More TV Memories – TOTP2.

TOTP2 (BBC2, 1994-present)

In 1994, Top Of The Pops had reached its 30th anniversary and remained the leading pop music show on TV. So it was decided to expand the idea a little, and launch a spin-off series on BBC2. TOTP2 would usually be shown on Saturday evenings, and would complement the main edition (that was shown on Thursdays at the time). Curiously, it also used the TOTP symbol that wouldn’t actually be introduced on the main show until February 1995. vlcsnap-00063

There was no in-vision presenter, everything was announced by a voiceover, who at the start was Johnnie Walker, who was also a presenter on BBC Radio 2. TOTP2 was aimed at a slightly older audience than the main show, and as well as featuring the highlights of what was currently on the singles chart, it also took a look back in the archive at some classic performances.

Most of these were usually shown because it was the anniversary of when the song first entered the chart, or because it was the birthday of one of the performers of the song. It was always good seeing a song on TV for the first time in a while and discovering where they are now. There would also be a few music videos shown, including what was currently hot on the American chart, and what could be about to become a success in the UK.

There would also be some fact boxes which offered more information, and these were similar to what The ITV Chart Show did. After a few years, TOTP2 started to move around the schedule, and the new presenter was Steve Wright (who had moved from Radio 1 to Radio 2), although some viewers thought that he made too many “laughing at people’s clothes in the 70s”-style comments.

The format started to change a little, and sometimes there were themed editions looking back at a particular act or genre, and there were also performances featured that had been specially recorded in the TOTP studio. The fact boxes remained, but they had been redesigned, and they began to get rather annoying, as sometimes the information appeared onscreen at about three words a time.

There were also a few specials where some celebrities picked their favourite moments from the archive. After the regularly weekly TOTP ended in 2006, TOTP2 did continue, and by now the host was Mark Radcliffe (yet another Radio 2 presenter), and it was extended to an hour, although by this point it was only appearing occasionally in the schedule. I think that the show is still active, although there haven’t been any editions for a while.

This wasn’t the only time that TOTP tried to expand their name. In 1995, a monthly magazine was launched, seemingly trying to rival Smash Hits and the like. Somewhat surprisingly, the magazine is still going, as I would imagine that the TOTP name doesn’t mean a huge amount to today’s pop-loving youngsters. Maybe it’s because they love the posters and free gifts of multicoloured poo emojis that come with it.

The YouTube Files – The Belle Stars Story (Part 2).

Let’s continue the story of The Belle Stars as we go into 1983… b1

In January 1983 “Sign Of The Times” was released which reached No. 3. It would become their most successful single by some distance, and it is definitely the one that they remain best known for to this day. It also reached No. 75 in America. In January and February 1983 they performed this twice on Top Of The PopsIn January 1983 they appeared on the cover of Melody Maker and performed four songs on The Tubevlcsnap-00030

In February 1983 their first and only album “The Belle Stars” was released which reached No. 15, and they performed “The Clapping Song” at The British Rock And Pop Awards. In March 1983 Sarah-Jane (who was considered by many to be the most glamorous member of the group) appeared on the cover of Record Mirror. They were finally a big deal, could they maintain this success? b6

In April 1983 “Sweet Memory” was released which reached No. 22. They really pushed this one with lots of TV appearances but it would turn out to be their final Top 40 hit single. In May 1983 it would lead to their sixth Top Of The Pops appearance, and they also performed this on plenty of other shows including Cheggers Plays PopGet Set, The Oxford Road ShowRazzmatazz, and Saturday SuperStorevlcsnap-00050

In August 1983 “Indian Summer” was released which reached No. 52. This was another good one, but it missed the Top 50. The video featured a guest appearance from Humphrey Bogart (not the Humphrey Bogart?!). They also appeared on The Main Attraction and the Saturday Morning excitement of No. 73 (which I imagine was an ambition of many pop groups around at the time). vlcsnap-00025

In October 1983 “The Entertainer” was released which reached a rather disappointing No. 95. Feargal Sharkey made a guest appearance in the video. They performed this on No. 73Razzmatazz, Russell Harty’s show, and Hold Tight, on the scary-looking stage that went up and down. In December 1983 they made their seventh and final appearance on Top Of The Pops to perform “Sign Of The Times” for a third time as part of the Christmas special. vlcsnap-00042

In June 1984 “80s Romance” was released which reached No. 71. Their sound had evolved a lot by this point and this was a much more soulful single. Along with the regular video there was also an extended version that included a look behind the scenes. However, the trends were so fast-moving in this era of pop music that this turned out to be their final hit single. Barely a year on from their biggest success, they were now, as the phrase goes, “down the dumper”. Because there wasn’t much interest, work on the second album was abandoned, and The Belle Stars went their separate ways. But wait, because the story doesn’t end there… vlcsnap-00018

The Belle Stars just about carried on into the mid-80s, but they were now a trio, consisting of Lesley, Miranda and Sarah-Jane (I think Miranda and Sarah-Jane were the only ones who lasted the whole course from 1979-1986). In April 1986 “World Domination” was released. Once again, their look and sound was rather different from a few years earlier, there were definitely no saxophones on this one (maybe they just wanted to be more like Bananarama, ha-ha). vlcsnap-00061

I did like this one, and it is rather odd to think that this is (just about) the same people that made “Let’s Do Rock Steady”. I am also rather fond of the video (and the 12″ version), but music fans had long since moved on, this wasn’t a hit, and even a Paul Hardcastle remix couldn’t give it a boost (it’s also curiously absent from the various best-ofs). Work on the third album was abandoned, and by this point, it really was all over. I’m not even sure if they remained in the music industry after this or stayed in touch with each other. But that’s still not the end. vlcsnap-00056

In March 1989, long after it was originally released (and long after their split), a new version of “Iko Iko” became their biggest hit in America after it was featured in the soundtrack to the film Rain Man, and it reached No. 14. In June 1989 this version reached No. 98 in the UK. Beyond a few best-ofs (and a concert at London’s Marquee Club from 1984 being released on DVD), there hasn’t been much activity from the group since this.

