The Musical Youth Of Today

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A couple of years ago, I saw Musical Youth perform at Butlins in Bognor, on the final evening of an 80’s-themed weekend. Exhausted by three days of reliving the excesses of the decade, and having seen more neon and legwarmers during that long weekend, than I had throughout the whole of the Eighties, I was feeling slightly frayed around the edges. Audience numbers were down considerably on the previous two nights, some partygoers having already departed, to return to their jobs the following morning. It is fair to say that the atmosphere of the venue wasn’t exactly buzzing, and I certainly wasn’t expecting the best and most enjoyable performance of the whole weekend to happen that evening. Yet, when Musical Youth came on stage, that is exactly what took place. Besides performing their own crowd-pleasing hits “Pass The Dutchie” and “Never Gonna Give You Up”, the band also treated us to an impressive reggae set, topped by an outstanding rendition of Bob Marley’s “I Shot The Sheriff”.

Interviewing Dennis Seaton

Interviewing Dennis Seaton

So, you can imagine how excited I was last Friday to be seeing the band perform again, this time in Camber Sands, East Sussex. What’s more, prior to their set, I was able to interview lead vocalist, Dennis Seaton, and keyboard player, Michael Grant for my next book, “Your Eighties”.

As the two remaining members of the original line up of the band, Dennis and Michael have known each other for over three decades, something that becomes increasingly apparent throughout the interview, as the pair look to each other for confirmation of their recollections, argue light-heartedly, and (just about) fall short of finishing each other’s sentences. The eldest by two years, Dennis comes across as the calm and measured leader of the band. An elder sibling myself, I couldn’t help but recognise his sense of responsibility for his Musical Youth family. That’s not to say he doesn’t enjoy his position in the band: “We’re not even fifty yet, but we’re thirty years into the business. I enjoyed it back then, and I enjoy it now.” With memories of playing air hockey with Stevie Wonder, and sharing a plane journey with Phil Lynott, it’s hardly surprising Dennis looks back on the early years with great fondness. Today, he maintains that “I do what I love,” which includes having his son Theo (the band’s trumpet player), perform alongside him. “I’m immensely proud,” Dennis tells me, “but he’s there because of his ability, not because he’s my son.”

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Michael Grant looking as cheeky as he did in the ’80s

Michael adds that he too will encourage his sons to play in a band. Although, as his twin sons were born last November, it will be some time before they will be joining him on stage. The duo’s family circumstances are not the only thing to contrast. Excitable and easily animated, Michael appears to be the little brother whose cheeky cuteness would have got him out of many a scrape. However, talk to Michael for a couple of minutes, and you soon discover his serious side, and some insightful views on the music industry. Easily discussing topics from radio stations to band management, record labels to the X-Factor, which he states “killed the industry for originality”, Michael is both persuasive and eloquent in his opinions. Dennis agrees that the Saturday evening programme is culpable for a generation of blandness.

With Michael and Dennis

With Michael and Dennis

“It’s what I call the “McDonald’s Effect”,” he explains, comparing the show’s vapid musical offerings to the inability to describe the flavours produced by the fast food chain. “I know it when I taste it, but when I’m not eating it…” Dennis shrugs, almost in despair. A broad grin then spreads across his face, as he adds “The fries are good though, and the apple pies are even better” – a reference to Musical Youth’s video for “Youth of Today”, which starts with Dennis grabbing, and running off with guitarist, Kelvin’s pie, who then shouts “Dennis, come back with my apple pie!”

A knock at the door, as the rest of the band make their way over to the venue, signals the imminent end of our interview. We have been chatting for almost an hour, and it is only as we arrive backstage that I realise the band have about ten minutes before they are due on stage, at 11pm. I should also point out that Dennis had arrived in Camber less than half an hour before we met, but offered to do the interview then, rather than after the set, so I wouldn’t have to wait around for him – a true gent!

Adding to my list of interviews with musicians from Birmingham (this was my second in as many weeks), and backing my growing belief that Brummie boys have an unbeatable charm, Dennis went on to dedicate the following song to me, during that night’s show – look out for his big wave when he spots me filming him. Now, just so I can confirm my Brummie boy theory, if someone could give me Ali Campbell’s ‘phone number…!

“Your Eighties” is due to be published by Fabrian Books later this year.

Band Aid 30

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It’s funny how today’s return to Sarm Studios, to record Band Aid 30, has brought memories of the recording of the original Band Aid single flooding back. The unprecedented collaboration of some of the biggesOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAt names in music, and some of the biggest egos too, had me enthralled from the very beginning. Watching the news that evening in November 1984 was an overwhelming exercise in star-spotting, as the likes of Duran Duran, Paul Young, Spandau Ballet, George Michael, Sting and Boy George crossed my TV screen. As Paula Yates came into view, with a big 80’s bow in her hair, carrying baby Fifi Trixibelle, I felt so envious of her behind-the-scenes access. It will therefore come as no surprise to learn that I was first in the queue to buy the video of the making of the Band Aid single, to add to my collection of 7″ and 12″ singles, and Feed The World t-shirt.

Unfortunately, my family had chosen the loser in the VHS/Betamax video battle, so I’m no longer able to watch my video. I live in hope that one day I’ll find a working Betamax video player that does not cost a fortune, or is not sitting in a museum somewhere!

Band Aid Dolls

Those of you who are familiar with my writing, will know how having Mr. Geldof living nearby influenced my teenage years. However, you may not be aware of how far-reaching that influence became . I think describing my behaviour around that time as “obsessive” would not be an understatement. How many 14 year olds do you know who would spend hours creating a replica of the Band Aid line up out of wooden peg dolls??? All worth it though, when it won first prize a few months later at the Geldofs’ summer fête, and I was congratulated by Bob himself!

My obsession did have a less flippant side though, when it came to the Band Aid single itself. This manifested itself in me band aid VATorganising a petition, calling for Margaret Thatcher’s government to waive the VAT on the single. Remember, this was 1984, so no clicking online to “sign” a petition. I spent a week approaching strangers in Canterbury city centre and my home town of Faversham, as well as canvassing signatures at school, until I finally had over a thousand signatures, which I then sent to the Iron Lady.

The letter opposite was the reply I received from HM Customs & Excise in February 1985, in response to the petition. A long-winded way of saying “No”, the contents of it are summed up in its second paragraph: “The suggestion that either VAT should not be levied or that an amount equivalent to the VAT should be contributed to the relief  has been given very careful consideration by the Government but the conclusion reached is that it would be neither possible in practice – nor indeed right – to treat this fund-raising operation as a one-off case…If the principle of relief was extended generally, it would lead to a major commitment of taxpayers’ money which would have to be recouped by increases in taxation elsewhere.”

Thankfully, today’s recording will not be subject to such draconian judgement. Chancellor George Osborne confirmed this morning that VAT will be waived on the Band Aid 30 single, meaning every penny raised will go towards fighting the Ebola virus. With that in mind, I will again be one of the first in line to buy the single, even if it means having to watch the X Factor on Sunday night, when the single has its world premiere. The lengths I go to for Sir Bob!