The YouTube Files – Grrr! It’s Betty Boo!

Here’s a look at one of my favourite pop stars who briefly found fame in the early-90s. Betty Boo (not to be confused with the cartoon character Betty Boop) was born Alison Clarkson in London in March 1970, and she was more than your average pop star. As well as being a singer and rapper, she was also a songwriter and producer, and made a large contribution to her songs, and I think the story of her career is worth sharing on here. This piece will be a look back at her music videos and TV appearances from 1989-1993 on YouTube, she only had seven hit singles during this period but they were great. betty2

Betty began her music career in a group called the She Rockers, and in August 1989, she had her first hit single “Hey DJ – I Can’t Dance (To That Music You’re Playing)” which reached no. 7 and was a collaboration with dance act the Beatmasters, which led to the first of her seven appearances on Top Of The Pops. I recently discovered that Betty also performed a remixed version of this song on her own and another video was made for this which is really great. vlcsnap-00297

1990 would turn out to be Betty’s most successful year. In May 1990 her first solo single “Doin’ The Do” was released which reached no. 7, this was also her only hit single in America, and again she appeared on Top Of The Pops. And there’s nothing I can do. Betty was just about the very first pop star I remember becoming a fan of, and I always think of her as my favourite singer of 1990, just like I think that Cathy Dennis was the star of 1991. In June 1990 Betty appeared on the cover of Smash Hits for the first time, she was thrilled. vlcsnap-00330

In August 1990 the next single “Where Are You Baby” was released with reached no. 3 to become Betty’s biggest hit. However, it also turned out to be her third and final Top Ten hit single. As ever it’s a tough choice but I have to say that this is my favourite single of hers and the video is great too. Also in this month, Betty appeared on the cover of Smash Hits for a second time and she performed this song twice on Top Of The Pops. In September 1990 Betty’s first album “Boomania” was released which reached no. 4. vlcsnap-00344

Also in 1990, although not a single as such, Betty performed “The Number One No Smoking Rap” on a 7″ flexidisc that was given away as a free gift with magazine Number One that warned youngsters about the perils of smoking to the tune of “Where Are You Baby”. So if you’ve ever wanted to hear Betty sing about lung cancer it was good news for you. Also around this time Betty appeared on CBBC’s The 8:15 From Manchester, and again it was good to discover that she made a lot of children’s TV show appearances over the years. And in November 1990, Betty appeared on the cover of NMEbetty1

In December 1990 the final single from the first album “24 Hours” was released which made no. 25. She performed this song at the Smash Hits Poll Winners’ Party live on BBC1, and also on CBBC’s Going Live and Top Of The Pops. Also around this time a VHS called The Boomin’ Vids was released featuring all the videos for the first album singles, plus an exclusive interview, and Betty ended the year with an appearance on the cover of Record Mirror‘s Christmas issue alongside Vic Reeves. vlcsnap-00326

In January 1991 Betty took to the chair on Channel 4’s Star Test, which by this point had been moved from a prime-time slot to Sunday mornings. For this series, there was a phone-poll element so viewers could phone in to say if they thought the interviewee was telling the truth with their answers or not. Thankfully in Betty’s case the majority voted “yes”, so we were treated to her video for “24 Hours”. vlcsnap-00116

In February 1991 Betty won the Brit Award for Best British Newcomer at the ceremony that was shown on BBC1. I hope the award takes pride of place in her cupboard to this day. vlcsnap-00114

In August 1992 the first single from the second album “Let Me Take You There” was released which reached no. 12, and we were treated to another couple of memorable performances on Top Of The Pops. She also appeared on CBBC’s The O Zone, Parallel 9 and Going Live to promote this song. Also in this month, Betty made her third and final Smash Hits cover appearance, and it was looking at this point like a lot of people were anticipating her forthcoming second album, and Betty was very flattered to discover that Madonna was a fan of her work. vlcsnap-00325

In October 1992 the next single “I’m On My Way” was released, but it only made no. 44, missing the Top 40. Also in this month the second album “Grrr! It’s Betty Boo!” was released, but this reached a very disappointing no. 62 and spent only one week on the chart. In 2016 her two albums were re-released as special editions featuring an extra CD containing remixes and previously unreleased tracks which are a great listen. vlcsnap-00284

