A Wonderful Talent, Taken Too Soon

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Yesterday it was announced that Colin Vearncombe, a.k.a. Black, lost his fight for life. Following a “serious car accident” on 12th January, the singer was placed in an induced coma two days later. I was one of his many fans willing him well, even when it was announced that his chances of pulling through were slim, due to substantial brain injuries. Knowing the critical state he had been in did little to lessen the shock of hearing of his death. My knee-jerk reaction was to play his “Wonderful Life” LP, an album that was frequently played on my turntable during my first year of Sixth Form.

Black

Although the title track and “Sweetest Smile” are the songs for which Colin is best known, the whole album is a gorgeous mix of recordings which showcase the Liverpudlian’s song writing skills and his incredible vocal range. Last night, as I listened again to the soundtrack of a transitional period in my life, I was reminded of how beautiful “I Just Grew Tired” sounds. I also felt a sadness listening to the lyrics which, in view of the day’s developments, had taken on a whole new dimension.

A wonderful talent, taken too soon. Rest in peace.

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Loving the 1980’s

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Peter Cook interviews me about my latest book, ‘Your Eighties’, and the music of my favourite decade.

The Music of Business

In this article, I’m talking with Sarah Lewis, Author of “Your Eighties“, a book which celebrates the 1980’s and pop culture. I’ll let her get straight on with it:

Click to find the book on Amazon Click to find the book on Amazon

What major trends in music shaped an era which we call the 80’s?

If there’s one word that sums up music during the Eighties, it’s “diversity”. Unlike any decade before or since, the era produced a spectrum of sound ranging from the Seventies overspill of Disco and Punk, through to Hip Hop and early Rave as we approached the Nineties. At any point during the Eighties, but especially around 84/85, you only had to look at a section of the charts to appreciate how varied the music scene was then. There would be Synth Pop and High Energy nestled alongside Rock and Metal; A Flock of Seagulls, Hazell Dean, Billy Idol and…

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Going Ga Ga For Radio

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Well, the snow held off for my birthday, and I’ve had the most fantastic weekend celebrating it. Saturday was spent being thoroughly spoilt by my kids, then an evening of karaoke – my birthday rendition of Bohemian Rhapsody was indeed a treat for everyone present! Yesterday (or my Birthday Boxing Day, as we call it in our family) was a somewhat surreal experience, as the radio of my teenage years became real life.

Arriving in Camden for the Great British Radio Reunion at The Jazz Cafe, I was twenty minutes early so popped into a nearby coffee shop to keep warm and check I looked presentable. As I stood in the small queue for the single, unisex toilet that served the cafe, I noticed a group of gentleman sat inches away from me. I don’t know what you call a collection of radio DJs. A broadcast? A transmission? Whatever it is, I had stumbled upon one of the best – Paul Burnett, Mike Read, Ian Damon  and Tim Jibson. Paul invited me to join them, and as I sat down with the group, Showaddywaddy’s Dave Bertram turned up! Like I said, surreal.

We arrived at the venue at the same time as a number of other DJs, including Andy Peebles and Roger Day, who tried to convince the doormen I was his wife, in a futile attempt to get me indoors more quickly. The guest list hadn’t arrived at the door, and without a BBC pass to flash at security, I was amongst those having to wait a minute until we were given the go ahead. Still, I was in good company, and for the rest of the day, I was Roger’s pseudo wife!

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Clockwise from top left: Roger Day, Johnnie Walker, Adrian ‘Ade The Shades’ John, Adrian Juste, Mike Read, Paul Burnett and David ‘Kid’ Jensen

As more and more guests arrived, I soon found myself surrounded by voices of the airwaves – Kid Jensen, Graham Dene, Tony Prince, and Shaun Tilley, who always seemed to be on hand whenever I needed someone to take a photo – thanks Shaun! I also managed to grab conversations with the two Adrians, Juste and John, both an integral part of my Radio 1 listening during the Eighties. Then, there was the man who everyone wanted to meet, Johnnie Walker. Magnetically charismatic, he seemed to have the ability to attract people from across the room, regardless of who they were. I won’t name names, but I wasn’t the only guest to have a big grin on my face when they met him. And what an eclectic bunch, the guests were.

Representing the 80’s music contingent were Brother Beyond’s Nathan Moore, Dr. & The Medics’ Clive Jackson, Martin Fry, Phil Fearon, Owen Paul, David Van Day, and Eddie Lundon of China Crisis, with the 70’s and earlier being represented by Tina Charles, Linda Lewis, Jimmy Helms, Hello’s Bob Bradbury, The Foundations’ Clem Curtis, The Searchers’ Frank Allen, and Ray Dorset of Mungo Jerry, to name but a few.

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Clockwise from top left: Nathan Moore, Clive Jackson, Eddie Lundon, Adrian Juste, Owen Paul, Dave Bartram, Jona Lewie, Tina Charles, Graham Fenton, Jimmy Helms, David Van Day,  and Linda Lewis.

Amongst an onstage celebrity Pop Quiz, which saw Jona Lewie, Eddie Lundon and Sally Geeson take on Dave Bartram, Stephanie de Sykes and Beverley Craven,  a tribute to Ed ‘Stewpot’ Stewart, and numerous performances by a plethora of singers and musicians, there were two personal favourites for me. First was Graham Fenton of Matchbox singing Rockabilly Rebel and When You Ask About Love, which immediately transported me back to a time when I was at primary school, and still in single figures. The second was Angie Brown performing Bizarre Inc’s 1992 hit I’m Gonna Get You, a track synonymous with my clubbing days. Although, I never dreamt that I would be watching Angie performing it live, whilst dancing away between The Reverend Doctor and Sixties’ songstress Billie Davis. What a fantastic way to spend a Sunday afternoon – I can’t wait ’til next year!

