Apr 23

Radio Go!Go!Go! On Air (Part Two)

OK, enough with the showbiz schmoozing already. It was time in a none more child-friendly manner for poo to get real. Walking out into the auditorium, this was the sight that greeted the eager fans as they filed in to all three levels of the Shepherd’s Bush Empire once the doors were finally open. The Go!Go!Go! live show was ready for its big London homecoming performance.

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It is worth at this point paying tribute to the talents of Ian Hardman who plays the Mr Baffled character. As he’s not formally one of the Go’s himself he risks at times being reduced to little more than a spare part in the songs and videos (despite having the song Questions to himself as his big number) but it is in the live shows that he truly comes into his own. After warming the crowd up on his own he then acts as the central focus around which the plot revolves and more importantly gives the group something and someone to interact with throughout the show. More than anyone else he is the character and the comedy and in a show pitched firmly at children that is actually one of the most important parts of all.

For those of us who came to the group via the songs on TV it is a fun novelty to see them in the place they all began, as characters in a stage show. Hence Go!Go!Go! live is a breathless hybrid. Part pop concert, part comedy and part pantomime. The plot of the 2014 edition of the show revolves around the group assisting Mr Baffled as host of Radio Go!Go!Go!, at least until their generator breaks down and to their horror they find themselves off the air. A series of attempts to resolve the problem all end in failure until they work out that the station is actually powered by socks, prompting a mass sock-throwing by the audience who have all been supplied with the requisite props. Truly you have not lived until you’ve sat in the stalls of a theatre and been pelted with footwear from the two levels of balconies above whilst toddlers and young children scurry around at your feet to convey them with enthusiasm to the front of the stage. Meanwhile all the familiar songs are present and correct with many finding their true home in their proper context of the plot of the show (particularly the brand new songs from the album such as Picture Of The World and Let Him Go whose purpose and lyrics finally hit home). With the radio station restored and following a quick-fire costume change the show climaxes with a three song concert, at which point all respect for seating arrangements go out the window and the audience are encouraged to gather in front of the stage to cheer and clap along. If all you have come here for is a review, then take it from me the whole thing is brilliantly executed, immaculately staged and if you are five years old I’m sure utterly magical.

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Many of the more familiar Go!Go!Go! songs had their now familiar videos projected onto the big screen behind the group as they were performing, affording the eagle-eyed the opportunity to note just how well drilled the performances are. At times it was almost astounding to note that the figures on stage were dancing in utterly perfect synchronisation with their television counterparts behind them. Somehow that only added to my own appreciation of the abilities of the group.

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Seeing all six characters onstage in a full show meant the chance to learn a little more about the personalities of each member of the group. Character traits that are reduced to little more than one-shot sight gags in the music videos can now be seen in their proper context. Carl’s magic tricks, Steve’s yoga moves, Jade’s nerdy bookishness and Holly’s well meaning bossiness all come to the fore and form part of their own personal set-pieces. Indeed in a way it is possible to marvel at just how well the Nick Jnr. video clips have worked for much of the audience in isolation for the year they have been airing. Once you’ve seen the show itself in full they start to make much greater sense.

The more cynical ear might note that in the early part of the show at least there wasn’t actually much live singing going on, although the fact that every number comes complete with its own carefully choreographed and energetic dance routine may have something to do with that. Big names from Britney to Beyonce have mimed their way through big set pieces in the past so there is nothing untoward about it. Cleverly though the producers of the show were just keeping their powder dry, making the moment when everyone gathers around for live harmonies on an acoustic rendition of Wake Up Smiling all the more spectacular. The five of them do indeed have proper singing chops and rise to the challenge when they are given the opportunity to prove it.

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It seems almost unfair to single out any one or two performers for special praise but it is hard to ignore the pair who are clearly the standout stars. Jade is easily the best singer out of the girls, handed the lead vocal for the most demanding songs and with a performing and stage presence which makes her impossible to ignore, purple dungarees or not. If anyone is set for stardom beyond the lifespan of the Go!Go!Go! project then it is almost certainly the pixie-like girl from Wolverhampton. To my surprise, out of the two boys it was Carl who impressed me the most. I’d never really paid him much attention in the past, perhaps because his only lead vocal is on the weakest of the TV-filmed songs Choices. On stage however it becomes clear that his are the leading male vocals and perhaps most pertinently of all when it comes to the two show-stealing ballads in the show it is the two strongest singers – Jade on Picture Of The World and Carl on Let Him Go – who are handed the task of delivering.

It was my wife who, in between tolerating my own childish glee at being at the show and in truth appreciating it all herself, who asked the most pertinent question of the day. As good as Go!Go!Go! are as a children’s show, how can they function in an adult world? I think the answer to that is simply for now they have no immediate need to at all. The next logical step is for the show to become a fully fledged children’s series. All it needs is a high profile commission from a channel such as Cbeebies, CITV or Milkshake and the adventures of Go!Go!Go! can become a multi-part series, each one showcasing a song and a performance. From there it is a straightforward leap to mainstream attention and popularity. It is the S Club 7 template which is the one to bear in mind here. They may well have invaded the charts from nowhere in the summer of 1999 but for their initial target audience they had already been on TV screens for several weeks beforehand, leading to a huge rush of people who wanted to get their hands on the theme song. If Wake Up Smiling and their ilk are to ever become proper hits, this will be the route that they take.

That said, and the reason why I’m so happy to keep cheerleading for them, the pop songs in the show, penned by Mike Stock and Steve Crosby are so powerfully good it is just wrong for them to be hidden away on a TV channel pitched at toddlers. I couldn’t help but note the pre-show musical playlist which was essentially the full catalogue of Mike Stock’s greatest song-writing hits as it ran through the opus of Kylie, Steps and even the Fast Food Rockers. All the Go!Go!Go! songs sit comfortably alongside those more established hits and it seems almost impossible to imagine that pop music this good is destined to remain under the radar forever.

The Go!Go!Go Show – This is the Life from Pixel DNA on Vimeo.

 

Strange though this may sound from someone who spends a disproportionate amount of time reducing music to figures and statistics, I’ve always firmly believed music to be an emotional experience. The best songs are the ones that stir your passions, reach deep into your soul and can both soothe the emotional lows and life you to new found heights of euphoria. And nothing beats the true high of seeing it all happen in front of you. Whether it was seeing songs that I love in their proper context, or the fact that it was some of my favourite people performing them for me, I’m not really sure. All I know is that I left the Go!Go!Go! show unable to recall the last time I’d been quite so happy. Judging by the face of the three year old girl who had spent most of the show dancing on my lap, I don’t think I was the only one in our party either. If my daughter grows up to love music as much as I do, I think I know the exact moment the spark was lit inside her. Which made it all the more special to have been there to experience it.

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Perhaps it was the one big at the end when the magic was sealed for everyone. Most shows end with a curtain call and the performers heading off to the dressing room. Not this one. Go!Go!Go! took their bows and announced they were now available for photos and autographs, exiting the stage through the audience to take up station in the bar at the back of the theatre. The one to one experience wasn’t just for the privileged you see, everyone who wanted to could meet their heroes and take away their own souvenir of the day, the blizzard of Facebook and Instagram shots which followed each show of the tour indicating that large numbers of people did just that.

