2016 ➤ Britain stunned by sudden death of George Michael, our biggest pop superstar of the 80s

GEORGE MICHAEL
25 June 1963–25 December 2016

George Michael, Wham!, pop music,

Wham! on The Tube, 1983: George Michael with his partner Andrew Ridgeley on guitar (Photo: ITV)

“ Five albums in 25 years is not exactly prolific
but I think pretty good in terms of quality. . .
The body of work is safe now. If I get hit
by a bus tomorrow, people will remember
what I have done and they’ll still enjoy it ”
– George Michael, 2008

WHAM! SOLD 40 MILLION RECORDS WORLDWIDE in four years after emerging from London’s innovative clubbing scene in 1982. As a solo singer-songwriter George Michael then sold another 100 million records, scored seven number one singles in the UK and eight number one hits in the US. He ranks among the best-selling British acts of all time, with Billboard magazine ranking him the 40th most successful artist ever. And he won every major world music award, often more than once. Yet his career was sporadic, interrupted by odd breaks, bouts of melancholy, health problems and in recent years a series of run-ins with the law over reckless driving, drugs and sex.

On his music, disc jockey Paul Gambaccini says: “George is likely to be remembered in two different ways: in Britain he’s a pop star and in America he’s a soulboy.” On his hedonism as propaganda, author Mark Simpson in Rolling Stone concludes: “Whatever the long term effects on his happiness, being ‘openly closeted’ for so long seems to have been key to not only making Michael a commercially-successful artist but also a surprisingly subversive one. And perhaps it also lay behind his determination, once out, not to go back into the biggest closet of all: respectability.”

OBITUARY HIGHLIGHTS

➢ Singer who became Britain’s biggest pop star
– Guardian obituary:

George Michael, who has died aged 53, was Britain’s biggest pop star of the 1980s, first with the pop duo Wham! and then as a solo artist. After Wham! made their initial chart breakthrough with the single Young Guns (Go for It!) in 1982, Michael’s songwriting gift brought them giant hits including Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go and Careless Whisper, and they became leading lights of the 80s boom in British pop music.

From the late 1990s onwards Michael was beset by a string of personal crises and clashes with the law caused by drug use. He had always felt ambivalent about the demands of stardom, and found it difficult to balance his celebrity status with his private life. After years of concealing his homosexuality, he eventually came out in 1998, after being arrested for engaging in a “lewd act” in a public lavatory in Beverly Hills, California. . . / Continued at The Guardian


➢ One of the more enduring musicians of the 80s generation – BBC obituary:
His talents as a singer, songwriter and music producer made George Michael one of the world’s biggest-selling artists. Blessed with good looks and a fine singing voice, his stage presence made him a favourite on the live concert circuit as he matured from teen idol to long-term stardom.

After early success in the duo Wham! he went on to build a solo career that brought him a string of awards and made him a multi-millionaire. But there were times when his battle with drugs and encounters with the police made lurid headlines that threatened to eclipse his musical talents. He admitted that he often went out at night seeking what he called “anonymous and no-strings sex”. . . / Continued at BBC online

“ Outside of Elton John, I’d say he is
probably the greatest philanthopist
in popular music ” – Paul Gambaccini

➢ Dame Esther Rantzen, Childline founder:
For years now George has been the most extraordinarily generous philanthropist, giving money to Childline, but he was determined not to make his generosity public so no-one outside the charity knew how much he gave to the nation’s most vulnerable children. Over the years he gave us millions and we were planning next year, as part of our 30th anniversary celebrations to create, we hoped, a big concert in tribute to him – to his artistry, to his wonderful musicality but also to thank him for the hundreds of thousands of children he helped through supporting Childline.

Kenny Goss , George Michael,

George with Kenny Goss in happier times… they met in 1996 and broke up in 2009 (Photo: Rex)

“ The truth is my love life has been a lot more turbulent than I’ve let on ” – George Michael

➢ Spending time together with love of his life – The Sun:
George Michael had secretly become close again with the love of his life Kenny Goss, just weeks before his death. George had reached out to Kenny following their difficult split. A close friend revealed: “George and Kenny are back spending time together again and it’s an exciting time for those of us who have been so worried over the last few years. The pop superstar split from Texan art dealer Kenny in 2009 after 13 years and his life quickly spiralled, culminating in a lengthy stint in the world’s most expensive rehab clinic in Switzerland last year.

