◼ THREE DECADES AFTER the maverick monthly music magazine Flexipop closed, guilty names were named during last night’s book launch at Shoreditch’s coolest new venue, the Red Gallery. During a Q&A with the mag’s founders Barry Cain and Tim Lott, they confessed that the three most difficult artists to deal with in those heady days of Britain’s burgeoning pop scene were. . . [X-Factor-style pause] . . . Tears for Fears and . . . Paul Weller and . . . the American new-wave band Blondie! Lott tactlessly remarked that what surprised him most was that singer Debbie Harry had “a huge head out of all proportion with her body” – which clearly means he really had a thing about blondes.
Whinging hosts apart, guests at their party were distinctly more polite. Generating tidal waves of affection was the original 2 Tone rude girl Pauline Black, who was happy to chat about this summer’s new album titled Subculture 36 years after her band The Selecter set out, having survived two splits and reunions, and now poised for a UK tour. . . Exchanging gossip beneath the “Free hugs” notice we found veteran 80s popsters Christos Tolera (Blue Rondo à la Turk) and Phil Bloomberg (Polecats). . . Catching up on the music du jour were the gifted jazzer Mark Reilly (Matt Bianco, still going strong and knocking out albums every few years) and the ubiquitous Andy Polaris (Animal Nightlife, long defunct) who these days injects magic into the windows of the UK’s trendiest Oxfam in Dalston. . .
Lensman Neil Matthews and Toyah, immortalised wearing his bunny ears
Free hugs from Christos Tolera and Phil Bloomberg
Flexipop readers’ all-time fave tracks
Powering through the crowd was photographer Neil Mackenzie Matthews, eager to push his exhibition of pop-star photos printed on smart Somerset paper and selling at very affordable prices. He produced some flopsy-bunny big ears which apparently was the prop he invited stars of the 80s to wear in front of his camera. We saw immortalised on a poster the playful chanteuse Toyah Willcox, though Neil recalled how, despite having bought the ears as a gift for the precious Ian McCulloch of Echo and The Bunnymen (geddit?), he refused outright to see their entertainment value.
It was Flexipop’s belief that all celebs should be humiliated at every turn. As further proof, souvenirs of the magazine’s heyday were visible everywhere, including a blown-up cartoon strip satirising Marc Almond as a “sex dwarf” and Dave Ball his partner in Soft Cell as a beer-swilling “mega-hunk”. Writs for libel were due to be served at midnight.
Flexipop’s trademark plastic 7-inch discs were being dispensed free, after unsold supplies were recently unearthed in Cain’s mum’s garage – and “still playable”, assuming you have a wind-up gramophone.
Apparently Paul Weller couldn’t get along to the party as he was collecting some award as Modest Mod-father of Them All.
80s survivor: Glen Matlock, bass guitarist in the original Sex Pistols line-up, relishes Flexipop-the-book-of-the-mag
◼ THE MOST RAUCOUS OF ALL 80S POP MAGS was Flexipop, dedicated to pricking pomposity and kicking the egos of the jumped-up nobodies shrewd enough to bunk into the UK pop charts for the obligatory two singles – and an album if they had the staying power – such was the state of the geriatric music industry bequeathed by the 70s, the decade of corporate megagroups.
The unashamedly puerile Flexipop was unleashed “like an explosion in a paintball factory” by two ex-Record Mirror journalists, Tim Lott and Barry Cain, designed “by a chimp” so it claimed, and determined to put the larks back into pop, in contrast to the earnest Baudrillard-heavy NME. It ran for three years from Dec 1980 and now it’s back with revengeance as The-Book-of-the-Mag, being launched tomorrow by invitation, and for J Public at a charity bash with bands on Friday.
According to the Flexipop manifesto, 35 years ago “a golden future beckoned and our hearts beat to a fusion of punk, soul, Motown, new wave, new romantic, rock’n’roll and reggae”. Its verdict on the 80s was “a haphazard, ludicrous mish mash of genius. Such a moment required a haphazard, ludicrous mish-mash of genius to reflect it all”.
Though the rest of us had rather higher standards and wrote eloquent essays in praise of the new “pure pop” that was creating world-beating British supergroups, Flexipop insisted in dragging us all down into the gutter to enjoy its unique view of the stars.
