➢ BBC NEWS REPORTS: The raid that killed Osama Bin Laden was revealed first on Twitter. An IT consultant, living in Abbottabad, unknowingly tweeted details of the US-led operation as it happened last night. Sohaib Athar, 33, wrote that a helicopter was hovering overhead shortly before the assault began and said that it might not be a Pakistani aircraft.
He only became aware of the significance of his tweets after President Obama announced details of Bin Laden’s death. Mr Athar’s first posting on the subject came at around 1am local time (9pm BST). He wrote: “Helicopter hovering above Abbottabad at 1AM (is a rare event).” Minutes later he was tweeting: “Go away helicopter — before I take out my giant swatter :-/ ”
➢ Rory Cellan-Jones, Technology correspondent, BBC News: I turned on the radio at 0700 this morning and heard the news that Osama Bin Laden had been killed. I immediately picked up my phone and tweeted this fact — only to be bombarded with messages saying this was now very old news. In the age of Twitter you have to be online all night to keep up with events.
“Twitter just had its CNN moment,” as one American website put it, comparing this event with the first Gulf War, where millions suddenly woke up to the fact that cable news was the place to observe a war unfold in real-time. Such is the power of this network that it has become the key resource for older media trying to stay ahead of events.
Straight out of Sorkin’s West Wing — Barack Obama and his national security team watch the mission against Osama Bin Laden unfold in real time in the Situation Room of the White House, May 1, 2011. Vice President Joe Biden far left, Hillary Clinton seated right. (Official White House photo by Pete Souza)
Their regular gig: The early Beatles at the Cavern club in 1961 with Pete Best on drums
❚ ON THIS THIS DAY 50 YEARS AGO four Scousers played the first of 292 gigs at the Cavern club in Liverpool — 292! They were paid £5 and Pete Best was playing drums that day, although when they played their last Cavern lunch date two years later, in Feb 1963, Ringo Starr sat behind the kit and Please Please Me was heading towards No 2 in the charts to be followed by four No 1 hits in a row.
Bob Wooler, Cavern deejay: urged the owner Ray McFall to give The Beatles a try. Picture from Liverpool Post
Two hundred and ninety two gigs is the equivalent of playing every night for 48 weeks without break. In fact, many of those dates were, like the first on Thursday Feb 9, 1961, played to few dozen office workers at lunchtime. Practice may well make perfect but, even so — 292 at one venue! The Cavern’s deejay Bob Wooler booked the bands and gave The Beatles their residency, “playing lunchtime and evening sessions for about 25 shillings a session”, according to Ray Coleman in a definitive biography of John Lennon. “The Cavern, with little ventilation, appalling acoustics, walls dripping with dampness… would tax even the most enthusiastic of young musicians.”
Coleman explains why playing in this club was a decisive tipping point: “It was a hotbed of traditional jazz… The audiences were, in John Lennon’s opinion, snobs against rock’n’roll. He hated them for their superior attitude. The Cavern was to represent, to John, something more than success for The Beatles. He saw it as a crusade against jazz and all it stood for.
“John told jazz singer [author, journalist and cultural guru], George Melly, who had played the club with the Mick Mulligan Band: ‘You lot kept us from getting into the Cavern and other places much earlier. All that jazz crap held us back.’
“Melly conceded this point to Lennon… With rock’n’roll groups, led by The Beatles, pulling in students, previously jazz’s natural audience, ‘the game was up’, as Melly succinctly puts it. Lennon relished the kill.” On that cramped stage in that desperate year of 1961, Coleman maintains: “Lennon’s demeanour could be likened to that of a caged tiger. Here, he honed his short-sighted, head-tilted, legs-astride stance into a statement of defiance, much more than mere music.”
The Cavern residency was a testament to the determination of the man who had been a founder-member of The Quarrymen in 1956. Let’s not forget that the world-beating band who evolved from them also played four seasons in the German city of Hamburg between their bass player Stuart Sutcliffe eventually naming them The Beetles in August 1960 [a spelling Lennon later changed to reflect the beat], and securing their first recording contract in June 1962 with EMI, which was to turn them into the most famous pop group in history.
The Beatles’ beat look, 1960: honed in Hamburg by photographer Astrid Kirchherr who took this picture when guitarist Stuart Sutcliffe was in the lineup
So how many gigs did these musicians from Liverpool have to play in order to clinch a deal with a major London label in an era when the metropolis viewed the provinces as a foreign land? These were the dark ages before the internet, when television was only starting to replace newspapers as the mass medium, and when many singers upped their vocal register as far as falsetto to be heard clearly through the latest piece of technology, the handheld transistor radio.