Perhaps you are reading this piece in the months to come, wondering whether to invest in a ticket for any more Go!Go!Go! live shows that might be scheduled in the coming months. I can say unequivocally and with true feeling that yes you absolutely should.

Hats off to the best set of entertainers it has ever been my privilege to know. Once more I cannot wait to see what happens next.

Apr 22

Radio Go!Go!Go! On Air (Part One)

The O2 Shepherd’s Bush Empire (or the BBC TV Theatre as it used to be when I was a callow youth) has played host to a wide range of huge musical names over the years. None however generated quite the same level of excitement in both myself and my family as the name that adorned the marquee on Easter Monday.

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After weeks of buildup and no small amount of anticipation, the brand new Go!Go!Go! easter tour had finally rolled around to the capital for its climactic performance and to my joy I was going to get to be there too. In case you need to play catch up, I’ve written before about this exciting pop band, unashamedly and successfully marketed to children via the Nick Jnr. TV channel. A week ago they released their first ever commercially available CD and DVD which saw them register on the album charts for the very first time. Having got to know many of them online over the past few months, the prospect of seeing them all perform in the flesh and to shake their hands as well was… well let’s just say it brought out the inner five year old in me.

Why else would the entire Masterton clan be loitering round the back of the building and praying that the sudden deluge that hit the Shepherd’s Bush area at 12.45pm wasn’t going to return any time soon?

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As I noted at the time, I spend my working life associating with people who might be regarded as internationally famous. Men who have scored goals in World Cup finals have offered to make me a cup of tea as they filled up the kettle in the office kitchen. Celebrity means little to me, but it was hard not to feel just a little thrilled as we were issued with wristbands, lanyards and tickets and shown to the dress circle lounge bar ready to meet our heroes.

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Seeing everyone march through the door in full costume was an experience in itself. You can see all the pictures and videos in the world, but nothing prepares you for the visual treat of seeing it in the flesh. It was like a giant smiling rainbow as the line-up of yellows, blues, purples, reds and whites combined to make the kind of colourful spectacle that cannot help but appeal to children. Image is everything in the entertainment industry and as much as I was able to greet some performers who whom I held in the highest regard, my little girl was being greeted by six cartoon characters made flesh in a moment I’m sure is going to live with her for a very long time.

As for the impression it made on me? Well as brief a pre-show meet and greet as it was, I was delighted to be able to confirm just how amazing the members of Go!Go!Go! are. Steve is the kind of bloke you want to have a pint with, Carl was dressed so immaculately I was scared of creasing him, Gemma is the heart-meltingly beautiful sweetheart she portrays on screen, Jade’s smile is as wide as the glasses she wears for her costume and Holly’s neon-red hair is almost as captivating as the expressive eyes she uses to make her every performing moment such a hoot.

So as far as I’m concerned it was achievement unlocked. Months of unabashed fandom climaxed in a chance to gather for a group photograph, even if words are still to be had to the people who failed to tell me that for my big souvenir moment, this tantalisingly brief morsel of time in which I get to pretend to be one of the gang, that I needed to adjust my dress and tuck my shirt in properly. Damn you all.

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All of this and there was still the performance itself to come. To be continued….

Apr 20

Soundtracks Of My Life

Talk of the latest annual Record Store Day yesterday set me searching for something to jog my memory of the first ever record shop I remember patronising as a teenager. Three weeks ago I would have failed in this mission, but then at the start of April someone put this picture up on Facebook:

 

That’s a shot of the interior of Soundtracks which used to occupy a unit in the Horsefair Centre in Wetherby, just across the way from the large Morrison’s superstore. Even before I had the money to buy singles I used to ask not to go into the shops with Mum but instead loiter outside just to peruse the copies of the singles and album chart which were pinned up in the window from the Music Week pullouts. When I started to get pocket money in 1988 it was more or less a given that I’d be spending it inside. Those wooden pigeonholes just above the counter were for the stocks of chart singles, all racked in order. You’d go inside and ask for them by number at which point Ann the owner and manager would reach up and retrieve the one you had requested. Just below them was a record player which supplied the soundtrack for the shop. If you ever had cause to return a faulty single it was given a quick spin to confirm that it did indeed skip at which point it was swapped without quibble.

Soundtracks closed some years ago, the fight against the price points achieved by online retailers proving to be one that it was impossible for an independent shop in a small market town to win. A sad but inevitable consequence of the march of progress. I won’t deny I miss small record shops, but even for an avid collector like me there is little reason left to go inside. Occupying the parade of shops next to the slope which leads down to my local station is a tantalising looking second hand record store, one which is clearly run by the owner as a labour of love. He opens it on Fridays and Saturdays only, frustratingly the days when I never actually have the time or the opportunity to walk down there to take a proper look. I feel almost compelled to one day spend money there, but I’m not really sure what I would buy. Once upon a time a shop selling old and catalogue product was a Godsend for someone like me seeking to build up a library of music and to obtain an elusive copy of that song from when I was five years old that I’d sometimes hear on the radio and want to be able to play whenever I want. Now I not only own all of my favourite songs, but anything else I want to hear can probably be located via streaming services or other online mediums.

The joy of discovering a playable copy of that old favourite which you haven’t head for years or which popped up on the radio when you were listening on Sunday morning lurking in the box of discarded singles in a charity shop is one that a whole new generation will probably never know. I can’t help but find that a little sad.

Mar 24

A Boy on The Bay

This month, in the heart of darkest Lancashire, one of the countries smaller yet rather well regarded radio stations is celebrating a special anniversary. Hard to think it now, but this March marked 21 years since The Bay first took to the airwaves from its studios in the heart of Lancaster. To commemorate the occasion the station created a mini feature on its website with pictures and memories from its two decades plus on the air.

The reason this resonates so much with me? Well despite never formally being a member of the team of the radio station, it played an important part in my own career development and my growing love of radio. Because I was there too, right from the start.

The story all began in the weeks leading up to the launch of the station. The big on-air moment was scheduled for 8am on the morning of March 1st 1993 with a breakfast reception featuring representatives of the great and good of the Lancaster area, all crammed into the cleverly designed function room which allowed a goldfish bowl view onto the on-air studio. Needing some willing hands to help out on the day, the management of the station reached out to those of us running the student radio station at the university and asked if we’d be willing to provide support. Nothing glamorous obviously, mainly being car park marshals or manning the cloakroom – which is how I found myself in a position to hear first hand the welcome message from the Captain of Royal Navy Submarine HMS Vanguard as he radioed in live to officially put the radio station on air. We listened to all the speeches of thanks, handed everyone back their coats, drank the left over orange juice and pretty much thought nothing of it.

The launch of The Bay was an immediate success, particularly in an area which had until that point been poorly served by local radio, Preston station Rock FM (as it had mutated into by then) treating Lancaster as something of an afterthought in terms of coverage and attention. The Bay’s music policy was branded on air as “Classic Hits” although in tone it was closer to the middle of the road easy listening sound of the present day Magic network rather than a Gold service, playing famous old hits but unafraid to stir in newer sounds if they merited inclusion on the playlist. I never for a moment imagined I’d end up broadcasting there though, particularly not whilst still a student.