But in December 2002 my mum and sister went to a Here And Now concert at the London Arena, where pop acts from the 80s performed some of their biggest hits, and The Belle Stars were on the lineup. Their peak was almost two decades ago even then. Again, they consisted of a trio, but I’m not sure if any original members were even involved, they could’ve been anyone by this point.

They performed only three songs, and of course “Sign Of The Times” was one of them, they didn’t really have much choice. It’s a shame that a lot of people think that they were mismanaged, but I presume that they are are all still out there somewhere, and Jennie does still occasionally perform her songs from The Belle Stars years in concert. As usual when looking back at this era, it’s a surprise to realise they must all be getting on for 60 years old by now (and it seems that Sarah-Jane this year actually turned 65!). How is it even possible.

The YouTube Files – The Belle Stars Story (Part 1).

Over the past couple of years since the whole Bananarama excitement, I have wanted to discover more about 80s pop music. Having another think recently, I decided that another group that had a interesting career and are worth featuring here are The Belle Stars, who were just about the only other British all-female group who had some success in the early-80s along with the Bananas. Again I am doing this about 35, indeed nearly 40 years after it all happened, so it might not be 100% comprehensive, but as usual it’ll consist of a look back at some of their hit singles, magazine covers, and TV appearances that I have tracked down on YouTube. b1

Many people think that the early-80s were an exciting time for pop music, and trends changed so often, that bands came into fashion just as quickly as they went out. They would go on to have only one Top Ten hit single in the UK, but they released 15 singles over almost a decade. The story of The Belle Stars actually begins in 1979, when an all-female Ska group called The Bodysnatchers formed (following an advert that said “Rude Girls Wanted”), who were fronted by the beehive-hairstyled Rhoda Dakar. In February 1980 their first single “Let’s Do Rock Steady” was released on the 2-Tone label which reached No. 22 and caused something of a buzz that led to them making two Top Of The Pops appearances in March and April 1980, along with the cover of Record Mirror in March 1980. b3

In July 1980 their second and final single “Easy Life” was released which reached a less successful No. 50, and after touring alongside other acts including The Specials and The Go-Go’s, by October 1980 The Bodysnatchers had come to an end, but some members decided to stay together and form a new group called The Belle Stars. Again, this was a septet, and after the departure of Rhoda, a new frontwoman was required. b7

They were a group of rather mismatched women who played a variety of instruments (why have one saxophonist when you can have two? But you should know by now how fond I am of female saxophonists from the 80s… especially ones from Hull), who were frontwoman Jennie McKeown alongside Stella Barker, Miranda Joyce, Penny Leyton (replaced by Clare Hirst), Sarah-Jane Owen, Judy Parsons, and Lesley Shone. It would take them a while, but they would eventually have some success. b8

There was a hint of some of the future interest they would attract when they appeared on the cover of Sounds in March 1981 whilst still virtual unknowns, and Smash Hits tipped them to be big, describing them as “hot socks!“. The first single under The Belle Stars name “Hiawatha” was released on Stiff Records in May 1981 but it didn’t chart. This was also a Ska-influenced song. A septet making Ska music on the Stiff label? Now where have I heard that before? The following two singles, “Slick Trick”, released in July 1981, and “Another Latin Love Song”, released in October 1981, didn’t chart either. It seems that they were beginning to struggle, maybe it was time to try something a little different. b2

In March 1982 Jennie appeared on the cover of Melody Maker alongside Paul Weller after providing some vocals for The Jam. In June 1982 “Iko Iko” was released which reached No. 35, and The Belle Stars finally achieved their first Top 40 hit. This was a cover, it brought them their biggest success so far, and the TV appearances were starting to increase. However, there was frustration that another version of “Iko Iko” entered the chart at exactly the same time and did make the Top Ten. Also in June 1982 Jennie appeared on the cover of Smash Hits which is nice. b5

One month on in July 1982, “The Clapping Song” was released, which reached No. 11. This was another cover that became their biggest hit yet, and it featured a dance routine that you were encouraged to do. There was also a video made for this one. In July and August 1982 they made their first two appearances on Top Of The Pops. In August 1982 they were on Summertime Special. In September 1982 they appeared on the cover of Jackievlcsnap-00005

In October 1982 “Mockingbird” was released, but this reached only No. 51. It was yet another cover. In December 1982 The Belle Stars featured in an Afternoon Plus documentary that looked behind the scenes at the making of their music, plus some information such as how they got together, and also how they were being promoted by their record label. Contributors included future NME editor Steve Sutherland. vlcsnap-00009

In December 1982 they performed “The Clapping Song” on Top Of The Pops for a third time as part of the Christmas special, but they were almost beginning to get a reputation as a novelty covers band. It was decided that at the start of 1983 their next single to be released would be an original song called “Sign Of The Times”. This was a make or break moment for them, and this one really did need to be a success, or it could spell the end for The Belle Stars. What will happen next? Find out in part two coming soon!