In April 1993 Betty’s final single from the second album “Hangover” was released which made no. 50. Even though Betty performed this song on various CITV shows including What’s Up Doc and The Disney Club along with BBC1’s Pebble Mill, again she failed to make the Top 40. And by this point, Betty had become somewhat disillusioned with the music scene, and unfortunately this was the last that we heard of her for a while. vlcsnap-00277

This wasn’t the end though. Betty did appear on TV a few more times in the 90s, including Channel 4’s The Music Game in 1993, BBC1’s Pop Quiz in 1994, and Channel 4’s TFI Friday in 1996. She then went on to become a songwriter for other acts, and appeared on Channel 4’s Top Ten in 2000 looking back at her success a decade earlier. Betty suddenly hit the headlines again in 2001 when “Pure And Simple”, a song that she had co-written a few years earlier was recycled as the debut single for pop group Hear’Say who were put together on ITV1’s Popstars series which went on to become one of the biggest Number Ones of its era, and also won an Ivor Novello award, although Betty did say that she wasn’t a fan of manufactured pop groups. vlcsnap-00306

Also, a contestant performed “Where Are You Baby” as Betty on ITV1’s Stars In Their Eyes in March 2002, well over a decade after it was a hit. After this, Betty did have a couple of minor hit singles in the late-2000s, including a project called WigWam which was a collaboration with Alex James from Blur. Betty still performs her hits on stage at various festivals around the world and it’s fantastic to know that nearly three decades on she’s still doin’ the do.

Advertisements

The YouTube Files – The Spooky World Of Shakespear’s Sister Part 1.

After writing about Shakespear’s Sister a lot on here, I have decided to do a piece looking back at their career. Not only did they make some great records, but their rise to fame was an incredible story. It’s similar to what happened to Strawberry Switchblade who I wrote about on here recently, they were also a female duo with a distinctive look who suddenly found success which caused tension between the pair of them, but this all happened to Shakespear’s Sister on a much larger scale.

In 1988 Siobhan Fahey (born in Dublin in 1958) left the successful pop group Bananarama to work on a new solo project. After a while she was joined by the American singer/songwriter Marcy Levy (born in Detroit in 1952) and they made an intriguing double act. Marcella had already been in the music business for a long time, working alongside the likes of Eric Clapton in the 1970s, having a US hit single in a duet with Robin Gibb in 1980, and releasing her first solo album “Marcella” in 1982, although this wasn’t a success. This will be a look back at some of their various TV appearances and music videos on YouTube from 1988-1996 and it will be in two parts. s1

It all started so quietly. In October 1988 the first single the double A-side “Break My Heart (You Really)”/”Heroine” was released, but it wasn’t a hit. All of the videos from this era (with the exception of “Dirty Mind”) were directed by the award-winning Sophie Muller, and they were all marvellous, with a lot of hard work put in to make sure that their image was as striking as their sound. At this point it seemed highly unlikely that Siobhan would transform into someone trying to beat Siouxsie Sioux at her own game but that’s how it turned out. One of Siobhan’s earliest TV appearances talking about her new project was on ITV’s Night Network where she was interviewed by Pat Sharp’s mate Mick Brown. vlcsnap-00170

Also around the end of 1988 a 15-minute film was made of their visit to the USSR which featured some bizarre behind the scenes action along with performances live on stage in Leningrad of “Dirty Mind” and “Heroine” (where Siobhan looked uncannily like Jessie J oddly). vlcsnap-01241

In July 1989 the big breakthrough came when “You’re History” became their first Top Ten hit single, reaching no. 7, and leading to their first appearances on Top Of The Pops and The Chart Show. This was the first video to feature Marcella who was now a full-time member and by this point she had changed her surname to the city of her birth. What was noted by many people was the contrast between Siobhan’s low voice (her vocal style was once described by Q magazine as “honking from the bowels of Hades”) and Marcella’s high voice. vlcsnap-00210

