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Allez Allez stirs things up with long-awaited comeback
The short career of the Brussels funk band Allez Allez was like a whirlwind: It took people by surprise, but then it died down. Today, on the eve of their resurrection at the Brussels Summer Festival, band members admit it was a case of “too much, too young”.
Though short lived, Allez Allez made their mark. A handful of songs from their 1981 debut album African Queen and the 1982 follow-up Promises have become part of the Belgian rock canon.
Back then, everyone was enthused by their idiosyncratic sound and the mix of new wave, funk and African rhythms. After a stint of sold-out local gigs, including Forest National and Torhout/Werchter, international stardom seemed inevitable.
The band offered a fresh take on the punk movement – a more female-friendly disco music indebted to The Temptations, Chic and Funkadelic. A European tour was in the works, and the deal with Virgin Records – the UK label behind Simple Mind and Culture Club – only increased expectations.
But the tour never happened. Shortly after releasing Promises, the lead singer, American-born Sarah Osborne, fell in love with Glenn Gregory, the frontman of the British act Heaven 17. She left for England, and the tour was cancelled.
The remaining members recruited another singer and recorded a third album, but it simply wasn’t the same. Allez Allez broke up in 1985.
Bass player Serge Van Laeken was the last to join the original line up in 1981 and remembers the moment like it was yesterday. “We were young and stupid,” he says. “Entering our 20s, we still behaved like teenagers. We liked the fun part of the job, but screwed up more serious things, like contract negotiations, and our singer must have been fed up with it. We didn’t realise you can’t treat a young woman like one of the blokes.”
After the breakup, Van Laeken (pictured, fourth from left) was the only one to remain in the music industry, under the moniker Marka. If there was one person who could have one day resurrected the band, it would have been him.
Last year, the organisers of the Les Solidarités festival in Namur asked Van Laeken to come and bring along some other musicians. He invited his two children, rapper Roméo Elvis and keyboardist Angèle Van Laeken – but also the former members of Allez Allez.
“The time was right,” he says. “I knew that if I waited another 10 years, it would be too late.”
Guitarist Kris Debusscher, drummer Robbie Bindels and percussionist Roland Bindi felt the same way. But they were faced with the same old dilemma.
“We didn’t have a singer,” Van Laeken says, recalling how hard it was to replace Osborne. “Back in the 1980s, you had a major problem when you were dropped by your lead singer, especially when she was young and beautiful, like ours was. Sarah represented the image of the band. She was our Debbie Harry.”
Five years ago, Osborne joined Van Laeken on stage for a one-off performance. “She made it clear that Allez Allez was a closed chapter for her,” he recalls.
In the meantime, Bindi introduced the other band members to Kyoko Baertsoen, who used to front for Lunascape and, for a short period, Hooverphonic, a band notorious for replacing its lead singers.
At Les Solidarités, Baertsoen and Allez Allez performed “African Queen” and “Allez Allez”, two of the band’s most popular songs. “The moment we left the stage, we felt reborn,” Van Laeken says. “I had heard that bands feel this way after a break up of 10, maybe 15 years. But for us, it was almost 35.”
Baertsoen didn’t feel comfortable performing the band’s entire repertoire, so Van Laeken signed up an additional singer, Marie Delsaux, for this year’s comeback. He’ll be providing some of the vocals as well, as will their new guitarist.
“We’ve really become like a collective,” Van Laeken explains. “We knew we couldn’t replace Sarah; instead we get a lot of energy from this mix of different vocalists.”
The set-list for their comeback at next month’s Brussels Summer Festival is ready and looks nearly identical to their gigs from the early ’80s. New are mash-ups with songs like Sugar Hill’s “Rapper’s Delight” and Dona Summer’s “I Feel Love”. There is even a nod to Marine, the Brussels band that influenced Allez Allez’s short-lived career.
To coincide with the comeback, the band are also releasing a commemorative booklet, but they don’t have any plans for after their summer tour, which also includes a few dates in Wallonia. Still, you get a feeling they’d like to stick around longer.
12 August 22.00, Brussels Summer Festival. Photo: Philippe Cornet