Down To Margate

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As a teenager, I loved going to Margate. Half an hour’s train ride from my home town of Faversham, the summer holidays would see me at the seaside town as often as I could. Long, sunny days spent at Dreamland (or Bembom Brothers, as it became during the 80s), an ice cream on the sandy beach, and buying cheap sunglasses and t-shirts from the souvenir shops in Arlington Square are forever etched in my memory.

Margate may have changed in the last three decades, but with the renovation and re-opening of Dreamland last year, some fantastic artwork on display at the Turner Contemporary (Grayson Perry’s ‘Provincial Punk’ exhibition last summer was incredible), and an ever-expanding Vintage Quarter to peruse, that change is for the better.

I have been invited to attend a Retro Event at one of the vintage stores thriving in this area of Margate, and will be signing copies of ‘Your Eighties’ from 2-4pm at Madam Popoff, on Saturday 30th April.

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However, I plan to be there most of the day to meet the celebrity guests who will making appearances throughout the day. I am also looking forward to meeting up with my fellow New Haven Publishing author, Garry Johnson, who will be signing copies of his book ‘Punk Rock Stories and Tabloid Tales’, and with Bob Bradbury from Glam Rock band Hello, who will be signing copies of his first solo CD album ‘Mad Affair’. Full guest list and timings will be announced nearer to the event, but it plans to be a fabulous afternoon for anyone with an interest in all things retro and vintage, with clothes and accessories from the 1940s onwards available for purchase.

Entry is free, so come along and join in the fun – I look forward to seeing you there!

January Birthday Blues

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This coming Saturday, I will be out with friends celebrating my birthday. As anyone with a January birthday will tell you, it’s not the best time of the year to have been born. The combination of over-indulgence  and over-spending during the festive period, along with the grey gloom  a lot of people associate with January, can make prising friends away from the snug comfort of their sofas an uphill struggle. Then, there is always the possibility of snow to consider.

The first time I can remember the weather having any bearing on my birthday was in 1982, when I turned 11. At the time, we lived in remote countryside where we were at the mercy of snow ploughs, to keep us from being cut off from the rest of the world. Having been ‘snowed in’ for several days before my birthday, there was uncertainty as to whether my birthday party would take place. However, unlike today’s kids who have no obligation to attend school at the first dusting of the white stuff, mine is generation who sat in freezing cold classrooms, wearing layer upon layer of clothing under their parka snorkel coats. It is therefore unsurprising that, despite the snow plough having created 7ft high walls of snow either side of the country lane leading to our house, and the roads being precariously icy, the party went ahead with its full guest list in attendance.

We were living in the Kentish market town of Faversham when the winter weather did threaten to spoil my birthday, in 1987. At the time, my dad worked about 25 miles away in Sheerness on the Isle of Sheppey, which was joined to the mainland by a vertical-lift bridge.Although there was snow on the ground, and it had been snowing when he left for work at 6am, Dad had driven to work as usual. An hour later, I got up and listened to the radio to see if my school was open. It wasn’t. Although I was disappointed at not seeing my friends on my birthday (and receiving my cards and presents!), I had a great time sledging in the nearby park with my mum and brother. However, by mid-afternoon it had begun to snow heavily, so we headed home.

Back indoors, we watched the snow come down hard and fast, but I was still surprised when Dad ‘phoned to say it was unlikely he would make it home that night. All the vehicles in the car park of the steel mill where he worked were buried in deep snow, and there was no public transport running off the island.

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I was upset at not seeing my dad on my birthday, and spent the rest of the evening fairly subdued. That was until some idiot threw a snowball at our living room window just before the Ten O’Clock News started. I ran to the front door, ready to vent my growing frustration on whoever had just thrown the icy missile, and then got the best surprise when I opened the door – Dad waiting to come in!

Settling down with a cup of tea and a slice of birthday cake, Dad explained how he had decided to set off on foot, hoping that he would be able to find transport home once he was back on the mainland. Having walked three miles in deep snow, he heard an off-road vehicle behind him as he approached the island town of Queenborough. The driver stopped and gave Dad a lift home which, seeing as they passed no other vehicles travelling in Sheppey, was something of a miracle. At least that’s how his company magazine reported it later that month, when they told how one of their employees had managed to “arrive home in time for his little girl’s birthday” despite the treacherous weather conditions. They must have thought I was 6, not 16.