That was until later that summer when the campus radio station set forth grand plans for its first ever Restricted Service Licence, enabling us to cast off the crackly old AM loop system which restricted our audience to broadly nobody and spend a month spreading the word on FM. The plan was to go live for the very start of the new academic year in September 1993. We made sure funds were in place, gained the support of the University Dean who was legally our licencee and submitted the application to the Radio Authority. Who promptly turned us down flat.

The problem was the existence of The Bay. To protect the new business whilst it did the hard work of building an audience from scratch, the Radio Authority had an unwritten rule that no RSL stations could be allowed to operate in its area during the first year on air. Essentially we would be clashing with their attempts to establish themselves and despite an amateur student rabble presenting no clear threat either in terms of audience crossover or competition for advertising spend, we would have to go without. Our station director (these days a very big name in the world of broadcasting technology) was undaunted and wrote a pleading letter to The Bay to ask if they’d be willing to support our application and allow this rule to be waived.

Sensibly they declined, but instead dangled an intriguing carrot. How about they let us invade their airwaves. Overnight they took the Chiltern-originated Classic Gold service rather than running live shows themselves, so for the very first week of term – fresher’s week – they suggested that we wannabe DJs filled two three hour slots ourselves – it was to be Bailrigg On The Bay.

Now this was actually rather clever politicking on the part of the commercial radio station. Faced with their first ever influx of potential new listeners for the new university year, they were effectively getting us to do their marketing to campus for them, encouraging these new arrivals to the area to try out the local radio station. Because after all we’d still be playing Classic Hits on The Bay. Still, it was too good an offer to pass up. Plus was I, the most unashamedly ambitious radio presenter wannabe on the membership list at that time, going to throw away the chance to kick start what I hoped was going to be a stellar career? Heck no.

So it was that I (and my then two car loads of possessions) arrived back in Lancaster a day or so earlier than usual that September, ready for a Sunday afternoon training session at the radio station.

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As I recall we had all had to submit demo tapes to the programme controller Kenni James (of whom more later) but virtually everyone who wanted a slot was going to get a go on air – or at least that was the plan at first.

To this day I can still remember just what an extraordinary thrill it was. Up to that point I’d only ever presented on ancient hospital radio desks, RSL stations using disco mixers from Tandy and the rather rickety contraption that represented studios Alan and Bob back at the University Radio Bailrigg base. To just walk into the gleaming environment of The Bay was like stepping into another world. It wasn’t just that the setup was still brand new, with every light and switch active, the carpets clean and the music library still on fresh almost untouched CDs – although that helped. This was my first time in a professional environment and one which had been lovingly constructed by a team of experts with great skill. I’ve since presented on radio stations across the country, both local and national, but never have I been in a studio that made you sound so incredibly good as those at The Bay. I opened the mic during a training session, said my name, and heard my voice come back to me through the headphones sounding deep and rich and smooth. The perfect studio environment is a game raiser, make no mistake, and I knew that I owed it to myself to make what was effectively my professional debut (albeit at midnight and totally unpaid) the most brilliant sounding broadcast of my short life to that date.

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In the interests of putting our best foot forward, I was selected to launch Bailrigg On The Bay on what if memory serves was the Monday night of that week. Naturally they weren’t going to let us loose on their precious airwaves unsupervised and so during the week various members of the presentation team were instructed to ‘babysit’ us as we played Mariah Carey songs through the night. Our host for the first hour was the man in charge – Kenni James himself.

He was an extraordinarily intimidating presence, an imposing figure of a man and a radio presenter from the 80s school of local radio talent, when the jocks on ILR services were legitimately local superstars and developed a stage presence and egos to match. A veteran of north-west broadcasting (for years the soul man on Radio Merseyside before a successful career as Programme Director on Red Rose and Radio City), he was every inch the pretend rock star, complete with gleaming smile, a huge mane of dark hair and a radio voice that he never really dropped, his every utterance sounding as if he was talking to thousands. But he’d generally been there, worn the t-shirt and was now advancing his own career by putting together his very own radio station from scratch for the first time. And this man was going to be sat at my right hand side during my first three hours on air. Ready, I was presuming, to throw me off the moment I put a foot wrong.

So for the first 20 minutes I was a mess, shaking with nerves and hardly daring to say much beyond time and namechecks. During one disc I muttered something about not getting this completely right, to which Kenni James responded that I could always step away and let someone else have a go. Like that was ever going to happen. Suitably motivated I took a call from a lady living near by who wanted a mention as she was about to start University as a mature student that week and was nervous. I dedicated a record to her and just as it started added: “being a student is dead easy, don’t worry you are going to love it, I promise.”

“Excellent stuff, great link” enthused Mr James. From that moment on I knew I’d nailed it. I was suddenly the king of late night, gaining new confidence with every link and even daring to ride the intro of certain discs. It was everything I’d dreamed of since fourth year and more. Later that night Kenni drifted away into the office to nap (or style his hair, we weren’t completely sure), leaving myself and 3am shift jock Karen to snap away at each other to preserve the moment.

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Little did I know just how much he was appreciating my work. Stirring from some much needed slumber later that day I was greeted with the news that the boss of the station had thrown a spanner in the works. He wanted me as the star of Bailrigg on The Bay for the rest of that week, taking the midnight slot each night. Everyone else who still wanted to do it would have to go on at 3am. Naturally few of the other hopefuls at the university station were impressed and I had every sympathy with them. They deserved their shot at it too. On the other hand this was for me the most extraordinary affirmation. I’d coveted a career on the radio since I was 15 years old, had spent years playing with cassettes at home before paying my dues on a variety of amateur platforms. For the first time ever someone with professional experience and the power to hire and fire had heard my efforts and told me I had a future in this job. I wasn’t barking up the wrong tree with my chosen career path. It seemed I had within me the talent to do it.

Ultimately I did end up doing most of the week on air, save I think for one night when for the sake of retaining friends I took a back seat and two of my colleagues took the reigns instead, although I still stayed overnight at the studios just in case of disasters. It meant that during the week I got to speak to and learn from many of the other presenters on the station, well known northern radio names such as Les Gunn (who played me the demo tape he was sending out at the time – giving me tips on job hunting before I’d even started looking for one), evening presenter Dave Collins (a pirate radio veteran and scouse radio legend in his own right and who bemoaned to my friends the fact that I wasn’t at all gay but who did suggest that the fact that in my 20s I was irresistible to camp men would stand me in good stead in the media) and the new boy on the block Dave Richards who was the token local lad who had been plucked from obscurity to join the line-up. The only two presenters from the launch squad we never encountered during those late summer nights were regrettably the two biggest, velvet-voiced Manchester giant Mike Shaft (who has his own tribute to his days at The Bay on his own site) and the then slumming it afternoon presenter Spence MacDonald who perhaps quite sensibly was not trusted to make sure a bunch of students behaved themselves on air and would almost certainly have led us dangerously astray. By the weekend though they had either run out of volunteers or trusted us (me?) enough to behave ourselves. It meant I had the run of the building, although I never did locate the air conditioning controls which meant that one night the kitchen fridge had a more pleasant ambience than the on air studio.

