A couple of years ago, I saw Musical Youth perform at Butlins in Bognor, on the final evening of an 80’s-themed weekend. Exhausted by three days of reliving the excesses of the decade, and having seen more neon and legwarmers during that long weekend, than I had throughout the whole of the Eighties, I was feeling slightly frayed around the edges. Audience numbers were down considerably on the previous two nights, some partygoers having already departed, to return to their jobs the following morning. It is fair to say that the atmosphere of the venue wasn’t exactly buzzing, and I certainly wasn’t expecting the best and most enjoyable performance of the whole weekend to happen that evening. Yet, when Musical Youth came on stage, that is exactly what took place. Besides performing their own crowd-pleasing hits “Pass The Dutchie” and “Never Gonna Give You Up”, the band also treated us to an impressive reggae set, topped by an outstanding rendition of Bob Marley’s “I Shot The Sheriff”.
So, you can imagine how excited I was last Friday to be seeing the band perform again, this time in Camber Sands, East Sussex. What’s more, prior to their set, I was able to interview lead vocalist, Dennis Seaton, and keyboard player, Michael Grant for my next book, “Your Eighties”.
As the two remaining members of the original line up of the band, Dennis and Michael have known each other for over three decades, something that becomes increasingly apparent throughout the interview, as the pair look to each other for confirmation of their recollections, argue light-heartedly, and (just about) fall short of finishing each other’s sentences. The eldest by two years, Dennis comes across as the calm and measured leader of the band. An elder sibling myself, I couldn’t help but recognise his sense of responsibility for his Musical Youth family. That’s not to say he doesn’t enjoy his position in the band: “We’re not even fifty yet, but we’re thirty years into the business. I enjoyed it back then, and I enjoy it now.” With memories of playing air hockey with Stevie Wonder, and sharing a plane journey with Phil Lynott, it’s hardly surprising Dennis looks back on the early years with great fondness. Today, he maintains that “I do what I love,” which includes having his son Theo (the band’s trumpet player), perform alongside him. “I’m immensely proud,” Dennis tells me, “but he’s there because of his ability, not because he’s my son.”
Michael adds that he too will encourage his sons to play in a band. Although, as his twin sons were born last November, it will be some time before they will be joining him on stage. The duo’s family circumstances are not the only thing to contrast. Excitable and easily animated, Michael appears to be the little brother whose cheeky cuteness would have got him out of many a scrape. However, talk to Michael for a couple of minutes, and you soon discover his serious side, and some insightful views on the music industry. Easily discussing topics from radio stations to band management, record labels to the X-Factor, which he states “killed the industry for originality”, Michael is both persuasive and eloquent in his opinions. Dennis agrees that the Saturday evening programme is culpable for a generation of blandness.
“It’s what I call the “McDonald’s Effect”,” he explains, comparing the show’s vapid musical offerings to the inability to describe the flavours produced by the fast food chain. “I know it when I taste it, but when I’m not eating it…” Dennis shrugs, almost in despair. A broad grin then spreads across his face, as he adds “The fries are good though, and the apple pies are even better” – a reference to Musical Youth’s video for “Youth of Today”, which starts with Dennis grabbing, and running off with guitarist, Kelvin’s pie, who then shouts “Dennis, come back with my apple pie!”
A knock at the door, as the rest of the band make their way over to the venue, signals the imminent end of our interview. We have been chatting for almost an hour, and it is only as we arrive backstage that I realise the band have about ten minutes before they are due on stage, at 11pm. I should also point out that Dennis had arrived in Camber less than half an hour before we met, but offered to do the interview then, rather than after the set, so I wouldn’t have to wait around for him – a true gent!
Adding to my list of interviews with musicians from Birmingham (this was my second in as many weeks), and backing my growing belief that Brummie boys have an unbeatable charm, Dennis went on to dedicate the following song to me, during that night’s show – look out for his big wave when he spots me filming him. Now, just so I can confirm my Brummie boy theory, if someone could give me Ali Campbell’s ‘phone number…!
“Your Eighties” is due to be published by Fabrian Books later this year.