The Communards were a British pop duo active from 1985 to 1988. They are most famous for their cover of Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes’ song, “Don’t Leave Me This Way” as well as “Never Can Say Goodbye”. The Communards formed in 1985 after singer Jimmy Somerville left his earlier band Bronski Beat to team up with classically-trained musician Richard Coles. Though mainly a pianist, Coles played a number of instruments and had been seen previously performing the clarinet solos on the Bronski Beat hit “It Ain’t Necessarily So”. They were joined by bass player Dave Renwick who had also played with Bronski Beat. Somerville was well known for his falsetto singing style, and that he was openly gay during a period of increasing socio-political debate and conflict in the UK regarding lesbian and gay rights.
The name Communards comes from the French term for people from a commune. Somerville’s left-wing politics drew regular accusations that he was a communist. Karl Marx used the word “communist” to honour the revolution in 1871 known as the Paris Commune and referred to activists of that period as communards. Somerville seems to have used the term to express his political sympathies while avoiding immediate connections to contemporary activism.
The band had their first UK Top 30 hit in 1985 with the piano-based single “You Are My World”. The following year, they had their biggest hit with an energetic Hi-NRG cover version of Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes’ soul classic “Don’t Leave Me This Way” (in a version inspired by Thelma Houston’s cover) which spent four weeks at number one and became the UK’s biggest selling single of 1986. It also made the US Top 40. It featured Sarah Jane Morris as co-vocalist, taking advantage of the contrast between Morris’ deep and rounded contralto and Somerville’s soaring falsetto. Morris performed both backing and co-lead vocals on many of the Communards’ other recordings, and appeared in group photos as an unofficial third member.
Later in 1986, The Communards had another UK Top 10 hit with the single “So Cold the Night”, which reached number 8. In 1987, they released an album titled Red, which was partly produced by Stephen Hague. Red featured a cover version of the Jackson 5 hit “Never Can Say Goodbye” (in a version inspired by Gloria Gaynor’s cover), which the Communards took to number 4 on the UK chart. Their last released single was “There’s More to Love” in 1988, which reached number 20 and was, consequently, their final Top 20 hit.
They split in 1988 and Somerville began a solo career.