As the years have gone by, the weather has tended to be kinder on my big day and, when it hasn’t, sheer determination to celebrate my birthday has seen me doing so no matter what. Although one year that did see me in an almost empty nightclub partying with a handful of like-minded people, foolish enough to brave the blizzards in pursuit of a few hours on the dancefloor. Nowadays, I’m not quite so foolhardy, and can be almost reticent when it comes to planning my birthday celebrations, lest bad weather stops play. However, with no Arctic weather forecast for this weekend, I am hopeful that this year’s birthday celebrations will go ahead unhindered. If, by some twist if fate, we are hit by a freak snowstorm I shall have to resort to Plan B – an evening in with a bottle of pink Möet, singing along to a certain Dave Stewart and Barbara Gaskin number!

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To celebrate my birthday weekend, my first book ‘My Eighties’ will be available on Kindle for FREE 15th – 17th January.

I Just Can’t Wait ‘Til Saturday

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With only a couple of days to go until ‘Your Eighties’ is published, and everything organised for the launch party, the excitement has started to kick in. As much as I’m looking forward to my book being unleashed on the public, I can’t wait to see my party guests. Friends old and new are making their way to east Kent, to join me in the celebrations.

Travelling down from the north west are my Scouse friends, who I first met in 1986. Anyone remember the penpal section in Smash Hits magazine? Well, my details appeared in an issue of the magazine earlier that year. I was inundated with replies from all over the world, and ended up with penpals in a number of countries, including Japan, Nigeria, Pakistan, Italy and France. However, My Favourite Waste of Time (we had been corresponding for a couple of months when the Owen Paul track was released) was a lad from Warrington, called John. We would usually reply the same  day we received a letter, so by the time we finally got to meet, just after Christmas ’86, we were old friends.

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L-R: John, Me and Wayne

John arrived with three of his mates, Wayne, Terry and Tommy in a Nissan Sunny driven by Wayne, the only one of the four old enough to drive. It was the first of many meetings which would see us together during the Eighties. Along with their visits to Kent were my visits north, the first of which was with my friend Kate, and involved us travelling on a National Express coach, and Wayne huffing and stamping his feet when we finally arrived over an hour late! These were the days before mobile ‘phones, and we had no way of letting him know we were held up in traffic. By the time 1989 arrived, I was the proud owner of an Austin Allegro, and we drove to see our northern friends. After a fantastic time, which saw us on the ferry ‘cross the Mersey, being given the lads’ guided tour of Toxteth (!), and hanging out with Kirsty from Brookside at a house party, we made the drive home. Thanks to mechanical problems with my prized piece of British engineering, it was an arduous 9 hour journey on a scorching hot summer’s day. That didn’t put us off returning though.

During other visits, we went to Blackpool Pleasure Beach, the Brookside set (although unlike ‘normal’ sightseers, we accessed it by climbing through the adjoining woods!), and West Kirby beach to do handbrake turns in Terry’s black Manta! Although we have stayed in touch, I haven’t seen Wayne since 1996, and John and Terry a few years before that. So, the fact that the three of them are coming to the launch party, along with all my other fabulous guests, puts a huge smile on my face. Roll on Saturday!

Ready To Launch

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With just over a week to go until ‘Your Eighties’ launch party, my life is currently a surreal mix of stress and excitement, with only the finest of lines between the two. Whilst any angst has manifested itself in the unlikeliest situations – yes, it really did matter that I had neon balloons to decorate the venue – my moments of elation have been somewhat more predictable.

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The arrival of the copies for the party put a huge smile on my face, and knowing a copy of ‘Your Eighties’ was making its way to the archives of the British Library left me grinning from ear to ear. The evening’s entertainment: live music courtesy of Skatacus, and Erkan Mustafa (Grange Hill’s Roland Browning) DJing an 80’s disco, plus guests making their way to Kent from all over the UK, are further reasons for me eagerly anticipating what promises to be a fantastic evening.