A chance phone call in 1960 won The Beatles their first stint in Hamburg where they played seven nights a week at £15-a-week, Aug-Oct (46 gigs at the Indra club) straight on through Oct-Nov (57 gigs at the Kaiserkeller). They returned to Liverpool with moptop hairstyles and bespoke cuban-heeled Chelsea boots from London’s theatrical shoemakers Anello & Davide. After their Cavern debut the next year, 1961, The Beatles returned to Hamburg, Mar-July (98 gigs). They were viewed at the Cavern that November by Brian Epstein who agreed to manage them a month later, and played their first southern gig in Aldershot to 18 people. It was back to Hamburg in spring 1962, April-May (49 gigs), to find that Epstein had a deal ready to sign† the week after they returned. So let’s say that those four tours of duty in Germany amounted to almost exactly 250 gigs. Two hundred and fifty!
Beatles relaxing, probably 1961: Rare photo including Stuart Sutcliffe at left and Pete Best at right. (Photo courtesy Yoko Ono Lennon)
The Beatles themselves described their far from meteoric progress in their own words in the monumental Anthology published for their company Apple Corps in 2000. It makes you want to weep.
John Lennon says: “In Hamburg every song lasted 20 minutes and had 20 solos in it. We’d be playing eight or ten hours a night. [This is rather more practice than young musicians achieve at a western conservatoire, and rather less than Chinese music students.] That’s what improved the playing. And the Germans like heavy rock… Paul would be doing What’d I say? for an hour and a half.”
Paul McCartney says: “What’d I say? became like trying to get into the Guinness Book of Records — who could make it last the longest… It has the greatest opening riff ever… then the chorus… then it had the killer ‘Oh yeah!’ — audience participation.”
George Harrison says: “We had to learn millions of songs. We had to play so long we just played everything — Gene Vincent, Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Everly Brothers, Buddy Holly, Fats Domino — everything. Hamburg was really our apprenticeship, learning how to play in front of people.”
Ringo Starr, who met the others in Hamburg while playing drums in Rory Storm and the Hurricanes, says: “This was the point in our lives when we found pills, uppers. That’s the only way we could continue playing for so long. We’d get really wired and go on for days. So with beer and Preludin, that’s how we survived.”
Brian Epstein: local businessman who became The Beatles’ manager
When they signed with EMI their average age was 20. The band calling itself The Beatles had played 250 gigs in Hamburg, and averaging their Cavern appearances over the year and a half before signing suggests they played 206 gigs there.
So in addition to many other local dates, it took The Beatles at least 456 live gigs to clinch their future as the most commercially successful group in pop. In the UK The Beatles have had more number one albums than any other musical act, and in the US they top Billboard magazine’s list of the all-time top-selling Hot 100 artists.
Four hundred and fifty-six live gigs! And in 1980, when Spandau Ballet signed to Chrysalis just less than a year after assuming their New Romantic identity, they had given — as part of a cunningly formulated plan — exactly 18 live performances (six in the UK plus 12 in St Tropez on-stage nightly). Whatever this says, it’s a measure of how effective mass communications had become during the intervening two decades. And what an exhilarating hurricane they swept before them as the 80s turned into the second great era of British pop.
† LITTLE-KNOWN FOOTNOTE TO HISTORY
❚ THE 1999 PHOTO-BOOK HAMBURG DAYS — a limited edition box-set by Astrid Kirchherr and Klaus Voormann — reveals that the early Beatles lineup (with Pete Best as drummer but without Stuart Sutcliffe who had left the band) had signed their first recording contract in 1961 with Bert Kaempfert, the German Polydor agent who also ran a celebrated light orchestra.
Hamburg Days: the cover shot
He had hired The Beatles to play under the pseudonym The Beat Brothers to back singer Tony Sheridan, with whom they’d often jammed at The Indra club. On June 22 1961 at the Friedrich Ebert Halle — seen in the slideshow (above) of wonderful early Silver Beatles photos — they all recorded the Sheridan single My Bonnie, which effectively became the band’s first commercial recording when it was released in October 1961 and reached No 5 in the hit parade.
It has become part of Beatles folklore that it was a Sheridan fan called Raymond Jones who brought the band to Brian Epstein’s attention that November by asking for My Bonnie in the record-shop Epstein ran in Liverpool. What Kirchherr and Voorman reveal, contrary to most accounts, is that it was not until May 25 1962 while the band was engaged at the Star Club in Hamburg that Epstein finally persuaded Kaempfert to release The Beatles from his contract with them, effective from June 1. (Only after The Beatles auditioned for George Martin at Abbey Road on June 6 was an EMI deal confirmed.) The Kaempfert contract actually had a further year to run until July 1963. Imagine how mad he must have been when 1963 came round and The Beatles notched those four No 1 hits in a row.
