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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Flash Back To The 80s

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As I work to meet a writing deadline, I have been a bit quiet on my blog recently. However, I had to take five minutes out to post about Grandmaster Flash’s DJ set on Saturday night, at Dreamland, Margate.IMG_20160820_193552995.jpg

We arrived about 15 minutes before the hip-hop pioneer was due on stage, and quickly made our to the middle of the gathering crowd, to shield us from the cold wind blowing in from the East Kent coast. People standing ahead of us began to drift away for one reason or another, and by the time the DJ stepped onto the stage, I found myself stood at the front, just feet away from where he would work his magic.

During the summer of 1984, my first summer as a teenager, I had spent countless hours at Dreamland. I can vividly remember one sunny afternoon, flying through the air on the Umbrellas as “White Lines” bIMG_20160820_195548105y Grandmaster Flash and Melle Mel blasted out of the operator’s kiosk. To be back there, standing feet away from the American Rapper as he played and sang along to the track was pretty special. It was only surpassed by his special farewell to me. As he stepped off the podium to exit the stage, I caught Flash’s eye and held out my arms in a congratulatory gesture. He strode towards me and grabbed both my hands, as I told him how fantastic his set had been. I was definitely in the ‘fan zone’ by this point, and unaware of the 7,000 strong crowd behind me surging forward to get close to the Master, until I almost face-planted on the stage, under the force!

Luckily,  I survived unscathed and can share this with you. Enjoy…

Memory Chips

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One of the things I looked forward to at primary school was when the latest Chip Book Club magazine was given out. I loved browsing through the pages, seeing the latest titles on offer, then eagerly awaiting the arrival of my book of choice. Although the Puffin book club brought me delights such as Meg’s Eggs, Fantastic Mr. Fox, The Owl Who Was Afraid of The Dark, and Mrs Pepperpot’s Outing, it was the offerings from Chip which I preferred. None more so than the Chip Club Diary.

A few weeks ago, I found my diaries from 1980 and 1981. Although I hadn’t written much in them on a daily basis, I had completed the information pages in the front of the books, which I thought I’d share with you. Remember, I was only 9 years old in 1980!

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As much as I would like to believe that I’ve evolved since I was in single figures, gypsy tart is still one of my favourite foods, I still support Liverpool (although I’m no longer confused by having blue and white as my favourite colours), and my favourite animal is still a cat. I’d probably still have a chuckle at The Benny Hill Show too if I’m honest!

My tastes had not really changed much the following year, although Elvis had replaced John Travolta as my favourite film star. I think that may have been due to his films being played throughout the summer holidays. Also, Mum is a huge fan of The King so my sub-conscience was probably being influenced by overexposure to his music.

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One of the entries I find interesting is my favourite film. Cactus Jack was a short film starring Kirk Douglas as a cowboy. In the days when going to the pictures involved seeing such a film before the main screening, I had watched it on a family trip to the cinema. I can’t remember what main film we had gone to see, but this spoof Western remains firmly ingrained in my memory.

The 1981 Chip Club Diary contained an additional section I had completed. Now, although my shoe size hasn’t changed since I was 10 years old, I think I may have a modicum of modesty more than I did at that age (see Special Features and Good Points/Bad Points).

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I think my artistic talents may have developed a tad more too!

 

This Is Ska

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Last year, I managed to persuade Arthur Kitchener to come out of his Ska retirement and perform with Kent-based band Skatacus, as part of the House of Ska event I had organised. It was a highlight of my gigging year, as I watched the Balham boy sing “Limehouse Lady”, a track he first recorded as Arthur Kay & The Originals.

I’m pleased to say that since then the “unsung hero of Ska” has been busy recording in Germany, and with a number of live performances, including the London Ska Festival in March. He has also recently announced a ‘Mark The Mods Ska & Soul Night’ on 2nd September. With live music from Arthur Kay & The Originals and Toot ‘N’ Skamen, the event also features a Northern Soul DJ set, as well as a few other treats which I’m not at liberty to divulge (yet!).

All proceeds will be donated to Pilgrims Hospices, and with tickets at just £10.00 it looks set to sell out quickly. Tickets are available online or from the local outlets shown below.

