Living In A Box 
'So the Story Goes: Living In A Box 2.0'
Living In A Box are a British band from the late 1980s / early 1990s. They are best known for their eponymous debut single, produced by Richard James Burgess. The group consisted of singer/guitarist Richard Darbyshire, drummer Anthony "Tich" Critchlow and keyboard player Marcus Vere.
The band were formed in 1985 in Sheffield. The group actually named themselves after the first song they had recorded together in the studio. Vere and Critchlow were recording the demo version of the tune when Darbyshire, an independent recording artist, popped in. Subsequently, Darbyshire was invited to join the band in the studio to record vocals for the track, and the three officially became a band thereafter.
Released two years later, 'Living in a Box' was their most commercially successful single, peaking at #5 on the UK Singles Chart and became the band's only single to chart in the Top 40 of the Billboard Hot 100 in the U.S. The single was featured on the group's self-titled debut album, which also included follow-up singles 'Love is the Art,' 'So the Story Goes,' and 'Scales of Justice'.
While 'So the Story Goes' was the only one of these additional singles to crack the U.S. Billboard Hot 100, all three songs charted in their home country, where the band continued to enjoy more success. Their follow-up album, Gatecrashing in 1989 proved to be even more successful in the UK, generating two Top Ten hits, 'Blow the House Down' (which featured Queen's Brian May on guitar) and 'Room in Your Heart'. The album itself peaked at number 21 (four places higher than the first).
Sadly, so-called "artistic differences", as well as changes to their record label Chrysalis, caused the band to break up in 1990 before a third album could be released.
Now after quite a few years absence from the performance circuit as Living In A Box, the band are back! Returning with UK soul singer sensation Kenny Thomas ('Thinking About Your Love' and 'Best of You') in place of original lead singer Darbyshire, LIAB is hitting the 80's concert circuit this year. Including day trips to Bristol, Rockingham Castle, Scone Palace, Thoresby Riding Hall and Temple Island Meadows, LIAB will now be living out of a suitcase this summer!
I recently caught up with both the original keyboard player Marcus Vere and new lead singer Kenny Thomas, as we discussed everything from those massive hits, to the LP covers, to the new material, and yes, of course ... penguins!
Being that Living In A Box (LIAB) haven't been on the music scene for over 26 years now, what have you, Anthony ("Tich") and Richard been up to in the space in-between? Marcus Vere - "Firstly, itís not true that we havenít been on the music scene for over 26 years. We reformed for a UK arena tour in 2004 and had an absolute blast. Since then, Richard has been working as a vocal coach, songwriter and producer. He has since retired from the music industry to write a book. Heís an Oxford University English scholar (which not a lot of people know) and although he is yet to tell us what itís about, Iím certain it will be a superb read."
"Tich moved to the south coast to chill out following a fall in the Himalayas. Contrary to popular opinion, he was not on the final summit attempt on Everest, he was staying at a friendís hotel, had a few too many to drink, slipped and hit his head on a rock. Joking aside, it was a pretty nasty accident that nearly cost him his life. He also runs a lighting design business."
"I continued to work in the music business, writing, producing and developing artists for Warner Bros. When the industry budgets collapsed at the dawn of the digital age due to an industry-wide contraction brought on by prolific file sharing, I started a business making childrenís TV shows which we sold to a distributor in 2006. I had a young family myself at that time and my then toddler-age son was so into tractors, diggers, fire engines and trains, like they are at that age, I thought Iíd make a series of educational videos set to music about them. They were a great success and won awards which was nice. My son can still sings the title theme and heís 16 now!"
When was it you started to realize that you actually, seriously wanted to get back in the limelight as LIAB? Marcus Vere - "I never consciously wanted to get back into the limelight, but writing again got me thinking about doing something off my own bat. Working with either established or even artists who our starting out is a bit like steering a rudderless ship and I missed having the control of my own project. We were also being asked to work live and had turned down endless offers. I guess I was thinking that one day those offers would dry up and I would have missed an opportunity to get back into it with LIAB on my own terms."
"My wife, Tisha, turned round to me one day and said, ďWhy donít you do it, why donít you get back out there?" I had spoken to Richard about working together again and he really didnít want anything more to do with the industry. Nothing personal in it, he just didnít want to play anymore. So, the big question then was, if LIAB were going to work again, who would take over the lead vocals?"
"Conversations with both Martin Fry from ABC and Martyn Ware from Heaven 17, both extremely long time and trusted friends of mine, got me to thinking I should find someone else to take over from Richard and that it wasnít by any means an insurmountable problem. Richard, I have to say for the record, has given the reformed LIAB his blessing."
