LEAVING LAS VEGAS

This might be the second post in a row to begin with a reference to Princess Diana, though that’s neither intentional nor some sort of preparation for a gushing post come the last day of August. For this particular post, I exhume our Queen of Hearts once again solely in relation to the media tsunami that accompanied the aftermath of her death; for one specific generation, this was the first moment when the demise of a ubiquitous household name was afforded such blanket coverage. For me, that first moment came precisely twenty years earlier with the death of Elvis Presley – forty years ago today.

As it was the middle of the school summer holidays, I got up in August 1977 when I felt like it rather than being dragged out of bed as I would be during term-time. Therefore, I was denied the playground reaction the day I heard, but I was informed about what had happened by my mum the moment I appeared for breakfast; she’d been watching ‘News at Ten’ the night before and they’d announced it on there. Up until Elvis died, I can only recall a small handful of famous people whose deaths I was made aware of at the time they happened. There was Roger Delgado, the actor who’d played The Master opposite Jon Pertwee’s Doctor Who; there was racing driver Graham Hill; there was Chairman Mao; and there was ‘Record Breakers’ star Ross McWhirter. But none of those demises prepared me for the event of Elvis’s death.

Elvis mattered to people and meant something more to a greater number of them than any of the aforementioned names other than Mao. A mate of my dad’s wore all-black for a full week after Elvis died – an unusual gesture to make in the sartorially colourful 70s; a friend of mine once told me he remembered his father strolling out into the garden when he heard the news and standing in tearful silence out there on his own for a good ten minutes. At that age, I’d never witnessed the passing of a person nobody I knew had ever met having that kind of impact. But even in a pre-internet and 24/7 TV news age, it was impossible to avoid the worldwide outpouring of emotion that Elvis’s death provoked.

John Lennon’s oft-quoted opinion when a reporter shoved a microphone in his face that day in 1977 was ‘Elvis died when he joined the army’. This off-the-cuff statement may have had a grain of truth to it re the ‘pure’ undiluted Elvis as a relevant musical force, but Presley’s military sojourn in Germany had introduced him to the profoundly unhealthy diet that eventually killed him, so Lennon wasn’t far off the mark. At the same time, Elvis’s charisma and popularity seemed undimmed by his slow slide towards a premature end; his most devoted fans almost regarded him as immortal, which was why his death shook them so much. The King of Rock ‘n’ Roll continued to exert a powerful influence over the generation who’d been around when he’d dropped like a pop atom bomb into the static music scene of twenty years earlier.

I had grown-up with fat Vegas Elvis in his white, rhinestone-studded jumpsuit, and though it sounds sacrilege now, when I’d been roundabout five I used to get him mixed up with Gary Glitter! However, I gradually became aware Elvis had once been young, slim and sexy via the odd old movie of his on TV; and it’s strange to think now that the Elvis of my childhood was only in his late 30s/early 40s. He seemed so much older. After almost a decade squandered on the diminishing returns of Hollywood, Elvis had re-emerged as a live act at the end of the 60s and began making decent records again; it was a respectable renaissance, yet his self-destructive personality and isolation from anyone bar his yes-men mafia soon saw the Elvis roadshow become as damaging to his reputation as the movie conveyor belt had been.

Subsequently seeing his physical and mental deterioration via concert footage from the months leading up to his death, one comes away feeling both disgust that such a beautiful-looking human being could let himself degenerate into such rack and ruin at so young an age and sadness at the waste of talent. It’s as tragic to see the obscenely bloated Elvis drenched in sweat and mumbling his way through his set-list as it is to see the audience still whooping and cheering despite the blatant evidence before them that Elvis is virtually dead already. But by the mid-70s, Elvis had become little more than a barely animated tourist attraction. Not that this was initially reflected in the reaction to his death; the gruesome details seeped out in the years afterwards. In August 1977, even the NME – then the bible for the Punk scene that was at its height – put the young Elvis on its front cover and declared ‘Remember Him This Way’.

When I watched television images of the huge number of fans besieging the Graceland mansion in 1977, their collective mass reminded me of crowds en route to the Cup Final or hysterical girls chasing The Bay City Rollers; but the novel aspect of these images was that the fans – none of whom were children – were all crying. You didn’t see adults cry in public very often when I was a kid. The coverage of the reaction to Elvis’s death wasn’t just limited to the day after either; it seemed to go on all week. By the time ‘Top of the Pops’ came round again, his current single, ‘Way Down’, had zoomed up to No.1; even the Christmas schedules four months later bowed to the demand, and one of Elvis’s movies – of which there are perhaps three or four actually worth watching – was screened every morning on BBC1 over the holidays.

We’re used to all this now; but it was new to me then. Three years later, the same response greeted John Lennon’s death, though the nature of Lennon’s passing was far more shocking. Whenever a major pop culture figure dies today – and we’ve had quite a few in recent years – we tend to view it through the post-Diana prism, something enhanced and intensified by social media. But Elvis got there before her.

© The Editor

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FAMILY ENTERTAINMENT

As with the two Peters, Hitchens and Oborne, Paul Joseph Watson is not a media figure whose every pronouncement provokes a nod of the head, yet as with those aforementioned grumpy grandees of Fleet Street, he often nails the ludicrousness of the world we live in simply by daring to challenge it. An unapologetic ambassador of the so-called ‘Alt Right’, Watson is the face of the UK branch of ‘Info Wars’, the US conspiracy theorist site fronted by the ranting human foghorn Alex Jones. Watson doesn’t adopt the breathless bluster of his American sponsor; adopting that approach for a British audience would reduce him to the level of Jeremy Clarkson. Instead, he sometimes comes across as Owen Jones through the looking-glass, the flipside mirror image of the pocket Northern Socialist.

Watson has posted a series of regular videos on YouTube over the past couple of years, both highlighting and ridiculing the increasingly fatuous fanaticism of the extreme left’s PC storm-troopers, especially on the other side of the Atlantic; as a result, he’s made as many enemies as fans, and while one may not always concur with his conclusions, there’s no doubt he’s highlighted a lot of things that needed highlighting. Until now, that is.

Watson has temporarily drawn the blinds on his YouTube window due to the fact that he can no longer make a living from it thanks to a new Star Chamber of YouTube judges, installed by parent company Google to police the medium and crack down on any questioning of the consensus. Many may be unaware that ‘monetising’ one’s uploads to YT can bring in a little revenue depending on the number of views the videos receive; Watson’s videos received astronomical views and no doubt brought in a nice little profit on a monthly basis. However, the crackdown on anyone saying anything that could be perceived as ‘offensive’ means all of Watson’s videos have now been deemed ‘not advertiser-friendly’, thus meaning he can’t make a penny from them anymore.

