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.