Ready To Jack Up The 80s

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It is that time of year when I start to get overly excited as I pack my suitcase, ready to head off Solent bound. Yes, I am happy to say that Jack Up The 80s is now only days away.

This year’s line up includes Nik Kershaw, Jason Donovan, Alexander O’Neal, The Fizz (Formerly Bucks Fizz) and JUT80s favourites, From The Jam, who gave an incredible performance last year. I can’t wait!

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As well as some great acts, the festival will also have an array of fantastic stalls, offering everything from food and fun to memorabilia and music.

For lovers of vinyl (the best way to listen to music) The Vinyl Countdown is a stall not to be missed. Not only will there be plenty of plastic for festival goers to choose from on the stall, but there will also be the opportunity to purchase my books at the stall, as the lovely Adam has agreed to sell them for me while I’m busy photographing and interviewing artists. badgesWe all like a freebie, so there will also be free 1″ badges, featuring designs from my book covers, for everyone buying a book or vinyl from The Vinyl Countdown. Well, until we run out of badges that is, so be quick!

I look forward to seeing all my fellow fans of the Eighties next weekend – come and say hello when you see me.

 

The Age of Apathy?

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Growing up in the Eighties may have meant listening to some of the best music ever, often whilst wearing some of the worst fashion ever, but it also meant having an awareness of and an opinion on what was happening in the world. It wasn’t only what we saw on John Craven’s Newsround or, as we got older, the “real” news. Sometimes, events reached our consciousness without us even realising, via the music we were listening to. Whilst the lyrics of Special AKA’s “Free Nelson Mandela” and Billy Bragg’s protest song “Between The Wars” made the subject matter of the songs very clear, how long did it take us to realise that Ultravox’s “Dancing With Tears In My Eyes” and Nik Kershaw’s “I Won’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me” were about nuclear war?

Regardless of how we knew, the fact is that we tended to have a fair understanding of the issues of the time and, dare I say it, actually cared about them. Whether it was war or strikes, apartheid or famine, local issues or international affairs, we knew enough to know whether something was right or wrong, and when it was wrong, we wanted to change it. So what’s happened to that generation of kids who didn’t only think they could change the world, but who went ahead and brought about some of the biggest changes in living history?

I was saddened, but not really surprised, by the lack of response to a Facebook status I posted recently. Linking to a report about the fact that, on average, one Nepalese worker dies every other day, whilst working in Doha on World Cup-related construction, I had commented about the indignity with which the bodies of these men were then returned to their families. The news report had shown family members wheeling the coffins of their relatives out of the airport, across two baggage trolleys, as the authorities had made no other arrangements. Shocked that these men were being treated no better than excess luggage, I had asked “where is the dignity and humanity?”. With only three acknowledgments to that post, I wonder more so now.

We live in a world where information and news are more easily accessible than they have ever been, so ignorance cannot be the reason for lack of interest. Neither can it be that it’s too difficult to make yourself heard. Gone are the days wPoll Taxhen the only way of having a voice was mass protest, or raising a petition by physically traipsing around gathering signatures, both of which I had done by the age of 14. At the end of 1984, I had organised and submitted to Downing Street a thousand signature petition against VAT being charged on the original Band Aid single, and the following year taken part in a protest march against the Channel Tunnel being built. Being part of a like-minded crowd, shouting “Maggie, Maggie, Maggie – Out! Out! Out!”, as the Prime Minister arrived just feet away not only gave this teenager a sense of belonging, but a sense of purpose too.

As it turned out, neither petition nor protest was successful, if judged on their outcomes, but both helped to strengthen my beliefs that you should never be afraid to stand up and be counted, and that there is indeed strength in numbers. I don’t think I am alone in those beliefs today, just that somewhere along the way priorities seem to have become skewed. When Jeremy Clarkson lost his job at the BBC earlier this year, over a million people signed an online petition calling for him to be reinstated. Around the same time, only half that number of signatures were gathered for a petition to “save the NHS”. Similarly, little more than a week before my post was met with underwhelming apathy, my Facebook newsfeed had been awash with comments and opinions on Sepp Blatter and FIFA corruption. So, it’s not that people don’t care, just that focus needs adjusting.

