Recruiting a bevy of oddball-celebrity sidemen and guest vocalists -- sampled or otherwise -- somewhat blurred the backbone of the group, but David Barker and Simon Leonard recorded several albums of inspired ambient-techno as Fortran 5. Indebted to such culprits of British whimsy as Syd Barrett and Monty Python, the duo usually recorded with samplers blazing, the unholy result of which included bizarre pop collisions like Donna Summer and the Pretenders or the Champs' "Tequila" and thrash-metal. With roots in the Mute Records artists I Start Counting, the pair debuted with 1990's "Crazy Earth," a dreamy acid-house track counting Barrett among its sample victims. Several singles followed during 1990-1991, including "Heart on the Line" with (live) vocals by Miranda Sex Garden.
The debut Fortran 5 LP was Blues, released in 1991; it included contributions from Can's Holger Hiller, Orb's Kris Weston (aka Thrash), and noted DJ Colin Faver. The weirdest collaboration, however, was a cover of Syd Barrett's "Bike," with vocals obtained by posthumously sampling various lines from legendary comedian and Carry On film star Sid James; the group was perhaps saved from a court case since producer on the session was Sid James' son Steve. Following the LP were several high-profile singles, including "Look to the Future" (with live vocals by Sly Stone alumnus Larry Graham) and "Persian Blues" (with Neil Arthur of Blancmange).
The sampling shenanigans continued on Fortran 5's second full-length, Bad Head Park. The "Sid Sings Syd" theme was resurrected, with celebrated British actor Derek Nimmo unwittingly lending his vocals to a cover of Derek & the Dominos' "Layla," while Barker and Leonard also called upon John Barry and media coverage of the Gulf War to enhance their compositions. The duo featured no collaborators and few samples on their third, the 1995 concept album Avocado Suite. Fortran 5 also remixed Erasure, Inspiral Carpets, Miranda Sex Garden, and Laibach. ~ John Bush