Category Archives: Reviews

➤ Truly a once in a lifetime evening of pure joy with David Byrne

Q MAGAZINE’S REVIEW SAID: “This unprecedented mindmeld of modern dance, avant-garde theatre, art installation, soul revue and carnival parade makes the conventional rock show seem as old-fashioned as music hall. Most artists don’t get to reinvent the pop concert once in a lifetime. Byrne has done it twice.” Here’s a brief taste of David Byrne’s sensational American Utopia world tour which during 2018 has played 13 dates in the UK (London, Brighton, Nottingham and Manchester this week) and moves on through Europe to Australia. These innovative concerts have won unprecedented rave reviews from critics on national newspapers and music press: “mind-blowingly meticulous and awe-inspiring”, “arguably the most acclaimed live shows of the year”, “the best live show of all time”. All true IMHO. Byrne’s 22 numbers were drawn from this year’s critically acclaimed album American Utopia, as well as classics from his solo career and the 1970s with the mould-breaking Talking Heads. All were choreographed to create a continuous visual and musical river of rhythm.

We’re happy to borrow the video above, shot by Cazza Gee close-up to the stage at London’s Eventim Apollo in Hammersmith (20.6.18) to convey the joyous free-form energy of the staging by Byrne and his 11-strong band.

'American Utopia', UK tour, dance, David Byrne, live concert, musicians, Talking Heads, rock music, social commentary

American Utopia: David Byrne with his nimble barefooted 11-strong band, heavily biased towards percussion. Photo by Andrew Whitton

➢ Former Blitz Kid and singer Andy Polaris reviews Byrne’s show in full at his own website, but here are his highlights. . .

The glowing five-star international reviews for David Byrne’s ‘American Utopia’ tour 2018 meant there was genuine and palpable anticipation surging through the 4,000-strong audience packed into the Brighton Centre this week.

The set opened with a vast empty stage, only a small table and chair with a grey-haired casually suited Byrne seated and singing to a plastic brain which he held aloft. He looked like the coolest science teacher explaining its merits, albeit barefoot and to a much more appreciative adult-education class. He was joined onstage by similarly attired backing vocalists Chris Giarmo and Tendayi Kuumba who we quickly realised, along with the rest of the 11-piece band, were agile in their dual role as musicians and dancers. It was the realisation that with Annie-B Parson’s sophisticated and at times elaborate choreography (especially for the backing vocalists) this was far from standard fare. I then remembered the work Byrne did with dancer Twyla Tharp in the 1980s, and realised this show has become a logical next step in the imaginative presentation of his eclectic catalogue. . .

The standouts were many but the surreal when released ‘Once In A Lifetime’ crackled with almost evangelical zeal as Byrne flung himself around on-stage… Against giant dancing shadows like a Busby Berkeley musical number, ‘Blind’ was given brassy punch and brought energetic solos from its talented percussionist pool… The opening guitar chords of ‘Burning Down the House’ did exactly what it said on the label… ‘Everybody’s Coming To My House’ exuded an inclusive party feel which Byrne explained was also matched by his band’s origins from all around the world. Personally I loved ‘Born Under Punches’ and ‘The Great Curve’ because ‘Remain in Light’ is one of my favourite albums. . . / Continued at apolarisview

'American Utopia', UK tour, dance, David Byrne, live concert, musicians, Talking Heads, rock music, social commentary

American Utopia: David Byrne’s troupe cast dancing shadows during the Talking Heads song Blind. Photo by Andrew Whitton


➢ Dorian Lynskey for Q magazine joins the tour in Paris and talks to the former Talking Heads singer about its genesis

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2018 ➤ Big Tone live still raising the hairs on your neck

Tony Hadley, pop music, UK tour,Lily Gonzalez, Manchester Opera House

Big Tone on the road this week: Hadley dueting with percussionist Lily Gonzalez at Manchester Opera House. (Photo © Yorkshire Times)

Selected reviews from Tony Hadley’s Talking To The Moon tour. . .

