Banish the gloom with a blast of the 80s
Repossessions are up, house prices down, the markets are jittery and your savings are still missing somewhere between Reykjavik and London.
Repossessions are up, house prices down, the markets are jittery and your savings are still missing somewhere between Reykjavik and London. Twenty-odd years ago, life seemed so simple in comparison. Steve 'Strange' Russell talks to a man for whom the '80s were heaven - and how, when he grew up a bit, he brought us Marilyn Manson
IT'S New Year's Eve, 1979, and 12-year-old Richard Evans has been allowed to see in a new decade with his parents and grandma - and a game or two of Scrabble. On the TV in their Essex home, David Bowie plays Space Oddity. The song's already more than 10 years old, but to an impressionable pre-teen it sounds like THE FUTURE.
Ironically, bearing in mind how he will later embrace electro-pop, young Richard enters the decade that dare not speak its name as a heavy-rocker - he'll later put it down to the influence of friends' older brothers - and is also fascinated by the punks hanging around the fountain in Chelmsford's shopping precinct.
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And then, in the dying weeks of 1980, Adam & The Ants' Antmusic changed pop forever.
“I loved it for its pounding tribal drums, for Adam's bold theatrical glamour, for the whole package. It was new and exciting and I felt I understood,” he says. The single almost topped the charts, and coincided with a tour that took in the local Odeon. “I was only thirteen, so I didn't go, but that the Ants came to Chelmsford at all felt like being touched by greatness.”
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The New Romantic movement, synthesizers and futuristic haircuts began to dominate the charts. There was Ultravox with Vienna, Human League's huge hit Don't You Want Me and Soft Cell's Tainted Love. Spandau Ballet and Duran Duran burst onto the scene, as did Depeche Mode. There's Kim Wilde - and Toyah, who will become a recurring part of Richard's life for years to come. The autumn of 1982 sees Culture Club appear on Top of the Pops.
And so the years trip by, with Annie Lennox, Michael Jackson's Thriller, Wham!, Frankie Goes to Hollywood, Howard Jones, Prince, The Smiths, Ipswich's Nik Kershaw, Madonna.
The year 1986, for the Hylands School pupil, meant A-levels and then leaving Chelmsford for university at Reading, where he studied typography and graphic communication. (The department's two AppleMac computers were considered cutting-edge at the time!) Two songs - Erasure's Sometimes and Cameo's Word Up - define the period. He spends the summer of 1987 teaching on a children's camp in America, followed by a month of travelling (soundtrack: a double-album U.S. compilation from The Smiths).
Nineteen-eighty-eight is a particularly good period for female artists, such as Belinda Carlisle, Vanessa Paradis and Tiffany, but the year is dominated by Kylie. Richard has another summer in America - his Walkman features Prefab Sprout, Aztec Camera, Erasure and Morrissey.
The decade passes with Phil Collins topping the album chart with . . . But Seriously and a new version of Band Aid's Do They Know It's Christmas? heading the final singles chart of the Eighties.
Rather neatly, Richard graduates in 1990. But the spirit of the Eighties would never die.
Fast-forward more than a decade and we find him learning to build websites as an extension to his graphic design skills. He needed a project: a website to build.
“It was 2002 when I started the website and I was starting to find that the music I was listening to [contemporary tunes] wasn't exciting to me any more. It got to the stage where I started thinking 'Well, I've heard all this kind of thing before.' Everything started looping around again.
“Rather than listen to things that sounded like The Human League, I started listening to The Human League again. And I realised there were all these great bands and artists out there who are still doing their thing, but they don't get very much media attention any more; they just beaver along in their own little groove. I thought 'Wouldn't it be great if there was one place where you could find out what all these people are up to today?' And that was the website idea.”
The site - www.remembertheeighties.com - was built “as a little project”. Richard told a few friends about it, and they told a few friends about it, “and now here we are in 2008 and I've got a newsletter that goes out to 20,000 people every week and I get nearly two-million hits a month. So that's how that happened: largely by mistake!”
It won more publicity when it was featured in a national newspaper article a few years ago. The story was spotted by a publisher, who thought it would make a good book. And so it has.
Remember The 80s - Now That's What I Call Nostalgia loosely describes the author's journey through the decade. It's mostly about the music, of course, but the blast from the past also takes in fashion, the current affairs of the period (the rise of Thatcherism, for instance, and the fall of the Berlin Wall), films and TV.
Then there are nostalgic glances backwards at some of the icons of the time: Space Invaders, for example; the Sinclair ZX Spectrum and the Commodore 64; Live Aid; the rise of yuppies, dinkies and guppies; the emergence of acid house.
There are interviews, too, with stars such as Boy George, Simple Minds' Jim Kerr, Terence Trent D'Arby, Midge Ure of Ultravox and Jason Donovan.
For Richard, and doubtless the thousands who log on to his website, the Eighties were a time of utter freedom: before youthful spirit was diluted by mortgages, the patter of tiny feet, bills and council tax, and all the other pressures of adulthood.
