The Year After You

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Writing extensively about the Eighties means I sometimes have to be more analytical than reflective. Holding up a mirror is not enough. You have to examine things in microscopic detail. However, irrespective of whether I’m writing about an historic event, a backstage anecdote or a fond recollection, there is an underlying fundamental thread that often defies methodical analysis. The people involved in these events.

I could write reams on the political significance and worldwide implications of the fall of the Berlin Wall, but just one image of the revellers celebrating its demise atop the landmark, shortly before its collapse, says so much more than I ever could. The revelation, during my interview with Ranking Roger, of David Bowie turning delivery boy ahead of his Milton Keynes gig in 1983, to ensure Saxa had his cans of White Stripe, only serves to emphasise the star quality of the man behind the legend. Even something as simple as recalling the first single we bought can evoke strong emotions, not only because of the music but the people associated with it too: the artist, the person who was with us when we bought the record, who we sang, danced or cried with to that track. Memories may be made of the sights, sounds and even smells of our past but the truth is, without people they are nothing. That is why it hurts so much to lose someone who has been an integral part of those memories.

Last April, after a cruel battle with a particularly aggressive form of lung cancer, Lee, my best friend and soulmate of 25 years lost his fight with the disease, at the age of 51. The months that followed are really just a blur, in which I honoured existing obligations on autopilot but have no clear memory. Photos from that time are the only tangible proof I have of my existence then. In most, I have a familiar big smile, but when I look at my eyes I see someone who truly did not know what day of the week it was. It wasn’t until the end of July when, thanks to the help of some wonderfully supportive friends, I began to write again. Although prior to that, I had begun to write poetry for the first time since my late teens.

A couple of months ago, I shared one of those poems, ‘The Year After You’, with Peter Coyle, who later told me “I only read the first two verses and I had to stop. It made me cry and so I had to walk away and come back to it later. It was very emotional and that is why I wanted to try and put it into a song. Even then it was difficult. It hurts just listening to it for me, because the words are so raw and sincere. There is a real beauty and strength to them. They have a direct link to the heart.”

That song was waiting for me when I arrived home one Saturday afternoon last November. I had been to London for a radio interview to promote The 80’s Annual, and had then gone on to interview Soft Cell’s David Ball for my next book. Coming home to discover one of The Lotus Eaters had turned one of my poems into a song perfectly topped off the kind of day my teenage self could have barely dared to dream about. ‘The Year After You’ is a deeply personal poem I wrote about losing Lee, so it will come as no surprise to know I was in tears when the track finished playing. Peter admits that in writing the song “I was very scared because the words to ‘The Year After You’ were so real and intimate, but it just gripped me and wouldn’t let go. It is so special to open up and allow someone else’s personal feelings and emotions to be expressed in the music, even when they are difficult emotions, but it is harder singing someone’s words because you have to assimilate them as though they come from your heart. You just hope that the writer sees that you are trying to reflect her honesty.”

I had only to hear the emotion in Peter’s voice, as he sang the words I had written, to know that. However, I was still uncertain when he suggested the possibility of releasing the song. It had taken a lot of deliberation before sharing the poem with him, so the thought of it being in the public eye was quite overwhelming. Understanding my reticence, Peter left the decision with me. The song was a gift to me, so it was up to me who should hear it.

Eventually, I decided there could be no better tribute to the man who had been by my side for most of my adult life, and whose loss had changed it forever. Besides, who was I to stop anyone from hearing this gorgeous creation, which may have arisen from sadness but has finished as a beautifully crafted message of hope?four.jpg

So, early December saw Peter in the studio, mixing the song which I am pleased to announce will be released on 3rd February. Currently, the track can be pre-ordered from iTunes and will also be available from various outlets such as Amazon and Spotify.

To find out more about Peter Coyle and his music, visit his website: www.petercoyle.com.