The Steve Fairnie Story – Part 1.

Recently I reviewed the 80s children’s TV show The Kid. I don’t remember watching the show at the time, but I found it online one day and enjoyed it. The Kid starred Steve Fairnie. Now this was someone that I knew nothing about, but he must have come from somewhere. Had he appeared in any other TV shows? I did some research, and I discovered that he had a rather remarkable career in music along with various other things. I thought that it was all interesting enough to do a piece about.

I know that it won’t be 100% comprehensive, but I have picked out some of the highlights and will concentrate on Steve’s music releases and TV appearances. My only motivation for doing this is because I’m always keen to discover more about 80s pop music and it’s a story worth telling. Words that are often used to describe Steve’s personality include “one-off” and “unique”, many think he should’ve had much more success, and hopefully it’ll become clear why. This piece will concentrate on 1979-1988 and be in two parts, although it also features a little of what happened before and after, along with a remarkably odd twist at the end that is worth hanging around for. Off we go then… steve2

pre-1979: Steve Fairnie was born in February 1951 in Fraserburgh, Scotland, although his family moved to England shortly after. By the early-70s he had taken an interest in art and formed the band Fish Co. with Steve Rowles. In 1975 they released their first album “Can’t Be Bad”. In December 1977 Steve married Bev Sage who would be a major influence on his work for the rest of his life, and they had two children. The second and final Fish Co. album “Beneath The Laughter” was released in 1978. fishco

1979: By this point Steve and Bev had formed a band called Wrïtz, and released the album “Wrïtz”. Although I couldn’t find any features in music magazines from the time, they did have a couple of adverts promoting their album and tour in NME. They also made some TV appearances, including in December the BBC1 show RPM that I think was only shown in the West region. They performed “Night Nurse” which had a routine where Steve’s hand fell off, along with “Luxury” and “Movies”. vlcsnap-01293

It was very exciting seeing their performance on the brink of a new decade, although people didn’t know it yet the first half of the 80s was going to be a very creative time for British pop music, and Steve would be a part of it. They also performed “Movies”, “Night Nurse”, and “Private Lives” on a TV show in Ireland. “Night Nurse” was released as a single, and it was produced by Godley And Creme, a duo who would go on to direct many pioneering music videos in the 80s, including “Cry” that was shown on The ITV Chart Show‘s Video Vault seemingly every other week for a while. vlcsnap-00021

1980: Wrïtz had now changed their name to Famous Names (maybe a little tongue-in-cheek as they still weren’t that famous at this point). In August they played the Reading Festival. In November they appeared in the ITV drama Cream In My Coffee, starring Lionel Jeffries and Dame Peggy Ashcroft, where they performed “Movies”. They released the singles “Holiday Romance” and “Modern Mums”vlcsnap-00007

Famous Names also appeared on a TV show hosted by Steve Wright who had recently joined BBC Radio 1 (although I’m unsure if it was an unaired pilot or not). Steve was interviewed, and they performed “Holiday Romance”, “Luxury”, and “Muscle Culture”. They were also supported on tour by Shock, a dance troupe whose members included Tik And Tok and blue-haired fishnet stocking-wearing vampire robot Barbie Wilde. vlcsnap-00020

1981: Steve and Bev became a duo called Techno Twins. I don’t know if it’s right or not, but it has been said that they were the first people to use the word “Techno” in the context of a musical genre. So maybe we have them directly to blame for “No Limit” by 2 Unlimited over a decade later. They also had a side project called Techno Orchestra, and released the album “Casual Tease” under that name. The Techno Twins album “Venetian Blind” was unreleased. steve1

1982: The early part of this year was rather eventual for Techno Twins. In January they had their first and only UK hit single when their cover of “Falling In Love Again” reached no. 70, and there was a video made which featured Tik (or was it Tok). They also released the album “Technostagia”, which included a rather unique take on “I Got You Babe”. It was reviewed in Smash Hits, where it was described as “blippy” and scored, er, 4½/10. Also released as singles were “Can’t Help Falling In Love” (described by NME as “beautifully evocative”) and “Swing Together”. vlcsnap-00036

But it gets even better. Also in January, Bev (who had picked up a French accent along the way) was the guest vocalist on “Queen Of The Rapping Scene (Nothing Ever Goes The Way You Plan)”, a hit single for Modern Romance (best remembered for hits including “Ay Ay Ay Ay Moosey” and “Everybody Salsa”). This reached no. 37, and led to some TV appearances, including Dutch music show TopPop (where Bev had blue hair!!), and in February, Top Of The Pops! So one of them did get to appear on the show. I hope Steve wasn’t jealous. vlcsnap-00014

After leaving Modern Romance, frontman Geoff Deane went on to write for TV shows, including late-90s flop ITV sitcom Babes In The Wood. We remain eternally thankful. Also in February, they appeared on CITV’s Razzmatazz, where according to TV Times “the new electric band Techno Twins brighten up the studio with their latest single”. Bev also appeared in the video to “Big Boys Don’t Cry” by Nick Battle alongside none other than Barbie Wilde! vlcsnap-00032