➢ Nicky Findley at the Pavilion Bournemouth, 11 Oct:

“Hadley’s band added some beautiful melodic twists to some of the Spandau classics and he encouraged a mass sing-along while he performed True. Highlights for me included Hadley’s personal all-time favourite Through the Barricades, and his new track What Am I? a poignant reflection on his split from Spandau. . .” / Continued at the Bournemouth Echo online

➢ Graham Clark at Manchester Opera House, 16 Oct:

“Backed by a talented band, the percussion and saxophone parts that made the Spandau songs shine are replicated throughout the concert. Take Back Everything, a track off the new album opens up the show, whether the title is a statement of intent I’m not sure, but it was a powerful introduction to the evening. . . Mid-set we get the customary acoustic section with the Jim Croce cover, Time In a Bottle sounding good, whilst a duet with percussionist Lily Gonzalez on the Spandau classic, I’ll Fly For You was a set highlight. It made the hairs on your back stand up. . .” / Continued at Yorkshire Times online

➢ Tickets still available for London Palladium, Gateshead, Nottingham, Liverpool, Coventry and Holland

➢ Previously at Shapers of the 80s:
2018, Meanwhile, a big treat for fans of Tony Hadley

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2018 ➤ Dad band Spandau preen with pride for Ross their newly adopted son

pop music, media, rebirth, Ross William Wild, Spandau Ballet, concert, spandauballetlive, Subterania,

A confident debut with Spandau Ballet: Ross William Wild at Subterania last night

pop music, media, rebirth, Ross William Wild, Spandau Ballet, concert, spandauballetlive, Subterania,

Ross William Wild’s debut with Spandau Ballet: from left, Martin, Ross, Steve and Gary

AND WHAT TOUR DE FORCE the entire band made of Spandau Ballet’s rebirth last night to showcase their new singer Ross William Wild who effortlessly filled the space onstage vacated by Tony Hadley. At the age of 30 Aberdeen-reared Ross could easily be the son of any of the Spandau dads around him, yet he had infused new energy into them to inspire one of the tightest all-round performances in recent years. He embodies all a lead singer should: energy, confidence, instantly likeability and a strong singing voice that almost never sounds like his predecessor.

Ross was announced by the tabloids as an Elvis Presley impersonator so it was a relief that this is not what we saw or heard: in fact the inflexions in his singing voice do reflect his principal experience in musical theatre, most recently in The Million Dollar Quartet, The Witches of Eastwick, and We Will Rock You. And though in the Noughties he was the lead singer in a nu-metal band called Lethal Dosage, Ross performs with shoulders, arms, hips, feet – in fact, his entire body just as you’d expect in a stage musical.

pop music, media, rebirth, Ross William Wild, Spandau Ballet, concert, spandauballetlive, Subterania,

Spandau’s rebirth set list

From Spandau’s nostalgically involved opening hit Through the Barricades, Ross made each of the set’s 13 hit numbers his own (with almost as many changes of shirt!).

Spotlit on a darkened stage, his first three minutes were a vocal slow-burn alongside a masterly Gary Kemp on solo guitar. It was a daring move to persuade us to listen. By the second line, as he gave vibrato to the lyric, Ross was evidently “feeling strong”, and from here on he introduced us to his voice in gentle stages, slowly raising the temperature, until the pause. . . Then: bam-bam! Keeble’s drums announced the bombast of Barricades proper, and Ross let rip to command centre-stage, amid the familiar Spandau front-line on vocals. They climaxed with a big sound in an intimate clubby space, up close to 500 of their fans. What a statement of intent!

HEAR ROSS’S FIRST VERSE OF ‘BARRICADES’


Ross excelled in another emotional classic Only When You Leave, had the audience eating out of his spiralling hand for Round and Round, pogoing through Lifeline, and by the encore the hot summer’s evening had him stripped down to a vest as he gloriously re-energised To Cut a Long Story Short to sound like a brand-new number. Amazingly, at the bar afterwards, Ross said he was intrigued by its lyrics since he first heard this hit from 1980, but read none of Gary Kemp’s meaning into it or the lyrical quotation it contains. He imagines it is set in the first world war trenches and reflects the strange solitude of the soldier.

