Curiosity Killed The Cat: Keep Your Distance 30 Years On

Mercury Records, released April 1987

7/10

If you’d taken a walk along London’s King’s Road in the summer of 1987, you would have seen a lot of lads who looked just like Curiosity Killed The Cat; jeans from Dickie Dirts in Westbourne Grove, black polo neck, white T-shirt or Fred Perry, bomber jacket or cardigan, loafers or Doc Martens, and a flat-top haircut with a bit of gel.

Certainly most of the girls at my school fancied Curiosity. But then there was the music. You knew they had raided their parents’ cool record collections – they had a bit of Sly & Robbie, Trouble Funk, Robert Palmer, Dr John, Michael McDonald and Chic in there, also a large dollop of Little Feat.

Singer Ben Volpeliere-Pierrot had a light, attractive tenor voice and of course some eccentric dance moves and ‘relaxed’ stage patter. Drummer Migi Drummond and bassist Nick Thorpe definitely knew where ‘one’ was, and the band rounded out their sound with some fine horn and percussion arrangements.

Curiosity were the slightly sloaney South-West London lads who found the funk, probably the most musically accomplished of ’80s ‘teenybopper’ bands. They formed in 1984 from the ashes of Twilight Children, a post-punk band originally formed by Drummond and Thorpe. Offered studio time by family friend Eric Clapton, they cut a number of demos and quickly got the attention of businessman/impressario Peter Rosengard, who became their manager.

Curiosity played their first gig at London’s Embassy Club in December 1984 and quickly picked up quite a big live following. After co-writing ten tracks with session keyboardist Toby Andersen, they were snapped up by Phonogram/Mercury Records in summer 1985 after a considerable bidding war. Simply Red/Crusaders/Randy Crawford/Sly and the Family Stone producer Stewart Levine was selected to rescue their debut album after aborted sessions with Sly & Robbie, Paul Staveley O’Duffy and Culture Club’s Roy Hay.

First single ‘Misfit’ stiffed in August 1986, even though its video featured early champion Andy Warhol (who writes amusingly about Curiosity in his diaries). But ‘Down To Earth’ crashed into the top 10 soon after and Keep Your Distance went straight into the UK album charts at number one in April 1987, and also made the US top 60. A rereleased ‘Misfit’ then hit the UK top 10, and the Staveley O’Duffy-produced ‘Ordinary Day’ was a further hit. A fourth single, the Sly & Robbie-helmed ‘Free’, missed the top 40 entirely, possibly because its chorus featured one of the most hare-brained lyrical couplets of the decade.

But apart from Keep Your Distance‘s singles – all of which stand up pretty well these days – the album’s deep cuts showcase what the band were all about: the rather lovely ‘Red Lights’ and shimmering ‘Know What You Know’ are a winning fusion of Sade and Little Feat.

Andersen was dumped by the band just three months after the album’s release. He kvetched about it to Q Magazine in the December 1987 issue, saying ‘I suppose it could have been down to looks…’ Ben V-P disagreed, saying Andersen’s replacement ‘was just a better player’. What did Toby do after Curiosity? A Discogs search doesn’t reveal much beyond a few sessions for Belouis Some.

Curiosity’s impact was sudden, but their success short-lived. Why? Sacking a key songwriter and then waiting two years to release a follow-up didn’t help. Also their good looks and immediate success skewed record company expectations which would subsequently be almost impossible to fulfill, and also possibly blunted their musical potential. Who knows what else they could have achieved? With a bit of luck and better guidance, they might have developed into a Simply Red-style soft soul/funk band, if that’s what they wanted to do.

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7 thoughts on “Curiosity Killed The Cat: Keep Your Distance 30 Years On

  1. Misfit is great. I’d totally forgotten that track. It would fit well in a forgotten 80’s compilation next to Chocolate Box by Bros and maybe something from Staring At The Sun by Level. Curiosity could have used a bit of Gould backbeat on that track don’t cha think?

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  2. I am the BIGGEST fan of these guys and still am and I am 44….have bored many with my singing, playing of their music and explaining how they actually were a ‘proper’ band playing instruments rather than a boyband….their music has stood the test of time….have them on vinyl (wtf!) and cd….and they have been lovingly data transferred to my car….Down To Earth was soulful and I listened to it only this morning…I hope the guys are still playing and I hope they are not have not turned into the ‘tortured genius’ that most older pop stars turn in to….wltm !

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  3. Well researched article , Hard to know what would have happened if I had stayed in the band. I was working in fashion after my first band Funkapolitan this came along it was one of those things chord change not great musicianship and ingredient X no one ever knows but I have had a long career in music. Ben had a great voice and Stuart Levine a great producer.

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