The Escape Club
The Escape Club are a rock band best known for their Grammy Nominated, US #1 Hit, Wild Wild West. Their other 80’s hits, I’ll Be There, Shake for the Sheikh and Call it Poison all made the Billboard top 30. They are currently touring as a re-formed four piece and are enjoying every minute of it.
The Escape Club formed in London, England in 1982 from the remains of two bands; The Expressos and Mad Shadows. Their founding members were; Trevor Steel, John Holliday, Johnnie Christo and Milan Zekavica.
Both bands, Mad Shadows and the Expressos had done quite well on the gig circuit. The Expressos seemed for a while to be on the verge of going on to bigger things. Unfortunately their record company was caught hyping a single and Johnnie and Milan suddenly found themselves without a band. Trevor and John had formed Mad Shadows and were beginning to build up a following, when their drummer left
Milan seemed the obvious choice as a replacement and they asked him to join. Mad Shadows carried on and were filling increasingly larger venues until the keyboard player, Ian Curnow, known in the band as ‘Herman Profile’ announced that he was leaving to join Talk Talk. This was a severe blow. Without his soaring keyboards the songs all started to sound sparse, within four weeks the band had lost it’s hard-earned following.
Time to start again. John had been playing bass in Mad Shadows but wanted to start playing guitar. The band asked Johnnie, Milan’s fellow refugee from the Expressos, to join as the new bassist. It suddenly felt like we had a lot to learn.
The First Gigs
After almost a year of writing and rehearsing, our first gig as The Escape Club was booked at a small pub called Merlin’s Cave London in 1983. Not knowing what to expect we nervously stepped onto the stage to play our new set. We needn’t have worried. As soon as we started playing, almost to our disbelief a few people started to dance to our new songs and we realized that The Escape Club was going to work.
We soon picked up more Pub and Club gigs and within the year had appeared on Radio 1’s “In Concert.” We released our first single “Breathing” on a small independent label called Bright Records.
Our first big break came when Channel Four’s new show “The Tube” saw us playing at the Rock Garden in London. They asked us to play a couple of songs live the following month, a precedent for an unsigned band. In our naivety we expected to be snapped up by a major label within the week but it took another eight months of hard gigging before EMI offered us a deal.
The “White Fields” album was released on EMI in 1986. The band toured around the U.K. first supporting China Crisis, Big Country and then The Alarm. Some of the people that we met through those tours became loyal followers and the first honorary members of The Escape Club, following us through all kinds of weather to watch us play when we did our own smaller tours, ending up as always at the Marquee club in London.
The first single, “Rescue Me” had some initial radio play but the band was never really picked up by mainstream media. We now found ourselves on the line with EMI and like many bands before us expected to be dropped. It was only the belief of a man named David Munns, then CEO of EMI that saved us. We were allowed to go into the studio to record another album with the dire warning that ‘there had better be a hit on it.’ That album was to be named “Wild Wild West”
Wild Wild West
We had been writing songs in a different style to the White Fields album. There were a lot of bands in the U.K. at that time who sounded like U2 wannabes. We didn’t want to be just another “U3” as we called them. We decided to take a chance on the dance grooves that we often found ourselves in when we jammed, hoping to create a Rock/Dance hybrid.
The Wild Wild West album was recorded in ’87 with Chris Kimsey producing. As it started taking shape we became more and more excited by the sound of the songs, especially the title track. We felt that we were covering new ground and were sure that EMI would now be able to break us out to a wider audience. Unfortunately during this time David Munns left the company. When they came down to hear the album the head of A&R said, “sorry lads, we don’t hear a hit.”
When Wild Wild West went to number one in the US charts the following year. We sent the A&R man who shall remain unnamed, a message which read “can you hear a hit yet?”
The Escape Club in the USA
We were now on Atlantic Records, who had bought the album from EMI. To have a number one record as your first release in the USA is a strange thing. We were considered an “overnight success” which felt odd after five years of touring but we weren’t complaining. The first time any of us had been to the States was when we arrived two weeks after hitting number one to do some radio interviews. Being in the U.K. while it was climbing up the charts had been exciting but we hadn’t quite got the “feel” of it. Before the interviews started we had a couple of hours to do a bit of sightseeing. We were taken up the Empire State Building as all good tourists should but on the top we were mobbed by people asking for our autographs Things were about to change in a big way.