I look forward to seeing you there…

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Why Adam Will Always Be My First Man

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One of my treasured discoveries from Operation Declutter has been this Adam Ant exercise book. It was part of an Adam Ant stationery set I bought in 1981, which also included a notebook, ruler, pencil sharpener and rubber. I’m proud to say I still have all of these, as well as a matching Adam Ant scrapbook.IMG_20160424_161706042

The scrapbook makes an appearance in the Sky Arts programme I filmed back in February, due to be aired in September, and holds a wealth of clippings from the early Eighties. However, apart from being defaced by my scrawl on the front (done to confirm my ownership) the above book is pristine, as is the notebook.  The rubber is still in its cellophane wrapping, such was my obsession with all things Adam.

Then, there was the music. The first single I ever bought was ‘Stand & Deliver’. I can still remember the excitement of being 10 years old, and going to Woolworths on a Saturday morning to buy it. It was to be the first of many, and thanks to an older boy at primary school, who knew all there was to know about the Dandy Highwayman, I found myself seeking out his back catalogue, and discovering Mr. Goddard’s earlier offerings. I was hooked.

Little wonder then that Saturday night, when I saw Adam & The Ants perform at the Brighton Centre, will remain a life highlight for me. Met with rapturous applause as he came on stage, and launching straight into ‘Dog Eat Dog’, Adam performed the ‘Kings of The Wild Frontier’ album in its glorious entirety. Thirty five years faded away as the Burundi Beat blasted through me, and I lost myself in the music and the performance of an often underrated pioneer.

Lasting almost two hours, the set included both of the band’s Number 1 singles as well as Adam’s solo chart topper ‘Goody Two Shoes’. Other solo offerings to make the show were ‘Desperate Not Serious’ and ‘Vive Le Rock’, but unfortunately not ‘Friend or Foe’, a favourite of mine. However, my forgiveness was swiftly forthcoming as the omission made room for early tracks such as ‘Zerox’, ‘Never Trust A Man (With Egg on His Face)’ and ‘Cartrouble’ to be IMG_20160528_210823811played. As the singer told us the latter was written with his childhood trips to Kent in mind, I found myself letting out a loud cheer, the idea of him visiting my county being far too much!

All too soon (although my knees would beg to differ, having taken a non-stop pounding throughout the gig), it was time to go. With just a handful of photos on my mobile – I was too busy enjoying the gig to snap away – but a mind full of memories, I made my way out of the venue, with a huge smile on my face and the knowledge that Adam Ant (still) rocks!

 

 

Treasures & Trash

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The last couple of months have seen me undertake a much needed major declutter. Having trawled through over forty years of paraphernalia and memories, I am left with an empty loft, a garage that can now accommodate my car, and a house that, unburdened from the weight of unnecessary possessions, must have risen at least six inches from the ground. The process has been cathartic, emotional and intriguing, as I uncovered long forgotten keepsakes and boxes unopened017 for over two decades.

From ticket stubs, programmes and letters to old diaries, drawings and school books, there is a well-documented record of every aspect of my life; the result of inheriting the hoarding gene from my dad. Whilst documentation forms a large part of this squirrelling behaviour, such tendencies are not limited to paperwork, as proven by these embroidered coasters I made in primary school. Set in rural Kent, and with enrolment never exceeding 70 pupils, the school boasted a broad education, including ‘handwork’ lessons on a Friday afternoon. When the weather permitted, we took these lessons outside, and I can clearly remember sewing these whilst sat under a tree, on a warm, sunny day. Idyllic.

While I have uncovered plenty of reminders of wonderful memories, there have been some tinged with sadness, such as birthday cards from those no longer with us. Then, there were items that made me question why I had kept them for so long. Some, like the theatre programmes for shows of which I have no recollection, had followed me through four house moves, yet meant nothing to me at all. Others were just downright weird, such as the plaster cast from when I broke my wrist in 1990. Needless to say, anything falling into these two categories went straight into the bin.

Those mementoes that have survived the cull (and believe me, I was ruthless) are now neatly packed away in three medium-sized boxes, which, for me, is nothing short of a miracle. However, one of the advantages of having stockpiled a lifetime is finding hidden gems amongst the detritus, some of which I will be sharing here over the next few weeks. I hope you’ll share some of your treasures from the past too.

 

A Passing Memory?

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I heard the news that fateful afternoon.