Its big draws were zany photo stories and a thin plasticky 7-inch flexi-disc featuring an exclusive track from a major chart act taped to the cover of every issue. Many of them are collector’s items today, such as Adam and the Ants doing A.N.T.S. to the tune of YMCA. Guests to the party will receive an original flexi-disc and a copy of the magazine (presumably unsolds stashed in a warehouse for three decades).
Madness songwriter Lee Thompson photographed by Neil M Matthews for Flexipop – for sale at the 2015 book launch party
➢ The big public Flexipop! book launch party starts at 7.30pm Friday 25 Sept at the Red Gallery, London EC2A 3DT. The Flexipop! photographer Neil M Matthews exhibits his iconic 80s photos, while three intrepid bands attempt to recreate the hysteria of the 80s. Tickets £20 available online and on door. The event is in aid of the Teenage Cancer Trust and the National Foundation for Youth Music.
➢ The first Flexipop! book launch party is an invitation-only event at the Red Gallery on 24 Sept that will include the official launch of the book and a limited edition Flexipop! photo/poster exhibition by Neil Mackenzie Matthews.
Spandau Ballet’s post-gig interview at SXSW in Texas: Steve Norman finds the humour in St John Keeble’s healing homilies
❚ NOT TO BE MISSED! Freshly posted at YouTube is yet another heart-on-sleeve prequel to Spandau Ballet’s promised Reconciliation and Redemption tour. A group interview on video unexpectedly becomes a very moving and positive expression of the band’s solidarity as friends. Famously “sticky moments” from the kamikaze wrecking of the band at the height of its success and the atomic fall-out during the 90s are glancingly referred to in the spirit of mild self-flagellation. The five musicians who defined Britain’s New Romantic movement are discussing Soul Boys of the Western World, their warts-and-all documentary biopic premiered last month at SXSW, the cool new-media festival at Austin in Texas.
“The film is pretty honest and hard for us to watch at times,” says songwriter Gary Kemp. “You can see in the film I was a bit precious.”
“That Kray twin moment [a reference to the Kemps making a feature film about the Krays in 1990]: for me that’s really embarrassing cos me and Gary’s answer is really conceited, but that’s who we were at the time,” says brother and bass player Martin. “The film lets us examine where we went wrong.”
SOUL BOYS SET FOR CANNES
The Spandau Ballet documentary that proved a hit at SXSW in March, is to be screened to buyers at the➢ Cannes Marché next month, handled by UK sales company Metro International
“We’re human, we didn’t always get it right, we were young kids thrust into the limelight,” says singer Tony Hadley.
“We went through that terrible time facing each other in court at one point,” says instrumentalist Steve Norman. “It was awful. I put my saxophone on the top shelf and didn’t want anything to do with it for about four or five years cos it was symbolic of Spandau.”
Throughout the interview St John of the Drums emerges as the Kentish Town savant with a healing prayer for the sins that destroyed lifelong friendships between the five soulboys. “You can’t be revisionist,” Keeble observes. “It was a major thing when we got back together five years ago. You cannot unknow stuff that’s gone on but I think everyone felt in their hearts that it was now better to focus on the future. The whole world’s still in front of us.”
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Lori Majewski chairs Spandau Ballet’s post-gig interview in Austin last month. Screengrabs from SXSW video
Tony Hadley says: We didn’t aways get it right
Steve Norman tells how he put his saxophone out of reach
What’s sad from a fan’s perspective is that the live gig in Texas which followed the film’s screening was the first and only time Spandau have played together since their year-long Reformation tour ended in 2010. That comeback tour was a sensational success, just as this gig has proved to be. The video interviewer, writer Lori Majewski, called Spandau a formidable live band: “I was surprised how tight you guys were, how great the live show was!” Entertainment Weekly reported the gig exuding “a rare atmosphere for a very youth-centrict fest, and a truly inspired musical moment – not bad for a bunch of fifty-somethings”.
The documentary has received keen reviews for its sole use of vintage footage and director George Hencken’s intelligent deployment of the band’s hit tunes from the 80s. The SXSW interview also reveals that at the 1985 Live Aid concert Steve Norman shot some under-cover footage backstage where cameras officially weren’t allowed. John Keeble remarks on the amount of original footage in their movie which the band themselves had never seen before – much shot by Martin Kemp as a Super8 enthusiast – while there’s plenty more footage that didn’t make the cut. So come on, lads. Let’s stage a premiere for the Spandau out-takes.