The next two years were a blur of Radio, T.V. and Touring. We stayed mostly in the States, playing in every major city. We toured the State Fairs in the Mid-West, then back again to the Cities, enjoying every minute of it and meeting some great audiences on the way. There were so many memorable gigs it would take pages to recall them all.
We went up to Canada then over to Europe and back home to the U.K. playing to as many people as we could. Two more singles, Shake for the Sheik which went to #26 in the Billboard charts and Walking Through Walls both helped to promote the album which went platinum. After years of relative indifference to our music in the U.K. this was amazing.
Dollars and Sex
By 1990 it was time to make another album. The Eighties were over and we felt that we had made a small mark. The times were changing, music in the USA was turning soft. Thankfully Nirvana were about to explode out of the Pacific North West. Back home Acid House had turned the U.K. into an E -crazed dance party.
We recorded “Dollars and Sex” in Los Angeles with Peter Wolf producing. Our sound had got more defined since the last album. We were concentrating much more on the rock / dance hybrid which had gone down so well as we were touring. The first single “Call it Poison,” made fun of all the “Big Hair” bands that we had seen so much of in L.A. and on tour ( soon to become as we were to find out an extinct breed.) The track was heavily guitar led and used a sampled vocal scream from Ian Gillan from Deep Purple. We felt that this track had all the makings of another Wild West and remember congratulating ourselves with the record company at an INXS gig in New York on the first week at radio when forty radio stations had picked it up.
From Call it Poison to I’ll Be There
This trend at radio wasn’t going to continue though, none of the big stations seemed to want to play anything with heavy guitars. Soon our radio lead started to slip away to the Mariah Careys of the world. Even the Big Hair bands were putting out soft ballads. Call it Poison debuted on Billboard at #28 which wasn’t bad but we would have liked a bigger hit
While we were recording the Dollars and Sex album, the wife of a friend of ours died. We were all affected by this and late one night John and Johnnie started writing a song on the acoustic guitars that we kept at our apartment. The band went off to get some food while Trevor stayed in to try writing some lyrics. John later discovered them on the table “lying in a shaft of light,” as he later recalled. Whether this is selective memory or not, the song saved our butts and “I’ll Be There,” went to #8 in the US charts in August ’91. The hit was largely driven by the power of people who had heard it phoning radio stations and requesting it.
The End ….for a while
We were now at a stage that a lot of bands must get to. We’d had some big hits but fashion was changing. In order to survive the next few years we knew that we would have to change our direction slightly. This wasn’t a problem but our deal with Atlantic Records was up and we knew that we’d have to demo some great songs to convince another label to sign us for the amount of money we needed. As usual in the music business – it all comes down to money in the end. We had signed ourselves into some sticky contractual binds over the years. Although we had sold a lot of records, we hadn’t seen much of the money. We knew that there were still many people out there who wanted to hear our music but contractually we were tied.
The Escape Club had been together for a long time by now and the idea of going back to the drawing board, especially with a big debt hanging over our heads seemed too much at the time. We didn’t officially split up, just gradually drifted apart until by 1992 it didn’t look like we’d be making another record.
Johnnie and Milan left to take up projects of their own. John and Trevor went on to write and produce acts in the U.K. where they had some major chart success with their songs, mixes and productions under the name, ‘Bump and Grind.’.
It wasn’t until 2012 that any serious thought of a re-formed Escape Club dawned. John and Trevor had recorded a studio project called ‘Cloud 10′ in the intervening years but it wasn’t a true Escape Club album. A call out to the band confirmed that Milan wasn’t interested in being involved with a new album and that sadly, Johnnie wasn’t going to be available due to the death of his wife, Corrine (who’s voice can be heard on the intro of ‘So Fashionable.’)
Celebrity was recorded over the year with Red Broad on drums, an old friend who had been in local bands with John during their formative years. It was very much a studio album, recorded in Sydney and Los Angeles using technology to get over the distance. It was released independently on Whipped Cream records. The lead-off single, ‘God’s own Radio’ got rave reviews and plays on local radio stations. The album fared well as a come-back record, gaining positive reviews on Amazon and continuing play on Spotify.
The Escape Club were back on the map but it wasn’t until Johnnie Christo thankfully returned in 2019 that the band became whole again, touring the USA for the first time in a long while and now with plans for more gigs and recordings coming soon.