“ George Michael planned to have a Boxing Day dinner with his ex-Wham! bandmate Shirlie Holliman, husband Martin Kemp and son Roman before tragic death. Late singer’s health did not stop him from organising a festive get-together with Shirlie and his godson.
“ Michael was discovered dead at his Oxfordshire home on Christmas Day after a long battle against drug and alcohol addition – aged just 53. However, George’s health had not stopped him from organising a festive get-together with Shirlie, 54, one half of pop duo Pepsi and Shirlie, her husband and fellow 80s star Martin Kemp, 55, their daughter Harley, 27, and son Roman, an up-and-coming Capital FM DJ and TV presenter who is also the Faith singer’s godson.
“ Speaking before George passed away, Roman, 23, said: “We’re going to George’s house on Boxing Day.”
“ On 26 Dec Roman also tweeted: “To me, you do the Christmas rounds and you see all those people who are big influences on my life. I speak to him quite often. He speaks to my mum every week. He’s just family to me, fame is not a big deal. I know it sounds strange but I’ve known him my whole life. We love you Yog”… ”
THE KEMP FAMILY TWEET THEIR OWN TRIBUTES
Martin Kemp, actor, bassist with Spandau Ballet – “My whole family and I are devastated at the loss of our beautiful friend Yog! We will miss him so much! We are all heartbroken!”
Shirlie Kemp, née Shirlie Holliman of Wham! – “Words can not express how sad we all are, only last week I saw him laughing and happy. My heart is broken to lose someone so special.”
Roman Kemp, son of Martin and Shirlie, George’s godson, TV host and radio deejay – “The man who toured the world with my mum; her best friend. / The man who introduced my parents; who forced my mum to call my dad. / The man that took me and Harley around the world; just to see us smile. / The man we all love. / We love you Yog.”
Harleymoon Kemp, daughter of Martin and Shirlie, photographer – “Such a kind, special man who has played such a huge part in our family history and shared with us nothing but love. We are all very sad.”
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’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:
GEORGE/SIMPER 1987 INTERVIEW ON UNDERPANTS:
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.
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. ”
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.
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.”
❚ BIGGEST SURPRISE AT LAST NIGHT’SReturn to The Blitz party, thrown by Steve Strange, Rusty Egan and Rose Turner, was the arrival from Spain of the brains behind the original bar that became the crucible for New Romantic nightlife back in 1979. International man of mystery Mike Brown has always been described by those who worked for him in the late 70s as very private, and indeed he must be the only person among us to generate nil Google results. Nobody was more thrilled to see him for the first time in 30 years than actress and singer Eve Ferret, who made good in cabaret at the Blitz. It was almost a This Is Your Life moment as the pair lingered fondly in each other’s arms.
One-man cabaret: Biddie on-table at the Blitz wine bar in 1977
It was Brown who had the shrewd idea of buying the four-storey Victorian house at No 4 Great Queen Street in 1976 and opening a wine bar there. “I felt like a change from the recruitment business which I was running,” he said last night. “And I’d been watching a World War Two movie about Churchill which gave me the idea for a Blitz theme.
“I remember it was black and white and showed Londoners down in the Underground shelters whilst the bombs were dropping. More than the actual horror of the damage that was being inflicted, it was the way Londoners banded together that lingers. I remember thinking that I lived on the fourth floor of an old building divided into six flats yet I didn’t know any of the occupants.”
Mike ran his main business in nearby Lincoln’s Inn Fields, and his soft spot for nostalgia was well known to the Blitz staff — barmaid Sally Marks says she imagined he would have been a fighter pilot in another life. Hence the Blitz’s utilitarian wartime decor: bare floorboards, green and cream paintwork, red-gingham tablecloths, hanging enamel lampshades, which were never dusted. Famously the walls were lined with portraits of Churchill and WW2 posters in the declamatory graphics of the period: “Careless talk costs lives” and so on.
Mike said: “I am a great lover of traditional pie-and-mash and decided that the food theme would be along the lines of bangers-and-mash. The menus looked like old wartime ration books and we had our own wine labels made up.”
Despite having the Irish charmer Brendan Connolly as manager, and the dashing Peruvian Mario Testino behind the bar (as well as Sally, Ian Harington, Mike Roskams, Mick Hurd, Roy Brentnall, Paul Frecker and many, many others), the Blitz with its gorblimey menu wasn’t frankly much of a success. As the oil crisis squeezed western economies in the austere 70s, so London nightspots started resorting to cabaret to attract custom. Coinciding with a menu upgrade, the first performers to make their name at the Blitz were the song-and-dance duo Biddie & Eve.