➢ Click to hear Rusty Egan’s 2h16m deejay set
recorded live at the Subterania Club before
Spandau Ballet’s rebirth concert

The band’s families and friends turned out along with veteran Blitz Kids and Beat Routers (smashing to see you again, genial doorman Ollie O’Donnell) who could all be seen grooving to Rusty Egan’s unique mixes at the after-party. Sentimental as ever, Martin Kemp had announced from the stage that last night’s venue, Subterania beneath Westway at Portobello Road, was chosen because in its days as Acklam Hall community centre, the original Spandau lineup had played a benefit there under their early name, Gentry, on Saturday 24 February 1979. In the after-bash I recognised the curly-haired photographer Denis O’Regan who was at work with his camera. Spookily I’d just posted one of his seminal band images here at Shapersofthe80s on my own tribute revisit to 1980 when Denis had posed the band in his studio and uplit them to create the dramatic shot of Spandau which became the expressionist motif of their live performance that spring at the Scala Cinema.

Verdicts from the band on their young vocalist are breathless. Gary Kemp said: “Ross’s great talent and passion has given us the confidence to continue.” Drummer John Keeble who drove the show with his usual percussive enthusiasm said: “I bonded with Ross over our mutual love of rock music. He may have come up through the theatres but he loves bands like Tool.” Steve Norman added: “He’s also a right nice bloke. We struck lucky.” [I often wonder whether Steve realises just how richly musical his own sax playing is! Ben Webster will be smiling benignly at this.]

pop music, media, rebirth, Ross William Wild, Spandau Ballet, concert, spandauballetlive, Subterania, Jaco Norman,

At the after-party: Ross William Wild shares song-writing ambitions with Steve Norman’s son Jaco

pop music, media, rebirth, Ross William Wild, Spandau Ballet, concert, spandauballetlive, Subterania, Steve Dagger

Patrolling the audience during Spandau’s rebirth gig: their trusty manager Steve Dagger evidently chuffed to bits at their new singer

➢ Previously at Shapers of the 80s: The Spandau show must go on and Oh, the Wild voice!

➢ More Spandau Ballet at Twitter where a one-off concert is now booking for Apollo Hammersmith on 29 October

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2018 ➤ Spooky or what? When two bands went by the name of Spandau Ballet

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Above: Two bands who played in London as Spandau Ballet…
SBv1 originated the name and here play their final gig at the
Hope & Anchor in 1979 with singer Mark Robinson, drummer
Gordon Bowman, bass guitarist David Wardill, (guitarist Mick Austin
off-camera) . . . SBv2, here in their previous incarnation as Gentry,
playing Camden School for Girls in December 1978, with Tony Hadley
on vocals and the chart-topping True five years in the future

DID YOU KNOW LONDON HAD TWO POP GROUPS called Spandau Ballet in 1979? The one who became famous adopted their name from the one who didn’t. A jaw-dropping new history of the New Romantics scene, unauthorised and meticulously researched by David Barrat, a long-time music fan, is published this week titled New Romantics Who Never Were: The Untold Story of Spandau Ballet.

Barrat has gathered a mind-boggling compilation of spooky coincidences and things we never knew before in his 117,000-word paperback, self-published today on his own imprint Orsam Books. Here is no mere fan, but an obsessive one who has made himself the Mastermind champion in the two themes identified in his tongue-twisting title: Who exactly were the New Romantics of the early 1980s, who many of us believe drove one of the most transformational youth cultures of Britain’s postwar years? Barrat discusses how this term came to characterise the style-leaders of British clubland when they unanimously rejected it themselves.

His second theme is the true genesis story of the Spandau Ballet five-piece from Islington who set out with a cunning plan to weave a tapestry of fictions around their launch as electro-synth popsters in 1979. At the outset the band were coolly vague about their origins and you’d have to be a fan with Barrat’s persistence to piece together spasmodic revelations during the succeeding decades. Spandau subsequently became global superstars in that momentous decade when image-conscious new British bands invaded the American pop charts, then quarrelled as pop groups do and arrived in the High Court in 1996 rowing over royalty payments. Individual members remained belligerent for years.

