While the rest of the band were keen to get out on the road, Ralf Dorper had never conceived of Propaganda as anything but a studio group, Feeling that it would be impossible to transfer the band’s complicated studio arrangements and sound effects adequately to the live arena, he refused to tour.

In late May, a few weeks before ‘A Secret Wish’ came out, ZTT put together a package show entitled ‘The Value of Entertainment’ which, featuring all their acts except for Frankie Goes to Hollywood, and including new signings Instinct and Anne Pigalle, played a two week residency at the Ambassador’s, a London West End theatre. Propaganda ‘s covers of ‘Disziplin’ and ‘Sorry for Laughing’ had been recorded as a part tongue-in-cheek reaction towards Dorper’s aversion to guitar bands. It was, therefore, a particularly cruel twist of fate that, as Propaganda took to the Ambassador’s stage for the first time, playing half live and half using backing tapes, Dorper found his place in the group superseded for live performances by bassist Derek Forbes, guitarist Kevin Armstrong and drummer Brian McGee. Forbes, like McGee, was a former member of Simple Minds, while Armstrong was a jobbing guitarist who had worked with Alien Sex Fiend, Thomas Dolby and David Bowie.

Difficulties were emerging elsewhere too. As Dorper had control of the band which he had created wrested from him, friction had also started to develop between Claudia Brucken and the other members of the group. In direct defiance of the ABBA style image that the band had created for themselves Brucken had been given the central role by ZTT in the video that accompanied ‘Duel’. The three other regular members of the group felt that Paul Morley was pushing his new wife towards a solo career. In August ZTT released ‘When Your Heart Runs Out of Time’, a duet between Brucken and Heaven 17’s Glenn Gregory, which was the opening song in ‘Insignifance’, a Nicolas Roeg art film about an imaginary meeting in a 50’s New York hotel room between Marilyn Monroe and Albert Einstein, for which ZTT provided the entire soundtrack. While the single did not chart, it was to Dorper, Freytag and Mertens further consolidation of proof.

Another point of contention was the deal that Propaganda had signed with ZTT. In their haste to work with Trevor Horn, they had, despite Dorper’s experience in banking analysis, made the classic mistake of many other flourishing groups and had not read the small print of their contract. The contract that label manager Jill Sinclair had drawn up was such that ZTT kept approximately 80% of any profits. The band, however, would not receive anything until all their studio bills were paid off. These came to approximately 1,000, 000 Deutschmarks or £250,000.’A Secret Wish’ had involved several guest appearances, and the cost of recording it had been undoubtedly high, yet, as Dorper would explain in an interview after the group had broken up, it seems that some very creative accounting had also taken place. Taxi fares to get ZTT employees home at night during the month or so ‘A Secret Wish’ was being recorded came to £10, 000. The group ate in the small kitchen attached to the ZTT studio rather than in expensive restaurants, but their food bills came to another five figure sum. The rent of a drum machine was £7000. It would have cost a third of the price to buy the same model. Effectively the band had to sell over a million copies of the album before breaking even. It would take them until 1997, 12 years after ‘A Secret Wish’ was released, to do so, and to get back into the black.

The residency at the Ambassador Theatre, at which Propaganda had played versions of their three singles and ‘Dream Within a Dream’, had gone relatively well. ZTT now decided to put the band out on tour, once again augmenting the group’s line-up temporarily with Forbes, McGee and Armstrong.

A set of dates were booked for October and November 1985. Before then though the group, with Dorper rejoining the others, flew out to Spain and Italy to fulfill some promotional duties. By now relations had grown so strained between Brucken and the rest of the band that, while she stayed in one hotel, Dorper, Freytag and Mertens stayed in another.

Part the way through the Spanish and Italian trip, the trio discovered much to their fury that Paul Morley had gone into the ZTT studio with producer and engineer Robert Kraushaar to record new remixes, or as he dubbed them “disturbdances”, of the three singles, ‘Sorry for Laughing’ and ‘The Murder of Love’. ZTT now planned to compile these together onto a mini-album, ‘Wishful Thinking’, and to release it to coincide with the tour. Both ZTT and Brucken, who had been in on the plan, and who had provided the artwork for its sleeve, had not bothered to let them know . ‘Wishful Thinking’ sold poorly when it was released in October, only reaching no. 82 in the albums chart, in comparision to ‘A Secret Wish’, which had peaked at no.16. The internal and external acrimony and mistrust between the individual members of the band and ZTT meanwhile plummeted to a new low.

Propaganda limped through their tour, playing a Greenpeace benefit show in Rotterdam in Holland and ten dates in Britain, which concluded in London at the Hammersmith Palais. They then moved on to Germany, where they played another five shows in Berlin, Hamburg, Frankfurt, Munich and Cologne, and then finally to Osaka in Japan where they played a last one-off gig.