Momentarily,

My world came to a halt.

Those with no one to love, to hold, to lose,

Looked only for who was at fault.

The scenes of horror soaked my fearful mind.

None of the tears I cried that day

Could wring out what I saw.

Terror, death and terror

Will remain forever more.

Fears increased.

The need to know.

My call connected. But what to say?

“Had he been there? Please say ‘No’.

Only I’m sure I saw him in the crowd.

No? Oh, Thank God!”

A tide of warmth envelopes me.

Nothing more is heard.

Replacing the receiver, I laugh then cry.

How absurd!

Overwhelmed by ecstatic relief,

I return to watch the reports.

Realisation that many aren’t to be so lucky,

And my happiness retorts.

Kept alive by the slightest chance,

(He couldn’t afford the ticket)

My friend remains in body and soul,

While others just in spirit.

What of those others and those they leave behind?

Beautiful children, budding adults, young and old,

But all were of one mind:

To give support to their team, the reds.

How were they to know

That day they’d meet their deaths?

But how soon will you forget their loss?

Leaving the mourning to those who care,

To those the dead saw as ‘their own’.

Leaving them to show those innocents

                       “You’ll never walk alone.”

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I wrote the above poem in April 1989, a few days after the tragedy at Hillsborough. An LFC fan since I was six, thanks to my Nan, I had watched in horror as events unfolded on TV that afternoon. This soon turned to blind panic, when I became convinced I’d seen my friend John in the crush. He lived in Warrington, and regularly  attended Liverpool’s matches. Thankfully, I eventually discovered he hadn’t been able to afford to go to that Saturday’s game.

I stumbled upon my poem, now somewhat battered with age, during a declutter the day after the BBC’s documentary on Hillsborough aired. It made reading something I hadn’t seen for over 25 years all the more poignant. As always, thoughts are with those we lost on  15th April 1989, their families, friends and loved ones.

You’ll Never Walk Alone.

 

The True Tone of Two-Tone

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At the end of April, I went to see The Selecter’s Pauline Black and Arthur ‘Gaps’ Hendrickson perform with Jools Holland’s Rhythm & Blues Orchestra, at Margate’s Winter Gardens. Having previously seen The Selecter play live to their Ska and Two-Tone fan base, I was eager to see how this collaboration would work, playing to a diverse audience in a seated venue.

Opening their set with The Ethiopians’ ‘Train To Skaville’, the duo left us in no doubt in which direction we were heading. As Ms Black told us to “mind the Gaps”, he, in his inimitable style, wanted us to “wind up your waist”; it became impossible to sit still. Looking around me at the rest of the audience, who remained firmly in their seats, I pondered the etiquette of climbing over my neighbours, so I might dance in the aisle. Having to content myself with a bit of chair dancing as the pair launched into ‘Secret Love’, a track which beautifully showcases Pauline’s vocal talents, against Hendrickson’s top-tapping toasting, I could hold back no longer. I was up and at ’em!

By the time they performed The Selecter favourites ‘Too Much Pressure’ and ‘On My Radio’, even the unlikeliest of characters were up and moving, if not quite skanking. All testament to the energy and frisson coming from onstage Two-Tone team. It was almost unbelievable that these were the same people I had been talking to a couple of hours before the gig.

Pauline had agreed to be interviewed for my next book ‘More Eighties’. I must confess, I was more than a little nervous as I arrived at her hotel. Not only do I consider the Queen of Ska to be a musical great, but as one of the few strong female role models of the Eighties, I had afforded her semi-iconic status since I was in single figures. I needn’t have worried. Walking across the hotel foyer, looking as impeccably stylish as ever, Pauline greets me with a warmth that immediately puts me at ease.

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As we begin the interview, we’re joined by Gaps, someone whose dynamic, high-octane stage persona bears little resemblance to the softly spoken, laid back man who tells me he still considers it an “honour” to be in his position, performing and writing songs.

Pauline is poised and eloquent as she explains how their song writing has evolved over time, with the pair now having the freedom to encompass a broader range of musical influences. What hasn’t changed is their commitment to quality. Determined not to fall on the retro/revival bandwagon, The Selecter continue to produce and perform new material which, whilst maintaining the band’s distinctive sound, delivers a fresh, contemporary take on Two-Tone. Listen to last year’s ‘Subculture’ album, and you’ll know exactly what I mean.

