A while ago I was listening to Forgotten 80s on digital radio station Absolute 80s, where lesser-played songs are featured. There was a song played that didn’t make the Top 40, and I hadn’t heard this before. I had a look in the 80s hits book, and discovered that it was by a female duo. Now I do find the stories of female duos rather interesting (as you might have realised), so this is another one.
Swimming With Sharks were a duo from (West) Germany, consisting of sisters Annette Humpe, born in 1950 (and a Gillian Anderson lookalike apparently), and Inga Humpe, born in 1956. They had been in various groups going back to the late-70s, including Neonbabies, Ideal, and DOF. They then formed a group together, called Humpe & Humpe.
In 1985, they released their first album, along with a few singles (including “Yama-Ha”). They also did a TV special, featuring a lot of rather bizarre performances of their songs, and one of them had blue hair, terrific! They were soon big in their home country. By the late-80s, they decided that they wanted to try and have some success in English-speaking countries.
Other German acts have had big hits in the UK, including Kraftwerk, so why not try it. First of all, they decided to change their name from the mildly embarrassing Humpe & Humpe to Swimming With Sharks. In April 1988, “Careless Love” was released, and this reached no. 63 in the UK, their first and only hit. Although it wasn’t that big a success, critics seemed to be rather fond of this.
“Careless Love” was described as “makes Pepsi & Shirlie sound like Anthrax, so sweet it’ll make your teeth drop out” (I think that’s a compliment), “a dreamy, atmospheric, and thoroughly beautiful song”, and “two of the most original and characteristic voices in contemporary pop”. It has been said that this sounds a little like “Running Up That Hill”, and their music has been compared to “if Kate Bush was produced by Pet Shop Boys” (now that really is a compliment).
I’m not aware of them making any UK TV appearances to promote this though, although I think that this did get on to the BBC Radio 1 playlist. Their second album “Swimming With Sharks” was released abound this time too. In July 1988 their next single “No Longer Friends” (I don’t know if I should read too much into the song’s title) was released, but this wasn’t a hit, and they split shortly afterwards.
After this, they both released solo albums in 1990. Inga’s was “Planet Oz” and was interesting, as the singles released included a cover of “Somethin’ Stupid”, and “Do I Have To”, a cover of a Pet Shop Boys B-side. And in July 1990, “Riding Into Blue (Cowboy Song)” was released, which reached no. 93 in the UK. This was written and produced by Trevor Horn, and the rather fancy video was even shown on The ITV Chart Show!
After this, from the early-90s, right up to the present, Annette and Inga have gone on to work with several other groups as producers and writers as well as singers, and have released many more albums. One such project in 1995 was called Bamby. A lot of people remain disappointed that they never made a big breakthrough as Swimming With Sharks though.