What’s the answer? I honestly don’t know. I’m not suggesting we take to the streets in mass demonstration every single time we feel strongly about an issue – that part of me departed around the time that Ben Elton stopped referring to “Mrs Thatch”. But surely we can find time in our busy lives to consider what is happening behind the headlines and scandalmongering, and act on what really matters to us? I understand that this happened on social media, which often equates to videos of fluffy kittens and ridiculous selfies (both of which I confess I’m guilty of posting), but surely social media should also be a reflection of our wider social lives? This is no different to discussing current affairs down the pub, or a friendly debate on the latest hot topic, is it? Although, if our current affairs are what is happening between the cast of TOWIE, and the latest hot topic is who’s between the covers of “Heat” magazine, then I guess we’re all doomed!

I am really interested to know what everybody else thinks about this; whether I’m alone, stuck in an 80’s nostalgic timewarp of beliefs, or whether there are others out there who still care and believe that we can make a difference, who will restore my faith in this race that’s supposedly human.

Sunny’s Sad Story

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Many songs in the Eighties carried a message or told a story, even if it wasn’t immediately obvious or fitting to the music. Nik Kershaw’s “I Won’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me” was about the threat of nuclear war, although you could be forgiven for not making a connection between the subject matter and its synth pop accompaniment. In some cases, the meaning of a song’s lyrics has only become apparent years later. As I was only 9 years old when The Vapors released “Turning Japanese” in 1980, it was at least a decade before I came to realise the alleged story behind the song!

The Seventies saw a lyrical dearth, which only ended with the advent of Punk, but the Sixties set the bar for storytelling lyrics. That is one of the reasons I love listening to Radio 2’s “Sounds of the Sixties” show, on a Saturday morning.

Last week, as Brian Matthew introduced the track “Sunny” by Bobby Hebb, he relayed the sad tale of how the song had come to be written. Harold “Hal” Hebb, Bobby’s older brother by six years, had been murdered in a mugging 48 hours prior to writing it, the song being an outpouring of Bobby’s grief.

Listening to the song, knowing the circumstances in which it had been created, was like hearing a brand new song, both in the lyrics and in the emotion of the vocal. What do you think?

Ganging Up For The Kane Gang

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To name your favourite song of an entire decade is no easy task. When that decade is the Eighties, the decision becomes even harder as we were, at times, spoilt for choice. For me, the summer of 1984 was the pinnacle of the Eighties. With Frankie Goes To Hollywood topping the charts, and acts like Grandmaster Flash and Melle Mel rubbing well-padded shoulders with Nik Kershaw; as well as OMD talking loud and clear alongside Echo & The Bunnymen, music was at a diverse high. The summer of ’84 was also my first summer as a teenager, and evokes memories of lazy, sunny days at the beach, and trips to Dreamland in Margate, when it could still boast to have the biggest Big Wheel in Europe. It was also a time when I began to write prolifically.

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L-R Dave Brewis, Paul Woods, Martin Brammer

For all that associated nostalgia, but more importantly because it is an amazing, soulful track, my all time favourite song of the Eighties is “Closest Thing To Heaven” by The Kane Gang. Peaking at number 12, the song spent 8 weeks in the UK Top 40. During that time, I wrote to the band, asking what were their favourite Soap Operas (I like to think my interview questions have improved slightly since then!). Despite being at the height of their success, and having overloaded, hectic schedules at the time, a few weeks later I received the above publicity photo, along with a handwritten reply from band member, Dave Brewis. For those of you desperate to know what their favourite soaps were in the Eighties, the letter will appear in my next book, as will the answers to a number of questions I was able to put to Dave a couple of weeks ago.

One thing that did emerge from my recent quizzing, and something I’d like to share with you now, is the band’s current status. The band reformed last September, for a one-off charity performance at Dave and Martin’s old school, Northlea in Seaham. The following month, a 3 CD edition of “The Bad & Lowdown World of The Kane Gang”, featuring demos, remixes and live performances, in addition to the 1985 album, was released. However, with all three band members working full time individually within the music and media industries, there are no current plans for any more live performances by the band. I am sure I’m not alone in feeling disappointed at being denied the opportunity to listen to their blue-eyed soul first hand, so I have a cunning plan…Maybe, just maybe, if The Kane Gang get enough “Likes” on Facebook and followers on Twitter (@TheKaneGang), they will be persuaded to give us another gig or two?

For now, to remind you just how good they sound, and because I need no excuse to play this track, here is “The Closest Thing To Heaven”.