Nick Heyward was
artful about his lyrics not "meaning" anything. Of course they did. They
existed to justify his life and to add punctum to the music (as was
proved by what Haircut One Hundred minus Heyward ended up sounding like a
year or two later; essentially, a low-budget Shakatak). The
"surrealism" worked because it was not intended to be surreal; like
Billy MacKenzie, it just seemed to come out of him. It felt necessary
at the time, rather than the grafted-on, sweated-at incomprehensibility
of lyrics with which this 1983 story will make us wearily familiar.
Listening to it over thirty years later, what strikes me most about Pelican West
is the astute fusion which Haircut One Hundred achieved between three
very separate strands of then-contemporary pop developments; firstly,
the franticity inherited from the No Wave/James Chance/Zé Records mob -
hear the near epilepsy of the rapid funk guitar strokes in "Favourite
Shirts (Boy Meets Girl)" complete with horn section deliberately laying
back half a beat, knowing when to come in or to stay out (they are
rushing to get the song played, to make it exist before everything else
ceases to exist).
apparent effortless proficiency and attention to middle-range sonic
detail which came from the still unheralded Britfunkers of the time -
Beggar and Co, Light of the World, Central Line, Freeez - and in
particular the way in which ambiences from American funk/rock were
appropriated and adapted easily into a British environment.
Thirdly - and this
is the most obvious legacy from the Orange Juice/Postcard side of things
- an alert awareness of chimerical "pure pop" elements (Beatles
harmonies, McGuinn guitars, even a foreshadowing of the lo-fi of Beat
Happening/K) without being trapped within the Camden Town Good Music
Even the two
elements of the title "Favourite Shirts (Boy Meets Girl)" attend to this
duality, as did the visuals - Heyward in his daintily knitted Fair Isle
cardigans, one shirt collar dutifully poking out from underneath,
guitar held high and at right angles to his body. No suits, no "sweat"
even. Girls loved it and knew immediately what he was trying to
communicate, particularly in front of what would otherwise have come
across as a weekend jazz-funk scratch band. Except of course they were
no scratch band - despite the artful naivety of the music, the songs
"Love Plus One," which appears on Raiders,
is driven by a marimba, which always results in great romantic pop
("Just My Imagination," "And I Love You So"), and its amiable canter is
counterpointed by the double-time attack of the drums and guitars. Hear
in particular how Heyward's guitar excitedly speeds up into "Favourite
Shirts" mode in the final chorus as he exclaims "Ring ANNA ring ANNA!"
and also the foursquare yawning bass introduction into the song’s main
body (Heyward at times here sounds as bucolic as Andy Partridge, and
XTC’s contemporaneous English Settlement is a nice
parallel case study for someone with more time and resources than me to
tackle). Sublime pop on at least four different levels, and deservedly
their biggest single (#3 in January 1982).
Chops? "Lemon Fire
Brigade" saw to that. And the blissful spring in this track's step is
what Danny Baker picked up on in his brilliant review of Pelican West in the NME.
Here, at long last in British music, was a group throwing the gauntlet
down to the Americans and able to compete. The lovely, largely
instrumental, track is, as Baker noted, worthy of Steely Dan, and is
made all the better by Heyward's sole, plaintive lyric, "Why, oh
why?/Lemon Fire Brigade/WHY?" It was this element on which less astute
descendents subsequently picked up and polished to the point of
lifelessness, without any of the mischief or interest (we will come
across them in 1987 or thereabouts).
"Marine Boy" initially reminds me, at least instrumentally, of Joy
Division; that vague fog of uncertainty, before the skies clear, as they
must. "Milk Film" is exuberant power-pop (there's no other word for it)
but with a distinctly English sensibility. There's little more
exhilarating in 1982 pop than Heyward singing at this song's climax
"Glad that I live am I/Glad that the sky is blue/Glad for the country
lanes" - and this is no John Major-misquoting-Orwell utopia either, but a
more palpable one. The song tells you, in its own sweet-natured way,
not to die (listen out for the brief Elvis Costello send-up when Heyward
Thereafter the album
switches between pre-post modern jazz-funk and blissful
1968-as-it-never-actually-was pop. Of the former, "Kingsize," "Baked
Bean" and "Love's Got Me In Triangles" are essentially a poppier Pigbag,
elevated by Heyward's escalatingly bizarre non-sequiturs and
untranslatable yelps. If anyone today quoted Toblerone in their lyrics
(as Heyward does in "Triangles") it would be beyond the Robbie
Williams-imposed pale. Here, it strikes you as entirely logical.
"Fantastic Day" is
"Milk Film" as spring liquefies into summer (the "Penny Lane" trumpets).
I love how Heyward always gets more excited - and the way in which the
band surreptitiously speed up - the nearer he gets to the end of the
song. Listen to his "'cause I'm SO in LOVE with YOU!" in the final verse
of "Fantastic Day," puncturing the opiate shimmer of the saxophones in
the mid-ground (excellent sax playing by Phil Smith throughout, by the
way, even indulging in a few harmolodics on "Baked Bean").
"Snow Girl" would be
a number one for anyone now; but would they have the arranging genius
to include the orgasmic, out-of-tempo blissout which arrives
unexpectedly in the middle of the song, Vincent Sullivan's trombone
sliding into infinity behind Heyward's craving for the Other's "elbow"? I
doubt it. And the Butterflies of Love would have to labour for several
further decades of archiving before coming up with such a "perfect pop"
song as "Surprise Me Again." The song is constructed as a double-bluff;
initially Heyward seems to be breaking up with the Other ("At the start
it was great/In the middle I stayed/But at the end I was sick" is a
precis as good and acute as Costello at his hungry best), but listen to
how the whole band suddenly swings up into the sunlight with him as he
sings "then suddenly you smiled." Such an ecstatic chorus. Such hope.
Such a future.
Nothing left to do
now but to wrap everything up, which they do with "Calling Captain
Autumn." Another funkout, but crucially parenthesised by mock cricket
commentary, staged as though they were listening to it on the radio. So
this stands as a complete redefinition of "Englishness," incorporating
black elements, unimaginable without them (the Brixton riots were still
fresh in everyone's memory at the time, bear in mind), and a subversion
and ultimate rebuttal of what the Mail/Telegraph would want us to accept as England.
The fact that, by the beginning of 1983, all of this had effectively ceased to exist does not pass the astute listener by.
There is something
quite startling about this fog of silence which drifts across the debris
of side one’s jollity, as well as a sign that, despite 1982 being
almost over, not all of the lessons of New Pop had been neglected. If
Japan’s “Ghosts” introduced the elements of deliberate silence and
stillness in a manner which pop had not hitherto known, then the
hourglass-like stillness – or the patient stillness of a sniper or
assassin – was returned to the table by Clannad.
