#982: China In My Hand by T’Pau
Carol Ann Decker was born in 1957 in the Merseyside region of Lancashire. She formed the band T’Pau in 1986 with guitarist Ron Rogers. Ronald Phillip Rogers was born in Shrewsbury, England, in 1959. Decker met Rogers in the gigging circuit in 1981. Decker remembers trying to get initial interest even prior to forming T’Pau by sending demos to record companies. “The knock-backs from the labels were never constructive. They would just listen to the cassettes and send them back with a standard letter. Then, towards the end, it got even worse when we would get feedback with a multiple-choice table, and the responses ranged from ‘Not quite what we are looking for,’ to ‘Don’t give up your day job.’ I imagine those punky little A&R guys thought it was funny, but it really wasn’t.”
Carol Decker recalls they named the band T’Pau after a Vulcan High Priestess from Star Trek. She told Birmingham Live in an interview, “I’m not a Trekky though I was just watching TV and I liked the sound of the word it’s snappy, onomatopoeic.”
T’Pau found a mentor in the manager of Wang Chung, David Massey. Wang Chung had recently enjoyed hit records with “Dance Hall Days” and “Everybody Have Fun Tonight.” Massey zeroed in on the potential of a song Decker and Rogers wrote and played for him called “Valentine”. He encouraged the songwriters to keep composing in that style. However, Massey did not feel able to add them to his stable of recording artists. Still Rogers reflects, “There always seemed to be someone who gave us enough support and encouragement to keep going. He [David Massey] was right about ‘Valentine’. We could tell there was something about it too, even as a four-track demo.”
In 1986 Decker and Rogers got a chance to play three songs for Siren Records bosses at Nomis Rehearsal Studios. The performance came at a critical time. Decker recalls, “Ron and I had been together for five years writing by then. With each rejection, it was getting a bit much. I was 26 and my dad was suggesting I try the cruise ships. I was filled with abject horror at that idea, so was starting to panic.”
Once Decker and Rogers signed with Siren Records, other bandmates were recruited to join T’Pau. These were Tim Burgess on drums and percussion, Michael Chetwood on keyboards, Paul Jackson on bass guitar, and Taj Wyzgowski featured mostly in guitar solos.
An album titled Bridge of Spies was released in the fall of 1987. The lead single from the album was “Heart And Soul” written by Decker and Rogers. The single was featured in a Pepe Jeans advertisement. In Canada the single climbed to #2 in Edmonton (AB), #3 in Calgary (AB) and Winnipeg (MB), #5 in Montreal, #11 in Hamilton (ON) and #12 in Sydney (NS), and number-one nationally. Elsewhere it peaked at #4 on the Billboard Hot 100 and in the UK, #9 in New Zealand and Switzerland, and #10 in West Germany.
After the success of “Heart And Soul” T’Pau were an opening act in the UK on tour for Bryan Adams.
The second single from the album Bridge of Spies was “China In Your Hand”.
Co-writer, Carol Decker has commented that “China In Your Hand” is trying to describe the effect when you hold a china cup to a light, you can see your hand through it. Therefore “China In Your Hand” means something that is transparent. She recalls the initial inspiration was a moment where she had been holding a china tea cup belonging to Ronnie Rogers’ mother in her hand. While washing up, she had felt a lump in the bottom of the cup. She held the cup to the light and saw an image of a young woman in the base of the cup. But as she began to write the song Decker revealed in interviews “China was written about Mary Shelley writing the book Frankenstein.”
The second verse contained these lyrics:
It was a flight on the wings, of a young girls dreams that flew too far away.
And we could make the monster live again.
Oh hands move and heart beat on.
Now life will return in this electric storm.
A prophecy for a fantasy, the curse of a vivid mind.
Don’t push too far your Dreams are china in your hand…
Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley was born in London in 1797. Her husband was the Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley. Her mother, Mary Wollstonecraft, was a forerunner of modern feminism writing the seminal work A Vindication of the Rights of Women in 1792. Mary Shelley’s father was philosopher William Godwin, wrote the first modern work articulating the benefits of anarchism in his 1793 book Enquiry Concerning Political Justice and its Influence on Morals and Happiness.
Mary Shelley’s mother died in 1797 a month after giving birth. She began a romance with Percy Bysshe Shelley in 1814, who was a follower of her father’s philosophy. He had recently published in 1812 Queen Mab; A Philosophical Poem; With Notes, a utopian allegory advocating atheism, free love, republicanism and vegetarianism. Percy Bysshe Shelley and Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley eloped to Europe in June 1814, along with Mary’s step-sister Claire Clairmont.
