Daniel Ash, his friend David J. Haskins, and Haskins' younger brother Kevin, had played together in various bands since childhood. One of the longer-lived of these was a band called the Craze, which performed a few times around Northampton in 1978. However, The Craze still split up fairly quickly, and Ash once again tried to convince his old school friend Murphy to join him, simply because Ash thought he had the right look for a band. Murphy, who was working in a printing factory, decided to give it a try, despite never having written any lyrics or music. During their first rehearsal, he co-wrote the song "In the Flat Field".
Ash's old bandmate Kevin Haskins joined as the drummer. Ash made a point of not inviting David J, the driving force in their previous bands, because he wanted a band he could control. Instead, Chris Barber was brought in to play bass, and together the four musicians formed the band S.R. However, within a few weeks Ash relented, and replaced Barber with David J, who suggested the new name Bauhaus 1919. David J. had already agreed to tour American airbases with another band, but decided that joining his friends' group was "the right thing to do". With their lineup complete, the band played their first gig at the Cromwell pub in Wellingborough on New Year's Eve 1978.
The band had chosen the name Bauhaus 1919, a reference to the German Bauhaus art movement of the 1920s, because of its "stylistic implications and associations", according to David J. The band also chose the same typeface used on the Bauhaus college building in Dessau, Germany. Bauhaus associate Graham Bentley said that the group was unlike any Northampton band of the time, most of which played predominantly cover songs. Bentley videotaped a performance by the group, which was sent to several record labels, in the hope of obtaining a contract. This approach was hindered partly because many record companies at the time did not have home video equipment, so the group decided to record a demo.
"Bela Lugosi's Dead" and 4AD
After only six weeks as a band, Bauhaus entered the studio for the first time at Beck Studios in Wellingborough to record a demo. One of the five tracks recorded during the session, "Bela Lugosi's Dead", more than nine minutes long, was released as the group's debut single in August 1979 on Small Wonder Records. The band was listed simply as Bauhaus, with the "1919" abandoned.
The single received a positive review in Sounds, and stayed on the British independent charts for two years. The song received crucial airplay on BBC Radio 1 and DJ John Peel's evening show, and Bauhaus were subsequently asked to record a session for Peel's show, which was broadcast on 3 January 1980. Of the additional tracks, Classic Rock Magazine wrote that, "The rest of the material finds a band fumbling for direction, even touching on ska."
Signing with the 4AD label, the band released two more singles, "Dark Entries" in January 1980 and "Terror Couple Kill Colonel" in June 1980, before issuing their first album In the Flat Field in October 1980. NME described it as "Gothick-Romantick pseudo-decadence". Despite negative reviews, In the Flat Field topped the indie charts, and made headway on the UK Albums Chart, peaking for one week at No. 72. In December 1980 Bauhaus released a cover of "Telegram Sam", a hit by glam rock pioneers T. Rex, as a single.
Beggars Banquet and breakup
Bauhaus' growing success outstripped 4AD's resources, so the band moved to 4AD's parent label, Beggars Banquet Records. Bauhaus released "Kick in the Eye" in March 1981 as its debut release on the label. The single reached No. 59 on the charts. The following single, "The Passion of Lovers", peaked at No. 56 in July 1981. Bauhaus released their second album, Mask, in October 1981. The band employed more keyboards, and a variety of other instruments, to add to the diversity of the record. In an unconventional move, the group shot a video for the album's title track as a promotional tool for the band as a whole, rather than any specific song from the record.
In July 1982 Bauhaus released the single "Spirit", produced by Hugh Jones. It was intended to break into the Top 30, but only reached No. 42. The band was displeased with the single, and re-recorded it later in 1982 for their third album The Sky's Gone Out. In the same year, Bauhaus scored their biggest hit with a cover of David Bowie's "Ziggy Stardust", which was recorded during a BBC session. The song reached No. 15 on the British charts, and earned the band an appearance on the television show Top of the Pops. Due to the success of the single, the album also became the band's biggest hit, peaking at No. 4. That same year, Bauhaus made an appearance in the horror film The Hunger, where they performed "Bela Lugosi's Dead" during the opening credits. The final cut of the scene focused on Murphy; this, coupled with the singer's modelling work in a popular ad campaign for Maxell, caused resentment among the rest of the group.
