Tag Archives: Tipping points

1980 ➤ The day Spandau signed on the line and changed the sound of British pop

Spandau Ballet, Virginia Turbett,Chrysalis,Steve Dagger, New Romantics

The way they wore: Spandau Ballet minutes before signing their record record deal in October 1980. Photographed at London’s Waldorf Hotel © by Virginia Turbett

◼ AS THE COOLEST CULT LEADERS OF 1980, Spandau Ballet’s songwriter Gary Kemp claimed: “We want the band to be at all times the most contemporary statement we could possibly make on modern London.” In the face of the post-punk new wave, it took courage to decide to play fresh sexy dance music in a corporate landscape dominated by adult-oriented rock supergroups. In the event, the five boys from the Angel, Islington, quickly assumed the role of houseband to the Blitz club and by placing the bass guitar and the bass drum at the front of the sound made it hip once more to play pop.

Spandau Ballet were being managed by their onetime schoolmate Steve Dagger, aged only 23, while three record labels competed to secure them. On this day 30 years ago they signed a deal with Chrysalis Records and walked into the future clutching an advance cheque for £85,000 — at the time, a record sum for an untried band that had played all of eight bookings and had refused to cut demo discs.

“We were strong, it was a real gang, a real team mentality. It was: We’re Spandau Ballet, who the f*** are you?” — John Keeble, Spandau drummer

By breaking all the industry rules, Spandau triggered a fashion and dance music movement that had been evolving in the nightclubs of Britain. At the very moment that the Blitz closed its doors, the press dubbed their followers the New Romantics, and a slipstream of more than 100 new image bands was born. The new sounds and new styles of this, the last of the Babyboomer generation, went on to dominate the international landscape of pop and over the next three years put more British acts in the US Billboard charts than the 1960s ever achieved.


➢ Oct 16, 1980: One week in the private worlds of the new young
➢ Birth of the New Romantics and the band who made it hip to play pop
➢ How the rhythm of the pop charts changed

Spandau Ballet, The Makers,The Cut,Roots, Dame Alice Owens

Tony Hadley fronts The Makers: Spandau as a school band playing to the fourth form at Dame Alice Owens — grabbed from video

➢ VIEW ♫ Early footage of Spandau Ballet in the Young Guns documentary from 2000
➢ New Romantics: I Was There — ex-Sounds hackette Betty Page’s recollections for Record Collector, written with the benefit of hindsight in 2004


2010 ➤ Index of posts for July-Aug

Kylie Minogue, Heaven,London,live,All The Lovers

All The Lovers, live: photograph © Christie Goodwin

➢ A big wink to i-D on its 30th birthday

➢ For one year only, £75m deal reunites Take That dormice with mega-millionaire Robbie Williams

➢ Kylie dazzles London with laser-love

➢ Cheers to Peter and Chris – two nice unassuming radio listeners (among the many) who clinched the rescue of 6Music

➢ Vince Clarke on how to make the perfect pop song

Save 6Music, 6Music, BBC, demonstration, Alison Gibbs

Too, too British: Save 6Music demonstrators outside Broadcasting House. Picture © Alison Gibbs


2010 ➤ Cheers to Peter and Chris – two nice unassuming radio listeners (among the many*) who clinched the rescue of 6Music

* Added to the heading to reflect protests by Peter and Chris

What do we want? – We’d quite like our rather good 6Music station not to be axed by the BBC, please.
When do we want it? – After our jolly nice picnic and a couple of flutes of champagne, if that’s OK with you.

Save 6Music, 6Music, BBC, picnic, Claire Cant, Gillian Reynolds, Daily Telegraph,Tim Davie,Sir Michael Lyons ,Steve Hewlett,,

Militant picnickers: Save 6Music campaigners plot their strategy – somewhere amid the champagne drinkers Peter Crocker is lurking. Picture © Claire Cant


❚ TODAY IT WAS REVEALED TO RADIO 4’s AUDIENCE that the BBC decided not to axe its digital music station 6Music as the result of a thoroughly British campaign strategy hatched over a couple of drinks and the odd outdoor picnic. 6Music campaigners like to boast that a bunch of marketeers called the CoolBrands Council (yes, seriously!) have dubbed it the coolest radio station in the land – easier perhaps to think of it as “rhythms for thinking persons”. Since March some “quite lively” street protests have surrounded Broadcasting House in London where the more strident slogans included “More 6 please, we’re British” … “Lord Reith would be vexed” … “Down With This Sort of Thing” and “6 into 2 doesn’t go” (a reference to merging with mainstream Radio 2). But afterwards, heads were put together to come up with a seriously cunning plan.

