Category Archives: biography

2020 ➤ Yes, Midge Ure has Fleetwood Mac to thank for his landmark hit Vienna

40
YEARS
ON

❚ ON THIS DAY in 1980 Ultravox released one of the three most significant albums of the year that exemplified Britain’s new wave of synthesised electronic music – the others coming from Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark (in February) and Japan (in October). None of them acknowledged any association with the New Romantics movement. Ultravox’s 12-track album Vienna made an immediate impact, though its title track was only its third to be released, hitting No 2 in the charts in January 1981, later winning Single of the Year at the Brit Awards and an age later voted “the UK’s favourite No2 of all time” in a BBC poll.

It was produced by the German Conny Plank with an evocatively romantic landmark video directed by Russell Mulcahy who was creating a stunning visual vocabulary for the then novel music video. Midge Ure can take full credit as lead singer and guitarist for breathing a subtle blend of Roxy Music’s style and krautrock clarity into Ultravox and building them into a credible vanguard for electronica. Even as the word punk was given the heave-ho in favour of the term “new wave”, Ure was probably the first active player of a synth among any of his clubbing pals, having bought his first, the polyphonic Yamaha CS-50, in the summer of ’78.

As one of the most innovative musicians of the new decade, having had fingers in more pop pies than most, Ure is well qualified to stake his claim to have shaped the music of the Blitz Kids (among whom he was very much an honorary member), and here he describes the inspiration for Vienna, in an extract from his eloquent and candid 2004 autobiography If I Was (Virgin Books):

The first time I plugged in and made a noise with Ultravox was in April 1979 at a rehearsal room in the Elephant and Castle. Right from the first minute I knew I had come home. This noise was what I had been searching for, not only could these people make that noise, but they also could teach me how to make it. [These people being Chris Cross, Billy Currie, Warren Cann.]

What we were doing was radical and new: synthesisers, drum machines and electric guitar mixed together, synth bass with regular drums playing on top of it, the electronic and the organic. It had never been done before. Our sound was massive, this weird crossover between Kraftwerk and the guitars, bass and drums that belonged to every rock band in the world…

I might have been a one-time teeny-bop guitarist but once I was behind the technology, the music that made me famous was the darkest, most serious stuff I’d ever done. Those early days in Ultravox were the best time of my life. The result was a complete crossover, maybe that’s why it worked. The music came from all of us: everyone contributed and we split all the songwriting credits four ways. The classic example of all of us working together was Vienna.

Midge Ure, Ultravox, pop music, Swinging 80s,

The day job: in 1979 Midge Ure (moustachioed) resurrected the name of Ultravox along with Billy Currie, Chris Cross and Warren Cann. © Getty

One night I was sitting having a conversation with my old manager, Gerry Hempstead, who had co-managed the Rich Kids, when his wife Brenda said to me: ‘Midge, what you need to write is a song like that Vienna.’ I looked blank and she went, ‘You know, the Fleetwood Mac song.’ I looked blanker. ‘No, it wasn’t Vienna,’ said Gerry, ‘it was Rhiannon.’ That was the night I went home with Vienna lodged in my brain.

The next morning it was still there. I walked into the kitchen in my little flat and said to Billy, who was staying over, ‘I’ve got a line running around in my head I can’t get rid of, “this means nothing to me, this means nothing to me, Vienna”.’ We built the song from that one lyric. Every component element came from all four of us. It wouldn’t have been Vienna without Warren’s heartbeat drum sound, and it wouldn’t have been Vienna without the bass synth notes and Billy’s eerie viola… / Continued in Chapter 10 of If I Was

➢ Buy Midge Ure’s If I Was: The Autobiography

➢ Previously at Shapers of the 80s:
1978, Midge stakes his claim as the weathervane of synth-pop who helped shape the British New Wave

➢ Previously at Shapers of the 80s:
110+ acts who set the style for the new music of the 1980s

