◼ 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.
Steve Norman snapped by Neil Matthews for Flexipop! The location is Parliament Hill lido in north London in 1981. In the caption fit Steve Norman reports: “I love scuba diving. Funnily enough, I’ve never caught one yet.”
❚ A GREAT MUSICAL PARTNERSHIP lands on the Mediterranean island of Ibiza tomorrow. Fresh from their pop-up jam sessions at the Cannes film fest, two former 80s Blitz Kids – Spandau Ballet’s sax-percussionist Steve Norman plus Visage drummer and club deejay Rusty Egan – continue their working holiday in the sun. Getaway hedonists can catch their storming double act at the Nassau Beach Club on Playa D’en Bossa, fortnightly on Mondays until September.
It’s a trick they’ve been pulling at smart parties and corporate events ever since Spandau asked Egan to introduce their Reformation reunion tour performances at London’s O2 in 2009. There, as a warm-up before the show, the deejay reminded audiences of the synth soundtrack to the New Romantic era – electronic Blitz Club classics by The Normal, Gina X, Kraftwerk and the like. The chemistry was apt: Egan was co-founder of the original 80s Blitz club-night, while Spandau Ballet emerged from its members in 1979 as the house band who put the rhythms of the new decade into the charts.
After the Reformation tour, Norman and Egan teamed up to develop a deejay-led set enhanced with live saxophone, percussion and any other instruments the versatile Steve laid his hands on.
May 28 update: no sign of first-night nerves as Steve makes friends at Nassau Beach Club. Photograph from Kitita Pastrana (centre)
On the phone from Cannes this week Steve said: “We’re playing soulful deep house, four on the floor. With me vibing on top of Rusty’s music, it gives an audience something to focus on. It’s always nice to see somebody hit hell out of the bongos!”
For Steve this kind of bongo-bashing started in 1988. “My mate Deuce Barter said I should come down to his Passion club in Maidenhead and meet Joe Becket. We went head to head in a battle of the bongos playing live over house music and we hit it off. On the strength of that battle I asked Joe if he would like to join Spandau Ballet on the 1989-90 tour. He was gobsmacked.” Later, Joe Bongo was to become the regular percussionist in Steve’s band Cloudfish after Spandau split.
In 1993 Steve made his home in Ibiza and during 12 years there he introduced his idea of improvising live with the deejay at a club residency in San Antonio. “It was an extension of my antics with Spandau. I’m the one who moved around the stage. I’d climb up on a speaker with my sax, flying by seat of my pants, feeling very exposed up there, so I’d pull out all the stops.”
These days, though billing themselves as Electronic Beach Club, Steve insists the musical collaboration with Egan is “definitely not to be lumped in with the retro movement”. EBC have moved on from 80s sounds to contemporary club music, interspersed with current mixes of classic tracks.
He says: “I do play Spandau mixes. In an uptempo version of True by Deep Mind I just lay down the sax and Rusty drops in the Oakenfold mix and I switch to heavy percussion. We also do Fade to Grey mixed up with Magic Fly. That’s his little nod to the original Visage.”
Last autumn, Steve scoped out the Nassau Beach Club during his first visit to Ibiza in four years and he’s basing himself there with Rusty for the summer. “It’s my second home, where I left a little piece of me. It’s where my son Jack was brought up and daughter Lara was born and I struggle to accept I’m not still there. I’m trying to convince Mrs Preston Norman to come out and drag herself away from the dog and cat at our cottage in Hampshire.
Nassau Beach Club
“What’s new on Ibiza is this idea of beach clubs. I remember when the Blue Marlin was just a few tables and chairs on the sand, now it’s become a nightclub on the beach. These places are springing up all over the island. After chilling out by day, people are ready to go for it by night. At the Nassau Club there’s a stage area on the beach where Rusty plays a set 5-8pm, with me raising the tempo.”