Slim, camp and Bowie-esque James “Biddie” Biddlecombe started at the Blitz singing solo, accompanied by pianist Richard Jones (later an opera director). Along came buxom redheaded Eve Ferret whose laughter could shake a cocktail. Their riotous partnership was inevitable. Biddie recalls: “Initially we would perform in the middle of the floor three nights a week. By 1978 we’d grown so busy they decided to build us a stage.” Sally says that one night when Island Records boss Chris Blackwell turned up with Bob Marley, the godfather of reggae was persuaded to get up and do a number.
The 1978 relaunch, now with a stage: flyer for Biddie & Eve’s regular thrice-weekly cabaret
With Brendan’s encouragement, Biddie-life-and-soul helped establish a reputation for themed costume events with titles such as Come as Your Wildest Dream, or Stars of Film and TV, so the Blitz rapidly attracted, in the language of the time, an “up for it” party crowd, which included the likes of Tim Rice and Janet Street-Porter from the swank media haunt Zanzibar along the street. Then in February 1979, in walked Steve Strange and his competitive brand of teen cabaret on Tuesdays and the rest is New Romantic history.
The Blitz bar closed when Mike sold the building in 1981 “because after five years I’d had enough”, by which time Strange & Egan had upscaled their ambitions to Club For Heroes over on Baker Street. And Mike went back to recruitment. He said: “It is very humbling to know that there is still such interest in the Blitz Kids. They were a great bunch and it was a very exciting time.”
Paradise Point in rehearsal, above: Roman, Johnnie, Cameron, Adam
❚ “I’M THRILLED FOR ROMAN’S BAND. It’s one of the most exciting bands I’ve heard for a while. They’ve been rehearsing downstairs in my games room for the past year and they’ve turned out really well. Their sound reminds me a lot of Duran Duran, but the singer Cameron looks like Tony Hadley when he was younger and he’s got the vibe of Tony. He’s got a great voice, very expressive — he’s got a long way to go this boy.”
OK, if that sounds like a doting father, yes it is. Martin Kemp is best known as one of British TV’s most popular actors after his stint as a villain in the leading soap, EastEnders, but the past year of course was spent touring as bass player with Spandau Ballet, his reformed 80s supergroup.
This Friday, the fourpiece called Paradise Point is unveiled at London’s coolest club-night, The Face, and Martin’s 17-year-old son Roman Kemp follows his father by opting to play bass. This group’s claim to novelty is that they all play their instruments live and their music is pop. They are the vanguard for a return to real Brit pop.
Martin says: “I’m just pleased for Roman that he’s in a proper band, rather than a boyband where five people stand up singing while working out when they’re going to sit on the stools. His band is very polished. If I think of the level Spandau had reached at their age, they’re well ahead of us, much more polished than Spandau were then.
“They look fantastic as well. It’s a band that’s made for girls to pin on their walls, which we haven’t had for a long time. That’s what needs to come around again.
“The whole thing of saying ‘Let’s be famous’ before you have a reason to be famous has meant being in a boyband is much easier than putting in the time and effort, learning to play your instrument, then finding mates who can play bass and the drums, bringing round the gear. That whole thing is a slog. But what you get out of that setup is a bonding experience with your band, which you’ve all been through. And that has disappeared at the moment. For me, it’s nice to see Roman inside a band where he’s got some real mates.”
Paradise Point are determined to return credibility to teen pop music by playing their own instruments live onstage. They offer a determined farewell to the X-culture inflicted on the singles charts by Simon Cowell and his cloned songbirds. PP have had enough of manufactured pop idols and prancing boybands
Spandau Ballet had already broken up by the time Roman was born but with a pop-star mother too — Shirlie Holliman from Wham! — there was always music in the house. Martin says: “I taught him to play guitar when he was about six, then he got into rap for a while. Like all kids, this killed learning any kind of instrument, because they’re into the gangsta rap words.
“Then he picked up his guitar again and now he’s playing bass. He’s doing all right. He’s got a much better ear than I have, it’s brilliant. To tell you truth, when I was going back on tour with Spandau, after 19 years out, I couldn’t work out how I used to do some of the riffs. So I got Roman down to listen to the Spandau track to work out the fingering.
“He’s turning into a good bass player, a lot like John Taylor. Yes, from Duran! I don’t mind who he wants to turn into. If your kids go into the entertainment business, success isn’t about how much money you make — it’s about turning your hobby into your job. For me, that is success. If he can do that fantastic.”
So, Martin, are you coming down to The Face to see Paradise Point? “Absolutely. I’ll be roadying. Back to my original job with Spandau.”
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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
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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”.
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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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