It was, however, effectively all over. Mertens, Dorper and Freytag had by now decided to pull out of their contract with ZTT. Towards the end of 1985 Morley was fired from ZTT after an argument with Horn and Sinclair, and Brucken too became temporaily amenable to the idea of leaving the label.

On a promotional tour in France of February of 1986, she, however, issued the band with another ultimatum as they stopped over at Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris. She wanted to take charge of the band’s affairs. Otherwise she would leave the group. There was another last ugly row. While Dorper. Mertens and Freytag flew back to Dussledorf , Brucken, now having pushed herself out of the group in the same way in which she had pushed out Andreas Thein fifteen months before , returned to London alone.

ZTT, when they found out that Dorper, Mertens and Freytag were planning to leave, immediately hit them with an injunction that prevented them from releasing any material through anyone else. The three surviving members of Propaganda countersued on the grounds that their contract was unreasonable. The next two years were spent in limbo, and with lawyers.

By 1988, and the time the matter was about to reach court, ZTT’s glory days were over. The label, which Morley had described at its peak as making “two kinds of music, music that was out and music that was money”, was in severe financial trouble.

The contracts that ZTT signed with the other groups on their roster had been similarly untenable.The Art of Noise had been first to leave the fold in 1985. Anne Dudley, Gary Langan and J.T. Jeczalin had acrimonously broken up with Horn, and Morley who had joined the group as a fifth occasional member, in a dispute about cash. They then went on to sign a far more lucrative deal with Chrysalis. Later on that year, Instinct had also left. They fell out in the studio with Horn, and did not even get as far as releasing their first single. New signings to the label, such as Anne Pigalle and Nasty Rox Inc. fared less well than expected, and did not chart, Always the jewel in ZTT’s crown, Frankie Goes to Hollywood meanwhile had broken up in early 1987, a few months after releasing an only modestly-received second album ‘Liverpool’. Now singer Holly Johnson, who wanted to start a solo career, but also had been served with an injunction similar to Propaganda’s which stopped him from releasing records elsewhere, had also decided to sue ZTT.

Two days before Propaganda were due to meet ZTT in a London High court, Horn and Sinclair, facing two legal battles, and worried that if they lost the Propaganda case they would also almost certainly lose the potentially more financially damaging Holly Johnson case, offered to let them go.

Dorper, Freytag and Mertens had employed the same team of lawyers who in 1986 in similar circumstances had won John Lydon and and the other surviving Sex Pistols a substantial damages claim against their ex-manager Malcolm McLaren. Their chances of winning were high.They were nervous, however, about working within a foreign legal system and there were, of course, no guarantees. If they lost they would remain contracted to ZTT and would also have to pay court costs on top of all their other vast debts. They reluctantly, therefore, agreed to accept Horn and Sinclair’s terms. While they still had the studio bill to pay off, they were otherwise now free to go.

Propaganda had spent the two years they were out of the public eye and not making records realigning. Dorper had been persuaded by Freytag and Mertens to put aside his misgivings about guitar bands so that they could take Propaganda in a new musical direction, and Brian McGee and Derek Forbes had been recruited into the line-up on a permanent basis. They spent some of the time that they were away looking for a new singer to replace Brucken without success, and also recorded a series of demos in Forbes’ home studio in his farmhouse in Scotland.

Shortly after they finally left ZTT, Propaganda signed a new deal with Virgin Records. They also at last found their new singer.

Betsi Miller was a 24 year old American. She had been born in Idaho, but had moved to Germany when she was 12 when her mother had taken up a teaching job overseas. Miller fronted an unrecorded part-time group called Shampoo, and was enlisted into Propaganda after a mutual friend of her then boyfriend’s and Susanne Freytag’s spotted her singing with them one night in the Munich nightclub where she also waitressed by day. Two days after she passed her audition to join Propaganda, Miller packed up and moved from Munich to Dussledorf.

Work began on Propaganda’s second album, ‘1-2-3-4” with producers Ian Stanley and Chris Hughes at  a studio in Bath in an initial haze of optimism. Both Hughes and Stanley had worked together before on Tears for Fears’ second album ‘Songs from the Big Chair’. Stanley had also worked with the Human League and the Pretenders, while Hughes had produced records by Adam and the Ants, Howard Jones and Paul McCartney. The new six piece line-up of Propaganda, however, was to prove short-lived. Wearying of band and music industry politics, and wanting to focus instead on the regular job as a jewellery maker that she had continued to hold down throughout her years in the band, Susanne Freytag quit shortly after recording began. Soon afterwards Dorper, feeling that much of the energy of had gone out of the group with Freytag’s departure, and remaining unconvinced at the band’s switch in direction, decided to  join her. The album was finished as a four-piece  with none of the original members now left and Mertens filling in for Dorper on keyboards.

