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ONE MAN’S ADVENTURES IN DISPLAY

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1980s

1984, George Orwell and the BBC Top of the Pops

BBC4, Top of the Pops, 1980s, Animal Nightlife, jazz, soul, pop music, Andy Polaris,
June 2017: Me, Andy P as talking head on the Top of the Pops Story of 1984 (Pic: BBC)

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

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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.

George Orwell, 1984, books literature, 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, 1980s, Animal Nightlife, jazz, soul, pop music, Andy Polaris,
September 1984: Animal Nightlife’s Top of the Pops debut with Mr Solitaire (Pic: BBC)

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.

Heres a nice audio remix of our song:

Previously at A Polaris View, all about Animal Nightlife’s album Shangri-la

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David Bowie: First anniversary of his death and my teenage love is undimmed

glam rock, David Bowie, ambiguous, man-dress, Marlene Dietrich,sexuality, kHunky Dory,
Bowie in his Hunky Dory phase, 1971: long hair à la Marlene Dietrich as he emphasised sexual ambiguity

We have now reached the first anniversary of the unexpected and shocking death of David Bowie and can expect solemn tributes from worldwide fans who still feel heartbroken. He has gone like we imagined him to join the immortals, thanks to his constant role in our lives, if not the world stage in recent years.

Andy Polaris, Bowie Night, Billy's Club, Soho
1978: “Within weeks, the Billy’s magic transformed me into an alternative me.” Andy Polaris photographed here with Sue by Derek Ridgers

The surprise announcement of a new Bowie album The Next Day on his birthday in 2013 astonished fans who thought that he had gone into retirement after an earlier reported heart attack. This album in fact proved a stunning return to form with the singles the poignant Where Are We Now? and the flashy The Stars Are Out Tonight, each with very contrasting videos pushing him back in the limelight to critical acclaim. Blackstar in 2016 was even more perplexing but offered some of the joy of deciphering both imagery, sound and lyrics like fans had done when pivotal soundscape albums such as Low and “Heroes” were originally released. This apparent renaissance  was particularly pleasing to long-standing fans, some of whom like myself had followed him since a teenager.

Living in Seventies suburbia as an ethnic sexually confused teenager, there were few role models you could look up to, who you felt understood your alienation. Being confined to a children’s home from an early age added to that feeling of isolation.

Click on pix to enlarge them:

T. Rex’s Telegram Sam and David Bowie’s Starman came out the same year, blazing a trail on Top of The Pops, while Roxy Music also released their first album that year. Much has been written about Bowie’s Starman performance in 1972. I had begun a fascination with his image a little earlier after the Melody Maker interview, thanks to an older teenager who also had the album, Hunky Dory.

I began to spend the little pocket money I had on buying all the magazines and music papers that featured him, especially on the cover. Fab 208, PopSwop, Music Star, Music Scene and Jackie thankfully were relatively cheap and I began my scrapbook collection. Ziggy Stardust with his bold make-up and glamorous wardrobe (courtesy of Freddie Burretti and Kansai Yamamoto) was unlike anything seen before and blurred the line between sexes. This beautiful creature offered a world of possibilities to this youth already bored with football and the teenybop fandom that dominated our era. Clothes, style, identity – normal teenage rites of passage – all took on a greater importance over the next few years but now helped define a more alternative journey.

Seeking out Bowie’s references in lyrics opened a new door to imagination. His creative output  eased my inner void of loneliness and probably kick-started my interest in science-fiction. Humdrum suburbia was replaced by the magical worlds of Alfred Bester, Philip K Dick, George Orwell and Robert Heinlein to a soundtrack of Ziggy Stardust, Aladdin Sane and Diamond Dogs.

Bowie and a new look for 1976 when he became the Man Who Fell to Earth, here in a Haywain shirt. Photographed by Steve Schapiro and published on the cover of the Sunday Times Magazine

Scissors, Pritt Stick or Gloy Gum and a large desk were my 1970s iPad, and all that was needed, as I lovingly read and then pasted articles onto A4 note paper into a hard grey binder. This became a ritual that continued for my teenage life. I never liked to create collages because I hated cutting up articles too much and words were equally important. What Bowie was saying or what people were saying about him seemed as important as the visuals. That shape-shifting style (musically and visually) meant I never got bored and felt that I evolved along with him, my anticipation becoming almost tangible with news of a new release or a TV appearance.

His video clips were dazzling on ToTP for Life on Mars? and the Jean Genie, while for appearances on Russell Harty he sported Burretti’s creations plus diamante chandelier earrings! Two pivotal programmes were the 1975 BBC documentary Cracked Actor – the Radio Times did an interview showing pictures of him creating face masks. The second was a satellite linkup interview with a sleek, slicked-back, flame-haired Bowie showing him wearing a demob suit, performing the disco-rock of Golden Years on Soul Train in the States.

The following year after much subterfuge and negotiating I managed to see my hero live as part of his Station To Station tour 1976. Looking around outside Wembley Arena that warm summer evening and seeing kindred spirits and other freaks, I realized I was no longer alone.

Within a few years Bowie’s children found a home at the short-lived Billy’s club in Soho, his fan base galvanized by his art to inspire their own creative dreams. We were inventing nightclubbing to our own musical tastes and no middle-aged doorman was going to turn us away for being inappropriately dressed. This coterie of hard-core fans moved onto the Blitz Club in 1979 where the underground eventually emerged into the glare of the mainstream. A catherine wheel of future stars in fashion and music began spinning furiously, all inspired directly by David Bowie.

His influence then and now and in the future remains the one constant in my life.

Visit my review of the movie about Freddie Burretti,
Starman: The Man Who Sewed The World

LANDMARK VIDEOS… LIFE ON MARS? 1973

JEAN GENIE – LOST TOTP FOOTAGE FROM 1973

CRACKED ACTOR – BBC OMNIBUS 1975

GOLDEN YEARS ON SOUL TRAIN 1975

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