Peter Crocker told the tale on today’s Feedback, the Radio 4 listener soapbox. He describes himself as a “video restorer and member of the Doctor Who Restoration Team”. Also a Belle and Sebastian fan, he is passionate about 6Music and became incandescent in March when he heard of the BBC management’s threat to shut it down in a strategic review of BBC services.

He wrote to Feedback and was invited onto the weekly programme in March when he declared: “As with Radio 3, 6Music is unique. We need a serious modern non-orchestral music station.” This kick-started a process which ended up with him having a breakfast meeting with the chairman of the BBC Trust Sir Michael Lyons, who was tasked with considering the management proposals.

Crocker modestly insists his role was minor and points out that many, many others were involved in the campaign to save 6Music. The Facebook protest group, for example, is the “modern equivalent of a village hall”, he says, and it attracted 180,000 supporters.

Save 6Music, 6Music, BBC, demonstration

Too, too British: Save 6Music demonstrators outside Broadcasting House

What he did do after turning up to a demo was to meet up for occasional drinks with some of the other committed protesters “in hostelries around west London”. Here he met Chris Wiper, a Pixies fan (according to his Facebook profile), who proposed conducting a survey of 6Music listeners and 655 responses from adults yielded one eye-opening claim. As Crocker reported today: “For every £1 the BBC spent on 6Music, the station generated £13 for the UK economy”!

From Wiper’s survey the purchasing activity of the station’s listeners was analysed by Matt Forman and Colin Hammond who showed that 58% of their music purchasing in the previous year had been influenced by 6Music, resulting in an average spend of £134 that year on albums and singles. In other words, when extrapolated against the one-million weekly audience reached by the station, this amounted to a significant contribution towards the music industry’s coffers. (Further modest mutterings have ensued from Wiper, too: “My contribution was a very small part.”)

6Music, age distribution, listeners, ILF, survey, BBC

6Music listener ages: Mean 32.2, median 31, according to online petition data commissioned by ILF

Hence the bending of the Trust chairman’s ear and a reversal this week of the decision to axe the station.

Hammond has since offered further insights: “Sir Michael Lyons said that the cultural value argument had to be made. Alan Yentob made a speech that stated that the BBC yardstick was £2 of economic activity for £1 of BBC spend. We had had already several conversations about how many CDs etc we had bought solely from 6, Chris Wiper had set up a Facebook group and then his website. At my hunch that there was something in this, Matt Foreman did the maths for the initial ILF submission which the Trust were most interested in and so we encouraged more people to come forward, which gave the great final survey number.”

Result – even BBC director-general Mark Thompson declared on April 20: “It’s become clear to me that the station is completely unique and has significant cultural worth.”

As a successful campaigner, cheer-leading substantially through the web, Crocker today offered four golden rules: (1) don’t shout into a vacuum; (2) research your subject; (3) stick to facts not personal opinion; (4) enlist teamwork by meeting up in real life.

Let’s be on guard for the next round, however. Announcing 6Music’s reprieve on the BBC News Channel last Monday, Sir Michael Lyons also said: “It [6 Music] has opened up a much bigger debate about the need, first, to sort out the greater distinctiveness about the very popular Radios 1 and 2 and to make sure they are more different from each other and different from what’s available in the commercial sector. And even more important, to actually develop a coherent strategy for digital radio, which the BBC can’t do in isolation. It needs to do (that) with government and the commercial sector.”