1983: Techno Twins had now renamed themselves The Technos, and in September there this was piece of news in Smash Hits: “Steve Fairnie of The Technos is wandering around hypnotising chickens. At least it might stop them making records”. Oof! Steve really did hypnotise chickens as part of his stage act. Crowds were reported to be “bewildered”. They released the single “Foreign Land” and contributed to the compilation album “Curious Collection”. Steve and Bev also appeared in the videos for “Blue Skies” by The Jets (not to be confused with The Jets who had a hit with “Crush On You”, they came later), and “Voulez Vous Danser” by Ricchi E Poveri which was a hit across Europe (where Steve did his award-winning Charlie Chaplin impersonation). vlcsnap-00003

Don’t touch that dial, we’ll be back with more in part two…

More TV Memories – In At The Deep End.

In At The Deep End (BBC1, 1982-1987)

I thought that I would try and get another blog piece out of Bananarama… you might remember a while ago I did a piece about what they meant to me where I discovered something rather remarkable about them, it’s really great. So I thought that I would take a look back at one of the more unusual moments in their career that was first shown on BBC1 on 10 February 1987.

In At The Deep End was a documentary series where Paul Heiney or Chris Serle who alternated as hosts (and were also on the panel of That’s Life! around the same time) had to learn a new skill. In one edition Heiney was challenged to direct a music video for a major pop act, even though he had no experience in that area (and he wasn’t exactly familiar with all the big names in pop music at the time either). There was also an article promoting the show in that week’s Radio Timesvlcsnap-01031

Paul began by talking to various people in the business for advice including Top Of The Pops executive producer Michael Hurll (and we also had a brief behind the scenes look at TOTP which was good) and film director Ken Russell. All he needs to do now is find a record label with a pop group that will agree to take part and put their trust in a total novice, knowing it could be a case of “nice song, shame about the video”… now who’s that going to be? vlcsnap-01032

Bananarama were a big deal around this time, they recently had a Number One single in America with “Venus”, and many people were looking forward to their next move. Paul was on board to direct the video for their new single “A Trick Of The Night” (on the “True Confessions” album, and this 50-minute documentary is featured as an extra on the DVD of the deluxe edition). banana5

paul0001

Bananarama appear in Radio Times in February 1987

In his role as director, Paul also has to assemble a crew to make sure that everything is to his liking, and learn the words to the song. It clearly looks like there might be more to this than he first thought. When Paul shows The ‘Rams (as they were called in Smash Hits) his storyboard for the video their response to his ideas is rather a lot of indifference (oh to have been there when Siobhan saw the storyboard for the “Stay” video for the first time, that would’ve been something). vlcsnap-00039

They don’t seem to be too excited about it, but will Paul be able to get the job done in time behind the camera and make them look and sound good as required? He takes his seat in the director’s chair and tries to get things going. Paul informs us that two hours on the shoot have already been lost while the ladies decide on the colour of their makeup, even though the video’s going to be in black and white. Not a good sign. vlcsnap-00040

And well, if you thought they were indifferent to start with, the ladies were practically horrified by the end product (“I’m not sure it’ll hold people’s attention from start to finish” said Siobhan, who definitely wouldn’t be having that problem with her music videos five years later). This edition of In At The Deep End was shown as a one-off to coincide with the release of “A Trick Of The Night” in February 1987. Hurll and Russell thought that he didn’t do too badly for a first attempt, but how did it all turn out? vlcsnap-01033

The single reached No. 32, the ladies were reported to have not enjoyed the experience at all, they promptly went off and made another video with a tried-and-trusted director, and this is now considered to be the official video. This version wasn’t even included on the DVD of their best-of compilation released in 2012. Oh dear. Thank goodness it didn’t finish off their career. vlcsnap-01028

More TV Memories – Top Of The Pops (part 2).

Let’s carry on the story shall we…

1991-1995. Of course, everyone has their own view on the day that Top Of The Pops went rubbish, but it seems that most people would choose the one in October 1991 when there was possibly the biggest relaunch yet, as the show was finally brought into the 90s with a Year Zero approach. New theme music (“Now Get Out Of That”), new studio, new presenters, new songs, new everything. totp1

There was a wave of presenters new to TV who weren’t also on BBC Radio 1, but not many of them hosted more than a few editions, with only Tony Dortie and Mark Franklin enduring. The flashing neon lights were now gone, with most performances now in front of a drab curtain, it suddenly felt like the show was coming from a cheesy nightclub, way-hey! The Top Ten countdown was reintroduced though. totp2

There was also a rule introduced that acts had to sing live (although the policy on this seemed to change every six months). As this was the time when there was rather a lot of rave music on the scene, a lot of these songs were rather hard to replicate in the studio, as they featured a lot of samples and were usually put together by anonymous dance producers. So it seemed that every act independently of one another thought that it would be really funny to just have some bloke who made the tea at the record label on stage shouting the lyrics as viewers really wouldn’t have known one from the other. totp10