 

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Bring On The BRITs

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Wednesday brings us the annual BRIT Awards, an event I have watched in eager anticipation since 1985, when it was first broadcast by the BBC. Known then as the BPI (British Phonographic Industry) Awards, and held at the Grosvenor House Hotel, the ceremony that year was hosted by Noel Edmonds. Like many of those presenting and receiving awards, he wore black tie for the occasion. Even champions of double denim, Rick Parfitt and Francis Rossi, wPrince Brits 1985ere suited and booted.

Set against a backdrop of silver and white sparkles, the message to the viewers was this is where the glamour was to be found. Any doubts we may have had were dispelled as soon as Prince took to the stage, to receive his award for Best International Solo Artist. What he lacked in words, he more than made up for in fur and frills. No wonder I fell in love with the ceremony, and have watched it every year since, albeit with a diverse variety of memories.

Despite surviving on approximately two hours sleep a night, due to my daughter being only 9 weeks old, I remember the 1994 ceremony as being mainly about Take That. Although this could be because they still had hero-like status in my eyes, having topped the charts with “Babe” on the day she was born, saving my little girl from being born when Mr. Blobby was at Number 1. This was no mean feat, as the pink prankster had occupied the top slot both the week before she was born and the week after.

My son arrived at the beginning of 1996, and as my world increasingly centred around the likes of the Telebubbies and Tots TV, The Brits became almost symbolic for me, a reminder of my first love – music. However, with acts like the Spice Girls and All Saints featuring heavily, the latter half of the Nineties saw me mostly interested in the Outstanding Contribution award, the winners of which included David Bowie, Eurythmics and The Bee Gees.

I continued to tune in each year, even when I was pretty clueless as to who half the nominees were. By the mid-Noughties, the kids were helping me differentiate between Busted and McFly (I was obviously ahead of the bands with the McBusted idea!). When the 2008 awards came around, I found myself enjoying parts of the event almost as much as I had back in the day. Okay, so Earls Court was never going to measure up as a venue. Ditto to the sweary Osbornes as hosts. However, the look on Paul Young’s face as the Arctic Monkeys, dressed in country squire attire, walked past him to collect their award for Mastercard Best Album was priceless. Then there was Mark Ronson’s performances with Adele, Daniel Merriweather and Amy Winehouse. The Brits was getting its act back together.

Whilst I may never view The Brits with the same enthusiasm I did in the Eighties, this year I will be rooting for James Bay, whose ‘Chaos And The Calm’ album is a current favourite of mine. I shall also be enjoying the combination of nominees, the strangeness of which remains reassuringly unchanged over the years. Perhaps the best example this year is those nominated in the British Group category: Blur, Coldplay, Foals, One Direction, and Years & Years. I can’t wait to discover who emerges victorious from that curious ensemble.

 

 

The Live Aid Legacy

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As a teenager in the mid-Eighties, I kept a diary from 1984 to 1986, recording in great detail the minutiae of daily life. Having recently stumbled across these journals, I have taken great delight in reliving the past of my youth. From watching “Morons From Outer Space” at the cinema on a Good Friday, to the changing shape of my favourite magazine: “Got my copy of Smash Hits, which was smaller than usual”; from drinking Martini and lemonade on a school trip to Germany, to the weather: “It’s very, very hot today, and I’m absolutely sweating buckets!”, every aspect of my teenage life had been documented in scrawly blue ink.

A self-confessed obsessive of Eighties’ culture, particularly the music of the decade, I was intrigued to see what I had scribbled as my entry for Saturday 13th July, 1985, when the “show that rocked the world” took place. Thirty years on, I can still remember the excitement I felt when I woke up the morning of Live Aid. This was going to be a show unlike any other, and I happily gave up the opportunity to top up my tan (unheard of for my teenage self), to sit in front of the TV in a darkened room. Excitedly turning the diary pages, in expectation of the lists of artists and their performances I had undoubtedly noted, along with long-forgotten titbits such as what colour over-sized bow Paula Yates had worn in her hair, I arrived at the relevant page. This is what I had written:

“I’ve been watching Live Aid all day. It’s 9.07 at the moment and I’ve seen all of it apart from 1½ hours which I taped [using our Betamax top-loading video recorder] and it’s all been really good. I aim to stay up until 4 o’clock tomorrow morning to watch the end of it.”

