We’ve all done it – surveyed an ad for an upcoming gig and said of a band: ‘Whoa – they’re playing not one but THREE nights at Wembley/wherever?!’ (but not PSB, apparently…).
Some acts who thrived in the 1980s have effortlessly sidestepped the nostalgia package tours to maintain a huge live following, able to tour under their own steam every four or five years and sell out arena gigs. They might lose a founder member here or gain a strange recruit (Reeves Gabrels in The Cure?!) there but basically seem to go from strength to strength.
How do they do it? Who exactly are their fans? After 40-plus years of service, who forks out 70 quid every three or four years to see their favourite band at the nearest enormo-dome?
Here, in no particular order, we round up the usual suspects. We’re obviously not talking about those plucky little cult acts of the 1980s. There’s a crucial missing bit in the musical brain of yours truly which would help me understand the enduring popularity of these headliners.
Variously, we will find acts who once upon a time were self-confessed haters of live performance; those who are like the Rolling Stones of 1980s pop, pedalling their tried-and-tested formula despite not writing anything decent for 30 years; those who have lost a vital frontperson, but carried on anyway. And the acts who – inexplicably – are massive in the USA despite doing middling business in the place of their birth.
Who’s who? You decide… Other suggestions are very welcome.
It’s well documented that none of the so-called Brat Pack enjoyed a particularly easy ride – both professionally and personally – after their imperial 1983-1985 period (though many have made fascinating recent late-career comebacks, but that’s a whole ‘nother article…).
Demi Moore and Rob Lowe were less than a year on from the enormo-hit ‘St. Elmo’s Fire’ when they co-starred in ‘About Last Night…’, one of the least well-known but best films of their entire careers and a movie your correspondent returns to every three or four years and always enjoys.
Based on David Mamet’s 1974 play ‘Sexual Perversion In Chicago’ and directed by future ‘thirtysomething’ TV show co-creator Edward Zwick, it concerns the social lives of four young, fresh-out-of-college twentysomethings (erroneously described as ‘yuppies’ in some reviews of the film), struggling to commit to relationships while navigating AIDS and post-adolescence loneliness.
Lowe plays Dan, enjoying a relatively carefree existence of one-night stands, drinking games and weekend softball, spurred on by his constant, crass companion Bernie, played excellently by James Belushi. That’s until he meets Debbie, nicely portrayed by Moore – he’s instantly smitten, totally tongue-tied. The problem is they’re totally mismatched.
The result is funny and sad, a kind of down-at-heel ‘When Harry Met Sally’ or freewheeling/comic ‘Nine Half Weeks’. The Chicago setting roots the movie in an agreeably specific milieu. Lowe acts his little socks off in surely the best performance of his career. Elizabeth Perkins, in her screen debut a few years before her big breakthrough with Tom Hanks in ‘Big’, is an absolute hoot as Debbie’s best friend.
Much of Mamet’s original dialogue is retained (though the role of Bernie is drastically reduced) resulting in several classic scenes and some coruscating one-liners. Sadly the movie doesn’t quite have courage of its convictions though – it occasionally cops-out with a few MTV-style montages and superfluous, ‘shocking’ nudity.
But ‘About Last Night…’ is extremely subtle in its depiction of a relationship that never really had a chance (or did it? Watch right through to the end…) and bears repeated viewings. The film was a success in the box office too, grossing nearly $40 million against a budget of $9 million, and earning glowing reviews from Roger Ebert and Pauline Kael.
Hue and Cry: brothers Pat and Greg Kane. Photo by Phil Guest.
Some artists in the 1980s pop firmament (Paul Weller, Everything but the Girl, Simply Red) got away with marrying ‘aspirational’ music with supposed ‘socialist’ principles.
But Hue and Cry (brothers Pat and Tom Hanks-lookalike Greg Kane) had a tougher time. After their first two years of hits (‘Labour Of Love’, ‘Looking For Linda’, ‘Violently’), somehow their marriage of Sinatra-meets-Steely music and ‘political’ lyrics started to seriously wind people up in the age of grunge and Britpop.
Their 1988 album Remote (featuring an astonishing lineup of guest players including Michael Brecker, Tito Puente, Roy Ayers and Ron Carter) is certainly a desert-island disc but, by their third collection, 1991’s low-key Stars Crash Down, the momentum had been lost, typified by a famous hatchet job in Q magazine’s 100th edition begging them to split up (‘Britain’s Most Hated Band’!) – though it’s oft forgotten that the Melody Maker, NME, Sounds and Smash Hits quite liked them during their pop peak.
Since then, Radio 1’s loss has been Radio 2’s gain. The brothers Kane have ploughed on, recording the occasional album, generally eschewing the 1980s ‘nostalgia’ tours in favour of regular, relatively low-key live work. The duo format seems to be suit them very well – see 1989’s excellent Bitter Suite – and it’s been their preferred modus operandi over the last 20 years or so.
This Pizza Express gig was your correspondent’s first time seeing them live for 35 years, and anticipation was quite high, though I don’t exactly have happy memories of their 4 December 1989 gig at Hammersmith Odeon complete with ‘wacky’ horn section and less-than-stellar musicianship.
It’s not enough for 1980s acts to just play live now – the audience wants stories, and these boys have some good ones. But first Pat – in excellent voice throughout – laid down the gig’s house rules: 1. Things will only progress at a stately pace. 2. If you DON’T film our best songs and post them on twitter, you’re out.
Pat revealed that two of their early singles were written as a result of ‘being educated by a triumvirate of feminists at Glasgow University from 1981 to 1984’: indeed ‘I Refuse’ and ‘Violently’ were revelatory here. ‘Looking For Linda’, meanwhile, concerning a ‘Northern powerhouse’ who has never revealed herself to the Kane brothers since the song’s success, was a winner but missed a few neat chord changes/modulations from the original.
Their penchant for winding people up – gleefully acknowledged by Pat – emerged with new song ‘Everybody Deserves To Be Loved’ which sounded like The Blue Nile doing EDM, and there were less than essential covers of ‘Black And Gold’ and ‘Take Me To Church’.
But their best songs were harmonically-interesting, subtle explorations of adult relationships. Comparisons with Bacharach and David’s work wouldn’t be out of order. ‘Long Term Lovers Of Pain’, the ‘comeback’ single from Stars Crash Down, might just have been a Deacon Blue-style hit, but their luck had run out by then.
‘Just Say You Love Me (You Don’t Have To Mean It)’ and ‘Pocketful of Stones’ sounded every inch like modern standards, while excellent new song ‘Heading For A Fall’ borrowed verses from ‘The Message’ and ‘Inner City Blues’ – ‘three for one!’ trumpeted Pat.
The Kane brothers ended with a medley of ‘Shipbuilding’ and ‘The Man With The Child In His Eyes’, showcasing Pat’s rich, expressive voice to great effect. While Hue and Cry’s catalogue is unlikely to reach the critical heights of those songs’ classic status, this enjoyable gig shone a light on some underrated gems well worth discovering/rediscovering. There’s life in the duo yet.