◼ RECORD PRODUCER TREVOR HORN – who helped shape the sounds of such 80s acts as ABC, Grace Jones, Pet Shop Boys and Frankie – last night shared five keys to being a successful pop artist. During the repeat of The Secret Science of Pop on BBC4 he said:
1 – Be able to write or have access to the best material.
2 – Have a really great voice, across two octaves.
3 – Have personal charm and charisma.
4 – Be physically and mentally strong.
5 – And, you’ve got to want it.
All of which made a deal more sense than the deluded “scientist” – a professor at London’s Imperial College who doesn’t deserve to be named! – who attempted to analyse success in the pop charts of the past 50 years by deconstructing thousands of hit tunes note by note. Nothing he proposed made any sense at all and after wasting 60 minutes of our time he shamelessly admitted he had “singularly failed” to out-flank Horn.
As compensation, Horn’s production team shared quite a lot of their intuitive magic in perhaps 15 of those minutes. Shame the whole documentary wasn’t about them instead.
Pristine footage: The Beatles play Shea Stadium in August 1965. (Image: SubaFilms)
◼ LAST NIGHT AT A LONDON CINEMA I saw the most exciting live pop concert since the same band played live in the Swinging Sixties. Ron Howard’s new Beatles documentary, Eight Days A Week about the touring years 1963-66, is a sensational feast of long-lost performance footage that confronts us with the Fab Four’s raw onstage energy and pounding tempo – the audio as gorgeously restored as the images. This two-hour celebration of Beatle genius goes behind the clichés of hysteria to give us Access All Areas. It delivers one revelation after another, from Paul’s “Oh-my-God” moment when Ringo joined the band, to the jaw-dropping recording of a top-ten single in 90 minutes of studio time, to their 1964 triumph for civil rights when the band refused to tour in the US until audience segregation was abandoned at their venues.
New interviews from Ringo Starr and Paul McCartney keep dropping gems of insight about this the most commercially successful group in pop history, while vintage footage does as much justice to lippy John Lennon and “quiet” George Harrison who are no longer with us.
Throughout this joyous moptops-into-men odyssey we’re wide-eyed at the sheer cheek of these multimedia superstars, aged between 19 and 22, who created their own interview style by pinging back witty ad-libs to questions from the world’s media. The downside was mass hysteria from teenaged babyboom fans laying siege to hotels and airports where they repeatedly overwhelmed police and security on an often scarifying scale.
Beatle albums sat at No 1 in the charts for 20 to 30 weeks at a time – more No 1 albums than any other musical act. Their 20 No 1 hit singles on the Billboard Hot 100 chart remain unchallenged.
Ron Howard with Paul and Ringo this week: “I love this photo that was taken yesterday at Abbey Road Studios in historic Studio 2 while we were promoting The Beatles: Eight Days a Week”
Everything The Beatles did was without precedent. Among their innovations they launched arena rock and at Shea Stadium Howard’s doc ensures that we hear George’s guitar chords above the screaming audience of 55,000 fans. As a shock reminder of Sixties technology, Vox had built three new amps for the Beatles, each souped up to 100 watts (!!!) specially for touring America, their output being relayed via microphones to feed the stadium’s tinny loudspeaker system!!!
It is a breath-taking source of inspiration to know that during The Beatles’ far from meteoric early years, this Liverpudlian band of brothers had played at least 456 live gigs before signing their recording contract with EMI. Yes, 456 !!! With that amount of practice, it should be no surprise to find that their legacy amounts to 237 original compositions – songs which most people on the planet can hum, while the most radical among them personify the Sixties counterculture. As the best-selling band in history, the Fabs revolutionised all of music for ever.
Howard’s previous reality epics include the wonderful Apollo 13 and the gripping joust, Frost/Nixon. This week he told The Guardian: “I began to think of the Beatles story as like Das Boot: they’re in it together, they have each other, they know what their objective is, but, y’know, it’s a dangerous world out there.”