I cannot convey the disappointment I felt at my lacklustre description of a day that has held such a special place in my heart for the past three decades. Why hadn’t I written about the incongruity of seeing Charles and Diana’s stilted participation, as Status Quo opened the concert? Where was my rave review of Freddie Mercury’s fantastic performance with Queen, and reminiscences of how he had played up to the cameraman? What about the bit when Bob Geldof swore and told us to “give me your money!”? Surely I had noted that somewhere. Then, I realised that I had. The memories may not have made it to paper but, in my head, they were as fresh as the day they were made. Unlike those who make the mistake today of viewing a gig through their mobile ‘phones, and fail to enjoy the moment because they are too busy recording the event for posterity, I had mentally absorbed every last note and nuance of that day. This became even more apparent to me a few weeks ago.

I had interviewed 80’s TV presenter Steve Blacknell for my next book, “Your Eighties”. Some of you will remember Steve for his interview of Phil Collins during their transatlantic trip on Concorde, which enabled the Genesis frontman to make music history, by becoming the only musician to play at both Live Aid venues (Wembley Stadium in London, then JFK Stadium in Philadelphia). Whilst transcribing my interview with Steve, I tried in vain to find video footage of his ground-breaking Live Aid interview. I couldn’t understand why all I was able to find was the audio recording, set to video footage of Concorde flying through the clouds. After all, the image of Steve wearing one of his trademark gaudy shirts, whilst chatting away to Mr. Collins, was so vivid in my mind. Then, it suddenly hit me. My mind was the only place I would find that image. The technology for live, televised broadcasts from Concorde did not exist in 1985. The little video tape I was replaying was solely in my mind’s eye.

So, whilst it may be that celebrations of Live Aid’s 30th anniversary are somewhat more subdued than I believe such an event deserves, it lives on in the hearts and minds of a generation. Alongside the preceding Band Aid single in November 1984, Live Aid created a worldwide consciousness and responsibility for matters further afield than your own doorstep. It brought awareness to the masses, and made people believe that they could make a difference. Live Aid’s legacy lives on in ongoing charity fundraisers such as Comic Relief and Sports Aid, which have become a familiar and instantly recognisable means of raising money. So much so, that those too young to remember Live Aid may wonder just what all the fuss is about. Today, charity and entertainment form a reciprocal partnership, in which many are keen and happy to participate. A partnership that has its foundations in Live Aid, and the incredible performances it produced.

There was the battle of the big voices in Paul Young and Alison Moyet’s duet of the Marvin Gaye classic “That’s The Way Love Is”, not to mention the strut-off between Mick Jagger and Tina Turner, during their performance of “State of Shock”. Then we had Hollywood legends like Jack Nicholson, taking on cameo roles to introduce rock royalty, The Who. Not forgetting the all-star line up on stage at the Wembley finale, with David Bowie, George Michael, Sting and Paul Weller just a few of the Eighties’ finest singers joining Midge Ure and Bob Geldof to perform “Feed The World”. Just thinking about the day has made me want to see those performances again. Now, there’s an idea for a fundraising compilation DVD…

Birthday Boy Bowie

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Today sees David Bowie celebrate his 68th birthday. Although the chameleon-like performer has seen a number of character transformations since his 1967 release of “The Laughing Gnome”, the song has remained in my consciousness, thanks to its lyric “then I put him on a train to Eastbourne” (my Dad’s home town). This gimmick track may have been my first exposure to Bowie, but it didn’t deter me from exploring his subsequent releases, and becoming a huge fan in the process.

Although I appreciate the genius of his Ziggy Stardust period, my favourite Bowie music is that released around the time of his 1983 “Serious Moonlight” Tour. Stylish and sophisticated, Bowie’s appearance not only echoed the class of his music, but the time in which it was written. In recognition of the birthday boy’s brilliance, here is my favourite track from that time, “Modern Love”.