Category Archives: Pop charts

2019 ➤ The nerve of Neil Matthews! Offering bunny ears to those oh-so cool Eighties pop stars

Photography, book launch, exhibition, pop music, Neil Mackenzie Matthews, Jealous Gallery, Take That,

Take That in 1993: cheering to camera for a Smash Hits shoot by Neil Matthews

ANOTHER FAB BOOK OF PHOTOS capturing mainly the 80s pop scene came out this week and it’s a bit of curio. We who were there know how British music and fashion utterly transformed youth culture during the decade from 1980 onwards and among the 110+ new acts who dominated the sales charts in the first four years probably the majority achieved international fame and fortune. But Neil Mackenzie Matthews, in his beautifully printed 192-page book, titled Snap: Music Photography, also reminds us of the names of many acts we have forgotten and who had limited success.

It has become a truism that soon after the Beat Route’s Friday club-night opened in Soho and Spandau Ballet entered the singles chart, both in November 1980, virtually every young guy you met in the club was “putting a band together”, usually managed by another young guy of his own age. For every 110 new-wave acts across the UK who won the standard one-album-and-two-singles deal from a grateful record industry which had lost its way, there were probably 1,000 more who didn’t – yet they too were a vital part of the great collaborative force that was helping to reshape entertainment and media in the Eighties.

At Thursday’s book launch in Shoreditch’s Jealous gallery, Neil described how his own good luck was in attending the same Islington school as the Spandau Ballet posse, Dame Alice Owen’s, and at the very moment he missed getting a first job at the BBC, Spandau invited him to St Tropez on their first foreign booking so he took a camera along and taught himself how to shoot.

Photography, Nick Heyward ,book launch, exhibition, pop music, Neil Mackenzie Matthews, Jealous Gallery,

Neil Matthews and Nick Heyward photo-bombed by Neal Whitmore of Sigue Sigue Sputnik. Just in shot at left, Heyward pictured in his woolly leggings period with Haircut One Hundred. (Photo by Shapersofthe80s)

Click any pic below to enlarge all in a slideshow

As luck had it, within months Tim Lott and Barry Cain’s chirpy new music magazine Flexipop decided its irreverent role was to prick the egos of their mates, the newly jumped-up pop stars, and Neil as its photographer was expected to rewrite the rules of the game. This appealed to his own wild ways and because he was invariably working against the clock, he injected a note of spontaneity into popstar shoots by inventing a box of larky props with which to confront his celebrity models and expect them to respond on camera. Result: pix of Toyah Willcox all smiles in floppy bunny ears, and Ian McCulloch contemptuously prodding the matching bunch of carrots after he declined to wear the bunny ears. There’s also Edwin Collins canoodling a rubber chicken and Jaz Coleman delivering a blunt message in a book to his rivals.

Impromptu set-ups catch Suggs at a fruit and veg stall on the street, Tim Burgess atop a packing case in Tesco’s, and Malcolm McLaren doing business on the phone. The book features several candid snaps following the rise of Spandau Ballet and the New Romantics including an exclusive of Steve Norman sporting speedos at home in the lounge between his fishtanks and Harry Dog. Neil offers very few live performance pix but the two best capture Little Richard bantering atop his piano and a fleeting glimpse of Nick Heyward closing his eyes in an Albert Hall performance.

Some of Neil’s best straight portraits take a traditional approach and yet clearly capture a shared moment of trust between subject and lensman: we see sexy candid shots of Madonna relaxed, of Betty Boo sultry in leopardskin and of Beyoncé Knowles as a very come-hither 17-year-old before she dropped the surname. For me the two cracking shots in this book show Take That snarling something worse than “Cheese!” at the camera (top), and Jay Aston of Bucks Fizz seated on the loo in her hotel (below). If that doesn’t testify to trust what does?

PS: Sorry, Neil, I have to reveal that I scooped you with the “first” kiss between Jon Moss and Boy George wearing Westwood a full year before Culture Club and your own shot where they both wear Sue Clowes.

Photography, book launch, exhibition, pop music, Neil Mackenzie Matthews, Jealous Gallery, Jay Aston

Jay Aston 1984: caught at her hotel by Neil Matthews

➢ Neil MacKenzie Matthews’ career went on to embrace fashion, international celebrity and advertising, but his book Snap: Music Photography (Red Planet, £30 in hardback) focusses essentially on the music scene

➢ Neil Mackenzie Matthews’ prints are visible online and for sale at the Jealous Gallery, 37 Curtain Road, EC2A 3PT

