Rock ‘n’ Rain

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Late Saturday morning saw me doing my best Girl Guide impression as, fully prepared for what the elements might throw at us, I trekked across fields, laden with everything I might need for the day. Okay, so the fields were Sandwell Country Park in West Bromwich, and my ‘load’ was a festival chair, umbrella, waterproof jacket and several layers of clothing, but as a fairweather festival-goer, and with rain forecast  throughout the day, this was me out of my comfort zone.

I was undeterred by the prospect of a downpour, as the main reason I had chosen Let’s Rock Birmingham as my first festival of the year, was the opportunity to see Tiffany live, and she didn’t disappoint. Hearing her sing live was worth getting a soaking. Besides which, the sporadic showers meant my normally straightened hair reverted to its natural curly/frizzy state. I achieved an authentic Eighties look without even trying!

From the moment Tiffany came on stage, singing the chart-topping “I Think We’re Alone Now”, she gave a first class performance. Including “Right Here” from her new album “A Million Miles”, and a superb rendition of “Sweet Child of Mine” in her set, my personal favourite was “Could’ve Been”, a beautiful track I’ve loved since its release in ’88. Standing a few feet away from the singer, as Ms Darwish delivered the song note perfect, was one of the day’s highlights for me.

I say one because, with so many fantastic acts performing, it was an impossible task to choose an outright favourite. Jimmy Somerville was outstanding; Five Star gave a flawless, polished song and dance set. Go West’s Peter Cox was gorgeous and gravelly-voiced, as always; Martin Fry stylish and classy, treating us to ABC’s 80’s hits, as well as “Viva Love” from the “Lexicon of Love II” album. Dr & The Medics kicked the day off to a great start, and had the crowd singing along and dancing within seconds of playing; Holly Johnson provided a fabulous finale, performing Frankie Goes To Hollywood classics and solo tracks, including this year’s earlier release “Ascension”. As I said, impossible to choose.

If you were there, let me know what you thought about the day’s performances. Likewise to those of you attending any of this summer’s forthcoming retro festivals. Looking forward to hearing from you…

Montage

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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.

 

 

 

Forgotten 80s Twitterati On Tour

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There can be few people today who are totally oblivious to social media, but I wonder how many realise how far-reaching it can be. Last Saturday proved the power of the hashtag, when listeners to Absolute 80s’ Sunday night show, Forgotten 80s, descended upon Birmingham for a “Tweet Up”. Hosted by Matthew Rudd, the radio show boasts a generous following on both Facebook and Twitter, who comment on the show throughout its broadcast. As one of the show’s loyal Twitterati, I could not wait to meet some of those I had been tweeting for the past 18 months.

Walking into the venue, where some of my fellow 80’s fanatics were already gathered, was a somewhat surreal experience as I discovered what my cyber pals looked like in real life (a number of them do not use their photo as their profile picture). Whilst trying to get my brain to register the face to the name, I was also trying to stop my mouth from blurting out their Twitter handle – you have no idea how many times I had to stop myself from calling Jamie “Gin Soaked Boy” in the first hour or so! Thanks to Jamie’s “Getting to Know You” icebreaker quiz, it was not long before we began to feel like old friends, as we revealed what we hated (nothing) and loved (almost everything) about the decade, the best party we went to in the Eighties (Pernod and Black seemed to be a recurring theme), and what it means to have a request played on Forgotten 80s. I will mention no names, but a response which was met with much empathy was “It’s my world”. No pressure on Mr. Rudd for our mental welfare and future happiness then.

Proving that we are not totally inept when it comes to using technology, although I have to confess to being the first of many who accidentally pressed a button which made the ‘phone screen go blank, we engaged in a Skype conversation with Claire (@Glavlar) during the quiz. Bryony’s mobile was passed from one to another as we answered various questions, and chatted with Claire, whose accent apparently wasn’t as Welsh as expected. Although that did not stop there being a little “Flirtify” moment, when Graham complimented Claire on her specs: “Hmmm, those are nice glasses.” Smooth!

Half way through the afternoon we were treated to a visit from Brummie singer Dennis Seaton of Musical Youth. Dennis had agreed to pop in to meet us 80’s fans on his way to a gig that evening, but Cat, who had organised the Tweetup, was the only other person who know he was going to drop by.