On the opening night of his Symphonica tour in 2011, the singer admitted: “In truth Kenny and I haven’t been together for two and a half years. I love him very much. This man has brought me a lot of joy and pain”. . . / Continued at The Sun online

➢ Jim Fouratt, US 80s club host and activist:
No one seems to remember the incident between George Michael and the president of Sony Music America, Tommy Mottola. I do. George Michael set up a meeting with Mottola, having sold 80 million records worldwide, reaping huge profits for the company. Michael was not happy with how his new album was being marketed. Suddenly, from behind closed doors, the Sony staff could hear Mottola shouting: “Get this faggot out of my office!”

George left. Mattola’s homophobia shocked him. He went back to England. Sued Columbia and spent six years without a release in the US. Finally David Geffen signed him to his new label Dreamworks after settling the lawsuit which gave Dreamworks all rights in the US for a new George Michael album. A hit. George Michael was back on the charts in the US. Then the arrest in a public bathroom in Beverly Hills made headlines across the world. Michael (finally) came out.

Very sad to learn of George’s passing. But he stood up for himself after he was very publicly outed. Yes, he could have come out earlier – but Mottola’s action gives one insight into why he did not.

➢ Owen Jones, Guardian writer:
The popstar’s openness about his sex life, and his campaigning for LGBT rights, offered a liferaft to many – particularly at a time when anti-gay sentiment was rife. As a closeted teenager back in 1998, it is impossible not to recall the courage and defiance of George Michael. A talented and much adored musician, yes. But also a gay man, and a gay icon, who made the lives of so many LGBT people that little bit easier.

➢ 20 essential songs: The best of the pop icon George Michael’s hits – at Rolling Stone:
George Michael swiftly transitioned from teenage pretty boy to outspoken pop force. “It says something for the power of the music,” he told Rolling Stone after the release of his smash 1987 solo debut, Faith, “that I’ve managed to change the perception of what I do to the degree that I have in this short a time. Because it’s something that a lot of people thought wasn’t possible. . . / Continued online

CELEBRITY TRIBUTES

Andrew Ridgeley, schoolfriend, partner in Wham! – “Heartbroken at the loss of my beloved friend Yog. He had a voice that would transport you, he was the finest singer/songwriter of his generation & has left the best of himself for us. RIP.”

Michael Lippman, Michael’s manager, told Billboard that he died of heart failure and was found “in bed, lying peacefully”. . . “I’m devastated.”

Spandau Ballet – “We are incredibly sad at the passing of our dear friend George Michael. A brilliant artist and great songwriter.”

Simply Red – “It’s hard to take in. One of our most talented singer- songwriters has left us. Such sad, tragic news.”

Mark Ronson – “George Michael was one of the true British soul greats. A lot of us owe him an unpayable debt.”

Paul McCartney – “George Michael’s sweet soul music will live on even after his sudden death. Having worked with him on a number of occasions, his great talent always shone through and his self-deprecating sense of humour made the experience even more pleasurable.”

Tony Visconti, producer – “I lived through early grief of my pop idols dying on me. Nothing, however, prepared me for this year. Of course the biggest blow was when David Bowie passed. He was my colleague, but more importantly a friend for 48 years. I’m just barely in the acceptance stage with that; my philosophical attitude, ‘this just happens’, helped a lot. But today, with the death of George Michael, this is a little too close to home. Wham made their first album in my Good Earth studios with Chris Porter engineering and he eventually producing George Michael. As my office was in the studio I would pop my head in and say hello. This has happened too much this year. As of today it feels like a damn conspiracy.”


Chaka Khan – “Performed a few shows with George Michael when he was with Wham in the 80s. Here’s a clip of him covering Ain’t Nobody from 1991.”

Sir Elton John – “I am in deep shock. I have lost a beloved friend – the kindest, most generous soul and a brilliant artist.”