Meanwhile Shelley’s first wife, Harriet, was pregnant. Mary subsequently became pregnant before Harriet gave birth to a child in November 1814. After giving birth to a girl prematurely in February, 1815, Mary Shelley began to have a sexual relationship with Claire Clairmont, and also with an Oxford colleague of Percy Bysshe Shelley’s named Thomas Hogg. All of this was encouraged by her husband who The couple married in late December, 1816, after his first wife Harriet had recently committed suicide by drowning herself in The Serpentine Lake in Hyde Park, London. (Percy Bysshe Shelley had married 16-year-old Harriet Westbrook in 1810).
In Geneva, Switzerland, in 1816, the Shelley’s were visiting with Lord Byron (as well as Claire Clairmont who was having a sexual relationship with Byron). One night Mary had had a vision (or nightmare) which inspired her novel Frankenstein.
The night in question was in the middle of June, after there had been discussions about the nature of the principle of life. Mary had commented, “perhaps a corpse would be re-animated. Galvanism had given token of such things. Perhaps the component parts of a creature might be manufactured…” (Galvanism was a recent scientific thesis of Italian Luigi Galvani advancing the generation of electrical current by chemical action, where inert objects could be animated by electricity. Galvani discovered that the muscles of dead frogs’ legs twitched when struck by an electrical spark). It was after midnight before they retired, and unable to sleep, she became possessed by her imagination as she beheld the grim terrors of her “waking dream”, her ghost story:
When I placed my head on my pillow, I did not sleep, nor could I be said to think. My imagination, unbidden, possessed and guided me, gifting the successive images that arose in my mind with a vividness far beyond the usual bounds of reverie. I saw the pale student of unhallowed arts kneeling beside the thing he had put together. I saw the hideous phantasm of a man stretched out, and then, on the working of some powerful engine, show signs of life, and stir with an uneasy, half vital motion. Frightful must it be; for supremely frightful would be the effect of any human endeavour to mock the stupendous mechanism of the Creator of the world. His success would terrify the artist; he would rush away from his odious handywork, horror-stricken. He would hope that, left to itself, the slight spark of life which he had communicated would fade; that this thing, which had received such imperfect animation, would subside into dead matter; and he might sleep in the belief that the silence of the grave would quench for ever the transient existence of the hideous corpse which he had looked upon as the cradle of life.
Mary Shelley completed Frankenstein at the age of twenty later that year. The story tells of the scientist Victor Frankenstein who develops a secret technique to bring life to non-living matter. Mary Shelley’s book, the actual method is left ambiguous, but in films from 1931, the method portrayed is electricity). Victor undertakes the creation of a humanoid, but due to the difficulty in replicating the minute parts of the human body, Victor makes the Creature tall, about 8 feet in height. While he intends for his creature to be beautiful, he discovers when he unwraps the bandages of its face that it is hideous.
In his first days of life, the Monster lives alone in the wilderness and finding that people were afraid of and hated him due to his appearance. This leads him to fear and hide from them. While living in an abandoned structure connected to a cottage, the Monster grows fond of a poor family living there, and discreetly collects firewood for them. Secretly living among the family for months, he learns to speak by listening to them and he taught himself to read after discovering a lost satchel of books in the woods. When the Creature sees his reflection in a pool, he realizes his appearance is hideous, horrifying him as much as others. Nevertheless, he approached the family in hopes of becoming their friend. He spoke to the blind father of the family while the others were away from home, but on their return, the rest of them were frightened.
The monster goes back to Dr. Frankenstein and demands that as a living being, he has a right to happiness. The scientist is forced to create a mate for his Monster. Working on the female creature on the Orkney Islands, the scientist is plagued by premonitions of disaster. He fears that the female (the Bride of Frankenstein) will hate the Creature or become more evil than he is. Even more worrying to him is the idea that creating the second creature might lead to the breeding of a race that could plague mankind.
In the 1935 film adaptation of Mary Shelley’s book, Bride of Frankenstein, the Monster sees that the scientist has been successful in bringing life to a second humanoid. As the excited Monster reaches out to the Bride of Frankenstein and asks “Friend?”, the Bride, screams at him and rejects him. The dejected Frankenstein Monster laments, “She hate me! Like others.” He then pulls a lever to trigger the laboratory and tower’s destruction.
