It is just over a week ago since I was a guest at Quizfest, and I have finally found time to share some of the photos from the day. Fellow authors, signing their books, included Nicholas Parsons, Helen Lederer, David Hamilton and John Challis, aka Boycie from Only Fools And Horses, who was accompanied by Del Boy and Uncle Albert lookalikes. With a number of Chasers and Eggheads and TV stalwart Fred Dinenage also in attendance, it was a fabulous day full of familiar faces.
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!
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. We 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.
Tomorrow I will be signing copies of all my titles at Quizfest in Beaulieu, and the good news for everyone attending is that all of my books on sale there will be available at prices lower than their online price. Those who cannot make the event can still pick up a bargain though, as all my titles published by Fabrian Books (the Eighties trilogy) have offers running on their Kindle versions this weekend at Amazon.
With just over two weeks to go until Quizfest, I am beginning to get more than a little excited. Not only will I be signing copies of all my titles at the event, but I will be stationed on a stall in the Domus Hall, alongside the legendary DJ and presenter David Hamilton. I was told that we will be in a section dedicated to pop culture, but I can’t help wondering whether I’ve been put there to make ‘Diddy’ look taller!
Joking aside, it promises to be a fantastic day with book signings, ‘Meet the Stars’ from 2 – 4.30pm, and a quiz in the evening hosted by Christopher Biggins, all set in the beautiful grounds of Beaulieu’s National Motor Museum. I am hoping I’ll have time to have a look at some of the amazing cars housed in the museum too.
So, if you fancy pitting your wits against an Egghead or a Chaser, grabbing a new (signed) book or just coming to meet some of the many familiar faces who will be milling around, then Saturday 29th July is the day to put in your diaries. I look forward to seeing you there.
The final book in my trilogy on Eighties’ popular culture ‘More Eighties’, out on 16th May, is now available for pre-order. See my website for more details. Those of you pre-ordering the Kindle version this weekend may also want to add ‘Your Eighties’ to your basket as it will be FREE for the entire bank holiday weekend (29th April to 1st May). There is no need to miss out if you haven’t got a Kindle. Simply download the Kindle conversion app to read ‘Your Eighties’ on PC, Mac and mobile.
Have a great weekend!
For many children it’s back to school today, which means some of us find themselves with a little extra free time on their hands. What better way of making use of those bonus minutes than claiming a freebie? Today, ‘Your Eighties’ is available in Kindle version for FREE! You don’t need a Kindle to read it either, simply download Amazon’s Kindle Reading App to read the book on your computer, tablet or mobile.
So, if you’re a fan of the Eighties, download your free copy from Amazon today.
Some summers remain firmly fixed in our memories, as vivid as the days we experienced them. For me, my first teenage summer in 1984 was long, hot days spent soaking up the sun, set against a backdrop of some of the best music of the decade: Prince, Frankie Goes To Hollywood and my favourite track of the Eighties, The Kane Gang’s ‘Closest Thing To Heaven’. Ten years later, the music had taken a backseat and cooling shade had become my best friend, as I enjoyed my first summer with my baby daughter. Fast forward to 2016, when both my adult children had flown the nest, and I found myself travelling back three decades, listening to the music of my youth in glorious sunshine.
The reason for this fabulous blast from the past was the Jack Up The 80s festival on the Isle of Wight. Now in its fourth year, the event was held on 13th and 14th August. Set in beautiful countryside on the outskirts of Newchurch, it was blessed with fantastic weather as well as some outstanding performances.
Strolling across the festival field when I arrived on Saturday, I was greeted by the sounds of local band High School Never Ends. The duo, who were also the opening act the next day, brought us some great rock classics from the likes of Billy Idol and Twisted Sister. Although I’m not too sure about their inclusion of Partners In Kryme’s ‘Turtle Power’!
From Rock to Ska, both days saw local band Ska’d For Life take to the stage next. Delivering all the favourites from the likes of The Specials and Madness, the band went down a storm with the crowd who, by the end of the set, were more than ready for what the rest of the day had to offer.
Saturday saw Light of The World kick off things for the 80’s acts. Dressed in sharp silver suits, reminiscent of my clubbing days, Nat Augustin and Gee Bello looked as good and smooth as they sounded.