Click on video title above, then scroll to No 7 in the playlist
❏ This meeting of travellers at a crossroads in Austin has all the signs of a mystical resurrection sent from heaven, yet we’re told a Spandau tour is unlikely to happen this side of New Year. How patient must fans be? They had to wait three years for this film to be finished, having evolved naturally from a gifted film-maker recording the Reformation tour.
Two superb books on Spandau have been in preparation for years: one, a smart limited edition photobook, still awaits a strategic publication date to support a career jump-start.
The other was commissioned ten years ago, yes ten, in a wishful gesture of reconciliation while band members roamed the wilderness of solo careers. The showbiz writer Paul Simper was rightly deemed the only person qualified and trusted to capture the fascinating inside story of Spandau Ballet. His manuscript was revised five years ago to boost the Reformation tour, then publication was postponed in order to embrace the selfsame Reformation tour. His gripping text is far more thorough than many rock biogs because of the extraordinary times it describes and the wide-ranging context his research has captured. Currently, Simper is re-retuning his words which could become the book-of-the-film – once the film is given a release date. “Hearing the band talk so eloquently and emotionally gives me new impetus,” he said today. “It’s thrilling to hear them looking to the future.”
For the fans camped at the tiny Oasis of Hope, the road to truth and reconciliation for the band who’ve been pals since schooldays is a long one, as it has been for post-apartheid South Africa, and for Ireland since partition. But y’know, those two were nations with histories riven by British politics. Not a chart-topping pop group. Why doesn’t somebody ask Jerry for his Final Word then we can all get back to the music?
Sound of new London: the influential grime collective Roll Deep in 2009. Photograph by Simon Wheatley
❚ HERE’S AN INSPIRATIONAL BOOK that rocks you on your heels by making a mighty claim that in your guts you know is right. With quiet assurance the author Lloyd Bradbury traces a century of black music in his chunky 430-page Sounds Like London to arrive at this conclusion: that UK black music has dramatically reshaped British culture and mainstream pop. He said last week: “It’s astonishing that we’ve come from Lord Kitchener at the gangplank of the Windrush to Dizzee Rascal at Glastonbury in less than three generations. Today’s music-makers do not think of it as anything to do with black musicians. It is basically London pop music. It is an astonishing evolution.”
If the music’s substantially hidden pre-WW2 history is an eye-opener, the postwar lineage is electrifying. Bradbury draws a continuous arc from the Caribbean immigrant Kitchener singing his calypso “London is the place for me” the moment he disembarked from SS Empire Windrush at Tilbury in 1948, to embrace the jazz bands, blues and clubs and the many hybrid sounds of reggae, highlife, lovers rock and homegrown funk that have led on through peculiar twists to jungle, drum and bass, garage, dubstep and grime and become the soundtracks for British dancefloors today.
The book pays serious tribute to Guyanan-born Eddy Grant whose north London studio brought on a whole generation of musicians (and whose 1979 hit Living on the Front Line lent its name to the Evening Standard’s column about youth culture). The final chapters set out one of the most efficient roadmaps you’ve read to the truly creative UK music-makers of the past 20 years which otherwise saw our charts being despoiled by Cowell’s vacuous talent show victims and tedious bitch-n-gangsta videos from North America.
Bradley, who grew up in Kentish Town, writes: “British black music has never been so prominent. Indeed it’s at the point now where artists such as Labrinth, Tinie Tempah and Dizzee Rascal are bona fide pop stars, with a young mainstream audience that accepts them. The brilliant thing about the current state of British black music is that … our guys have very often succeeded in spite of the UK music business rather than because of it.”
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Former radio pirate turned author Lloyd Bradley speaking at last month’s Open East Festival in Stratford
In similar vein, Jazzie B of Soul II Soul writes in his foreword to the book: “Sounds Like London is a story that needed to be told by somebody who really cares about it, and the most important thing about this book is Lloyd Bradley. The reason this story of London’s black music hasn’t been told before is because up until now he wasn’t ready to write it.”
Former sound-system owner, pirate radio deejay, classically trained chef and adviser to the British Council, Lloyd Bradley has been writing about black music in Britain, the US and the Caribbean for over thirty years.
