So…

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Yet again, we have lost another of the great musical influences of the Eighties, and indeed our lives. For me, His Royal Purpleness will always be inextricably linked to the Summer of ’84, and his untimely passing is a real loss. A few days before his death, I read the reports detailing his plane’s emergency landing in Illinois, due to Prince being unwell. I was shocked by the sheer relief I felt when those reports ended by saying that the singer had been discharged from hospital, and that his health problems were due to a bout of flu he had suffered in the previous week. As we all now know, my relief was to be short-lived.

I can’t help but wonder if those of us who do make it to 2017 will feel as if we survived this year, rather than lived it, because it’s not only our favourites in the music world who are leaving us at an incomprehensibly rapid rate. For some of us, the impact of 2016 has not been confined to losing those in the public eye. Recently, I wrote about the loss of fellow 80’s fanatic and friend, Cat Dodsworth, who died unexpectedly at the end of March. What I never wrote, and never intended to write, was about someone very special who lost his battle with cancer a few days later. Not only was the loss too personal and painfully acute for me to do anything other than get through each day, but how can you even begin to write anything that reflects the huge part that person played in your life for the past quarter of a century? The answer is, you can’t. However, neither does it feel right for me to say nothing at all, so here goes.

Those of you who have read ‘Your Eighties’ may have noticed it is dedicated to Lee. There was no disguising his delight at the dedication, when I gave him one of the first copies of the book, swiftly followed by a comment about me “hobnobbing with celebs”. But then, if ever there was someone to keep my feet firmly on the ground, it was Lee. We first met in the spring of 1991, when I was 20 years old and somewhat idealistic. Seven years older than me, and with more than a touch of cynicism, Lee never shied away from giving me a reality check whenever he thought it was needed, which was often.

I had begun working in the office of a local repair garage where Lee was a mechanic. On my first day of work, I was left to type up a pile of invoices, while my boss was at a meeting. Having previously boasted of my excellent typing skills (well, I could get up quite a speed on my portable manual typewriter), I wasn’t able to admit I had never encountered anything like the monstrous electronic contraption sitting in front of me, let alone know how to use it.

After half an hour of being left to my own devices, I had managed to load the invoices and even type at what seemed an alarmingly aggressive speed but, try as I might,  I couldn’t find the Caps Lock or Shift keys. Panic began to set in as I imagined the pile of blank invoices awaiting my boss on his return. My distress must have been apparent to those in the workshop, because the next thing I knew Lee was in the office asking if everything was alright. He could hardly keep a straight face as I explained my dilemma to him, and he offered to help me find the elusive keys. Twenty minutes and a cup of tea later, we had solved the mystery, and formed a bond that remained unbreakable through the ups and downs of the next 25 years.

Aside from the major life events during that time, of which there were many – marriages, births, deaths, divorce, house moves – it has been the smallest, inconsequential memories that have been finding their way to my consciousness. Some have been completely random, such as the time Lee hunted around the workshop to find a large paint pot for me to stand on, as he needed me to push the pedals on a lorry he was fixing, and I was too short to reach even the bottom step of the cab to climb in! Others have been prompted by more tangible reminders, like the inch long cut I have in the top of one of my coffee tables.

A couple of years ago, rather than looking over his shoulder and telling him what to do (his description, not mine) I had left Lee to get on with some DIY in the living room. I returned home to find he had made a nice, tidy job of boarding up the fireplace, where the old gas fire had been. It wasn’t until the next morning, when I moved a coaster that had been placed overhanging the edge of the table, that I noticed the deep, inch long cut in the wooden tabletop. In his wisdom, Lee had used my pair of vintage G-Plan coffee tables as trestles for the sheet of wood he was sawing, and had taken a while to realise he had sawn into one of the tables too. Never did I think, when I was ranting about what he’d done, that I would one day be looking at that cut and smiling, but that is what I do now.

I smile because I can seeLee montage him letting me go on and on until, when I finally drew breath, he simply asked “Finished?”, before bursting out laughing at me. Not to take life too seriously was just one of the many things I learnt from Lee. Some were of little significance, some will stay with me forever. He taught me how to play chess and poker (although I never quite mastered the poker face). He taught me to push boundaries, question what I’m told, break the rules. He taught me that Peter Gabriel’s “So” album is one of the best of all time, and to listen to it in anything other than its entirety is an injustice. He taught me that having someone who’s “got your back” is one of the most precious things you can have. It is something I am now missing.

When things weren’t going my way, Lee would always tell me “life’s not fair, you’ve just got to deal with it”. His passing has taught me just how unfair life can be. I’m still learning how to deal with it.

 

 

 

 

 

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Living In Dreamtime

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Growing up in East Kent during the 80s meant many a summer’s day spent at Margate’s Dreamland, or Bembom Brothers Amusement Park,11811464_10153477073223608_6241874286880118514_n (2) as it was known for the latter half of the decade. Catching the train from Faversham, and picking up friends in Whitstable and Herne Bay en route, we would arrive as the park gates opened at 10am, and stay until the sun went down and the fairground lights illuminated our screams and laughter.

