Tag Archives: Paul Simper

➤ Thank you, George, says Paul Simper. You left me wanting to dance like you

George Michael, Aldo Zilli, Paul Simper, birthday party, Wham!, London, nightlife, clubbing, Lilli Anderson, Alex Goddson, Sam McKnight, Josie Jones

Simper’s 25th birthday at Aldo Zilli’s Il Siciliano in Soho: visible faces clockwise from front left: Lilli Anderson, Alex Godson (standing), Sam McKnight, the host (standing), Josie Jones, George Michael. Photo by Simper

Paul “Scoop” Simper arrived in London as a cub
journalist who soon became a backbone of No1, one
of the two leading pop magazines covering the
Swinging 80s. He also became a face about clubland
and in the years after he first met George Michael,
when Wham! was launched, became friends.
Shapers of the 80s is pleased to publish Scoop’s very personal tribute to one of the UK’s leading superstars who died this week

OF COURSE HE HAD TO LEAVE US ON CHRISTMAS DAY. As a pop lover, especially one raised in the 80s, George Michael has been a part of mine and so many people’s Christmases for years.

This one was no exception. Nipping up the high street to the supermarket for one last shop on Christmas Eve, there was something both joyous and comforting about hearing him – not just as Wham! but on his lonesome giving us December Song and on Band Aid – whilst trolling up and down the aisles for a bottle of fizz and a few more festive nibbles.

If anything, this year he’d felt ever more present. A pre-Christmas gathering of my old 80s pals had stirred up memories of Whambley – that perfect pop farewell on the sunniest of days in ’86 in front of 72,000 adoring but heartbroken fans when George and Andrew signed off at the top of the charts (both albums and singles) with their friendship still intact.

Wham! fans came in all shapes and sizes. Not long ago I’d been listening to a bootleg of The Final concert, lovingly recorded and shared with me by No1 magazine’s then editorial assistant Dave Ling, later of Metal Hammer, a heavy metaller through and through, who made an honourable exception when it came to George and Andrew.

As I think about it now, not being a Wham! or George fan has always been a bit of a deal-breaker. One early relationship of mine came to a very swift end when she questioned my love of George. My pal June Montana (lead singer with Brilliant and gatekeeper on the Limelight’s VIP bar, who was actually a bona fide friend of his) and I were like the George gestapo. We could sniff out a non-believer at 100 paces.

Part of that devotion came from the fact that in 80s London clubland, Wham! were never really cool. They were outsiders. They were from Bushey, Hertfordshire. As a country lad from Wiltshire I felt a kinship, particularly with George.

He was a year younger but for both of us our first introduction to the game-changing London club scene of the early 80s was Le Beat Route – a Soho club I was gagging to go to the second I saw Spandau Ballet’s Chant No1 video, the anthem for this pop moment.

In the last interview I did with George, in 2006, when we were talking about Spandau, he remembered the thrill of going down for the first time to what was then the hottest club on the planet and actually sighting both Steve Strange (on the Space Invaders) and Tony Hadley (at the bar).

George Michael, Geri Halliwell,, birthday party,

George’s 35th birthday where Simper was deejaying dressed as a Spice Girl angel: George was obliged to introduce him to Ginger Spice. Photo by Simper

Le Beat Route was where Andrew Ridgeley came up with the “Wham! Bam! I am a man!” rap. It was where George would perfect his pair dancing with Shirlie Holliman to D-Train, Was Not Was and Evelyn “Champagne” King. It was the inspiration for Club Tropicana.

Of equal importance though had been Saturday Night Fever – the movie that rang the death knell for disco for the cool kids of the underground dance scene but for those in the sticks in our teens the first pulling back of the curtain (even though it was actually set in faraway Brooklyn) on a thrilling new world. On reflection, it’s perhaps surprising that George never covered a Bee Gees song, with the exception of side project Boogie Box High’s Jive Talkin’, but he was always a massive fan, applauding their return to the top of the charts after a lengthy absence with You Win Again and marvelling, after a visit to Barry Gibbs’ home in Miami, that he was the only man he’d met who took even longer over his hair than George did.

