Tag Archives: New Sounds New Styles

➤ Smash Hits and other mould-breakers of the 80s

Neil Tennant ,Smash Hits, Radio 4, documentary

1983: Neil Tennant as Smash Hits writer. (Photo by Virginia Turbett)

❚ ANOTHER NICELY PACKAGED Radio 4 documentary today celebrated the crucial years 1982–85 which Neil Tennant describes as “the golden age of 80s pop”. They luckily coincided with his tenure as a writer on Smash Hits magazine before stepping into the pop charts himself as half of the Pet Shop Boys. Obviously in a prog titled Neil Tennant’s Smash Hits Christmas Tennant and his cronies were full of back-slapping at the moulds they broke with the mass-selling fan mag, driven initially by two selling points – song lyrics and pull-out pinup posters.

Smash Hits, Radio 4, documentary,Pete Murphy

1982: Peter Murphy of Bauhaus (you really don’t want to see its Christmas cover star)

Launched in Nov 1978 as a monthly title, Smash Hits trailed “The words to 18 top singles” as its key feature. The mag was the invention of former NME editor (and later founder of The Face) Nick Logan who conceived it on the kitchen table and initially toyed with the title Disco Fever, presumably in homage to that year’s horror movie Saturday Night Fever. He chose the Belgian new-wave joker Plastic Bertrand for the cover of a pilot issue in the post-punk vacuum when any new direction seemed significant, but actually launched with Blondie. Smash Hits soon went fortnightly, ran for 28 years, and died with Celebrity Big Brother’s Preston gracing its last cover in 2006. In his Guardian obituary for the mag, Alexis Petridis wrote: “The period between the rise of Adam and the Ants and the collapse of Stock, Aitken and Waterman’s ‘Hit Factory’ empire may prove to be the last truly great pop era, in that it produced not just great pop music, but great pop stars.”

Tennant ignores the fact that 80s classic pop began with the music of Spandau Ballet and Adam Ant a couple of years earlier than his joining the mag. Also unmentioned in today’s doc was that the mould-breaking writing of this era was actually led by The Face and the subcultural flagship magazine New Sounds New Styles, which gently parodied the posers of the New Romantics movement and closed in 1982 through lack of promotion by its publisher Emap, who also happened to publish Smash Hits. The fresh rebel writers of NSNS had adopted a tongue-in-cheek tone which kickstarted a shift of power away from stars and their publicists into the hands of writers themselves. Once the 80s had revived the long-dead credibility of pop music – dubbed “pure pop” in vigorous public debates – Smash Hits took its cue by adopting a knowing approach to pop journalism and providing a cheeky foil to Britain’s four seriously po-faced weekly rock-music newspapers. We cannot underestimate how its humour helped sophisticate the Smash Hits reader, pragmatically described by Tennant as “the 12-year-old girl in Grantham”. Which was a neat way of deflating his own pomposity.

Spookiest quote today came from Toyah, after remarking that the pop scene has lost the airy optimism of the 80s: “We now view fame as something dark and faintly abusive.” Oo-er.

Neil Tennant ,Smash Hits, Radio 4, documentary, Pet Shop Boys

April 1985: Tennant as cover star and Pet Shop Boy with Chris Lowe


2012 ➤ A brighter Bluer Rondo for the 20-tweens

Chewing the Fat, vinyl, Blue Rondo à la Turk, 1982, albums,pop music, Latin funk,Wag club, Chris Sullivan, Change, Club Mix,

Picture sleeve painted by vocalist Chris Sullivan, 1982

❚ TWO VINTAGE MUSICAL GEMS appeared online this week, casting a fresh magic spell. They are two tracks from Chewing the Fat, the debut album by the image dance-band of 80s clubland, Blue Rondo à la Turk. In the view of Shapersofthe80s, the 9-track stereo vinyl LP was then and remains now the standout pop album of 1982 for sheer verve and originality. Chris Sullivan, the band’s driving force who went on to run Soho’s Wag club for 19 years, has been remixing the Diable Noir masters which became available only a few months ago.
This week we heard the sparkling Change Club Mix 2, an original Poncioni-Sullivan composition tagged as “Afro-Latino funk”, and only released previously on the album. Sullivan says we can download the remix as a 58MB Wav file from Soundcloud so it plays right away through iTunes. “We’ll leave it up for downloads for a week,” he said. “Blue Rondo recorded this over 30 years ago and remixed it this year… Still shakes it.” At Facebook, Rondo fan Michael Feasey agrees: “Good stuff Chris – love that samba percussion coming up to 4:00 and the gritty sax. Hell, it’s all good.”

vinyl, Blue Rondo à la Turk, 1982, albums,pop music, Latin funk,Wag club, Chris Sullivan, Klacto Vee Sedstein,Oxford Road Show,TV,

Picture sleeve painted by vocalist Chris Sullivan,1982

The band’s second chart single was the witty Klacto Vee Sedstein. (“It’s got to mean something, it can’t be a dream” – Well, the title was inspired by Charlie Parker’s 1947 number, if not the tune itself.) Rondo’s track enlivened the top 100 for nearly six months, and its “mutant funk” has now emerged from the glitz of Godley & Creme’s 80s production. As Sullivan says: “This is how we’d have liked to have done the song initially but all we’ve done is clean it up a bit and take it back to the original idea… This was recorded 31 years ago.” Verdict at Mixcloud from Mark Huxley: “Lovely stripped down mix!”

Best revelation from Sullivan also came this week: “Expect a digital re-release of our album Chewing The Fat in the spring. I’m quite shocked by how well it’s aged.” He’s not wrong there.