FRONT PAGE

2020 ➤ And now Bowie pays the ultimate tribute to Little Richard

obituaries, rock-n-roll, gay issues, Little Richard,

Little Richard in 1957: So many saxophones in the band that Bowie the child went out and bought his own

➢ When rock-n-roll legend Little Richard died
this week at the age of 87, the official David Bowie
website published this tribute…

“Some cat was layin’ down some rock n roll…” The young David Jones soaked up influences like a dry sponge and he found the music and attitude of Little Richard, among others, inspirational to say the least. As a 15-year-old in 1962, Jones saw Little Richard live for the first time and then again the following year with The Rolling Stones as one of the support acts. He listed the 1959 album, The Fabulous Little Richard, among his favourite 25 for a Vanity Fair feature in 2003.

Little Richard, David Bowie

Bowie’s own Star Pic of Little Richard: described as his most treasured possession (© The David Bowie Archive)

Here’s Bowie talking in 1991: “I sent away for a photograph of Little Richard when I was seven years old, it was called Star Pic and it took eight weeks to arrive and when it arrived it was torn… and I was absolutely broken-hearted. The first record I think I bought was called I Got It, which he later re-wrote as She’s Got It. And ever since I saw that photograph, I realised he had so many saxophones in his band. So I went out and bought a saxophone intending that when I grew up I’d work in the Little Richard band as one of his saxophonists. Anyway it didn’t work out like that, but without him I think myself and half of my contemporaries wouldn’t be playing music.”

We’ll leave you with a Tweet posted by David’s son, Duncan Jones: “From what my dad told me about his love of this legend growing up, it’s very likely he would not have taken the path he did without the huge influence of Little Richard. One of the highest of the high. Enjoy whatever’s next, Superstar.”

CLICK PIC TO VIEW 1991 VIDEO OF BOWIE
PRAISING RICHARD & RICHARD IN FULL FLOW

Little Richard, David Bowie,obituaries, rock-n-roll,video,interview

Bowie and Richard 1991: click pic to view video interviews in a new tab

Little Richard , biography , rock-n-roll,

Excerpt from Charles White’s authorised biography, The Life and Times of Little Richard: The Quasar of Rock (Harmony Books, Sept 1984)

➢ Elsewhere at Shapers of the 80s:
Nailing the maverick talents of Little Richard, king of rock-n-roll – the Maureen Cleave interview 1985

Little Richard ,obituaries, rock-n-roll, gay issues, bbc, interview, video,Ray Connolly,

Richard meets Connolly: Click on pic to run BBC video in a new tab

❏ ABOVE: In one of his first TV appearances, the Evening Standard’s Ray Connolly interviews rock-n-roll’s irrepressible icon Little Richard for Late Night Line-up in 1972. “I used to be an opera singer, Oh-ooohhhhhh!” (© Posted by BBC Archive)

SELECTED TRIBUTES

Little Richard , obituaries, rock-n-roll, gay issues,

Little Richard in 1971: “his queerness made him dynamic”

➢ Little Richard’s queer triumph – The legend himself sometimes sought to distance himself from the LGBTQ community but his queerness is what made him a dynamic performer – by Myles E. Johnson in The New York Times, 10 May 2020

➢ Prime force of rock-n-roll who made an explosive impact with songs such as Tutti Frutti, Good Golly, Miss Molly, Lucille and Long Tall Sally – by Michael Gray in The Guardian, 10 May 2020

➢ Too black, too queer, too holy: why Little Richard never truly got his dues – How did a turbaned drag queen from the sexual underground of America’s deep south ignite rock-n-roll? We unravel the mystery behind Little Richard’s subversive genius – by Tavia Nyong’o in The Guardian, 12 May 2020

➢ How Little Richard changed the world: The legacy of the singer, who died last week, goes beyond music and helped change our attitudes to race, sex and class – by Daniel Finkelstein in The Times, 12 May 2020