Also in July 1989 Siobhan appeared as a guest on Channel 4’s Star Test. This was a great  show so it’s very good to know that Siobhan once sat in the chair to be interviewed by the disembodied voice. She revealed some interesting things about herself including the first single that she ever bought was “Ain’t No Sunshine” by Michael Jackson, she does believe in ghosts, and she is totally fascinated by world events. When asked to promote “You’re History”, she said that making the video was “a scream to do”, and concluded “it’s fabulous actually, I just love it”. vlcsnap-00198

In September 1989 the first album “Sacred Heart” was released which reached no. 9. In October 1989 the next single “Run Silent” was released which reached no. 54, and the video was shown on The ITV Chart Show. It was also around this time that Siobhan appeared on the cover of music magazines Record Mirror and Smash Hits, where we were given a chance to enter her spooky world. A VHS containing the videos of the singles from “Sacred Heart” (plus the Russian film) was released in 1989. vlcsnap-00211

In March 1990 the final single from the first album “Dirty Mind” was released, but it reached a rather disappointing no. 71. This was a remixed version which was totally different to what was on the album and it featured a rap from Marcella! Also in 1990 they were nominated for a Brit Award in the Best British Newcomer category, but they didn’t win. vlcsnap-00213

When work began on the second album “Hormonally Yours”, they must have decided although they had done well they wanted to take their success to the next level. Some of the album’s songs and videos were influenced by the unintentionally bad low-budget 1953 science-fiction film Cat-Women Of The Moon. There was a song that was beginning to stand out and look like it had the best chance to finally take them into the upper end of the chart. Siobhan didn’t want this song to be released as a single though, saying that she felt that it wasn’t representative of the band’s sound as a whole (and possibly because it the only song where Marcella took the lead vocal). So instead, the first single off the second album was chosen to be “Goodbye Cruel World”. vlcsnap-00249

In October 1991 “Goodbye Cruel World” was released and it was accompanied by another great video that was influenced by such classic films as Sunset Boulevard and Whatever Happened To Baby Jane? and featured some marvellous acting by Siobhan. It was also 1991’s Best Video Of The Year on The ITV Chart Show. However, it didn’t get the second album off to the high-profile start that they wanted and it only reached no. 59. vlcsnap-00011

After this setback, it was at this point that the decision was made that they would now have to release this song with potential as the second single off the album, they were practically sat on a Number One single and it was felt that people would enjoy it and it would finally bring them huge success, but Siobhan was still rather reluctant. Would this song revive their faltering career? Well as we’ll discover in part two, at the beginning of 1992, a phenomenon was born…

The YouTube Files – The Mysterious World Of Danielle Dax.

When I remembered that this year is the 25th anniversary of “Stay” by Shakespear’s Sister’s epic run at Number One on the singles chart in the UK, I decided that I wanted to do a blog piece sharing my memories of that song and give the group a reappraisal. Whilst putting the piece together I discovered something about Siobhan Fahey that I couldn’t believe and I ended up writing about that remarkable story instead. I then started to wonder if there were any other women with an extrovert personality who made similarly spooky or just plain weird records around the same time, and I was very pleased when I discovered someone who just about perfectly fitted the criteria of what I was looking for.

When I decided to review the Channel 4 interview show Star Test recently, I was very pleased when I discovered that Siobhan had appeared on the show as a guest. Whilst trying to find some other editions to watch on YouTube, I found one which featured a musician called Danielle Dax. I must admit that I knew nothing about her beyond remembering seeing a couple of her videos played on The Chart Show‘s Indie Chart in the late-80s on YouTube, but seeing her on this show finally made me curious to discover more about her, and I was very surprised by what I discovered. It seems that Danielle could be described as one of the best-kept secrets in British music in the 1980s.