I’ve written on more than one occasion in the past of the transformation of YouTube in recent years. What was initially an invaluable platform for, amongst others, lovers of archive footage unavailable on DVD and rarely screened on TV – often uploaded from decrepit off-air VHS recordings or sourced from actual television vaults by insiders – has slowly seen passionate promoters of the rare and obscure edged to one side by The Man and his corporate bullyboys. Copyright laws have been tightened to the point whereby every piece of film not actually shot on one’s own camera is subjected to a ‘third party infringement’ order, regardless of how minimal its use may be. I once had a video stamped with copyright claims simply because I used the BBC4 ident for a handful of seconds as the intro to it.

This OTT enforcement of copyright has made navigating such rules something of an art-form for veteran uploaders, but perhaps responding to criticisms of alleged lax attitudes to ‘hate’ videos, YouTube has now embarked upon a censorious crusade in which any video that doesn’t promote the Coca-Cola ideal of a harmonious multicultural/LGBT/Islam-with-a-smiley-face society is penalised; anyone who takes the piss out of or merely questions this bland make-believe Utopia is denied an income as a consequence. People regularly air their grievances with the BBC as pandering to a left-leaning notion of ‘Right-On’ politics – often justified, viz. the hardly unbiased four-person panel of prominent Muslims discussing the latest Pakistani grooming network on ‘Newsnight’ this week; but YouTube has suddenly usurped Auntie Beeb as an intolerant home for one view and one view only.

Infuriatingly vacuous American airheads who call themselves ‘vloggers’ – usually squeaky-voiced teenage Disney Princess types who exude the air of hyperactive six-year-olds albeit bereft of infantile charm – make millions from their vapid videos that appeal to a generation whose heads have already been ground to slurry by being force-fed media sedatives; and these are the future of YouTube, not anybody with anything to say. My own personal speciality area tends to be satire, but satire is now as welcome on YouTube as a copy of Charlie Hebdo would be in a Parisian mosque.

A couple of days ago, the new YouTube constabulary provided me with a long list of my videos their panel has decided I can no longer make any money from. To be honest, I don’t make much, anyway – around £120 a year; I have a loyal following who will view my output whatever I upload and I also pick up casual viewers en route, but I’m a cult presence and probably always will be. I accept that some of my output is coarse in the Derek & Clive tradition, but YT already had an age-restriction system in place where rude words were concerned, so anybody stumbling upon them knew what to expect beforehand.

None of the previous rules in place to protect a ‘family audience’ were apparently sufficient, however, for the strict new boundaries have narrowed the range of opinions on offer even further. Many of my own videos parody the politically-incorrect 1970s and therefore need to be viewed with that in mind, yet the humourless martinets Google has recruited to clean-up YouTube’s lingering vestiges of its original freewheeling spirit can’t even tolerate that. One particular video of mine was a spoof 70s BBC trailer previewing a night of programmes marking ‘National Smoking Day’; it’s so obviously a piss-take, yet it’s been labelled ‘not advertiser friendly’. Despite infringing no copyright, I can’t earn anything from it anymore.

I attach another innocuous video in this style to the post and ask you to watch it in order that you can decide whether or not it’s remotely ‘offensive’. The video in question being ‘banned’ as a source of income was something I challenged; when I did so, I was informed the team won’t review the status of a video subjected to this treatment unless it receives over a thousand views in 28 days; some of my videos can take months to reach that amount of views, so I haven’t got a cat in hell’s chance of reversing the judgement. It’s a rip-off and it’s an outrage. But it’s 2017. Sign up to the consensus or be cast out into the online free-speech wilderness.

 

© The Editor

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THE LINEMAN FOR THE COUNTY

I may be a day or two late, but as I’d rather not write about the coming attraction of World War III (life’s too short – literally), I decided it’s never too late to pay tribute to the great Glen Campbell. His death at the age of 81 was attributed to the crippling effects of Alzheimer’s, which forced his retirement from performance and recording five years ago; but the passing of this unsung link between the once vehemently opposed worlds of Country and Rock brings to end a career that helped bridge a divide that had widened when Rock ‘n’ Roll took what it needed from C&W in the mid-50s.

A hybrid of many contemporaneous styles (as all the best musical genres usually are), Rock ‘n’ Roll possessed an outlaw element stolen from the Blues that Country, in its slow journey from hillbilly folk music to Grand Ole Opry conservatism, responded to with a reactionary redneck rage. From being the soundtrack of the poor white rural population, Country had become an audio comfort blanket for its audience, weighed down by sentimental schmaltz and insular wallowing in its own suffering. Rock ‘n’ Roll was younger, sexier and essentially black. Johnny Cash may have kept its original intent alive into the 1960s, but the British Invasion that sold American coal to a record-buying public oblivious of its own heritage made Country seem to be emblematic of the old world order.

Glen Campbell may have emanated from that old world order, but he was young enough to have been affected by changes to the musical landscape from the mid-50s onwards, and his skill on the fret-board carried him from Arkansas poverty to the profitable LA session scene of the 60s. He was a vital member of the so-called ‘Wrecking Crew’, the talented collective of musicians who provided the backing on virtually every great US pop hit outside of Motown, including the best of Phil Spector; Campbell played on records by everyone from Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley to Simon and Garfunkel, The Monkees, The Righteous Brothers. The Mamas & the Papas, Sonny & Cher and numerous others. One of the acts reliant on the Wrecking Crew’s ability to get the job done in the allocated studio time was The Beach Boys, and when Brian Wilson’s musical horizons began to widen beyond churning out surfing dirges on the grinding touring circuit, the resident Beach Boys’ genius stayed at home to write while Campbell filled in for him on the road.

Whilst making a decent living as a session musician, Campbell was simultaneously releasing his own records without much in the way of success. It wasn’t until Campbell started to mine the riches from the pen of songwriter and producer Jimmy Webb that he stumbled upon the kind of musical partnership that could yield the success he’d so far struggled to find as a solo artist. Despite his exposure to a different world in LA, Campbell still held onto his conservative outlook, declaring draft-card burners during the early years of the Vietnam War should be hanged, and greeting Jimmy Webb upon their first meeting with a curt ‘Get a hair-cut’. He also starred in an acting role alongside ultra-conservative Republican flag-waver John Wayne in 1969’s ‘True Grit’. However, as Country and Rock remained at loggerheads, Campbell found a middle ground in the Middle of the Road and helped pave the way for reconciliation.