FRONT PAGE

2020 ➤ Beyond: Learning how to be black and gay and blaze a trail to the future

Shapersofthe80s, black issues, gay issues, film, Beyond, Claire Lawrie,

Beyond director Claire Lawrie, centre: with some of her garrulous cast answering questions after a screening at Central Saint Martins college last year. Andy Polaris in red. (Photo by Shapersofthe80s)

AFTER A STREAM OF EXCLUSIVE SCREENINGS for a poignant and edgy short documentary about growing up black and queer in Seventies Britain, everyone can now view it online. Titled Beyond “There is always a black issue Dear”, the 34-minute film explores black LGBT identities and the ways in which they have influenced the collective history of London’s alternative club, fashion, fine art, dance and music scenes. The cast of ten are long-standing friends of director/photographer Claire Lawrie who helps tell their personal stories when these fans of soul and disco, punks and Blitz Kids found each other’s company in underground clubs.

Over the past year Claire has won a fistful of film-festival awards and, prompted by the coronavirus lockdown, she has posted the full version online, and repeat viewings reward with deeper appreciation.

Black issues, gay issues, film, Beyond, Claire Lawrie,

Photo that inspired the movie Beyond – Click pic to view the film in another window

“To me it’s important now that people
realise that black people were there,
because a lot of the time they
tried to paint us out”
– Andy Polaris

Onetime Blitz Kid Andy Polaris is part of the project and he recalls its origins in this extract from his own website Apolarisview. . .

“ A 2013 exhibition at the V&A museum in London titled Club to Catwalk was instrumental in bringing the collective creative talent of Eighties fashion stalwarts and club luminaries together for a preview party that summer. It was a splendid event, one of the last memorable social events with such a vibrant successful crowd. Among the assembled were Judy Blame, Princess Julia, Andrew Logan, Zandra Rhodes, Body Map, Antony Price, Chris Sullivan and it was the last time I saw Steve Strange (who along with Rusty Egan) had brought us all together at the Blitz Club in 1979.

The visual artist Claire Lawrie was at the V&A and pondered on the omission from the exhibition of gay black talent whose influence had permeated Eighties club culture. Although Jeffrey Hinton’s brilliant cave of projected nightlife photography did feature some of us, Lawrie echoed some of her friends’ frustration that their experience was not reflected in the exhibition. She set about organising an open-call photograph to celebrate a contingent of black talent and arranged for the gathering to be filmed by her friends, Emile Kelly and Kim Mnguni. This was the genesis of something deeper and her award-winning documentary, Beyond “There is always a black issue Dear”, emerged from that event with her as director.

Click any pic of the Beyond interviewees to enlarge all in a slideshow:

Continued: “ Over the next year Claire arranged interviews with ten of the candidates who were filmed on a shoestring. Contributions of archive footage were given by a long list of talented artists, people who, over the years had collaborated with and who wanted to show their respect and love for the cast. These included Pam Hogg, Dick Jewell, Dave Swindells and Nicola Tyson as well as John Maybury, Derek Ridgers, BodyMap, Devon Buchanon and Rankin.

The film adjusts the colour settings of the standard view of black creative lives when telling the story about club culture and its impact in the UK. Featuring ten black queer voices from the diaspora, born in the late Fifties and Sixties in the UK, Guyana and New York, the documentary delves into personal stories of discovery and eventual self-acceptance, looking back at struggles with identity and family and the wider world. The cast features stylist Frank Akinsete, transgender model Winn Austin, international model Roy Brown, make-up artist Kenny Campbell, choreographer Les Child, clubland pioneer Kenrick Davis and his mother Velma “Vee” Davis, nightclub host Nicky Green, gender-fluid performer Lanah Pellay, composer Robb Scott and myself as an original Blitz Kid turned pop singer.

Roy Brown, Black issues, gay issues, film, Beyond, Claire Lawrie

Roy Brown in 1985: poster boy for the Barbican’s recent exhibition on Masculinities. (Photo: Rotimi Fani-Kayode)

In the mid-Seventies and Eighties the UK’s attitudes to both race and gay issues were particularly brutal, endorsed by the anti-gay policies of Thatcher’s government and tabloid sensationalism regarding anything queer, especially later with the arrival of the Aids epidemic. The Seventies were marred by stereotypes of both marginalised groups, joining the sexist and misogynistic tropes in light entertainment and films which set the tone for how the world viewed us and how we viewed ourselves.

