‘Physics is better than rock ‘n’ roll,’ declared the headline of an article published by the Guardian in 2011 that profiled keyboardist-turned-physicist Professor Brian Cox. And if anyone could make this claim it is Cox, a fifty-one-year-old former musician who for a brief time in the late eighties toured Europe as a member of a rising rock group that, during an era in which the Los Angeles glam metal scene was dominating the musical landscape, had been cited by the press as Britain’s answer to Bon Jovi. Fronted by a veteran of the legendary Thin Lizzy and signed to a major label, Dare unleashed their debut album the same year that Guns N’ Roses became the most dangerous band in the world, while Aerosmith and Whitesnake continued to conquer the charts. And yet despite the overnight success, with his dreams of becoming a rock star now a reality, Cox would soon turn his back on music to dedicate his life to his true passion: science.
Having grown up in Oldham, Cox had spent his childhood fascinated with physics and outer space and would often visit Manchester Airport to watch the planes as they explored the skies. Throughout his studies at Hulme Grammar Schoo, Cox harboured a dream of becoming a scientist but after attending a Duran Duran concert in the early eighties his interests soon turned to music. With the emerging New Wave and synthpop scenes incorporating modern technology with the traditional rock format he became immersed in the songs of OMD and Ultravox, both of whom had followed in the footsteps of electro-pioneers Kraftwerk. While his initial introduction to music had been David Bowie, particularly the 1971 album Hunky Dory, this revolutionary new style of music had caught his imagination and even as he studied for his A-Levels he began to teach himself how to play the synthesiser.
Science would still come into practice as Cox developed his musical skills, particularly in his attempts to emulate the unique sounds of his new heroes. ‘Myself and a friend of mine asked our physics teacher and he said, ‘You build one of these.’ This little box. And he drew a circular diagram,’ Cox explained to chatshow host Alan Carr. ‘We got our soldering iron, being very geeky little fourteen-year-olds, built the box, plugged it in at home and made that sound. And years later I met Billy Currie of Ultravox and he said exactly the same thing. He said, ‘I built the little box, soldered it together.’ So electronic music at that time was really geeky; all keyboard players were soldering things together and building their own little bits.’
While many teenagers would dream of becoming a rock star very few get the chance
By the time that Cox left school he knew that he was destined to pursue a life in physics and astronomy but the desire to become a pop star had become too overwhelming. During the late eighties the music trends of the city had shifted towards Madchester, a scene that had arisen through the rock and dance clubs that encompassed the drug use of the rave culture with a style of music that owed a debt to the British pop music of the sixties. Yet there was still a vague interest in the so-called American hair metal phenomenon and even homegrown talents such as Tigertailz and The Dogs D’Amour had begun to attract there interest of publications like Kerrang! and Metal Hammer. While many teenagers would dream of becoming a rock star very few get the chance and yet as luck would have it one such person would move into his neighbourhood, one who, almost a decade earlier, had also enjoyed his first taste of success while still in his teens.
The day that Darren Wharton walked into his life would change Cox’s world forever and the few short years that followed felt like an out-of-control rollercoaster that would end no sooner than it began. ‘I was seventeen when I joined Thin Lizzy and it was a fantastic experience,’ Wharton would recall to Rockpages.gr. ‘It was just as they were finishing off Chinatown and the whole band took me under their wing. I lived with Phil Lynott and his family in London ands their private home in Dublin. I will always cherish the memories; having the privilege of writing songs with Phillip and the band gave me a great insight on how to stay true to yourself and the importance of dedication…But looking back it seems hard to believe he was only thirty-six when he died. I always looked up to Phil, he had respect for his fellow members and looking back now you realise what a genius he was.’
Thin Lizzy had already split prior to the premature death of Lynott shortly after New Year in 1986, by which point each member had turned their attention to other projects. John Sykes would perform additional guitars on the American release of Whitesnake‘s 1984 classic Slide It In while fellow guitarist Scott Graham had offered his services to Supertramp. Wharton, who was just twenty-four-years-old when his friend and mentor passed away, would decide to finally step out from behind the keyboard to become the frontman of his own group. Dare began performing locally around Manchester and soon attracted the attention of three major labels; MCA, RCA and A&M. Eventually sighing with the latter, Dare assembled material culled from their refined setlist and commenced work on their debut album. The sessions took place at two principal locations: Hookend Studios, owned by Pink Floyd‘s David Gilmour and Joni Mitchell’s private studio in Bel Air, Los Angeles. In charge of production were Mike Shipley and Mitchell’s husband Larry Klein, both of whom had collaborated with the singer on her 1985 album Dog Eat Dog.