Only when Bob Dylan returned from his two-year exile with ‘John Wesley Harding’, embracing a Country style that then surfaced in key works by The Byrds and The Band, did Country slowly make its peace with Rock ‘n’ Roll; solo artists such as Kris Kristofferson, Emmylou Harris, Neil Young and Gram Parsons, along with bands such as The Allman Brothers, America and The Eagles were able to have a foot in both camps as the 70s dawned, but it was Glen Campbell who pioneered the tricky route from Country to Rock and back again. His seminal collaborations with Jimmy Webb, peaking with the glorious ‘Wichita Lineman’, saw Campbell established as a star – in 1967 he scooped Grammys in both the Country and Pop categories – and he was rewarded with his own TV series, which included guests from Rock as well as Country. He also recorded a string of successful duets with another artist who managed to appeal to a wider audience than Country could traditionally call upon, the wondrous Bobbie Gentry.

By the mid-70s, Campbell was as regular a presence in the upper echelons of the US Hot 100 as he was in the specialist Country charts, hitting the top spot with ‘Rhinestone Cowboy’ in 1975 and again with ‘Southern Nights’ a couple of years later. Unfortunately, the trappings of mainstream success that had claimed many a rock star began to leave a mark on him, resulting in a serious cocaine habit, alcoholism, and a disastrous relationship with another Country act 22 years his junior, Tanya Tucker.

His faith appeared to come to his rescue in the 21st century and, like Johnny Cash before him, Campbell found that covering songs by contemporary acts brought his work to a new audience; his 2005 album ‘Meet Glen Campbell’ included numbers written by Green Day, Foo Fighters and U2. When he went public over his Alzheimer’s diagnosis in 2012, he embarked upon a farewell tour and recorded his final album, which was eventually released just a couple of months ago. The critics belatedly acknowledged the pivotal part he’d played in reuniting two musical genres with a shared lineage, and as his condition continued to deteriorate it was only a matter of time before he inevitably checked-out for good. That moment came two days ago. The last song he recorded was titled ‘I’m Not Gonna Miss You’, but plenty people are gonna miss him.

© The Editor

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OVER THE RAINBOW

Amidst the celebratory coverage of the 1967 Sexual Offences Act’s fiftieth anniversary, it is certainly worth being reminded precisely how limiting the freedoms contained within the ‘consenting adults in private’ law actually were, and how these limitations made it easily open to abuse by the powers-that-be. After the Act was passed, it’s surprising to realise that more gay men were prosecuted than before it. Perhaps the understandable precautions that had been crucial prior to 1967 were perceived to be unnecessary once decriminalisation came into force; the illusion of legality blinded many to the numerous areas in which homosexuality remained criminal; it also forced the police and politicians to focus on those areas with renewed crusading vigour in the years thereafter.

A timely reminder of this uncomfortable truth came via Peter Tatchell’s excellent and eye (or ear)-opening Radio 4 documentary, ‘The Myth of Homosexual Decriminalisation’, broadcast on Saturday evening; it documented how 1967 was not so much an end as a beginning, the start of the long road to abolishing discrimination, altering attitudes and achieving an equal age of consent with heterosexuals – none of which were dealt with in the imperfect Act that came into being half-a-century ago.

Scotland, Northern Ireland, the armed forces and the merchant navy – all exempt from decriminalisation in 1967; much anti-homosexual legislation remained on the statue book for decades after 1967 and queer-bashing was a legitimate police pastime well into the 1980s. For out and proud young men today, barely old enough to even remember the last century, all of this must seem insane. The prejudices openly unleashed upon gay men and largely unchallenged by the majority of society combined with the AIDS hysteria (AKA ‘The Gay Plague’) and Clause 28 to create a climate of moral panic that would unthinkable to anyone under, say, 30 in 2017. Perhaps the inability to comprehend how we used to live has played its part in a lack of perspective where those too young to remember are concerned.

The sins of their forefathers for allowing this state of affairs to linger for so long without challenge has undoubtedly fuelled a militant bullishness amongst the young; this reaction demands the law and society in general adopt the consensus they’ve developed to serve as a severe redress to the past. It comes partly from retrospective guilt and is not unlike America’s similar response to historical racism via the slave trade and segregation. At its most extreme, the new consensus is imposed with the same level of illogical fanaticism once employed by those who upheld and endorsed the previous prejudices this consensus reacts against, portraying anyone who is white as inherently racist and anyone who is heterosexual as inherently homophobic.

But the ironic outcome can often seem like less of a striving for genuine equality between the different sexual demographics – which is surely what should be aimed for – and more of a determined campaign to ensure the poacher is elevated to gamekeeper and vice-versa. The new consensus cannot alter the past, but the slightest sign of any attitude bearing a passing resemblance to the past – however mild in comparison – dumps the wrongs of the past on the doorstep of the present. The ‘gay cake’ saga in Northern Ireland a couple of years ago seemed indicative of this mindset; a refusal to countenance that there are many out there for whom homosexuality remains a difficult concept has created a climate of intolerance that excludes debate. If you don’t embrace this consensus, you are a homophobic bigot – end of. ‘Inclusivity’ does not include those who deviate from the script.

The clamour to be seen as endorsing the consensus by political parties and other establishment organisations that maybe weren’t viewed as so gay-friendly in the past resulted in the virtue signalling of the National Trust edict stating volunteers dealing with the public at Norfolk’s Felbrigg Hall (whose last resident, Robert Wyndham Ketton-Cremer was recently posthumously ‘outed’) must wear rainbow gay pride badges. Those who weren’t comfortable with wearing them were to be relegated to the backrooms of the property. The case was taken up by certain Fleet Street tabloids and predictably labelled a right-wing cause célèbre by the likes of the Grauniad; but the sudden reversal of the edict so that wearing the badges is now optional rather than compulsory seems a more sensible compromise that recognises inclusivity should mean what it says.

Many of the archive recordings of attitudes towards homosexuality excavated for Peter Tatchell’s Radio 4 retrospective were as gobsmacking to hear as similar excerpts of unashamedly racist language from the same era; but whilst these attitudes survive on a smaller scale in private, the cheerleaders for our liberated society still turn a blind eye to one publically vocal section of it. Some of the vilest and most bigoted opinions on homosexuality expressed today emanate from Islam, yet the ultra-liberal left gives Islam the kind of leeway it won’t tolerate in any other faith, let alone secular discourse. Why? Perhaps it’s due to the fact that Muslims have been designated the left’s persecuted pets; they are above and beyond the kind of criticism others are fair game for.