As you have paid mention to, knowing that original lead singer Richard Darbyshire has opted out of the reunion, citing that he would rather not continue working within the music business for now, does that mean he might come back down the line, perhaps? Marcus Vere - "The door is always open. Richard knows that, but I think it is a near certainty that we will not see Richard sing with LIAB again. I also want to move on and strongly believe that the new evolution with Kenny Thomas is a wonderful and exciting thing going forward."
So, when you initially knew Richard wasn't going to be involved, did it worry you that fans love seeing and hearing old 80's/90's bands mainly due to original lead singers still being present? Marcus Vere - "Yes, of course. As I mentioned previously, I was very concerned about who would, or even could, follow in Richardís footsteps and how it would be perceived. A lot of 80s acts have only the lead singers and none of their other creative members. For us, itís the other way round. I was determined to find a Ďnameí to bring something to the LIAB party. I know lots of incredible singers who no one would know but I wanted someone who was not only technically able to sing the songs but who had the soul Richard had and, if possible, had had hits in his own right. That man is Kenny Thomas."
So, Kenny, what were you doing in the weeks/months before Marcus reached out to you about becoming the new lead singer of LIAB? Kenny Thomas - "In the months leading up to Marcus asking me to become the new lead singer of LIAB I was doing what I have always done. Iíve been out on the road doing my own shows with my band and recording new material for a new album, which I will release later this year. It was great to hear from Marcus, because I was always into their music and Iím always up for a new challenge. Especially where great songs are concerned."
Reflecting back to the late 80's when LIAB first hit the singles charts with 'Living In A Box,' it must have felt great to hit the ground running! Marcus Vere - "Artists are paranoid beings. Paranoid that theyíll never make it big and those that do make it are paranoid that it could all be over any minute! To be honest, we were crazy, young kids and just happy to be on the ride. When we were told that weíd entered the charts at 42 I think we all freaked out. You can imagine how we felt when the song went to 17 and eventually to number 5. It was pretty much the same in every territory of the world except for the US. That was down to the inadequacies of Chrysalis Records and their distribution, something that would eventually cause the band to split prematurely, just 3 years later."
That self-titled album and Gatecrashing were both such huge chart hits too, providing us with en masse of great singles! But, as we know now, and as you yourself have just pointed out, the band split up prematurely soon thereafter. So, given this media platform to speak freely today, what did really happen back then? Marcus Vere - "Essentially, the US in those days was 52% of the world market in terms of record sales. Our record label Chrysalis were just hopeless in America. We were having massive hits everywhere but not in the States. This was not unusual with UK artists but with the style of music we were doing, something was seriously wrong somewhere."
"When 'Room In Your Heart' went to number 5 in the UK and most other territories in the world, from memory Chrysalis managed to get it to 67 or thereabouts in the US; and we just lost faith. They presented us with a statement of account which in spite of selling all those records worldwide, said we were massively in debt, we just thought f**k it. Canít be arsed with this. Personal musical differences? Not really."
So, were you guys recording a third album at that time? Are there LIAB tracks out there, hidden/lost in used-to-be-known-as Chrysalis vaults, that have never been heard to this day, perhaps? Marcus Vere - "Yes, we were recording a third album when Richard felt he couldnít carry on. It was a shame we had to break up a band that had just established itself and embark on a new solo project. There arenít many solo artists who leave a band and triumph solo. George Michael being one of a VERY select few so the odds from the outset were stacked against Richard. Itís also true that Richard wanted to do more of the writing which he felt he could do solo."
"The result, I think was a watered down LIAB meets Richard Darbyshire record. It didnít have the edge we were known for and was a step too far into the middle of the road. Consequently it pretty much flopped and that, as they say, was that. I donít think there are any hidden treasures in the vault. Even if there were, like most songwriters, I love the song Iíve just written the most."
Looking back at those two (2) LIAB albums, can you please explain where the band was at at that time, how the songs were chosen, and (as we're not called Exclusive Magazine for nothing), any other insider gossip, so to speak:
LIVING IN A BOX (1987)
"Can you imagine the excitement? One minute we were in Sheffield in a dingy, damp demo studio, then off to London and within a few days we had a record deal. I distinctly remember signing the deal just before Christmas 1985. We had a nice cash advance and after the deal was signed and the sound of the popping of champagne corks with management and label chiefs had faded, we all headed home with pockets full of money."
