Bring Back Pop Quiz

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Tonight, BBC4 aired the second of two episodes of Pop Quiz: The Comeback. Featuring original host Mike Read, the shows were a must-watch for all fans of the Eighties. With teams comprising of some of the decade’s best known faces, such as Steve Norman, Leee John, Mari Wilson, Ranking Roger and Toyah Wilcox, and favourite questions like the lyrics and intro rounds, the shows have been a delightful blast of nostalgic past. Unfortunately and unbelievably, only these two episodes have been recorded to date. An injustice if ever there was one!

So, I have set up a petition asking the BBC to record a full series of Pop Quiz, featuring 80’s artists. You can add your signature and support to the petition by clicking on this link. Let’s bring back Pop Quiz!

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The Trials of Trailblazing

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As much as I love interviewing people for my books, I find transcribing the recorded interview excruciatingly painful at times. The reason for this is not because of the attention to detail required in undertaking such a time-consuming task, but the process necessary to ensure accuracy. The recording can be unclear at times, meaning I have to listen to the same few seconds over and over before I am certain of what has been said. In doing so, listening to my part in the conversation is often unavoidable. Now, despite what some may say, I really don’t like the sound of my own voice. You can imagine the panic I felt last Friday, when I received an email saying the first of the 80’s music programmes I had recorded for Sky Arts earlier this year, Trailblazers of Nuclear Protest, was being aired that evening. Recorded voice and face. Yikes!

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Photo: @Keithredhead68 on Twitter

Not having Sky TV, I was unable to view Trailblazers when it was broadcast, and had no idea what the finished product would be like. However, returning home late on Friday evening to a number of encouraging messages and tweets, I was eager to watch it, even if it meant peeking through my fingers when I came on screen. Thanks to being sent a link by OMD super fan, and fellow contributor to the programme, Neil Young I was able to so last night. I am so glad I did.

Set against the soundtrack of my early teens, the show detailed the very real threat of nuclear war during the Eighties, and how that threat manifested itself in the lyrics of some of the best known songs of the decade. Featuring recollections and observations from a number of the era’s leading influencers of music, including Trevor Horn, Ranking Roger and Billy Bragg, it was exactly  the kind of show I would choose to watch myself. I am incredibly pleased to have been part of it.

The series is set to run for a further two months, and goes out at 9pm Fridays on Sky Arts. I will also make an appearance on TrailBlazers of… Songs of Conscience (29th July) and New Romantics (12th August).

To watch Trailblazers of Nuclear Protest via Neil’s link click here.

A Natty Eighties’ Design

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Regular readers of my blog will remember the competition we launched in the summer, to find the cover design for my next book “Your Eighties”. Today, I am delighted to announce the winner as 23 year old Natalie Owen.

Introduced to EightNatalie Owenies’ music by her parents at a young age, the Nottingham-based designer remembers dancing around the room to Altered Images’ “Happy Birthday” and Nena’s “99 Red Balloons” on repeat when she was about 3 years old. “My all time favourite song growing up was A-Ha’s “Take On Me”. The music video to it was the best,” enthuses Natalie.

A big fan of Eighties’ music, it was her Dad who told Natalie about the competition, then showed her some of his OMD and Midge Ure single covers, to inspire her winning creation. “I liked the bright colours, and wanted to design something that would make the book stand out to other books,” she told me.

Having studied graphic design at Nottingham Trent University, Natalie currently works as a design intern for Nottingham’s local magazine, The Left Lion, and as a marketing intern at the British Red Cross. Until “Your Eighties” is published at the end of November, you will have to take my word on how great Natalie’s design is, but her website shows other examples of her talent. An outstanding and vibrant composition, which perfectly captures the decade, both Fabrian Books and myself are thrilled her entry will be the cover for my next publication. I also look forward to meeting the young designer at the launch party in November, when she will receive one of the first copies of the book. No doubt, she will also join me on the dance floor when Erkan Mustafa (a.k.a. Grange Hill’s Roland Browning) will be DJing an Eighties’ disco, especially if he plays a certain track by his favourite songstress of the era, Clare Grogan!

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”.