THE TERRY WOGAN SHOW, 1984

TALKING ABOUT A FILM OF HIS LIFE, 2005

‘MY OWN SELF-DESTRUCTIVE STREAK’, 2007

➢ 2016, London’s young guns remember George Michael

➢ Previously at Shapersofthe80s:
2010, Rich List puts George Michael top of the popstars from the un-lucrative 80s

FRONT PAGE

➤ Ex-Blitz Kid Rusty Egan and friends dress 80s electro-pop in brilliant new clothes

Welcome to the Dancefloor, Rusty Egan, electro-pop, Blitz Kids, New Romantic, EDM, synthesisers,

Egan deejaying at Tramp this week: a nightclub launch for Welcome to the Dancefloor

AFTER FIVE YEARS OF BLAGGING, and five years of feuding with former collaborators, 80s Blitz Club deejay Rusty Egan’s own “electro-diskow” album, Welcome to the Dancefloor, amounts to a superb sonic landmark. He and his guest performers engage an impressive range of emotions by dramatically humanising the potential starkness many associate with electronica.

ALBUM REVIEW
Welcome to the Dancefloor
Rusty Egan

Spookily, their energy rockets us immediately into that vast clean stereo soundscape that uniquely defined the new music of 1980. Here synthesiser chords are stretched and layered and cracked like a whip, as if by an invisible hand in another time and space, which of course was precisely the sound of London clubland when its youth culture erupted as a volcano of creativity. The album’s pacey opening track finds ex-New Order’s Peter Hook on The Other Side spinning through the Milky Way, his thin 80s vocal style querulous and wistful, yet poppily optimistic.

That era did after all abandon the overpowering noise of the rock stadium and the punk nihilists to celebrate a return to melodious singing voices and to arch lyrics meant for listening, while synthesisers defined a fresh musical ambience. Inexperienced young artists unsure about their singing ability half shouted, half vocodered their limited vocal range to re-imagine their teenage dreams on a different planet.

Egan’s collaborators: click any pic below to launch slideshow

While Egan has carefully selected 13 tracks reflecting the wide spectrum of synth possibilities, half are love songs in the spirit of the 80s generation who were dubbed by the press New Romantics. Nevertheless he has created a consummate showcase for electronic music, co-produced by Nick Bitzenis (aka Nikonn). He has had a hand in writing a majority of the songs, many co-written with Chris Payne (of Fade to Grey fame), these being subsequently endorsed and expressed by a handful of starry friends such as Midge Ure and Tony Hadley on tracks of their own.

Despite its title, this is not dance music that the funk nation would groove to. Laying down a dominant 4-4 beat is not conducive to free-form movement unless you think you’re Tik or Tok. Exceptions include Egan’s own pulsating title track with robo vocals as if by Stephen Hawking and knowing breaks parodying Tenek and the Human League; also the nippy number Hero, which gains spiritual resonance from Andy Huntley’s richly textured delivery.

➢ Listen online to Welcome to the Dancefloor
track by track

The stand-out track is Midge Ure’s transformation of an Egan/Payne song titled Glorious. He rewrote lyrics and melody so as to construct one magnificent crescendo filled with space and tension reminiscent of “Ohhhhh, Vienna!” A close second for reconjuring the authentic 80s is Egan’s own Wunderwerke, driven by his Trans-Europe vocals through classic synth sweeps, hypnotic repeats and bass stabs. Third comes Erik Stein on the astonishingly contemplative Ballet Dancer, basking in a wonderful waterfall of synths.

Like Brexit, Tony Hadley *is* Tony Hadley and here (without the Ballet) on the coltish lovesong Lonely Highway he canters to the top of a whole new hill as a crooner. What distinguishes this album is that it’s awash with affecting lyrics and fine voices to listen to in the name of electro pop – among the gentlest are Be The Man featuring the gorgeous inflections of Kira Porter; Nicole Clarke’s ethereal contribution to Love Can Conquer All; and Love Is Coming My Way, a second number from the silken-voiced Stein.

And just wait for the Chariots of Fire finale: Egan’s intensely personal track, Thank You, which unleashes a shock of the best kind. To describe more would be to spoil a gifted idea. It is emotional and all too evidently sincere. Thank you, Rusty.

Welcome to the Dancefloor, Rusty Egan, electro-pop, Blitz Kids, New Romantics, EDM, synthesisers,

Rusty Egan: co-producer, co-writer and much else – has created a landmark album in Welcome to the Dancefloor

➢ Pre-order Welcome To The Dancefloor as 180g vinyl LP and CD variants, plus bonus mixes, at Pledge Music. – All pledges immediately receive MP3 downloads of the album, with the physical products promised by Rusty Egan “once we reach a target” (unspecified). At worst, PledgeMusic clearly says it “will refund you if the Artist doesn’t reach their target”.

