Alongside the Mekons and Gang of Four, she was a key figure in the famed Leeds post-punk movement
Julz Sale, singer for the short-lived but influential British post-punk band Delta 5, died earlier this week in her adopted homeland of Thailand.
While she had been out of the spotlight as a performer for years, Sale’s voice reached a far broader audience than ever in recent months after the band’s first single, “Mind Your Own Business,” earned an oddly-appropriate placement in an Apple ad about privacy.
VIDEO: Privacy on iPhone ad featuring Delta 5
Delta 5 might have been the most sonically envelope-pushing band to emerge from the provocatively heady Leeds punk scene of the late ‘70s, which also brought us the Mekons and Gang of Four – most of whom attended the same art schools, sharing classrooms and concepts – like the “spontaneous amateurism” that prompted the Mekons to play their first gig within a week of deciding to form a band.
Sale opted to tweak convention in a different way when bringing together the initial incarnation of Delta 5, which began life as a trio featuring her along with Ros Allen and Bethan Peters, both of whom played bass. They’d later add a guitarist and drummer, but retained the two-bass attack – one trebly and melodic, the other more like an old-school double-bass – that made for a brawny counterpoint to Sale’s brainy lyrics. In a twist on George Clinton’s famed slogan “free your mind and your ass will follow,” At their inception, Delta 5 were largely playing to audiences that had already freed their minds, so they focused on freeing that booty with every song.
VIDEO: Delta 5 “Mind Your Own Business” at Hurrah, September 1980
They usually succeeded: “Mind Your Own Business,” released in 1979, just months after they played their first gigs, was an instant success. Progressively bigger gigs followed, as did appearances on TV shows like the BBC’s Something Else. And while a lot of the focus was on the lineup’s skill in filling a dancefloor — anyone who experienced the sternum-rattle that occurred when a DJ slapped on a song like “You” or “Anticipation” in a crowded NYC club back in the day can attest to that, Julz Sale was always the star of the show.
VIDEO: Delta 5 on Something Else
Drummer Kelvin Knight, who died in December of 2015, recalled her style in interviews for a still-unpublished book Ward 7 Bed 6: Punk and Beyond, saying “Imagine the devils hi-di-hi yellow coat crossed with Siouxsie Sioux on crystal meth and you’re pretty close – if we played to an audience of 103 102 of them would be fixated on Julz the other one would be in the toilet.”
She kept people riveted in part due to her peripatetic stage presence – she had a slew of offbeat moves that recalled a corporeal manifestation of “all 16 dances” laid out by the B-52’s – and in part by the nonplussed intensity with which she delivered her lyrics, a blend of highly-charged feminism and sharp societal observations.
Sale wasn’t quite as overtly political as her Marxist neighbors in the Gang of Four, but she and the rest of the band left little about where they stood, supporting abortion rights and Rock Against Racism. That led to them running afoul of Britain’s far-right National Front, which frequently disrupted gigs in the U.K.
Those gigs, including brief runs on this side of the Atlantic, where the band made forays to the coasts, are discussed reverently by those who were there. But the band’s meteoric rise was followed by a similarly rapid downturn: After signing a major label deal – with the short-lived Charisma Records subsidiary PRE – they recorded 1981’s See the Whirl, their only full-length album, which alienated some longtime supporters with its slick production and temperate sound.
AUDIO: Delta 5 See The Whirl megamix
Whether it was that reception or the general strain of being in a band used to chafing against convention, Delta 5 didn’t stick together much longer. Members trickled away, with Sale leaving first. She never returned to performing or recording, although she did work for several years in the London office of Rough Trade, the label that issued the band’s earliest work.
According to numerous online reports, a lo1ngtime friend said she had been teaching English in Thailand at the time of her death from cancer.