summoned up the courage to send a vocal audition tape to his then-idol Vince Clarke (already famed for stints in Depeche Mode and Yaz), someone whose creative partnership would, over the course of the next few years, change Bell's life forever.
After that fateful audition in 1985, Bell and Clarke would form Erasure, forging an irreplaceable bond that could only be made by two people who have taken the world by storm together. The duo pumped out chart-topping hit after hit, which Bell describes as "being in our DNA," even if the duo "didn't really understand the significance of the songs at the time."
When asked if the magic of spending time beside Clarke was still present so many years later, Bell assured me that, yes, of course it still is: "Vince is basically the closest person to me in my life. And sometimes, with all of the down time, you do forget about that magic." He pauses for a brief moment, then says, "But I do feel very, deeply honored. It was definitely meant to be. There are always special moments."
And perhaps it is no surprise that the man who helped pen countless songs about tenderness and compassion would want to foster an environment that creates these special moments for other people, as well, no matter how small or fleeting they may be. "When you have a job like I do, you kind of feel like you're giving love to lots and lots of people," he admits, with warmth in his voice. "It's really such a privilege to feel loved by somebody."
With Erasure, it's clear that Bell hopes to remind everybody that's willing to listen to him just what kind of privilege he's talking about.