In her book talks Mary Shelley referred to the Creature as “Adam,” from the Garden of Eden. Her epigraph in the novel was taken from John Milton’s Paradise Lost:
Did I request thee, Maker, from my clay
To mould Me man? Did I solicit thee
From darkness to promote me?
Frankenstein only refers to the scientists’ invention as “Creature,” “Monster,” “fiend,” “demon,” and “it.” Only with the film adaptation in the 1931 release of Frankenstein, starring Boris Karloff, did the Monster begin to start itself being referred to as “Frankenstein.”
In “China In Your Hand” T’Pau warns listeners that sometimes our dreams, our inventions are born “of greed,” with destructive outcomes:
Don’t wish too hard because they may come true, and you can’t help them.
You don’t know what you might have set upon yourself…
Fast forward from Mary Shelley in 1816 to Canadian novelist Margaret Atwood in 2003. In her novel of speculative fiction titled Oryx and Crake, Atwood writes about a number of creations where people don’t know what they might have set upon themselves, once they are let loose in the general population. This includes a super-pill called BlyssPluss, which also promises health and happiness, and unlimited libido, but secretly causes sterilization in order to address overpopulation.
In “Margaret Atwood, Transhumanism, and the Singularity”, Sobriquet Magazine identified several possible pop cultural references in Oryx and Crake:
the world Atwood imagines in Oryx and Crake is hardly that far-fetched, especially online. The exhibitionistic website At Home With Anna K, for instance, is almost certainly a reference to Anna Voog’s AnaCam and the lifecasting movement pioneered by Jennifer Ringley and her now-defunct JenniCam website. Likewise, many of the other fictional websites Jimmy and Crake visit in the novel have real-life analogues: Felicia’s Frog Squash is essentially a crush porn portal, the premise of dirtysockpuppets.com recalls ITV’s Spitting Image programme, Queek Geek sounds an awful lot like Fear Factor, and the concept of watching assisted suicides on nitee-nite.com was actualized in our world when Craig Ewert allowed his death in Switzerland to be documented by Sky TV for their controversial Right to Die documentary. Even the seemingly far-fetched idea of broadcasting live executions (which Jimmy and Crake watch on shortcircuit.com, brainfrizz.com, and deathrowlive.com) has already been discussed, with a high percentage of the U.S. population receptive to the concept.
Of the choice to release “China In Your Hand” as a single Ronnie Rogers said “We didn’t think about it too much. It was a bit out on a limb from everything else too, but, picking a song on its merit, it was the obvious one to choose.” Because the song was hard to categorize, radio station programmers in the USA didn’t know what to do with it, and mostly gave it a pass. Consequently, the single didn’t crack the Billboard Hot 100.
However, the song climbed to #10 in Montreal, and #13 in Vancouver (BC). Internationally, “China In Your Hand” climbed to number-one in Belgium (2 weeks), Iceland, Ireland (2 weeks), the Netherlands (2 weeks), Norway, Switzerland (5 weeks) and the UK (5 weeks). The song also climbed to #2 in West Germany, #5 in Austria and Sweden, #7 in Denmark, #8 in New Zealand and Poland, and #12 in South Africa.
The third release from Bridge of Spies was “Valentine”. Carol Decker recalls “I wrote it about an ex of mine. We would bump into each other after we split and he’d moved on and had a nice girlfriend. We’d smile and say “Hi,” but I was still crazy about him so I always had to hide how I felt, and be cool and casual.” The single made the Top Ten in Ireland and the UK, and the Top 20 in Belgium and the Netherlands.
In 1988 T’Pau released their second album, Rage. It climbed to #4 on the UK album chart. The debut single was “Secret Garden” which made the Top Ten in Ireland. Decker comments “We had a lot of gay fans because of “Secret Garden”, which is about being yourself. Who knew? It’s an overused phrase but some of our songs are the soundtrack of people’s lives.” One music critic in the UK wrote of the song “A fairly good song in a Pretenders mould. Very radio-friendly.” But two subsequent tracks from the album released as singles stalled in Ireland’s Top 30, and did less well in the UK.
Carol Decker, who was the face of the band, recalls “We were mixing with Lady Diana, Sir Elton John, Eric Clapton and Sir Paul McCartney. For a while, T’Pau were unstoppable.”