‘’1-2-3-4’ finally came out in May of 1990, just a month short of five years on from the release of ‘A Secret Wish’.

It was  an album of some undoubtededly very fine moments.  The seven minute ‘Ministry of Fear’ proved that Propaganda had not totally lost their experimental edge. It featured a brief cameo from Freytag, and, hurling Mertens’ epic, rattling synths up against a wall of scrambled background voices, created a nightmare Orwellian vision of a world overloaded on information.  The nearly equally lengthy ‘’Your Wildlife’ was also similarly spectacular. It thrust both Mertens’ meandering, hazy  keyboards and McGee’s crackling thunderbolt drums to the fore, and also gave Miller a free range to show off her vocal talents,  finding her humorously rapping at one point and playing around with a voice enhancer at another. The album was closed with ‘La Carne, La Morte e Il Diavolo’, another hauntingly atmospheric and cinematic instrumental in the style of ‘The Last Word’ from ‘A Secret Wish’.

Yet, for all this, ‘1-2-3-4’ was also heavily flawed. The opening number  ‘A Vicious Circle’, the only other track to feature Freytag, had  been  written at the time of ‘A Secret Wish’  and bounced her spooky, spoken word vocals up against  Miller’s more operatic co-singing . While the two singers’ connected well with each other , the other instrumentation did not. Mertens’ hazy, swelling synthesisers failed to blend at all with guest Neil Taylor and Derek Forbes’ chundering guitar and bass work, and  ‘A Vicious Circle’, far from reflecting on past glories, came across as simply disjointed.

The other tracks were also disappointing. The first single off it, ‘Heaven Give Me Words’, which reached no. 37 in the UK chart upon its release in April 1990, was a perky and pleasant enough, but ultimately rather lightweight and ordinary pop number. Its second  single, the dreamy and balladic ‘Only One Word’, which reached no. 71 when it came out on June, was similarly bland and laacking in spark. The album’s other tracks, the poppy  ‘How Much Love’ , and ‘Wound in My Heart’, another ballad, were again  innocuous and unremarkable.

Much of the reason for this came from the band’s change in direction. As soon as guitars were brought in, they lost much of their uniqueness and simply became another pop group.

Part of the problem also lay with Betsi Miller. She was, as ‘Your Wildlife’ proved in many ways technically a more dynamic and diverse vocallist than either of her predecessors, but, far  more of a conventional singer than either Freytag or Brucken, she had none of  their eerie evocativeness and strangeness.

The lyrics on ‘1-2-3-4’  were similarly uncharismatic. Dorper had stayed around long enough to pen ‘Only One Word’ and ‘Wound in My Heart’ as well as ‘A Vicious Circle’.  They were melodramatic in style, but dull, each telling of a tortured love affair, and lacked the canniness and surreality of his previous offerings. The other lyrics on the album, which were composed largely by the band and again told mainly of broken love affairs and screwed-up romances, were equally trite.

‘1-2-3-4’ employed a wide  array of  special guests including, as well as Neil Taylor, the Pretenders’ Robbie McIntosh, Pink Floyd’s Dave Gilmour ,Pilot’s David Paton and Howard Jones. Although it was not finally released until 1990, it was, like much else of that previous era, expensive, glossy and ulitmately rather shallow and empty. The shards of  the Propaganda of the past were still in evidence, but only just. All in all, ‘1-2-3-4’ was just a little too conventional and safe for it own good. It sold
200, 000 copies, but Virgin did not feel that this was enough to sponsor a proposed tour. They cancelled it, and Forbes and McGee, feeling that the band had run it course, both soon after quit. The group, with just Mertens and Miller on board, imploded shortly afterwards.

In the time since then, the various members of Propaganda and their associates have met with mixed fortunes.

Ralf Dorper rejoined Die Krupps after he left Propaganda, and went on to record another six well-received albums with them before they finally disbanded in late 1997. He continues to work as a banking analyst in Dusseldorf.

After he was sacked from Propaganda in late 1984, Andreas Thein  became involved with the acid house movement. He has since then gone on to meet  great  international  success with various house and electronica projects. One of these, Rififi had a massive dance hit  in 1989 with ‘Dr Acid and Mr House’,  for which Ralf Dorper composed the lyrics, and sold over 600, 000 copies. Thein has since then gone on to collaborate with Dorper again in 2002 on ‘The Secret Tapes : Dr Mabuse’, a limited edition release of their early pre-ZTT Propaganda demos. He has lived in Barcelona and New York, and is currently based in Cologne.

