If I said that I set off for the ‘Here and Now’ 80s reunion gig at Wembley Arena with a certain amount of trepidation then I’m not saying anything surprising. Most of us would do the same. Besides I carry trepidation like most people carry a wallet or an iPod (I can often be seen outside of my house patting my pockets and mentally going ‘keys, wallet, phone, iPod, trepidation’). I’m a cautious soul.
Dressed in my Calvin Harris t-shirt (he was “acceptable in the Eighties” don’t ya know, a joke my muso neighbour got so quickly I almost changed) I set about going back in time. On my way I thought about all the bad discos that I had hovered on the edge of as a sulky and sometimes lacklustre teen. Oh god. What if I see someone from my hometown? Oh, it’s ok they will be fat, middle-aged, burdened by mortgages and kids…whereas I am single, thin(ner), untroubled by (and incapable of) responsibility and, er, had nothing better to do this Saturday...
On the tube I see the back of a copy of the Daily Telegraph of a few days ago it reads: “It took us while to realise that it’s not defeat to go back, it’s victory” above a picture of Spandau Ballet. I later find out they were Gary Kemp’s wise words but I feel that the phrase protests too much and perhaps it is too late to be living out electric dreams again. Then I think about last year when I was with a friend of mine in a department store and an Eighties compilation was playing but how all the shop assistants were sixteen. I was tempted to go up to the till and say ‘I was nearly your age when this [gesture towards the speakers from which Sly Fox’s Let’s Go All The Way is pumping out] was released.” I realise that the Eighties revival has now been going on as long as the war and terror and both have no end in sight. My throat dries and I think I could do with a Slush Puppie and a wristband to mop my fevered brow.
I meet my friend. He is younger than me, though not shop assistant young. Despite his relative youth he knows the Eighties better than I do. And like I say, I was there. Oh my friend is also gay and similar to me in so many ways that I sometimes wonder if I shouldn’t just have done with it, build a closet and come out of it. I lot of people have wondered over the years and sniggered as they proffer: “Julian, can I ask a straight question?” Why is this relevant? Only because, like Come On Eileen by Dexys Midnight Runners, I have heard this routine repeatedly since about 1983. Anyway my friend, it transpires, knows all the words to Rick Astley’s hits although I know a darn sight more about Altered Images than he does for various reasons including ones that prove I am not gay, we’ll get to that.
So there we were, then and there waiting for Here and Now. Wembley Arena, where, as far as I can make out, none of the acts on tonight’s bill have played before. So, let the Eighties begin…again. Once more with Darjeeling.
We begin right the start of the decade as Hazel O’Connor is first up bridging that punk/new wave to pop gap for us. Having interviewed Hazel, Clare Grogan and Kim Wilde (separately and on the phone sadly) I know that she’s still got a huge appetite of performing and is good value. Her warmth is once again obvious to me tonight when she leaves the stage so that the spotlight is firmly on her saxophonist for the solo in ‘Will You?’ Even the robotic ‘Eighth Day’, also, from Breaking Glass, seems soften round the edges, maybe she was divested of the Tron-like get-up she sported in the movie. Speaking of get-ups Hazel I had no idea that you were in a porn movie in 1975. Such is the retrospective delight that is Wikipedia. The Eighties didn’t have all the tunes that’s for sure.
I have to be honest and say that I had considered taking a long loo break during Brother Beyond. However, my friend was a fan and it seemed rude. Readjusting my shoulder pads would have to wait. With former band members either too busy drumming for other people, being in PR or being a fine artist, it was only Nathan, boyband survivor and reality talent manager, who showed. He cracked a few jokes about having bras thrown at him and they were duly thrown – by the roadies at the side of the stage, nice one lads, you japesters you. The absence of the other three band members made the song ‘Be My Twin’ (my friend’s favourite) all the more resonant, seeming as it did for a plea for volunteers, progressing from duo to quartet with the aid of capable audience volunteers. Poor Nathan, they could at least have given him some dancing girls, maybe a loan of Kid Creole’s Coconuts. Despite this my friend was in his element while I was just relieved that Nathan no longer pronounces the word ‘try’ in their big hit ‘The Harder I Try’ as ‘twyee!’. It took twenty years but it was worth the wait.
If was my friends was a little over excited by Brother Beyond singular then I was equally so about Clare Grogan minus her Altered Images (the Here and Now house band were a constant for each act). Yes, enter the hot Scot purple-stockinged pixies princess of pop, arguably one of the sexiest women on the 1980s and still looking fine even as “the world’s most embarrassing mum” as she called herself tonight. The erratic dancing has endured too. It’s no wonder she fell off a lot of stages. “I don’t just get to dance badly at weddings, I do it in arenas now.” Grogan pranced through ‘I Could Be Happy’, ‘See Those Eyes’, ‘Don’t Talk To Me About Love’ (choon) and ‘Happy Birthday’. No ‘Bring Me Closer’ but you can’t have it all, except in the Eighties when apparently you could.