Composed by the
group’s Pól Brennan as a theme to the Yorkshire Television thriller
series about the Northern Irish Troubles, lead singer Moya Brennan
trembles her way authoritatively through her lament – and lament it be,
the lyric (sung entirely in Irish Gaelic, an attribute which no other
hit single yet boasts) comes down to saying that in times of war and
violence, no side will win, and all sides will lose (the song is very
careful not to take sides). There are long periods of the record which
consist of nothing more than Eno (or Avalon?)-type
ambient Fairlight drones. As pop was largely, and already, straining
towards insisting that things be done NOW and FAST, this was radical,
and a dire warning to the pop to come in its (literal) wake.
(As this song is
routinely attributed to the younger Enya, it should be noted that Enya,
in 1982 still only twenty-one, had already been and gone as a member of
Clannad; the long-term effects of “Theme From Harry’s Game” would be felt dramatically less than six years hence.)
My 12” of “Do It For
The Music” begins with the echoing vocal: “No time for criticisin’,”
but evidently (i.e. by this evidence) the 7” didn’t (instead we get a
cough). Never mind; like fellow Nick Martinelli-mixed “Beat The Street”
by Sharon Redd, this was inescapable in late 1982 London, and a fine
late disco hit it was too – they were a Crown Heights Affair spinoff
(and the group’s Bert Reid may be responsible for the probing tenor sax
solo) and the song’s easy, patient drive probably renders it undanceable
in today’s climate - but the extraordinary high notes (“Do it for me,”
“DO IIIIIIIT!” – Jessica Cleaves, I think, was the lead singer here) are
relishable, before she glides back down to a more comfortable mid-range
which, frankly, reminds me of Sarah Cracknell.
No, I wasn’t able to
find out who they were either, except that this came out as a single on
Stiff – catalogue number: PRAW 1 – and is the old Frankie Laine cowboy
theme sung in a possibly fake Glaswegian accent with asides of the
calibre of “Haggis, beer an’ fishin’” and “Pints of heavy in East
Kilbride,” continued fourth-wall critiques of the record and an
accordion which bursts randomly into “The Black Bear” or “I Belong To
Glasgow.” Like the previous year’s “Hokey Cokey,” a Christmas Top 20 hit
for “The Snowmen,” (a) this may or may not have been the work of
Extremely Famous People messing about, and (b) I could care less. It’s a
bit like a younger KLF covering McLaren’s “Duck For The Oyster.”
Perhaps I am making it sound too interesting. I don’t remember it being
played at all on radio at the time.
Side one of Raiders
is useful in a globetrotting way; three years before the marketing
concept of “World Music” was invented, we’ve been to Ireland, “Glasgow”
and now the Andes. Actually Incantation were a multinational group of
musicians writing for the Ballet Rambert, who collaborated on a
successful 1981 production entitled Ghost Dances; the success won them a recording contract, and their second album Cacharpaya: Music Of The Andes,
with the help of a television series, made the top ten. The title track
went Top 20 as a single and is a harmless panpipe knees-up, making with
the accelerando at the end (the subtitle “Andes Bumpsa
Daesi” may give some notion that the music wasn’t to be taken too
seriously, even though nothing could really be taken more seriously than
the rebel music of Chile). They continued to prosper – they provided
the panpipes for many film productions, including The Mission. Most interestingly, however, Incantation member Simon Rogers eventually resurfaced as a member of The Fall, notably on 1985’s This Nation’s Saving Grace.
Fat Larry’s Band
One of several singles on this collection to peak at number two – and therefore to be discussed more fully in Music Sounds Better With Two
– “Zoom” in this context plays like the last ray of old-school soul
light before the future engulfs it. The band were from Philadelphia, and
despite occasional club favourites like “Center City” and “Act Like You
Know,” “Zoom” – co-written by Len Barry, of “1-2-3” fame – was their
moment; lead singer “Fat” Larry James’ performance, a semitone out of
tune, is perfectly charming, though the reversal of the standard
day-into-night light analogy is modestly startling. The song sounds like
a fond farewell, and James himself exited this world, from a heart
attack, in 1987, aged just thirty-eight.
The reviewer in Smash Hits
– a chap named David Hepworth - approvingly compared the single, and
its singer, to Dennis Brown, but there are many more aspects of
lightened loss to the voice of the artist previously known as
"Lieutenant Lush." He far more immediately calls to mind Ali Campbell,
of UB40, but his extraordinary purity is comparable with Russell
Tompkins Jnr, and there is even a touch of the polite vulnerability of
Neil Sedaka ("I have danced inside your eyes").
But there is
undoubtedly hurt here, bleeding through every nodule of the singer's
tonsils. What does he mean by "do you really want to hurt me?" With
pained references to "precious kisses, words that burn me," "let me love
and steal" and "if it's love you want from me then take it...away" (he
is on the verge of collapsing altogether on that "take it") it could be
about the fear of commitment, or spiritual as opposed to merely carnal
bonding. Or, as some commentators would have it, it's an extended mild
bitch at alleged ex Kirk Brandon.
But given the enormous controversy aroused by his performance of the song on TOTP - the first time Boy George had been exposed to the public at large beyond NME
addicts, Bow Wow Wow adherents and the London hipster circuit - and
also the video, shot in a courtroom, the question could viably be
interpreted as a rhetorical one; note that opening line of "Give me time
to realise my crime," as though he had committed any. Let me be, what
have I done to you, what makes a man a man - "Everything is not what you
see" (and several radio DJs who indeed "did not know" assumed that it
was a woman singing).
So "Do You Really
Want To Hurt Me?" is very close to a statement, or even a polemic, sent
out as New Pop declined into ignominious ambulance-chasing; but such a
serene setting. The first two Culture Club singles, "White Boy" and "I'm
Afraid Of Me," were promising but didn't yet live up to what writers
like Paul Morley was claiming about them - but everyone had to stop and
take notice of the third, for it was extremely special, and that rarest
of things, a natural number one.
The music is so
quiet and so deftly handled by the musicians; the mood is lovers' rock,
not so much in the manner of Dennis Brown than after the fact of such
great one-offs as Louisa Marks' "Caught You In A Lie" or Trevor Walters'
"Love Me Tonight." But the song continually bends down like an agonised
question mark, so elegant the transition from major to minor, so
reluctant the return. Roy Hay's sitar-guitar immediately recalls "You
Make Me Feel Brand New," but this is the sound of something, or
somebody, slowly dying; in the instrumental break just before the final
chorus, the swathes of dub synth winds blow like a shroud ready to be
laid, and right at the end, after the final sitar-guitar query, a drum
machine is revealed, and ticks on regardless.
Boy George's is one
of the great chart-topping vocal performances, and certainly the most
passionate and controlled of any 1982 number one – the only one of
thirty singles featured here to go all the way, in more ways than one -
you instinctively hurt in tandem with his desperate "hurt me"s in the
chorus, you trail away symmetrically with his wounded "cry." It turned
out to be Culture Club's first masterpiece, a fully deserved number one -
though it would take others, notably the polarised opposites of Jimmy
Somerville and Holly Johnson, to remove that shroud for good.