Susanne Freytag continues to work as a jewelleryry maker.  One of her pieces of work, a ring, appeared on the booklet that accompanied Bryan Adams’ 1996 single, ‘18 Till I Die’. She has made few excursions into music since she quit Propaganda, but made  appearances on two dance records in the 90’s, both of which also featured Claudia Brucken. The first of these, Chrome Seduction’s ‘Light the Way’, was released as a single in 1993, while the second, ‘Halleluhwah’ appeared on a self-titled album by Spirit Feel in 1994.

Michael Mertens co-founded a music production company, Music Works, in 1991 which produces music for advertiising companies. He has made occasional guest appearances on keyboards on other musicians’ records, and in 1995 appeared on dance project the Brain’s club hit ‘I’ll Find a Way’, which also featured Claudia Brucken on vocals. He still lives in Dusseldorf.

Derek Forbes has continued to work as a session musician. Based in Glasgow, he rejoined Simple Minds to play with them on their album, ‘Neapolis’, which came out last year.

Brian McGee now runs his own production company which records and writes dance music. He is the owner of two recording studios,and also lives in Glasgow.

Betsi Miller married ‘1-2-3-4’ co-producer Chirs Hughes. She still dabbles occasionally in music, but  her recording career has been confined entirely to Propaganda. They have three children.

Claudia Brucken stayed with ZTT after she parted company with Propaganda in 1986, and formed a new band Act, with another of its signings, Thomas Leer. They released three singles, ‘Snobbery and Decay’, ‘Absolutely Immune’ and  ‘I Can’t Escape from You’, and also an album, ‘Laughter, Tears and Rage’, which came out in 1988. After Act split, she started a solo career, and released  an album.’,Love and a Million Other Things’, under her own name n 1991. She has made guest appearances on various other musicians’ records, and is currently working on two albums, one with Andrew Poppy, another former ZTT signing, and another an unnamed project with fomer OMD keyboardist Paul Humphreys with whom she toured the West Coast of America in 2002 .

Paul Morley returned to journalism after he was fired from ZTT. He has had articles published in The Face, Arena and Esquire amongst other publications, and is also a regular on the BBC2 arts programme, ‘The Late Show’. He is also the author of two books. The first of these, ‘Nothing’, a memoir about his father’s suicide, came out in 2000, while the second, ‘Words and Music’, a history of pop music, was released last year. He and Brucken divorced in the mid 90’s. They have a daughter.

Trevor Horn and Jill Sinclair lost their court case against Holly Johnson, who won substantial damages. They continue to run ZTT, which has since revived its fortunes, and had released successful albums by the likes of Seal, Gabrielle, 808 State and the Utah Saints. Horn remains much in demand as a producer, and has recently produced both Tatu’s eponymous debut album and Belle and Sebastian’s ‘Dear Catastrophe Waitress’.

That is not quite the end of the Propaganda story. In the two decades since ‘A Secret Wish’ was recorded, Propaganda have continued to attract interest. All their albums, including ‘Wishful Thinking’ and ‘A Secret Wish’, have gone through various reissues, In 2002, ZTT released ‘Outside World’, an 11 track compilation of some of their other remixes, while in January of this year they put out a special version of ‘A Secret Wish’ which is only compatible with Super Audio CD players.

The group have also gone through two reformations. In late 1998 Michael Mertens got back together with Claudia Brucken, and then eventually Susanne Freytag, with the intention of recording a third album. They signed a deal with the London-based label East West, but, when that deal failed to work out, switched to Repertoire, a German label. Both Bomb the Bass’s Tim Simenon and Dietrich Bauer, who had worked with Mertens and Brucken on the Brain ,were both cited as potential producers. The reformation , however, did not work out. In early 2002 it was announced that Propaganda had split up again with work problems and the location of its members being listed as the reasons for the project’s failure.

Later that year in November Propaganda reformed again once more, this time with Ralf Dorper Susanne Freytag and Michael Mertens on board. While the others had patched things up, acrimony was still such between Dorper and Brucken that this time Brucken stayed away. In a brief press statement the group announced that they had begun work on a new album, and that ,because their records’ release dates had shifted around so much in the past, there would be no more press statements until the album was ready. Since then the group has been silent. Whether the album will ever come out remains to be seen. With all that has happened to them, and with everything that has gone against them in the past, their audience, however, can only remain hopeful.

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Commenting On: The Propaganda Story Part 2 - Dream Within a Dream

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23643 Posted By: Holly Johnson (London England)

Correction : I did not sue ZTT , it was they that sued me. Also I was not awarded substantial damages , however I was awarded costs .

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