The same can undoubtedly be said for Londonbeat, who were next in the running order. Dressed in brilliant white, the trio, led by the ever-youthful Jimmy Helms, delighted us with a pitch perfect acapella rendition of ‘9 A.M. (The Comfort Zone)’ ahead of a soulful and upbeat set, which included their 1990 No. 2 hit ‘I’ve Been Thinking About You’.
A short break as instruments were set up on stage, and then we saw Johnny Hates Jazz make an appearance. A well-balanced mix of old and new, we heard 1987 hits ‘Turn Back The Clock’ and ‘I Don’t Want To Be A Hero’ alongside contemporary tracks like the 2013 release ‘Magnetized’. I had interviewed lead singer Clark Datchler earlier in the day, but was nonetheless surprised when he spotted me taking photos at the front of the stage, during the band’s performance of ‘Shattered Dreams’.
As the set drew to a close, I made my way over to Phil and Bruce, a couple of twenty-somethings I had interviewed earlier for The 80’s Annual, who were working on the Pizzeria van.
Returning with my takeaway food to the backstage tent, skillfully designed by Jo Monck in a Royal Wedding theme, I found it to be empty except for one other person. And that is how I came to be eating pizza on a sunny August afternoon, as Paul Young snoozed on the sofa behind me. I did toy with the idea of waking him, to inform him of the interesting fact that his birthday is the day after mine, but knowing what I am like when I’m tired thought it best to let sleeping singers lie!
The arrival of From The Jam and Leo Sayer on site soon saw the backstage buzz return, and it wasn’t long before we were presented with the opportunity to photograph three musical greats together.
To say that meeting Leo Sayer was a pleasure is an understatement. After this photo was taken, we spent some time discussing the writing talents of Billy Nicholls, who wrote the singer’s 1978 No. 6 hit single ‘I Can’t Stop Loving You’ and whom I had met the previous month, when he performed with old friends Slim Chance. Saturday’s headliner treated us to tracks from across four decades, including ‘One Man Band’, ‘More Than I Can Say’ and ‘You Make Me Feel Like Dancing’, and more than deserved his top billing. However, for me, it was the preceding two acts who ranked highest.
Rounding off the afternoon’s performances in style was Paul Young, who was joined by fellow Los Pacaminos member, guitarist Jamie Moses. Anyone who has witnessed them playing in the side project they founded in 1992, will be familiar with the camaraderie between the pair. As the singer launched into some of the hits from his solo career, including ‘Love of The Common People’, ‘Every Time You Go Away’ and ‘Wherever I Lay My Hat’ that friendship was never more evident. Perhaps more used to having underwear thrown at him during the Eighties, Paul looked somewhat bemused when a woolly hat landed at his feet. He placed the winter attire on the head of guitarist Dale Davis who, unable to remove the knitwear whilst playing, continued to wear it for a number of tracks, much to the amigos’ amusement.
The hilarity reached even greater heights after a wardrobe malfunction occurred during the performance of ‘I’m Gonna Tear Your Playhouse Down’. Sitting on the edge of the stage to deliver the second half of the song, the singer leaned back to put even more power behind the vocal. I think he must have felt something snap at this point, because when Paul stood up, those of us close to the stage could see his belt had broken.
Anyone who was not aware of the situation was soon put fully in the picture, thanks to Jamie’s on stage antics, as shown in the video below. Ever the professional, Mr. Young left to make a swift costume change, returning sporting a new, shiny belt.
Clothing capers and band chemistry aside (although the latter is undeniably an integral feature that only serves to enhance the overall performance) this was an amazing set of classic Paul Young tracks, which all his fans in the audience (including me) will treasure. It was only surpassed, by the very tiniest of margins, by that of From The Jam.
Featuring a current line-up of Bruce Foxton, Russell Hastings, Mike Randon (drums) and Andy Fairclough (Hammond organ) the band went straight in for the kill, opening with their 1982 chart topper ‘A Town Called Malice’. Hit after hit followed, including ‘David Watts’, ‘Going Underground’, ‘Beat Surrender’, ‘That’s Entertainment’, ‘Eton Rifles’ and an encore of ‘Down In The Tube Station At Midnight’. Totally mesmerised by the band playing just feet away from me, I remained in my photographic vantage point at the front of the stage throughout the whole performance.
Whilst there, I noticed a change in the chants emanating from behind me. Cries of “We love you, Paul” had been replaced by gruff, one-word shouts of “Bruce” and “Russell”. Glancing over my shoulder, I took in the now predominantly male contingent stood at the barriers. This is what they had been waiting for all day long, and who could blame them?