Of course, not every Muslim is virulently anti-gay any more than every Christian or every person without any religion whatsoever; I think most people aren’t really that bothered, to be honest. It’s just a shame the person who retains a problem with the notion of homosexuality – usually down to simple ignorance and lack of education – is lumped in with the genuinely homophobic in a rainbow that has no shades of grey.

© The Editor

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VIVA JEANNE!

The story goes that the American entertainment industry ruled the roost and dictated popular culture until The Beatles appeared on ‘The Ed Sullivan Show’ in 1964 and then attention switched to the other side of the Atlantic. There’s a degree of truth in that, but until the Fab Four delved into Victoriana and the rich tapestry of British folk and chamber music, their look and sound was a perfect synthesis of America and Europe; Hamburg made them a band, but Paris gave them a haircut and a continental style unique to the UK. The trio of German art students (including photographer Astrid Kirchherr) who befriended The Beatles in Hamburg were war-babies whose disgust with the actions of their parents’ generation led them to look to Paris for inspiration. And Paris was the place to be at the turn of the 60s.

In the late 50s, a group of critics at the French movie magazine, ‘Cahiers du Cinéma’ – including the likes of François Truffaut, Jean-Luc Godard, Jacques Rivette and Claude Chabrol – decided they could make better films than the directors whose work they were reviewing, and once they began doing so they inadvertently created one of the most influential movements in movie history, the Nouvelle Vague. With its stark monochrome cinematography, untested actors, location shooting and documentary-style realism, the Nouvelle Vague (or ‘The New Wave’, as it was known in English), was a dramatic contrast to the majority of Hollywood’s output and inspired the up-and-coming crop of US directors who would shake Tinsel Town at the end of the 60s. It also helped kick-start Britain’s own ‘kitchen sink’ school of cinema.

Along with unknowns such as Jean-Paul Belmondo, Anna Karina and Jean-Pierre Léaud – whose careers were established via their roles in classics like ‘A Bout de Souffle’, ‘Une Femme est Une Femme’, and the peerless ‘Les Quatre Cents Coups’ – emerged an actress whose impact owed a great deal to the Nouvelle Vague, yet transcended it so that she isn’t solely associated with that particular movement and has simply become recognised as one of the premier cinematic stars of her generation. I’m talking about, of course, the great – and now, sadly, late – Jeanne Moreau.

Words such as ‘legendary’ and ‘iconic’ are bandied about so freely these days that they have achieved the same level of meaninglessness as the tiresomely ubiquitous ‘awesome’; but Jeanne Moreau, who has died at the age of 89, was genuinely legendary and iconic. Her status as such largely stemmed from her role in Truffaut’s 1962 movie, ‘Jules et Jim’. The character she played in it, Catherine, is a free spirit who forms one-third of a love triangle around the outbreak of the First World War; although the film is set half-a-century earlier than when it was made, Catherine embodies the attitude associated with the youth poised to take centre stage in the 60s. It made Moreau an overnight international star.

Predating ‘Jules et Jim’ by three years, however, Moreau had given a remarkably moving and subtle performance in Louis Malle’s ‘Les Amants’, which remains perhaps the most exquisitely romantic movie I’ve ever seen; and it isn’t remotely soppy, just real – the hallmark of French cinema’s golden age. But the worldwide success of ‘Jules et Jim’ opened doors for Moreau that led her to working with the renowned likes of Orson Welles, Michelangelo Antonioni, Luis Buñuel, Elia Kazan, and Britain’s own Tony Richardson, who became so infatuated with Moreau during the two movies he made with her that he left his wife Vanessa Redgrave for her.

Jeanne Moreau didn’t abandon the cinema of her home country whilst building a career outside of France, however; she may have shared a screen with France’s other international cinematic icon Brigitte Bardot in 1965’s ‘Viva Maria’, but a far more substantial role came in 1974’s ‘Les Valseuses’. In this once-controversial black comedy, she plays a recently released prisoner who is seduced by a couple of hedonistic sexual vagabonds (one of whom is played by a young Gerard Depardieu). What makes her on-screen threesome with the pair relatively unusual even now is the fact that the ménage à trois consists of two men and one woman rather than the standard one man and two women. But it’s a scene that is oddly tender, even if it happens to be followed by one of the most awful methods of suicide to ever befall a character in a movie. Let’s just say a revolver is inserted into a part of the body only a woman could insert it into.

I remember a later role for Moreau in a 1993 BBC TV film called ‘A Foreign Field’, starring alongside Alec Guinness and Lauren Bacall, which dealt with the return of WWII veterans to Normandy, one of the last times the wartime generation were portrayed in the present tense. Although surrounded by some considerable acting heavyweights, Moreau’s part was pivotal to the drama, playing a woman two of the male characters had enjoyed romantic assignations with at the time of the D-Day landings. Again, she managed to imbue her performance with both a touching quality that made the viewer care what happened to her, as well as a mischievous aspect that showcased her talent for comedy.

Jeanne Moreau’s film debut was in 1950 – the same year Marlon Brando exploded onto the big screen in ‘The Men’ – and her final appearance was in 2012, just five years ago. Sixty-two years isn’t a bad run for a movie career, and it’s testament to Moreau that she was as good an actress as an old lady as she was when a young woman. She was pretty special and she’ll be missed.

© The Editor

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A FALL BEFORE PRIDE

One of a series of programmes spread across the television networks to mark the 1967 Sexual Offences Act’s fiftieth anniversary, ‘Against the Law’ was a drama-documentary that aired on BBC2 last night. It dramatised the infamous 1954 Montagu Trial, in which Lord Montagu, his cousin Michael Pitt-Rivers and journalist Peter Wildeblood were tried on charges of gross indecency and (to simplify matters) ‘buggery’; they were found guilty, with Montagu serving 12 months and the other two 18 months. The dramatised sections of the programme were interspersed with the recollections of gay men who were old enough to have been affected by the laws surrounding homosexuality as they then stood; and men were the exclusive targets of this law. Lesbianism was never illegal in this country.

These fascinating interludes could have been jarring intrusions into the drama, but actually served to strengthen it as their reminiscences gave the viewer a clearer idea of the parallel universe Britain they inhabited and the dangers of that parallel universe colliding with ‘straight society’. In the late 50s, there were more than a thousand men in British prisons serving sentences for ‘homosexual offences’, yet the police continued to make the arrest and prosecution of gay men a priority; the brutal medical treatments offered as a ‘cure’ for the condition mirrored the establishment line that this was a sickness within society and one it was the establishment’s place to eradicate.