By 1994 it was decided that it was time to bring back the Radio 1 presenters, but most of them who hosted up to 1991 had been “Bannistered” by this point, so the likes of Simon Bates and Gary Davies had long gone, but Nicky Campbell, Mark Goodier and Simon Mayo returned, and there were also a few guest hosts. In 1994 a companion show launched on BBC2 called TOTP2, which featured the biggest hits of the week along with some classic performances from the archive, and an out-of-vision presenter, which would run for many years. totp11

1995-1998. It was time for another new look and theme (“Red Hot Pop”) as Top Of The Pops entered the Britpop era. In the summer of 1996, the show was moved from Thursdays to Fridays for coverage of the Atlanta Olympics, and it was never moved back, this was one of the many reasons that caused the alarming slump in the ratings. Also, a few editions were shown on BBC2. totp6

In 1995, a monthly magazine was launched (which is still going!) featuring all the usual interviews and features with the hottest bands around plus loads of free gifts. A few long-serving presenters including Simon Mayo were finally dropped from the lineup by this point and some younger Radio 1 faces were brought in to host the show. There was also an increasing amount of unlikely guest hosts who had their turn with the golden microphone. totp9

1998-2003. Another year, another relaunch, including a new dance version of the “Whole Lotta Love” theme that was originally used in the 70s, and a title sequence that was modified after a few years (by which point The Chart Show had ended). Presenters now included Jamie Theakston and Jayne Middlemiss from The O Zone, Margherita Taylor and Sarah Cawood from ITV’s Videotech, plus Zoe Ball, Jo Whiley, and others. totp7

Now this is rather interesting. Most people say that their favourite era of pop music is when they are in their teens, so even though I had watched the show for about 15 years by this point, this was the time when I was most interested in what was happening in the chart, including the rise of UK Garage, and when there were 43 Number One singles in 2000 and it was hard to keep up with the turnover. totp4

I remember being particularly excited when the Sugababes appeared to perform one of their Number One singles as they were among my favourites at the time, and hopefully it was still considered an honour to appear on the show. To expand the show’s reach even more, during this era there were some compilation CDs released, along with the ongoing magazine and TOTP2. And even more spin-off shows were launched including Top Of The Pops Saturdaytotp3

Another thing that is noticeable about this era is that there were very few music videos shown during this time, the emphasis was back on live performances, and the Top 20 was announced at the end, but now usually by a Radio 1 presenter out of vision. The show kept on going though and in 2002 the 2,000th edition was celebrated… oh, and leave the useless Liquid News-style features to Liquid News itself! totp8

2003-2006. Maybe it was time for another relaunch. Andi Peters, who had produced various music shows in the 90s including The O Zone and The Noise was now in charge, and he pretty much killed off the show altogether. Again, just like in 1991, there were wholesale changes to the format, including reintroducing “Now Get Out Of That” as the theme, causing flashbacks to that era. totp12

Also, “All-New” as added to the title (always a clear sign that a show is on its last legs), another wave of little-known presenters including Tim Kash came and went, and the show was extended to an hour, being padded out with things like a phone-in competition (although famously the first time they did this all three possible answers to the question were incorrect).

And there seemed to be something of an emphasis on pre-chart exclusives, with most editions not even covering what was in the Top 40, more like what would be in it in about three weeks’ time. And only the Top Ten was announced at the end by some disembodied voice, making it seem like if your song wasn’t in the Top Ten, then it didn’t matter. This wasn’t attracting new viewers though, most people who watched by this time simply did because they had every week since they were children and were now out of the target audience, and I suppose I could include myself in that group by this point. Could the show survive in the era of dedicated music channels?

One major change in 2005 was when the show was moved to Sundays, so the new Number One single could now be announced straight away, rather than almost a week after the latest chart was revealed. One of the regular hosts by now was Fearne Cotton, who was usually joined by someone rather unlikely, such as Jeremy Clarkson, Phill Jupitus and Jeremy Bowen (it honestly couldn’t have been any worse by this point if they had got Jim Bowen in).

By 2006 though the format had become so tired though after being on TV every week for almost 42 years, the decision was made to bring the show to an end, concluding with one last look back at some classic moments, although I felt that it went out with something of a whimper. It’s still number one? Not any more it isn’t. However, TOTP2 and the Christmas specials do continue to this day.

More TV Memories – Top Of The Pops (part 1).

Top Of The Pops (BBC1/BBC2, 1964-2006)

Originally I wasn’t going to do a blog piece reviewing Top Of The Pops because its story is well known, but as I am a long-time fan of the show, I planned to have a look back at various episodes instead, but I only got as far as reviewing one from 1989. After a few requests, I thought that I might as well do a full review, it will be in two parts, and I’ll share a few facts along with some of my own memories along the way. Although Top Of The Pops launched in January 1964, I’ll begin the story in the early-80s…

1981-1986. This era is actually before my time, but I have now seen plenty of editions thanks to repeat runs. One thing that constantly seems to be said by music magazines including Classic Pop is that the peak era for British pop music was the early-80s, roughly 1981-1984, when we were spoilt with great songs from distinctive bands, and as a consequence many people feel that this was the best era of the show. totp2

And I must admit that I can see why people feel that way. There was a party atmosphere introduced to the studio, with balloons everywhere and so on, and people really did seem to behaving a good time in the company of these pop stars. “Yellow Pearl” was the new theme, but the symbol that had been around since 1973 remained, it’s probably the best of the lot, and the flashing pink and blue neon Top Of The Pops sign is one of my favourite things about the show. totp10