"Our families and girlfriends did very well that Christmas which was lovely for us as it had been pretty lean times up until then. Early in the New Year the label hunted for a producer. Richard Burgess formally of the band Landscape had just produced 'Trapped by Colonel Abrams', a track we adored and had just the flavour we were looking for. But, more importantly to us, he was based in LA and was not prepared to come to the UK. What a shame ... we had to go to LA! Even better ... HOLLYWOOD!"
"The late, great recording genius and performer that was Dan Hartman was available to produce our second album in London and we were just ecstatic. The man who had just produced James Brownís Living In America was going to produce us? We were psyched. In actual fact, Dan was going to co-produce with Tom Lord Alge who had mixed and indeed salvaged some of the recordings on our first album. Letís just say on the first album an engineer had a bit of a coke problem and messed up a lot of the technical side of the recordings which Tom had to fix!"
"Tom had just won a Grammy for his mix work on Steve Winwoodís magical Back In The High Life album and to this day his discography reads like a whoís who of the music industry. We had a great team in those two guys and fortunately they hit it off too. My God, we laughed our way through making that album. Such incredible humour. Really, really funny guys. We recorded a lot of the album in the famous Olympic Studios in Barnes, London (now a pretty cool artsy cinema)."
"We had 'Blow The House Down' on the desk and Queen were recording next door. Dan and Tom thought it would be a great idea to see if we could get Brian May in to slap down some guitar. You donít ask, you donít get, right? True. Brian was an absolute gent and happily brought that iconic guitar and amp round to our studio and plugged in. He played a blinder and I think came up with an absolutely perfect solo for that song. Thanks Brian!"
Closing that chapter of LIAB, looking at both the cover art shots for LIAB and GATECRASHING, what can you tell us about both those photo shoots?
Living In A Box:
"This sleeve was really a mish mash of promo photo shoots weíd had done previously. The label were obsessed with propagating an enigmatic mystique to Living In A Box. Due to Richardís black-sounding voice, they had quite cleverly mailed the white label dance mixes of our first single from New York City so all the DJs thought we were from the Big Apple. This worked well and probably got us dance floor airplay early on in the clubs that we might never have got had we Ďfessed up that we were really three middle class white boys from Yorkshire! The first single was just a graphic so the first album sleeve is really a slow reveal as to who we really were."
"Club life and the house party scene was really starting to heat up at the end of the 80s. So, the term "Gatecrashing" was in the vernacular of the time. We were successful enough to be invited to loads of Ďopeningsí and red carpet events, and, ironically never had to gatecrash anything. Still, we thought it was a great vibe for the slamming dance/pop rock sound weíd developed. The sleeve was a shoot based on the principal of busting into a club uninvited. Maybe, on a subliminal level, we felt that as white northern lads bursting into the soul scene we were making a statement of intent."
The newly-reformed Living In A Box featuring Kenny Thomas is now back, but why did you get drawn to Kenny yourself? Marcus Vere - "Kenny and LIAB were label mates on Chrysalis Records and we go way back. Crossing paths in the corridors of power at the record label and often bumping into each other on promo events. LIAB pre-dated Kenny by only 18 months or so. I recently found out from Kenny how inspired he was by what we were doing back then, which is a nice complement. Kenny sings like a true soul singer. The DNA of what he does musically, fits right in with LIAB."
"It didnít take a big leap of faith to imagine how this would work, we are kindred spirits. When he agreed to do it, which I have to say was quite brave on his part, Tich and I were overjoyed. We knew it would be amazing and, from rehearsals, I can tell you Kenny is bang on the money... LIAB 2.0 is born."
Living In A Box featuring Kenny Thomas is hitting the 80's concert circuit this year, including day trips to Bristol, Rockingham Castle, Scone Palace, Thoresby Riding Hall and Temple Island Meadows. Personally, I don't recall many live shows from the original band back in 1987-1989, so what can the fans expect from this version of LIAB live? Marcus Vere - "Kenny sounds amazing singing the LIAB songs. Heís totally got the vibe and LIAB fans will not be disappointed. The beauty of this collaboration is that we get to play some of Kennyís tunes. I think at the last count, the set weíll play includes 2 Top 5 and 4 Top 10 records among other hits, quite a show! We didnít play live back in the day. A new video in the heyday of MTV was just as good a promotional tool and far, far cheaper than touring."
Kenny, being that you haven't performed live yet as this new unit and have shows upcoming, what are your own hopes and fears for this summers tour? Kenny Thomas - "My hopes are that it goes as well as we know it will and that the LIAB fans welcome me as the new vocalist. We wouldnít be doing this if we had any kind of doubts at all. In all honesty, Iím not one who has much fear. As long as we rehearse, as all good bands do, it should be a great show with all the hit songs the fans are expecting to hear."