However, what one appreciated yet again in watching this programme was the unique classlessness of the gay underworld in the pre-decriminalisation 50s and 60s, when a peer of the realm could mix and mingle with ‘the lower orders’ in a way that had few contemporary equivalents at the time. It could be argued that the establishment’s fear of this social melting pot – existing long before the over-ground breaking down of class barriers that took place in the Swinging decade – played no small part in the ruthless campaign against gay men that seemed to reach its apogee (or nadir) in the years after the war. The Profumo Scandal of 1963 exposed the hypocrisy and double-standards of the ruling class and was crucial in the death of deference, but the Montagu Trial was also significant in that it reflected the antiquated notion of social superiors ‘setting a good example’ (in public, at least); the outcome also demonstrated a distinct divergence of opinion on homosexuality between the classes.

The prosecution, with the full weight of the police force and the then-Home Secretary David Maxwell Fyfe behind it, imagined the case would unite the nation in revulsion as the trial of Oscar Wilde had sixty years previously; but the assault backfired. It emerged the police were pursuing Lord Montagu in a virtual vendetta; having failed to succeed in an earlier conviction, they may have achieved their aim in 1954, but many members of the general public couldn’t see why their taxes were being spent on locking up what were (in the phraseology of the time) ‘consenting adults in private’. The ramifications of the Montagu Trial led to the setting up of the Wolfenden Committee to look into the laws on homosexuality, and although it took a further decade before the Wolfenden recommendations were implemented in law, the ball had been set in motion.

With his private life made public during the trial, Peter Wildeblood decided there was little point in pretending anymore and openly admitted he was homosexual. Upon his release, he was interviewed by the Wolfenden Committee and aired his belief that his type of gay man should be the main beneficiary of reforms to the law – that is, the type seeking to conduct his business behind closed doors with a man over-21 without fear of prosecution and imprisonment. He made clear distinctions between the camp, effeminate queens, the pederasts and the ‘straight’ gay men like himself. It was to be the third group whose voices were loudest as the campaign to change the law gathered pace in the 60s, the thinking being that the public would accept the more ‘normal’ sort as convincing salesmen for the changes; and the majority within society gradually came round to this way of thinking, ending the ‘blackmailer’s charter’ at last.

When watching ‘Against the Law’, there were undoubted parallels evoked in relation to the police prioritising of this particular offence with the more recent and ongoing pursuit of ‘historical’ sex offenders. Just substitute ‘Pansy’ with ‘Paedo’. Jonathan King himself drew the same parallels when sentenced on charges of dubious authenticity in the first such high profile case of this nature fifteen or so years ago. Comparing his conviction to that of Oscar Wilde appeared a tad egocentric when the claim was made, though subsequent witch-hunts of old celebrities – and the persistent attempts to ‘get’ the ones that were cleared of charges by marching them back into court on new ones – seem to back-up King’s comparison. And, of course, we’re only aware of the famous names doing time for historical crimes.

The 1967 Sexual Offences Act didn’t change everything overnight, however. It may have enabled gay men of the Peter Wildeblood ilk to enter into happy, long-term relationships without having to conduct their affairs in the shadows, but the police continued to crack down on ‘cottaging’ well into the 1980s (especially via entrapment) and raids on gay bars, along with the lingering belief that youth remained susceptible to corruption, was memorably chronicled in Tom Robinson’s seminal protest song, ‘Glad to be Gay’ in the late 70s. As recent as the 90s, what would now be unimaginable language and anti-gay opinions were expressed in media circles, particularly the right-wing press; they must have viewed the onset of AIDS as a God-send to give credence to such beliefs.

Today we do indeed live in a very different kind of society to the one portrayed in ‘Against the Law’, but plenty of men are still imprisoned on charges of sexual offences that a politicised police force and an avaricious legal profession pursue with the same kind of crusading vindictiveness that gay men were once the target of. Indeed, with an estimated half of 2017’s court cases centred around sexual offences and the fastest growing age category in British prisons being the over-60s, there’s no reason to exhibit smugness at society’s supposedly more enlightened attitude towards what men do or don’t do with their willies.

© The Editor

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SECOND CITY SOUNDS

As the late, great Barry Norman might have said (or maybe he didn’t): ‘And why not?’ This post marks no anniversary and comments on no particular current affair; it’s merely a bit of musical meandering; and it’s a Sunday, so why not indeed? Well, it’s no great surprise that when it comes to the musical map of Britain that London, Liverpool and Manchester generally tend to take the lion’s share of the plaudits and are largely given credit for putting this nation on Pop’s international stage, a position it continues to occupy, even if most of its reputation is built upon pioneers from half-a-century ago. But spare a thought for a corner of the country that, for me, is an unsung creative hub of far more than most imagine; it remains an unfashionable area to evoke in discourse on Pop culture, yet has provided those tuning into the Global Village’s radio station with so many listening riches over the last few decades that it seems an apt time to make a case for the Midlands.

In the early 60s, Birmingham had perhaps the most active live music scene outside of Merseyside; there were hundreds of bands on the Second City’s thriving club circuit and it was only a matter of time before at least one of them hit the top spot. It finally happened at the beginning of 1965, when The Moody Blues reached No.1 with their emotive cover of the Bessie Banks ball-buster, ‘Go Now’. Although it bears little relation to the lush, symphonic Rock the band would later become more renowned for, ‘Go Now’ is one of the key records of an era in which it seemed every week brought a new, exciting twist on the Beat Boom formula.

Almost exactly a year later, another band from Brum followed the Moodies to the top of the charts when The Spencer Davis Group reached the summit with their dynamic cover of Jackie Edwards’ ‘Keep on Running’. The band was led by the prodigiously-gifted teenage Steve Winwood, whose soulful vocals sounded like they came from a far older man, and a black one at that. The Spencer Davis Group managed to follow-up their chart-topping debut more successfully than The Moody Blues had, releasing a string of top-tenners (including another No.1) over the next twelve months until Winwood left to form the Psychedelic Pop act Traffic.

The last band to emerge from the Birmingham Beat Boom of the 60s were The Move, effectively a Brum ‘Supergroup’ comprising musicians who had all been members of successful local live acts; they scored their first hit at the beginning of 1967 with ‘Night of Fear’, a track built around the main melody of the 1812 Overture, and soon blossomed into one of the finest purveyors of the unique British take on Psychedelia; they also possessed a manager who specialised in PR stunts characteristic of the age, being sued by the Prime Minister when they used Harold Wilson in a controversial cartoon to promote ‘Flowers in the Rain’, the first single ever played on Radio 1. Their secret weapon was the songwriting genius of Roy Wood, a man whose contribution to British Pop is today unfairly restricted to his association with one of the perennial Christmas hits of the 70s; Wood deserves belated recognition as one of those rare, gifted musicians who can bang out a good tune on any instrument they stumble upon.