VERDICT OF HISTORY
The late Charlie Gillett, in his consummate history of rock, The Sound of the City (1970), passes this judgement on the Fab Four: “Musically, The Beatles were exciting, inventive and competent; lyrically, they were brilliant, able to work in precisely the right kind of simple images and memorable phrases that distinguished rhythm and blues from other kinds of popular music… But there was something else about them, and it was this that transformed the nature of the world’s popular music as decisively as rock’n’roll had done nine years before — their character as people.”
❚ ON THIS DAY 30 YEARS AGO… “Australian newspaper tycoon Rupert Murdoch has agreed to buy The Times and Sunday Times newspapers. But the deal will only go ahead if Mr Murdoch can reach a deal with the print unions within the next three weeks over the introduction of new technology. Mr Murdoch will be expected to meet a number of conditions aimed at preserving the editorial integrity of the papers.”
This picture of two doomed gazelles at the feet of the tiger is the one photographer Sally Soames last year nominated as her Best Shot ever. I had the pleasure of working with her shortly before her retirement and a print of this historic photo adorns my bathroom wall. Sally’s back catalogue has been a who’s who of political and artistic giants since her first assignment for The Observer in 1963. She works exclusively in black and white and her photographs are instantly recognisable for the richness and depth of her blacks. She told The Guardian last year:
“I WAS WORKING FOR THE SUNDAY TIMES IN 1981, and there was a rumour that Rupert Murdoch was buying the paper, along with The Times. I was sent to a packed press conference given by Murdoch and the two editors. When the purchase was announced, I knew it was the end of The Sunday Times. My newspaper was going down the tubes. I had tears pouring down my face as I worked.
“As always, I went down the front. I was the littlest, always “the girl”. The three of them sat down, and it was everybody’s first sight of Murdoch. I had brought three cameras, one of them with a wide-angle lens. Everyone started shooting Murdoch – except me. I photographed all three: Harold Evans, the Sunday Times editor, on the left; William Rees-Mogg, the Times editor, on the right. They all had name plates, and I knew I had to get Murdoch’s in there, to identify him. I had to tell the story: two papers were going to change completely…”
First issue of the Universal Daily Register in 1785, later to become The Times
❚ THE ROMANCE OF THE BRITISH PRESS has always derived from its being simultaneously glorious and wretched, from its earliest days when kings would jail upstart editors to the decade of continual strife throughout British industry, the 1970s. So powerful were the trade unions that, as former Times editor Simon Jenkins wrote in his 1979 book Newspapers, The Power and the Money: “Action taken… has brought one paper after another to the brink of financial ruin.” Mind you, rich proprietors also made pretty ineffectual managers. One of the more enlightened was the Canadian Roy Thomson, who flexed his muscle by shutting down for a whole year both of the world-renowned newspapers he owned and published in London — The Times (founded 1785, and 200 years later broadening its appeal from its historic role as the “Top People’s paper”) and The Sunday Times (founded 1821, which under Harry Evans had set benchmarks with its hugely influential investigative journalism). In 1980 the papers ran up a £15m loss (equivalent to £50m today) and by then Thomson had reached the end of his tether, so put them up for sale.
Those were the days when ten nationally distributed daily newspapers and nine Sundays averaged 13m paid-for sales every day of the week (serving a UK population of 56m). Seven millionaire contenders sprang into the marketplace to bid for the two Timeses, yet Harry Evans thought none was worthy to own the world’s most prestigious titles. His book Good Times Bad Times is the rippingmost yarn about real newspaper life — “Who were these seven dwarves, I asked a staff meeting, to seek the hand of Snow White?” It was the Australian wot won it. The deal led to 563 redundancies.
❚ BRIAN WILSON OF THE BEACH BOYS has declared Be My Baby by the Ronettes his own all-time favourite, and the greatest pop record ever: “The choruses blew me away.” Whoa-oh-oh-oh-ohhh! In August 1963 it changed the game entirely. Be My Baby swept into the charts with a lush new approach to orchestration called the “Wall of Sound” that was to bring down a cleaver between rock and pop. Both however were infected by the sheer musicality introduced by its creator, the record producer Phil Spector. He layered pianos, guitars, reeds, brass and most daringly strings, adding studio overdubs and echo, plus any number of people on percussion — famously, castanets. His own description was “little symphonies for the kids”.
Be My Baby took 42 takes to complete, and its spine-tingling intro is unbeatable. The Ronettes’ original has been immortalised in the Grammy Hall of Fame and the Library of Congress for being the quintessence of the dense Spector sound that influenced all who followed, including The Beatles on Let It Be, and the output of Trevor Horn in the 1980s.