A third album, The Promise, was released in 1991. The lead single, “Whenever You Need Me”, cracked the Top 20 in the UK. Subsequent single releases failed to catch on. Meanwhile, tensions within the band while on tour, and Siren Records decision to drop T’Pau from the label led to the group disbanding. Carol Decker remembers the night she learned T’Pau was let go while they were performing in concert. “Our manager came backstage and told me I was a very lucky girl. He said I had just walked away from debts of £800,000. I just looked at him and asked if we had been dropped… He replied: ‘Well, that’s one way of looking at it’.”
After the split Decker contributed a track for the 1993 British film Dirty Weekend. In 1995, she released the single “One Heart” as the official anthem for the Halifax World Cup Rugby League Centenary ’95. However, the single failed to climb into the Top 100 UK singles chart. Decker returned to the recording studio in the winter of 1997 and worked with a new group of musicians. In September, 1998, keeping the name T’Pau, the album Red was released. In the winter of 1998-99 T’Pau was the opening act on tour for the headlining British 60s rock band the Status Quo on the German leg of their tour.
In 2013 Carol Decker said in an interview “I recorded Red when I was pregnant with my daughter. I toured it up and down the UK, and then I went across Europe with Status Quo and I left her behind when she was six months old. I sulked my way across Germany – it was just awful. I hadn’t been a mum before. I left her safe and sound and well sorted, but I didn’t take into consideration being a new mother, separated from her daughter after six months, with hormones raging… I was in bits.”
The four single releases from Red failed to excite. Mostly since the late 90s, T’Pau has released seven ‘Greatest Hits’ albums. Four of these are studio albums and three are live albums.
In 2015 Decker and Rogers patched things up after parting ways in 1992. They worked on T’Pau’s fifth studio album called Pleasure & Pain. The album climbed to #98 on the UK album chart. In 2016 Carol Decker released a memoir about her music career.
While they were on the pop charts in the late 90s into the early 90s, T’Pau shared the stage at concerts with Aztec Camera, kd lang, Tiffany, The Pogues, Billy Bragg, Leonard Cohen, Hothouse Flowers, Sting, INXS, Jethro Tull, Foreigner, Bo Diddley and Ten Years After. In 2001 T’Pau appeared in concert with Heaven 17, Go West, Kim Wilde and Paul Young.
Between 2012 and 2019 T’Pau has appeared in six 80s reunion concerts, sharing the stage variously with Rick Astley, Billy Ocean, Cutting Crew, Level 42, Heaven 17, Go West, Mike & The Mechanics, Nik Kershaw, China Crisis, Midge Ure, Jimmy Somerville, Marc Almond, Doctor And The Medics, Kool & The Gang / Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, Billy Ocean, Kim Wilde, Howard Jones, Shalamar, China Crisis, Jason Donovan, Thompson Twins, Human League, Big Country, Kool & The Gang, Sister Sledge, Kool & The Gang, Adam Ant, The Bangles, Grandmaster Flash, Wang Chung, Rick Astley, Right Said Fred and Starship.
December 26, 2020
Mark Elliott, ““We’re Part Of The 80s Fabric”: Carol Decker And Ronnie Rogers Talk T’Pau,” Discovermusic.com, September 11, 2020.
Andy Richardson, “T’Pau! Carol Decker Back in Shrewsbury for Anniversary Gig,” Shropshire Star, November 17, 2017.
Tom Eames, “Carol Decker Facts: Songs, Husband and What the T’Pau Singer is Doing Now,” Smooth Radio, London, UK, August 18, 2018.
Alison Jones, “Q & A with T’Pau singer Carol Decker,” Birmingham Live, Birmingham, UK, April 26, 2013.
“T’Pau’s Concert History,” concertarchives.org.
“Luigi Galvani Biography,” Wikipedia.org.
Mary Shelley, Frankenstein or The Modern Prometheus, Introduction, paragraphs 11-13, (Lackington, Hughes, Harding, Mavor & Jones, 1818).
Alfred Rushford Greason, “Frankenstein,” Variety, December 7, 1931.
Margaret Atwood, Oryx and Crake, (Xlibris, 2003).
“Margaret Atwood, Transhumanism, and the Singularity,” Sobriquet Magazine, February 20, 2011.
“Bride of Frankenstein,” Variety, December 31, 1934.
“Vancouver’s Top 40 Hot Hits,” CKLG 730 AM, Vancouver, BC, April 6, 1988.
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