It’s a Fine Day Original
It’s a Fine Day at the Nightclub
If you went clubbing in the 90s, you’ll probably remember swaying around to Opus III’s “It’s a Fine Day”. But did you know that the “It’s a Fine Day” original was recorded a cappella in 1983 by Jane? Jane Lancaster was a friend (although some sources say girlfriend) of English poet Edward (or sometimes Owain) Barton, the writer of “It’s a Fine Day”.
Around 1980, Barton wrote the poem that became “It’s a Fine Day” from his balcony in Hulme, Manchester. The area at the time was inhabited by “bohemian” types such as squatters, punks, artists and musicians. This was the perfect place for Barton, who was a poet, artist and musician known for his eccentric stage performances and use of home-made instruments.
Barton went on to write dance-oriented hits such as Kylie Minogue’s “Confide In Me” (in my opinion, her best song), Orbital’s “Halcyon”, Pizzaman’s “Happiness” and Lost Witness’s “Happiness Happening”, “Red Sun Rising” and “7 Colours”.
Fun fact side note: Pizzaman were the British electronic music duo, John Reid and Norman Cook (aka Fatboy Slim).
Lancaster, like Barton, was originally from England’s south but relocated to Manchester. She’d been a Jehovah’s Witness for a period and acted with the Royal Shakespeare Company.
Recording the It’s a Fine Day Original
Lancaster and Barton recorded “It’s a Fine Day” and released it independently. Legendary DJ John Peel played the song on his Radio 1 program where Iain McNay from Cherry Red Records heard it. His label obtained the rights to the song and re-released it in 1983. It later appeared on Lancaster and Barton’s mini-album Jane and Barton.
The poem was written three years ago. I am not sure why, but last October I began to sing it to myself. Then I sung it through the phone from Manchester where I lived, to Lou. Lou has been a friend of mine for a long time. She sung it onto a cassette and sent it back to me. It is one side. The next girl I sung it to was Jane who had told my friend Gabriel that she could sing a bit.
We recorded it in an almost lightless and airless studio for about five pounds. Next I sold my things and Mayking Records made one thousand records for me. These were useless but they would not give me my money back, so I did a lot more things to get some more money. Alternative Music then pressed the record properly.
Then I put some other of my poems with photographs and drawings and made thirteen posters which I put with the single into paper shopping bags which I am still selling for two pounds. I had hoped that the posters and singles were at first simple but gradually confusing. Cherry Red rang me up…”Edward Barton, Press Release for the UK 7″ single “It’s a Fine Day”
Lancaster’s vocals are beautiful but haunting. Birds tweet in the background, but there is something ominous about the song. Without a backing track, you can really hear the longing in Lancaster’s voice. She finishes on the line, “We will have salad,” and I feel cold.
It’s a Fine Day in the 80s
“It’s a Fine Day”, with album cover art by Barton, reached number 5 on the UK indie chart. The music video features a housewife farewelling her husband as he leaves to go to war. He is presumably never seen again.
In 1986, Jane’s version of “It’s a Fine Day” was used for a very bizarre Japanese ad for Kleenex tissues. The ad featured a red baby demon. After the ad ran, rumours circulated about the unfortunate fate of everyone involved. However, there is apparently no truth to these claims. You can read more about this weird urban legend here.
It’s a Fine Day in the 90s
In 1992, English DJ A Guy Called Gerald gave Jane’s unaccompanied vocal version a backing track. Also in 1992, Hong Kong singer Yolinda Yan recorded a Cantonese version of “It’s a Fine Day” titled “Can lalalalali at night only“. This version reached number 2 on the Hong Kong charts.
Opus III Version
Opus III recorded their version of “It’s a Fine Day” in 1992, making it an international hit.
Pete Waterman’s PWL International label released “It’s a Fine Day” as the first track on Opus III’s debut studio album, Mind Fruit. The quintessentially 90s videoclip is directed by David Betteridge. It features vocalist Kirsty Hawkshaw, complete with shaved hair and black bodysuit, dancing against a backdrop of perfect blue sky. Towards the end she twirls Chinese metal balls in her hands. ‘member them?
Opus III: 1992 – 1994
English electronic music group Opus III were famous in the early 90s for merging ethereal female vocals with an ambient house sound. Prior to forming Opus III, musicians/producers Kevin Dodds, Ian Munro and Nigel Walton were members of the arts and music collective, Spiral Tribe. In 1990, the trio spotted Hawkshaw dancing at raves, and Opus III was formed.
Throughout the group’s lifespan, only Hawkshaw was visible in music videos and television performances. This was because the other three members were still under contract to MCA Records.
Opus III’s lyrics, album design and video performances promoted a strong feminist and environmental message. Their greatest success was with “It’s a Fine Day” which reached number 5 in the UK. They disbanded after the release of their second album in 1994, Guru Mother. This album did not enjoy the same success as Mind Fruit. Hawkshaw also thought the group was getting too commercial.
Hawkshaw went on to pursue a solo career. She worked with electronic and dance music artists like Delerium, Silent Poets, BT, DJ Tiësto and Orbital.
“It’s a Fine Day” is now considered a house music classic. In 2010, Pitchfork Media listed it as the 182nd best track of the 1990s. As well as its success in the UK charts, it reached number 1 on the US Hot Dance Club Play Chart. It also did well in Greece and Spain, among other countries.
Quirky dance act has already topped the U.K. pop charts with this near-perfect, radio-friendly ditty. Track is empowered with a potent blend of, ethereal female vocals, a hypnotic hook, and an electro-hip beat. Should have little trouble duplicating its success at several levels here. Look for the act’s full-length debut album this summer.”Billboard, 23 May 1992 (from their “New & Noteworthy” section)
Besides the full instrumental accompaniment, the main difference between Opus III’s and Jane’s versions of “It’s a Fine Day” was that the former only used the first verse and chorus of the original lyrics.
Orbital’s 1992 “Halcyon” sampled a backmasked version of Hawkshaw’s vocals from “It’s a Fine Day”. Hawkshaw herself appeared in the “Halcyon” video clip, playing an “under the influence” housewife, and Barton received a co-writing credit.
So that’s “It’s a Fine Day”. A poem, an a capella song, a super weird Kleenex ad, and a 1990s house anthem.
A Guy Called Gerald Unofficial Webpage
AllMusic - Opus III
Billboard. May 23, 1992
Edward Barton Unofficial Webpage
It's a Fine Day by Jane and Barton
Rateyourmusic.com - It's a Fine Day
Songfacts - It's a Fine Day
Songwriters: Edward Barton - It Really is a Fine Day!
The Fascinating Musical History Behind That Song at the End of Mean Girls
Wikipedia - Edward Barton
Wikipedia - Halcyon
Wikipedia - Hulme
Wikipedia - It's a Fine Day
Wikipedia - Pizzaman
Wikipedia - Opus III