Gary Kemp

Mixtape: Independence Day 0

“I’m Scottish. I can complain about things.” So said Peter Capaldi’s Doctor Who on seeing the face and hearing the voice of his latest regeneration. For many centuries, my people, the Scots, have complained loudly and bitterly. Mostly about the English, about being stuck on top of a country that oppresses and ignores them. And after centuries of complaining, we finally get a chance to do something about it. The race is shockingly tight, so much so that my nation has been belatedly turned into the homely girl suddenly regarded as pretty, with the leaders of all three parties desperate for her attention and approval. Although I’m many thousands of miles away, my ill-educated and indefensible vote would be Yes. We wanted this for so long. Now let’s see what happens when we get it. The following songs aren’t particularly rousing, rebellious or patriotic. But if the vote is a yes, this is what Scottish radio eighties flashback shows will sound like.

“Celebrate,” Simple Minds

Before they were deliberately anthemic, before everything they did was tailored to fit the demands of a stadium audience, this was Simple Minds starting to find themselves.

“From Pillar To Post,” Aztec Camera

The great thing about Roddy Frame’s songwriting circa 1982: the more he tried to write an out-and-out commercial pop song, the more he imbued his lyrics and delivery with out-and-out contempt.

“Blue Boy,” Orange Juice

Simple Minds were a big deal even in their formative years but Orange Juice and Postcard Records put Glasgow on the map in terms of the musically-inclined-but-directionless suddenly finding steely resolve and starting their own jangly bands, in terms of the music press belatedly bestowing regional hotness on Glasgow and in terms of record companies indiscriminately signing up Scots of varying degrees of talent.

Tell Me Easter’s On Friday,” Associates

My co-author’s been on a well-received music-now-is-empty-and-crude rant. I semi-agree but my main complaint about contemporary pop is that the chances of us ever hearing another voice like Billy Mackenzie’s in a context where it’s on the radio and on TV and high on the charts is not even unlikely. It just couldn’t happen. People rapping about their butts doesn’t make me particularly annoyed; living in a talent vacuum does.

“Bring Me Closer,” Altered Images

Gary Kemp talks in Mad World: The Book about his courtly semi-romance with Clare Grogan. For a brief period, the entire country shared his infatuation. The double-whammy of her “Gregory’s Girl” role, coy pop star persona and tremulous vocals made crushing on Clare Grogan a national pastime. Journalists, producers and DJs old enough to know better, actors and fellow pop stars all made clowns of themselves over her. Ironically, the two men flanking her in this clip went on to greater post-Images success than she did, the guy on the left produced, among others, “Mmmmbop” for Hanson, the other guy founded Texas. The band, not the state.

“Candy Skin,” Fire Engines

LOVE this. Love it. Short, sneering Velvet Underground-adjacent single with sawing violin from the great short-lived Edinburgh band who shed their indie skin and remade themselves into a Heaven 17-style ironic corporation.

“You’ve Got The Power,” WIN

And that is that self-same ironic corporation. “You’ve Got The Power”, although never a huge hit, was inescapable due to it’s widespread use in a beer commercial.

“Never Understand,” Jesus & Mary Chain

They played fifteen-minute sets that climaxed in the band half-heartedly smashing up their equipment. Their songs were drenched in feedback to the extent that they sounded like a ride on an out-of-control ghost train. The sets got longer, they dropped the distortion and stopped destroying the equipment. They were still great.

“Touch,” Secession

Try not to think less of me as I admit I barely know this song. I was aware of Secession as a Scottish synthpop outfit of little import. Many years later, I came to understand that this particular song had way bigger impact in American cities with new wave stations and dance club than it ever did in it’s ungrateful homeland. On behalf of all the other Scots who gave you the cold shoulder back when it counted, I’m sorry, Secession.

“Waiting For Another Chance,” Endgames

No apologies here but Endgames were a band that received a fair amount of mockery on their home turf but were hailed as giants across Europe.

“Tell Me Why,” Bronski Beat

Glasgow was and is a notoriously tough town but Glasgow audiences also had a love of gay disco to the degree that when records like (“You Make Me Feel) Mighty Real”) by Sylvester and “Funky Town” by Lipps Inc became hits they were propelled into the charts by the huge sales emanating from Glasgow. Bronski Beat were the product of the citywide love of that sound but they were also the product of the city wide love of beating people up because they looked or acted different.

“Abandon Ship,” April Showers

Yeah, I know. Totally indulgent. Whatever. It’s my song. I’m Scottish. I wrote it in the eighties.

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Mixtape: You Don’t Bring Me Flowers 0

They beautify our lives then they wither and die. That’s right, this week’s theme is flowers. Let’s see what eighties songs with a floral theme we can dig up–ha!– and how many of them are about roses. (For this and our other Spotify playlists, click here.)