Memorabilia? Of course I kept it, from the Bay Megamug which I’m sure is still tucked at the back of a cupboard at my parents’ house, to the now faded printout of one of the music logs from that week which still has pride of place in my box of special radio moments.

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The week ended and we all went our separate ways, save for a free party for our new station recruits hosted in the function room one evening a week or so later. Kenni James had intimated that he had plans for me, wanting to shoehorn me into the weekend schedules somewhere but for whatever reason (maybe because I didn’t seem to want it enough or just didn’t keep asking) nothing ever materialised. Even so, when I graduated at the end of that year and needed to do the hard work of looking for a proper job, The Bay was the first place I turned to. I booked myself to see Kenni James once more, sent him a demo tape of recent work and phoned him once a week for a month when he didn’t completely turn me down flat. In the end though, I had to let it go only to find my career taking off in the offices of a slightly more established radio station back in Yorkshire – although that of course is another story altogether.

21 years later the radio station is still there, still the core property of the tiny group which operates it, although now a much more generic Top 40 hits station rather than the “best music ever” format it launched with and still in the same converted warehouse near the quayside in which it was first built. Over the years I’d present and produce on bigger stations, in better slots and to far wider audiences, but I don’t think the magic of those first moments on my first ever professional radio station has ever actually been topped.

Feb 19

A Hairy Escape

I very rarely tweet anything outside of blog updates and links to articles these days, but one morning back in January I felt compelled to post the following:

It seemed entirely appropriate to express support for a true gentleman and a broadcaster whom I’d always held in high esteem as he began the arduous task of defending himself against what proved eventually to be what we had always suspected – a raft of utterly ludicrous charges of sexual misconduct. Nonetheless it was a nervy time, although information from several friends who had made regular trips to the public gallery at Southwark Crown Court during the weeks the trial of Dave Lee Travis was ongoing indicated that the case against him was unravelling on a daily basis.

Despite the court being just around the corner from the office where I work, to my shame the opportunity to go and observe proceedings never quite presented itself, although during the days of jury deliberation I did get a chance to wander past and snap the waiting media as they lingered for the moment when he would emerge from the court in (muted) triumph.

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I was actually too young to have ever listed to Dave Lee Travis in his prime, my Radio One listening coming long after he had been relegated to occasional weekend slots as the hardy veteran of the network. Nonetheless there are plenty of tapes of his early days in circulation. Take for example this extract of a show he presented on Christmas Eve 1971. Listening to it makes you appreciate just why he had such an extended career at the top of his profession, his style even back then a world away from the rather forced and unnatural sound of many of his Radio One contemporaries. In a sense he was almost ahead of his time, projecting the same natural warmth and effortless communication skills which he would still be demonstrating several decades later.

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No, my fondest memories of DLT on the radio came at the very end of the late 1980s, and particularly the lunchtime shows he presented on Radio One at the weekend. Sundays in particular were DLT days and memories of the routine of listening to his show whilst engaging in the weekly ritual of cleaning and dusting my bedroom, all the while with the Sunday roast cooking downstairs remain to this day a genuine touchstone to a particular moment of my adolescence. As an eager student of musical history, his programme was never less than worthwhile. In essence these weekend shows gave him the freedom to be a genuine Rex Bob Lowenstein, mixing and matching classic rock and pop with the very best contemporary sounds. Through him I learned of Steely Dan, of Todd Rundgren of Edwin Starr (the willing participant in a memorable April Fools prank) of Fleetwood Mac and even Clifford T Ward. The commercial chart stuff I could get from the shows on during the week. Weekends were where you went to have your mind expanded.

Whilst it is a problem entirely of his own making, it is naturally a shame that Dave Lee Travis will forever be defined by that one hotheaded moment in the summer of 1993 when he made the famous “changes are taking place that go against my principles” speech in which he revealed that he would not be renewing his contract when it expired later that year in what was admittedly a rather undignified and overblown manner.

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Contrary to popular belief, he wasn’t directly fired for that outburst and would theoretically have continued on air until the end of the year, departing Radio One as part of the first wave of Bannisterisation under the regime of the new controller. But instead, as then controller Johnny Beerling explains in his autobiography Radio One: The Inside Scene:

Peace was restored for two whole days until Wednesday August 11, when Dave came to see me to tell me he had not felt able to keep his lip buttoned any longer and had given an exclusive interview to Piers Morgan for The Sun. In the interview Dave talked about his meetings with John Birt and Liz Forgan, his desire to be moved to a Network where he could appeal to a middle aged audience, and how he felt BBC morale to be at an all time low. Liz was even more furious than I. “Dirty little toad” was the description that she spat out and I too felt somewhat betrayed. I told Dave he had effectively fired himself and we would no longer have need of his services. He accepted the situation and understood full well that I had no alternative. I suspect he knew anyway that the way the BBC was changing would mean that there would be little future for him in the new Controller’s Radio 1. Because there was still no overall strategy regarding Radios 1 & 2’s music, BBC Radio as a whole lost out and eventually commercial radio gained another big name DJ. This was only a foretaste of what was to come.

Beerling, Johnny (2010-11-05). Radio 1 – The Inside Scene (Kindle Locations 8220-8232). Lambs Meadow Publications. Kindle Edition.

DLT spent the next few years shuttling around a variety of commercial stations, via a syndicated weekend programme hosted by short-lived satellite network Quality Europe FM and one which was taken by a handful of FM stations in this country. He did of course remain with the BBC in one respect, continuing to host the World Service request show A Jolly Good Show until 1999, one which ensured he remained a huge name in those parts of the world where the BBC’s overseas broadcasts still command a huge audience. The British media reacted with some bemusement when Burmese dissident Aung San Suu Kyi spoke in glowing terms of the comfort his shows gave her when she spent years under house arrest in her native country, but it was nothing more than a reflection of the celebrity he still maintained despite his apparent domestic fall from grace.

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Eventually DLT was hired to work a regular show by the then GWR-owned Classic Gold network and it was here that I ran into him for the first time. The radio station I was working for needed a new sustaining service for its AM licence and so signed a deal to take the Classic Gold network. My bosses at the time quickly identified that the presence of Dave Lee Travis on the schedules was a major selling point and should be the focus of their marketing efforts. To his obvious delight he was thus booked for a series of photo sessions which became the core of the “DLT’s Back!” marketing campaign with a series of postcards depicting – yes – DLT’s back as thanks to some studio wizardy he peered out from behind himself.

There was even a fully branded bus, one that I captured with a photograph the day an example was parked outside the studios, attracting the attention of some of Bradford council’s finest in the process.

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In return Dave Lee Travis was more than happy to give up his time to do any promotional work needed, happy to lend his name and image, for example, to a stamp collecting appeal which raised money to train several guide dog puppies. On the days when he came into the office I’m ashamed to say I was actually far too starstruck to have the courage to talk to him properly and tell him how much of an inspiration he was growing up, a crying shame because knowing what I do of him he would have been very touched to learn it.