“ Sounds Like London is a riveting read. It’s one to wolf down in a few sessions, and then savour slowly at a more considered pace… He avoids trotting out the usual suspects who pop up perennially as talking heads as part of the dumbing-down documentary epidemic, so the stories and angles seem fresher than might be anticipated. Quite correctly, Eddy Grant is right at the heart of Lloyd’s history lesson, and it is wonderful to read a book that recognises his role in changing pop music for ever. But some of the other choices of, well, witnesses are also inspired. People like Wookie, Root Jackson, Hazel Miller of Ogun Records, Teddy Osei of Osibisa, and Soul II Soul’s designer Derek Yates come across particularly well and have some great tales to tell… ” / Continued online
“ Traditionally, black music in this country has been described by historians, as well as its champions in the rock press, as rebel music… Sounds Like London certainly has its darker moments – Trevor Nelson talks about being asked to DJ at clubs to which, as a punter, he was repeatedly refused entry; producers bristle at the memory of clueless major-label representatives craving their demographics but demanding they make stylistic compromises that damaged their reputations… This is an invaluably materialist book that is often at its most enlightening when it recounts the dramas of distribution – label bosses circulating their records via an alternative network of barbers, grocers, hairdressers and travel agents, for example. The much-missed Stern’s record store began life as an electrical supplies shop on Tottenham Court Road that was popular with African students who paid for repairs with new vinyl from their home countries. For Bradley, black music in London is often creative expression and sometimes art, but almost without exception it is work… ” / Continued at Guardian Online
❚ THE SEATTLE PUBLIC LIBRARY launched the 2013 Summer Reading Program by setting a new world record for the longest book domino chain. The 2,131 books used by 27 volunteers to make this chain were either donated or are out of date and no longer in the library’s collection. They are now being sold by the Friends of the library to help raise money for its programs and services. No books were harmed during the making of this video. Filmed by Playfish Media.
➢ Choose “View full site” – then in the blue bar atop your mobile page, click the three horizontal lines linking to many blue themed pages with background articles.
MORE INTERESTING THAN MOST PEOPLE’S FANTASIES — THE SWINGING EIGHTIES 1978-1984
They didn’t call themselves New Romantics, or the Blitz Kids – but other people did.
“I’d find people at the Blitz who were possible only in my imagination. But they were real” — Stephen Jones, hatmaker, 1983. (Illustration courtesy Iain R Webb, 1983)
“The truth about those Blitz club people was more interesting than most people’s fantasies” — Steve Dagger, pop group manager, 1983
“See David Johnson’s fabulously detailed website Shapers of the 80s to which I am hugely indebted” – Political historian Dominic Sandbrook, in his book Who Dares Wins, 2019
“The (velvet) goldmine that is Shapers of the 80s” – Verdict of Chris O’Leary, respected author and blogger who analyses Bowie song by song at Pushing Ahead of the Dame
“The rather brilliant Shapers of the 80s website” – Dylan Jones in his Sweet Dreams paperback, 2021
A UNIQUE HISTORY
➢ WELCOME to the Swinging 80s ➢ THE BLOG POSTS on this front page report topical updates ➢ ROLL OVER THE MENU at page top to go deeper into the past ➢ FOR NEWS & MONTH BY MONTH SEARCH scroll down this sidebar
❏ Header artwork by Kat Starchild shows Blitz Kids Darla Jane Gilroy, Elise Brazier, Judi Frankland and Steve Strange, with David Bowie at centre in his 1980 video for Ashes to Ashes
VINCENT ON AIR 2022
✱ Deejay legend Robbie Vincent returned to JazzFM on Sundays 1-3pm in 2021… Catch Robbie’s JazzFM August Bank Holiday 2020 session thanks to AhhhhhSoul with four hours of “nothing but essential rhythms of soul, jazz and funk”.
SEARCH our 800 posts or ZOOM DOWN TO THE ARCHIVE INDEX
UNTOLD BLITZ STORIES
✱ If you thought there was no more to know about the birth of Blitz culture in 1980 then get your hands on a sensational book by an obsessive music fan called David Barrat. It is gripping, original and epic – a spooky tale of coincidence and parallel lives as mind-tingling as a Sherlock Holmes yarn. Titled both New Romantics Who Never Were and The Untold Story of Spandau Ballet! Sample this initial taster here at Shapers of the 80s
CHEWING THE FAT
✱ Jawing at Soho Radio on the 80s clubland revolution (from 32 mins) and on art (@55 mins) is probably the most influential shaper of the 80s, former Wag-club director Chris Sullivan (pictured) with editor of this website David Johnson
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