The single could
have been said to have ended a whole process, the closing down of
possibilities, not all of them voluntary. The song was originally meant
to be about Hynde and Ray Davies – thus the lyrical references to the
media, nostalgic glimpses back into a common, unreachable past (“Those
were the happiest days of my life,” Hynde’s voice vaults, not sure
whether to laugh out loud or cry in quiet), the pain in the apparent
knowledge that “the world,” not they, had sundered them apart.
That wasn’t quite
the whole truth – Hynde and Davies’ relationship was on the hurricane
side of stormy (love your idols? Do you dare?) – but by the time the
single was released it had all become academic, since guitarist James
Honeyman-Scott was by then dead from a drug overdose, dying one day
after bassist Pete Farndon was sacked (and Farndon didn’t have long to
live either) – and so the song became a reluctant requiem, a furtive
upside to the inward torment of the group’s version of Davies’ “I Go To
Sleep” (a top ten single in that darkest of months, November 1981) with
key changes and strange chords (including an E7 augmented by an F,
hitherto only heard in the Beatles’ “I Want To Tell You”) lending the
performance an unbearable poignancy (“And I’ll die as I stand here
Hynde and drummer
Martin Chambers were the only two “Pretenders” on the record – the other
musicians were guitarist Billy Bremner, on loan from Rockpile, and
bassist Tony Butler, shortly to become part of Big Country (I am not
sure who plays the “Love Will Tear Us Apart” synthesiser line at the
end, unless it is processed guitar) – and the single’s B-side, “My City
Was Gone,” which gave a picture of an Akron more unrecognisable and
derelict than anything Devo did, cemented the notion of pop single as
angry memorial. Both songs eventually resurfaced on 1984’s Learning To Crawl,
by which time The Pretenders had evolved into a rather different group;
but here it stands as a farewell to New Pop, sixties idealism, perhaps
even seventies punk – what happens when you go home and home cannot be
For the year or so
when Japan were popular – which, coincidentally or not, was the last
year or so of their existence – theirs was among the most confusing of
chart careers. Realising that they had been somewhat ahead of the curve,
their old label Ariola/Hansa reissued “Quiet Life” from 1979 and saw it
sail into the Top 20 in 1981. Simultaneously the group, now signed to
Virgin, were trying to promote their newer and more advanced work,
specifically the Tin Drum album. A stream of alternating
singles ensued from both sides which meant that two Japans were
effectively battling each other in the charts. Was the group which
slowed pop’s heartbeat to a chilling standstill with “Ghosts” the same
people responsible for a rather arch reading of “I Second That Emotion”?
I don’t know whether
too many people noticed, or were fully occupied covering their bedroom
walls with David Sylvian posters. Nonetheless, the threatening, quiet
brilliance of Tin Drum has not diminished in the
thirty-two years or so since it was first released – close down the
world with “Sons Of Pioneers” or the John Cale-ish celeste which
surfaces towards the end of “Cantonese Boy”; listen to “Still Lives In
Mobile Homes” and wonder just how enormous and silent an influence Joe
Zawinul was on New Pop – and “Ghosts,” as a single, performed motionless
by the group on TOTP in March 1982, Sylvian an
alabaster Osmond frozen by Medusa, or perhaps his own reflection, is one
of the most staggering achievements in all of pop; the ability to
navigate silence or near-silence, the lengthy stretches within the
lament where nothing seems to be happening save for the turmoil in the
singer’s mind, the sour ring-modulated trombones from Escalator,
a chord sequence worthy of Kenny Wheeler (with whom Sylvian would work
two years hence), a lament which stretches from Brian Hyland via David
Cassidy to Tricky (via Mark Stewart) – the world was there for the
taking, but something (the past? The singer’s own fears?) froze him in
his stealthy, scared path – all of this formed the bluntest, if
gentlest, challenge to the notion of the “pop song” (little wonder that,
several years hence, Sylvian would record a stand-alone single entitled
“Pop Song”). That pop songs didn’t need to be noisy. That being “in
your face” could represent an embrace rather than a challenge.
That there was a different road to take from the one which you expected to take.
By the time
“Nightporter” was released as a single in the late autumn of 1982, Japan
no longer existed. Students sitting in the Junior Common Room on
Thursday evening. Students watching the television. Students watching Top Of The Pops. The Top 40 countdown. It was Thursday 2 December 1982. 7:41 in the evening. Numbers 40-11.
At 29 it was a
six-place climber; “Nightporter” by Japan. Cheers swiftly followed by
boos when the countdown didn’t stop. They’re not going to be on? But
they’re climbing! Nobody knew then that Japan had ceased to exist. Were
not available to do Top Of The Pops.
At 28 it was a six-place faller; “Ooh La La La (Let’s Go Dancin’)” by Kool and the Gang. No reaction.
At 27 it was a
two-place climber; “It’s Raining Again” by Supertramp. A couple of
cheers from the back of the room. But the countdown did not stop.
At 26 it was a
seven-place faller; “Muscles” by Diana Ross. Written by Michael Jackson.
About his pet snake. It was agreed that he was a strange one, that
At 25 it was a new entry; “Friends” by Shalamar. No reaction.
At 24 it was a
twelve-place faller; “That Girl Is Mine” by Michael Jackson and Paul
McCartney. It was agreed that he was a strange one, that Michael
Jackson. It was noted that the record hadn’t really done that well. And
that the new Michael Jackson album was no Off The Wall. Far from it. Students would go to Woolworth’s and point at the piles of unsold copies, laughing. It was really too bad.
At 23 it was a
three-place climber; “Talk Talk” by Talk Talk. Their debut single,
remixed but not so you would notice. A little more piano, perhaps. It
would have done. But the countdown didn’t stop.
At 22 it was a nine-place faller; “Cry Boy Cry” by Blue Zoo. Ye whit? said one voice. Who hell they? enquired another.
At 21 it was an eleven-place faller; “Maneater” by Daryl Hall and John Oates. No reaction.
At 20 it was a twelve-place faller; “Theme From Harry’s Game” by Clannad. Respectful murmurs. Deserved to do a lot better than number five.
At 19 it was a
four-place faller; “State Of Independence” by Donna Summer. Respectful
murmurs. Deserved to do a lot better than number fourteen.
And at 18 it was a
three-place climber; “Best Years Of Our Lives” by Modern Romance. The
camera dissolved to Modern Romance in the Top Of The Pops
studio. The group were waving their meaty hands and yippee-ing amidst
primary-coloured tinsel and small audiences pretending to be happy. The
students in the Junior Common Room let out an almighty, amplified SIGH
of exasperation and disappointment, with some supplementary “fucking
It was confirmed, at that moment, that “we” had lost.