Click here to see the full list of presenters and performers at this year’s Great British Radio Reunion.

 

January Birthday Blues

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This coming Saturday, I will be out with friends celebrating my birthday. As anyone with a January birthday will tell you, it’s not the best time of the year to have been born. The combination of over-indulgence  and over-spending during the festive period, along with the grey gloom  a lot of people associate with January, can make prising friends away from the snug comfort of their sofas an uphill struggle. Then, there is always the possibility of snow to consider.

The first time I can remember the weather having any bearing on my birthday was in 1982, when I turned 11. At the time, we lived in remote countryside where we were at the mercy of snow ploughs, to keep us from being cut off from the rest of the world. Having been ‘snowed in’ for several days before my birthday, there was uncertainty as to whether my birthday party would take place. However, unlike today’s kids who have no obligation to attend school at the first dusting of the white stuff, mine is generation who sat in freezing cold classrooms, wearing layer upon layer of clothing under their parka snorkel coats. It is therefore unsurprising that, despite the snow plough having created 7ft high walls of snow either side of the country lane leading to our house, and the roads being precariously icy, the party went ahead with its full guest list in attendance.

We were living in the Kentish market town of Faversham when the winter weather did threaten to spoil my birthday, in 1987. At the time, my dad worked about 25 miles away in Sheerness on the Isle of Sheppey, which was joined to the mainland by a vertical-lift bridge.Although there was snow on the ground, and it had been snowing when he left for work at 6am, Dad had driven to work as usual. An hour later, I got up and listened to the radio to see if my school was open. It wasn’t. Although I was disappointed at not seeing my friends on my birthday (and receiving my cards and presents!), I had a great time sledging in the nearby park with my mum and brother. However, by mid-afternoon it had begun to snow heavily, so we headed home.

Back indoors, we watched the snow come down hard and fast, but I was still surprised when Dad ‘phoned to say it was unlikely he would make it home that night. All the vehicles in the car park of the steel mill where he worked were buried in deep snow, and there was no public transport running off the island.

1987

I was upset at not seeing my dad on my birthday, and spent the rest of the evening fairly subdued. That was until some idiot threw a snowball at our living room window just before the Ten O’Clock News started. I ran to the front door, ready to vent my growing frustration on whoever had just thrown the icy missile, and then got the best surprise when I opened the door – Dad waiting to come in!

Settling down with a cup of tea and a slice of birthday cake, Dad explained how he had decided to set off on foot, hoping that he would be able to find transport home once he was back on the mainland. Having walked three miles in deep snow, he heard an off-road vehicle behind him as he approached the island town of Queenborough. The driver stopped and gave Dad a lift home which, seeing as they passed no other vehicles travelling in Sheppey, was something of a miracle. At least that’s how his company magazine reported it later that month, when they told how one of their employees had managed to “arrive home in time for his little girl’s birthday” despite the treacherous weather conditions. They must have thought I was 6, not 16.

As the years have gone by, the weather has tended to be kinder on my big day and, when it hasn’t, sheer determination to celebrate my birthday has seen me doing so no matter what. Although one year that did see me in an almost empty nightclub partying with a handful of like-minded people, foolish enough to brave the blizzards in pursuit of a few hours on the dancefloor. Nowadays, I’m not quite so foolhardy, and can be almost reticent when it comes to planning my birthday celebrations, lest bad weather stops play. However, with no Arctic weather forecast for this weekend, I am hopeful that this year’s birthday celebrations will go ahead unhindered. If, by some twist if fate, we are hit by a freak snowstorm I shall have to resort to Plan B – an evening in with a bottle of pink Möet, singing along to a certain Dave Stewart and Barbara Gaskin number!

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To celebrate my birthday weekend, my first book ‘My Eighties’ will be available on Kindle for FREE 15th – 17th January.

Back To Reality

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As I make my way through what I hope is the last of the ‘Christmas food’ – there is only so much smoked salmon, Camembert and onion chutney a person can stomach, and I won’t even mention the ‘T’ word – the return to reality after the festive break is met by me with a warm embrace. Don’t get me wrong. I enjoyed a lovely Christmas with my family, although my dad did ask if I’d discovered Oliver Cromwell amongst our family tree, when he visited on New Year’s Eve and discovered I had already taken down the decorations (they came down on the 29th!).

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From Dolly to David

I also had an amazing time seeing in 2016 with friends, singing karaoke at our local. I think the highlight of the evening was when I went up to sing Dolly Parton’s “Here You Come Again” only to find that the landlord had actually selected Whitesnake’s “Here I go Again”. Unperturbed, and a few gins into the evening, I did my best David Coverdale impression (and I don’t just mean my hair). As Louis Walsh would say, I made it my own!

However, there comes in a point in the ever-extending festivities when I begin to crave some semblance of normality. After all, how can Christmas remain special if it goes on interminably? And if you’re reluctant to return to your reality, then change it. Besides being sad losses to the music world, the recent passing of Lemmy Kilmister, John Bradbury, Guru Josh and Natalie Cole can’t fail to serve as a timely reminder to a generation that life is too short to waste on what could have been. Go out and grab your reality now. You never know, 2016 could be your best year yet.