➢ Buy David Barrat’s
New Romantics book here

Whether or not you care for Spandau and the 80s music scene, Barrat’s forensic approach to reassessing this creative landscape is utterly hypnotic and unlike anything you’ve read by the hacks of the rock press. He has spent years in deep Holmesian research delving into official records, newspaper cuttings, TV interviews and first-hand interviews. The result is gripping, original and epic. For instance: revealing all about another band sharing exactly the same distinctive name a matter of months before Tony Hadley stepped onto the stage at the Blitz Club! Here is a well-informed juggernaut delivering into our laps mighty fact upon tiny fact, laid out for inspection and challenge. Barrat’s intent is resolute: to convince us he knows his stuff, and has purged the popular version of events of mutability.

David Barrat contacted me a few years back in order to check dates and events against my own detailed diaries and his aggregation of facts and assumptions is mostly hard to fault. His book now pays extraordinary and generous tribute to this website, Shapers of the 80s, and to myself as a former features editor of the Evening Standard who helped others recognise the potency of the youthquake erupting in 1980.

SO WHO WERE THE OTHER BAND?

❑ The musicians originally called Spandau Ballet (hereafter called SBv1) were four lads who met in 1978 during their teens in Bedfordshire: guitarist Mick Austin, singer Mark Robinson, drummer Michael Harvey and punky bass guitarist David Wardill. They agonised for ages over a band name and Austin remembers a “eureka” moment using the Dadaist method of juggling words on random scraps of paper. They arrived at the darkly Germanic first word (originally with an incorrect umlaut over the U in Spandaü) and paired it with “the softer, romantic” word Ballet. The package was deemed “nicely decadent”, a debut gig was planned for 30 August 1978 and accordingly Robinson designed a poster for it, which we see below. Wardill declared his ambition: “We were going to go to London and become rock stars.”

So how on earth did their oddball band name transfer itself to a five-piece from Islington? The reader’s mind boggles at the number of spooky coincidences that Barrat’s book uncovers. Wardill had fallen in love with journalism graduate Deanne Pearson who rented a flat at 32 Sibley Grove in East Ham so in October 1978 he moved in and members of SBv1 often came to crash on the floor. Coincidentally – this flat was shared with the yet-to-become seminal Blitz Kids – while freshers at St Martin’s School of Art – Kim Bowen, Lee Sheldrick and others, who migrated in the spring to Battersea’s Ralph West student hostel, along with graphics student Graham Smith and future Wag club director Chris Sullivan.

Click any pic below to view complete images

In her forthcoming autobiography Kim relates how, in mid-1979, accompanied by “a trio of self-described Nelly Queens”, she penetrated an empty Georgian house in Fitzrovia to establish the legendary squat in Warren Street, a leisurely walk away from St Martin’s. “Within weeks the creme de la creme of young London was living there,” Kim writes, and her bold manuscript spares no detail. This stylish property became the hub of social life for the Blitz Kids who were meeting every Tuesday at the Covent Garden Blitz Club since Steve Strange’s Neon Nights had begun that February. As milliner Stephen Jones’s mannequin de vie, the wild and startlingly elegant Kim elevated herself to Queen of the Blitz. Many of the Kids’ high-style antics were documented by Graham Smith while he – coincidentally – became the official photographer of the second Spandau Ballet (SBv2) who announced their name only for their first public concert on 5 December that year. (Smith’s lavish photo-book We Can Be Heroes was published in 2011 and remains an unbeatable record of both style and excess).

In October 1978, the Beds boys SBv1 had started working as busboys as well as rehearsing at The Venue, Virgin’s new club in Victoria where they immortalised their band’s name by spraying it in green paint on the toilet walls and on other public walls elsewhere in central London. Amid all the ancient myths about where SBv2 found their name, the band’s early propagandist and future broadcaster Bob Elms has said he first spotted the phrase Spandau Ballet as graffiti variously on prison walls or toilet walls in the Spandau district during a soulboy group trip to Berlin in summer 1979.