In 1983 the 1,000th edition was celebrated. It was also around this time that the dance troupes such as Legs And Co. and Zoo were phased out as music videos became more commonplace. People always seem to suggest that the 1984 Christmas special was the best edition of them all, and I very much doubt that music went bad overnight when the calendar turned over to 1985, but the show had to adapt to the constantly changing music scene, and such was the rapid evolution you definitely couldn’t confuse a song from the early-80s with a song from the late-80s! totp8

Top Of The Pops at this time was usually shown on Thursday evenings. As for the presenters, Pat Sharp was briefly on the lineup in some of his earliest TV appearances, and from the comments that I have seen online, the best-received presenting double act from this era was that of David Jensen and John Peel who entertainingly moved the show along with their witty comments. totp7

1986-1988. In April 1986 there was a new look introduced, coincidentally the same month that The Chart Show launched on Channel 4. It included the first computer-generated opening sequence with exploding saxophones, cassettes flying everywhere, and Top Of The Pops in barely decipherable letters. There was another new theme, “The Wizard”, which is my favourite out of all of them. totp3

This is also the first era of the show that I can remember. This is because my sister is nine years older than me, and by this time she was in her early-teens and really into all the big pop groups of the time, so even though I was very young I was familiar with such names as A-Ha, Bros, Curiosity Killed The Cat and so on. What great times. I used to swing my pants to these! totp6

It might not have felt so much of a party any more, but there were still plenty of flashing neon lights, pop stars, and music videos. I also remember around this time the hour-long Christmas specials that would usually be shown at 2pm. Presenters in this era included Simon Mayo and the young, free and single Gary Davies. In 1987 an American version was launched (that I reviewed a while back), but it ended in 1988. totp4

1989-1991. In January 1989 there was another new look in time for the 25th anniversary (again coincidentally in the same month that The Chart Show relaunched when it moved from Channel 4 to ITV). “The Wizard” was retained as the theme, and Top Of The Pops was spelled out in even more unintelligible lettering, as if such a thing was possible. A few children’s TV presenters were added to the lineup including Andy Crane and Anthea Turner. totp1

Changes began to be made in this era. By 1991 the Top 40 countdown was reduced to only featuring new entries and songs that went up, before being dropped altogether. I did like the silly graphics that floated around the screen though. The neon lights were still around, but everything started to feel like it was in a timewarp, as if the show was stuck in the 80s. More change was to come. totp9

TO BE CONTINUED…

The YouTube Files – The Crazy World Of Haysi Fantayzee.

I have enjoyed looking back at the careers of some quirky 80s pop stars on this blog, and this is another enjoyable group that I think fit into that category and have a story worth telling. They are slightly different from what I usually review because they are actually a male/female duo, but they are still definitely worth featuring here.

Haysi Fantayzee were a group that consisted of Jeremy Healy (born in London in January 1962) and Kate Garner (born in Wigan in July 1954). They had a very distinctive look which included oversized headgear, dreadlocks, and excessive make-up (and that was just Jeremy etc etc), and they were described as looking like a cross between a New Romantic and a Dickensian urchin. hf1

They also made some great songs with rather bizarre lyrics, and although they were only in the spotlight from 1982-1983 and had a brief but eventful run of success, it happened to be right in the middle of what has now been determined to be the golden era of British pop music which runs roughly from 1981-1984, so how could they possibly fail! With their look and songs they were pushing the boundaries over 35 years ago before most of today’s pop stars were born. This is a look back at some of their TV appearances that are on YouTube, along with a few magazine covers. hf5

In July 1982 their first single “John Wayne Is Big Leggy” was released which reached no. 11. It’s their biggest hit in the UK and it remains their most famous. It was accompanied by an outrageous dance routine on their Top Of The Pops appearances that left BBC1 viewers rather shocked! Also in this month they had the first of their three Record Mirror covers (I’m fairly sure this was the only UK music magazine that they appeared on the cover of). vlcsnap-00049

In November 1982 “Holy Joe” was released which reached no. 51. I’ve only been able to find the video for this online. Also in this month they appeared on the cover of Record Mirror for a second time and were also interviewed in Smash Hitsvlcsnap-00056

In January 1983 “Shiny Shiny” was released which reached no. 16. This led to their final Top Of The Pops appearances. I would have to say that this is my favourite of their singles, so I pleased to find more performances of this one online than any of their other hits, including various TV shows across Europe, one memorable performance is where Kate is wearing a corset so small it’s a surprise she can breathe never mind sing. There was also a great video. vlcsnap-00029

They also performed “Shiny Shiny” on TV in Australia which was accompanied by some great visual effects, and they were interviewed too. In February 1983 their first and only album “Battle Hymns For Children Singing” was released which reached no. 53. vlcsnap-00026

In June 1983 “Sister Friction” was released which reached no. 62. This turned out to be their fourth and final hit single. Again I can only find the video for this one online. vlcsnap-00047

Also in June 1983 they had their third and final Record Mirror cover (where’s Jeremy gone?), and they also featured in some of the earliest issues of the newly-launched weekly music magazine Number Onehf2

But the story doesn’t end there… In 1983 Kate appeared in the video for “Who’s That Girl” by the Eurythmics which also features Bananarama and Hazel O’Connor! And after their final single, Kate had a brief solo career, and in November 1983 released “Love Me Like A Rocket” which wasn’t a hit. Although it seems that there was a video made for this I can’t find it online. Also in this month Kate spoke about her career as a fashion photographer for various magazines on BBC2’s Riverside, and she has had much success in this area. hf3

Jeremy would later become a “superstar DJ” as they now have to be known thanks to that Chemical Brothers song, and he has had at least one more hit single as a producer under an alias, and he was also the fourth (or thereabouts) husband of Patsy Kensit. In 2007 the “Battle Hymns For Children Singing” album was re-released on CD with extra tracks, and this year it was re-released again on vinyl with even more extras, and it’s still a remarkable listen.