But Japan were already lost.
not even current Virgin Records and Tapes Japan. “Nightporter” was
already two years old, from a 1980 album entitled Gentlemen Take Polaroids.
Recorded at Air Studios, high above Oxford Circus. A transitional
record in several ways. Guitarist Rob Dean realised his redundancy and
left the group after the record was released. Ryuichi Sakamoto came on
board for the magisterial, record-closing “Taking Islands In Africa.”
Sylvian began to look beyond Japan, and had begun to wonder what other
musicians could bring to his own visions.
constituted a kernel of sociability. Paul and Linda McCartney were there
most nights, working. Linda was a huge Japan fan. Paul also liked them
and offered to do some guitar work on their songs if they needed it.
And there were these
kids from Birmingham, these five kids, working in the next studio to
Japan, and it was confirmed, at that moment, that “Japan,” and perhaps
pop music, had lost.
These five kids from
Birmingham were Japan fanatics. They nervously presented the group with
a rough demo tape. One song. “Girls On Film.” Japan spluttered amongst
themselves. What a pile of garbage! they thought. Like us a couple of
years ago, before we dropped all that nonsense, or Moroder eased it out
of us. But they are just kids from Birmingham. Be diplomatic. Tell them
we’re very sorry but we can’t produce them right now.
The five kids from
Birmingham took the rebuff well. Although the five kids from Birmingham
thought that they were already above such things as rebuffs. One of them
had gone up to the keyboard player for Japan, Richard Barbieri, and
told him: “We’re going to be bigger than you because we want it more.”
Barbieri smiled agreement. He knew they didn’t know what “it” they
wanted. But inwardly he sighed, knowing that yes, the five kids from
Birmingham were going to be “bigger” than amiably arty Lewisham/Catford
types Japan. If all they wanted was to be “bigger.” Bigger than life?
Japan remembered James Mason, Nicholas Ray and cortisone. Not one of
them thought that “God is wrong!”
Japan also remembered the 1974 European arthouse movie The Night Porter.
Dirk Bogarde and Charlotte Rampling. Bogarde played an ex-SS officer.
They treated business as pleasure and pain as payment. And so, this
slowly patient waltz, out of Satie, perhaps, but to the same extent that
Hampstead is out of Kelvingrove. Voice, piano, discreet electronics,
some woodwind and strings. This last, un-wild waltz. “Could I ever
explain this feeling of love?” Sylvian sang as though having examined
Cassidy, Osmond and Soul and found them all still wanting. The song
never lifts itself out of whispers. “Longing to touch all the places we
know we can hide/The width of a room that can hold so much pleasure
inside.” As Sunday stately and as acutely damaged internally as Ute
Lemper and Scott Walker’s “Scope J,” the lovers love, or paint a picture
of love. Dissipating in “a quiet town, where life gives in,” the man
waits for the night – like Fat Larry’s Band and Heaven 17 – so that he
can experience life again: “And catching my breath, we’ll both brave the
I lazily thought
that the additional instrumental colours were the work of Mick Karn. But
the oboe on “Nightporter” is not his, and the rustling, ascending
low-level leaf behind Sylvian’s voice is not that of a bass clarinet,
but of a bowed double bass.
The double bass
player was Barry Guy, the great improvising bassist and composer, one
third of Iskra 1903 and leader of the London Jazz Composers Orchestra.
And even though Guy,
in retrospect, recalled Japan's hairstyles more readily than he
remembered the session, I like to think that this is where the New Pop
nettle, before “New Pop” was even thought of as a phrase, was grasped,
that Sylvian knew that to survive it had to justify its glories and be
able to move music and life forward. And so he put the standards – the
Reed, the Bowie, the Dolls, the slide rule of historicism that
subsequent generations of musicians could or would not ease themselves
past – to the back and considered other ways, listening to musicians
creating on the spur of the moment, taking into account the record
labels which don’t routinely appear in pop music histories. Labels like
Incus, Ogun, Bead, Matchless, Mosaic, FMP, ECM, JAPO, ICP, BVHAAST,
Horo, Steam, Steeplechase, Tangent, Black Saint, Soul Note, Delmark,
Or perhaps Sylvian just listened attentively to BBC Radio 3’s Jazz In Britain broadcasts, particularly the one recorded in March 1980 by Barry Guy and the London Jazz Composers Orchestra – Stringer (Four Pieces For Orchestra)
– and in particular the second part, which was a slowly rising
palindromic compositional arch there to cushion the trumpet improvising
of featured Torontonian soloist Kenny Wheeler – a musician who, as mentioned above, by 1984,
would be working and recording with David Sylvian – and it is a
beautiful, oddly tonal, restrained reflection of somebody’s soul which
not so oddly is a little reminiscent, in mood if not in structure, of
Japan’s “Nightporter.” And eventually Sylvian would learn about more of
these players, and the players with or around or alongside them, and
grow. Gone To Earth, Blemish, Manafon – “Nightporter” marks the point where he, and New Pop, had already begun to grow.
One could understand Heaven 17 being slightly frustrated by the autumn of 1982. Penthouse And Pavement was a permanent fixture in the album chart but they still hadn’t had a Top 40 single, the Music Of Quality And Distinction Volume One project had fizzled away somewhat, and the Human League were…well, what were the Human League doing in the autumn of 1982? The absence of “Mirror Man” from Raiders
can be ascribed to the fact that it was still riding high in the charts
of Christmas 1982, was in no immediate need of a commercial leg-up (but
its B-side, the ominous “You Remind Me Of Gold,” is the great lost
Human League song).
But by Christmas
1982 the Human League were no longer really what they had been in
January 1982, hadn’t fully come through on their promise. Then again, by
Christmas 1982 New Pop was no longer really what it had been in January
1982, hadn’t been allowed to come through fully on anybody’s promise.
The exclamation mark
at the end of “Let Me Go!” is necessary, to counteract the general air
of frustrated exhaustion that marks the record. The single cover
featured a close-up of Glenn Gregory, grasping a telephone receiver as
though ready to strangle it, looking at us, angry, confused and tired.
The sleeve’s grey shades make a striking contrast to Heaven 17’s
previous white-on-white/primary-coloured all-is-welcome façade.
The song was Heaven 17’s masterpiece. It is best experienced
in its 12-inch incarnation, as the mix carefully breaks down and
highlights all the features which make it such a great and apocalyptic
lonely Eno via Percy Faith single-note high synthesiser line providing
the counter-melody to Gregory’s lead – or was it obtained from the Bonzo
Dog Band’s “Slush,” Neil Innes’ laugh looped to hell and never back?
- John Wilson’s characteristically generous guitar chords, waddling, lost penguin synth bass and acoustic guitar commentary.
- The Free Design-out-of Sudden Sway vocal counterpoints (“Ba-do-do-ba-bo-ba-bo-bar-up-BOP!”).
