Aztec Camera was the brainchild of Roddy Frame, a Scottish songwriter and vocalist whose precocious talent -- he was still in his teens when the band cut their acclaimed debut album, High Land, Hard Rain -- earned the band a loyal cult following. With Frame's knack for catchy, upbeat melodies and wordplay that often invited comparisons to Elvis Costello, Aztec Camera became a major critical favorite in the U.K. and the U.S., even as the band went through frequent personnel changes.
Aztec Camera was formed in 1980 by Frame, then just 16 years old and living in East Kilbride, South Lanarkshire, Scotland. The initial lineup of the band consisted of Frame on guitar and vocals, Campbell Owens on bass, and Dave Mulholland on drums. Aztec Camera made their recorded debut on 1980's In and Out of Fashion, a compilation cassette of Scottish bands released by Pungent Records in association with Glasgow-based Fumes Magazine, and in March 1981, the group released a single through the respected Scottish indie label Postcard Records, "Just Like Gold" b/w "We Could Send Letters," which rose to number ten on the U.K. Independent charts. The British music journal New Musical Express gave Aztec Camera their seal of approval by licensing an alternate acoustic version of "Just Like Gold" for C-86, a cassette-only compilation curated and released by the magazine. After issuing a second single through Postcard, "Mattress of Wire" b/w "Lost Outside the Tunnel," Aztec Camera signed with Rough Trade Records, who released the single "Pillar to Post" b/w "Queen's Tattoos" in 1982. 1982 also saw the departure of Dave Mulholland from the group, with John Hendry taking over as drummer.
In 1983, Aztec Camera's debut album, High Land, Hard Rain, was released by Rough Trade in the U.K. and Sire in the United States. The album earned rave reviews (with many citing the fact Frame was just 18 when he wrote most of the songs) and respectable sales (especially in England), and guitarist Craig Gannon and keyboardist Bernie Clark expanded the group's lineup to a quintet. Mark Knopfler of Dire Straits came aboard to produce Aztec Camera's second album, 1984's Knife, but as the group's sound became slicker and more ambitious, Frame became disenchanted with his bandmates, and by the time he went on tour in support of the Knife album, Campbell Owens was the only other original member of the group left in the lineup, and it would prove to be his last tour with Aztec Camera.
After a stopgap EP of live tracks and B-sides was issued in the United States in 1985, the third Aztec Camera album, the R&B-influenced Love, appeared in 1987. Though it was issued under the group's name, Frame recorded the material with a handful of session musicians, and from that point on, Aztec Camera would not have a consistent lineup on-stage or in the studio, with Frame assembling a different set of players for each project. Love proved to be a commercial success in the U.K., rising to number 10 on the album charts, but it barely made the Top 200 in the United States, and the next two Aztec Camera albums, 1990's eclectic Stray and 1993's electronic experiment Dreamland, didn't even chart in America. After 1995's Frestonia, a low-key and primarily acoustic effort, failed to excite fans or critics, Frame retired the name Aztec Camera, and his next project, 1998's North Star, appeared under the name Roddy Frame. A compilation that followed the group's career up to Dreamla`nd, The Best of Aztec Camera, was issued in Japan in 1999 and in the U.K. in 2001; a more comprehensive two-disc set, Walk Out to Winter: The Best of Aztec Camera, followed in 2011. In 2013, AED Records brought out a 30th Anniversary edition of High Land, Hard Rain in the U.K., with Domino following suit in the United States in 2014; in support, Frame played a handful of solo shows in which he performed the album's 13 songs in their entirety. ~ Mark Deming, Rovi
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