Russell Hastings fronts the band in a way we would have thought inconceivable during the Eighties, spitting out lyrics with a force and passion of which Weller himself would be proud. Bruce Foxton retains his iconic status in my eyes, a genius bass player who twice performed his famous mid-air jumps during the set.
One of the most animated drummers I have ever seen live, Mike Randon plays with a fervour better associated with musicians whose instruments afford them mobility around the stage, as was the case with Andy Fairclough. Watching him furiously strike the keys, it felt almost as if he was imprisoned by his keyboards, his frenetic playing his only chance of escape.
The whole effect was an explosive, exciting and capivating display of some of the best songs to come out of the Eighties. How would Sunday compare?
The second day of the festival saw the 80’s artists begin with Nathan Moore who, in addition to singing the Brother Beyond tracks ‘The Harder I Try’ and ‘He Ain’t No Competition’ brought us The Gap Band’s ‘Oops Upside Your Head’. In no time, huge rows of festival-goers were sat on the ground, floor-dancing to the Rowing Boat Song. A crowd pleaser if ever I saw one.
Next on stage was a man whose No. 3 single ‘My Favourite Waste of Time’ became synonymous with the Summer of ’86. It is hard to believe that 30 years have passed since then, but as Owen sang the catchy track and the sun shone down, I was once again 15 years old. The Glaswegian singer, who also performs alongside his brother, ex-Simple Minds drummer Brian McGee, in the band XSM included in his set ‘Don’t You Forget About Me’ and ‘The Living Years’, a song he perfected during his time spent with Mike and The Mechanics. He handed over a well warmed up audience to Phil Fearon.
The Galaxy frontman, who featured dance floor acrobatics in his 80’s appearances, may have put his backflips on hold but little else has changed in the past three decades. Looking considerably younger than his 60 years, Phil sported that 80’s favourite fashion combo of t-shirt and suit, as he delivered a feel good set of disco tracks such as ‘Everbody’s Laughing’, ‘I Can Prove It’ and ‘Dancing Tight’. He set the scene perfectly for Bizarre Inc. vocalist Angie Brown.
Accompanied by sons Cuba (11) and Charlie (8), the singing sensation showed she had lost none of her extensive vocal range over the years, as she powered out ‘I’m Gonna Get You’, watched proudly by her boys from behind the stage curtains. They gave no clue when I photographed them that minutes later they would be joining their mother for a rendition of Sister Sledge’s ‘We Are Family’. Performing obviously runs in their genes, and as the mini entertainers returned backstage, I remarked that it looked like they had enjoyed themselves, to which Cuba replied “Yes, that’s why I do it for no charge.” A star in the making, surely. A little while later, Charlie, who has to be the most eloquent 8-year-old I have ever encountered, engaged me in conversation. Flitting between topics such as his ambition to be an Olympic gymnast or a dancer, and favourite annual events (he argued a very convincing case for Hallowe’en), I was only reminded of his young age when he burst into a fit of giggles, upon hearing Denise Pearson working through her vocal exercises at the far end of the tent.
Five Star were due on stage after tribute band Abba Chique. While the faux Swedish singers performed, I chatted with more of the colourful crowd. From families to groups of friends, forty-somethings and older to my kids’ generation and younger, everyone was brimming with praise for the festival. Whether it was the provision of children’s lunch boxes, reasonably priced catering or simply “bloody good music”, the general consensus was a big thumbs up for Jack Up The 80s. I have to say, I agree.
As with any retro festival, the weekend also presented us with more than a smattering of neon and a plethora of fancy dress. I spoke to Mr. T. a.k.a. Michael Bending from Northampton. The 46-year-old has appeared at Jack Up The 80s dressed as The A-Team’s B. A. Baracus for the past four years. At least he never had to get on no plane for the 300 mile round trip!
Returning to the backstage area, I discovered that Bad Manners had recently arrived. Having greeted the band, I gave Buster Bloodvessel a copy of my book ‘Your Eighties’, for which I had interviewed him almost two years ago. Much to the group’s amusement, I then made the mistake of asking “Can I have a photo of you holding it?” Naming no names, but a certain saxophonist has a particularly smutty mind!
Leaving the boys to enjoy their backstage banter, I returned to the front of the stage to await Five Star, who were minus Doris that day. In her place was Kerry, who sang and danced with the same highly polished quality we have come to associate with the Pearson siblings.