By the late 60s, the regional aspect of the British music scene, in which every major city’s bands were grouped together under one umbrella label, had essentially dissipated as most headed towards the capital for fame and fortune, losing their local identity in the process. Acts such as Chicken Shack – featuring future Fleetwood Mac member Christine Perfect – had a big hit without their Birmingham origins being a factor in their success, and Nick Drake hailing from the southern end of the Midlands, in Stratford-on-Avon, seemed incidental to his talent. Similarly, the fact that one half of Led Zeppelin comprised Midlands men (Robert Plant and John Bonham) had little bearing on their phenomenal success.

Hot on the heels of Led Zep’s radical reinvention of the Blues came Birmingham’s Black Sabbath, whose brutally brilliant approach to the genre laid the foundations for what was to become Heavy Metal, a musical style that had further Midlands exponents later in the 70s via Judas Priest. The top ten monster of ‘Paranoid’ aside, Sabbath’s success was album-based, whereas a band from a neighbouring neck of the woods (Wolverhampton and Walsall) went on to become Britain’s biggest singles act of the first half of the decade, Slade. Between 1971 and 1973, Noddy Holder, Jim Lea, Dave Hill and Don Powell hit the top of the charts on six separate occasions, more than any other home-grown act in the 70s.

Vying for the top spot with Slade in the early 70s were Wizzard, the colourful new outfit led by The Move’s Roy Wood and responsible for the aforementioned Xmas standard, ‘I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday’. Wizzard had appeared when Wood left the Move spin-off project, The Electric Light Orchestra, with whom he recorded one album; his sidekick in the band, Jeff Lynne, saw a long-term career in ELO and opted to take the helm before ironing out their experimental edges and honing them into one of the decade’s seminal singles acts. An immigrant from the West Indies who had made the West Midlands her home became the region’s main representative in the singer-songwriter genre, Joan Armatrading; hers wasn’t the only black voice in the neighbourhood, however, as Reggae act Steel Pulse proved. Birmingham also had a folk scene in the 70s, though the most notable graduate from it became better known as a comedian, Jasper Carrott.

No Punk band from the Midlands made much of an impression, but the post-Punk era was fruitful for the region, even if attention turned from the West Midlands to the East Midlands, when Coventry’s energetic hybrid of Punk and Jamaican Ska, reflecting the diverse melting pot of cultures courtesy of immigration, had a huge impact in the shape of the 2-Tone movement. The Specials were the front-runners, but Birmingham’s The Beat were also crucial to the scene; unrelated, but playing a similar blend of socially-conscious, mixed-race music (in the beginning, at least) were UB40. Concurrent with the rise of 2-Tone (and largely appealing to the same audience) were Dexy’s Midnight Runners, whose success was international rather than merely national. At the same time, Birmingham even spawned one of the few non-London mega-bands to emerge from the New Romantic movement, none other than Duran Duran; Birmingham also produced the short-lived (if briefly spectacular) career of Musical Youth.

By the end of the 80s, the likes of The Wonder Stuff, Ned’s Atomic Dustbin, Fuzzbox and Pop Will Eat Itself were Indie darlings and shortly crossed over to ‘Top of the Pops’, as did Brummies Ocean Colour Scene in the 90s, ensuring one of the country’s most overlooked musical hotbeds maintained a foothold in the charts. If one were to excise the Midlands from the UK’s Pop history, there would be some gaping holes in the story, so let’s acknowledge its role in that story. It’s quite a bostin’ one when all’s said and done.

© The Editor

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YOU SAY, WE PAY

The amount of money people are paid in relation to the job they do has been quite a hot topic over the past year or so; the public sector pay issue is the one that won’t go away, and the series of strikes by junior doctors last year shone a spotlight on the subject that has intensified in its glaring luminance via the row over the Government’s refusal to budge on its public sector pay cap. Doctors, nurses, fire fighters, the police – all deemed to be engaged in occupations that we all benefit from and would struggle without. Recent terrorist atrocities and disasters have brought their front-line contribution into focus yet again, though we do live in a country in which envy and mistrust of the successful is easily translated into resentment of the money such figures earn.

The Daily Mail, one of many Fleet Street titles owned by billionaires registered as non-doms who avoid paying millions in tax on an annual basis as a consequence, has nevertheless added to its long-time anti-BBC agenda of late by excitedly speculating on the pay of its biggest stars. Former Culture Secretary John ‘Whiplash’ Whittingdale was one of the motivators behind a new contractual obligation when negotiating the BBC’s Royal Charter a couple of years ago, one that specified the corporation would have to reveal the wages of its highest earners. Any who earned over £150,000 would be ‘named and shamed’.

I noticed the story was the Mail’s front cover today and will probably fill the first three or four pages of the rag tomorrow. It makes the assumption people care about these things, and to be fair, I’m pretty sure many do; I can’t say I’m one of them, but I don’t read the Daily Mail either. In comparison to what, say, Premier League footballers earn on a weekly basis, even the annual salaries of the BBC’s highest-paid employees probably seem like loose change. But, lest we forget, the BBC is financed by those of us who pay our TV licences, so it counts as a special case.

Michael Grade, a man whose working life has more or less been spent entirely in television, points out that revealing these BBC salaries will inflate those salaries thereafter as commercial competitors will now know how much to tempt stars away with; not that this will concern the Daily Mail, naturally. ‘If the Government was concerned the BBC wasn’t giving value for money,’ said Grade, ‘then they should have cut the licence fee, and not intervened in people’s privacy and their own private affairs about what they’re paid.’

There is undoubtedly a curtain-twitching, nosy neighbour element to this story; the need to know what other people are paid can either be used as yardstick to measure the chasm between Us and Them or can provide an excuse to start a rant about nurses using food banks. Of course, nurses using food banks has little to do with how much Chris Evans is paid and a tad more to do with the Westminster villagers who insisted revealing the pay of the top earners when renegotiating the BBC Charter; but this fact won’t register when the nation’s curtain-twitchers are rooting around through Gary Lineker’s pay-cheques.

As I’m one of the few people I know who does actually pay for a TV licence, what concerns me isn’t really what the BBC pays its big guns out of the licence fee – and that’s all we’re getting via these revelations, by the way; additional payments from independent production companies don’t count. For me, it’s more a question of getting my money’s worth; when Tony Hall waffles on about ‘culture’ and simultaneously slashes the budget for BBC4 or Radio 4 whilst lashing out God-knows how much on endless variations of ‘Bake Off’ and the rest of the talent show circus, I don’t feel I’m receiving value. Content is what irks me, not payment; by trying to out-ITV ITV, the BBC is failing to do what it’s there for. It’s supposed to educate and inform as well as entertain. And droning on about ‘diversity’ once again is not the response to these revelations I want.