The YouTube Files – The Hazel O’Connor Story.

A while ago I did a series on here where I told the stories of some of my favourite quirky 80s pop stars. There was some good feedback, including one comment asking if I would look back at the career of Hazel O’Connor. I must admit that I wasn’t really familiar with her work, so I decided I would have a look online to find out more about her, and I was won over. Hazel was born in Coventry in 1955 and she has had success as both an actress and singer. This will be a look back at Hazel’s hit singles and some of her TV appearances throughout the 80s on YouTube, including how she (sort of) had a Number One single. After entering the music business in the mid-70s, Hazel had her breakthrough in 1980… hazel2

In March 1980 the album “Sons And Lovers” was released which wasn’t a hit. In August 1980 “Eighth Day” was released which reached no. 5, and was Hazel’s first Top Ten hit single. It featured in the film Breaking Glass where she starred as a singer called Kate which made her name and earned her a Bafta nomination. Also among the cast were Phil Daniels, Mark Wingett (who would later go on to further success in The Bill), and Mark “Zaphod Beeblebrox” Wing-Davey). It seems that Hazel also unintentionally invented Tron during the film. vlcsnap-00019

Hazel also appeared on BBC1’s Film ’80, and performed “Eighth Day” in the first of her four appearances on BBC1’s Top Of The Pops, and she also made the first of her three Record Mirror cover appearances. Well done Hazel that looks like! Also in August 1980 the Breaking Glass soundtrack album was released which reached no. 5. It has also been released on DVD and it really is a fascinating watch. vlcsnap-00023

In October 1980 “Give Me An Inch” was released which reached no. 41, another single from the Breaking Glass soundtrack. Also around this time Hazel appeared on BBC2’s The Old Grey Whistle Test. In March 1981 “D-Days” was released which reached no. 10. This led to a rather energetic performance on Top Of The Pops. In April 1981 Hazel appeared on the cover of Record Mirror again and Smash Hits for the first and only time. vlcsnap-00015

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Hazel appears on the cover of Smash Hits in April 1981

In May 1981 “Will You” was released which reached no. 8, and it was Hazel’s third and final UK Top Ten hit single. It would also turn out to be her final Top 40 single too, leading to her final Top Of The Pops appearance, along with BBC2’s Six Fifty-Five Special. Although it wasn’t Hazel’s biggest hit, it seems to be the one that has endured the most, and it is the most likely to be played on the radio nowadays, mostly because of its famous saxophone solo. June 1981 saw her third and final Record Mirror cover. vlcsnap-00020

In August 1981 “(Cover Plus) We’re All Grown Up” was released which reached no. 41. I’ve found a couple of performances of this song online that I thought were rather enjoyable. And as ever, it’s tough to choose a favourite single, but this one is definitely among them. Also in this month Hazel also appeared on BBC1’s Get Set For Summer and made the first of three appearances as a panellist on BBC1’s Pop Quiz. In September 1981 the album “Cover Plus” was released which reached no. 32, and it was Hazel’s final UK hit album. vlcsnap-00007

In October 1981 “Hanging Around” was released which reached no. 45. This was a cover of a song by The Stranglers. In January 1982 “Calls The Tune” was released which reached no. 60, and this turned out to be Hazel’s final UK hit single. Also around this time Hazel appeared on the CITV shows No. 73 and Razzmatazz. Although Hazel would have no more hits, she would continue to have some success in the 80s with her acting career and contributions to charity records. vlcsnap-00010

In 1982 Hazel starred in ITV’s Jangles (which I reviewed on here recently) where she played a schoolgirl called Joanne (even though she was about 26 at the time) who dreamed of being a pop star. Sue “Audrey off Coronation Street” Nicholls played her mum. I thought it was great and the character of Herald is my new favourite thing. During the series she performed some of her own songs including “(Cover Plus) We’re All Grown Up”, along with covers of “School’s Out” and “Anything Goes”. vlcsnap-00028

In 1983 Hazel appeared in the video for “Who’s That Girl” by the Eurythmics and was on Pop Quiz again. In February 1984 “Don’t Touch Me” was released which reached a disappointing no. 81. George Michael appears in the video for this one. The album “Smile” also failed to chart. Also around this time Hazel was interviewed on Channel 4’s The Tube. In June 1984 Hazel made her third and final Pop Quiz appearance. In September 1984 Hazel contributed to the Channel 4 series Ladybirds and was interviewed in TV Timesvlcsnap-00026

In August 1986 Hazel starred in a BBC1 drama series called Fighting Back where she played a struggling mother called Viv which earned her a Radio Times cover. And yes, she also performed the theme music which was released as a single. Also in 1986, Hazel appeared in BBC2’s Alas Smith And Jones, Channel 4’s Prospects, and the film Car Trouble which starred Julie Walters. vlcsnap-00002