♫ Listen to Klacto Vee Sedstein 2012, as it was meant to sound

Live Performance on Oxford Road Show

➢ 2012, Blue Rondo breathe fresh life into Mr Sanchez – “Mark Reilly did the lion’s share,” says Sullivan, referring to Rondo’s guitarist

New Sounds New Styles, 1981

First published in New Sounds New Styles, August 1981

➢ 1981, Blue Rondo create a new buzz with Latin sounds – unveiled in New Sounds New Styles by Shapersofthe80s


Michel Esteban, Michael Zilkha, ZE Records,

Michael Zilkha and Michel Esteban: label founders combined their initials into ZE

♫ Sullivan also offered an hour-long Mutant Disco mix for a recent Mark Jones show on BBC 6Music – The party kicks off with Contort Yourself (August Darnell remix from the 1979 US 12-incher) by No Wave pioneer James White & The Blacks on ZE Records, the boutique label based in Paris and New York which recharged the disco genre with edge and credibility while Manhattanites pursued dance-oriented rock and Euro-disco wandered its own byways, both folkloric and electronic.

No Wave, Mutant Disco, dance music, James White & The Blacks, ZE Records
Launched in 1978 by British-born old Oxonian and Mothercare heir Michael Zilkha, and French graphic artist Michel Esteban, ZE selected style-leading eccentrics of the day to redefine upfront New York disco. The Sullivan mix includes ZE artists such as Lizzy Mercier Descloux, Kid Creole & The Coconuts, Was (Not Was), Coati Mundi, Material, though alas no Cristina. The title of ZE’s witty vinyl cocktail of acts tagged “A Subtle Discolation of the Norm” put the term Mutant Disco into the language in 1981, and acted as soundtrack to the first Blitz invasion of the US that spring.

Sullivan explains, Dec 3: “Here’s a live mix straight off the decks I did for Mark Jones Back to the Phuture show on BBC 6Music. Kinda all that early 80s electro Ze records stuff we loved and still do … They’ve edited some of the mixes but still it’s a bit of a gas … With a few exceptions this is what I played at Hell” [the Blitz crowd’s breakaway club of 1980].


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:


1981 ➤ Ballet on Broadway, leading the British invasion of America, spring 1981

On this day 30 years ago, 21 Blitz Kids, average age 21, took Manhattan by storm. Spandau Ballet provided the new British electropop, the Axiom design collective provided the radical London fashion show, while Tina Turner and Robert de Niro joined the coolest audience in New York City to witness the new sounds and new styles of Swinging London…

 Spandau Ballet, Blitz Kids, Jim Fourratt, Axiom fashion,Sade Adu,British invasion,

First published in the first issue of New Sounds New Styles in July 1981

Click here to read what happened for seven days in May
when the Ballet hit Broadway


JUNE ➤ 30 or so years ago today


Human League, Being BoiledJune 17 — Fast Product releases the darkly mystical Being Boiled by Sheffield’s original Human League, and Bowie declares it “the future of music”. John Peel also champions the single on radio and it becomes a cult among the Billy’s and Blitz clubbing circle in London, though it does not chart until January 1982 on its second release. In the present day this is considered to be the first massively influential British electronic pop track.
VIEW ♫ Being Boiled live in 1978 on Granada TV, though the audio is dire!


June 21 — Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical Evita opens at London’s Prince Edward Theatre to run for 2,900 performances. A novel ploy has been to release a double album two years earlier — some songs are already chart hits
June 29The Swinging 80s start here as David Bowie plays Earl’s Court, London. Sundry misfits recognise kindred spirits in the audience and gather afterwards at Billy’s club in Soho, long before the phrase New Romantics has been invented.


June 9 — Music weekly Sounds publishes Mods Without Parkas by Garry Bushell
June 14 — The 70s “dressing up” imperative sees Flick’s in Dartford throw a VE Night deejayed by Radio London’s Robbie Vincent


June 14 — George O’Dowd parades past Buckingham Palace as a helmeted and toga’d Britannia at the annual royal ceremony of trooping the colour


June — The mainstream deejay’s bible Disco International publishes a plain man’s guide by yours truly, titled Who are the New Romantics and how do they dance?
June — John Boorman’s epic Arthurian movie Excalibur opens in London starring Nigel Terry and Helen Mirren
June 4 — Steve Strange and Rusty Egan open Club for Heroes in Baker Street
June 21 — Arty Latin popsters Blue Rondo à la Turk are unveiled in Chelmsford after weeks of secret tease dates. Yours truly is there to introduce the band to readers of New Sounds New Styles under the headline He thinks he is Geronimo but Chris Sullivan is turning fantasy into fact


Blitz Kids, Kate Garner, Jeremy Healy ,Haysi Fantayzee ,Paul Caplin, John Wayne Big Leggy

Haysi Fantayzee 1982: ex-Blitz Kids Kate Garner, Jeremy Healy and manager Paul Caplin

June 9 — Kasper de Graaf, editor of New Romantic magazine New Sounds New Styles, tells the Rebel Writers the title is to close and they are out of jobs. We retire to the Red Lion to seek consolation!
June 14 — The Falklands War ends with the Argentine surrender. Its occupation of the Falkland Islands in the South Atlantic had provoked a war that lasted 74 days and results in the deaths of 260 Britons and 649 Argentinians
June 21 — At the V&A the Middlesex fashion degree show is stolen by Stevie Stewart and David Holah. Their Matelots and Milkmaids collection establishes Bodymap as the label for the young and daring
June 25 — As Haysi Fantayzee, Blitz Kids Kate Garner and Jeremy Healy release their debut single John Wayne is Big-leggy


June 14 — Capital Radio’s Gary Crowley starts deejaying at Bogart’s club, Harrow