➢ Previously at Shapersofthe80s:
1980, First sighting of the Blitz Kids

FRONT PAGE

➤ London Design Museum’s new home is a wow!

 Design Museum, Deyan Sudjic, Kensington, John Pawson, Architecture, London

New home for the Design Museum: The former Commonwealth Institute’s hyperbolic paraboloid roof brings elegance and light to the museum. (Photographed by Shapersofthe80s)

TODAY THE UK’S WORLD-CLASS DESIGN MUSEUM under director Deyan Sudjic opened its doors at an inspirational new home in Kensington. Founded in 1989, the museum has spent 26 years at Shad Thames, near Tower Bridge, though the collection began in the pioneering Boilerhouse Project, located at the V&A museum as the brainwave of Britain’s giant influence on all things designed, Sir Terence Conran. There, the project mounted 20 exhibitions during its life from 1982 to 86 with the aim of helping to explain what design is to a non-specialist audience.

That ethos continues to deliver its visually stunning message in the former Commonwealth Institute, a listed 1962 building designed by modernist champion Robert Matthew, the elegance of which speaks for itself. John Pawson, a perfectionist and minimalist British architectural designer, led the £80-million remodelling of the redundant Kensington building and has worked miracles beneath the controversial hyperbolic paraboloid copper roof which dominates the sparse interior void. Here newly won access to daylight creates vistas that constantly reward the eye as you move from one balcony to another. The museum enjoys three times more space than its previous home.

Click any pic below to launch slideshow:


Signage is minimal so you have to hunt for further rewards: permanent collections on top floor (Designer Maker User) and in the basement; also upstairs, restaurant and members’ bar. Temporary exhibition space is on the ground floor and future themes will reflect contemporary design in every form from architecture and fashion to graphics, product and industrial design, digital media and transport.

The museum’s collection is an important record of the key designs that have shaped the modern world. It tells the history of mass production, from the manufacturing innovations of the 19th century up to the digital and making revolution of recent years.

This week’s opening exhibition, aptly titled Fear and Love: Reactions to a Complex World, presents an eclectic selection of baffling displays – “networked sexuality, sentient robots, slow fashion and settled nomads” – which require hard-working captions to explain some of their seemingly tenuous connections to design. Disgracefully, the museum has over-charged for admission, as if sponsors could not have shouldered the £14-per-head ticket price. Yes, £14! Major own goal for an opener.

Boilerhouse Project, Terence Conran, V&A , Design Museum,Kensington, Architecture, London

First Boilerhouse Project exhibition, Art and Industry, at the V&A: The origins of the Design Museum lie with the collection begun in 1982, which included this Mobil petrol pump designed by Eliot Noyes in 1968

➢ Fear and Love runs at the Design Museum until 23 April 2017. Tickets £14. Otherwise free 10–18h daily

➢ The story of designing London’s Design Museum

CONSTRUCTION DURING 2015:

FRONT PAGE

➤ Escape to the Nightlifers’ Shangri-la just in time for Christmas

Animal Nightlife, Andy Polaris, soul music, jazz, pop group,London, Andy Polaris,nightclubbing,Shangri-la, CD

Cool-hunters 1985: the Animal Nightlife lineup who charted with their album Shangri-la. . . Billy Chapman, Paul Waller, Andy Polaris, Leonardo Chignoli and Steve Brown

REMEMBER SNAKE-HIPPED ANDY POLARIS, frontman for Animal Nightlife, the soul/jazz/pop socialist collective who emerged from London’s cool clubbing scene and charted with Native Boy in 1983? This week their debut album Shangri-la is re-issued in a deluxe two-CD edition, having charted in summer 1985 only on vinyl.

Andy says: “It comes with a bonus disc of remixes and a great booklet with retro photos of the band in its two phases. Just in time for Christmas. The vinyl album has long been deleted and since then a very poor compilation of songs was released. The re-issue’s  tracks consist of the album in its original form and a second CD containing other singles and extended remixes that were only available on 12-inch before.” Lois Wilson supplies some nicely informed sleeve notes identifying Animal Nightlife’s role as innovators when the UK’s thriving underground changed the face of nightclubbing.

