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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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!

When Buster Bloodvessel Bust A Gonad!

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Seconds before I entered Bad Manners’ dressing room to interview their front man, the band’s manager warned me Buster Bloodvessel was not well, following that evening’s performance at The Britannia Theatre, Chatham. Concerned he was too ill to be interviewed, my first question to Buster, as we shook hands and I sat down next to him, was if he was well enough to answer a few questions. “Yeah, I’m in a lot of pain though.” He certainly looked to be in some discomfort, but before I could suggest postponing the interview, he continued “I’ve got a swollen, painful b*llock.” Seeing the look of shock on my face, he grinned “The right one’s got a lot bigger!”

An unconventional start to any interview, but then Buster Bloodvessel (real name Douglas Trendle) has never been one to hold with convention. With appearances on Top of The Pops in the Eighties, during which he dressed up as Henry VIII to sing “Lorraine” to a blow up doll – “That girl got it,” he states in mock seriousness, “It was a long tour!” – and in a yellow and black satin saloon girl dress to perform the Can Can, Buster is no stranger to using humour and fun in his act. “I actually think I was put on this earth just for that reason, to make people happy,” he muses. At the age of 56, and under normal circumstances, Buster still dances the Can Can. “I do like to do the Can Can…[I’m] really sorry I didn’t do the Can Can tonight,” he looks at me apologetically, before laughing “Twisted a b*llock, I think!” He then suggests that the title for this article should be “My Twisted B*llock”.

I tell Buster that all this talk of testicles has made me lose my threOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAad. “You’re the one who’s got to keep control,” he challenges, before turning to the camera and sticking out his trademark tongue. I do manage to get the interview back on track, and find Mr. Trendle to be not only entertaining, but totally engaging and charming. We covered a wide range of topics, including his musical influences, ska in the Eighties, and Buster’s long term love affair with Margate, all of which will feature in my next book. I also learnt what a true professional lies behind the unabashed facade. The flippant remarks about his anatomy belied the real pain Buster was suffering but, ever the showman, he refused to give in to it. “It was hurting me when I started to sing “Just A Feeling,” he explains. Only a few songs into his set, it meant he spent most of the evening’s performance in agony. “I had to fight it ’cause I ain’t letting that crowd down.” Anyone who was in that crowd would agree that he did not let us down, but gave a performance with such an energy no one would have guessed his injury. The evening was the first date of a 30 gig tour for Bad Manners, so there is still plenty of time for you to see Buster Bloodvessel and his extremely talented entourage for yourself. I can’t wait to see them again next week, when they play The Quarterhouse in Folkestone. To find a gig near you Click Here

 

Art For Art’s Sake

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From a very young age, I have loved Art in all its forms. Whether it was my own early creations, which relatives dutifully received on every occasion I could deem special (basically any day ending in a Y!), or my attempts to “improve” my environment, which included a full-length painting on my bedroom door of my then favourite group, Immaculate Fools, when I was 14 (my parents were very encouraging and tolerant), I have painted and created. However, in more recent years the creativity has been inched out in favour of appreciation, which is why I could not resist the opportunity of viewing a Banksy creation in situ.

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So, last Sunday I made my way to Payers Park in Folkestone to view Banksy’s “Art Buff”. The photo shows me beside the artwork, which less than 24 hours later would have an unwarranted addition to its empty plinth:

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Banksy aside, there are a number of urban artists producing some fantastic pieces, but who do not receive the media hype of the elusive artist. One such artist is Terry Sue-Patt (TSP Hoodie). If the name sounds familiar, you were probably a Grange Hill fan when the programme first launched. Terry played the part of Benny Green, 58680_10201586065125056_37009664_nthe sidekick of Peter “Tucker” Jenkins, and the first Grange Hill pupil to ever appear on our TV screens. Some of Terry’s work is inspired by, and features, his Grange Hill character. Exhibiting alongside the talents of artists such as Norwich-based David “Gnasher” Nash, and Lisa Richer (LisArt) in Brick Lane’s “Monty’s Bar”, Terry’s work is both accessible and affordable. Last year, I bought one of Terry’s “Benny Green” pieces, during his Grange Hill Exhibition at the bar, and it has hung proudly in my hallway ever since. I never tire of looking at it – surely a sign of enduring art.

I love to discuss Art almost as much as viewing and having a go at creating it, and was in my element when I happened to encounter an Art lecturer, whilst working in a book shop. What began as a discussion about a local Eric Gill sculpture, ended almost as a confessional of our own artistic shortcomings. He admitted that he hates people looking over his shoulder at what he is sketching, when he works outdoors. I revealed that for about the last ten years, I have not finished any of the paintings I have started. Some may only have an square inch piece missing, but they rePunkmain unfinished. The lecturer’s theory was that in not finishing my paintings, I was preventing them from being judged. When a painting is finished, the artist is saying they are happy with the piece (or at least happy for it to be viewed), and therefore open to criticism. In keeping my work incomplete, it stopped it being criticized. Heavy stuff, but it made sense.

In an attempt to get me past this fear of criticism, and to actually finish a painting for once, I thought I would publish some of my teenage artwork, which I did during the 80s. The punk was a school project, with the right half being cut from a magazine, and the left half painted by me when I was about 14.  I painted the (lopsided) Marlon Brando shortly afterwards, during some time off school, when I had happened to watch “On The Waterfront”.

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I had injured my arm, and had to have it in a sling, which meant I painted Marlon right-handed (I’m a leftie). That’s my excuse why he’s wonky anyway, and I’m sticking to it!

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I hope that anyone who owned a copy of Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s “Welcome To The Pleasuredome”  album will recognise my efforts on the right. Again, this would have been drawn during my mid-teens. It was one of the many, many music based pictures I drew or painted, and now it, and my other work, is out there for the world to see…Don’t judge me too harshly!