 

“Flowers Of Romance,” Public Image Limited

Okay, so -called Pil aficianados, hands in the air if you stuck with them through records like this because deep down you were hoping against hope that they’d release something that sounded more like “Public Image” and by the time you’d accepted that was never going to happen, you were stuck with a bunch of records that pretty much all went nyah-nyah-nyah-nyah-nyah. Just me, then?

“Blind Among The Flowers,” The Tourists

Pre-Eurythmics, Annie Lennox and Dave Stewart did time in a journeyman powerpop outfit called The Tourists, who had a few its but left little impression. Somewhere between this and “Sweet Dreams”, Annie Lennox found a whole new voice.

“Good Year For The Roses,” Elvis Costello

I’m not going to say I knew nothing about country music in the early eighties. Gram Parsons, The Flying Burrito Brothers and the “Sweethearts Of The Rodeo”-era Byrds were highly touted by Glasgow’s local tastemakers, such as they were. But, in common with a lot of British youth of the era, the country record I was most familiar with was “Almost Blue”, Elvis Costello’s reverent collection of covers. These days, the best thing I can say about it is that it served as a gateway to the originals. But then again, these days, it’s hard to imagine a contemporary country artist even knowing the originals.

“Trees And Flowers,” Strawberry Switchblade

A mixtape encore for this stirring song about agoraphobia from the underappreciated Glaswegian duo. It takes a particular kind of talent to write a song that sounds as sweet as this and contains the line, “I hate the trees and I hate the flowers.”

“English Rose,” The Jam

Timing was never in any band’s favor more than it was on The Jam’s when their third album, “All Mod Cons”, was released. The previous, “The Modern World” had been met with little more than a collective shrug. The music press were trumpeting new and exciting bands every week. The trio ran the risk of being lost in the shadows. Then the “Quadrophenia” movie inflamed the imagination of British teens soured on punk. The massed ranks of kids in parkas and pork pie hats had a look and a lifestyle but they didn’t have a soundtrack. So they adopted The Jam. And they adopted the band at the perfect time. Paul Weller went all-out to show what he could do on this record, even dropping the gritted-teeth delivery to sing this delicate acoustic love song.

“Carnation,” The Jam

Yes, a second song about a flower from The Jam. This one has a more typical Weller lyric: “If you gave me a fresh carnation, I would only crush it’s tender petals.”

“I Touch Roses,” Book Of Love

Another Mad World: The Book no-show. Which is a shame. I would have liked to know a lot more about this three-girl one-guy goth-pop outfit. Next time!

“The Flood,” Blue Orchids

When part of your adolescence was spent with fingers poised on a tape recorder waiting to tape songs from John Peel’s show, little nuggets of obscurity like this wind up dotted in the depths of your subconscious. Even without resorting to Wiki-research, I recall the Blue Orchids came from Manchester and were made up of various disgruntled members of The Fall. I remember owning this record but I can’t believe I ever played it.

“After Dark,” Flowers

From Edinburgh, on Fast Product, the label that released the debut records by The Human League and Gang Of Four. This song is like a case study in dysfunction from Masters of Sex set to music.

“Young At Heart,” The Bluebells

Yet another Scottish song with a floral connection. Yet the streets of my home own are smeared with dogshit and simmering cigarette butts. Ah, the irony. The Bluebells were lucky enough to be plying their trade in 1984, a year in which a Glasgow accent and a guitar were considered sufficient qualifications for a record deal. This line-dancing reboot of a song originally recorded in fake Motown fashion by Bananarama performed decently on it’s initial release Ten years later, long after the band had split, the song was used in a commercial and shot straight to number one. Not only were The Bluebells’ fortunes briefly revived, the session musician responsible for playing the fiddle that dominates the song, stumbled out of obscurity to sue the band for half the publishing. Which he received. And if this mixtape wasn’t already dominated by my Scottish homeland that is soon to decide on it’s independence, there’s a cameo at the start of this video from Clare Grogan of Altered Images, known to readers of Mad World:The Book as Gary Kemp’s “True” muse.

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Mixtape: A.K.A. Stage Names, Pseudonyms and Alter Egos 0

Charli XCX. Ty Dolla $ign. Zedd. Bobby Shmurda. We certainly don’t lack for creative stage names these days. Just creativity. Unlike the eighties, when we had artists whose music was as fascinating as their alter egos.

“Goody Two Shoes,” Adam Ant

What a malleable stage-name-for-all-seasons the young Stuart Goddard chose for himself. Adam Ant seemed all creepy and netherworldy when he was an underground icon, then when he was a mainstream favorite, it was exciting and alliterative. I wonder if Marvel will use this song on the soundtrack on the Ant-Man movie.

