Trailblazers of Conscience Songs

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Below is the link for the second episode of Trailblazers I recorded for Sky Arts. It’s about songs of conscience or, as Billy Bragg says in the programme, the “kind of music that says something other than ‘I’m great, you’re shit. Do you like my socks?'”.

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Past Christmas

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With only a week to go until the big day arrives, I thought I would take a look back at Christmas during my favourite decade, so here are my festive Eighties’ memories:

1980

Following John Lennon’s fatal shooting at the beginning of December, I have an overwhelming memory of his music being played over the Christmas period. My dad bought Jona Lewie’s “Stop The Cavalry” on 7” vinyl, so that also got played a lot, and was usually accompanied by all my family singing along at full volume to the chorus. No wonder I looked so thrilled to meet Jona earlier this year!

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1981

“Don’t You Want Me” by Human League may have been the Christmas No.1, but the record Santa left me on the big day was Cliff Richard’s “Daddy’s Home”! Boxing Day was spent at the Whitbread Social Club in Faversham, with songs like “The Birdie Song” by the Tweets and “Hokey Cokey” by the Snowmen on the jukebox. We returned home in the early evening to watch Russ Abbot’s Christmas Madhouse, featuring characters such as Basildon Bond and Cooperman.

1982

A memorable, transitional year for me, which saw me have my first Christmas as a pupil at Simon Langton Girls’ School in Canterbury. Most of the schools finished at lunchtime to start the Christmas break, and pupils from across the city would congregate in the bus station amid a frenzy of silly string and spray snow. 1982 was the year animated film The Snowman was released, and it was also when I became obsessed with Boy George, as shown in my homage to him.

1982

1983

The year when the world went mad for Cabbage Patch Kids! Footage of shoppers fighting over the dolls, which came with their own ‘adoption certificate’, even made headline news. My own Christmas wish list (which was fulfilled) included Paul Young’s “No Parlez” album and a bright red ghetto blaster. Inspired by chart-topping Flying Pickets, friends and I would practice our acapella singing of “Only You”.

1984

Christmas ’84 is easily summed up in two words – “Band Aid”. The world of pop music piqued the consciousness of a generation and, in an age of conspicuous consumption, Christmas came to mean much more than our own individual needs. I still have my most prized gift from this year, the making of Band Aid video. Unfortunately, I can no longer watch it, as it’s on Betamax.

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1985

The year I received my music centre, complete with turntable, radio and double tape deck. This led to my obsession with vinyl being closely followed by a preoccupation with creating mixed tapes. Whilst I was upstairs listening to everything from Immaculate Fools’ “Hearts of Fortune” to Dire Straits’ “Brothers In Arms” LPs, my family were downstairs listening to Nan’s favourite, Shakin’ Stevens, singing “Merry Christmas Everyone”.

 

1986

The return of acapella singing, this time in the form of The Housemartins’ “Caravan of Love”, and attempting to roll our Rs, whilst singing along to Jackie Wilson’s “Reet Petite”. Christmas Day this year saw us experimenting with creating cocktails. Just for the record, Baileys and lemonade doesn’t mix!

1987

My first Christmas in the sixth form, which afforded us the privilege of sitting on the stage during assembly, singing Wham!’s “Last Christmas” whilst covered in tinsel! This was the year my favourite Christmas song, “Fairytale of New York”, was released. However, it was kept off the top spot by “Always on My Mind” by Pet Shop Boys.

6th form Xmas

1988

My ‘reign’ as Faversham carnival queen covered Christmas 1988, and meant I got to turn on the town’s Christmas lights, along with First World War veteran Dusty Miller. It was an amazing experience to see the large crowd gathered in the Market Place, as we illuminated the town.

Xmas lights

1989

I left school in July ’89, and began working for a local accountancy firm. Our Christmas ‘do’ taught me two very important lessons for future office parties: 1) curbing your alcohol intake is always a good idea, no matter how boring it may seem at the time, 2) telling your boss a dirty joke is rarely wise, however funny you may think it is. Failure to achieve the former will invariably lead to the latter, and to much festive merriment for your colleagues!