I wouldn’t expect the likes of Graham Norton or Claudia Winkleman to receive the same amount of money for doing what they do as someone receiving benefits in Scunthorpe. The entertainment world has always rewarded its stars way out of proportion to what they actually do; that’s why those stars live in nice parts of the country and most of us don’t. Millions of Americans may have been struggling knee-deep in poverty during the Great Depression of the 1930s, yet Hollywood treated its celluloid heroes and heroines like kings and queens. They lived in immense luxury in comparison to those marooned in the Midwest dustbowls, but the population still crammed into the cinemas to watch them. Does the Mail imagine knowing that Chris Evans is paid £2.2 million will suddenly provoke a massive fall in his Radio 2 listening figures?

Some jobs are paid better than others; that’s a simple fact. Hedge-fund managers and top City people earn astronomical amounts by average standards, and politicians don’t do badly out of the various directorships they can boast on top of their MPs salaries, not to mention the fees they receive for public speaking; just ask Gideon. Are any of them doing work more valuable than fighting fires and crime or healing the sick? So what are we supposed to make of the fact that some of the most famous names in television and radio earn a lot as well? It can hardly have come as a great surprise to any of us. Anyone with ambition would obviously like to earn enough money to live in relative comfort and to not have to worry about paying the rent; but only a small handful of professions facilitate that ambition. It’s not great, but it’s life.

© The Editor

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THE DOCTOR’S SURGERY

I suppose it can be seen either way – a natural progression or a politically-correct concession. I suspect most long-term viewers will see it as the latter, as it appears to chime with the BBC’s tiresome ‘diversity’ agenda. In case you didn’t know (or, quite possibly, you don’t care), it was announced today that the lead character in ‘Doctor Who’ will now be played by an actress…sorry, we’re not allowed to say actress now, are we? I meant, of course, female actor. Yes, TV’s Time Lord has had a sex change. Not only can his superior species regenerate their bodies when they reach the end of their lives and undergo metamorphosis into a younger model; they can now also change their genitals in the process.

Anyone still watching was given an indication this is possible for Time Lords via the transformation of the Doctor’s nemesis The Master into ‘Missy’, a female incarnation, a couple of years ago. Actually, Michelle Gomez played a rather good part and introduced a new dynamic into the old enemies’ relationship. In a way, this is partially why the people behind a series retrieved from the anorak convention circuit and dragged into the twenty-first century zeitgeist back in 2005 have opted for such a headline-grabbing gimmick. As much as I personally enjoyed Peter Capaldi’s portrayal of the Doctor, ratings were a long way off the peak years under David Tenant – a combination of poor writing and haphazard scheduling – and what better way to give it one more reboot (or deliberately bury it) than to take the ultimate gamble?

From the off, the role of female characters in ‘Doctor Who’ was as clearly defined as female characters in most TV dramas that began in the early 60s (with the honourable exceptions of Honor Blackman in ‘The Avengers’ and the women of ‘Coronation Street’). The Doctor’s first sidekick-in-a-skirt was his ‘granddaughter’ Susan, who established the screaming tradition when confronted by an alien adversary like The Daleks. This remained more or less the standard pattern until the arrival of Elisabeth Sladen as Sarah-Jane Smith in 1973, who pointed the way towards more ‘liberated’ and gutsy female companions such as Ace (who was one of the few bright spots in the dreary Sylvester McCoy era) and Billie Piper’s Rose, who was crucial to the spectacular re-launch with Christopher Ecclestone.

Although the masterminding of the show’s revival in the noughties was largely down to a long-time devotee of the series, Russell T Davies, the conscious post-modern approach to the revival was a key element of its overnight success; the ‘naff’ label that had been attached to it in the 80s – not entirely unwarranted when one recalls the presence of Bonnie Langford – required some serious surgery to render it relevant again. This approach succeeded by cleverly blending the behind-the-sofa creepiness that had been important in its original appeal to children with some arch humour designed to catch the ears of adolescents onwards; and it worked.

Ecclestone’s brief one-series stint in the role was followed by David Tenant, who took the show to heights of popularity it hadn’t seen since the Tom Baker era; Tenant’s portrayal itself was a winning one, and the standard of writing was particularly high for a drama aired at teatime. He was superseded by the far younger Matt Smith as the show also changed hands at a production level when Russell T Davies made way for Stephen Moffat. After an encouraging start – and the introduction of a female companion guaranteed to give many little boys their first TV crush in the shape of Karen Gillan’s Amy Pond – the writing style of Moffat (also evident in his simultaneous ‘Sherlock’), by which he both baffles and bewilders viewers with layers of complexity that often add up to bugger all, served to alienate the audience and hardcore fans alike.

The strength of ‘Doctor Who’ as an ongoing series that has been on our screens since 1963 (bar a sixteen-year break between 1989 and 2005) is the ingenious device that marked the retirement of William Hartnell from the role in 1966 – the fact that the Doctor can change his appearance whilst maintaining the same mind. Patrick Troughton was the first actor to be the ‘new’ Doctor and brilliantly mastered the art of this highly original solution to changing the lead actor at periodical intervals that has been the blueprint ever since. Other long-running series, such as the James Bond movies, don’t have this advantage; M never comments on the fact that 007 looks like a different bloke after every three or four films, for example.

The most recent companion for the Doctor was ‘Bill’, a mixed-raced lesbian (as was no doubt pointed out with outrage online at the time); and whilst there’s no reason why a character in such a high-profile series can’t be a mixed-raced lesbian, there’s always the suspicion of a PC quota or the same agenda to the arrival of a character whose ethnicity or sexuality is so well advertised that has been a hallmark of ‘Eastenders’ from day one. The fact that the Doctor him/herself is now to be a woman emits a similar cynical odour.