The song was co-written by one of the many writing partnerships based in New York’s Brill Building — Ellie Greenwich and Jeff Barry — with a few finishing flourishes added by Spector. The Ronettes themselves were three hot girls from Spanish Harlem, the sisters Estelle and Ronnie Bennett (who later married Spector), and their cousin, Nedra Talley. Their trademarks were beehive hair-dos, eye makeup in the Cleopatra style and tight skirts. Spector signed the Ronettes to his Philles record label and subsequently managed them. Other smash hits included Baby I Love You, The Best Part of Breaking Up, and Walking In the Rain with Spector’s classic storm effects (covered memorably by the Walker Brothers in 1967).
♫ ♫ View video of Brian Wilson playing Be My Baby live — In Q Magazine’s 1001 Best Songs Ever Wilson said: “This is a special one for me. What a great sound, the Wall of Sound. Boy! First heard this on the car radio and I had to pull off the road, I couldn’t believe it. The choruses blew me away; the strings are the melody of love. It has the promise to make the world better.”
❚ IN THE SPACE OF TWO MONTHSThe Only Way Is Essex has become “totally must-watch TV”, an addiction and an education for anybody who does not live in Essex. The huge county lies along the north bank of the Thames estuary, stretching from the east of London to the coast, and socially it might as well be another nation. “I compare Essex to LA — we live the same lifestyle, we’ve got as much money and got the same tans,” says hunky reality-star and club promoter Mark Wright, 23.
“The boobs may be fake” say the opening titles but the cast of 20-somethings are “real people” thrust into to this enhanced reality show that is the jaw-dropping hit of the season. They’ve given the English language new buzzwords spoken in their unique variant on Estuary English: “jel”, “vajazzle”, “shu’ up”, and “whatta we like?” Get up to speed with YouTube’s clips ahead of series two, plus the fight-back from authentic East-End Londoners.
The 10-episode series was filmed mainly in the towns of Brentwood where the The Sugar Hut bar is located, Gants Hill, Chigwell, Buckhurst Hill, and The Manor House nightclub in Woodford Bridge. It was shot only days before being broadcast, presumably so cast members had little chance to object to the odd scene where they might have felt like prize twerps. Unsurprisingly, ITV2 has received plenty of complaints for the show’s “negative representation of Essex”. Surprisingly, the first series was such minority cult viewing on ITV2 between Oct 10 and Nov 10 that its biggest single audience was only 1.2m viewers.
The tabloid press was unusually slow in conceding that the show made compelling viewing. Series two faces one mighty hurdle that may well stymie the innocent charm of the original format — key members of the cast are being snapped up by pushy big-hitting agents who will no doubt insist on contracts that guarantee more respec’ for the talent.
A Christmas special called The Only Way Is Essexmas to due air at 9pm on Christmas Eve.
❏ XMAS UPDATE — The paradox of such a calculated TV format is how quickly it backfires. The Christmas special was as joyless as the format is heartless. In the end, these non-professional, often tongue-tied actors are simply pushed from one pedestrian stunt to another daft costume party set-up, where they are humiliated on camera and in front of their friends as their relationships crumble and their social ineptitude is laid bare. The two or three fun boys and girls in the cast have been reduced to polyfilla between the slimebags whose mums and dads really ought to tell them what prats they are making of themselves. The pet “micro-pig” as Christmas present proved to be a cringemaking booby-trap, just like Arg’s party singalong, while the two-timing antics of lothario Mark and his female sidekicks were blatantly egged on by the TV professionals. The crude splicing to turn shots into scenes indicates how desperately short of plausible footage the producers are. The Essexmas special stank of shameless exploitation by all at Lime Pictures.
❏ ESSEX IS OF COURSE the county which has created almost every British subculture since World War 2, from Mods to Soulboys-and-girls to Vajazzlers ! Essex Man and Essex Girl are pejorative terms that have been colloquial currency for 30 years. Essex Man was rated as a serious political force in the 1979, 1983 and 1987 elections which put Margaret Thatcher in power and kept the Conservative Party there. The stereotypical Essex Girl can be heard before you see her coming, she wears white stiletto heels, peroxide blonde hair, an orange tan, and is famed for being free with her sexual favours. Essex Girl jokes reached mania levels in the 90s when the classic of its kind went like this. Q — What’s the difference between an Essex Girl and a supermarket trolley? A — A supermarket trolley has a mind of its own.
Lola, the Essex girl group: Lauren, Jess, Amba & Linzi being groomed for pop success, though by the Christmas special Linzi had dropped out
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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”.
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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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