“Physics is better than rock ‘n’ roll,” declared the headline of an article published by The Guardian earlier this year that profiled keyboardist-turned-physicist Professor Brian Cox. But if anyone would know whether or not this is true it is Cox, a forty-three-year-old former musician whose first foray into the industry had been with the soft rock band Dare during the late 1980s. Having grown up in Oldham, Cox had spent his childhood fascinated with outer space, as well as regular visits to Manchester Airport to watch planes. After leaving Hulme Grammar School, Cox began to develop an interest in performing music after attending a Duran Duran concert. A fan of David Bowie, particularly his 1971 album Hunky Dory (which included the classic Life on Mars?), Cox decided that he wanted to become a rock star. With his priorities having changed, Cox still continued with his A-Levels and received a “D” in Mathematics. “I didn’t go to university until I was twenty-two,” Cox told The Times in 2008. “Instead I joined a rock band called Dare.”
The band was formed by fellow Mancunian Darren Wharton, who had joined rock legends Thin Lizzy in 1980 at the age of just seventeen, having been discovered while working in a Manchester nightclub called Deno’s. Following a hiatus and the unexpected death of frontman Phil Lynott, Wharton decided to focus on his new band and recruited Cox, who was five-and-a-half years his junior, as his keyboardist. Dare began performing locally and soon attracted the attention of three major record labels; MCA, RCA and A&M. Eventually signing with the latter, Dare assembled together ten tracks 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 at her mansion in Bel Air, Los Angeles. In charge of production was Mike Shipley and Mitchell’s husband Larry Klein, both of whom she had collaborated with on her 1985 album Dog Eat Dog.
Having finally signed a contract 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 LA with an expenses account, you’re going to have a drink, aren’t you?” admitted Cox to ShortList.com. “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 enjoyed minor success in the United Kingdom but failed to generate much interest overseas. This was soon followed by a second single, The Raindance, which was released as a 7” gatefold vinyl that featured five profile cards, each with trivia about the band members (although, interestingly, Cox listed his hobbies as “Squash, running, eating,” with no mention of physics). Dare began to tour in support of the album, sharing the bill with such rock acts as Europe, who were promoting their own record, Out of This World. Despite their modest success, some British music journalists had criticised the band for sounding too polished and soft, prompting Wharton to write heavier material for Dare‘s sophomore album, Blood from Stone. Once again working in Los Angeles, this time they were joined by Keith Olsen, who had overseen the production on Whitesnake‘s 1987 eponymous album, which had included the hit singles Here I Go Again and Still of the Night.
But soon the pressures of touring began to take its toll on each member, which finally culminated in an incident while in a bar in Berlin. “It was a proper fight,” Cox explained to the Daily Mail last year. “We were drunk and tired and everyone just jumped on one another. And that was that.” Cox returned home to England and enrolled at the University of Manchester to study physics. He was soon tempted back to music, however, when he was hired by Irish singer Peter Cunnah for his pop group D:Ream. The band enjoyed a UK no. one hit in 1994 with the single Things Can Only Get Better, which would enjoy a new lease of life three years later when it became the anthem for the Labour Party during the General Election. Cox eventually turned his back on music in 1997 on the eve of an Australian tour when he graduated from university and decided that he would instead pursue a career in physics. Cox has since returned to the University of Manchester as a physics professor, as well as working on the ATLAS experiment at CERN in Geneva. Cox is perhaps best known as the host of acclaimed BBC science show Wonders of the Solar System and its semi-sequel Wonders of the Universe.