From Top of The Pops to Tour Bus

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For many of us growing up during the Eighties, Top of The Pops was eagerly awaited Thursday night viewing. Some performances remain as fresh in our minds as the day we first saw them. Who can forget Culture Club’s debut on the show, and the subsequent discussions about Boy George’s gender the following day at school? Then there was Adam Ant’s performance of Goody Two Shoes, when he danced across the studio from stage to stage wearing those red leather trousers. For me, The Beat’s appearance in May 1983, when they first performed Can’t Get Used To Losing You on the programme, has always held a special place in my heart. As a 12-year-old girl watching Dave Wakeling perched on a stool, looking down the camera with a cheeky glint in his eye, I was left with an indelible imprint on my memory. You can imagine then how I was feeling when I stepped onto The English Beat’s tour bus to interview him for my next book.

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On  board the tour bus with Dave Wakeling

Any nerves I may have had soon disappeared as we got chatting … and chat we did, covering everything from politics, racism and Greenpeace to his Vox teardrop guitar, musical influences and songwriting. In fact, there wasn’t much we didn’t cover in our hour and a half interview, all of which you will be able to read about next year when More Eighties is published. Having finished our interview, I was delighted when Dave invited me to the band’s gig that evening.

Based in California, The English Beat were in Folkestone, Kent to headline the Skabour festival, as part of their current UK tour. Fronted by the Brummie singer, the band comprises Matt Morrish on saxophone, Kevin Lum and Minh Quan on keyboards, Nucci Cantrell on drums, Brad Engstrom on bass and, with apparently limitless energy, King Schascha toasting.

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After The English Beat’s gig at Skabour, Folkestone

Bringing us all The Beat’s favourites, such as Mirror In The Bathroom, Stand Down Margaret, Too Nice To Talk To and Save It For Later (or Save It, Fellator according to Dave’s schoolboy humour!), the band delivered a top notch set that had everyone singing and dancing along. So much so, that I didn’t hesitate to accept an invitation to the band’s gig the next night at The Forum in Tunbridge Wells.

A more intimate venue than the previous evening, it was the perfect setting to perform new material Never Die. One of the tracks from a forthcoming album to be released next year (I’ve heard a preview of a few of the tracks and they are A-Ma-Zing!), Dave wrote the song in memory of his late father. Beautiful both lyrically and melodically, the song demonstrates not only a huge songwriting talent but a rare insight into love and life. It’s already a firm favourite with me.

The English Beat still have a week left of their UK Tour, so try to catch them before they head back over the Atlantic. The music is first class, the vibe is great and Dave Wakeling still has that twinkle in his eye.

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Romancing The Eighties

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A defining period in Eighties’ music, the emergence of the New Romantics saw the visual vying for attention with what we were hearing. Arguably, more than at any other time before or since, image, style and fashion became an integral expression of creativity for artists and fans alike.

I was still at prsteve-strangeimary school when Adam Ant and Boy George entranced me with their glamorous outfits and perfect make-up. The fact that I loved their music too seemed almost incidental. Fascinated and inspired by them and the Blitz Kids, over whose pictures I would pore for hours, I first attempted emulating them when I was 11. During the summer holidays, between finishing primary and starting secondary school, I used a ‘Wash-In, Wash-Out’ plum hair colour, which lasted considerably longer than the name suggested. I was hooked! It was at least a decade before my hair returned to its natural colour, as I worked my way through every shade the shelves in Boots had to offer. Not to mention a few ‘unique’ hues too, the result of changing my mind and my hair colour too often.

My hair was short during the early Eighties, an homage to the Human League girls. Unfortunately, due to my natural curls, I tended to look more like Depeche Mode’s Martin Gore than Susanne Sulley. I may not have perfected  her look, or any of the other stars I saw on TV or in magazines, but I had great fun trying. Which is why I am thrilled to have been included in the following Trailblazers episode. Featuring commentary by Rusty Egan, Jeremy Healy, Princess Julia and Marilyn, the programme gives an insight into the New Romantic scene from those who were at the heart it. Enjoy.

‘Tis The Season To De-Stress, Not Distress.

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In the frantic blur that is the countdown to Christmas, it can be all too easy to forget to enjoy the festive season. With cards to write, presents to wrap, and a seemingly endless list of festive chores to tackle, taking time out to enjoy what is happening in the moment can feel like an ill-afforded luxury. Then, amongst the tangled tinsel and Christmas chaos, something happens to stop you in your tracks, and before you know it, you’re transported back to a time when Christmas was more than just one big “To Do” list to be completed before the big day.

My moment of clarity came as Culture Club’s “Victims” began to play on the radio. Without warning, I suddenly found myself not only remembering Christmas 1983, but feeling as I did then – excited and happy, not frazzled and stressed. As Boy George advised us to “push aside those who whisper never”, I recalled the steely determination the lyric instilled in me three decades ago, when individuality could be hard to carry, in a society where the emphasis was to conform. Such depth of thought took me by surprise, but made me recognise the insignificance of today’s seasonal errands, and the futility of agonising over such matters.

So, this year the cards may be sent out later than usual, the presents wrapped less neatly, and (horror of horrors!) I may even forget something. What I won’t forget is to enjoy Christmas. I’ll start now by sharing the inspiration for my newly-found serenity…

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!