A Heavenly Exclusive!

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Last Thursday, I had the pleasure of interviewing Martyn Ware. With an extensive and impressive career in music, from his early work in The Human League to creating soundscapes via Illustrious, a company he formed with Vince Clarke in 2001, Martyn knows a thing or two about what makes good music. Now, while you will have to wait until April, when More Eighties is published, to discover what it was like for him working with Tina Turner and why he is now warming to Stock, Aitken and Waterman’s output in the Eighties (yep, you really did just read that!), I can reveal a little ‘exclusive’ which came up during our chat.

I had asked the BEF founder member about his inspiration for pushing musical boundaries and continuing to innovate. He told me “We’ve created a new track with Heaven 17, which nobody’s heard yet, which will be coming out soon, called ‘Clouds Or Mountains’. Where we’ve been experimenting with Heaven 17, it sounds amazing. With Glenn Gregory’s voice, it sounds like Scott Walker. That’s an exclusive.” h17

I ask if that have a release date yet.

“No, we’ve got to discuss it. We’ve got a special deal going with Bowers & Wilkins. They’ve got this thing called Society of Sound, where they release high definition audio. They’ve got this subscription thing where you subscribe and every month they send you an album digitally, in the highest possible format. It’s downloadable for a month and then that’s it, it’s gone. This is going to be their February one. It’s like a work in progress version of the new album, so it includes all the existing singles. It’ll be on their service for a month and then it’s gone, until we release the album.”

The concept of providing a limited availability teaser for fans is one which appeals to Martyn, as a remedy to the constant influx of music which now prevails.

“There’s no wait nowadays. You can stream everything everywhere. I read today that Prince’s entire output is going to be available on all the streaming services from February 16th. That’s like about a hundred hours of stuff. It’s just ridiculous.”

However, there’s nothing ridiculous about wanting to hear the latest Heaven 17 material. Society of Sound, here I come!

 

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So…

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Yet again, we have lost another of the great musical influences of the Eighties, and indeed our lives. For me, His Royal Purpleness will always be inextricably linked to the Summer of ’84, and his untimely passing is a real loss. A few days before his death, I read the reports detailing his plane’s emergency landing in Illinois, due to Prince being unwell. I was shocked by the sheer relief I felt when those reports ended by saying that the singer had been discharged from hospital, and that his health problems were due to a bout of flu he had suffered in the previous week. As we all now know, my relief was to be short-lived.

I can’t help but wonder if those of us who do make it to 2017 will feel as if we survived this year, rather than lived it, because it’s not only our favourites in the music world who are leaving us at an incomprehensibly rapid rate. For some of us, the impact of 2016 has not been confined to losing those in the public eye. Recently, I wrote about the loss of fellow 80’s fanatic and friend, Cat Dodsworth, who died unexpectedly at the end of March. What I never wrote, and never intended to write, was about someone very special who lost his battle with cancer a few days later. Not only was the loss too personal and painfully acute for me to do anything other than get through each day, but how can you even begin to write anything that reflects the huge part that person played in your life for the past quarter of a century? The answer is, you can’t. However, neither does it feel right for me to say nothing at all, so here goes.

Those of you who have read ‘Your Eighties’ may have noticed it is dedicated to Lee. There was no disguising his delight at the dedication, when I gave him one of the first copies of the book, swiftly followed by a comment about me “hobnobbing with celebs”. But then, if ever there was someone to keep my feet firmly on the ground, it was Lee. We first met in the spring of 1991, when I was 20 years old and somewhat idealistic. Seven years older than me, and with more than a touch of cynicism, Lee never shied away from giving me a reality check whenever he thought it was needed, which was often.

I had begun working in the office of a local repair garage where Lee was a mechanic. On my first day of work, I was left to type up a pile of invoices, while my boss was at a meeting. Having previously boasted of my excellent typing skills (well, I could get up quite a speed on my portable manual typewriter), I wasn’t able to admit I had never encountered anything like the monstrous electronic contraption sitting in front of me, let alone know how to use it.

After half an hour of being left to my own devices, I had managed to load the invoices and even type at what seemed an alarmingly aggressive speed but, try as I might,  I couldn’t find the Caps Lock or Shift keys. Panic began to set in as I imagined the pile of blank invoices awaiting my boss on his return. My distress must have been apparent to those in the workshop, because the next thing I knew Lee was in the office asking if everything was alright. He could hardly keep a straight face as I explained my dilemma to him, and he offered to help me find the elusive keys. Twenty minutes and a cup of tea later, we had solved the mystery, and formed a bond that remained unbreakable through the ups and downs of the next 25 years.