During the course of his trial, defence counsel produced a string of character witnesses who all refuted the allegations of offensive or boorish behaviour which had been levelled at him. It all proved what many of us knew already, that for all the buffoonish public image and rather sneering coverage of his post-BBC career. Whilst it isn’t really my story to tell, it would be remiss of me here not to mention the experience of one good friend of mine, these days one of the most highly respected radio broadcasters of his generation and a man who commands vast audiences across an entire region, but who was once a teenage hopeful wanting to learn all he could about radio. After spotting Dave Lee Travis on a BBC documentary in the early 90s bemoaning that few people ever approach him about wanting to learn from his experience, my friend wrote him a letter asking for advice. He was shocked to receive in return a multi-page handwritten letter containing a huge list of tips, tricks and encouragement. Having treasured the letter for decades, many years later my friend was able to approach him at a company awards ceremony, showed him the pages and thanked him for writing it. Travis apparently was so touched he openly wept at his table.

As I say, that’s not really my story to tell. But it stands as a shining example of his warm, generosity and humble spirit and gives you something of the measure of the man.

So it was with some joy that last week I was awakened from a post-overnight shift sleep by messages from friends that the verdict had come down and that as expected he had been cleared of virtually all charges levelled against him with the jury deadlocked on two more and with common sense suggesting that they too will end up being dropped. It is hard not to feel aggrieved at the personal cost to him of this ordeal, selling his house and being in danger of losing everything he had worked his whole life for because of baseless allegations. The only hope now is that he finds some way of restoring his reputation and his career and I cannot help but to watch gleefully the dilemma that Magic AM now find themselves in, facing questions from listeners who will want to know, given that Coronation Street stood by its two stars who were similarly acquitted of serious charges and welcomed them immediately back to work, why the Saturday lunchtime DLT show should not be reinstated to the schedules.

If it happens, I know I’ll be turning in with pleasure, whilst at the same time harbouring evil thoughts about campaigning to get this classic moment of pop music back into the charts:

 

Jan 26

Hey, What Does It Take (Again)?

A little under a year ago and following a request from a friend I posted a detailed breakdown of just how many copies it took to reach the top of the singles chart in 2012. With a full 12 months having elapsed and an whole new year of data to work with it seemed only appropriate to update that now, and hopefully answer for the benefit of anyone searching for the next 12 months the answer to the eternal question:

How many copies do you have to sell to reach Number One?

Last year to avoid an excessive skew, I disregarded the final two weeks of 2012 in these calculations as the X Factor single followed by the Christmas Number One race meant that the Number One single in those weeks registered sales far in excess of the norm. This time around this isn’t necessary as in reaching the top of the charts at Christmas the Sam Bailey single actually sold close to the average amount of any single this year, so all 52 weeks of 2013, from the chart dated 5th January 2013 (with James Arthur’s Impossible at the top) to the one dated 28th December 2013 (when Sam Bailey’s Skyscraper was at Number One) are included in these calculations.

Sales of Number One singles in 2013 ranged from a low point of 46,279 (achieved rather surprisingly by Lily Allen with Somewhere Only We Know on the chart of December 14th) to a high of 266,524 as sold by Wake Me Up by Avicii on July 27th. The mean value for all 52 weeks was just shy of 109,113 copies whilst the median figure (the exact mid point of all the totals laid in order) was 104,501.5. It is therefore statistically sound to conclude that to reach Number One in an average week in 2013 a record would need to sell between 100,000 and 110,000 copies.

As in last year’s commentary, it must be noted that this is the total number of copies actually sold by Number One hits, not technically how much they needed to sell, a figure which will always be precisely one more copy than the Number 2 single that week.

The highest selling Number 2 single of 2013 was, perhaps surprisingly, Scream And Shout by will.i.am and Britney Spears in the very first chart of the year, selling 115,896 copies behind the James Arthur single. It was in fact one of five different occasions during the year when a record selling well into six figures only reached Number 2 and indeed one of two records which sold more than the average Number One single during the year but still failed to top the charts in that particular week.

At the other end of the scale, the lowest selling Number 2 single of the year (and thus the easiest target) was Counting Stars by OneRepublic which sold a mere 39,696 copies on September 21st, some distance behind the 103,000 sold by Katy Perry at the top of the charts that week. So it never really stood a chance.

In conclusion then, in a world when none of the Number One records actually existed, to guarantee to top the singles chart in any given week in 2013 your record would have had to sell 115,897 copies – actually far more than the average – although it could well have done so with just 39,697 copies (and it is worth noting that the notorious campaign to propel Ding Dong The Witch Is Dead to Number One back in April resulted in a sale of 52,605 copies in a week when the Number One single sold just 6,000 copies more). In the real world where your hypothetical single was competing with the market as it actually existed, you would need to command a sale of 266,525 to guarantee a Number One, 104,502 to stand a 50/50 chance over the course of the year and a mere 46,280 during the weakest week of the year.

Hope that is clear. See you in 2015.

Jan 19

Sausage Cottage

Just an average kind of day in South East London then.

This morning I prised myself out of bed at a slightly more ridiculous hour than I am comfortable with, propelled myself to the bathroom, noted how great I look in the morning and prepared for work.

Being a Sunday, the whole of the London area rail network has ground to a halt for engineering work. Knowing this in advance, I left the house at 9.45am to drive to the office instead.

By 10.30am I was on a bus to the neighbouring town to instead catch a train on the one line which was working to pitch up to work an hour later than planned.

This is why.

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Evening Update: Having been called back by the police, it is easier to piece together what happened. Although I’d assumed that the number plates had been swiped some time during the night, it was actually early on Saturday evening as at around 5.30pm a vehicle wearing the registration number of my denuded car filled up with £67 worth of petrol from a local station and drove off without attempting to pay. It would be nice to think they subsequently drove recklessly, slammed into a central reservation on the M20 and perished horribly in an ironic fireball of stolen petrol, but maybe fate has a different destiny for them, who knows.

All I can do now is drag my documents to Halfords at the start of the week to get new plates printed up and then spend the next week wondering if any surprise speeding, bus lane or congestion charge penalty notices will drop through the letterbox. After all if you are going to drive around pretending to be somebody else’s car, you should at least go all out and commit a few traffic violations. Seems only right. Or wrong.

 

Jan 17

We Have The Best Vid.. sorry, Fans.

Towards the end of 1988, BBC Radio One broadcast an informal countdown of what it claimed were its listeners favourite songs of all time. Not too dissimilar to similar surveys it had conducted in the past, the roll-call of the usual suspects of the time were all present and correct in this fun chart, aside from a seemingly random sprinkling of more contemporary hits. The Number One on this list was however rather more of a shock. Bohemian Rhapsody or Stairway To Heaven perhaps? No. The “Radio One Listeners” favourite song of all time ever at that precise moment was: When Will I Be Famous by Bros.