Coincidentally – however, during an interview way back in 1984 one prominent Blitz Kid told me the graffiti had been very visible on the toilet wall of The Hope, a favourite pub in Tottenham Street, not far from the Warren Street squat. “Some boys from north-east London were using that name in a school-type band.” Also coincidentally – along the same block as The Hope stood the trendy new Scala cinema, whose programmer then was 22-year-old Stephen Woolley (today a major player in the British film industry), who was a contemporary of SBv2 manager Steve Dagger and their stage designer Simon Withers, all of whom attended Dame Alice Owen’s school in Islington and grew up there with the other members of SBv2 – Gary and Martin Kemp, Tony Hadley, John Keeble and Steve Norman.

This fabulous cascade of coincidences throws up at least SIX PRIME SUSPECTS in The Ballet Great Mystery: Who really fed the name Spandau Ballet through to the Islington band SBv2, who through 1978–79 were known as the power-pop combo, Gentry? Barrat’s new book draws its own conclusion.

PS: EVEN MORE SPOOKILY ON MY DOORSTEP. . .

pop music,

David Wardill: bass guitarist who joined The Passions in 1980

❑ Scroll forward a few years from the birth of SBv2. . . After my day-jobs in journalism, I taught an adult evening class in Creative Writing for 16 years in west London, after which it was traditional for the more entertaining students to continue the evening at a nearby pub. Among several who became long-standing friends was – coincidentally – the same David Wardill of SBv1 (also visible in the video below). His musical background meant we had lots to discuss in 1989, including his earlier life in East Ham with Kim Bowen and Lee Sheldrick.

David and I drifted apart but had a sudden email reunion while I was building this website in 2009. He told me that soon after completing the writing class he sent a story to the BBC which turned up two years later as a film from BBC Birmingham. These days he was a father and teaching art in a secondary school.

As for SBv2, he admitted: “I never really cared much that they had borrowed our band’s name, as I didn’t see much chance of us wanting it back.” SBv1 ground to a standstill in May 1979 and David soon joined another band called The Passions who enjoyed airplay by Radio 1’s influential deejay John Peel and eventually made it to Top of The Pops in 1981 with their song on Polydor, I’m in Love with a German Film Star, which reached No 25. (CoincidentallySBv2 arrived at No 17 with Musclebound in the same edition of TOTP and are announced at the end of the clip below. Oo, er.)

David added: “The Passions reunited recently for a day at a studio in Shepherd’s Bush. That laid a lot of ghosts to rest. Our main song has been covered by the Foo Fighters and Pet Shop Boys. Strange how the past hangs around, although I find the continued interest gratifying, as well as financially useful.” Spoken like a star.

❑ And here today we still have not given away the truly spookiest coincidence among those that Barrat reveals about SBv1 & v2 when their paths almost crossed – it’s a goose-pimples moment that stops you in your tracks. More reflections on this vital addition to our bookshelves will follow here at Shapers of the 80s as we read on…

➢ Previously at Shapers of the 80s: Just don’t call us New Romantics
➢ Previously at Shapers of the 80s: Who’s Who in the Pits – Harry Cool’s Guide to the New Glitterati

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2017 ➤ His name is Prince and his London tribute is downright spunky

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Prince exhibition: chain-hat to conceal his identity in The New Power Generation and lyrics for We Want 2 Let the Funk Unwind (Getty)

Hold your breath! An exhibition that could so easily have been a lightweight commercial ripoff about the myth of Prince Rogers Nelson proves to be a surprisingly affecting tribute. Scores of artefacts have been loaned out for the first time direct from Paisley Park, Prince’s lush Minnesota estate, in a dazzling rush of bling and sentiment for My Name is Prince, his official exhibition which runs in London for the next ten weeks.