WHAT THE PRESS ARE SAYING
➢ Ron Howard trashes the idea that there’s nothing new to say about the Beatles – The Guardian: “ This is about the Beatles as live phenomenon, and the fact that their music was all the more remarkable because it had to be heard above the scream – that ambient sound of sex, excitement and modernity, mixed in with a thin chirrup of press envy. The scream was an important part of it. . . an almost unbroken four-year, semi-improvised multimedia performance for which there was no pre-existing template – not simply the music but the giant public spectacle and public scrutiny. ”
➢ 10 Things we learned from Eight Days a Week
– Rolling Stone: “ In February 1964, the band and their entourage occupied nearly the entire 12th floor of the Plaza NYC, including the 10-room presidential suite. But despite the space, the four friends retired to smaller quarters. “The four of us ended up in the bathroom just to get a break from the incredible pressure,” Starr says. ”
➢ “We were force-grown, like rhubarb,” says John Lennon
– Daily Telegraph: “ The film shrewdly draws a line between the Beatles’ mischievous sense of humour and their long-time producer George Martin’s earlier life recording alternative comedy. Martin had worked with the Goons, an enormous influence on the band’s growing lyrical eccentricity in that period, as well as their off-the-cuff ribbing of strait-laced reporters. ”
“ For his 27th studio album, has Bowie gone jazz? On first listens to Blackstar, released on 8 January, Bowie’s 69th birthday, it certainly sounds like rock’s oldest futurist has dusted down his saxophone. They are tooting, parping, wailing and gusting all over the place, occupying rhythmic, atmospheric and lead parts, with guitars and keyboards intermingling in a weave of supporting roles.
Donny McCaslin: Bowie’s new-found friend
The saxophone was Bowie’s first instrument, which he started learning in his pre-teens inspired by a bohemian, jazz-loving elder half-brother, Terry Burns. Bowie once said that, aged 14, he couldn’t decide if he wanted “to be a rock’n’roll singer or John Coltrane”. Even in his rise to rock fame, Bowie remained a creature of the jazz age, at least in the sense of the boundary-crashing freedom that characterises his work.
A new single, Lazarus, released today, may kick off in the vague realm of contemporary music, with spectral guitar and stuttering rhythms calling to mind the young British trio the xx, but it is not long before those saxophones are sighing and the beat is fragmenting. Just about holding it together are the familiar tones of Bowie’s teeth-gritted, tight-chested whisper of a vocal, proclaiming it is This way or no way / You know I’ll be free / Just like that bluebird / Now ain’t that just like me? Sure sounds like jazz to me. . .
What Bowie has created with this hardcore jazz crew, though, is not something any jazz fan would recognise and is all the better for it. At its best, free jazz is amongst the most technically advanced and audacious music ever heard but it can be uncompromisingly difficult to listen to for the non-aficionado. The improvisational elements that make it so gladiatorial and hypnotic live can make it over complex and inaccessible on record. Bowie’s intriguing experiment has been to take this wild, abstract form and try to turn it into songs. Blackstar is an album on which words and melody gradually rise from a sonic swamp to sink their hooks in. It is probably as close as free jazz has ever got to pop. . . ” / Read the full review at Telegraph online
◼ IN AN UNNERVING SIMULATION OF BOWIE’S VOICE, the star of Bowie’s new musical Lazarus, Michael C. Hall, sings its title track for the CBS Late Show (below) the day it is released as a single. The maestro himself is watching the show at home in his armchair. How meta-modern is that?!
➢ Bowie fulfills his jazz dream – Listen to an NPR Music interview with the two main characters who accompany Bowie on this new adventure in music – his longtime friend and producer Tony Visconti and his new-found friend/saxophonist and band leader Donny McCaslin.
Jan 2015: Rusty Egan ranting, sorry, lecturing at Aston University
◼ DID ASTON UNIVERSITY KNOW WHAT IT WAS DOING inviting deejay Rusty Egan to talk at an academic conference? The drummer and co-founder of the legendary 80s Blitz Club has dedicated his life to promoting electronic dance music so is uniquely qualified to spout on Germany’s seminal synth band at the world’s first scholarly gathering devoted to Kraftwerk and the Birth of Electronic Music. Conference organiser Dr Uwe Schütte claimed: “They are the most important band in the world in the way they changed music.”