A can of worms is about to be opened in the radio marketplace. In her weekly column in the Daily Telegraph, Gillian Reynolds was later to conclude: “ ‘Stick to facts.’ Please remember that when the dreaded BBC Director of Audio and Music Tim Davie returns, fully strategised.” The Facebook group cannily reminds us of future trends. Listen to 6Music online, it urges, so the powers-that-be can measure how many are listening. “BBC6 was not designed to be linear.”

➢➢ Listen to today’s Feedback and read presenter Roger Bolton at the Radio 4 blog

➢➢ Independent Listeners Forum – Final Submission to the BBC Trust, May 22 – Search sidebar for ILF Evidence, then click Economic Value Update

➢➢ Gillian Reynolds in the Daily Telegraph, July 12 – “The present digital delay, I think, is more a failure of markets than management”

Save 6Music, campaign,6Music, BBC, demonstration,Steve Ransome

Thinking music persons: Save 6Music protestors show their strength outside Broadcasting House. Picture © Steve Ransome


1970 ➤ Where to draw a line between glitter and glam – naff blokes in Bacofoil versus starmen with pretensions

David Bowie, Starman, 1972, Top of the Pops, tipping point, BBC

The moment the earth tilted July 6, 1972: During Starman on Top of the Pops, David Bowie drapes his arm around the shoulder of Mick Ronson. Video © BBC

❚ WHO DARES DEFINE GLAM ROCK? Almost nobody agrees what it means, even as we celebrate the 40th anniversary of glam’s birth, but that isn’t going to stop many of its prime movers lighting a few squibs in a thrilling and meticulous Ten Alps documentary titled The Glory of Glam†† across two hours on BBC Radio 2 tonight and tomorrow (iPlayer for a further week). This thorough analysis has been badly needed since the term glam became a rubbish-bin into which gets thrown anything brash, theatrical and shiny – such as shock-rock, metal and goth. The problem glam suffers is that the tat needs to be accounted for, then set aside, especially after you’ve waded through yards of tosh at Wikipedia penned by American sociologists out of their depth in this entirely British phenomenon.

Glam rock came cloaked in sequins, satin and unmasculine flamboyance. Its touchstones – alienation, decadence, self-invention and sexual transgression – most certainly went on to shape the UK’s fashion pop of the 80s, and glam’s pioneers were pillars of inspiration to the New Romantics. Even though glam banished the guitar solo and the drum break, it fuelled as much a fashion revolution as a musical one, if not more so, which many of its own practitioners didn’t get a handle on by merely pulling on their platform boots and zany top hats. Glam had deeper resonances than a sprinkling of glitter, and reached back into the traditions of theatre and Hollywood.

Noddy Holder, Slade

The pantomime version: mutton-chopped Noddy Holder of Slade

The Blitz Kids see no confusion. They draw a firm line between the distinctly fashion-driven imperatives of their own New Romantic style and the grotesque pantomime of the worst 70s glam-rockers. Certainly the Blitz Kids of 1980 admitted no connection with the chart-storming excess confected that year by Queen, whose origins lay in 60s psychedelia and heavy metal, still less make mention of Noddy Holder of Slade in the same breath as Ultravox, Visage, Depeche Mode or Spandau Ballet.

The 80s musician Gary Kemp, who narrates tonight’s documentary, writes in today’s Guardian: “I could spot the uncomfortable look on the face of a hefty northern bass player bursting from a turkey-foil jumpsuit worn simply to sell records. With Bowie, it was different: he had integrity. An effeminate, pale young man in eye shadow had somehow connected with working-class flash.”

Blitz fashion god Stephen Linard dismisses Slade’s avalanche of chart hits: “Even at 12, you knew Bolan and Bowie were special. Slade were just for fun, like Sweet and Gary Glitter – theirs was party music. The only reason I’d bought the first Gary Glitter album was because it was covered in glitter. Come on! Slade were hairy oiks from Birmingham, hideous sideburns, going bald on top. I plastered Roxy Music all over my bedroom because they were glamour. They had real transsexuals on the cover of their album. Everybody assumed Bryan Ferry’s girlfriend Amanda Lear was one!”