➢ View Neil’s wider portfolio at his own website

HEYWARD THE LEGEND BACK ON THE ROAD

Nick Heyward, live, Gibson Sunburst

Nick with his Gibson Sunburst 330, 1967

❏ One incidental pleasure at the gallery was to catch up with Nick Heyward for the first time since I snapped him with his sidekick Les as Wag club regulars a lifetime ago. Today he features in a daffy trio of Neil’s pix of Haircut One Hundred from 1982 and he’s as friendly and talkative as his ever-present smile suggests. He has been on the road this year with his UK Acoustic Tour, a series of intimate dates where audiences were treated to hits from his breezy and escapist seventh solo album, Woodland Echoes, plus others from his entire career. The album is a distinctly musical treat which Pop Matters reviewed as “a timeless, infectious gem”, adding: “He looks like that cool college professor all the students want to hang out with – and he seems to be at peace with his status as a 50-something indie pop legend”. More news at Nick’s own website .

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1981 ➤ Hot days, cool nights, as Blue Rondo join the new Brits changing the pop charts

Blue Rondo à la Turk , pop music, 1981

Blue Rondo’s official debut in Chelmsford, June 1981: Moses Mount Bassie, Christos Tolera and Chris Sullivan front the seven-piece. Photograph © Shapersofthe80s

◼ “GET IN THE BACK OF THE VAN,” I was told on this day 30 years ago. “You’re coming for a ride.” Graham Ball was a club host empowered to open the trendiest of doors in Soho, so “No thanks” was not an option. “I’ve got a new band to show you. And you’re not quite going to believe what you’ll hear and see.” He was, apparently, now also a manager. We arrived in blisteringly hot sunshine at a characterless modern pub in Chelmsford, Essex, well away from Soho clubland, and there of course were the rest of The Firm — the handful of sharp young dudes at least half the age of the grunters who dominated the pop industry, all being groomed by Spandau’s 23-year-old Steve Dagger to inherit the mysteries of management for a new generation of bands.

Assembling an assortment of instruments onstage were five, six, no, seven of the most variegated musicians you felt might belong in a special institution for their own safety. I had been invited to write the first piece about the craziest combo  inspired by London’s Blitz Club, which had closed the previous autumn, and by this summer they were but one among the slipstream of bands erupting on London’s burgeoning nightlife scene. From their opening vocals — “Oo-oo, aa-aa, mm-mm ah!” — Blue Rondo à la Turk were sensational, and my review appeared in the second issue of New Sounds New Styles. It took only three months before Rondo signed a deal and charted in November.

➢ Read that first review of Blue Rondo as they create a buzz with their new Latin sounds — from NSNS August 1981

This was the summer
of New Romance

Spandau Ballet, Ultravox, Duran Duran, 1981

Leaders of the Romantics in 1981: Spandau Ballet, Ultravox, Duran Duran

ON THIS DAY in 1981 the UK charts were bursting with the new generation of image-conscious British groups who whose linking of soul and electro-pop were to change the style and the rhythm of pop charts for ever. . .

Ultravox were enjoying their fifth hit single All Stood Still.
Linx were enjoying their third hit Throw Away the Key.
Spandau Ballet were enjoying their double-sided third hit single, Muscle Bound/Glow. At Easter they had also signalled their new funky direction by introducing Chant No 1, which would become London’s clubbing anthem and reach No 2 later this summer.
Duran Duran were enjoying their second hit Careless Memories.
Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark were enjoying their second hit Messages.
Japan were charting with The Art of Parties.
Landscape were charting with Norman Bates.
Shalamar (with honorary Brit and body-popping pioneer Jeffrey Daniel) were charting with A Night to Remember.

➢ Elsewhere at Shapers of the 80s: 100+ acts who set the style for the new music of the 1980s

Light of the World were charting with I’m So Happy.
Imagination were charting with their debut Body Talk.
The Human League entered the charts on this day with Empire State Human.
Depeche Mode’s second single New Life was soaring towards No 11.
Visage’s second hit single had just fallen out of the chart.
❏ Likewise Heaven 17’s debut Fascist Groove Thang.
❏ Likewise Altered Images’ debut Dead Pop Stars.
❏ Likewise Level 42 with their second hit, Love Games.
❏ And the honorary Brit, Kid Creole, was heading into the charts with his Coconuts and their debut single, Me No Pop I — a compulsively danceable new sound on Antilles introduced to London last year by i-D co-editor Perry Haines.

New Romantics, bands, Swinging 80s,Japan the band, pop music, Depeche Mode, Altered Images

Going Romantic in 1981: Japan the band, Depeche Mode, Altered Images

Oh, and two nights earlier at Le Beat Route I’d snapped the new boy in George O’Dowd’s life enjoying their first date. Nobody dreamt that George and Jon Moss would one day be putting together their own band.

♫ VIEW fine Northern Soul footwork from Rondo mentalists in this performance of Me and Mr Sanchez shot at the Venue in London:
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