I have a feeling Jodie Whittaker (the new Doctor) doesn’t quite know what she’s let herself in for; an online assault is inevitable, long before she even utters her first line. Yes, Doctor Who is a fairly unique character in that he/she adheres to few conventions, so a considerable degree of slack can be cut. But I certainly don’t envy the ‘actress’ entrusted with the make-or-break responsibility of winning over an audience that – outside of feminist campaigners who will inevitably shower the Beeb in praise at this announcement – has begun to drift away from a show that has enough flexibility inherent in its format to make it fresh with every change in direction. This is one hell of a change and the jury will be out for quite some time. The success or failure of its future is now in the hands of one woman – as it ironically was in 1963, when Verity Lambert produced it. For the superstitious among you, Jodie Whittaker will be the thirteenth Doctor…

© The Editor

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NON-STOP ECSTATIC CROONING

I wouldn’t ordinarily mark a birthday on here, but I make an honourable exception today because I felt like it. Marc Almond is 60 today – yes, you heard it right. Bloody sixty! Anyone witness to the dramatic debut of the twenty-something Soft Cell on ‘Top of the Pops’ in 1981 will probably struggle to accept that fact, but it’s true. In a way, however, Marc Almond has grown into his middle-aged skin rather well; a noted admirer of older performers such as Scott Walker and the whole torch-song genre, Almond never possessed the juvenile mindset of Rock ‘n’ Roll and its desperate search for a fountain of youth. He seemed suited to the crooner persona, and you can’t be a crooner in skinny jeans.

To have made it to 60 at all is quite an achievement for Almond. In 2004 he was involved in a potentially-fatal road accident when he was thrown from his motorbike near St Paul’s Cathedral, leaving him in a coma for several weeks. It was quite disconcerting watching the regional news on Yorkshire Television at the time this happened, as the accident was presented as a virtual obituary. Thankfully, Almond pulled through, and the proper obituaries could be shelved for another day. The fact YTV covered the accident in such a major way reflected the impact as a ‘local act’ Soft Cell had in the early 80s; but they had quite an impact nationwide.

Gary Numan had pioneered the escape of electronic music from the experimental, avant-garde ghetto it had long been assigned all the way to the top of the charts. ‘Are Friends Electric?’ hitting No.1 in the summer of 1979 was a pivotal moment in the transformation of synthesizers being merely rock band decoration to becoming lead instruments in their own right and it proved such a sound was commercial dynamite in the right hands. It took a year or two for Numan to be joined by other electronic (or ‘Synth Pop’) acts, but 1981 was a crucial year in the change. It began with Ultravox’s grandiose ballad ‘Vienna’ stuck behind Joe bloody Dolce at No.2 and ended with The Human League occupying the pinnacle with ‘Don’t You Want Me?’ In between these two events was a minor revolution.

Along with the arrival of a band such as Depeche Mode, who dispensed with the guitar-bass-and drums formula altogether in favour of a purely electronic armoury, there was a rash of painted faces gate-crashing stale pop programmes that signified a sea-change. Inspired by the ‘anyone can do it’ DIY Punk ethic as well as the synthesized soundscapes of Kraftwerk and the arty Glam of the previous decade (as represented by Bowie and Roxy), the newcomers were often lumped in with London’s New Romantic movement and its most striking spokesman, Steve Strange of Visage. But the likes of Phil Oakey, David Sylvian and Marc Almond had been operating in isolation on the underground grapevine for quite some time, biding their time until the mainstream caught up with them. And in 1981 it did.

Marc Almond and David Ball were both refugees from rundown British seaside towns (Southport and Blackpool respectively) who forged an alliance at Leeds University in the late 70s, a seat of learning receptive to musical misfits at the time; Scritti Politti were formed there more or less simultaneously with Soft Cell. Ball and Almond’s project was initially more of an experimental performance outfit; few would’ve earmarked the pair for future pop stardom. But the kitsch theatrical garishness they embraced, combined with Ball’s synths and Almond’s outré appearance, was soon to cross over from limited cult appeal to the top ten because the top ten was suddenly ready for them.

Signing to one of the numerous thriving indie labels of the era, Soft Cell’s recording career began inauspiciously with a characteristically uncommercial electronic work-out called ‘Memorabilia’; but following a headline-grabbing turn at Leeds’ Futurama Festival, one of the must-see showcases for new ‘alternative’ acts at the turn of the 80s, they covered a little-known Northern Soul classic called ‘Tainted Love’. Marc Almond had been introduced to the track via his teenage devotion to T.Rex; Marc Bolan’s girlfriend Gloria Jones had sung the original. Released in the summer of ’81, the rise of ‘Tainted Love’ gathered pace when – as happened so often back then – Soft Cell were invited on to ‘Top of the Pops’.

The Sex Pistols remained the benchmark for outrage at the beginning of the 80s and few thought their particular brand of it could be surpassed. But 1981 was the year of a new kind of subversion, and – along with Phil Oakey’s unique haircut and pierced nipple – few did it better than Soft Cell. Clad in black and camp as a row of tents, Marc Almond provoked an instant generational divide in the nation’s households, one that accelerated when ‘Tainted Love’ went all the way to No.1 and ended up as the year’s best-selling single. It even made the US top ten, spending more weeks on the Billboard Hot 100 than ‘Rock Around the Clock’ (excuse the Paul Gambaccini moment).

The first duo to have such an impact on the charts since the equally eccentric Sparks in the 70s, Soft Cell became an overnight sensation, following ‘Tainted Love’ with a string of top tenners over the next year, including the brilliantly overwrought ‘Say Hello, Wave Goodbye’ and the fantastic ‘Torch’. Their foray into the US charts enabled them to become regulars on New York’s club scene, where they sampled ecstasy years before it became the clubbers’ drug of choice this side of the pond; but the unexpected pop stardom they were hardly prepared for punctured the left-field principles their generation still held dear, and they embarked upon a somewhat self-destructive path; this was particularly evident on the superbly fractured albums, ‘The Art of Falling Apart’ and ‘This Last Night in Sodom’.

Already fronting Marc and the Mambas when Soft Cell were still operational, the band’s split in 1984 saw Almond establish an idiosyncratic solo career that has remained his trademark ever since. He stubbornly follows his own path, occasionally gracing the upper echelons of the charts and even returning to the top spot in a duet with Gene Pitney in 1989; but what makes Almond special is that he belongs to that elite group whose members have included the likes of Julian Cope, Roy Harper, Richard Thompson and Billy MacKenzie, the Great British Musical Outsiders who do what they want to do, whether the wider public wants it or not.

Almond’s sexuality, whilst as obvious as Freddie Mercury’s, remained something that was left to the imagination to begin with; being openly gay was still perceived as career suicide in the early 80s; even Boy George avoided the issue. Come 1984 and the arrival of Frankie Goes to Hollywood and Bronski Beat, however, the closet door had been kicked open and Almond no longer had to change the subject. But their breakthrough wouldn’t have been possible had not Marc Almond invaded our living rooms before them. Lest we forget, the gloriously kinky ‘Sex Dwarf’ video appeared two years prior to ‘Relax’. We live in different times today, and it’s thanks to the likes of Marc Almond that we do. So raise a glass to one of our one-offs. They’re fewer and far between in 2017, so we need to cherish the ones we’ve still got.

© The Editor

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