Aside from the major life events during that time, of which there were many – marriages, births, deaths, divorce, house moves – it has been the smallest, inconsequential memories that have been finding their way to my consciousness. Some have been completely random, such as the time Lee hunted around the workshop to find a large paint pot for me to stand on, as he needed me to push the pedals on a lorry he was fixing, and I was too short to reach even the bottom step of the cab to climb in! Others have been prompted by more tangible reminders, like the inch long cut I have in the top of one of my coffee tables.

A couple of years ago, rather than looking over his shoulder and telling him what to do (his description, not mine) I had left Lee to get on with some DIY in the living room. I returned home to find he had made a nice, tidy job of boarding up the fireplace, where the old gas fire had been. It wasn’t until the next morning, when I moved a coaster that had been placed overhanging the edge of the table, that I noticed the deep, inch long cut in the wooden tabletop. In his wisdom, Lee had used my pair of vintage G-Plan coffee tables as trestles for the sheet of wood he was sawing, and had taken a while to realise he had sawn into one of the tables too. Never did I think, when I was ranting about what he’d done, that I would one day be looking at that cut and smiling, but that is what I do now.

I smile because I can seeLee montage him letting me go on and on until, when I finally drew breath, he simply asked “Finished?”, before bursting out laughing at me. Not to take life too seriously was just one of the many things I learnt from Lee. Some were of little significance, some will stay with me forever. He taught me how to play chess and poker (although I never quite mastered the poker face). He taught me to push boundaries, question what I’m told, break the rules. He taught me that Peter Gabriel’s “So” album is one of the best of all time, and to listen to it in anything other than its entirety is an injustice. He taught me that having someone who’s “got your back” is one of the most precious things you can have. It is something I am now missing.

When things weren’t going my way, Lee would always tell me “life’s not fair, you’ve just got to deal with it”. His passing has taught me just how unfair life can be. I’m still learning how to deal with it.

 

 

 

 

 

Bring On The BRITs

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Wednesday brings us the annual BRIT Awards, an event I have watched in eager anticipation since 1985, when it was first broadcast by the BBC. Known then as the BPI (British Phonographic Industry) Awards, and held at the Grosvenor House Hotel, the ceremony that year was hosted by Noel Edmonds. Like many of those presenting and receiving awards, he wore black tie for the occasion. Even champions of double denim, Rick Parfitt and Francis Rossi, wPrince Brits 1985ere suited and booted.

Set against a backdrop of silver and white sparkles, the message to the viewers was this is where the glamour was to be found. Any doubts we may have had were dispelled as soon as Prince took to the stage, to receive his award for Best International Solo Artist. What he lacked in words, he more than made up for in fur and frills. No wonder I fell in love with the ceremony, and have watched it every year since, albeit with a diverse variety of memories.

Despite surviving on approximately two hours sleep a night, due to my daughter being only 9 weeks old, I remember the 1994 ceremony as being mainly about Take That. Although this could be because they still had hero-like status in my eyes, having topped the charts with “Babe” on the day she was born, saving my little girl from being born when Mr. Blobby was at Number 1. This was no mean feat, as the pink prankster had occupied the top slot both the week before she was born and the week after.

My son arrived at the beginning of 1996, and as my world increasingly centred around the likes of the Telebubbies and Tots TV, The Brits became almost symbolic for me, a reminder of my first love – music. However, with acts like the Spice Girls and All Saints featuring heavily, the latter half of the Nineties saw me mostly interested in the Outstanding Contribution award, the winners of which included David Bowie, Eurythmics and The Bee Gees.

I continued to tune in each year, even when I was pretty clueless as to who half the nominees were. By the mid-Noughties, the kids were helping me differentiate between Busted and McFly (I was obviously ahead of the bands with the McBusted idea!). When the 2008 awards came around, I found myself enjoying parts of the event almost as much as I had back in the day. Okay, so Earls Court was never going to measure up as a venue. Ditto to the sweary Osbornes as hosts. However, the look on Paul Young’s face as the Arctic Monkeys, dressed in country squire attire, walked past him to collect their award for Mastercard Best Album was priceless. Then there was Mark Ronson’s performances with Adele, Daniel Merriweather and Amy Winehouse. The Brits was getting its act back together.

Whilst I may never view The Brits with the same enthusiasm I did in the Eighties, this year I will be rooting for James Bay, whose ‘Chaos And The Calm’ album is a current favourite of mine. I shall also be enjoying the combination of nominees, the strangeness of which remains reassuringly unchanged over the years. Perhaps the best example this year is those nominated in the British Group category: Blur, Coldplay, Foals, One Direction, and Years & Years. I can’t wait to discover who emerges victorious from that curious ensemble.