The indispensable Allmusic hits the mark when discussing Hunky Dory: “a kaleidoscopic array of pop styles, tied together only by Bowie’s sense of vision: a sweeping, cinematic mélange of high and low art, ambiguous sexuality, kitsch, and class . . . A touchstone for reinterpreting pop’s traditions.” There’s the nub of it: artsy pretension is out there a length ahead of beer-swilling mayhem. Any innovator at the Blitz club never loses sight of the origins of glam, whether in Bowie’s training with performance artist Lindsay Kemp, Eno’s experiments with electronica, Ferry as a walking ad for Antony Price’s luminous suits, and even Bolan’s obsessive eye for style instilled as a mod. To cap it all, in photographer Mick Rock’s opinion: “Bowie was good at being provocative, but the beauty was his lightness of touch.”

We are of course bang in the middle of the hoary old music-industry debate about art versus profits, innovation versus pomp.

Fortunately clarity is at hand. The next week boasts two landmarks on the timeline of pop that signal the dawn of glam and celebrate its immortals. July 1 is the 40th anniversary – the day in 1970 when Marc Bolan recorded the first glam-rock single, Ride a White Swan, though it took till year’s end and Top of the Pops to boost it to No 2 on the chart in January. A youthquake then erupted.


Ziggy sings: “So I picked on you-oo-oo”

By popular vote, however, the more resonant date is July 6, 1972. This Thursday is burnt into the souls of the specific generation who were to make good as popstars in the 1980s.

Songwriter and Spandau Ballet guitarist Gary Kemp speaks for many when he writes of the creation of Ziggy Stardust: “David Bowie’s seminal performance of Starman on Top of the Pops in 1972 became the benchmark by which we would for ever judge pop and youth culture. It was a cocksure swagger of pouting androgyny that appealed to pubescent working-class youth across Britain – a Britain still dominated by postwar austerity and weed-filled bomb sites. For us, the Swinging 60s had never happened; we were too busy watching telly.”

Kemp goes on: “The object of my passion had dyed orange hair and white nail varnish. Looking out from a tiny TV screen was a Mephistophelean messenger from the space age, a tinselled troubadour to give voice to my burgeoning sexuality. Pointing a manicured finger down the barrel of a BBC lens, he spoke to me: ‘I had to phone someone, so I picked on you.’ I had been chosen. Next to him, in superhero boots, his flaxen-haired buddy rode shotgun with a golden guitar. As my singing Starman draped his arm around him, I felt a frisson of desire and wanted to go to their planet. I had witnessed a visitation from a world of glitter. That night, I planned my future. After all, ‘If we can sparkle,’ he’d told me, ‘he may land tonight’.”

Bear in mind that at the time of White Swan, in 1970, our two pop idols had both been aged 23, and our pubescent audience of future Blitz Kids, typically born around 1959, were then 11. So they were rising to 13 by 1972 — detonation year for the glam explosion. That was when the careers of Roxy Music, Iggy Pop, Elton John and Alice Cooper all went critical in the UK, when Andrew Logan threw his first Alternative Miss World Contest, paving the way for the stage musical The Rocky Horror Show the following year [currently touring the UK till Dec 2010].

The Starman’s earth landing is the most influential song of Bowie’s many influential songs because it is seared on the memory of that generation of TV viewers. From Morrissey and Marr to Ian McCulloch, Neil Tennant and Siouxsie Sioux — all say this day changed their lives. For Michael Clark, who went on to lead an all-male dance company, it was a revelation because he’d only seen men touch each other when they were fighting, and suddenly he realised that there might be “kindred spirits” out there . . .

Bowie, Man Who Sold the World, Hunky Dory, Glam rock

Bowie confronts camp: album sleeves for The Man Who Sold the World, and Hunky Dory

❚ MARC BOLAN AND DAVID BOWIE ARE INDISPUTABLY the progenitors of this flamboyant art-rock musical style at the dawn of the 70s, along with the Svengali who can claim much credit, Tony Visconti, the Brooklyn-born musician and producer who worked with the young Bolan and Bowie in London, with honourable mentions for Bryan Ferry and Brian Eno for the early Roxy Music. These voices are heard in the Radio 2 doc.

