Remember When: British New Romantic Band ABC Made a Film with Lisa Vanderpump

At the beginning of the 1980s, the music video medium was really starting to grow into something substantial and influential. Prior to the arrival of MTV on August 1, 1981, music videos were often performance clips, although some of them were conceptual or a combination of both. But not nearly as many artists made them before the arrival of the fledgling network, and it quickly changed the game for music promotion around the world.

Videos by American Songwriter

One of the first artists to really embrace the medium was British New Romantic band ABC. It started with their 1981 debut album The Lexicon of Love. The album sold 500,000 copies in America, went Platinum in their native UK, and spawned two hit singles here and four in their homeland. The videos for “Poison Arrow,” “The Look of Love,” and “All of My Heart” were fun combinations of playful band performances with story fragments tossed in to keep things interesting.

Anyone who remembers the video for “Poison Arrow” likely recalls the actress who was defiantly fending off the affections of singer Martin Fry. It was Lisa Vanderpump who, three decades later, became the star of the long-running reality series Vanderpump Rules after gaining notoriety on The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. She also became the co-star of a movie they released in 1983 called Mantrap. It was directed by Julien Temple who helmed many famous ‘80s music videos.

“We were New Romantics,” Fry told Lyndsey Parker of Yahoo Music in 2022. “There were all those bands floating around, like Duran Duran and Culture Club and Depeche Mode, and it was always about being as modern and as brand-new as possible—redesigning rock ‘n’ roll, basically. The medium was the message, and it was very important how you presented yourself.”

Mantrap came about after the band was asked to star in a special but declined. ABC wanted to next-level things instead.

A “Kind of Fantasy Film”

“Somebody approached us from the BBC and said, ‘Look, we want to do a documentary about you, and it’s going to be about working-class guys made good from Sheffield,’” Fry recalled to the Illinois Entertainer magazine in 2022. “And we kind of thought, ‘Well, that’s a bit cliched to kind of go in like that—we’d rather do a kind of fantasy film.’ So this guy Julien Temple, who’d done The Great Rock and Roll Swindle and a few other things, we approached him, and we made Mantrap, which was our sort of espionage thriller. It was a very ambitious thing to try and pull off—it was a ‘long-form video,’ that’s the way they would describe it back then. There were all these video clips, but kind of taken to the next level, to kind of push forward and make a longer film. So that’s what Mantrap is, and it features Lisa Vanderpump, who now has had a huge career on TV.”

The conceit of the low-budget, 52-minute film was very simple: ABC singer Martin Fry plays a debonair guy tossing his money away at the roulette wheel in a London casino, until an attractive woman (Vanderpump) comes along and gives him good luck. After he cashes in a substantial amount of winnings, he is beaten and mugged outside, after which she and the band she manages (played by his other ABC bandmates) help him up—and give him the chance to try out to be their lead singer. He immediately aces his audition and they’re off on a successful European tour, while Fry and Vanderpump become romantically entangled. The whole thing feels like a setup, and it eventually involves an unusual deception.

A fun moment in Mantrap is how the scene from the “Poison Arrow” clip where Fry hits on Vanderpump at the Beachcomber Club and she then shrinks him to a size smaller than a martini glass gets utilized in a nightmare sequence.

Movie Meets Concert Clip Collection

The Mantrap story feels a bit surreal, the acting’s decent, and the tale’s not entirely fleshed out, but it is interesting if you’re a fan. The live performances with an orchestra are just that—refreshingly, there’s no lip-synching involved so it makes Mantrap feel like a movie meets concert clip collection. The film’s ending is rather oblique, but we won’t spoil it here. For many American fans in particular, the existence of this film might be a revelation because it has long been out-of-print and was probably never shown on any American network back in the day. Even in the UK it was reportedly underpromoted as the band was focusing on their second album Beauty Stab, which took a slightly different musical direction than their debut.

It was very rare for bands to do longform videos like this back in the early 1980s. At the end of the same year that Mantrap arrived, Michael Jackson made the epic Thriller video, which influenced others to inject into their music videos what would be called “book scenes” in musical theater—little narrative bits interspersed to give a promotional clip something extra for the fans. A very famous example is “We’re Not Gonna Take It” by Twisted Sister in 1984. And “Weird Al” Yankovic did a video compilation with mockumentary narrative wraparound in 1985 called The Compleat Al

Anyone who bought the 1996 reissue of ABC’s The Lexicon Of Love album will notice there is a bonus track called “The Theme To Mantrap.” Now you know what it refers to.

ABC and Julien Temple were certainly ahead of the curve in trying to use the longform music video form to showcase the talent and personality of Fry and his bandmates. And to presumably give the quartet more attention than they might normally have just by having their clips shown on the BBC and various other European and American outlets. How much broadcast exposure it really got is unclear, but it did receive a home video release on VHS and LaserDisc.

Looking back, Mantrap is charming in its naïveté and simplicity, but it did mark an important step forward at the time because artists, their labels, and their managers were trying to figure out how to make the video medium work best for them. Subsequent artists even found ways to take story bits from one video and cross them over into another. Bryan Adams’ Reckless storyline about being mesmerized by a mysterious woman from his past (Krull’s Lysette Anthony) spanned six videos in 1984 and ‘85. It was collected into a home video release, but was not as ambitious as Mantrap.

“[Mantrap] was something we’re really proud of, because a lot of bands talked about doing something like that, but they never actually got around to it,” Fry recalled to Yahoo. “And it was something we achieved. It does document the sort of aspirations of the time.”

Photo by David Redfern/Redferns

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