L-R: Cat (@dunollie_cat), Sang (@mango_24), Stephen (@sjp040565), Dennis Seaton, Alan (@alanread80), Me, Graham (@AlfieBywater), Bryony (@BryonyEvens), Jeff (@Ellibin), Jamie (@GinSoakedBoy), Fran (@Frangipani)

L-R: Cat (@dunollie_cat), Sang (@mango_24), Stephen (@sjp040565), Dennis Seaton, Alan (@alanread80), Me, Graham (@AlfieBywater), Bryony (@BryonyEvens), Jeff (@Ellibin), Jamie (@GinSoakedBoy), Fran (@Frangipani) Also present but not pictured: Stuart (@silver_fox24), Allie (@Allie_lufc) and Sharon (@ShazSim21)

I think it is safe to say that everyone was surprised, if not shocked, by his appearance but soon made him welcome, chatting and having photos taken. Although we had no apple pie to offer him, his arrival was shortly followed a veritable feast of goodies to soak up the gin that seemed to be flowing a bit too freely. At least, I shall use gin as my excuse for my poor performance in Alan’s extremely difficult 80’s quiz. That and the fact I was in the presence of some incredible music brains, such as the winners Jamie and Allie. Usually one of the geekiest people I know, when it comes to 80’s music, I was relatively average in this collective. As Cat later commented, it was “a bit like being the cleverest at your school, then getting to Uni and finding out everyone else is actually cleverer than you.”

I was able to put in a better effort on the next quiz, which involved us splitting into two groups. I had my music twin and fact-meister Alan Read in my team, which could only be a good thing. Prepared by Stephen, this test of musical knowledge involved us listing as many 80’s songs we could think of, which featured girls’ names in the title. Not as easy as it seems, when there were in excess of sixty tracks for us to find. And, I still think we should have been allowed to have “Sussudio”. After all, the lyrics are “there’s a girl that’s been on my mind…Su-su-sudio”! Stephen did not set a time limit for us, which saw us only finishing our lists shortly before the end of our room hire, lest we waste any valuable time, and then rushing quickly through the answers. Competitive? Obsessive? Not the Forgotten 80s Twitterati – never!

At this point in the evening, our group split into two: those who made their way back home having had a lovely time, but knowing when enough is enough, and the rest of us. For those of us unwilling to give in to our sensible, hangover-avoiding side, the next destination was the Reflex Bar on Broad Street. I state its location because, despite being able to organise a group of strangers meeting up from across the country, Cat was unable to organise getting herself to the correct Reflex Bar, instead ending up at one a taxi ride away from where the rest of our group had gone. However, my own journey to the bar was not without its own blips.

Jeff and I had entrusted Graham, a local (I hesitate to use the word “Brummie” for fear of incurring his wrath) to lead us in the right direction. Which he did…eventually. Having taken a trip to the far end of Broad Street before Graham realised either a) The Reflex had disappeared or b) we had walked the wrong way along the road, we established it was the latter after talking to one of the many bouncers standing guard outside another of the neon-adorned establishments. Finally, all the clubbing gang were together and, despite some initial reservations about the venue (could our forty something year old ears cope with the decibel onslaught?), we soon found ourselves on the revolving dancefloor, busting a few moves to the likes of Wham! and Madness.

On the revolving dancefloor at The Reflex club.

On the revolving dancefloor at The Reflex club.

As you might expect from a group of people who were brought together by Twitter, our meeting was well documented via tweets throughout the day and evening. Despite being unable to make the Tweet Up, one of our Twitterati, Terri (@xmorpheus) put together a Forgotten 80s Club Storify, which uses our tweets to detail the events from the day, right through to the end of the evening when only the hardcore three (Jamie, Cat and Graham) were left standing, well stumbling is probably a more accurate description. It is a fantastic account of a truly amazing day, one we plan to repeat at the next Tweet Up, when we hope even more Twitterati will join us.

To anyone who has yet to enjoy Forgotten 80s, tune in to Absolute 80s radio between 7pm and 9pm on Sunday evenings. We’ll be listening too, as well as tweeting on #forgotten80s. We are a friendly, welcoming bunch, and that Matthew Rudd’s not bad either, especially when he makes our day/week/life by playing our requests.

