As all your old-school, grizzled, shellacked-for-the-attack PR flacks will tell you, “Any publicity is good publicity.”
Or, as Oscar Wilde wittily phrased it before sipping his iced champagne, “The only thing worse than being talked about, is not being talked about.”
All About Eve formed their folk-rockin’ group in the UK during the mid-80s, releasing a few independent singles which achieved enough popularity to score some time on the pop chart (as well as a contract with Mercury Records). They released their full-length, self-titled debut album in 1988, containing music with a light patina of goth, but also a sheen of pop courtesy of producer Paul Samwell-Smith.
(You may know Samwell-Smith’s name if you’re a huge Yardbirds fan, since he was their bass player, or if you’ve ever looked at the credits of a Cat Stevens record, since he produced all of the Cat Man’s best albums and biggest hits.)
During recording sessions for the debut, the band took a break and settled themselves under a willow tree by a stream with an acoustic guitar and a blank slate. Without even trying, as if touched by the magic of musical woodland nymphs, they found themselves a short time later with a lovely, fully finished, autumnal song called, “Martha’s Harbour.” (Who’s Martha? Who knows? Let the mystery wash over you.) Their label liked it enough to release it as a single, and when “Martha’s Harbour” hit the charts, Top Of The Pops booked All About Eve for an appearance.
Now, here’s where All About Eve’s notoriety originates.
It was a poorly kept secret that the artists on Top Of The Pops mimed playing and singing. But, as with pro wrestling, it’s all about the illusion.
In 1988, All About Eve took to the stage and sat down to await the backing track to come through their earpieces. Due to a technical difficulty, however, everyone could hear the song already playing while All About Eve continued to sit. And wait. For a minute and a half. Because they couldn’t hear anything. A minute and a half . . . while the smoke machine smoked and everybody looked around in confusion. In front of millions of home viewers.
They were invited back the following week to sing live, and the attendant publicity pushed “Martha’s Harbour” into the Top 10, becoming All About Eve’s biggest hit by far.
As Oscar Wilde once pronounced, while arching a brow and eyeing the canapés, “Darling, it doesn’t matter how it shows up, as long as it blows up.”
Of course, that quote may be apocryphal.