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The Other Two \ Biography

The Other Two are an electronic pop duo comprising Stephen Morris and Gillian Gilbert of New Order. O2 came about in 1990, spurred by Morris and Gilbert's work on television soundtracks. Their first album The Other Two and You appeared in 1993, following by Super Highways in 1999.

Charles Street, Manchester, 29 September 1990. Guests invited to the grand opening of Fac 251, the new Factory headquarters building, pass through steel gates decorated with the new Factory corporate logo, set in a modification of Rotis font which designers Peter Saville and Brett Wickens have christened Factis 90. Spread over three stories, Ben Kelly's third warehouse conversion for Factory is a suitably grand statement of presence in Manchester. Beyond the steel gates and Japanese oak door, the visitor pathway from the ground floor reception and warehousing areas up to the airy boardroom in the roof space is enlivened by brightly coloured walls, exposed brickwork and recycled wood panelling. There is also a zinc roof, although this can only be seen from the air. The mooted glass pyramid is destined never to be installed.

Though the boardroom does not yet feature the infamous floating table, guests at the opening party are treated to a contract signing by Scots band The Wendys, and an exclusive free CD numbered Facd 251, featuring a witty electro track called Loved It (The New Factory), which samples ghosts of Factory past. The musicians responsible for Loved It are none other Stephen Morris and Gillian Gilbert of New Order, aka The Other Two, pleased to celebrate the opening of the new Factory office, while at the same time delighted not to have contributed a penny towards the runaway build cost of £750,000. In the event, after too much refreshment most of the guests leave their CDs behind, while the cost of The New Factory (though not Loved It) will ultimately contribute to the collapse of the label two years later, and delay the release of the debut album by The Other Two by another twelve months.

It was all very Factory. 'O2 grew out of a suggestion from Alan Erasmus in mid-1990 that we do a soundtrack album,' says Stephen Morris. 'We'd done quite a bit of stuff for TV by then and got into a routine of just writing material, so that when someone wanted a bit of music for something we had a stockpile that would at least be a starting point.' Having set solo projects running in 1987, and recorded excellent fifth album Technique the following year, it was intended that New Order would regroup in 1990, but the band found their energies dissipated by Electronic, Revenge, and a novelty football single, World In Motion. Even manager Rob Gretton was distracted, setting up Manchester dance label Rob's Records. 'It's my solo project,' he quipped to Melody Maker. 'Everyone else has got one, so I'm doing mine.'

Morris and Gilbert also bowed to the inevitable. 'Why bother making a record on our own?' Morris told Stuart Maconie in 1991. 'Because no-one else turned up, I suppose. We thought New Order would start up again last year but it didn't. Anyway, we'd just turned down this soundtrack, Jute City, so we thought we'd make a record out of all the stuff we had lying around. We were quite happy doing TV soundtrack work like Making Out and Reportage, but you get a bit fed up with it, and it's not really an end in itself because nobody buys the record.'

Previously the Reportage theme had been recycled as a number one single, World In Motion. For O2, however, recruiting a suitable singer proved more difficult. 'I'm not up for singing drummers,' Morris told Select. 'They make me sick. Phil Collins, him out of The Eagles. So we thought we'd have a girl. Alison Moyet was suggested but that didn't happen. Then, after we did World In Motion with MCA, one of their artists cropped up. Came up to see us. A really famous pop star. Better not say who. Kim Wilde. We got on well, but she kept on going on holiday.'

Most of the album eventually released as The Other Two and You was pieced together by Morris and Gilbert at their home studio near Macclesfield during 1991, latterly with assistance from American electro-pop producer Stephen Hague, who would also produce Republic, the sixth New Order album, on which writing work began that summer. However progress on both projects was slow. Whereas in Electronic Bernard Sumner was able to spark off Johnny Marr, Morris and Gilbert (and Peter Hook) found going solo far more challenging. 'It was hard at first,' admitted Gilbert, 'but we did get lots of help. We thought we'd try to do everything dead cheap, but it wasn't possible. Stephen Hague was really helpful. He would come up to our studio at weekends off his own bat and give us advice. He advised me to have singing lessons, actually. It just makes you a lot more confident about singing in front of people. And it works. It just stops you getting endlessly annoyed with yourself for not being able to hit certain notes or frustrated because you can't get to the end of the line without breathing.'

In a perfect world, perhaps inhabited by Kim Wilde, Factory might have scored a hit with Tasty Fish, the debut O2 single released at the end of October 1991 as Fac 329 and credited to The Other Two. 'Don't look for too much irony in the name,' said Morris. 'We're crap at names, and it was getting late.' Featuring lyrics by Jeremy Kerr of A Certain Ratio and named in honour of a fish and chip emporium on the A6 near Stockport, Tasty Fish was praised as 'New Order re-jigged by Stock, Aitken and Waterman' by Melody Maker, and 'a giddy, masterfully conceived vat of froth - wondrously dumb and dizzy' by NME. Both papers voted it Single of the Week, the mixes by Pascal Gabriel proving especially popular, and the fresh young club-owning electro duo also made the cover of the NME. An album was promised for February, but postponed after Tasty Fish peaked at #41, followed by complications over sample clearance.