Danielle Dax was born (in the same month as Siobhan in an almost interesting coincidence) in Essex and throughout the 1980s she made several creative albums. She was also in total control, writing her songs (which sometimes featured rather hard-hitting lyrics), playing a wide variety of rather unusual instruments, and she even organised her tours and interviews, not settling for any interference from record labels or anybody else on the direction of her career. In the articles that I found about her work online, words such as “unique”, “experimental” and “cult” turned up several times, and she was often compared to the likes of similarly out-there singers Kate Bush and Siouxsie Sioux. However, despite her obvious talent, pioneering work and interesting personality being acknowledged, she had precisely zero hit singles and albums in this country, before she dropped off the scene, and a lot of people still can’t believe that she was never a huge success. This piece will take a look back at the small amount of Danielle’s TV appearances and music videos that I have found on YouTube as I wondered why she never hit the big time… dax

1983: After leaving the Lemon Kittens, Danielle released her first solo album “Pop-Eyes” (which had a famously grotesque cover) and made one of her earliest TV appearances on the BBC2 music show Riverside shown on Halloween where she was simply described by Radio Times as “mysterious” and performed her song “Pariah”. I must admit that my jaw almost dropped the first time I saw this. Not only because it’s a very odd song featuring strange squeaking and buzzing noises with bizarre lyrics that showed off her remarkable vocal range (“walking sick sick they walking the town“), but I was also surprised by Danielle’s distinctive look with her massive red hair and heavy make-up which made her look like a long-lost cast member of post-apocalyptic drama The Tribe, or maybe pop group Strawberry Switchblade (ask your dad), which is a great thing of course. It was a fascinating performance and it was the moment that I realised what an intriguing talent she was. Who knows, maybe in a parallel universe somewhere “Pariah” spent eight weeks at Number One on the singles chart. vlcsnap-00010

ddax

The “mysterious” Danielle Dax appears in Radio Times in October 1983 (image courtesy of @woodg31 on Twitter)

1984: Danielle made a brief but memorable appearance in the horror film The Company Of Wolves. Although she only appears for a couple of minutes and has no dialogue, you certainly noticed her. She played a wolfgirl who is taken in by a priest (played by the old boy in early-90s sitcom Waiting For God, I’ll never look at that show in the same way again). She spent four hours in makeup! According to the IMDB this is Danielle’s only acting credit, I wondered if I would ever see it on TV, and then the film turned up recently late at night on the London Live channel, which was an odd coincidence. vlcsnap-00064

Also in this year, Danielle appeared on Channel 4’s music show The Tube where she was interviewed by Paula Yates and performed her song “Hammerheads”. The only article about Danielle in Smash Hits that I have been able to track down is a paragraph from a November 1984 issue about “Jesus Egg That Wept” including the fact that she likes to play the honkytonk piano. Described as “weird“, unsurprisingly. vlcsnap-00011

1985: Danielle performed a concert at The Camden Palace, which in 1986 was shown on LWT as part of their Live From London series (I haven’t been able to track down when exactly, but probably rather late at night and only in the LWT region). I was rather surprised to discover that this concert has been released on DVD, where she entertained the crowd by playing 15 songs including such bangers as “Here Come The Harvest Buns” and “Yummer Yummer Man”, and it was a great experience to see one of her shows and be in her company for an hour. vlcsnap-00052

1987: Danielle made a video for her single “Big Hollow Man”. She also performed this song on a German TV show. vlcsnap-00058

Also in this year Danielle also appeared as a guest on ITV’s late-night entertainment show Night Network, where she reviewed the latest singles alongside snooker champion Steve Davis which made for an unlikely pairing. And Danielle performed a concert in Tokyo which was shown on Japanese TV. I’m not sure how successful she was in other countries but it seems that she has fans all over the world. vlcsnap-000081988: Danielle’s single “Cathouse” which featured some fancy visual effects was played on The Chart Show‘s Indie Chart on Channel 4. Also around this time, Danielle was interviewed in various music magazines including NME and Melody Maker, although I’m fairly sure she never appeared on the cover of any of them. vlcsnap-00063

1989: Danielle appeared on The Chart Show‘s Indie Chart on ITV with her great single “White Knuckle Ride”. vlcsnap-00084

Also around this time, Danielle made what must be one of her most high-profile TV appearances when she was a guest on Channel 4’s prime-time interview show Star Test and she faced the computer’s probing questions. She introduced herself by saying “I write and record all my own music, I produce it, I paint, I design record covers, I make clothes”. She revealed some interesting things about herself, for example when asked “which is your best physical feature?”, she said “ooh, my hair!”. Also, when asked “what’s the one thing you don’t have in your life that you would really like?”, she said “a cat”. According to her website, Danielle now owns four cats, so I suppose it is sometimes possible to get what you want in life. vlcsnap-00062