- The eerily still harmonies which remind us that once there was 10cc and “I’m Not In Love.”
is the seven-inch edit, however, which gathers up all of these elements
at once. And the song – “Let Me Go!,” let New Pop go? – plays as though
it might be the last pop song ever recorded.
debris, the wreckage, lie around the group, and they are tidying up as
best they can after the threads have been cut forever, knowing that
their task is a necessarily forlorn one. From a funk-pop perspective the
song is Raw Silk taken to the next level.
yet Gregory’s voice, angry, confused and lost though it may be, is
always carefully controlled. Dignity – ALWAYS dignity. He sings at about
half the speed of the song, as though trying to catch the driftwood of
human life that has irretrievably fled into space, wondering where, how
and why everything went wrong, but knowing that this is the end, or an
“Once we were years ahead, but now those thoughts are dead.”
once was life, an unbroken path, unspecified days of brilliance. But
now there is “a torture less sublime.” He knows that he tried (“a
thousand times”) but also that it just wasn’t enough, and that
everything from hope onward came crashing down. As though their scheme
had failed. Their strategy backfired.
Enough is enough.
“All I want is NIGHT TIME!”
“I don’t need the DAYTIME!”
Let there not be light if the only light to be glimpsed is a falsehood.
And yet: “the hope of it (that “it” again) survives,” “the facts of life unspoken.”
But, as with Boy George, Gregory is defiant. “Found guilty of no crime!” he sings more than once.
“But now the bank is broken” and all he has left is the last card, to turn down, in either sense.
And, in the middle there, somewhere:
“The best years of our lives.”
“They were the best years of our lives.”
I’ll turn the last card down rather than look at “modern romance.”
The record slips down the lift shaft.
The record slipped away, nearly unnoticed. It peaked at that most fatal of chart positions – number 41.
It told a story that nobody in the early autumn of 1982 wanted to hear.
That wasn’t how, or where, the story New Pop was supposed to go.
It was a “best kept secret.”
Yet the breakthrough would come. But would they still be who they once were?
Who now knows whether or not the 12-inch of “Fantasy Island” was “actually better” than Led Zeppelin III? It’s out there, that 12-inch, in charity shops across the country, yours for next to nothing, and it is…different from Led Zeppelin III.
“Great group, Abba,” commented Peter Easton on BBC Radio Scotland’s Top
40 countdown show while fading out “Fantasy Island.” “Tight Fit seem to
think so, anyway.”
But “Fantasy Island”
was Tight Fit’s moment, in part a justification for New Pop being what,
in May 1982, it was – the boom-clap-boom-clap medley band, hitherto in
1982 the midpoint between “Sugar Baby Love” and “Wherever I Lay My Hat
(That’s My Home)” (Paul da Vinci sang the uncredited lead vocal, Paul
Young played the uncredited session guitar, and Tight Fit’s “The Lion
Sleeps Tonight” was not as good as Eno’s version), broke free, for
three-and-a-bit minutes, to record a song about Thatcher’s Britain and
involving water and scenery as a sort of metaphor. It was attractive and catchy, it blurred
lines between dream and reality (hey hey hey, suggesting that life
itself was the strangest dream of all), and it was produced by Tim
Friese-Greene, who six years later would produce, with Mark Hollis, Talk
Talk’s Spirit Of Eden, a record hugely influenced by the work of Roy Harper, after whom the final song on Led Zeppelin III was in part named. True love, holding everything together.
Dave Stewart and Barbara Gaskin
School’s Secret History of Pop Music never quite picked up pace again
after “It’s My Party” just as Marty Wilde’s pop singing career never
quite picked up pace again after he got married; Adam Faith songwriter
Les Vandyke wrote “Johnny Rocco” – a Western fantasy, rather than a
spinoff from the 1958 American gangster B-movie starring a different
Russ Conway – for Wilde, and it stalled at #30 in the early spring of
1960. Stewart and Gaskin don’t really do anything too different to the
song, other than making its chord progression more, so to speak,
progressive, and emphasising the anti-macho root of the happy payoff, as
Gaskin sighs in pure Kentish tones: “Oi think foighting is pa-THE-TIC!”
A comment on the Falklands?
Toni Basil/Kid Creole and The Coconuts/Yazoo
Three number two hits in a row, and therefore three records to be written about more fully in TPL’s sister blog (in the fullness of time), so I will confine myself to the following observations, one on each:
- The dawn of the
video age; also the eclipse of the Chinnichap age, one last, fond hurrah
before being swallowed up by the future (Gwen Stefani, at this point,
- August Darnell; such class, such élan,
such persuasiveness does he use to make us believe in his cohorts’
backing vocals (“Ona! Ona! Onomatopoeia!,” “Break it gently to me
now!”), the busy percussion and the lazy trombone, all the better that
we don’t see the feral misanthropy at this song’s heart, worthy (if
“worthy” is the word) of Howlin’ Wolf at his most nihilistic?
- Yazoo, the old ways
kiss the new dawn, or is it a false dawn? “Wonder if you
understand/It’s just the touch of your hand” (low voice, confidential,
encouraging, fatal pause) “Behind a closed door” (the disappointment,
the ruptured rapture).
Quite the life Ms
Lovich has lived; born in Detroit of Serbian and American parentage,
moved to Hull as a teenager, involved in no end of alternative
happenings since the late sixties, wrote the lyrics to Cerrone’s
“Supernature,” was one of the “future Parliament” in the audience for
Chuck Berry’s “My Ding-A-Ling”…but “Lucky Number” was an NME number two so I’ll leave it to Lena to tell Lovich’s full story.
In the meantime,
“It’s You, Only You (Mein Schmerz)” – note the song’s strategic placing
right after “Only You” – just about got into our Top 75 (peaking at #68;
in the States it reached as high as #51). A cover of a 1979 Herman
Brood/Nina Hagen song, Lovich attacks the number with agreeable relish,
sounding remarkably like Patti Smith.
It’s remarkable that
it has taken until now to get to the group some still call “The English
Beat,” at the point where they were practically finished. I’ve written
about I Just Can’t Stop It – one of 1980’s great party albums in a year of great party albums – before, didn’t think much of Wh’appen? and reckon Special Beat Service
somewhat underrated (my favourite of all Beat records might be the
12-inch of “Too Nice To Talk To”), including as it does the number one
which should have been, “Save It For Later,” and much purposeful
experimenting leading fairly directly to Fine Young Cannibals and
General Public alike. “I Confess” somehow manages to turn its implied
skank into a tabla-driven raga, while Dave Wakeling sings one of the
reddest-faced pop vocal performances: “I confess I've ruined three
lives/Now don't sleep so tight/Because I didn't care ‘til I found out
that one of them was mine.”
Toto Coelo were not
Bananarama. Toto Coelo were not The Belle Stars. Toto Coelo were not
Girls At Our Best. Toto Coelo were not The Au Pairs. Toto Coelo were not
The Slits. Toto Coelo were not The Raincoats. Toto Coelo were not
Pulsallama. Toto Coelo were not Raw Silk.