Angie Bowie says: “David and Marc liked each other very much and at certain times were great friends, but they were also bitter rivals.” As teenagers in the mid-60s they were both image-conscious suburban mods, then hippies, who experimented with styles from blues to psychedelia in search of their own pop moment. They first met while painting their shared manager’s office, and their paths constantly crossed at Bowie’s Beckenham Arts Lab and especially at Visconti’s flat in Earl’s Court, west London.

Bowie himself rather revelled in the rivalry, in May 1970 spoofing Bolan’s vocal style on Black Country Rock, a track on his album The Man Who Sold the World, recorded a couple of months before Bolan’s pivotal Swan. On the sleeve notes to Sound+Vision, Bowie recalls the day Bolan provided musical support while recording his Prettiest Star single at Trident Studios that January: “We had a sparring relationship… I don’t think we were talking to each other that day. I remember a very strange attitude in the studio. We were never in the same room at the same time. You could have cut the atmosphere with a knife.”

Both singers toyed with sexual ambiguity. While Bolan prettified himself into T.Rex, Bowie’s new wife Angie encouraged experiments in androgyny that led to the UK album cover where he wears what he called a “man dress” (though this image was replaced for the earlier US release in 1970).

T.Rex, Marc Bolan, Mickey Finn, David Sanders,

Transformed into T.Rex for the 1970 album: Bolan sports his new electric guitar, square-jawed and white-faced with Mickey Finn, in the Sussex garden of the photographer David Sanders’ mum

In their day, these were shock tactics – which still trigger fireworks in the art-versus-profits argument. So-called glam-rockers such as Slade and Sweet and Glitter weren’t into sexual role-play so much as pantomime and clowning, despite their figure-hugging satin.

What puts the music of Roxy Music, David Bowie and T.Rex in a different league? The elephant in the room is sex or, rather, sexual subversion. What is rock and roll if not almost entirely about that vertical expression of the famous horizontal desire? What is adolescence if it’s not at least partly about curiosity, confusion and the testing of boundaries? There’s no point in discussing glam rock without mentioning its implicit androgyny and the dangerous allure of unthreatening, feminine young men to adolescent audiences.

Kemp declares boldly in today’s Guardian of his Starman moment: “The first time I fell in love it was with a man.” And he notes: “Gender-bending was suddenly far more rebellious than drugs and violence.”

Brave words from any popstar in any era. Suzi Quatro observes in the radio doc: “All those men in eye shadow – you have to be very comfortable with your sexuality to play with it.” Even so, when a grown-up family man admits to an adolescent pash for a fey young man, it doesn’t necessarily make him gay, but it does take courage to admit.

❚ DESPITE THE CLIMATE OF PERMISSIVENESS the 60s had beqeathed, the word gay was taboo in public in 1970, even though the iconography was pretty blatant. As T.Rex, Bolan shed his folksy heritage for white-faced androgyny when twinned with Mickey Finn on their first album cover. Bowie adopted a Greta Garboesque pose for his portrait on Hunky Dory, and wore the “man-dress” by the Mayfair tailor Michael Fish on The Man Who Sold the World.

Bowie’s later admissions of “bisexuality” are well documented. In 2002 he told the American music magazine Blender: “I had no problem with people knowing I was bisexual.” In David Buckley’s 1999 book Strange Fascination, Bowie said that when he met his first wife, Angela Bowie, in 1969 they were “fucking the same bloke” and Buckley claimed the marriage had been cited as one of convenience for both.

Marc Bolan, T.Rex, boa

Sexual ambiguity: Bolan adopts the boa for T.Rex

There’s little or no contemporary evidence of Bolan’s now known bisexuality, except the eye witnesses. His manager during the late 60s, Simon Napier-Bell lays it out in the biog, The Rise and Fall of a 20th Century Superstar by Mark Paytress (1992, revised 2006).

“Marc was more gay than straight. He had no hangups about sex,” says Napier-Bell, who lived in Lexham Gardens in west London at the time. “[Bolan] used to come round on the early-morning bus from his parents’ prefab in Wimbledon and get in bed with me in the morning. How can you manage anybody and not have a relationship with them? The sexual borders had completely collapsed by that time. Straight people thought they shouldn’t be straight. In fact, in the 60s, it was pretty difficult to have any sort of relationship with someone without it being sexual.”

