Catch up with me talking about the exuberant pop scene of 1984
on the latest TV documentary analysing the hits of that year as aired on Top of the Pops, the BBC’s flagship weekly music show
I remember vividly reading George Orwell’s dystopian classic 1984 as a teenager at school, not under duress as part of English literature but because I had a fascination for sci fiction and future worlds.
To me the book is a masterpiece and has received a recent surge of interest when it reached the number one spot on the online retailer Amazon best-sellers list in January. This was due to Donald Trump’s press star discussing “alternative facts” and the curious new world of American politics. I had daydreamed what the world would be like both in 2001 which seemed light years away and the closer 1984. The world was changing fast and my path had taken me from London, the suburbs, the countryside and back to the city again.
The year of 1984 had found me fronting the MK II version of Animal Nightlife, slimmed-down to a six-piece. We had released three singles. Love is Just The Great Pretender, Mighty Hands of Love and Native Boy. That year we released our fourth, the uptempo Mr Solitaire on Island Records which gave us our debut on the BBC’s legendary Top of The Pops, its weekly review of the UK charts. This was a teenage fantasy realised, although I will admit it was daydream. I never really thought it was possible while living in Essex and enjoying the show through my early teens. I had more mundane things to think about like racism, dealing with a care order and trying to concentrate at school.
Top of the Pops, along with the chart rundown on a Sunday, actually forged musical tastes and purchases especially in the decade of T.Rex, The Sweet, Cockney Rebel, Sparks and Roxy Music all becoming bands whose singles I would devour. Their alternative brand of male glamour swanned across a rather clunky (by today’s standards) television set and into my teenage consciousness. Everything was about escaping.
By 1984, thanks to our fans, live shows and the support of our radio cheerleaders Tony Blackburn (Radio London) and Gary Crowley (Capital), Mr Solitaire had slowly clambered into the top 40.
On 27/9/1984 the Top of the Pops line up was:
UB40 – If It Happens Again PA
Shakin Stevens – A Letter To You, promo
Sade – Smooth Operator PA
U2 – In the Name of Love, promo
Animal Nightlife – Mr Solitaire PA
Stephanie Mills – The Medicine Song, promo
Big Country – East of Eden
Prince – Purple Rain, promo
Stevie Wonder – I Just Called To Say I Love You
So not much competition really. Interesting that all four British bands performing were multi-racial line-ups. We were friends with Sade who went stratospheric and her guitarist-saxophonist Stuart Matthewman should be on the documentary tonight along with Chris Sullivan from Blue Rondo. And while this year represented a healthy musical mish-mash, tonight’s documentary lineup is virtually a definitive showcase of all the key new British bands of the early 1980s who were invading the US and world charts – Frankie Goes to Hollywood, Duran Duran, Culture Club, Spandau Ballet, Bananarama, Bronski Beat, Howard Jones, Scritti Politti, Matt Bianco, Depeche Mode, OMD, The Special AKA, Nik Kershaw, Wham! and the Band Aid Christmas Number One which for years held the record as the biggest-selling UK single ever.
We in Animal Nightlife may not have been part of that armada, just one of the myriad new artists who made a smaller splash which, like all music, continues to ripple out from its earliest impact.
The Story of 1984: 9pm, Friday 2 June 2017 on BBC4 (repeated at 00:30) – and then for a month on the iPlayer: “1984 sees Top of the Pops at the height of its 80s pomp – the year of big hair and big tunes.”
Followed at 10pm, 2 June 2017 by Top of the Pops: 1984 Big Hits (repeated at 01:30) – and then for a month on the iPlayer: includes stylish performances by The Smiths, Bananarama, Sade, Alison Moyet, Echo and the Bunnymen, Wham! and George Michael solo.