A lot of the IMG_20160405_125242815.jpgrides from those halcyon days, such as the Looping Star, Mary Rose, Cyclone and the Water Chute, have long since departed the coastal town. However, firm favourites like the Scenic Railway, Big Wheel and Enterprise continue to stand proudly and operate in the park, since the its re-launch last year. You can imagine how excited I was when Dreamland agreed not only to let me undertake an 80’s photoshoot there, but allowed us to go on the rides too! So, as our photographer set to work with models Sophie and Robyn, I couldn’t resist giving the Scenic Railway a ‘test ride’, along with Deborah Ellis of Madam Popoff Vintage Emporium, our wardrobe stylist.

The shoot was 11807167_10206595824245903_8718379037010513288_ofor a photo story which will appear in a publication I have coming out later this year, and I marvelled as I watched my the story I had written come to life. Yes, the storyline may have been cheesy, but seeing as we had travelled back to 1984 for the day, it was apt.

When writing the story, I had integrated the rides and park features to the extent that removing them would have involved completely re-writing the plot. I had also worked on the assumption that everyone loved fairground rides as much as I do. Oops!

Fortunately, both photographer and model overcame their fear of going on the Big Wheel, in order for the storyline to progress as planned. Similarly, Mason, one of ouIMG_20160405_134155363.jpgr male models managed to stay upright in his roller boats long enough for us to get the shots we needed, without being knocked over by the speeding kids in the roller rink. I never entertained the possibility of a non-skater, when I wrote the story!

So, a few lessons learned and some top class work from everyone involved, and we ended up with the perfect shots, not to mention having a lot a fun in the process. I can’t wait to see the final published result.

Huge thanks to Dreamland for letting us have free reign in an iconic landmark, which holds a special place in my heart.  A big thank you too to models Sophie, Robyn, Oli and Mason, photographer Alan Langley and his assistant, Olivia, make-up and hair stylists Nina Gregory and Hayley Edwards, and to Madam Popoff herself, Deborah Ellis.

I look forward to joining Deborah at her Retro Party on 30th April, where I will be signing copies of ‘Your Eighties’ from 3pm to 5pm, alongside Punk Poet Garry Johnson and Bob Bradbury, lead singer of Hello. I hope to see some of you there.

Retro Twitter

 

 

 

Our Fabulous Friend, Cat Dodsworth

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In a fast-paced world where time is precious, social media can become a means of distantly keeping track of friends at the cost of real interaction. However, what is often overlooked are the real friendships created via social media, through a shared interest. If ever proof was needed, look no further than the regular listeners to Absolute 80s Radio’s Forgotten 80s show on a Sunday evening. Hosted by Matthew Rudd, and broadcast between 7 – 9pm, Forgotten 80s boasts a large following on both Facebook and Twitter, the latter being my choice of communication with fellow fans of 80’s music.

Last October, I had the pleasure of meeting some of the Forgotten 80s Twitterati, thanks to a ‘Tweet Up’ held in Birmingham. The event was organised by long-term fan of the show and prolific tweeter on everything 80s, Cat Dodsworth. As the organiser of the event, Cat was the only person who knew I had invited Musical Youth’s Dennis Seaton to pay the group a surprise visit. In the run up to the gathering, I would receive regular email updates from her, which were always accompanied by excited assurances that she hadn’t told a soul about our secret surprise. By the time the big day arrived, and I met her in person for the first time, she was almost giddy at the prospect of meeting Dennis, and having him sign the Musical Youth page in a 80’s sticker book she had kept for over thirty years. I think her beaming smile in the photo below shows exactly how happy she was when that moment arrived.

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It is a smile that I and many others are currently thinking about with affectionate sadness, as we struggle to come to terms with the almost incomprehensible news that Cat unexpectedly passed away in her sleep earlier this week.

In remembering her, it is Cat’s irrepressible exuberance and vibrancy which are foremost in my thoughts. A rare light, CaCRBmIkGW8AAv75m (2)t was completely without agenda, and touched many lives with her genuine warmth, openness and enthusiasm, even when things didn’t quite go to plan. During our Birmingham tweet up, Cat became separated from the rest of the group, later that evening, when she went to the wrong Reflex bar. A series of hilarious ‘phone calls, worthy of a sitcom, and a taxi journey across the city later, our Stray Cat finally joined us, laughing as she relayed her little adventure, and then insisting we all go and dance on the revolving dance floor. We didn’t need much persuading, and ended up sharing a fantastic evening filled with fun, laughter and dodgy 80’s dance moves – everything I have come to love about our Forgotten 80s family.

After last week’s broadcast, Cat announced that she intended to wear her “glittery frock” this coming Sunday, to celebrate show 150 of Forgotten 80s. With this in mind, Cat’s fellow Twitterati will be donning our sparkliest outfits as we tune in to this week’s show, and tweeting selfies from 7pm,  u940809_10153723699195664_3704850469538810458_nsing the hashtag #Forgotten80s. We would love you to join us as we remember a very special lady, listen to some of the decade’s best music, and raise a glass or two to our dear friend.

Rest well, Cat xx

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Cat had planned to run in the Great Manchester Marathon on 10th April, to raise funds for the charity MIND. Donations can be made via her fundraising page.