See you on Sunday…

The Musical Youth Of Today

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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”.

Interviewing Dennis Seaton

Interviewing Dennis Seaton

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.”

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Michael Grant looking as cheeky as he did in the ’80s

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.

With Michael and Dennis

With Michael and Dennis

“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.

Roger’s Ranking High For Me, Full Stop!

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As you may have guessed from my previous post, last Friday I had the pleasure of interviewing Ska and Two-Tone luminary, Ranking Roger. As The Beat’s only remaining original member, Roger has performed with the band on and off for the past 36 years, since joining them in March 1979, at the age of 16. He heads a current line up of Steve Harper (guitar), Andy Pearson (bass), Matt Godwin (saxophone), Ocean Colour Scene’s Oscar Harrison (drums), and joining Roger on vocals is his son, Ranking Junior. Having witnessed the high energy and powerful dynamism between father and son, when they played The Quarterhouse in Folkestone later that evening, I can’t help but feel that Roger’s view “It’s great on stage. I’ve got no complaints. He backs me, I back him,” is typically understated.

Within minutes of meeting the Brummie musician, he has apologised for the late start to the interview, something for which he can hardly be held responsible. The band’s arrival in Kent was delayed by a traffic accident; the interview Roger gave to BBC South East Today, prior to mine, overran. Oh, and it was Friday the thirteenth! During the interview, we cover a range of topicsOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA, from politics, racism, and social change, to music, the 80s, and performing, plus much more in between. The full interview will feature in my next book, “Your Eighties”, out later this year, so you will have to wait until then to discover the errand David Bowie ran for Saxa, when The Beat supported the stylish singer on his Serious Moonlight Tour in 1983; or to find out what happened when, as part of Special Beat, Roger played to a crowd of “so-called Nazi Skinheads” in the former East German city of Jena. Believe me, the recollections are well worth the wait.

As we talk, it becomes apparent that Roger places great value on the fact that he remains without any sign of an inflated ego, despite spending over three decades under the scrutiny of the public eye. “I could never be rich enough to be a bighead, so therefore, I’m glad that I didn’t become a millionaire,” he reflects, as the pounding of drums, pulsating through the venue, signals the beginning of The Beat’s sound check. Not wanting to add to the band’s already time-pressured schedule, I reluctantly bring the interview to an end shortly afterwards. I was later to discover that I wasn’t the only one who felt the interview had ended prematurely.

About an hour later, Roger rang me to ask if I wanted to talk some more, now that the band had finished sound checking. Which is how I found myself to be in the somewhat surreal situation of sitting in a pub on Folkestone seafront, with Ranking Roger, at the same time as the BBC interview he had given earlier aired on the pub’s large TV screen! ??????????????????????Regardless of what had the potential to be a flashing neon alert to Roger’s presence, we were able to continue chatting uninterrupted. It was only as we returned to The Quarterhouse, that queuing fans inside the venue began to stare in disbelief, as they noticed the man they were lining up to see, strolling along the street. Earning the title of Most Grounded Man In Music, Roger then chose to enter the venue through its main entrance, talking with members of the waiting crowd, en route to his dressing room – there are no stage doors or airs and graces for this man.

This was further proven during that evening’s gig, when security failed to stop a merry, middle-aged Skinhead jumping up on the stage, during the band’s performance. When a security guard did finally make it to the stage, Roger stopped him from removing the uninvited guest, telling him to “let him dance with the band.” When they had finished performing the track, Roger put his arm around the stage invader, and announced to an elated crowd, “This is what it’s about…Rasta and Skinhead together.”

Then, of course, there was the music. With all The Beat’s classic tracks from “Hands Off She’s Mine”, “Too Nice To Talk To” and “Mirror In The Bathroom” to “Tears of A Clown”, “Rough Rider” and “Save It For Later”, alongside tracks from some of Roger’s other projects, such as “Return Of The Dread-I”, as well as Ranking Junior’s own creation “My Dream”, there was something for everyone. Looking at the audience, “everyone” was there – not only Skinheads, Rudeboys and Rudegirls, but people of all ages, out for a fun evening of good music. All I can say is, if you’re looking for the same, then The Beat are top ranking, full stop!