In later life - with, hopefully, a career established and the kids having grown up a bit - comes the chance to wallow in nostalgia and look back at this golden age and “the things that started to make you tick in the first place.
“Because I started senior school in 1979 and finished university in 1990, the whole of the '80s was a period that was sort of 'all about me' as far as I was concerned: that really self-indulgent time when you're doing all these things for the first time and getting into music and meeting girls and starting to socialise and become a sort of adult.
“In the '80s, music was a big part of my life, because I had the time to really be a fan. You have the time to listen to albums over and over and over again, and to get all the nuances out of them, in the way I can't, really, any more, because I'm a grown-up and I have a family and all these things that stop me!”
Now 41, he agrees with ABC frontman Martin Fry (who has penned the foreword) that a boring, intolerant and ugly world was swept away by a more flamboyant, innocent and defiant period as the '80s hit their stride.
“I didn't experience it in the same way he did, because he's that little bit older than me and I wasn't actively participating in the early '80s; but, from the outside, I think that's absolutely true. It was an incredibly exciting time.
“Seeing Boy George on Top of the Pops for the first time . . . everyone going 'Was it a boy or was it a girl?' That raged for ages. That sort of gender-bender thing is so common now that it's difficult to recapture the impact those people were having. Martin Fry in his gold suit . . . so utterly iconic of the time.
“And interesting things happening and being pulled in - a little bit of soul here, a bit of reggae there; a bit of pop and disco. It was like a melting pot, and I think they were quite defiant times. All of a sudden, people were redrawing the boundaries of what was cool.”
So, would Richard plead guilty to being stuck in the past and fixated with the sounds and fashions of 20 or 30 years ago? Wife Beverly would argue that's the case, he grins.
“My wife and I were talking to someone about the book and I had exactly the same question: are you obsessed by the '80s? In the same moment, I said 'No' and my wife said 'Yes, he is absolutely obsessed by the '80s.
“But I would say no, because it's not my sole focus; it's kind of a hobby thing and in a way I'm far more interested in what the '80s people are doing today than I am in looking back - although, having said that, writing the book was a fantastic nostalgia experience.
“So, obsessed with the '80s? Depends who you ask!”
The Evans home does rather reverberate to the electro beat of the period, he concedes.
“I've never really met anyone who's been as much a fan of Duran Duran as my wife! Her decade revolved almost entirely around Duran Duran. I think I would say she is almost more obsessed than me, although in a different way.
“We've got a daughter” - Arianne - “she's four, and her musical landscape pretty much consists of Duran Duran and David Bowie!”
What's his all-time favourite song of all time - well, from the 1980s, anyway?
“I try not to get into these sorts of debates, 'cos I could be very anoraky about it. I did once put a questionnaire on website, saying 'What do you consider the definitive '80s single?' The reactions I got to that one question were so diverse that I took it a step further and did a poll.”
Richard started with a shortlist of 128 songs, paired randomly, and website visitors voted on them each week - the survivors dropping each time to 64, 32, 16 and so on.
“I got 10,000 votes in the final. It was A-Ha's Take On Me against Adam Ant's Stand & Deliver. And A-Ha won - so that's the people talking!” It was a close-run thing, however, with, he recalls, only about
0.03% of the vote between them. “It was a very tense evening when the final poll came to a close. I even got hate-mail from Adam and the Ants fans who claimed I'd rigged it!”
What does he say to the detractors who cry that the 1980s were simply a dreadful aberration: a should-be-buried decade of tastelessness and the start of the kind of corporate greed and selfishness for which we are now paying the price?
“I think there's a very narrow popular view of the '80s that is pretty much as you've described it. I think the '80s as a time were far more diverse and interesting than that. Everyone sort of has their '80s memories. If you're about 10 years younger than me, it will be about Kylie and Jason, and the Stock, Aitken and Waterman years. If you're a little bit older than me it will be about New Wave.
“Then there are the things that happened politically, and all the changes in television and entertainment. There were so many different things happening over that period of time that it's almost impossible to dismiss the '80s in one sweep.”
Can he ever see a time when the big hair, purple eye-liner and synthesisers will lose their lustre and he'll stop running the website ?
“I suppose so, yes. When I started working in the music industry, I thought I would always work there. I didn't ever think that would fade way. But I suppose the legacy of the '80s has already lasted such a long time that maybe it won't quite be the same.
“There's almost a certain responsibility level now; I have all these people (18,000 of 'em) who expect my latest email every week with news of all these acts; and, from my point of view, there's this incredible thrill that I get to meet and talk to the people who sort of defined my life.
“I suppose once I've met all those I want to talk to, then maybe there'll be a time to draw a line under it and pass on the baton. But I don't see it happening any time soon.”
Remember The 80s - Now That's What I Call Nostalgia is published by Portico Books at £12.99. ISBN 978-1906032128
RICHARD Evans describes himself as a jack of all trades. As well as running www.remembertheeighties.com he still does a lot of marketing consultancy within the music and publishing industries. Then there's his own record label, This Is Not Retro, on which he releases new music from classic '80s pop and rock acts.
