A rare book is published this month giving a vivid eye-witness account of one of the most creative eras for British pop music, the Swinging 80s. Paul Simper himself says: “It’s the pop life story pop-pickers have been gagging for.”
He should know, having emerged from London clubland to become the leading commentator on the New Pop led by image-conscious young bands when the rock press at large was giving them short shrift. Not only was he genuinely The Friend of The Stars but was one of the few writers who could also give it pure laldy dancing his socks off down Le Beat Route. Pop Stars in My Pantry is his confessional memoir and today Shapers of the 80s reprints an exclusive extract. . . But first, who is the man called Simper?
◼ THERE’S NO EXPLAINING PAUL SIMPER except as a life force which is Always On – sometimes as a mouse, sometimes a bunny, often in a skirt or a sequinned tuxedo. Not usually at same time, obvs. He’s obsessive, definitely bonkers, extremely good “in the room” and, oh yes, quite an entertaining showbiz writer.
Now he’s had the nerve to bring out his life story as a book called Pop Stars in My Pantry (PSIMP for short) when you’d think people in the music biz would have learned a lesson from Morrissey’s Pooterish own goal. Luckily Simper seems to have had massively more fun than Moz, actually likes the people he writes about and, oh yes, brings a wicked sense of humour to an industry not noted for knowing how to laugh.
As a singer in Slippry Feet – a marriage of supper-club in a circus ring meets David Lynch in a disco – Simper only ever got as far as being the best group of December 1993. Bar none. Fortunately for this book he has the day job to fall back on and he is SUCH a namedropper. Look at the puffery adorning his book’s back jacket: “Always a joy to hang with” – Siobhan Fahey; “The most trusted person in 80s pop” – Patsy Kensit; “Truly the epitome of the embedded journalist” – Gary Kemp.
Goes with territory when you have become Friend of The Stars, having leapfrogged from Melody Maker within minutes of coming up from the sticks in 1981, onto smart new fan mags like New Sounds New Styles and No 1 which counted clubbing on-the-town as research. There from the off, he was friends with the burgeoning new generation of self-invented nightlife stars who were storming off fashionable dancefloors across the UK and into the singles charts to knock the rock dinosaurs for six. Fellow clubbing names being dropped go from George Michael to Frankie Goes to Hollywood, Bananarama to Boy George. Not to mention Madonna, Prince, Whitney, Elton and Weller. Woohoo!
Early on I nicknamed him “Scoop” Simper because even though I worked for a Deeply Influential Mainstream Newspaper, whenever any big sexy pop star, like, y’know Debbie Harry, flew in from abroad *he* got the exclusive interview even though he “only” worked for one of those fan weeklies full of pinups and lyrics and breathless reviews.
So who’s having the last laugh now?! Well probably Scoop, as usual, since PSIMP proves to be “a right frollicking read for the adults in your family”, while my own book has blurted itself out and into this website for several years, clocking up barely a handful of Wikipedia footnotes to credit. And now His Majesty is entrusting Shapers of the 80s with running an excerpt from one of the best chapters in his book, the story of Sade Adu, the Essex girl who rose via St Martin’s School of Art to become one of the UK’s biggest Grammy-award winning pop exports, described by Robert Sandall in The Sunday Times in 2010 as “the most successful solo British female artist in history”.
Scoop spills the beans: “Sade was very much a part of my early years as a young pop writer living in London. She even used to kindly let me sleep on her sofa.” So here’s a short teaser-taster from PSIMP, but do click through to the inside page for the full extract when Sade’s first band Pride goes in search of Manhattan’s edgy Village scene. . .
MY RESIDENCY ON SADE’S SOFA
BY ‘SCOOP’ SIMPER
“ I owed Sade and Bob Elms plenty. When I first moved to London I couldn’t have been more grateful for the existence of their north London home tucked away in multi-cultural Wood Green on the Noel Park Estate.
Their old sofa didn’t exclusively have my name on it – fresh-down-from-Hull saxophonist Stuart Matthewman was pretty much clothed, housed and fed by them over the same period – but on the occasions I was invited back, I took some shifting. Sade reckoned that a pair of my old socks stuck around even longer than me until she ceremonially buried them, like high-grade plutonium, in the back garden.
I was never so bold as to turn up unannounced, but if Bob suggested a home viewing of an under-the-counter video of Texas Chainsaw Massacre or The Hills Have Eyes that he’d got his mitts on in Soho (I’d discovered in my early days in London there was a black market for everything), then I was more than up for it.
My telly viewing habits were not of primary importance to the residents at No 64 Hewitt Avenue by the spring of 1982, though, when Bob and Lee Barrett started talking up this new band called Pride that “Shard” was in. Stuart Matthewman was also involved, as were fellow Hull lads drummer Paul Cooke and bass player Paul Denman.
Back in Hull, Stuart had been in The Odds, a pop/mod band similar to The Piranhas that had started out doing speeded-up punk versions of 60s hits like The Dave Clark Five’s Glad All Over. He then played sax in a ten-piece Elvis impersonator show called Ravin’ Rupert, which covered the whole spectrum of The King’s career from rockabilly to Vegas delivered by a front man sporting a quiff and wearing Rupert-the-Bear checked trousers. A tad cooler was Paul Cooke and Paul Denman’s prog-rock band, The Posers, which Stuart credits as being the only band in Hull trying to do something new.
As for Sade, her singing career had only begun a few months previous when she sang onstage for the first time as part of another London band, Ariva. Considering Ariva were viewed as a bit of a Blue Rondo rip-off, ironically it was on the way to a Rondo gig on Barry Island that Lee first clocked Sade singing along to the radio and asked her if she could sing. She thought she probably could so said Yes. . . ”
PAUL’S OTHER ROOST: NO.1 THE POP WEEKLY