The Year After You

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Writing extensively about the Eighties means I sometimes have to be more analytical than reflective. Holding up a mirror is not enough. You have to examine things in microscopic detail. However, irrespective of whether I’m writing about an historic event, a backstage anecdote or a fond recollection, there is an underlying fundamental thread that often defies methodical analysis. The people involved in these events.

I could write reams on the political significance and worldwide implications of the fall of the Berlin Wall, but just one image of the revellers celebrating its demise atop the landmark, shortly before its collapse, says so much more than I ever could. The revelation, during my interview with Ranking Roger, of David Bowie turning delivery boy ahead of his Milton Keynes gig in 1983, to ensure Saxa had his cans of White Stripe, only serves to emphasise the star quality of the man behind the legend. Even something as simple as recalling the first single we bought can evoke strong emotions, not only because of the music but the people associated with it too: the artist, the person who was with us when we bought the record, who we sang, danced or cried with to that track. Memories may be made of the sights, sounds and even smells of our past but the truth is, without people they are nothing. That is why it hurts so much to lose someone who has been an integral part of those memories.

Last April, after a cruel battle with a particularly aggressive form of lung cancer, Lee, my best friend and soulmate of 25 years lost his fight with the disease, at the age of 51. The months that followed are really just a blur, in which I honoured existing obligations on autopilot but have no clear memory. Photos from that time are the only tangible proof I have of my existence then. In most, I have a familiar big smile, but when I look at my eyes I see someone who truly did not know what day of the week it was. It wasn’t until the end of July when, thanks to the help of some wonderfully supportive friends, I began to write again. Although prior to that, I had begun to write poetry for the first time since my late teens.

A couple of months ago, I shared one of those poems, ‘The Year After You’, with Peter Coyle, who later told me “I only read the first two verses and I had to stop. It made me cry and so I had to walk away and come back to it later. It was very emotional and that is why I wanted to try and put it into a song. Even then it was difficult. It hurts just listening to it for me, because the words are so raw and sincere. There is a real beauty and strength to them. They have a direct link to the heart.”

That song was waiting for me when I arrived home one Saturday afternoon last November. I had been to London for a radio interview to promote The 80’s Annual, and had then gone on to interview Soft Cell’s David Ball for my next book. Coming home to discover one of The Lotus Eaters had turned one of my poems into a song perfectly topped off the kind of day my teenage self could have barely dared to dream about. ‘The Year After You’ is a deeply personal poem I wrote about losing Lee, so it will come as no surprise to know I was in tears when the track finished playing. Peter admits that in writing the song “I was very scared because the words to ‘The Year After You’ were so real and intimate, but it just gripped me and wouldn’t let go. It is so special to open up and allow someone else’s personal feelings and emotions to be expressed in the music, even when they are difficult emotions, but it is harder singing someone’s words because you have to assimilate them as though they come from your heart. You just hope that the writer sees that you are trying to reflect her honesty.”

I had only to hear the emotion in Peter’s voice, as he sang the words I had written, to know that. However, I was still uncertain when he suggested the possibility of releasing the song. It had taken a lot of deliberation before sharing the poem with him, so the thought of it being in the public eye was quite overwhelming. Understanding my reticence, Peter left the decision with me. The song was a gift to me, so it was up to me who should hear it.

Eventually, I decided there could be no better tribute to the man who had been by my side for most of my adult life, and whose loss had changed it forever. Besides, who was I to stop anyone from hearing this gorgeous creation, which may have arisen from sadness but has finished as a beautifully crafted message of hope?four.jpg

So, early December saw Peter in the studio, mixing the song which I am pleased to announce will be released on 3rd February. Currently, the track can be pre-ordered from iTunes and will also be available from various outlets such as Amazon and Spotify.

To find out more about Peter Coyle and his music, visit his website: www.petercoyle.com.

 

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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.

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!

Too Nice To Talk To

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With the second Friday the 13th of the year looming just hours away, some of us may be feeling a little nervous. Touch wood, I’ve never been that superstitious! I have also been far too busy preparing for a rather special interview I have lined up for then, to worry about the date. Here’s a little clue as to who it will be too nice to talk to tomorrow (hint: it’s not Dave Wakeling). Wish me luck!