Prior to the recording of their fourth album, Burning from the Inside (1983), Murphy was stricken with pneumonia, which prevented him from contributing much to the album. Ash and David J took the reins, becoming the driving forces behind the record and even performing lead vocals on several tracks. The album's lead single, "She's in Parties", reached No. 26 on the charts and earned Bauhaus their third and final Top of the Pops appearance. Bauhaus then embarked on an international promotional tour for the album, with dates in Europe and the Far East. David J recalled that the night before they were supposed to perform two shows at Hammersmith Palais in London, the group decided to disband.
The band played their farewell show on 5 July 1983 at the Hammersmith Palais; dedicated fans had been warned by the band's crew not to miss the show, without telling them it was the last. After a long encore, consisting of some of their early songs, David J left the stage with the words "rest in peace". Burning from the Inside was released a week later. The album received largely positive reviews and reached No. 13 on the charts. Bauhaus released the single "Sanity Assassin" in limited quantities as a farewell gift for those who joined the group's fan club.
Subsequent developments: reunions and a final album
Bauhaus reunited for the "Resurrection Tour" in 1998, which featured a new song, "The Dog's a Vapour", which was also included in the Heavy Metal 2000 film soundtrack. A live album was recorded during the tour, Gotham, which was released the following year. It included a studio recording of Bauhaus' cover of the Dead Can Dance song "Severance".
Bauhaus reunited again in 2005, playing that year's Coachella Festival in Indio, California. They opened their set with Murphy being lowered upside-down to the stage, singing "Bela Lugosi's Dead". Following Murphy's 2005 tour, Bauhaus embarked on a full tour beginning in North America in autumn 2005, ending in Europe in February 2006. During the tour, Bauhaus covered Joy Division's "Transmission". The band also mentioned that they hoped to record new music. In May they performed as opening act for Nine Inch Nails on the summer leg of the latter's US tour.
In 2008, Bauhaus released their first new studio album since 1983, Go Away White (Cooking Vinyl). It marked the band's end and the album had no promotional tour. In late 2007, Kevin Haskins said "We were getting along really well, but there was an incident that occurred", and added that as a result, "Some of us just felt that we didn't want to carry on as a working unit". In early 2008, Murphy claimed that he "was most satisfied with the bonding on an emotional level. It was good to be working together and to put the past behind us and it was very positive. The result was coming out really fast, so it was exciting and it was very enjoyable", but in the end, "that rocky character worked and I think it was a bit right to finish it, really". The same year, David J commented on the breakup: "You have a test tube, and you pour in one chemical, and you pour in another chemical, and something happens. It starts to bubble. Pour in another chemical, and it starts to bubble a bit more. You pour in a fourth chemical, and it bubbles really violently, and then explodes. That's my answer".
After Bauhaus disbanded, the members of the band moved on to various solo work. Murphy worked briefly with bassist Mick Karn of Japan in the band Dalis Car, before going solo with such albums as 1986's Should the World Fail to Fall Apart, 1988's Love Hysteria and 1989's Deep. Ash had already started Tones on Tail with Bauhaus roadie Glen Campling as a side project in 1982; after Bauhaus broke up, Kevin Haskins joined the group, and the trio released an album and several EPs before breaking up after a 1984 American tour. During this time, David J released two solo albums and collaborated with other musicians, recording two albums with the Jazz Butcher, and also with comics writer/spoken-word artist Alan Moore in the short-lived band the Sinister Ducks.
During a discussion about the state of their projects at the time, Ash and David J began talking about reforming Bauhaus. All four band members arranged a rehearsal, but Murphy failed to show up on the scheduled day. The other three band members rehearsed regardless, and were inspired by the chemistry they had as a trio. As a result, Ash and the Haskins brothers formed Love and Rockets in 1985. Love and Rockets scored a US hit four years later with "So Alive". The band broke up in 1999 after seven albums. Both Ash and David J released solo albums during the Love and Rockets years; Murphy contributed backing vocals to David J's 1992 single "Candy on the Cross".
In 2017, Ash and Kevin Haskins toured as Poptone with Haskins' daughter Diva Dompe on bass. The group performed songs from Bauhaus, Tones on Tail, and Love and Rockets along with cover songs. A live album recorded at various stops on the tour was released through PledgeMusic.
In 2018, Murphy and David J announced a tour of New Zealand, Australia and Europe to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Bauhaus, with the pair performing In the Flat Field in its entirety.