Toto Coelo were all-round family entertainers. Toto Coelo were Seaside Special. Toto Coelo were 1-2-3
with Ted Rogers and Dusty Bin. Toto Coelo were available. Toto Coelo
were reliables who always turned up, and on time. Toto Coelo were
And “I Eat
Cannibals” really belonged in 1974. “I Eat Cannibals” makes better sense
in the bizarre 1974 world of its author and producer Barry Blue.
Bizarre? You haven’t heard “Pay At The Gate.” But in terms of “Miss Hit
And Run” and the extravagant “Hot Shot,” “I Eat Cannibals” made a
whole(some) lot more sense. In the bizarre 1982 world of New Pop “I Eat
Cannibals” looked and sounded like an insult to everything New Pop said
that it stood for. But “I Eat Cannibals” made number eight because that
was what people seemed to want. The waving of lusty hands and yippee-ing
amidst primary-coloured tinsel and small audiences pretending to be
Toto Coelo never had
another hit. The follow-up “Dracula’s Tango” is perhaps only remembered
by members of Toto Coelo. Toto Coelo were one-hit wonders. Toto Coelo
were not The Runaways.
This has to rank as the most obscure piece of music that Then Play Long
has unearthed. I do not remember “The On And On Song” coming out as a
single – and I didn’t miss very much back in 1982. I don’t recall it
ever being played on the radio, even though Radio 1 seemed desperately
dependent on “novelty” records as a distraction, and not necessarily
from New Pop. It was certainly never a hit. I don’t even remember it
Did the single of
“The On And On Song” ever exist? Or was it only recorded in the hope
that it might fill a spare slot on a thirty-track double album “hits”
compilation? Why has the song apparently fallen through every black hole
that the pop universe has to offer?
I undertook some
detective work, and discovered that the single of “The On And On Song”
did indeed exist, and was mostly to be found, at the time, in 10p cutout
bins. It was recorded somewhere in Wandsworth, released on the
world-beating KA record label, and the B-side was an instrumental,
designed for singalong/proto-karaoke purposes. Or perhaps it was just a
quick and convenient way to fill up a B-side.
The song appears to
have been written and performed by one Trisha O’Keefe, of whom I have
been able to find no meaningful subsequent trace. All I do know is that
“The On And On Song” perhaps belongs on a compilation like the Bevis
Frond’s Music For Mentalists, alongside Rusty Goffe’s “I
Am The Music Man” or Reginald Bosanquet’s “Dance With Me.” It is a
cheery Cockney piano singalong – like Lynsey de Paul discovering Chas
and Dave – and lyrically something of a precedent to “Don’t Worry, Be
Happy.” Its basic piano/drum machine arrangement is augmented by effects
including a cracking whip, a children’s television choir which may well
be multiple speeded-up Trisha O’Keefes, a chorus of kazoos, Basil Brush
laughs, and octave-jumping piano vamps which are reminiscent of those
to be subsequently found in House and Rave music; indeed, these vamps
will be the effective lingua franca of the Top 40 a decade hence.
Trisha is feeling
daft because her bank manager won’t give her an overdraft to sail the
world in her homemade raft. It feels like a refugee from Milligan’s The Bed-Sitting Room,
and I briefly wondered whether this was a Crass-style socio-political
wind-up. But it was not, and so the song cheerily goes on and on and on
and on, this funny little song (one surefire way to ensure that a song
remains unfunny is to call it funny), because Britain goes on and on and
on and never really changes anything least of all themselves and in
truth never want change because they’re an island and they know what’s
what even if they become dependent on Red Cross parcels and all get
herded into the workhouse to service global lieges but it is Britain and
so let’s go on and on and on until the last star fizzles out and the
world turns orange as it melts and it goes on and on and ON
Such a relief to
come across a song which sounds like the late 1982 “now” and perhaps
even the next century, let alone the current one. Whodini were three hip
hop guys from Brooklyn – in fact, were in on hip hop more or less from
the beginning – and “Magic’s Wand” was conceived as a tribute to WBLS
radio personality Mr Magic (on whose show the young Marley Marl served
as DJ) with considerable help from Thomas Dolby. Now Dolby’s agreeably
bending synthesiser lines, like PG Wodehouse shaking your hand in a
field of daffodils on Neptune, may sound as quaint as the Farfisa organ
on Johnny and the Hurricanes records, but the mood is good-natured and
as a low-calorie equivalent to “Buffalo Gals” (to which Dolby also
contributed) it makes one briefly nostalgic for times when “rap attack,”
“heart attack” and “Big Mac attack” meant nothing more than what they
The Pale Fountains
The reaction was to
pretend that it was still the sixties. There was a lot of it about as
1982 crawled to what looked like being an anticlimactic end. In 1982
Radio 1 “celebrated” its fifteenth anniversary. On Thursday 30 September
their daytime shows played records from 1967 only. I was back at
university by then, and spent that day at home studying and writing up
this and that, and had Radio 1 on as background. It was an eerie
experience, hearing this fifteen-year-old time capsule of records which
already sounded as distant as Marie Lloyd and Billy Bennett, yet still
not of this world; 1967, like 1982, was a year in which pop exceeded
itself, decided to make of itself more than it probably was, and just
because bumptious ballads dominated the top end of the charts didn’t
cancel out all of the strangeness surrounding them. It
felt sinister, not quite right – I think pretty much every
non-MoR/novelty hit of the year got played at one point or another.
And as the autumn
skies steadily darkened, so that feeling must have slowly spread. “House
Of The Rising Sun” and “Hi Ho Silver Lining” returned to the charts
without any obvious precipitating factor. “Love Me Do” got its twentieth
anniversary “reissue,” finally made the top five and ensured that
history was rewritten in the winners’ favour. There were also sixties
pastiches, most of them feeble (e.g. “Danger Games” by the Pinkees, Mari
Wilson finally making the top ten with her worst single, where two
previous singles of genius had failed).
There were things
which forced themselves to stand out, like “Parade” by Roy White and
Steve Torch. Dismissed by most at the time as a pallid “tonight Matthew
we’re going to be the Walker Brothers” shadow of a record, I knew at the
time that this record was saying something more, was more urgent and
threatening (“I’m KILLING YOU!” went the throaty chorus). Steve Torch
was first choice as bassist for Dexy’s, but didn’t feel he was up to it
and passed on the offer, though did co-write several songs for the group
(notably “Liars A To E”) – hence the muttered, if mistaken, belief
among some listeners at the time who thought it was Kevin Rowland
singing. It remains a dark, twilight cloud of a record about sexual
jealousy and personal uncertainty, with dynamic chord changes, most of
which were carefully ironed out and simplified for Rhydian Roberts’ 2011
nice try at a cover version.