This lack of representation and role models forced us to create our own image during our teens, which in some cases was defiantly camp. Instead of allowing bullies to mock us, we accentuated certain behaviour, not just as a direct challenge to the heteronormative majority but against the conservative oppression in society.

Music and fashion were an escape from small-mindedness and even as early teens we were exploring alternatives and the fashionable disco and punk clubs were our laboratories of choice. . . / Continued at Apolarisview

➢ All about the making of Beyond “There is always
a black issue Dear”

➢ Interview with director Claire Lawrie: “These were
people that I looked up to and admired”

➢ On video – Beyond Q&A by RankinFilm after
the July 2019 screening at his studio

FRONT PAGE

➤ The makings of Scarlett, a perfect muse for the Eighties

DuoVision , Scarlett Woman, Photography, painting, sculpture, exhibition, Swinging Eighties, The Gallery Liverpool,

Scarlett Cannon at her preview: flanked by DuoVision curators James Lawler and Martin Green. (Photo © Melanie Smith)

WHICH ICON OF THE EIGHTIES catapulted herself to fame using a single name, sculpted hair and red lips? The clue is in the exhibition title just opened in Liverpool: Scarlett Woman. The Gallery in Stanhope Street is crammed with dozens of instantly recognisable images of her in all media – posters, prints, drawings, photos, videos, holograms, mosaics, sculpture and even painting. Fortunately the savviest interpreter of 80s style is at hand to make sense of the life and times of Scarlett Cannon, since she began fronting a club-night called Cha-Cha in 1981. In a guide to the exhibition, the lynchpin fashion editor Iain R Webb outlines how he promoted her career as model and muse.

He writes with intense concision: “It was a time of transformation and transgression, self-expression and collective empowerment. I was immediately taken by Scarlett’s uniqueness, an individual look being our club-kid rallying cry. With her startling peroxide blond haircut and a profile almost as flat as her reflection in the mirror she was magnificent!”

Scarlett says: “I wanted to look like a black and white photograph.” And Webb was happy to oblige, styling her in fashion spreads for BLITZ magazine. “She was an ideal made real, the perfect muse. We shared a common aim: to present our version of the world that celebrated difference and redefined beauty.” Scarlett, he reports, emerged from London’s demi-monde “artfully constructed from captured moments from yesteryear movies and imagined narratives. We made it up as we went along. . . Scarlett has always lived on the outskirts.” She adds: “It was extreme, we were really not afraid and we lived in a different world then.”

DuoVision , Scarlett Woman, The Gallery Liverpool,

Scarlett with Maude, alongside David Hiscock’s 1985 photograph, scarfed by Hermès. (Liverpool photo by Marc Albert)

Never before has there been such a perfect summary of the ingredients that made the Swinging Eighties unique, though Webb’s consummate book As Seen in Blitz: Fashioning ’80s Style came close in 2013. Coincidentally that was the year that Scarlett was visible across London as the poster girl for the V&A’s brave exhibition Club to Catwalk, a sharp retrospective nailing London fashion in the Eighties.

What’s impressive about the Liverpool retrospective mounted by the DuoVision team James Lawler and Martin Green is the number of artists whose work it embraces. . . Andrew Logan, Derek Jarman, Nick Knight, Robyn Beeche, Monica Curtin, Mark Lebon, Thomas Degen, Donald Urquhart, David Hiscock, Julian Kalinoswki, Sadie Lee, Judy Blame and others – most intriguingly the Polish expressionist painter Feliks Topolski, whose huge Punk Triptych makes a rare outing.