Creatively, the Norman-Egan team want to make more music together. Steve says: “I’ve done a sax track on Rusty’s album project and we still hope to do a track together.” On July 18 Steve will be a “gun for hire” joining an all-star supergroup called Holy Holy at the massive Latitude Festival in Suffolk, when London’s ICA presents Bowiefest, a celebration of the Ziggy/Aladdin year of 1973. The line-up so far features Clem Burke of Blondie, James Stevenson of Generation X, Gary Stondage of Big Audio Dynamite, Traci Hunter and Maggi Ronson on BVs.
Speculation grows around another reunion by Spandau Ballet. What can be confirmed is the epic documentary film by Scott Millaney, Soul Boys of the Western World, due out next spring. Steve promises his own exclusive discovery. “I found an old home movie from 1977 made by my dad on Standard 8. You see us pre-Spandau all performing up the road from Tony’s for the Queen’s Silver Jubilee celebrations – at a street party.” Busking, obviously!
THIS SUMMER’S SUN-AND-SEA SOUNDS
Rusty Egan in action with his Traktor Scratch Pro
❏ Hot from Rusty Egan on his Lilo: “I’m playing chilled beach mixes and remixes of classic tracks like True by Deep Mind, and electro pop such as Kate Bush’s This Woman’s Work (Echoes Remix), some cool house with Grass Is Greener’s Start Again, and Lewis Lastella’s remixes of Depeche Mode’s Enjoy The Silence and New Order’s Blue Monday.”
Kate Bush remixed above, Depeche Mode remixed below
+++ ➢ Footnote to the top pic – In Dec 1980 Flexipop! was launched as a plastic 7-inch disc with an overexcitable magazine attached. It was invented by music journalists Tim Lott and his business partner at the time, Barry Cain. It made the career of “Smudger” Neil Matthews, one-third of the official New Romantic photography contingent (along with Graham Smith and Shapersofthe80s), and his pix were exhumed late last year in archive form at a Flexipop Facebook page.
❚ YES IT’S 30 YEARS SINCE Spandau Ballet scored their only No 1 chart hit single with True, coinciding with their epic “Spandau Over Britain Tour”. By May 3, True the album reached No 1, while the single remained at No 1 as well. The band’s official website is celebrating with a month of recollections from 1983 and asking UK fans to offer their own memories. Naturally Shapersofthe80s was there on the waterfront and has a few inside stories of its own.
The month-long tour ended in triumph at London’s Royal Festival Hall 30 years ago today, on Friday April 29, because True hit the top spot in the UK singles chart and the night before Spandau topped the bill on Top of the Pops – only two weeks after its release. After the London gig there followed a right old knees-up for friends and family aboard a Thames riverboat. As it cast off Shapersofthe80s was onboard and snapped a True romance as Steve “Spiny” Norman took to the dance floor with bass-player Martin Kemp, while Steve’s mum Sheila tried to muscle in. Here are our snaps, never seen before.
CLICK ANY PIC TO LAUNCH CAROUSEL:
Aboard Spandau’s True riverboat: Steve Norman and Martin Kemp take to the dancefloor, while Sheila Norman asks to join in
Steve and Martin are in heaven… See anybody else you know? Of course: future Spandau biographer Paul Simper in dog-tooth suit from Robot with added Wham!
Steve’s mum Sheila joins the chorus line, and backing singer Sam Brown joins Martin
At last, mother and son get to boogey together
The band’s third album True, produced by Tony Swain and Steve Jolley, had preceded the tour and was to yield several chart hits across the world, Gold among them. The tour moved on to Europe in the summer and to North America in the autumn, when Shapersofthe80s will have some wild eye-witness scenes to report – laters…
➢ Photographer Neil Matthews, another friend of Spandau from their earliest days, has been celebrating with an exhibition of his popstar photos titled My 80s Through the Lens, at The Great British Restaurant, 14 North Audley Street, London W1K 6WE. All images can be viewed online and are for sale in limited editions printed on smart archival paper. As well as Spandau, his subjects include Bananarama, Blue Rondo, Bauhaus, Haysi Fantayzee, Malcolm McLaren, The Jam, Nick Heyward, Bow Wow Wow and more.
➢ 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
LANDMARK FAREWELLS. . . HIT THE INDEX TAB UP TOP FOR EVERYTHING ELSE
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