The Comsat Angels were an English post-punk band from Sheffield England, initially active from 1978 to 1995. Their music has been described as “abstract pop songs with spare instrumentation, many of which were bleak and filled with some form of heartache”. They have been credited as being an influence to later post-punk revival bands such as Blacklist, Bell Hollow, Editors and Interpol. The Comsat Angels toured heavily in the UK and in western Europe, especially in the Netherlands. They also toured the United States twice. Their music has been extensively reissued and recompiled since 1995 by various record labels.
Named after the J. G. Ballard short story “The Comsat Angels”, the foursome’s original lineup (lasting from 1978 to 1992) consisted of Stephen Fellows (vocals, guitar), Mik Glaisher (drums), Kevin Bacon (bass) and Andy Peake – (keyboards).
They debuted in 1979 with the “Red Planet” three-track single. This release attracted Polydor A&R man Frank Neilson and the band signed a three-album recording contract. These three albums – Waiting for a Miracle (1980), which included the single “Independence Day”, probably their best known song, Sleep No More (1981) and Fiction (1982) – are regarded by some as their best, but only sold modestly.
In their early years, the group shared live stages with bands like Siouxsie and the Banshees, Yellow Magic Orchestra, Depeche Mode, U2 (an 18-date tour in 1981), Captain Beefheart, the Sound, Wall of Voodoo and Gang of Four. In 1982, they performed two songs on BBC Television’s the Old Grey Whistle Test. A U.S. tour in 1982 had to be cancelled after a week, due to Bacon contracting appendicitis.
The first three albums failed to live up to Polydor’s expectations, so the record label let the band go. They then signed with Jive Records and recorded Land (1983), which had a more commercial, new wave-oriented sound. The album included the single “Will You Stay Tonight?” which had some success on US radio. Fifth album 7 Day Weekend (1985) also followed a more pop-oriented trend. However, it also failed on the charts, and Jive Records dropped the band. Their single “I’m Falling” was featured in its entirety in the movie Real Genius with Val Kilmer. The movie never released an official soundtrack album, but gave the band perhaps its widest audience.
The band found a fan and supporter in Robert Palmer (a fellow Yorkshireman), who was at the height of his popularity at this point in the 1980s. Palmer facilitated the Comsat Angels’ signing to Island Records, and he served as executive producer for their next album, Chasing Shadows (1986) and even sang on one song, “You’ll Never Know”. That album’s music is viewed as the band’s return to their dark, brooding roots.
The U.S.-based Communications Satellite Corporation threatened to take legal measures against the band for supposedly plagiarizing their name. Because of this, the band were renamed C.S. Angels in the United States.
For the follow-up, they talked Island into letting them build their own studio. The band decided to try for AOR radio with their next recording, Fire on the Moon (1990). The group changed its name to Dream Command for this record, likely because of pressure from their record label and the Communications Satellite Corporation. Neither the band nor their label were happy with the album, which was released in small quantities in the US and the Netherlands only. Few people in the UK even knew about it until the Comsats were mentioned in Q magazine’s “Where Are They Now?” section.
Around 1990, they recruited Sheffield musician Nick Robinson as an additional guitarist. (He appeared on “I Wanna Destroy You”, later released on the compilation From Beyond 2). This was another turning point for the band, as they set about writing and recording new material on their own terms and finally hooked up with RPM Records (and with Caroline Records in the U.S.), who then released the Comsats’ 1979-84 Radio 1 (BBC) sessions as Time Considered as a Helix of Semi-Precious Stones. (The title was taken from a Samuel R. Delany short story).
RPM released a new Comsats single, “Driving”, and an album, My Mind’s Eye, in 1992. (The album was released in the U.S. on Caroline Records, under the band name C.S. Angels, with two bonus tracks.) The music press praised the album, citing several current shoegaze-type bands (e.g., Curve, Catherine Wheel) who were influenced by the Comsats’ sound. Melody Maker’s review stated:
“My Mind’s Eye could easily have been recorded by ghosts, such is the dexterity of The Comsats’ approach and the haunted nature of their anguished restraint… Every snapping bassline and icebound guitar fragment has a place, a purity and a passion that chills… At the heart of their hurtling hailstorm lies Steve Fellows’ punishing baritone. The man sounds like he’s singing from a carriage on the soul train to hell, all sweat and worry as the songs rage around him like they’ve come for a debt”.
RPM also issued a Dutch radio sessions collection, Unravelled, prior to the release of the band’s final studio album, The Glamour, in 1995. The Glamour was the first studio album to feature new members Simon Anderson and Terry Todd (who appeared on Unravelled), after the departure of Bacon. The latter had left to concentrate on production work at the band’s Axis studio in Sheffield. No singles were released from The Glamour, and several songs from these sessions (e.g., “Hyperprism” and “Evanescent”) were only included on the 2007 reissue of the album.
The Comsat Angels disbanded in late 1995 following UK dates to promote The Glamour.