And then there were
Liverpool’s Pale Fountains. Signed to Virgin for a LOT of money, the
label needed a hit more or less straightaway. Hence, the big Fairchild
compressor orchestral balladry of “Thank You,” where a humble song (its
sentiments echoed by Michael Head’s disconcerting – in this fulsome
context - Edwyn Collins-ish vocal) is blown up out of its natural
proportions by strings, choirs, and Andy Diagram’s “Penny Lane” trumpet.
The record sounded exactly like what it was – scally indie made to wear
an uncomfortable tuxedo – and so stopped at #48.
They never got close
again, not even with 1983’s immensely superior follow-up “Palm Of My
Hand,” whose failure to chart I can directly ascribe to the fact that at
the time the single was bloody impossible to find. By the time they
belatedly reached their debut album, 1984’s Pacific Street, the group had moved on somewhat, and any potential audience remained baffled.
1985’s …From Across The Kitchen Table,
possibly an even better album, fell on largely deaf ears, and the band
split in 1987. Head then went on, via many well-documented troubles, to
form the group Shack, but it wasn’t until 1995 and the release of their
rescued debut album Waterpistol – then already four years old – that the critical tide began to turn his way. A second Shack album, HMS Fable, was also widely saluted, if hardly bought, but Head’s best and most intense work might be found on 1997’s The Magical World Of The Strands,
released under the banner of “Michael Head Introducing The Strands”
(they had lately backed Love’s Arthur Lee on his British tour); “Loaded
Man” in particular, an anything but funny or little song which goes on
and on and on, is not for the squeamish – an effort to make “the
sixties” matter again. And a word to Chris McCaffery, Head’s best friend
at school and bassist for the Pale Fountains, who died of a brain
tumour not long after the group split.
“I don’t want to hear a lie”; strange how this truth-or-dare thing permeates Raiders.
There are the accordion and the castanets, the Latin tempo; if only
Shaky were David Hidalgo this could easily be Los Lobos. Nashville’s
Billy Livsey wrote the song; the ambience of a slightly claustrophobic
recording studio remains audible; and the single, the title track of a
top three album, peaked only at #11. It might have climbed higher if
Stevens hadn’t had to cancel a Top Of The Pops appearance; the vacant slot was given to the single at #38 that week – “Do You Really Want To Hurt Me?” by Culture Club.
The Four Seasons of 1982 New Pop:
Winter going into spring: Pelican West.
Spring sliding into summer: Sulk.
Summer eliding into autumn: New Gold Dream.
Autumn moving into winter: A Kiss In The Dreamhouse.
1981 had seen Simple
Minds with hope. With Steve Hillage, a memory of the musicians’ days of
buying Virgin records out of the old Virgin Records shop on Argyle
Street, producing; with hope. With Jim Kerr, monologued by Morley in the
NME (it also appears in Ask), warning
that the old games won’t work anymore, telling critics not to do them
down and mark them like recalcitrant school pupils. The rocking old game
of talk them up one year, mark them down the next. Like Sons And Fascination was a bloody fourth year essay. An ink exercise partially crossed out with a red critical pen saying “See me.” But Sons And Fascination transcended all of that nonsense – to paraphrase Russell Brand said in The Guardian
just now, when music critics criticise musicians for using “long words”
and making “pretentious records,” they mean they’re using their long words, making the critics’ pretentious records – and the record (and its Sister)
spelled out hope. A hope in a record which appeared just after the
death of Bill Shankly and not long after the death of my father either. A
record which meant something extraordinarily special to the people who
knew, or lived in, or were leaving, the Glasgow of September 1981. An
overall patience, as opposed to the liberating, agonised rush of Empires And Dance.
You could listen to “Theme For Great Cities” and know exactly which
cities the Minds had in mind. Or to “The American” – the most exciting
final thirty seconds of any pop record, as Peel rightly said – or “Sweat
In Bullet” or “Seeing Out The Angel” and you knew you weren’t walking
New Gold Dream – and never forget its not-quite-subtitle, ’81-’82-’83-’84
(how thrillingly futuristic the notion of “’83” was in 1982, at least
the way Kerr exclaimed or proclaimed it) – represented pop’s better
afterlife, a quietly, modestly (or so it would appear; no less than
three drummers turn up in different places, and sometimes in the same
place, throughout the record) enveloped example of what we could have if
we admitted to ourselves that we wanted it. “Somebody Up There Likes
You” – remember that corner you turned nine years before and suddenly
the sun grinned away the grey overlay of cloud? A raised, beatific
eyebrow from somebody’s god? And yet, and especially throughout the
second half of the record’s second side, a realisation as resigned as
“Mr Blue Sky” that this can never last, that something darker and
perhaps more forbidding looms up: “The King Is White And In The Crowd” –
all build-up, no release, no rush; just waiting, waiting.
The hits –
“Miracle,” “Glittering,” Abba, we were fed up with not having a hit,
Peter Powell’s astonishing introduction on his Tuesday teatime chart
recap to the Minds making the charts at last; yes, these are our days,
Burchill’s nearly one-note but multichordal, silently screaming guitar
solo, the wider screen, the sheet-sweeping drums, Forbes’ midfield bass
suddenly buckling up like its knees had gone and then shooting into the
top corner when nobody was looking or expecting, “Prize” the Abba up to
the news heaven that many dared not dream.
And, above all, the song which opens the record.
And why Peter Walsh? He was a staff producer at Virgin, had worked on Penthouse And Pavement
and the group said fine. Then he worked with Peter Gabriel and China
Crisis and then Scott walked by and said, hey, can I have him for Climate Of Hunter and three tilting, drifting decades later he is still there.
But Scott walked by and asked Virgin for Peter Walsh because he had heard New Gold Dream and couldn’t believe what he was hearing. A dream for sure, unlike any pop record ever produced, not even that much like Abba.
In Summertime” seems to begin mid-song, or open up like a box of jewels.
As a song it feels as if it is being played on stilts forty thousand
feet high, removed from any easy notion of physicality. It ticks like
God’s clock pasted onto Jodrell Bank, all the better to time the stars.
It moves with one hundred and one orchestras of strings.
And all the time, Jim Kerr reaches out to his Bowie, from station to station:
“Stay, I’m burning slow.”
Walking in the rain, but it won’t last. Because moments burn, like gunfire.
The King is white and in the cloud.
He is returning from
somewhere, a journey unspecified. “Once more see city lights”; if he
sees a light flashing, does this mean that he’s not alone?
But “Brilliant days. Wake up on brilliant days.”
At the time, I could
think of nothing else except waking up on brilliant days, coming to
consciousness in a new and better world that was yours, only yours.
“Shadows of brilliant ways will change me all the time” – and something
happens which doesn’t happen often, if at all, in pop music; the
keyboards strike a Picardy third, minor-to-major, while bass continues
in its minor-key drone, Burchill’s guitar an uneasy yet completely
logical halfway house between the two.