We covered a host of topics during our conversation, from perilous tours to Beyoncé’s ‘Lemonade’, multiculturalism to that Michael Putland photograph, all of which will feature in ‘More Eighties’, to be published next year.  Every question I posed was given a full, considered answer, offering an insight into The Selecter’s music and history, but also glimpsing the real people behind the band. By the end of the interview, I was left with a real appreciation of two people, whose natural creativity and musicianship can be sometimes lost amongst the performance elements of the band, and its Two-Tone image. I was also left with a little bit of a crush on the unassuming, off-stage Mr. Hendrickson!

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Pauline Black and Gaps Hendrickson are touring throughout the UK with Jools Holland’s Rhythm & Blues Orchestra until the end of the year. Click here for tickets.

Living In Dreamtime

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Growing up in East Kent during the 80s meant many a summer’s day spent at Margate’s Dreamland, or Bembom Brothers Amusement Park,11811464_10153477073223608_6241874286880118514_n (2) as it was known for the latter half of the decade. Catching the train from Faversham, and picking up friends in Whitstable and Herne Bay en route, we would arrive as the park gates opened at 10am, and stay until the sun went down and the fairground lights illuminated our screams and laughter.

A lot of the IMG_20160405_125242815.jpgrides from those halcyon days, such as the Looping Star, Mary Rose, Cyclone and the Water Chute, have long since departed the coastal town. However, firm favourites like the Scenic Railway, Big Wheel and Enterprise continue to stand proudly and operate in the park, since the its re-launch last year. You can imagine how excited I was when Dreamland agreed not only to let me undertake an 80’s photoshoot there, but allowed us to go on the rides too! So, as our photographer set to work with models Sophie and Robyn, I couldn’t resist giving the Scenic Railway a ‘test ride’, along with Deborah Ellis of Madam Popoff Vintage Emporium, our wardrobe stylist.

The shoot was 11807167_10206595824245903_8718379037010513288_ofor a photo story which will appear in a publication I have coming out later this year, and I marvelled as I watched my the story I had written come to life. Yes, the storyline may have been cheesy, but seeing as we had travelled back to 1984 for the day, it was apt.

When writing the story, I had integrated the rides and park features to the extent that removing them would have involved completely re-writing the plot. I had also worked on the assumption that everyone loved fairground rides as much as I do. Oops!

Fortunately, both photographer and model overcame their fear of going on the Big Wheel, in order for the storyline to progress as planned. Similarly, Mason, one of ouIMG_20160405_134155363.jpgr male models managed to stay upright in his roller boats long enough for us to get the shots we needed, without being knocked over by the speeding kids in the roller rink. I never entertained the possibility of a non-skater, when I wrote the story!

So, a few lessons learned and some top class work from everyone involved, and we ended up with the perfect shots, not to mention having a lot a fun in the process. I can’t wait to see the final published result.

Huge thanks to Dreamland for letting us have free reign in an iconic landmark, which holds a special place in my heart.  A big thank you too to models Sophie, Robyn, Oli and Mason, photographer Alan Langley and his assistant, Olivia, make-up and hair stylists Nina Gregory and Hayley Edwards, and to Madam Popoff herself, Deborah Ellis.

I look forward to joining Deborah at her Retro Party on 30th April, where I will be signing copies of ‘Your Eighties’ from 3pm to 5pm, alongside Punk Poet Garry Johnson and Bob Bradbury, lead singer of Hello. I hope to see some of you there.

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Girls (and boys) On Film

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The last 7 days have been filled with carrying out and transcribing interviews for the next book. I have had the pleasure of chatting to Modern Romance’s Andy Kyriacou, Punk poet and former Stone Roses’ manager Garry Johnson, and producer Kevin Porée, who recently worked with Gary Barlow on Paul Young’s contribution to the Fly album, ‘People Like You’. With some more great interviews lined up this weekend, I  almost forgot to mention another project with which I am involved.

Madam Popoff Vintage in Margate and I are collaborating on an 80’s photoshoot in the seaside town next month. If you, or someone you know, are aged between 16 and 25, and would like to take part in the shoot on 5th April, then send us a photo via social media or email: admin@my-eighties.co.uk, and we’ll be in touch. Thanks!

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