Opening with their 1986 Top 10 single ‘Can’t Wait Another Minute’ and finishing with their biggest hit ‘Rain or Shine’, the quartet also featured a number of superb cover versions in their set, such as Whitney Houston’s ‘I Wanna Dance With Somebody’, The Jackson 5’s ‘I Want You Back’ and Mark Ronson’s ‘Uptown Funk’.
Looking every bit as good as they sounded, and executing each dance routine in complete synchronicity, it was apparent that their dedication to achieving entertainment perfection was equal to their dedication to each other.
Minutes after Five Star left the stage, drummer Mark Hamilton was warming up backstage ahead of his performance with Bad Manners. Ripples of anticipation spread amongst the crowd as Ska fans made their way forwards, eagerly awaiting Sunday’s headliners.
Before you could say “Lip Up Fatty”, the band bounded on stage and the party started. Buster saluted the audience with his pint of lager before transporting them back to the early Eighties with tracks like ‘Special Brew’, ‘Walking In The Sunshine’ and ‘Fatty Fatty’, alongside later material such as the 1992 release ‘Feel Like Jumping’. And jump they did.
Like a bunch of tequila-fuelled schoolboys, the band bounced, ran and laughed their way through the final show of the weekend, and we loved them for it. Watching the crowd, arms aloft, singing and dancing along, with the biggest of grins on their faces, I could think of no better choice of act to finish this nostalgia-fest. More than the skilled musicianship, which these guys have in heaps, this was about fun with a capital ‘F’.
That evening, I left the festival field feeling years younger, having gained some very special memories, not to mention some special friends. What better motivation for you all to descend on Isle of Wight next August, for Jack Up The 80s Volume 5? I’ll see you there.
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 see 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.
As a teenager, I loved going to Margate. Half an hour’s train ride from my home town of Faversham, the summer holidays would see me at the seaside town as often as I could. Long, sunny days spent at Dreamland (or Bembom Brothers, as it became during the 80s), an ice cream on the sandy beach, and buying cheap sunglasses and t-shirts from the souvenir shops in Arlington Square are forever etched in my memory.
Margate may have changed in the last three decades, but with the renovation and re-opening of Dreamland last year, some fantastic artwork on display at the Turner Contemporary (Grayson Perry’s ‘Provincial Punk’ exhibition last summer was incredible), and an ever-expanding Vintage Quarter to peruse, that change is for the better.
I have been invited to attend a Retro Event at one of the vintage stores thriving in this area of Margate, and will be signing copies of ‘Your Eighties’ from 2-4pm at Madam Popoff, on Saturday 30th April.
However, I plan to be there most of the day to meet the celebrity guests who will making appearances throughout the day. I am also looking forward to meeting up with my fellow New Haven Publishing author, Garry Johnson, who will be signing copies of his book ‘Punk Rock Stories and Tabloid Tales’, and with Bob Bradbury from Glam Rock band Hello, who will be signing copies of his first solo CD album ‘Mad Affair’. Full guest list and timings will be announced nearer to the event, but it plans to be a fabulous afternoon for anyone with an interest in all things retro and vintage, with clothes and accessories from the 1940s onwards available for purchase.
Entry is free, so come along and join in the fun – I look forward to seeing you there!
Following Saturday’s launch party for ‘Your Eighties’, this week has been another busy one as I juggle ongoing writing commitments, promotion for the latest book and starting work on the next one. Not to mention undertaking necessary mundane tasks, such as mowing the lawn before it morphs into Jumanji, and shopping (not my favourite task at any time of the year) amongst the masses of over-hyped Christmas consumers. Talking of the C-word, this is the first year since leaving home 22 years ago, that my decorations will not be up during the first week in December. I haven’t lost my festive spirit, just the time to embrace the season in the manner I usually do.
Being up against the clock means I’ve taken a bit of a shortcut with this week’s blog, and direct you to my column for Canterbury Times for more on the launch party. Before I rush off though, I’d like to say a big ‘Thank You’ to everyone who supported the launch party and who has bought ‘Your Eighties’. When you’ve finished reading the book, it would be great if you’d leave a review on Amazon (you don’t need to have bought the book from Amazon to leave a review on the site). It makes a big difference to how they list the book, and may even make my life a little less frantic. Thanks!