‘I remember it being around 1988, we were the Oldham Bon Jovi with big hair, but around that time we were about two years behind the current music scene which was all about the Happy Mondays and indie music then,’ Cox later admitted to the Daily Post. Having finally signed to a label and recorded in a professional studio, the band were understandably excited and began to indulge in their new lifestyle, although not to the excess of their Californian contemporaries. ‘We were just a bunch of lads from Oldham who suddenly got a deal. If you’re twenty-years-old and you get plonked in the middle of L.A. with an expenses account, you’re going to have a drink, aren’t you?’ Cox told ShortList. ‘I never crashed my Rolls-Royce into a swimming pool or anything. I had a rusty Ford Fiesta. And no pool to drive it into. At the start we paid ourselves £75 each a week and that went up to about £120 a week by the end. We thought, ‘My God, we’ve made it!”
The first single to be released from the album Out of the Silence was the opening track Abandon, which would enjoy minor success in the United Kingdom but failed to generate much interest overseas. It is interesting to note that their second single was accompanied by five profile cards featuring trivia on each member of the band and yet, despite his passion for physics, Cox would only list his interests as, ‘squash, running, eating.’ Having finally gained minor exposure Dare embarked on their first tour, sharing the bill with such rock acts as Europe, who at the time were promoting their recently released Out of This World. Although they would earn praise from the music press, some journalists criticised them for sounding too polished and radio friendly, prompting Wharton to develop a heavier style for their sophomore album Blood from Stone.
Yet while hw would be credited on their debut, Wharton would later reveal that Cox had not performed on the original record. ‘Truth be known, he didn’t really play on the original album; we only brought him in for the live situation because A&M told me they wanted me out the front,’ Wharton told Fireworks Magazine. ‘They said, ‘You can’t play the keyboards if you’re going to front the band, so you need to get a keyboard player in.’ So that’s why we got Brian in and it was just the fact that he lived next door, so it was quite handy.’ For Cox, the opportunity to return to Los Angeles to record a follow-up was too tempting to resist and with the band having joined forces with Keith Olsen, who had overseen the production of Whitesnake‘s eponymous 1987 album, set to work on their second offering. ‘When you’re eighteen, nineteen, twenty-years-old, you’re not thinking, ‘Pop music is a waste of my intellect.’ You’re thinking, ‘This is brilliant,’’ he joked during an interview with the Guardian.
The music industry had changed significantly since the release of their debut three years earlier and with the public having grown tired of hair metal, many of the groups who had enjoyed some degree of success during the late eighties now found themselves obsolete. While 1991 would mark something of a triumph for Guns N’ Roses, who would release two platinum-selling albums, by the end of the year the focus had turned to Nirvana and the Seattle grunge scene. Bands like Dare were caught in the crossfire and whereas just a few short years earlier they could have become the latest sensation, they now seemed out of place as Alice in Chains and Soundgarden began to resonate with the younger generation. While Blood from Stone would enjoy minor success in their native country it soon became clear that teenagers of the early nineties had little interest in a group like Dare.
We were drunk and tired and everyone just jumped on one another.
Further issues would come as the pressure of touring began to take its toll on each member, finally culminating in an incident in Berlin. ‘It was a proper fight,’ explained Cox to the Daily Mail. ‘We were drunk and tired and everyone just jumped on one another. And that was that.’ In a discussion with Sci-Fi Online he would add, ‘I came back and that was four years later and just decided that I would carry on doing physics. I went to Manchester university and at that point I joined D:Ream by accident. I just needed a summer job to bridge me over until I went to university. A mate of mine had just been sound engineering for them and said that they were shit and he didn’t want to do it any more. So I said I’d do it because I needed a bit of cash. It was before D:Ream had a deal. It was just when Peter Cunnah was essentially on his own. It was just driving him around the country in my car with a DAT player.’
Ostensibly a one-man project, Cunnah had launched D:Ream following the demise of the short-lived Tie the Boys. Sighing with Magnet Records, Cunnah released his debut album D:Ream Volume 1 in late 1993 but it would be through the re-release of the single Things Can Only Get Better that he would become an overnight sensation. Despite appearing alongside Cunnah on Top of the Pops, Cox finally turned his back on the music industry in the late nineties and over the following decade was closely associated with the FP420 R&D proton project while taking the position of Professor of Particle Physics at his former university. He would also act as science advisor on Danny Boyle’s 2007 horror Sunshine, which charted a mission to detonate a nuclear bomb in the centre of the dying sun in an effort to save mankind from extinction.
In recent years Cox has become known to the British public as the presenter of such acclaimed BBC science shows as Wonders of the Universe and The Planets, while also authoring such titles as Quantum Universe: Anything That Can Happen Does. But in 2010 it was revealed that Cox would reunite with Cunnah to work on a new D:Ream album, while also making an appearance the following year at the Jodrell Bank observatory alongside British Sea Power. ‘It was a great bit of my life and I just wanted to give it another go,’ he revealed. Wharton, meanwhile, resurrected Dare a few years after later and has since released six studio albums, while most recently re-recording 1988’s Out of the Silence with a new line-up. For Cox, his brief taste of rock ‘n’ rolls stardom was more than enough. ‘I taught myself play really in order to be a pop star,’ he confessed to Australian presenter Leigh Sales. ‘This dream you have when you’re sixteen. And accidentally it happened for a while.’