Having been among their early disciples, Rusty was besotted enough to go hunting through Germany in the 70s in search of experiments in synthesised pop. His lifelong mission, he believes today, has shown “how Kraftwerk turned into Planet Rock turned into house music and what we know now as dance music.” He tells how he found the world’s first sampler in a German village called Wächtersbach, spent 12 hours making his first mash-up there and “never got paid for that record, not one dime”.
Sampling in Wächtersbach, 1979: Rusty Egan with Ian Tregoning making Wunderwerk with Franz Aumüller
Rusty made good with bands such as Rich Kids and Visage, in the face of the fat-cat indolence that prevailed in the torpid British music industry of the 70s, so last month’s platform enabled the now 57-year-old Rusty to settle a few scores by naming and shaming the rip-off merchants who, he says, have nicked his arrangements over the years and never paid a penny for them. By his own account, one of the guilty villains Rusty had paid £500 a day responded to his accusation saying: “Yeah but you should have kept the floppy disk.” Another lesson in the school of hard knocks.
The Aston “lecture” is described by one of the 200 delegates as “more of a comedy routine” and by Rusty himself as “Welcome to my insanity”. It’s now on Soundcloud for all to hear, and is typical of many an hour I’ve spent in Rusty’s kitchen trying to follow his uniquely entertaining stream-of-consciousness which randomly leaps from one story to the next while you work out that 20 years separates them. Early in his talk he says “I’m just mad on sound – it wasn’t a case of double paradiddle” illustrating his point with a beatbox break. So you have often to do a bit of Sherlockian deduction to finish his thoughts for him. His splenetic outbursts and ripe language (parental guidance advised) testify both to his indignation at the greed that characterises sections of the pop fraternity and to his own honesty, which even his friends suspect might be charming naivety.
Here’s his first rant:
“ In my experience record companies have never ever had any idea about creating music or creative people… I spent years not having any respect whatsoever for any guy in a satin jacket with Ace written on it with a briefcase with tour passes on it, long sideburns, dark glasses and a handlebar moustache, saying “Hi! I’m from your record label”. He was the last guy in the world you wanted to talk to and you had absolutely nothing you wanted to say to him. ”
VERDICTS BY RUSTY’S FANS AT FACEBOOK
Chi Ming LaiYou will be in stitches.
Mat Mckenzie This is a fantastic listen Rusty!
Clive Pierce Bravo… Absolutely riveting.
Anver Hanif The knowledge and vision are superb.
Derek Quin Rusty, you have been a massive influence on my music heritage. When I heard you speak at Aston it reinvigorated me.
Iris Peters Great fun to listen to.
Jon Lowther You and François Kevorkian defined the evolvement of electronica and the DJ. You have managed to maintain your passion, creativity and faith in an industry that fails.
Mats From I literally LOL’ed many times listening to this.
Kraftwerk’s pioneering drummer Wolfgang Flür: Rusty meets his hero in Dusseldorf more than 30 years after he first went in search of synth. . . “I was 22 when I met Ralf Hütter and Florian Schneider and spent the evening explaining that future clubs will be playing music made by machines – what must they have thought!”
Old faces, new photo: Culture Club’s Mikey Craig, Boy George, Jon Moss and Roy Hay stage their comeback at Edinburgh Castle on Saturday
❚ NOBODY HAS YET SAID whether we can expect to hear a track from Culture Club’s new album at this Saturday’s live concert on BBC1. The newly reformed 80s supergroup kick off their comeback among a dozen acts giving a spectacular two-hour concert, Live at Edinburgh Castle, before 8,000 people ahead of the opening ceremony of the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow.
The One Show’s Alex Jones will present a line-up of international acts, including Jessie J, Kaiser Chiefs, Culture Club, Smokey Robinson, Rizzle Kicks, Paloma Faith, Katherine Jenkins, Il Divo, One Republic, Alfie Boe, Ella Henderson, Pumeza and the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra – plus comedy from Bill Bailey.
This will be the first time the original members of Culture Club have performed together in 15 years. They are Boy George (lead vocals), Mikey Craig (bass guitar), Roy Hay (guitar and keyboards) and Jon Moss (drums and percussion). Time for three numbers is allotted, but not a dickybird yet has leaked out about what the band will play. The past couple of months have been spent in the studio rehearsing new tunes for their 11-date tour with Alison Moyet in December.
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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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