1990: In what was seemingly a final attempt to push Danielle into the big time, she signed to a major record label and released the album “Blast The Human Flower”, which featured a psychedelic cover of the Beatles song “Tomorrow Never Knows” which was fairly mainstream by her standards. Her look in the video was somewhat toned down by this point, although she still had a rather large red beehive hairstyle. It seems that also around this time she appeared on BBC2’s Juke Box Jury but that doesn’t appear to be online. However, once again this wasn’t a success and Danielle missed out on fame. She was then dropped by her record label, and about a decade after her first album was released, she practically vanished off the music scene altogether, but it was also rumoured that around this time she became ill. Intriguingly, although there was a best-of album released in 1995 called “Comatose Non-Reaction: The Thwarted Career Of Danielle Dax”, there seems to be almost zero audio or visual evidence online of Danielle’s existence post-1991, which just adds to her mystique. Danielle is most certainly still with us though and the story doesn’t end here… vlcsnap-00080

After that..: In more recent years after leaving music behind Danielle’s career took an unlikely swerve and she has gone to have some success as an interior and garden designer, with her Brixton home which she designed herself featuring in several magazines. In May 1997 Danielle featured in BBC2’s interior design show Home Front when she was one of the three finalists nominated for the Radio Times/Home Front Amateur Decorator Of The Year award. dax0001

The finalists were challenged to decorate a room on an estate in Nottinghamshire. They had 48 hours, a limited budget, and four of their own items to decorate the room. The winner was determined by a judging panel of the show’s presenters, along with a phone vote that was open to viewers to choose their favourite. “I’ll be looking for someone who is courageous with bold and original designs and ideas” said judge and Home Front presenter Anne McKevitt. As it turned out, Danielle won the competition and appeared on the show a few times, and her work in this area has gone on to be much acclaimed.

More TV Memories – Star Test.

Star Test (Channel 4, 1989-1991)

This is another curious programme with a difference. I’m fairly sure that Star Test was made by the same production team as The Chart Show, which didn’t feature a host, with music videos being linked by computer graphics. One day they probably thought of how they can extend that idea further and create a show where they could essentially conduct a celebrity interview without a host.

Every week in Star Test a celebrity would sit in a chair in a rather large room and some computer graphics would appear on the screen (accompanied by appropriate beeping noises) featuring various categories (Faith & Fortune, Power & Glory) and so on. After selecting a category, some numbers from about 1 to 16 would appear, each one concealing a question. They would then pick a number and a female disembodied voice would ask them that question, which they would then answer usually accompanied by a somewhat uncomfortably close facial close-up mixed with some unusual cutaway shots. After a few questions, they could then choose another category. vlcsnap-01082

Some of the questions ranged from the straightforward (“what is your favourite film?”) to the rather bizarre (“do you like bubblegum?”), and we learned a lot of useless trivia about people along the way. Various celebrities took part in Star Test, including a lot of pop stars from the late-80s/early-90s, which such people as Betty Boo, Sam Brown, Wendy James and Kim Wilde facing the questions who all would have definitely been familiar to viewers at the time. vlcsnap-01081

There was a twist added in the later series. As the show was on TV, viewers could call one of two phone numbers to determine if they thought that the celebrity was being truthful about their answers or not. At the end there was an extra feature where various words appeared on the screen and the celebrity was asked to pick the five that they thought described their personality best. One upside to all this probing though was if they did well enough they would usually end the show by showing the video to their new single. 

betty

Would Betty Boo lie to you? Call now!

Star Test ran for three series and almost 50 celebrities were brave enough to take part, and the show was also parodied in the third series of French And Saunders. I remember watching the show on Sunday mornings, although it seems that it was also shown in a prime-time slot for a while, and watching some editions again recently brought the memories back. Star Test was a very interesting variation on the usual question and answer format which came across as another enjoyably quirky show by Channel 4, it’s a shame that they didn’t make more series. vlcsnap-01282