VIDEO TOUR BY MARK JORDAN

➢ Scarlett Woman runs until 15 September at The Gallery Liverpool, 41 Stanhope St, Liverpool, L8 5RE

➢ Gender-bending 1980s muse paints the town Scarlett – review in the Art Newspaper

➢ Previously at Shapers of the 80s: Scarlett from i-D cover girl to glamorous gardening mode

➢ Previously at Shapers of the 80s:
2013, Webb’s flipside of the 80s fashion revolution

DuoVision , Scarlett Woman, Photography, painting, sculpture, exhibition, Swinging Eighties, The Gallery Liverpool,

Scarlett Cannon with a slice of history: Feliks Topolski’s enormous Punk Triptych en route to Liverpool

REMEMBERING TOPOLSKI

➢ Feliks Topolski’s reputation reaches back to King George V’s silver jubilee while his monumental postwar mural of people and events called Topolski Century was unveiled by the Duke of Edinburgh and housed in the artist’s studio in the Hungerford Bridge arches beside the Festival Hall, where his legacy at Bar Topolski today is well worth a visit. His caricatures adorned the opening credits of John Freeman’s landmark series of TV interviews, Face to Face.

FRONT PAGE

➤ Ross leaps out of the Ballet into the cauldron of grunge

Officialmercutio, Fabio Staffieri , Ross William Wild, Dingwalls, Camden Rocks Fest, reviews, grunge, Rock music,

Moment of bromance for Mercutio: Fabio and Ross nuzzle each other like wild beasts onstage at Dingwalls

TODAY “Ex Lead Singer @spandauballet” Ross William Wild fronted only his second gig with his new band Mercutio whose sound is “Nirvana-esque mixed with Muse – very much metal with melody”. Playing Dingwalls this afternoon, Ross’s emotional vocals seemed wrenched from his soul, drenched with introspection and yet were fierce in their delivery.

The first of six mainly melancholy songs from their new album made a big opener presumably titled by Ross, Where the Pain Lies, with two fingers aimed squarely at the Spandau gang who have recently spurned him. In other numbers such as Shed and Playtime the tall muscled Scot twisted and contorted his body, stamping, pogoing, even throwing himself to the floor, as if being tortured by demons from within. There was also a bromantic moment when Fabio and Ross nuzzled each other’s backs like wild beasts.

Francesco Lucidi, Rock music, Rocketman,

Francesco moonlighting from Mercutio

Ross’s performance was infinitely more physical than his outings last year with Spandau Ballet – the UK’s supergroup from the Swinging 80s – and the tiny Dingwalls stage clearly cramped his style. Just relaxing a bit might help establish rapport with the audience nearest to him instead of reaching for the back of the room.

The Dingwalls sound system did his voice few favours, though at its most romantic his relatively high register succeeded superbly against the essential grunge vibe, as in the song called Alex, and became sorrowfully plaintive in the medium-pace closing number The Ghost.

The support from his new Italian pals is strong: Naz on bass provides a melodic anchor through even the quietest moments, while Fabio on guitar dazzles frequently when the tempo needs raising, as does Francesco who you may recognise playing Elton John’s drummer in the current biopic Rocketman. The band’s first video is expected next week.

Francesco Lucidi, Emanuele Nazzaro, Fabio Staffieri , Ross William Wild, Dingwalls, Camden Rocks Fest, reviews, Officialmercutio, grunge, Rock music,

Mercutio at Dingwalls: Ross centre-stage in his second live gig with the new band

Emanuele Nazzaro, Ross William Wild, Dingwalls, Camden Rocks Fest, reviews, Officialmercutio

Mercutio at Dingwalls: Ross on acoustic guitar, Naz on bass

➢ All about the Italian-Scottish four-piece called Mercutio

6 JUNE UPDATE: ROSS’S FIRST VIDEO POSTED ON THE ANNIVERSARY OF HIS SPANDAU DEBUT!


❏ Double fierce!For a second I thought I’d found my place.” Ouch!!!

➢ Previously at Shapers of the 80s: Spandau vocalist Ross rocks fans by announcing his own new band Mercutio

FRONT PAGE