One thing that singers who have had more than one hit hate being called is a one-hit wonder. The most well-known ‘victim’ of this is Chesney Hawkes who, despite having six UK hits, is only really remember for his 1991 number one The One and Only. When I interviewed him in 2011 he told me that it was one of his biggest bug bears. This weeks is another who actually had seven hits, of which two were top 10, and who is also referred to, usually by ignorant television and radio producers, as a one-hit-wonder. This week it’s the story of Wonderful Life by Black.
Black, back in 1985 were briefly a band three piece Liverpool band but soon trimmed down to lead singer Colin Vearncombe becoming a solo act and recording under the name Black. It’s not the most dynamic and happiest names for a band, so why did he come up with that name? “Well, I think it’s very hard to pronounce Vearncombe, Black is easy. Before I started Black I was a member of a punk band called The Epileptic Tits and that was an amusing name, but Black is just easy.”
Vearncombe was born in Liverpool and it was after he saw Elvis Presley’s film Jailhouse Rock that he decided on a career in music. So what was his plan? “I wish I could say I had a shape or a plan in my head,” he explained in an interview with Paul Sinclair, “but I was just focused on succeeding, and that, for me, meant making a living at music. Then of course if you reach that point, you’re looking for the next point, which is a probably a bit higher, bigger, wider, longer etc. In 1981 I was 19, I’d just left home, God knows how, but we managed to get a single, Human Features, together but it made no impact at the time.”
Over the next few years he continued to write songs and tour locally. He also suffered a few personal setbacks, “I’d been in a couple of car crashes, my mother had a serious illness, I’d been dropped by a record company, my first marriage went belly-up and I was homeless and then I wrote a song called Wonderful Life! It’s another one of life’s rich ironies that because my first marriage messed up in a very big way, I ended up writing a couple of songs that were the most successful I’ve ever written. My ex-wife is indirectly responsible for me having a hit.
Wonderful Life was originally released in September 1986 on the Ugly Man label and reached the dizzy heights of number 72, but that was enough for A&M records to take notice and sign him. In June the following year the label released Sweetest Smile which went to number eight. A&M then issued a re-recorded version of Wonderful Life and that too peaked at number eight. Those were the two songs that were inspired by Vearncombe’s divorce. What was Colin’s thoughts on its success? “Wonderful Life was the freak – the miracle is that I was as successful as it was,” he said in an interview with David Sedgwick. “I tilted my hat at being successful. I insisted on a two album contract. I figured that if it wasn’t going to work after two albums then maybe I shouldn’t be doing it.”
Things started to go wrong; the next album, Comedy, peaked at number 32 and spent just four weeks on the chart, Colin attributed it to “a run of poor decisions by his record label: wrong single, wrong time, wrong everything. The record company got cold feet. It was stand-off time. “I dug my heels in with the record company. My one regret is that I stopped writing songs. Why do we dig our feet in and insist we are right? Why don’t we try to find common ground, the things that unite us?”
Colin moved to Cork in Southern Ireland and was living happily together with his ex-wife. “It works surprisingly well,” he told David Sedgwick, “Of course if either of us become involved with a serious partner, it would seriously alter the dynamic.” Asked why he moved to Ireland, “I like my elbow room, and eccentricity is tolerated here.”
In September 2015 Katie Melua recorded a cover which was used in one of the Premier Inn TV ads that featured Lenny Henry, but that limped to number 73 in the chart. Four months later news reached us that Colin had been involved in a car accident near Cork airport and had sustained such serious injuries that he had to be placed into medically-induced coma, 16 days later he died of his injuries, he was just 53.