“No day is the same as the next day; that's the really nice thing,” says the man who nowadays lives in Dorset.
Funnily enough, he graduated at a time of recession and unemployment, and graphic design was one of the first sectors to be squeezed. Combing through the job ads, he spotted an advert for London Records.
“I failed to get the first job I applied for and I was so incensed, because by that time I was quite wedded to the idea of working in the music industry. So I just pestered them until they let me work for them as a volunteer: an unpaid gopher. But I managed to put myself in a situation where I never actually left.”
Paid employment followed, “after quite a long while!”, though the job did open some intriguing doors.
One of his roles at London Records was promoting artists' videos and seeing if he could get them airtime on MTV.
“As a consequence I knew loads of people at MTV who did different jobs: in the studio, and in the offices and booking department. They had this vacancy and talked to me about it, like a headhunting thing, which is incredibly flattering.
“They basically wanted someone to head a small team of people whose job it was to create a relationship with the music industry: almost like a gateway between the music industry and MTV - getting the bands to do the things for MTV that MTV wanted, and also getting the exposure on MTV for the bands the record companies were pushing.”
The post was senior manager of talent and music for MTV Europe and Richard did it for more than three years. “It was a very, very cool job in lots of ways,” he says with understatement.
It also left him with one of his favourite memories.
“I'm very proud of the fact that I stuck my neck out while I was at MTV. I booked an American artist who I thought was going to be a huge, huge superstar. He had his first tour of the UK and Europe coming up and MTV backed that tour and got him in and got to know him, and forged an early relationship. And that was Marilyn Manson.”
That's the American shock-rocker, born into the world as Brian Warner but known for his ghoulishly Gothic look and a short marriage to burlesque artist, model and actress Dita Von Teese. The kind of act you might think hard about parading before European viewers who hadn't yet had the pleasure.
“That's what I'm most proud of. There was so much opposition within MTV to doing anything with him, and I was absolutely adamant that this was going to be something quite special and unusual,” says Richard.
“To be honest, I don't think he's ever lived up to the potential he had right at the beginning of his career, but he was an incredibly interesting performer, and I'm glad that I could have played a role in that.”
In any case, the person behind the make-up wasn't much like his musical character.
“He's extremely . . . gentle would be the word. Quite laid back, not particularly extrovert. Quite softly spoken. Intelligent, friendly, and not at all the shock-rocker you might expect him to be.”
So the pose is a something of an act, then?
“I think so. There's two people there: there's the stage persona and the person behind it.”
Famous Five: Richard Evans's top Eighties icons
Toyah: On Valentine's Day, 1981, she releases the four-track EP Four From Toyah. “She's a colourful, charismatic, rebellious figure and I'm hooked. A trip to Parrot Records in Chelmsford reveals that Toyah has already released three albums, including a live album Toyah! Toyah! Toyah! which is the one I buy, the first album I purchase with my own money.”
Adam Ant: Late 1980 and Adam & The Ants' Antmusic “was revolutionary: a rejection of the music of the past and a call to arms for a new generation . . . my generation.”
Margaret Thatcher: “I was a student in 1987, the year of the first General Election that I could vote in, and such was the anti-Conservative feeling around me that I was confident the election would signal the end of the Conservatives. Instead, with inflation down, a booming and economy and weak Labour opposition, they were re-elected with a 102-seat majority, making Margaret Thatcher the longest continually-serving Prime Minister since 1827.”
Duran Duran/Depeche Mode: “At this stage (1981) I probably prefer Duran Duran, who seem somehow less poppy and more stylish, but given time it's Depeche Mode who will go on to become possibly my favourite artists of all time.”
The Smiths: “. . . are already a very public part of my life (in 1984) when they release their debut album, which will reach number two in the albums charts; I view this as a huge triumph seeing that no-one else I know had bought it or even cared about the band.”
Do you remember? Eighties sounds
1980: Dexy's Midnight Runners, Geno
1981: Soft Cell, Tainted Love
1982: Survivor, Eye of the Tiger
1983: Kajagoogoo, Too Shy
1984: Nena, 99 Red Balloons
1985: Eurythmics, There Must Be An Angel
1986: Pet Shop Boys, West End Girls
1987: Madonna, Who's That Girl?
1988: Kylie Minogue, I Should Be So Lucky
1989: The Bangles, Eternal Flame
Do you remember? Eighties events
1980: A pint of milk cost 17p
1981: The Church of England allows the ordination of women
1982: Countdown is the first show aired as Channel 4 launches
1983: Apple's Lisa computer is the first to use a mouse and include pull-down menus
1984: Deaths of Eric Morecambe, Tommy Cooper, Richard Burton and Marvin Gaye
1985: Comedian Ernie Wise makes the UK's first cellphone call
1986: The space shuttle Challenger explodes shortly after take-off, killing all seven crew
1987: Terry Waite (who now lives in Suffolk) is kidnapped in Beirut. He won't be freed until 1991
1988: It's goodbye to TV shows Crossroads and Play School
1989: Ronald Regan leaves the White house after eight years as president