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Hazel appears in Radio Times in August 1986

In April 1987 Hazel was one of the many contributors to “Let It Be”, a cover of the Beatles song for the charity Ferry Aid, which reached no. 1. Also in this month Breaking Glass was shown on Channel 4 and Hazel was interviewed in TV Times again. In November 1987 Hazel contributed to “Wishing Well”, another charity single this time as a part of the group GOSH which reached no. 22. In more recent years, Hazel has released many more albums and continues to tour the country and perform all her famous hits. hazel0002

UPDATE! Shortly after completing this piece, the woman herself retweeted the link to it, and she also replied to me, saying that she thought it was “lovely”. I was so thrilled, I never expected a response from any of the pop stars that I have written about on here so a big thank you to Hazel for doing that.

The YouTube Files – The Bananarama Story Part 3.

Here’s the third and final part of the Bananarama story… banana7

In November 1988 their cover of “Nathan Jones” was released which reached no. 15. They appeared on various shows including CBBC’s Going Live!The Satellite Show, BBC1’s The Royal Variety Performance, Wogan, and Top Of The PopsThey also performed this live on BBC1 at the Smash Hits Poll Winners’ Party at the Royal Albert Hall. My sister went to this one so she has seen them live! Also around this time they appeared on the cover of Lookin and NME for the third and final time. vlcsnap-00049

In February 1989 their cover of “Help!” was released which reached no. 3, and it was also their tenth and final UK Top Ten hit. In December 1988 French And Saunders along with Kathy Burke did a parody of Bananarama in their comedy show as Lananeeneenoonoo. They then teamed up with the real ladies for this single for Comic Relief, and also performed it on the live BBC1 show, and both trios appeared on the cover of Number One. In March 1989 Bananarama began their World Tour, playing their hits to big crowds in various countries. vlcsnap-00050

In June 1989 “Cruel Summer ’89” was released which was a remixed version of their 1983 hit which reached no. 19. There was no new video as such, just a compilation of old ones. In December 1989 they contributed to Band Aid II for the second version of “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” which again topped the chart, and Keren and Sara were the only people to perform on the first and second versions. vlcsnap-00077

In July 1990 “Only Your Love” was released which reached no. 27. This one is rather funky and is among my favourite singles of theirs. I don’t know how many of their videos where shown exclusively on The ITV Chart Show but this one was! They performed this on BBC1’s Wogan, they were interviewed on CITV’s Ghost Train, and they also appeared on the cover of Sounds and Smash Hits for the third and final time. vlcsnap-00001

In January 1991 “Preacher Man” was released which reached no. 20. This led to their 20th Top Of The Pops appearance, and they also performed this on CITV’s Motormouth, The Disney Club, ITV’s This Morning, and The Ronn Lucas Show. Oh now I remember watching Ronn Lucas’s show on ITV in the early-90s, he was a ventriloquist, whatever happened to him? vlcsnap-00062

In April 1991 their cover of “Long Train Running” was released which reached no. 30. They performed this on BBC1’s Little And Large, Going Live, and they were also interviewed by Michael Aspel on ITV’s Aspel And Company. In May 1991 their fifth album “Pop Life” was released which reached no. 42. vlcsnap-00038

In August 1991 “Tripping On Your Love” was released which reached no. 76, making it their first single to miss the Top 75 in the UK since their debut “Aie A Mwana” almost a decade earlier. Also around this time, Jacquie announced her departure from Bananarama after just over three years. She went off to form a new group but she had no further hits, and it seems that she has now long since left the music business. vlcsnap-00004

Keren and Sara decided to carry on as a duo and in August 1992 “Movin’ On” was released which reached no. 24. They performed this on the first edition of CITV’s What’s Up Doc?, and they also made their 21st Top Of The Pops appearance, their last one until 2005. vlcsnap-00008

In November 1992 “Last Thing On My Mind” was released which reached a rather disappointing no. 71. However, it had a second lease of life when it was covered by Steps to finally become a Top Ten hit in 1998. They performed this on BBC1’s Pebble Mill and Children In NeedTo give some kind of an idea of the different musical directions that they had gone in, also in this month Siobhan’s post-Bananarama project Shakespear’s Sister released the downbeat “Hello (Turn Your Radio On)”, it’s somewhat unlikely that Steps will be releasing a disco cover of that one soon. vlcsnap-00010

In March 1993 their cover of the disco classic “More More More” was released which reached no. 24. They wouldn’t have another hit single in the UK for 12 years. They appeared again on The Disney Club and they were also interviewed live on GMTV. In April 1993 their sixth album “Please Yourself” was released which reached no. 46. vlcsnap-00024

The story doesn’t really end here of course, so to briefly go over what happened post-1993. Keren and Sara have continued to work together, and in 2005 “Move In My Direction” became their first UK Top 20 hit single since 1991 and got them back on Top Of The Pops for the first time since 1992. They have also released four more albums, 1995’s “Exotica”, 2001’s “Ultra Violet”, 2005’s “Drama”, and 2009’s “Viva”, along with more best-of compilations, and when they aren’t having a party near where I live they have continued to tour and appear on TV around the world, and over 35 years on from their first hit single they remain very popular.