Friday nights at Le Beat Route were just about over by the time I first interviewed George and Andrew in October ’82, although Wham! did throw one last Christmas party there to celebrate leaving their first record company, Innervision. Instead it was now The Wag on Wardour Street, which, as Wham! took off, increasingly became George’s place to hang out, unbothered.


If Chant No1 belongs to Le Beat Route, then The Wag at Christmas ’84 is where I think of for Wham!’s Everything She Wants. It was where I first heard deejay Fat Tony play the 12-inch mix with its glorious, expanded middle eight, which George had handed him that night to test out on the dance floor. From its rapturous reception and the delighted look on George’s face you could see he’d got the confirmation he was after. Like Chant, he’d delivered his club classic.

First at Melody Maker, then at No1, I was lucky enough to get my fair share of interviews with George. In early No1 days that included him going on a Blind Date with Keren Woodward from Bananarama which ended with him popping up to the 26th floor of IPC magazine’s HQ in King’s Reach Tower to play us a just-finished mix of Bassline (later retitled A Ray of Sunshine) on our tinpot stereo system.

They were more innocent, uncomplicated times in terms of pop coverage but even once Fleet Street turned its attentions to him and much of that side of it became more wearisome, he continued to be one of my favourite pop stars to interview, funny and forthright, as I hope the two interview clips attached here illustrate.

GEORGE/SIMPER 1987 INTERVIEW ON BEING CAMP:

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GEORGE/SIMPER 1987 INTERVIEW ON UNDERPANTS:

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Thanks primarily to June – “Don’t forget Simper!” she’d holler – I saw him more socially once Wham! finished and his solo career began. Merry Chianti-filled nights at Aldo Zilli’s two Dean Street restaurants, Il Siciliano and Signor Zilli’s, and dancing to his records at Brown’s and later Abba, the weekly Hanover Square one-nighter run by June and Fat Tony.

I loved the fact that he danced to his own records. After all if you can’t dance to your records why should anyone else? Fellow clubber and George fan Bayo Furlong reminded me that George always danced exactly like George Michael – the soul boy steps, the arms aloft, the finger and toe points, the hips shake, the swivel, the spin – which is even more brilliant. He was the singing, dancing embodiment of his own Wham! mantra (Wham!tra?) “Enjoy what you do”!

And what a voice. Of his generation, take your pick between him and the other George, for greatest white male soul singer of the 80s. It was there as early as Wham! ballads Nothing Looks the Same in the Light and Club Tropicana B-side Blue and grew on Careless Whisper and A Different Corner. His duets with Aretha Franklin and Mary J Blige – ringing endorsements in themselves – raised the bar again only for him to reach even higher with the likes of Older, You Have Been Loved and Jesus to a Child.

He said himself that he wasn’t the most prolific of writers. Two Wham! and four solo albums of original material and rarely much left over for B-sides (though Fantasy is a little gem) but as a pop star he aced it – twice over.

First in the perfect pop group, two teenage buddies who remained in spirit, sound and success as Wham!-like from the opening volley of Wham Rap! and Young Guns to the last howl of The Edge of Heaven. Then a second time, making the daunting leap from teen idol to internationally successful solo artist, barely breaking a sweat where so many others have fallen.

He told me he’d set himself the goal of joining the then 80s elite of Prince, Michael Jackson, Madonna and Bruce Springsteen. If the Faith album was his Thriller, with its 25 million sales, he went one better than MJ, surpassing it artistically with Older. And, despite the subsequent fall-out with Sony over record sales, Listen Without Prejudice Vol I – which includes the gorgeous Bacharach-style ballad Cowboys and Angels – isn’t too shabby either.