Actually this wasn’t such a shock when you noted just how the table had been compiled. Audiences to that summer’s Radio One Roadshows were asked to fill out cards listing their three favourite songs. Small wonder that when the votes were tallied the high proportion of teenage girls in the audience meant a rather unusual skew towards the likes of Bros and Wet Wet Wet (who also featured heavily).

There is nothing particularly wrong with conducting surveys amongst a self-selecting audience to find their favourite music of the moment, but the danger comes when you conflate the idea of “Popular” with “Best”. The most high profile example of public votes for popular music in recent years was the well received “Record Of The Year” event, broadcast by ITV every December between 1998 and 2005. Claimed by creator Jonathan King to be the inspiration for the Pop Idol/X Factor model of mass audience interactivity, the shows invited viewers to participate via a phone vote to select their favourite pop record of the year, taken from a shortlist of ten acts all of whom performed for the studio audience on the night.

The subsequent roll call of winners demonstrated just who the most enthusiastic voters were. Boyzone, Westlife, Westlife, S Club 7, Gareth Gates, Westlife, Busted, Westlife all in turn walked away with the prestigious prize. Pop acts were king, and the winner each time was actually a more or less foregone conclusion even before the show aired. Nobody minded because this was at the end of the day a Saturday night schedule filler and nobody was pretending that these records were the “best” of anything. Just the most popular of that moment. Job done, everybody move on.

In theory industry award ceremonies are supposed to be free of this level of partisanship. Whilst the almost insane levels of horse trading and lobbying that goes on behind the scenes sometimes causes the facade to crack, the annual Oscars ceremony is held up as a barometer of pure quality in movie making, as voted for by a panel of leading industry experts. When it comes to music awards however this distinction between expert artistic merit and true popularity seems to be problematic. Music does seem to lend itself to a small degree of intellectual snobbery after all and I’ve taken great delight in aligning myself against it over the years. That said the industry has not helped itself at times, the infamous 1989 Brit Awards being the ceremony where the sales-free Michelle Shocked was nominated for Best International Female whereas Kylie Minogue was not.

Hence the presence ever since of at least one award which is selected by the audience, generally that of Best British Single which has been voted for over the years by radio station listeners, flip flopping between the BBC and commercial radio depending on who is organising the thing at the time. This is why we have the likes of Take That, Girls Aloud and JLS on the roll-call of past winners. Of dubious merit, but it at least allows the night to contain one moment of randomness, so people let it slide.

This year however there is a new addition to the poll. The return of the Best British Video category after an absence of some years. At the time of writing we have no idea what the contenders are, merely that a shortlist of five is to be announced on the night with the winners selected by “social media users”. Even the official site for the awards is remaining coy as to what that means but it is not hard to imagine how that will work. Facebook Likes for each one? Possibly. What about asking people to tweet a hashtag? Sounds flawless. Except as we all know, the tweeting power of your average fangirl is pretty immense. How often do you glance at the table of trending topics and note that the whole thing is made up of panting Bieber-related slop or #Get1DToNumberOne astroturfing.

So it is obvious where this is heading. Straight down the When Will I Be Famous cul-de-sac. Except that the category here is for Best Video, the ultimate convergence of the audio and visual arts. Since its inception the four minute music track has proved to be the perfect subject matter for all manner of high level directors to focus their talents on telling a story quickly and effectively with the ability of a good video to sell a song having been studied and documented in precise detail over the years. Put simply an award for the best video clip is surely one gong which deserves to be judged solely on artistic merit by those best places to appreciate its quality. Not by tweeting teenagers whose sole barometer of quality is which unobtainable pretty boy they want to snog this week.

When One Direction pick up their Brit Award for Best British Video for Best Song Ever next month, don’t say I didn’t warn you. But let’s also note that one clip from two and a half decades ago and which to this day still ranks as one of the greatest ever visual accompaniments to a pop record ever was also the winner of a Best Video trophy – and there is no chance it would have done so faced with competition from Rick Astley fans.

Jan 06

Just The Facts Ma’am

I confess it has been a long time since I was a regular reader of Private Eye magazine, having stopped when it became apparent that the long-running satirical title is a pale shadow of what it used to be, and also when it appeared to start becoming the in-house magazine for the Sixth Form economists who regard paying as much tax as possible as some kind of strange moral duty. However, in need of some journey time reading material just before Christmas I picked up the most recent issue, and in some ways am glad I did, for one article in particular caught my eye:

It was this particular paragraph from the Street Of Shame column, poking fun at a London Evening Standard profile of one Stacey Jackson, wife as it so happens of city financier Henry Jackson:

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I was momentarily puzzled, because I had no recollection of any artist called Stacey Jackson having had a Number 8 hit any time in the past few years. Could it have been in a week when I wasn’t paying proper attention?

Intrigued, I went and looked up the source of the piece and indeed the breathless piece from the Evening Standard is indeed still online and it does indeed contain the reference to her apparently stellar pop career:

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Except this is patent bollocks. Enthusiastic as she is about her entirely self-financed album, neither it nor any of the singles from it have been anywhere near the charts, much less actually made the Top 10. So just where on earth has the author of the piece Maxine Frith got this information from?

Well some clue comes from the similarly breathless Wikipedia page on Ms Jackson, much of which appears to have been the work of a now-vanished user called “Anna12300”. This page once more repeats the claim about this mysterious single Pointing Fingers, namely that:

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That’s an odd turn of phrase don’t you think? I mean who on earth refers to the “commercial pop charts” when talking about the success of music they have released. However the Wikipedia page happily contains a further clue as to what that actually means, a table of her musical achievements thus far contains a citation link pointing to the website of publishers and promoters Soulshaker Music and their past achievements for artists as diverse as Lindsay Lohan(!) and naturally enough Ms Stacey Jackson:

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Things now become a tiny bit clearer. The “commercial pop charts” boasted of by her Wikipedia page and which have ended up being interpreted as “the music charts” themselves by the Evening Standard writer are in fact the Music Week Commercial Pop Chart, one of a handful of club listings featured each week in Music Week – based not on actual sales but from surveys returned by club DJs across the country, based on no more accurate metrics than what their audiences have responded to the most during the course of the week and how often the tracks have featured in their sets. These listings are seen by some as a good barometer of just what is creating a ‘buzz’ in clubs and an indication of what may go onto commercial success in the future, but the methodology used to compile them is highly random and naturally enough open to influence – bung your favourite club DJ enough cash and he’ll feature you on his returns, regardless of whether he’s played the track or not. More importantly, to appear in the Music Week club charts does not require the sale of one single copy – just to place your record in the hands of someone with a survey form.

Based on her website, Stacey Jackson is clearly a relentless and enthusiastic self-promoter, a lady who even at the age of 44 and with a large family to take care of is living the dream of a lifestyle of z-list friends and the chance to cling onto her fantasy of becoming a proper pop star in the footsteps of people such as Madonna. There is no suggestion that she has set out to mislead or misrepresent the success of her work or the impact it has had. The errors come when magazine and newspaper journalists scan press releases in a hurry or do their own limited research and assume that when someone talks about their records “making the charts” it must mean one thing and one thing only. Sometimes of course that can work to the subject’s advantage. Ms Jackson’s website contains a link to another puff piece on Disney-sponsored parenting website Babble.com and an article from May last year which boldly states:

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Stacey Jackson did indeed collaborate with Snoop Dogg on a track called Live It Up and has the pictures and cuttings to prove it on her website. But that was back in 2011 and the track in question had absolutely no connection with the single Live It Up as performed by Pitbull and Jennifer Lopez and which was indeed at Number 2 on the charts in May 2013.