“Electric Co,” U2

It is easier for a camel to crawl through the eye of a needle than it is for me to find a U2 song I can halfway tolerate. However, we are here to celebrate the wise choice made by Paul Hewson when he renamed himself Bon O’Vox. And then O’Vo. And finally, Bono. Yes, he made himself a target for people like Bernard Sumner to refer to him as Bongo and for me to call him Bonio, after a once-popular brand of dog food, but its is also a name that crosses national boundaries.

“Miss Me Blind,” Culture Club

The roads of the record industry are built on the broken bones of unmemorable artists. George O’Dowd was not one of those. His look, his voice, his songs all stood out and so did his choice of moniker. Smartly anticipating the reaction of the nation’s parents who would be forced by their offspring sit through Top Of The Pops, his name was an answer to the UK’s– and soon the world’s– outraged mums and dads demanding of their TV screen, “Is that a boy or a girl?”

“Calling Your Name,” Marilyn

And after the world’s mums and dads were miraculously unaffected by their exposure to Boy George, there was a brief record company gold rush for another gender-ambiguous popstar. The resulted: long time George frenemy Peter Robinson aka Marilyn– a notorious figure –who, if the BBC biopic ‘Worried About The Boy’ is to be be believed, turned aan entire city of straight men gay– wound up in the UK Top 5 with this slice of fake Motown which predates the auto-tune era but comes smack-dab in the middle of the time when producers swamped thin voices with masses of backing vocals.

“Never Ending Story,” Limahl

If there’s been one sour note struck during the whole, generally positive Mad World:The Book experience, it’s...me! Some readers have taken issue with my sullen attitude and lack of blanket approval regarding every single act we covered over 36 chapters. To which I say, fair enough. You can’t please everyone. However. If I have one regret about my cynical nature, it’s perhaps over my commentary about the Limahl chapter in which I made a flip remark about shitting on his band. Now, I’m not a Kajagoogoo fan and I never presented myself as one, but Limahl gave me one of the best and most unexpected interviews in the book, which is why the chapter is so insanely long. I didn’t have to build a statue to his greatness but I also didn’t need to direct quite so much snark in his direction. So, I will take this opportunity to apologize to the former Chris Hamill and applaud this song which, I imagine he will agree, is the finest melody he ever sung.

“Imagination,” Belouis Some

I would like to see the list of names Neville Keighley rejected before deciding Belouis Some was the pseudonym that was going to rocket him to international stardom. I have to think that his choice is one of the main reasons “Imagination,” which was a hot record then and remains a hot record now, never took off. Bonus points to anyone who can make it all the way through this extended, uncensored, ridiculous video.

“Just An Illusion,” Imagination

See what I did there? Imagination’s lead singer John Leslie McGregor made what might have seemed an even more ruinous choice than Neville Keighley when selecting his stage name. He went with Leee John, the extra E completing the acronym, “Extra Erotic Energy”. Despite this, Imagination were a huuuuge influence on the British pop scene of the early eighties. In MW:TB, Gary Kemp talks of hearing them and seeking out their producers, Jolley & Swain, for the True album. Alison Moyet and Bananarama also used Jolley & Swain’s services. Imagination don’t benefit a whole lot from eighties nostalgia but they were the one of the premier UK r&b acts that wasn’t attempting to xerox what they bought from the US import bins, and for that they deserve that extra e in their singer’s name.

“One Better Day,” Madness

Graham McPherson probably didn’t think he was going to be lead singer of Madness for life when he called himself Suggs but it seems like it’s going to work out that way. The name is evocative of a kind of minor Dickensian villain which is appropriate seeing as the band have come to embody a timeless London seediness.

“When You Were Mine,” Bette Bright & The Illuminations

We couldn’t feature Suggs and not shout out his wife, could we? Bette Bright, born Anne Martin, was one of the focal points of Liverpool’s Deaf School, a highly-touted art-pop band who were utterly annihilated by the rise of punk. Regrouping as Bette Bright & The Illuminations, she banged out a series of cover songs, all of which were awesome and none of which came close to being hits. This is her version of Prince’s “When You Were Mine” which–and I might be wrong here– predates the Cyndi Lauper cover.

“Ashes and Diamonds,” Zaine Griff

Known to his parents as Glenn Mikkelson, this Bowie imitator obviously had a bunch of people convinced of his star potential because he kept pumping out records. He came closes to a hit with this one, produced by Bowie’s frequent right-hand man, Tony Visconti.

“Can’t Stop Running,” Space Monkey

Okay, Paul Goodchild, the awesome news is, the guy who discovered and signed both Wham! and ABC thinks you’ve got what it takes to go the distance. the less awesome news: he thinks you should rename yourself Space Monkey. (It probably didn’t go down like that at all. It probably happened more like Dirk Diggler coming up with his porn name in Boogie Nights.)

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