As our careers both went in different directions, I got to interview him less, but deejay for him more. Fat Tony got me on board to help out with George’s 30th birthday celebrations and I was there again for his 35th in 1998. Both had fancy-dress themes, the latter one Cowboys and Angels, and good sport that he was he didn’t bat an eyelid when I asked him, dressed in a fetching Spice Girl Union Jack bathing suit and wings, to persuade a reluctant Geri Halliwell to do a photo with me.

“He’s a bit strange,” George explained to Ginger Spice, “but he’s a very old friend.”

I’ll settle for that. He did a lot more for me than I’m sure I ever did for him. Dancing to Everything She Wants – dancing like him to Everything She Wants – still gives me more pleasure than most things in life.

At the time of that last Spandau interview he was in the studio still working on his final studio album, Patience. When he played me Flawless (Go to the City) I knew he’d got me again.

It’s no good waiting. You’ve got to go to the city.

That small-town thrill. The anticipation for those Beat Route, Saturday Night Fever moments was still somewhere in our DNA.

I was back in the countryside, tucked up in bed at my mum’s, when I heard he had gone. I only ever went to his house in Goring once, one Boxing Day thanks to June and another good pal, his wonderfully considerate PA Shiv Bailey. He sent a car for me and the only way it could have been any more perfect is if Richard and Judy hadn’t just departed. Otherwise it was all my Last Christmas joy rolled into one.

So thank you, George, for all those happy Christmases, and for everything else you gave.

SIMPER’S OWN GEORGE PLAYLIST AT SPOTIFY




➢ Previously at Shapersofthe80s:
Britain stunned by sudden death of George Michael, our biggest pop superstar of the 80s

➢ Previously at Shapersofthe80s:
2016, Soho’s young guns remember George Michael

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➤ Farewell George Michael: London’s young guns remember their pal from 80s clubland

George Michael

A bearded George Michael before Wham! came along: Captured on 20 February 1981 with his eye on the Nationwide TV camera, among many familiar faces at Soho’s Friday night Beat Route – where the Caribbean beach decor was to inspire his song Club Tropicana. (Photo BBC)

THIS ENTIRE WEBSITE CELEBRATES the Swinging 80s when UK subcultures were uniquely re-shaped by the youngest generation since the 60s to create new sounds and new styles in music, fashion and media. George Michael, who died this week, was one among hundreds of inveterate Soho clubbers, except that in his own mind he was a global superstar. Yet before the teenaged George and his schoolmate Andrew Ridgeley signed to Innervision as Wham!, there were several false starts to their career, not least being turned away from the Friday-night Beat Route during its coolest-club-in-town heyday when gatekeeper Ollie O’Donnell decided the boys from Bushey looked just too suburban. The Soho elite of 20-somethings who ran the new club-nights and managed the cool new image bands were very protective of their post-Romantic projects. George was however fly enough to use his contacts behind the bar to ensure he was on the dancefloor during the BBC Nationwide filming for a Spandau Ballet package in February ’81, when he clearly had the camera in his sights.

The irony was that by the next year Wham! were pushing a glossy brand of unashamedly “pure pop” that was so new, the debut single Wham Rap! failed to chart when released that June – the BBC declined to playlist the number partly because of its “anti-social” lyrics. After a touch of retuning, four months later Wham! released Young Guns (Go For It!)  and this time their hedonistic attitude – mixing humour with social conscience – clicked with the clubland audiences that were growing all over Britain.


A lucky break got them onto Top of the Pops in November when the group came as a shock to the eyeballs. The vocal foursome were immaculately rehearsed. Chinese-slippered George held himself like a star, bare-chested and sporting a leather waistcoat while Andrew and backing singers Shirlie Holliman and Dee C Lee stepped out with panache, all fully choreographed down to their finger-points and slippered toe-points. Then whoosh. Wham! rocketed to No 3 in the UK singles chart in December, the next three singles all made the Top 10, and the Bushey boys graduated to the international A-Team of British superstars. The next four years turned out 25 million albums and 15 million singles and scored four US number one hit singles.