But then again if I was her, I wouldn’t be in too much of a hurry to point out that error either.

Dec 24

The ‘86 Countdown–Part Four

A fun fact that is more or less lost to people’s memories these days: this chart dates from an era when the weekly Top 40 was unveiled to the public on Tuesday lunchtime, the Sunday chart show on Radio One thus counting down the singles chart a week AFTER it had been compiled and just two days before a new one was announced. Thus the honour of revealing the big news about who was Christmas Number One 1986 fell to Gary Davies on the ‘Bit In The Middle’ lunchtime show on Radio One. A moment I do actually remember listening to, as I was waiting for one particular chart record to fall. But we’ll come to that.

10: Bon Jovi – Livin’ On A Prayer

Two albums into their career, Bon Jovi had achieved a modest level of success without attracting much in the way of high profile mainstream attention. The story goes that Jon Bon Jovi was listening back to their second album, 1985s 7800 degrees Fahrenheit, to locate a potential new single. Stuck for inspiration he threw on a tape Canadian rock band Honeymoon Suite and realised to his frustration that it sounded better than his own record. The producer of the latter was one Bruce Fairburn and it was thanks to his influence, plus the song-writing skills of Desmond Child that the next Bon Jovi release Slippery When Wet turned the New Jersey group into true international superstars. Leading the charge was a track which to this day remains one of their most famous hit singles and which thanks to a last minute bit of studio inspiration reintroduced the talk box to the world of rock music. Bon Jovi had already had their first UK Top 40 hit earlier in the summer with You Give Love A Bad Name but it was easily Livin’ On A Prayer which propelled them into the mainstream. Despite being at the very heart of mid-80s hair metal, the tale of Tommy and Geena and their financial struggles remains an uplifting, stadium-filling, punch the air with joy rock anthem – the kind of tracks some groups strive for years to create and which Bon Jovi put their name to right at the very start of theirs. Released in mid-October 1986, Livin’ On A Prayer had climbed the charts steadily to peak at Number 4 in early December and was still selling strongly into party season, kicking this particular Top 10 off in some considerable style.

9: Gregory Abbott – Shake You Down

Speaking of party season, this was almost certainly the track to which you copped a feel with Sharon from 5C at the school disco. The one and only hit single for American soul singer Gregory Abbott (despite years of subsequent trying for a second), Shake You Down is the kind of smooth ballad which defines a moment in time, the definitive romantic soundtrack to Christmas 1986 and a track which is unable to escape that association, no matter how many cheap to licence “Best 80s Love Ever” compilations it pops up on from time to time. A Number 6 hit just a few weeks earlier, the track was at this stage on a gradual descent down the singles chart – a listing he would oddly never grace again to rank as a true one hit wonder.

8: Alison Moyet – Is This Love

After the demise of Yazoo, singer Alison Moyet signed a solo deal of her own and established herself in her own right with some style with the release of her 1984 debut album Alf along with its attendant singles. The promotion for that record climaxed in March 1985 with the release of non-album single That Ole Devil Called Love which peaked at Number 2 and as a knock-on effect meant that her next release was more or less guaranteed to be huge. We had to wait almost two years for it to arrive, but November 1986 saw the release of Is This Love the first time from what would become her second album Raindancing (which itself landed in the shops early the following year). Despite a slow start, the brisk and breezy pop record was soon the huge hit it was always expected to be, spent a fortnight at Number 8 over the Christmas period before settling into an extended Top 3 run as one of the first big new hits of the new year.

7: A-Ha – Cry Wolf

The second single from A-Ha’s Scoundrel Days album which saw the Norwegian group take full advantage of their pant-moistening appeal amongst the teenage girls of Europe to release some rather bold, incredibly complicated and lyrically dark records, all of which by and large got a free pass because, you know, they were A-Ha records – and A-Ha were great! Following the the intense I’ve Been Losing You came the gothic tones of Cry Wolf, a single which would become the second of four singles they released during their career to peak at Number 5….

Oh come on, did you really think I would go an entire piece without dropping in some form of useless statistic? Anyway, the b-side of Cry Wolf was the rather more catchy Maybe Maybe which also featured on the album and could well have been a good choice of single. It did come out as one – in Bolvia according to Wikipedia.

6: Oran ‘Juice’ Jones – The Rain

“I saw you (and him), walking in the rain/you were holding hands will I/ever be the same”. Oran ‘Juice’ Jones was notable as the first ever artist signed to OBR records, a short lived offshoot of Def Jam records and intended to be a home for black artists who didn’t quite fit the usual profile of the famous hip-hop label. He is to all intents and purposes a one hit wonder, hit single The Rain the only chart record (despite several grammy nominations) from his debut album Juice and with his two follow-up collections rather less well received. So just what makes The Rain so special? After all the opening couplet hardly sells it as anything more than a typical tale of love gone wrong all done in a smooth soul style which just screams “pencil moustache and trench coat”.

Well just take a listen. The “song” itself only lasts for three minutes of the track’s five minute length. The remaining two (which shamefully is sometimes faded out early when played on the radio) is taken up with an extended monologue from “The Juice” himself as he welcomes home his cheating other half from her hard day at work and The Rain becomes beyond a shadow of a doubt the greatest record ever made.

Hey hey baby how ya doin’ come on in here. Got some hot chocolate on the stove waiting for you. Listen first things first let me hang up the coat. Yeah, how was your day today? Did you miss me? You did? Yeah? I missed you too. I missed you so much I followed you today. That’s right now close your mouth ’cause you cold busted. Now just sit down here, sit down here. I’m so upset with you I don’t know what to do. You know my first impulse was to run up on you and do a Rambo. I was about to jam you and flat blast both of you, but I didn’t wanna mess up this $3700 Lynx coat. So instead I chilled. That’s right chilled. I called up the bank and took out every dime. Then I cancelled all your credit cards. I stuck you up for every piece of jewellery I ever bought you! Don’t go lookin’ in that closet ’cause everything you came here with is packed up and waiting for you in the guest room. What were you thinking? You don’t mess with the Juice! I gave you silk suits, blue diamonds and Gucci handbags. I gave you things you couldn’t even pronounce! But now I can’t give you nothing but advice. Cause you’re still young, yeah, you’re young. And you’re gonna find somebody like me one of these days . . . Until then, you know what you gotta do? You gotta get on outta here with that alley-cat-coat-wearing, punch-bucket-shoe-wearing crumbcake I saw you with. Cause you dismissed!