An extreme perspective, perhaps, but “anything goes” was the motto for the coterie who subscribed to the Swinging London melting pot of hallucinatory drugs and louche morals.

In addition, bisexuality was growing in fashionability in the wake of the historic changes brought about by the Sexual Offences Act of 1967. Before then in the UK, gay activity was a jailable offence and hence highly blackmailable. It’s no coincidence that in 1971, a couple of years after New York’s Stonewall riots, the Campaign for Homosexual Equality emerged as the leading English gay rights organisation by staging its first march ending in a Trafalgar Square rally. By 1972 the explosion of glam-rock coincided with very visible expressions of gay liberation in the UK.

None of which implies that massed ranks of gay popstars leapt into the charts, though the totally closeted record business did ease the door open by a chink, whereas previously any hint of gay would spell death to a band’s career. The English star Dusty Springfield was extraordinarily brave at the age of 31 to entrust her coming out in 1970 to Ray Connolly in the Evening Standard, in an intense interview that remains a compelling read. (Ray told Shapersofthe80s: “I was a big fan and I actually didn’t want to ask her. She pushed me into it, saying, ‘There’s something else you should ask now… about the rumours’.”) It took Elton John till he was 41 to come out, first getting married in 1984 and divorcing four years later.

In the Radio 2 doc, Gene Simmons from Kiss sums up the social change that characterised the early 70s: “The great thing about glam was whether people thought you were gay or not didn’t matter. More was done to further different sexual preferences onstage in a rock band than all the commentaries from serious people, because there onstage, the way the old court jesters used to do in silly outfits, they were actually doing something serious, which in essence was saying, Be tolerant. The cool thing was that it was all cool.”

As for our immortals . . . Sadly we lost Bolan to a car crash when he was only 29. Had he been alive today he’d be the same age as Bowie, 63, give or take a few months. It’s challenging to speculate which of them might be shining the more brightly today as our totem of pop culture.

†† FOOTNOTE – This website has no connection with the makers of The Glory of Glam, and has since discovered the credit goes to producer Des Shaw and editor Chris O’Shaughnessy. If this documentary doesn’t win a Sony radio award, there’s no justice.

➢ 2013 update: Glam! The Performance of Style runs at Tate Liverpool Feb 8–May 12, 2013 – Well worth a day trip to Liverpool, this superbly curated exhibition explores 70s glam style and sensibility across the whole spectrum of painting, sculpture, installation art, film, photography and performance. The in-depth survey comes in two halves, drawing a clear distinction between the playful subversion of pop culture that characterised the British glam wave, and the American, which was driven much more profoundly by gender politics.


2010 ➤ Rich Kid Steve New (aka Stella Nova) dies at 50


“Another one of the good ones gone. My thoughts are with Steve’s family and close friends”


“Steve New R.I.P. – Loved by so many. It was a real pleasure to play with you again in 2010. You are now 12 miles high but always in our hearts”


“Steve was always one of the coolest kids in my school… was somehow allowed to bring his cherished acoustic guitar into school in St John’s Wood, and would walk from lesson to lesson strumming along. In later years we had lots of fun together”

Rich Kids, Steve New, 1978, Steve Currid, pink trousers

➢➢ READ ON: Why the Rich Kids were the “missing link” between 70s and 80s – “So what was the missing link during the post-punk vacuum? The tell-tale signs are all over the early photos of Rich Kids and especially in their very Mod-flavoured 1978 debut on Top of the Pops that epitomised power pop …”

➢➢ VIEW ♫ ♫ Rich Kids debut on Top of the Pops, 1978: Glen Matlock, Midge Ure, Steve New and Rusty Egan

Rich Kids, Top Of The Pops, Glen Matlock, Midge Ure, Steve New , Rusty Egan

➢➢ VIEW ♫ ♫ Ghosts of Princes in Towers, 1978: Rich Kids on Revolver, introduced by legendary 60s satirist, Peter Cook (Steve New pictured below)

Rich Kids, Ghosts of Princes in Towers, Revolver, Peter Cook