Gilbert Gabriel, Kate St. John and Nick Laird-Clowes were born in London in the late 1950s and were probably too young to attend Woodstock or to remember such early ’60s events as JFK’s assassination or The Beatles‘ first album. But that didn’t stop them from writing songs about these and other ’60s landmark events.
The ’60s connections didn’t end with the subject matter. The band’s dreamy music featured orchestration rare in the early ’80s’ synth-pop landscape, and band member Kate St. John’s oboe and sax were integral to the band’s music, not just incidental background noise filling in for the digital shallowness of keyboards.
The ’60s motif was also present in their look – sporting Nehru collars and opting for long, free hair in an era when mousse was the order of the day.
And to complete the ’60s theme Dream Academy’s eponymous album was co-produced by Dave Gilmour, the sixties psychedelia master of Pink Floyd fame.
While reminiscent of The Beatles and their Merseybeat contemporaries, the Dream Academy’s music was more similar in sound to the Liverpool sound of the late ’70s, when such groups as Deaf School, the Teardrop Explodes, and Echo and the Bunnymen rediscovered the subtle side of the guitar and put some art back into rock.
Laird-Clowes had been a member of The Act, a British band whose 1981 debut, Too Late At Twenty, was critically acclaimed and otherwise ignored. At the same time, St. John was using her classical training in a “wild, three-girl group called Ravishing Beauties”.
The single Life In A Northern Town was their lone venture into the world of pop success. The Love Parade was released as a follow-up single, but it barely moved up the charts and seems to have been largely forgotten by stations that continue to play Life in a Northern Town.
Even less notice was taken when they released albums in 1987 and 1990. To their credit the Dream Academy did make the soundtrack of a John Hughes film with their instrumental cover of The Smiths Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want.
Ah-hey ah-ma-ma-ma, indeed!
Kate St. John
Vocals, oboe, saxophone