5: Erasure – Sometimes

Having mentioned Yazoo above, what did Vince Clarke move onto next following his parting of the ways from Alison Moyet? Well actually it was The Assembly, intended to be a “Vince plus whoever” project with a rotating cast of guest singers but which was abandoned after the solitary hit single Never Never which featured Fergal Sharkey on vocals. Instead following a music press advert for a new singer he recruited the flamboyant Andy Bell with the duo forming Erasure, far and away the most enduring and successful project of the songwriter’s long and storied career. Initially however the project was a flop. Unfair comparisons between Bell’s tones and those of Clarke’s erstwhile female companion led to accusations that Erasure was just a poor Yazoo copy, the three singles from their debut album Wonderland all failing to make the grade. It was only when the pair moved onto new material, that which would form the basis of their second album The Circus that they finally hit the sales jackpot. Sometimes at first appeared to be struggling just like their previous releases, hitting the shops in mid-October 1986 the single took a full four weeks to even make the Top 40. Once there though it took off like the proverbial rocket and four weeks later was at Number 2, a chart placing it would take the pair six years to exceed. The first in a run of Top 10 hit singles which would stretch over the next 18 years, Sometimes still stands proud if not necessarily as one of the best Erasure singles, certainly one of the most famous.

4: Madonna – Open Your Heart

So often hyped as a contender, yet never actually in contention Open Your Heart was one of a long line of Madonna hit singles which coincided with the end of the year, yet which was never truly in the running to be Christmas Number One. The fourth of five singles lifted from her hit True Blue album, such was the sheer unrelenting nature of Madonna’s chart appeal Open Your Heart still managed to be the smallest despite its three weeks locked at Number 4 over the Christmas period. Being a Madonna single it would not have been complete without a small amount of controversy, this time thanks to the video which pictured Ms Ciccone as the performer at a peep show, her portrayal as the woman in control over the desperate losers in the booths overshadowed by the presence of child actor Felix Howard as the only one who wins her heart at the end.

3: Europe – The Final Countdown

Originally formed as Force in their native Sweden the newly renamed Europe had released two album independently before signing a worldwide deal with Epic records in 1985. The fruit of this union was the album The Final Countdown, for some the epitome of 1980s soft metal excess with gigantic perms, leather trousers and polished to perfection synth-led radio-friendly rock to the fore but one which naturally contains the title track, one of the biggest selling singles worldwide in 1986. Originally developed from an instrumental fanfare designed to play the band on stage, The Final Countdown grew instead into the ludicrous tale of space travel as a metaphor for love and briefly turned the group into the hottest property in Metal. Released in Britain in late October 1986, The Final Countdown grew from small beginnings into a single which would ultimately spend a fortnight at the top of the charts in late November and early December, one of only a tiny handful of *cough* heavy metal tracks ever to reach Number One on the UK charts and in the process hand Tempest and his musicians something of a lifelong pension plan. Still recording and touring today after a 1990s hiatus, Europe are actually held in high regard by rock fans for the quality of their live shows and their sporadic releases of new material, yet they still remain faithful to their earlier and somewhat naffer works, The Final Countdown still part of their sets and one which they are happy to acknowledge as their most famous musical moment, even if revisionist history would like to paint it as the shining example of bloated 80s rock excess.

2: Housemartins – Caravan Of Love

Another act who had taken off in some style in 1986 after initial early struggles, the self-styled “fourth best band in Hull” had broken through commercially with the single Happy Hour, a track which shot to Number 3 in the summer thanks in part to the eye-catching (and given the way things played out at the end of the year, desperately ironic) claymation video. Follow-up single Think For A Minute had peaked 15 places lower in October but the group would return to the business end of the chart in December with their most striking musical moment yet. Originally recorded by the second-generation American group Isley Jasper Isley who had reached Number 52 with their version in late 1985, The Housemartins’ quirky acapella take on the song was swiftly added to their live repertoire and indeed formed part of a session they recorded for the John Peel show on Radio One early the following year and just prior to their first commercial success. Peel loved the concept so much that he invited the group back to record an entirely acapella session, this time masquerading as the Fish City Five, a moniker they also used in order to play as their own support act for a famous homecoming concert back in Hull. The next logical step was to release Caravan Of Love as a single, and so it was that almost exactly three years after the UK charts had its first entirely vocal Number One hit it had a second as The Housemartins landed their biggest chart hit ever exactly one week before Christmas. Given that the Flying Pickets take on Only You had easily and famously been the Christmas Number One of 1983 it seemed almost a racing certainty that Caravan Of Love would spend a second week at the top and duplicate the feat. They were even preparing for a triumphant appearance on the Christmas Day Top Of The Pops on that basis:

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Fate, and wouldn’t you just know it, another claymation video had other ideas….

1: Jackie Wilson – Reet Petite (The Sweetest Girl In Town)

One of the more famous and highly regarded soul singers of the late 50s and early 60s, Jackie Wilson never lived to see his greatest British chart triumph. Felled by an onstage heart attack in 1975, he fell into a coma which lasted until he passed away in 1984. Reet Petite was one of his earliest hits, originally released in Britain in 1957 and a Number 6 hit early the following year – penned as it so happened by Berry Gordy, one of his first ever successful compositions. Its apparently random revival almost 30 years later came thanks to an edition of the BBC2 documentary strand Arena, concentrating on upcoming British film studios and which featured the work of animation house Giblets. Their segment of the programme featured a claymation Jackie Wilson accompanied by what are best described as three lips on stalks, dancing in a manner of alarming ways to his most famous hit single. It was eye-catching enough to prompt an opportunistic re-issue, now with the new video attached.

Reet Petite still might not have taken off, but for the fact that classic soul was suddenly back in vogue. The first instalments of the famous Levis 501 adverts had not only propelled Nick Kamen to stardom but also led to their soundtracks marching into the charts. Thus I Heard It Through The Grapevine had reached Number 8 in the spring, simultaneously with What A Wonderful World reaching Number 2. Against this backdrop it wasn’t hard to see how Reet Petite and its video would become a smash hit too. Released in late November, the single bounded 63-40-14-2 where it sat just before Christmas, one place behind The Housemartins. The 13 year old me was suddenly intrigued. If the single made Number One it would shatter into oblivion a pair of notable chart records, and I was enormously keen to watch it all happen. One week later the 1950s song was at the top of the charts, embarking on what would actually be a startling four week spell at the top – this was no Christmas novelty it seemed. 29 years and six weeks after it first hit the charts, Reet Petite set a new record for the slowest climb to Number One by any single ever, the late Jackie Wilson similarly waiting longer than any other act before him for his first ever chart-topping hit. (Both records were subsequently shattered by Tony Christie in 2005 when Is This The Way To Amarillo gave both artist and song a Number One hit after a wait of over 34 years).

Perhaps even more extraordinarily the Jackie Wilson revival would continue into 1987, even without the aid of animated videos. I Get The Sweetest Feeling would hit Number 3 in February followed by Higher And Higher going Top 20 in July. Three years after he passed away and more than two decades after his greatest success, Jackie Wilson was one of the more prolific chart acts of the year – and of course he was the 1986 Christmas Number One.

Fancy a listen back to the whole of the countdown? Well just click any of the individual song links, or enjoy the playlist which should appear below in all non-rubbish browsers. Merry Christmas.