It was evidently an advantage that all four members of Wham! had emerged as faces among London’s clubland soul tribes, the dance-crazy cognoscenti who banished rock from the singles charts during 1980-81 and provided an eager audience for new music. Some of them can be seen in the music video for Young Guns shot by Tim Pope at the glitzy Churchill’s club in Piccadilly.


Pop journalist about town Paul “Scoop” Simper recalls first meeting Wham! in autumn 1982 while working for Melody Maker. In his forthcoming autobiography, Pop Stars in My Pantry, he writes:

George told me: “I loved dancing at Le Beat Route. Nobody gave a fuck who I was so you could throw yourself around. If Shirlie was with me we’d really do that pair dancing. It was cool. We’d always make a bit of space and really show off.”

There’s footage from a BBC Nationwide report on the club which appears in Spandau Ballet’s Soul Boys of the Western World movie showing a bearded, curly-haired George in an alarmingly orange suit slap bang in the middle of the dancefloor [pictured at top] from a time when he was still in a ska band called The Executive, before Le Beat Route’s playlist helped transform them into Wham!

“Andrew and I were at Le Beat Route when Andrew started going ‘Wham! Bam! I am a man!’’ and doing this terrible rap,” said George. “It was supposed to be funny. But that’s where he had the idea.

➢ Read Simper’s full chapter on George at Unbound, the publisher’s website, and pre-order your copy of PSIMP

It was the Beat Route itself – actually, its Caribbean beach decor – which was to inspire George’s song Club Tropicana and for more than two years O’Donnell’s Friday-nighter set the benchmark for the coolest sounds anywhere in Soho with 22-year-old deejay Steve Lewis ruling the turntables.

➢ INSIDE: CONTINUE READING MORE CLUBLAND
TRIBUTES FOR GEORGE MICHAEL

On an inside page, Soho’s young guns remember their pals in Wham! – led by…

Paul McKee, admin for Soul Boys Soul Girls at Facebook – “RIP George Michael – A regular at our clubs Le Beat Route, Wag, Bogarts and many others. Easy to forget now the impact Wham Rap! Had. It was not out of place at the time in 1983 when the likes of Funkapolitan, Spandau Ballet, Culture Club, who all came from our clubs, began producing great club records, as the Soul Boys and Soul Girls sound and styles began to change. When Wham! performed Young Guns on TOTP with that dance routine, we all noted some of those little moves he used, we’d witness at a club at any given weekend. Without doubt one of the greatest soul voices and songwriters this country has ever produced. He liked to club like the rest of us, George was one of us.”


➢ Previously at Shapersofthe80s:
Britain stunned by sudden death of George Michael, our biggest pop superstar of the 80s

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➤ Another emotional gem on Spandau’s long walk to freedom

Soul Boys of the Western World, interview, Spandau Ballet, SXSW, Austin, premiere, movie, pop music,

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.”

Click any pic to launch slideshow

➢ Why the trailer for Soul Boys of the Western
World stops you in your tracks

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?

SPANDAU BALLET LIVE AT SXSW 2014

AND AT THE LOU REED TRIBUTE AT SXSW


➢ Previously at Shapersofthe80s: Curtain up on Spandau’s rollercoaster saga of war and peace

CHEEKY CHAPPIES: THE WAY THEY WERE IN ’81

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2013 ➤ Double whammy from the Spandau boys

Spandau Ballet, Genesis books, Spandau the True Story , Paul Simper
❚ BEING REVEALED currently on Facebook, two major Spandau Ballet announcements. First the biography of the band, a superior coffee-table photobook, Spandau the True Story, which records the entire career of the Angel Boys from Islingon, penned by their longtime shadow Paul “Scoop” Simper and published by the prestige celebrity publisher Genesis. It features unseen pictures taken not only by clubland mate Graham “Heroes” Smith, but also by Shapersofthe80s – the team who were there from the start of the New Romantic story.