“Just listen to the Pink Panther style
saxophone of instrumental Basic Ingredients
and try not to lose yourself momentarily
in another world, a better world even”
First review (7/10) by Loz Etheridge

Managed by Steve Lewis, London’s coolest club deejay in the Beat Route’s heyday, Nightlife’s swing sound with an electronic twist enjoyed its moment as the hippest trend in music while Polaris penned his own brand of torch song and the band wore head-to-foot styles from Bolshevik bolshieness to Johnson’s jazz-age retro. Rabid clubbers must remember how Nightlife’s crazy animalettes and animalads went through about 35 line-up changes during their eight years on the scene, sadly scoring only four chart singles. For some band members, good times tended to take precedence over naked ambition in those highly competitive years when British acts were storming international pop charts.

“The must have re-issue CD of 2016.
A perfect Xmas stocking filler”
– deejay Mark Moore

By 1985 the band had slimmed down to the five-piece pictured on the CD cover. They consisted of Andy Polaris (vocals), Leonardo Chignoli (bass), Paul Waller (drums), Steve Brown (guitar) and Billy Chapman (playing a thrilling saxophone). After switching from the finger-snappy Innervision label to supercool Island Records, they were all packed off to Philadelphia where the first album was recorded at the legendary home of Philly World Records.

“The label wanted a bit more discipline from us,” Andy says, “and they sent us to America to get us out of our element and into the hands of those seasoned veterans who’d created the fabled Philly sound. We five working-class boys from London were wide-eyed and just did everything they told us. It paid off, because after our sojourn at Philly World our urban jazzy feel translated into a more sophisticated British club sound.”

❑ Standout track on the second Shangri-la CD of lost mixes is reggae producer Dennis Bovell’s version of Native Boy. Whoever’s on vibes – “mm, nice”.

➢ Shangri-la is cheaper direct from Cherry Red records (plus quick delivery)

➢ Polaris recalls his impressions of recording with the Philadelphia greats

➢ Definitive yet unofficial Animal Nightlife band history created online by Mike Albiston, a fan who remembers their last gig and senses something’s afoot that might require a web update

➢ Catch Andy Polaris’s reminiscences in the recent BBC doc Boy George’s 1970s: Save Me From Suburbia

➢ Previously at Shapersofthe80s: Animal Nightlife as part of the UK’s second wave of 80s image bands

FRONT PAGE

➤ Sotheby’s first David Bowie art auction raises twice the expected total sales figure

Frank Auerbach, Sotheby’s, Bowie/Collector, auction

At Sotheby’s Bowie/Collector auction tonight: the pop star’s favourite painting, Frank Auerbach’s portrait Head of Gerda Boehm, eventually went for went for £3.35m. (Screengrab from Sotheby’s live webcast)

PART 1 OF THE BOWIE/COLLECTOR SALE saw its 47 modern and contemporary artworks raise £24m tonight – just over twice the total of top prices estimated by Sotheby’s the auctioneer in advance. So the “Bowie premium” added to market prices for the privilege of owning a memento of the pop icon’s personal collection averaged 105% (with wild extremes either side).

Bowie/Collector, Sothebys, Frank Auerbach

Bowie’s inspiration: Auerbach’s Head of Gerda Boehm (Sotheby)

Most suspenseful bidding came for Bowie’s favourite painting, the Frank Auerbach portrait that the pop star said set his mood every day when he rose: Head of Gerda Boehm was estimated at best to sell for £500k but eventually went for £3.35m when a new bidder popped up at the £2m mark and staged a fight to the end.

As might have been expected, two Jean-Michel Basquiat works went for roughly two-thirds more than best estimates – £2m for an Untitled collage and £6.2m for his large acrylic Air Power. The final lot, a Damien Hirst spin painting on which Bowie collaborated, sold for £625k (top estimate £350k). Hirst’s other work, Untitled Fish For David, 1995, sold for £150k (top estimate £60,000).

Sadly the handful of works that didn’t even reach their low estimates included an exquisite Wyndham Lewis collage, a Paolozzi bronze, a rich Picabia portrait in oil, and a Bomberg townscape in oil. Among many moments of high-speed amusement that enlivened the event was the auctioneer’s unique pronunciation of Lytton Strachey’s name, which suggested this was the first time he’d come across it.

➢ Two more sales of 300 artworks owned by Bowie continue at Sotheby’s London through Friday, live online

➢ Previously at Shapersofthe80s: Bowie’s passionate eye for art proves to be not bad at all

➢ Previously at Shapersofthe80s: Bowie’s taste in art: respectable, with bargains to be had at Sotheby’s auction

FRONT PAGE