Word has it that LIAB 2.0 has recorded two (2) brand new songs and you will be playing them on this summer tour for the very first time! Does this mean a full length LIAB featuring Kenny Thomas album will be released sometime around Christmas, perhaps? Marcus Vere - "Iím not sure where you got that from ...? Yes, there are some new songs and we may drop one or two into the live set but we are equally aware that fans at these 80s festivals want to hear the hits from back in the day. Going forward, if things go as well as I think they will and we find a great label partner to work with then, yes, anything is possible, including a new LIAB album featuring Kenny Thomas."
Kenny, with these new LIAB songs now confirmed by Marcus, and with you having worked in ensembles before [The Thomas Brown Affair], is learning the hits of a huge 80's band and then going on to record new stuff with them even more daunting than anything that's gone before, perhaps? Kenny Thomas - "Yes, there is some new stuff in the pipeline. No, I'm not daunted at all by learning old songs or recording new ones, but yes, it can be a challenge. For me that is what singing is about. It is easy for some singers to just stay in their comfort zone and not push any boundaries. I like to push myself in this way, I have never stopped learning about songs and the ways in which they can be sung. I suppose this is why my enthusiasm for music today remains as it was when I started recording in studioís in the late 1980ís."
Kenny, being that we're not called "Exclusive" Magazine for nothing, please reveal something today about which of the classic LIAB songs has been the hardest for you to nail down - an why? Kenny Thomas - "I would say that the song that has been the most difficult to learn and approach was 'Blow The House Down'. It is a powerful song which requires a lot of energy and push. It is relentless in the sense that you do not get much time to rest in between each line before you have to dig deep and go for it. Itís a great workout for the diaphragm, lol. I have enjoyed it though and it is going to be one of the big party tracks of the set."
Kenny, having started your career the year after LIAB broke up, now that you are performing their 80's hits, what LIAB song is the one that you love singing the most? Kenny Thomas - "The one I like singing the most, and am very much looking forward to performing live, has to be 'Room In Your Heart'. This song is world class and is very suited to me as a vocalist. I enjoy singing ballads and this one is up there with some of the best ballads Iíve had the pleasure of singing over the years."
Kenny, stepping away from making music, knowing that you have a Bachelor of Science degree in Acupuncture & Oriental Medicine and are also a qualified practitioner, I was wondering if you carry your kit/bag around and have used your skills backstage on other possibly-pained artists at any shows down the years? Kenny Thomas - "Hahaha, yes, I do carry some needles and other bits with me when Iím on the road. I use them often on myself when I have a spare moment in the hotel room. Yes, I have also used them on other people in the past when we have been out on gigs."
"Actually, my claim to fame is that I was once doing a show in Europe with Gwen Dickey from the band Rose Royce and she was coming down with flu-like symptoms that day. I happened to have a very good TCM herbal formula in my suitcase which I gave to her and this made her feel a whole lot better. Later that evening she got on stage and made it through the entire show."
As aforementioned, Kenny, you were my very first interview and I have a photo of that day for you to look at right here! Taken at, I think, the offices of EMI, London in the early 90's, what are your thoughts on it, seeing it now for the first time?! Kenny Thomas - "Having studied the photo with interest I am struck by how young I looked ... and then by the nice head of hair I had at that time! Now long gone with the wind, but the most obvious thing was indeed the fashion!"
"That big ĎStussy' shirt I was wearing I doubt will ever come back into fashion in my lifetime! I am surprised I wasnít arrested for wearing such an item! It was a long time ago now, but so nice of you to share that picture with me and bring back those memories. I look forward to meeting you again someday, Russell."
Finally, we here at Exclusive Magazine LOVE penguins (the birds)! So, we were wondering if you did also and if you had any fun stories of any you might have encountered re: live ones or soft toys growing up?! Marcus Vere - "My family love penguins and the movie 'Happy Feet' was a big hit when the kids were growing up. Donít come across them much in London and Iím not a big fan of zoos. I love fly fishing and love being on the water. I hope to make it down to Patagonia at the southern tip of Argentina to fish ... not far from the penguins, so may drop in on them!"
And you, Kenny? Kenny Thomas - "I donít personally have any penguin stories of my own, although I do love those creatures and find them very amusing. I did take my two young daughters to see some penguins and other animals a few weeks ago at a Sea World type of place and on the way out I bought them each a cuddly penguin toy! Of all the animals there at the Sea World, the penguins were the ones they liked the most!"
Interviewed by: Russell A. Trunk