Leaving you with those words of wisdom, all that’s left for me to say is “Merry Christmas” – have a wonderful time.

1984 – The Perfect Year?

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Maybe it was because it was my first year as a teenager, or perhaps it was because it was the year my favourite song of the decade, The Kane Gang’s “Closest Thing To Heaven” was released. It could have been the diversity of the music that filled the charts – everything from Duran Duran’s “The Reflex” to Grandmaster Flash and Melle Mel’s “White Lines (Don’t Do It)” to Depeche Mode’s “Blasphemous Rumours” to Howard Jones’ 1984“Hide and Seek”. The release of films such as The Karate Kid, Ghostbusters and Footloose (which was so good, I went back to the cinema a couple of days later, to watch it again!), and reading S. E. Hinton’s “The Outsiders” for the first (of many) times certainly help. As does finishing the year with the ground-breaking Band Aid single “Do They Know It’s Christmas?”. All these things, plus more too numerous to list, are the reason why 1984 is my favourite year of the Eighties. I’d love to know what is yours and why…

Band Aid 30

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It’s funny how today’s return to Sarm Studios, to record Band Aid 30, has brought memories of the recording of the original Band Aid single flooding back. The unprecedented collaboration of some of the biggesOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAt names in music, and some of the biggest egos too, had me enthralled from the very beginning. Watching the news that evening in November 1984 was an overwhelming exercise in star-spotting, as the likes of Duran Duran, Paul Young, Spandau Ballet, George Michael, Sting and Boy George crossed my TV screen. As Paula Yates came into view, with a big 80’s bow in her hair, carrying baby Fifi Trixibelle, I felt so envious of her behind-the-scenes access. It will therefore come as no surprise to learn that I was first in the queue to buy the video of the making of the Band Aid single, to add to my collection of 7″ and 12″ singles, and Feed The World t-shirt.

Unfortunately, my family had chosen the loser in the VHS/Betamax video battle, so I’m no longer able to watch my video. I live in hope that one day I’ll find a working Betamax video player that does not cost a fortune, or is not sitting in a museum somewhere!

Band Aid Dolls

Those of you who are familiar with my writing, will know how having Mr. Geldof living nearby influenced my teenage years. However, you may not be aware of how far-reaching that influence became . I think describing my behaviour around that time as “obsessive” would not be an understatement. How many 14 year olds do you know who would spend hours creating a replica of the Band Aid line up out of wooden peg dolls??? All worth it though, when it won first prize a few months later at the Geldofs’ summer fête, and I was congratulated by Bob himself!

My obsession did have a less flippant side though, when it came to the Band Aid single itself. This manifested itself in me band aid VATorganising a petition, calling for Margaret Thatcher’s government to waive the VAT on the single. Remember, this was 1984, so no clicking online to “sign” a petition. I spent a week approaching strangers in Canterbury city centre and my home town of Faversham, as well as canvassing signatures at school, until I finally had over a thousand signatures, which I then sent to the Iron Lady.

The letter opposite was the reply I received from HM Customs & Excise in February 1985, in response to the petition. A long-winded way of saying “No”, the contents of it are summed up in its second paragraph: “The suggestion that either VAT should not be levied or that an amount equivalent to the VAT should be contributed to the relief  has been given very careful consideration by the Government but the conclusion reached is that it would be neither possible in practice – nor indeed right – to treat this fund-raising operation as a one-off case…If the principle of relief was extended generally, it would lead to a major commitment of taxpayers’ money which would have to be recouped by increases in taxation elsewhere.”

Thankfully, today’s recording will not be subject to such draconian judgement. Chancellor George Osborne confirmed this morning that VAT will be waived on the Band Aid 30 single, meaning every penny raised will go towards fighting the Ebola virus. With that in mind, I will again be one of the first in line to buy the single, even if it means having to watch the X Factor on Sunday night, when the single has its world premiere. The lengths I go to for Sir Bob!