For a chance join in the fun and win a pair of tickets to my book launch party on 28th November, tell me about the best party you went to during the Eighties, in the comments box below.

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‘Your Eighties’ is available now for pre-order in paperback or on Kindle. Published by Fabrian Books: 28th November.

That Friday Feeling

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Some days stay etched in your memory for all the right reasons. Yesterday was one of those days for me. What started off as an ordinary day turned out to be one of life’s highlights, when I discovered that ‘My Eighties’ had gone to Number 1 in both its category listings on Amazon 061115 BiogAmazon.

Having announced my good news on social media, the amazing responses I received from well-wishers, have been truly overwhelming – thank you.

My unexpected chart-topping coincided with a further announcement later that day. I had been asked by the Canterbury Times to write a weekly 80s-themed column. Yesterday afternoon saw my first piece go live online, which you can read here. Talk about having that Friday Feeling!

Today, I feel a bit like a child on Christmas evening, as I eagerly await tomorrow’s cover reveal for ‘Your Eighties’. Only one more sleep…

All Will Be Revealed…

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The past two weeks have been busy for me. As the publication date of ‘Your Eighties’ draws ever closer, I have found myself juggling a number of tasks with non-negotiable deadlines. Yesterday, all that time spent tweaking text, stressing over outcomes, and generally having a nervous breakdown every other day were blown into oblivion when I received my proof copy. Like the pain of childbirth disappearing as soon as a mother holds her baby, the hours I spent locked away from the outside world, in a blur of words, swearing under my breath (and more often out loud), faded to a distant memory as I held the fruits of my labour in my hands.

This Sunday (8th November), you will be able to see one of the reasons why I was so excited, when the book’s cover is revealed. ‘Your Eighties‘ will also be available for pre-order from Sunday, prior to its publication on Saturday 28th November. I eagerly await publication day as it is also when my book launch party will be held. With live music from Kent-based Ska band Skatacus, and an 80’s disco with none other than Erkan Mustafa (Grange Hill’s Roland Browning) on the decks, it promises to be a fantastic evening. It will also give me the chance to meet Natalie Owen, the talented designer of the book’s cover, and to catch up with neglected friends and family, who have commented on more than one occasion that they “need an appointment just to speak” to me!

One enjoyable aspect of my hectic schedule this week has been my interview with the Write Romantics. Last year, I contributed a short story to their anthology of Winter Fiction, published to raise funds for The Cystic Fibrosis Trust and Teenage Cancer Trust. This week, the Write Romantics invited me to talk about ‘Your Eighties’, and they are due to publish the interview on their blog this Saturday (7th November). They have the ability to tease out previously unrevealed disclosures from me, so I will be reading it with some trepidation! Let me know your thoughts…

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P.S. The Kindle version of ‘My Eighties’ is currently FREE on Amazon until ‘Your Eighties’ cover reveal on Sunday.

The Other Side Of The Story

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As a young girl, on shopping trips with my mum, I was intrigued by the number of times she would stop to have conversations with people, as we made our way through town. Some I would recognise as old friends, but often there would be unfamiliar faces. After they had left, I would ask Mum who the person was. Invariably, her answer would be “I’ve no idea. I’ve never met them before. I’ve just got one of those faces that makes people want to talk to me, and tell me their life story!”

Bearing a strong resemblance to my mother, it is no surprise that I have since found myself in similar situations. Whether I am stood alone or part of a crowd, I will often find myself drawn into conversations with random strangers. During my teens and young adulthood, it was not something I was particularly comfortable with, but as I have got older, it is something I positively embrace. Being privy to others’ histories, and having an insight into their lives is not only interesting on a personal level but, as a writer, offers invaluable understanding.

Besides listening to what is actually being said, I have learnt to read between the lines, getting a fuller picture of what someone is trying to relay to me. It is something I endeavour to practice whenever I am interviewing. Coupled with recording the interviews (essential when quoting verbatim), I attempt to convey exactly what my subject wanted to communicate. So, I’ve sometimes struggled to understand why interviewees might feel a bit tentative when speaking to me. An article in this week’s Woman’s Own magazine, featuring me representing the Eighties, has enlightened me.

