The band was formed in 1980 by Frame, then 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 NME 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, Foir live performances future Smiths 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, B-sides and an acoustic cover of Van Halen's "Jump" titled Backwards and Forwards 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 first call 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. 1990's Stray was a less slick proposition that was a mix of restrained ballads and brassy pop songs. it also featured a cameo by Mick Jones on the Big Audio Dynamite-influenced "Good Morning Britain." Ryuichi Sakamoto appeared on and produced 1993's Dreamland, an album of electronic-tinged modern pop. After 1995's Clive Langer and Alan Winstanley-produced Frestonia, Frame retired Aztec Camera, and his next project, 1998's North Star, appeared under his own name. A compilation that followed the group's career up to Dreamland, The Best of Aztec Camera, was issued in Japan in 1999 and in the U.K. in 2001. Frame released solo albums in 2002 (Surf) and 2006 (Western Skies) then a comprehensive two-disc set, Walk Out to Winter: The Best of Aztec Camera, came out in 2011.
Though the band was inactive, record companies still managed to keep their work on the shelves, In 2012, Edsel issued all six of the Aztec Camera albums complete with bonus tracks but no involvement from Frame. In 2013, Domino Records released a 30th Anniversary edition of High Land, Hard Rain in the U.K., then a more expanded version 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. Not content to ride the wave of nostalgia, Frame released a solo album in 2014's Seven Dials for old friend Edwyn Collins' AED label. It took a few years for the Aztec Camera reissue campagin to kick back into gear, but when it did in 2021, Cherry Red delivered Backwards and Forwards: The WEA Recordings 1984-1995, a collection of all their studio recordings, live reocrdings, recmnixes and rarities. ~ Mark Deming & Tim Sendra, Rovi
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