➢ Spandau the True Story: sign up today at Genesis Publications, “the home of beautiful music books” … Register your interest
without financial commitment

A second announcement tonight heralds the movie Soul Boys of The Western World, a feature-length documentary containing much unseen vintage footage, produced by Grammy Award-winner Scott Millaney who was a founding member of the promo video company MGMM in the 80s just as the British music industry boomed. His company produced over 1,000 pop promos including Video Killed the Radio Star, Vienna, Dancing in the Street and Rio.

“Scoop” Simper, today an executive celebrity writer at The Sun who wrote the film’s treatment, said tonight: “There is wonderful footage of the Spandau mums and dads when they were all still with us. And never-before-seen footage from Los Angeles and Australia when the band were in their pop pomp. All the band have contributed voiceovers.”

Spandau manager Steve Dagger reveals that a case full of early film footage of the band has been discovered recently. This includes offcuts not used in a prominent TV item just before release of the band’s third single Musclebound in March 1981, and aired on the BBC teatime news magazine Nationwide. Just as the phrase New Romantics was coming into wider use by both media and an emerging generation of UK image bands, including Duran Duran, the BBC cameras capture what Dagger calls “priceless cavortings” within Soho’s heaving Beat Route club.

There’s also a whole film sequence in Jon “Mole” Baker’s shop off Carnaby Street, where Spandau members are seen trying on a variety of outfits by the Axiom collective of designers, which were to be shown in a New York runway show two months later, in what became the “First Blitz invasion” of the US, organised by both the band and the former Blitz Kid fashionistas. These Axiom collections received another runway show at Steve Strange’s Club for Heroes in London in the autumn of ’81, by which time the charts were ablaze with new slipstream bands and British street style began to explode.

movie, Scott Millaney, Spandau Ballet, Soul Boys of The Western World,
❏ On tonight’s Jonathan Ross Show Gary and Martin Kemp (pictured below) were talking about their new TV series Gangs of Britain, due to air on the Crime & Investigation Network (Sky 553 and Virgin 237) on Sundays from April 21 at 9pm BST. It’s three years since Spandau Ballet played live together so the killer question is whether they might reunite for another tour? Gary told Ross: “I pretty much guarantee we’ll do it again next year.” Martin added: “I hope so. I’ve never laughed as much as that year [on the Reformation Tour]. Just to have that year of getting your best friends back together was so lovely. I would say it was the best year of my life.”

Jonathan Ross Show,Martin Kemp, Gary Kemp ,TV series, Gangs of Britain

Another Spandau tour? Martin and Gary Kemp give Jonathan Ross a cautious yes tonight. (Viewable on ITV Player for another month. Screengrab © ITV)

TWEET ALONG TO THE KRAYS

❏ Tomorrow night, if you’re viewing the 1990 British movie The Krays on ITV4 at 9pm BST, Martin and Gary Kemp will be tweeting along with the film. Viewers can take part by using the hashtag #KraysLive while watching the brothers recreating the villainy of the English gangsters Ronald and Reginald Kray who led organised crime in the East End of London during the 1950s and 1960s.
➢ Follow Martin @ Twitter
➢ Follow Gary @ Twitter

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EXCLUSIVE PRINTS OF TRUE ARTWORK

❏ New on sale at the Spandau store is a limited edition 20 x 20-inch lithographic print embossed onto the highest quality 270gsm uncoated paper of the True album artwork by Spandau friend David Band, a Scottish artist who also designed sleeves for Altered Images and Aztec Camera and sadly died in Australia in 2011. Reproduced to celebrate Spandau’s 30th anniversary of their No 1 hit, each print is hand-signed (not reproduction signatures) by all members of Spandau Ballet, and hand-numbered by a professional scribe in a run of only 500 prints.

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