The article was written by a journalist from the magazine, following two half hour telephone interviews with me, and a number of subsequent emails, during which I explained why I am so passionate about the Eighties; the music, the fashion, the politics, and how it was a decade of global change. Now, I realise it is only possible to include a fraction of what I said in an article of this size, and it is a lovely piece, which conveys the fun I had growing up in the decade. However, it is different from what I expected to be written, given the depth of our discussions.

The experience of being the interviewee rather than the interviewer (no need to ask which I prefer) has given me a little taste of what some of those on the receiving end of my questions may be feeling. The concern that what you are saying may be misinterpreted, or the parts of the conversation you consider most important will be overlooked, in favour of some throwaway comment made during the discussion. I hope my trip to the other side of the story will make me more empathetic to any reticence my interviewees might display. One thing I can guarantee with undoubted certainty, there will no shortage of little old ladies in the post office queue, waiting to take full advantage of my newly found empathy!

Saturday’s House of Ska

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It’s been a while since my last post, as a hectic schedule left me little time to think, let alone write. Last Saturday saw the culmination of ten months of planning, organising and generally hounding people, when Skatacus and Complete Madness took to the stage for The House of Ska.

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Arthur Kay came out of his Ska retirement, to join Skatacus on stage for a fantastic performance of “Limehouse Lady”, followed by a number of other tracks, including “007 – Shanty Town” and “Woolly Bully”.

The  evening was set against the beautiful and quirky backdrop of ecclesiastical architecture, courtesy of St. Mary’s church in Ashford, Kent, giving an incredible atmosphere to the event. Those who came to the gig will be pleased to hear that we’re planning on doing it all again next year. For those who didn’t make it, here’s a taste of what you missed…

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!

Welcome To The House Of Ska…

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Nearly a year ago, I wrote about my newly-found regard for tribute acts, inspired by a Complete Madness gig. Since then, I have seen the Yorkshire-based Madness tribute band play a few times, and with each performance has come an elevated appreciation of their talents. Having seen a number of other tribute acts during the past year, including an unlikely looking One Direction (more like Wrong Direction!), and an Olly Murs who reappeared later in the show as Bruno Mars, I still believe that Complete Madness are one of the highest calibre tribute acts you will encounter.

Comprising of founding members Mark Keegan (lead vocals) and Derek Wood (guitar), alongside Dave Potter (keyboards), Jeff Thompson (drums), and relative new boy, Tom Regan (saxophone), one of thOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAe main reasons they achieve such a high standard is that the band emulate rather than imitate, ensuring that each show is indeed a tribute to the original Nutty Boys. Where it is not uncommon for some tribute artists to sing along to a digitally-enhanced backing track, usually whilst performing a dodgy dance routine, Complete Madness are musicians who play live. As for dodgy dance routines? The only dodgy thing you’ll find when they are on stage is Derek’s knee!

With this in mind, you can imagine my excitement when they agreed to perform at my House of Ska evening (see below for details) on 9th May, in Ashford, Kent. Maintaining the high quality of music throughout the evening, Complete Madness will be supported by my favourite local band, Skatacus. Based in Kent, they are a seven piece band which plays a broad mix of covers, from traditional Ska numbers through to popular Two-Tone classics. They also perform their own original material, such as “Ska Wars” and “Let’s Skank”, written by guitarist, Neil Hughes. Led by Mark Chappell (drums/vocals), the band also features Paul Friend (keyboards), Justin Homewood (bass), and a powerful brass section, in the form of Delia Hazrati (saxophone), Jon Hone (trumpet) and Alex Oliver (trombone). If that’s not enough to make you want to channel your inner rude boy or girl, there is also a strong possibility that a special guest or two may make an appearance!

Located in the centre of Ashford, Revelation St. Mary’s is an10003927_755288591157691_454993643_n functioning church, which has also operated as a music and arts venue since 2011. Playing host to a wide variety of artists, from The Orb (pictured) to Courtney Pine, Toploader to The Lightning Seeds, Revelation St. Mary’s offers not only a unique quirkiness but, with nearby parking (free after 6pm), and Ashford International Station a short walk away, it is ideally situated too.

Tickets are on sale now, available online or from the outlets shown below. We look forward to seeing you there!

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