Completion of parent album The Other Two and You was further delayed by the parlous financial state of Factory during 1991 and 1992, and the pressing need to finish and release Republic. 'Things turned into a bit of a slog,' admits Morris of sessions at Real World during the spring and summer of 1992. 'For Bernard and Hooky there was a two or three week gap while Gillian and I finished the O2 album with Hague, still at Real World. We stuck it out until August, trying to work against a background of crisis meetings about Factory and The Haçienda. Like the recording of the album, Factory's demise was a long drawn out process. I think at the time it was always thought that this would be the first release after completion of the ever changing "London Deal", and not on the Factory we'd previously known.'

'We were left in the dark and treated like a hamster on a wheel,' adds Gillian Gilbert. 'It was all, "Get the LP done! Get the LP done!" During the middle of making Republic I started asking questions. I got an inkling something wasn't right. There were interminable meetings - arguing about getting the bloody settee recovered in Dry.'

Ultimately, London/Polygram declined the buy the debt-ridden label as a going concern, and in November Factory collapsed with debts in excess of £3m. 'If they'd been able to find a mad multi-millionaire, they'd have been able to carry on,' said Morris at the time. 'But they could only postpone it. It is a bit like the Apple thing. We were going to play on the roof of the building, but I can't stand heights.'

Although test pressings of The Other Two and You were already in circulation, the collapse meant that neither the album (Fact 330) or mooted second single Moving On (Fac 349) appeared on Factory as planned. Republic too was delayed, and in December New Order signed with London direct. Live and promotional commitments in support of Republic in May meant that the O2 album was delayed yet again, finally appearing on London in November, and in America through Qwest a year later. Selfish was extracted as a second single, featuring mixes by Moby and Farley and Heller, while Qwest also released Innocence as a club 12-inch, backed with K-Klass mixes of Tasty Fish.

Reviews of O2's uplifting, mellifluous techno-pop album were fair to middling. Writing in NME, Stephen Dalton found that 'the best fusion of form with function comes with the sleek Eurodisco drama of Moving On, rewriting the desperate escapism of Thelma and Louise as a shiny autobahn ride to liberation. So, The Other Two and You proves that pleasant, down to earth, contented thirtysomethings can still make terrific pop music. But it also sorely misses the added fizz that pretentious posturing, rampant egos and severed alliances sometimes give to that music.' In Melody Maker, Ian Gittins explored similar themes: 'This is a New Order LP, except for Hooky's surly bass and Barney's sarky mumbling. Pop is an unfair mistress, see. Pop is a bastard. Stephen and Gillian huff and puff in the studio, but never really summon up New Order's bathetic grandeur. There are, inevitably, moments to treasure. Moving On is all silence and snowdrifts, Ninth Configuration is an ace kicking club anthem for people who don't really go to clubs, and two year old single Tasty Fish turns all the tricks that New Order do. It's no disaster - it's certainly several light years better than Peter Hook's Revenge project - but nor is it exceptional.'

Despite the success of Republic, or perhaps because of it, sales of The Other Two and You were relatively modest, the album barely charting in the UK and failing to register on the Billboard Hot 100 in America. Arguably, sales might have been boosted by the inclusion of their best known television theme, America's Most Wanted. Plans to release another O2 album within a year were shelved, as were live shows. After 1993 New Order remained inactive for five years, this silence broken only by two albums apiece by Electronic and Monaco, the latter replacing Revenge as a solo vehicle for Peter Hook. The Other Two would also release no new material for six years, instead scoring TV series including Making Out, Cracker and Common as Muck, using their home studio for New Order projects, and producing a second 02 album as well as their first 02 daughter. Morris and Gilbert also married in 1994, having been a couple for 15 years.

Super Highways was eventually released by London in March 1999, co-produced with Tim Oliver and featuring guest vocals from Melanie Williams of Sub Sub fame. By then electro-pop had fallen slightly out of favour with both press and public, whose taste in electronic music now extended to Leftfield, Underworld, Fluke, Orbital, Air and Aphex Twin. Uncut admired their 'breezily euphoric Eurodisco, stately electro ballads and spooked ambient interludes', but judged Super Highways out of time. However for All Music Guide the second 02 album was 'brilliant, with incredible hook-filled melodies, mesmerising vocals and tight production. It may not be as accessible as their first, but given the repeated listening it demands the album proves rewarding, and this time around more aggressive. New Order fans will enjoy the music, but it's different enough to keep non New Order fans interested as well.'

As with The Other Two and You, Super Highways was largely overshadowed by the return of New Order, and the untimely death of manager Rob Gretton in May 1999. Both Morris and Gilbert took part in writing and recording seventh New Order album Get Ready, released in 2001, but Gilbert stepped back from touring, and soon after left the group. Morris would remain with New Order for swansong album Waiting for the Siren's Call in 2005, and joined Bernard Sumner in Bad Lieutenant, releasing album Never Cry Another Tear in 2009.

James Nice

December 2009