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Cast Of Thousands- Unsung New Wave Legends

This Excavating The 80s entry looks at Cast Of Thousands, the New Wave band hailing from Derry which gained a reputation as a stunning live act in their hometown and London in the mid-80s.

Cast Of Thousands’ material is nowadays extremely rare and written material on the band is scarce, which is surprising given the quality of their songs and the rapturous reception they received at their live shows during their tenure. So let’s take a look at this long-overlooked New Wave band and give them some much-deserved recognition.

Cast Of Thousands (occasionally written as Cast Of 1000s or A Cast Of Thousands) were formed in Derry, Northern Ireland, circa 1985 by Jim Walker (guitar) and Dave Harvey (vocals). Both were veterans of the Northern Irish Punk scene, Jim Walker having previously played in Punk band The Sect. The band’s early, Post-Punk styled material gained them a local following in their hometown, where they gigged regularly around numerous pubs. It was when their music caught the attention of Robert Stephenson, working for London-based Fun After All Records, that Cast Of Thousands were to attain their brief but deserved foray into Rock stardom.

Robert Stephenson had heard the band via a tape of them that his brother brought back to London after a visit to Derry. He went over to Belfast to see them live and approached the band after the gig with the offer of a visit to London to sign a record deal. Jim and Dave were brought over to London, where they were signed to Fun After All Records, a small independent label originally founded by Martin Hooker of Music For Nations to release the debut single by Boom Boom Room.

With the aid of Stephenson, a solid line-up was soon formed when Londoner Greg Terry Short was hired on drums, soon to be joined by Nick Graham on keyboards and Mark Megennetty on bass. A debut album and a tour of Europe was funded, and the band brought their sound to a wider audience, their live performances consistently gaining rave reviews. Although the chances of success looked reasonably promising, things were far from easy for the band as money was low (the band now admit to having ‘tried to be Rock stars before they were’ and overspent massively whilst in Europe) and with three different managers in control, creative integrity soon took second place to the need to satisfy the record company. As the band were used to the homely, localised feel of Derry, where they retained a solid following, they felt overwhelmed by the sheer vastness of London and found it more difficult to get gigs and press coverage than they expected.

The band’s only album release, Passion, produced by Steve James, was released in 1986. As a ‘debut’ album, Passion is an extremely impressive effort, giving the impression of a band which had been going for some time rather than one which had only formed a year earlier. A distinctly Northern Irish flavour runs through the album, throughout which the band’s Post-Punk roots are melded into a style of anthemic, folk-tinged Indie Rock with a touch of Lloyd Cole and the Commotions. From the beginning of opening track This Is Love, when the guitars crash in as Dave Harvey’s distinctive voice announces “This Is Love, and I will shout it” the band leads the listener into a smooth run of powerful, stadium-like tunes with melodic, singalong choruses that never fail to grip the listener’s attention firmly. While frequently compared to Simple Minds, the band’s multi-layered, unashamedly ‘big’ sound combined with introspective, occasionally romantic lyrics and mellow delivery is perhaps more reminiscent of The Icicle Works. Single release September, probably the band’s best-known song, is a definite highlight, with unforgettable Indie-style guitar licks and a yearning, atmospheric vocal, while Immaculate Deception has all the makings of a New Wave classic. Passion is a true unsung gem of the New Wave era, which has aged well and could have been a hit album given the right circumstances.

Indeed, singles September and Nothing Is Forever would seem to have ‘hit’ written all over them just upon listening to them. But the band was struggling to gain exposure- with the record company’s limited budget, promotion was low and the band faced difficulty getting gigs and securing a more proficient record deal. After several years, the lack of widespread recognition and the scarcity of money took their toll, and the band called it quits.

Following their short-lived tenure on the lower rungs of Rock stardom, Cast Of Thousands were to become largely forgotten, unknown to this day even by many hardcore New Wave enthusiasts. However, this was not to be the case in their hometown of Derry, where they remain fondly remembered to this day, as a band that could immediately command the attention of an audience of total strangers with the power of their live set. In 2008, the band finally reunited for a one-off gig in their hometown, a triumphant reunion for both the band and their longtime fans. Although a full-time reunion has not been spoken of, Jim Walker remains musically active, performing regularly around Derry with covers band The Jaywalkers. And with their material remaining very hard to find, let’s hold out hope that the Passion LP will eventually see a remastered CD reissue, so the music of these unsung New Wave legends may finally be brought to a wider audience.

References:
Cast Of Thousands- The Fanning Sessions Archive
Cast Of Thousands guitarist Jim Walker’s YouTube channel

NB: With the limited amount of information and resources available on Cast Of Thousands, every effort has been made to ensure the information in this article is as accurate as possible. If you spot any inaccuracies or can expand on the information here, please leave a comment via the comment tool- Thanks