And it builds up, as
such things build up – because it is already built up, far above us –
as Kerr sings: “Somewhere there is some place that one million eyes
can’t see/And somewhere there is someone who can see what I can see.” A
place for us as drums and bass pick up, church organ sounds out and the
rising bustle of “Eye Of The Tiger” is met far more satisfactorily. A
cry, a hope, no pain, only semi-bewildered joy.
And this was the lesson of New Gold Dream;
the shadows were leavening but New Pop couldn’t die or be killed or
supplanted; it proved itself endlessly able to twist into new turning
shapes, it would outlive all the racketeers who would profit in its
pseudo-wake. There was never going to be a wake for New Pop, travelling,
seeing out all angels, on a clear day seeing forever.
The song was written
by Jeff Fortgang about forty years ago. His attempt to break into the
songwriting business proved stillborn and he instead opted for a career
as a clinical psychologist. But the song didn’t die. People found it,
stumbled upon it. And sometimes altered it out of all recognition.
Palmer – now, Lena and I have been thinking very hard about who does and
doesn’t constitute New Pop, and we think that it should incorporate
those who had already been around for some time but didn’t find their
(im)proper selves until New Pop allowed them to do so. So Scarborough’s
Robert Palmer, rocking the pubs with The Alan Bown! and Vinegar Joe,
only really comes to life, or into view, when he asks Gary Numan for a
tune on his 1980 album Clues, and the record still sounds as bustling and foreboding as anything on early eighties Island Records.
And so his
“Some Guys Have All The Luck,” before Rod Stewart and Maxi Priest’s
boring textbook readings (though after Palmer died, Stewart began to use
his rearrangement onstage), where Palmer essentially cuts the song into
little pieces of white paper, throws them in the air, sees where they
land and sings what he sees. Which is mostly inarticulate grunts,
squeals, mutters and shrieks counteracted by an electrifying Russell
Mael falsetto. He happily, politely rebuts the concept of a pop song in
this pop song released and in the charts at the same time as “Poison
Arrow” and “Party Fears Two.” And he was loved and couldn’t be stopped
by anybody except him.
Wake up on less than
brilliant days? The rhythm squelches along electronically, as though
trudging through puddles to that bloody bus stop. The relationship of
bass to guitar and rhythm oddly parallels Simple Minds. Morose horns –
noticeably greyer than those on “Ghost Town” but perhaps UB40 recognised
the greyness more readily – bring down the clouds and help pave the way
for Roots Manuva (Run Come Save Me in particular feels
like an extended appendage to “So Here I Am” with some Dammers mischief
sprinkled). Even Brian Travers’ normally placid tenor sax is rather
angry, threatening to break into George Khan multiphonics at any time in
But who in late 1982 was walking with UB40? Not too many people. Their first two albums, Signing Off (1980) and Present Arms (1981), both peaked at #2 (they both topped the equivalent NME
chart), and remain shockingly sober reflections on a world which didn’t
seem to rise much above the depths of Digbeth. Sober and patient; even
their stand-alone 1980 single “The Earth Dies Screaming” – so much
quieter, far more frightening than “Two Tribes” – scarcely raised its
voice. They found sober pride in their form of reggae (whereas Dammers
was itching to prove that the world wasn’t flat and Madness had moved
off to their own arena of matey darkness); it is like Bill Shankly’s
idea of reggae, and more and more people gradually drifted off.
So “So Here I Am,”
not quite their last 45 statement before 1983’s big turnaround, and Ali
Campbell is at the bus stop, wishing he were somewhere – and probably
somebody – else. There is no hope, not even the merest glimpse of
sunshine other than something mercilessly watery. The fadeout seems to
last forever as a final mockery of Those Fabulous Eighties.
Before UB40 reached back and became part of Those Fabulous Eighties.
A single of its
year, maybe of any year. No, it wasn’t a hit because it “sold in all the
wrong shops.” But everyone knew it anyway. Art Garfunkel. And Green
Gartside. These were the only two singers to come close to what the Cool
Ruler managed – deep emotion stated in a throwaway fashion, so
throwaway that it translates into the song of a choirboy.
“This heart is
broken in love,” purrs Isaacs over a steadily rocking electro-skank
pulse which hardly changes throughout the record. His “Tell her it’s a
patient called Gregory” outranks the entire career of Roger Moore
(indeed, he even conveys something of the prematurely
[s]exhausted-spirit of Sylvian on “Nightporter”). “Oh GOSH” – and then
comes the holiest of pauses – “oh the pain is getting worse”; and he has
never sounded more content. He sings “I’m hurt in love” deadpan –
melisma is entirely absent – and immediately you empathise with him as
you would do with the Green of “Simply Beautiful” or the Gaye of “If I
Should Die Tonight.” At that fadeout, another, conclusive, Gielgud-esque
“Oh GOSH…” beaming like a slowly awakening fire hydrant.
Oh yes, Robert Wyatt. There was always a fourth voice.
“Let me tell you about my mother” – it could be a line from Fame,
couldn’t it? You will have probably long since guessed that despite the
many glimpses of hope on this particular transition, the story is fated
not to end well. I have said things about Blade Runner previously on TPL
and don’t propose to reiterate them here, except to say that Vangelis’
soundtrack must be listened to, making such startling use of old chart
ghosts (Peter Skellern, Mary Hopkin, Demis Roussos), and that its
saxophone solos are performed by Dick Morrissey.
The theme here is
the “Love Theme,” if it can so be called, and here is subjected to the
news-in-two-minutes mid-afternoon radio jazz-funk treatment. No stain on
the character of either the late Mr Morrissey, a hard bop tenorman who
had been a stalwart on the British jazz scene since the days of Ronnie
Scott and Tubby Hayes and who at much the same time as this performed
the saxophone solo on Orange Juice’s “Rip It Up,” nor of Glasgow jazz
guitarist Jim Mullen, but their interpretation is, to put it
diplomatically, uninvolving. But some of their backing musicians would
wash up, towards the end of the decade, within the menacing contours of
Chris Rea’s The Road To Hell – a record far closer to what Blade Runner implied.
The Kids From “Fame”
Like I said, it’s
the end of something, and this is the fulsome picture of the hell to
come; people pretending to be happy when their souls and their homes
have been stolen away, the school choir unity of too many charity
records to come, the desecration of gospel that will culminate in
Cowell, the central assembly point for people who don’t want subtext,
excitement or outrage – or even mild difference – but
shiny conveyor belt shite that will fit in the checkout with the Brillo
pads and Johnson’s air fresheners. Throughout 1983 it will be a repeated
story of what “we” might have had instead of what we have been left
with, and in at least one of these twenty-one cases the edict “he got
what he wanted but lost what he had” will have a singularly and
unpleasantly bitter aftertaste.
This music was no better when I was nineteen.