It seems a strange idea to visit seven galleries packed with video screens and to stand clad in earphones watching them play out the most vibrant highlights from the American pop icon’s uniquely anarchic imagination. Yet the very impact of so many screens disseminating so much talent only magnifies the intensity of the moment.

This one-man band’s genius is all too evident in every direction you look. In turns, you’re gasping at the audacity of Dirty Mind, smiling at the ingenuity of Sign ‘o’ the Times and shedding tears of envy for his sheer virtuosity in While My Guitar Gently Weeps.

Above all, the entire immersive experience is very, very lovesexy. The attention Prince lavished on his many lubricious costumes is revealing: so many apparently plush brocade garments are woven on light see-through black mesh that reveal the sinewy muscles of his tiny but taut 5ft frame within.

Prince the dandy also took any opportunity to shed his garments and flash his intimate zones, including his bare buttocks in orgiastic videos such as Gett Off, shot amid scantily clad girls and boys (“23 positions in a one-night stand”) at the 1991 MTV awards. Indeed one of the exhibition’s biggest draws is the video for Thieves in the Temple, from the 1990 Graffiti Bridge album, in which cutaway jeans reveal his bum and thighs and bouncing crotch capped with a glittering gold lamé jockstrap, in some of the most frenetic team dancing ever in high heels. The choreography is shamelessly horny.

The sheer range of Prince’s musical gifts during a 40-year career is well recognised – 70 albums, 2,000? songs, an Oscar, a Golden Globe, eight Grammies, 100 million records sold, and a ranking at No 28 among Rolling Stone’s 100 Greatest Artists of All Time. But to assemble in a three-dimensional venue 200 tangible examples of his workaholic creativity as an all-round showman results in an affectionate multi-media tribute. For us to devour the close-up detail in his guitars, his hand-written notes and drawings, and his jewelled accessories becomes a truly moving privilege. And for a fan, the power of his achievements is reaffirmed as you bask in his subversive glow.

➢ The official exhibition My Name Is Prince runs from October 27 until January 7, 2018 at London’s O2

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Prince exhibition: stage costumes from his Purple Rain tour (Getty)

Prince Rogers Nelson, exhibition, The O2, London, music videos, My Name Is Prince, pop music,costumes, guitars

Prince exhibition: bass guitar that inspired his trademark Cloud and diamond-studded cane from 2015

PRINCE’S PURPLE REIGN STILL EXERTS
ITS PULLING POWER

London’s Eighties pop star Andy Polaris visits the Prince exhibition to assess the enduring impact of the black performer who in his day challenged the norms of sexuality and race. . .

➢ Visit Andy’s own website Apolarisview for his full review
– here’s a brief taster:

The first time Prince triggered my radar was a review in the music press of his concert at the Lyceum in London 1981, part of his Dirty Mind tour. He was featured in the accompanying review wearing a trench coat covering a lithe brown body and wearing black briefs and leggings, topped by his mop of black hair and pretty face. I was miffed to have missed his only show but before the internet niche events could slip by easily without social media to flag them up.

It was obvious from the start that this was a black artist who, despite the flamboyance of disco/funk stage-wear and album covers, was taking it a little bit extra with some sexual ambiguity. The lyrics of the funky album track Controversy (a bass-driven early dance-floor favourite) set the tone:

I just can’t believe all the things people say
Controversy
Am I black or white? Am I straight or gay?
Controversy

I was fascinated to see the parade of Prince’s petite outfits complete with matching coloured heeled boots that covered Purple Rain, his purple metallic frock coat through to a crystal-encrusted cane and Balmain waistcoat he wore for W magazine. The materials are colourful, sheer and shimmering and in some cases boldly designed. He wasn’t interested in the toxic masculinity that permeates so many black artistes, one of the reasons he flew the freak flag for those who were not interested in paying £50 to see artists dressed in denim and T-shirts. . . / Continued at Andy’s own website


➢ Previously at Shapersofthe80s – Prince RIP: ‘A funny cat’ and ‘sole authentic genius’ of the 1980s

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