“I’m the same guy and my pants are still high” was the contribution of August Darnell aka Kid Creole to one-liner of the evening. Surely the zoot-suited Creole was the inspiration for Jim Carrey’s outfit in The Mask? One thing was for sure papa’s got a brand new bagful of a lovely bunch of new coconuts. Ah yes, at nearly 60, Creole brought us some classic 80s light entertainment, a bit sexy and a bit sexist maybe. That depends on how you look at it Creole as a ‘character’ rather than a frontman, I guess, but ultimately me likey. My friend? He no likey so much.
Kid Creole’s rousing finale to the first act was the first time that a majority of the audience were on their feet. Hitherto only pockets of gentle swaying had burst out, thought to be fair to the Wembley crowd had been on their feet for most of the gig, which is no mean feat at their age. The bobbing greying and balding heads were enhancing the already elaborate light show. While most men refrained from paying homage to the Eighties in their attire, some of the women were dressed as a tribute to Pineapple Studios, brightly coloured t-shirts, leggings, headbands etc. Admittedly some of them looked like they worked out with pineapple chunks these days, but still, it’s the thought that counts. Despite the fact that this was far from an unruly crowd security men could be seen wandering up and down the aisles. Were they Looking For Linda? That would have been a great joke if Hue and Cry had been on the bill. Anyway I digress.
Howard Jones kicked off the second act and duly kept up the tempo of the evening with his big sound and even bigger keyboard. It was at this point that I was Facebooked by an old schoolfriend. The friend in question was largely responsible for bringing pop music into my life and so there was a nice symmetry to him getting back in touch as I was listening to some of the songs that were around in our ‘yoof’. In my house Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, Joni Mitchell, and Joan Baez were about as contemporary as it got and I think they were partly responsible, along with Peanuts cartoons, for the introspective and world-weary human being that I am today. Ok I overstate the case and I have let Morrissey right of the hook (remember that Rubber Ring, Moz? In your face mate). But the general attitude of the Hall household could be summed up by this mythical, oh and fictional, exchange:
“Daddy, where do synths come from?”
“I don’t know son.”
It would have been worse if it wasn’t for my schoolfriend, I would have missed out on the girlie delights of The Primitives, Altered Images, The Darling Buds, Voice of the Beehive, Talulah Gosh…are ya crying yet Indie men of 35 plus, are ya? I wonder if this is where there gay thing started?
Anyway, sorry Howard where were we? Getting to know ya well, right. Yes, I like that one, I had to dig deep in my memory for one or two of his other songs and while he was never big in my hit parade Howard Jones was a class act tonight. Equally I had forgotten a lot of Kim Wilde’s hits including ‘Chequered Love’ and ‘Never Trust A Stranger’. Wilde too was big n’ ballsy in her performance tonight and with the help of her brother Ricki, her songwriter, and her niece, Scarlett she, like totally, rocked out. In fact you might say she knocked it out of the park that she had just landscaped….what with her being a bit of a gardener these days. Geddit? She still has a big voice does our l’il Kim. Did I not mention Kids In America? Yes, she did that one of course. For me that song is like a pre-anthem for those of us who imagined ourselves to be part of the John Hughes generation. I love the fact that she had never even been to the US when she was singing that but then not many of us listening to it had either.
So Rick Astley then, top of the bill thanks to the fact that original participant Boy George had that unfortunate incident abortively attempting to bleed a radiator. Something like that. As a fellow ginger I am loathed to criticise Rick too much, we have few role models. Besides we shared similar hairstyles. I once went to a fancy dress party as Morrissey (no, all was not forgiven, it was bittersweet irony) only for someone to say: “Nice Rick Astley costume, mate”. Talk about stereotyping. What can I say about Rick? The man has a great voice but his songs were – and still are – largely written by Stock Aitken and Waterman. Nuff said. Still, for the last song of the evening, ‘Never Gonna Give You Up’, he managed to get everyone dancing – or shifting uncomfortably in my case. Just like those school discos. What was more musical to the ears was hearing a man who was apparently once extremely shy enjoy an atmosphere where the pressure was off and where he could let the flavour of his Yorkshire wit just flood out at various points including at the very beginning of his set where he said: “Tonight Matthew, I am going to be Rick Astley.” Quite.
So with slick ‘Rickrolling’ Rick Astley done that was that, pop-pickers, and in the silence the question “Is the Eighties acceptable in the Noughties?” begged. The answer is yes, for now. Don’t expect me back in ten years though. But tonight it was fun and not painful at all. Actually it was a bit painful for my friend who, on seeing former Capital Radio DJ, Pat Sharp leaving the venue, and having seen him on Sky earlier talking about the gig, exclaimed: “oooh I saw you on TV today!” Pat, if you are reading this, he’s very sorry and, he assures me (no doubt like the revival instincts of some Eighties acts once they have done gigs like this) that it won’t happen again.