Nick Kamen (1962-2021)

What a sad, strange bit of news to hear that Nick Kamen has died at the age of just 59.

It suddenly makes one feel very old. The singer, songwriter and model was such a quintessential 1980s figure, famously first appearing on the cover of The Face magazine in early 1984.

I remember seeing Nick and a few pals walking down London’s iconic King’s Road circa 1987. He looked great, wearing chinos, black polo neck and dark blue blazer. He literally stopped the traffic! It was a perfect late-80s moment.

His much-parodied 1985 Levi’s 501 ad might not have done much for jeans sales but it had the opposite effect on boxer shorts and also gave Marvin Gaye’s ‘I Heard It Through The Grapevine’ a new lease of life.

He gave a great, outrageously flirtatious interview to Paula Yates on ‘The Tube’ on the eve of his first single ‘Each Time You Break My Heart’, written and co-produced (with Stephen Bray) by Madonna. It was a hit.

Nick’s brother Chester was in the meantime carving out a successful career as session guitarist and Bryan Ferry’s go-to axeman – you can watch him in action with Bryan at Live Aid.

Nick may have not enjoyed the rigmarole of the pop business but he did it pretty well. Though the UK press mocked (see below), he actually had two further UK top 40s, ‘Loving You Is Sweeter Than Ever’ and ‘Tell Me’, also featuring Madonna on backing vox, which spent nine weeks at #1 in Italy during 1988.

Esteemed producer and Madonna/Stanley Clarke collaborator Patrick Leonard helmed Nick’s second album Us. Nick had several further hits all over Europe – ‘I Promised Myself’ was one of 1990’s best selling singles in Europe (#1 in Austria and Sweden, top 5 in Germany, Holland, Belgium and Switzerland) but just missed the UK top 40.

By 1993, though, Nick was sick of the pop game. He died of bone cancer at his Notting Hill home. Madonna and Boy George led the heartfelt tributes. RIP to a bona fide 1980s star.

Ivor Neville ‘Nick’ Kamen (15 April 1962 – 5 May 2021)

Ladies And Gentlemen, It’s Max…Headroom!

388px-Mhcom_max_headroom_guidetolife_frontYep, it’s M-M-M-M-Max, scourge of celebrities everywhere and purveyor of surreal one-liners, bizarre stream-of-consciousness meanderings and often-quite-obscure music videos.

Max was created in 1985 by Annabel Jankel (sister of Ian Dury-collaborator Chaz), Rocky Morton and George Stone as rather eccentric, attention-grabbing ‘talking head’ to present videos on the burgeoning Channel Four (actually, with hindsight, it’s strange that no other terrestrial TV channels had aped the MTV format before Max came along).

Brilliantly played by Matt Frewer, who apparently had to endure over four hours in the make-up chair before each day of filming, Max was born in a one-off drama that played on Channel Four in 1985.

He then returned to front two series in 1985 and 1986 and two further series emerged on US TV in ’87 and ’88.

I think it’s fair to say people either loved or hated Max. I confess I was an immediate fan. I even bought the book! Large swathes of his monologues are indelibly etched on my memory – maybe they tapped into how my teenage mind was being wired. Even today, I can’t hear the words ‘Sebastian Coe’ without thinking of Max’s unique delivery.

I also discovered some good music and vids on his shows too, including Peter Gabriel’s live version of ‘I Don’t Remember’, The Redskins’ ‘Bring It Down’, Donald Fagen’s amazing ‘New Frontier’ vid (directed by Jankel and Morton) and Sid Vicious’s terrifying ‘My Way’ (how did that get onto pre-watershed TV?).

Most of the press attention was aimed at the state-of-the-art computer graphics, his incredible make-up job and bizarre speech patterns. But, apart from the music vids, what immediately hooked me was his smarmy, gleeful piss-taking.

He was kind of a mixture of Fletch and Johnny Rotten. There was also a touch of Dan Aykroyd/Chevy Chase’s portentous Weekend Update newsreaders on ‘Saturday Night Live’.

Though the show had three regular writers – David Hanson, Tim John and Paul Owen – Frewer apparently improvised a large part of Max’s ramblings. I always assumed Max’s ‘cool guy’ persona was coming from Steve Martin (with a soupçon of David Byrne’s big suit from ‘Stop Making Sense’), but Frewer claims that he based Max’s shtick on Ted Knight’s hilariously hammy portrayal of Ted Baxter in ‘The Mary Tyler Moore Show’. This performance was new to me, but watching it now makes perfect sense. I’ve always been a huge fan of Knight’s brilliant turn as Judge Smails in ‘Caddyshack’.

Ted_Knight_1972

Ted Knight, inspiration for Max

Possibly the sections of the show which have the most relevance now are Max’s interviews with stars like Sting (see below), Boy George and David Byrne.

Years before Dennis Pennis, he was hilariously detached, if not downright dismissive of their celebrity status. I love the way he ridicules Sting’s new ‘jazz’ direction.

Later on, the tables were turned as Max found himself being interviewed on primetime chat shows by David Letterman and Terry Wogan. He calls Letterman ‘Davey-doo’ throughout and seems to be slowly driving him to distraction.

Max signed off from his UK TV series with a rather lovely little ballad, which, I confess, still threatens to put a lump in my throat. Hey, I know, the mid-life crisis is kicking in big-time…

I had a few episodes on video for many years but chucked them out a while ago – a big mistake, as there’s still no sign of a UK DVD.

Great Brit Swearing: Ian Dury, Culture Club, David Bowie & Up Yaws

487px-Ian_Dury_1Those of a nervous or sensitive disposition, look away now/cover your ears…

But I must confess: I’ve always had a penchant for good swearing in music. And long before those Parental Advisory stickers, there were some real humdingers.

Ian Dury’s oeuvre was of course an early landmark – his ‘Plaistow Patricia‘ became a kind of forbidden, blasphemous classic as did Marianne Faithful’s coruscating ‘Why D’Ya Do It‘. They both sounded like they really meant it.

David Bowie’s ‘It’s No Game (Part 2)‘ would also have us in stitches. His rather random four-letter word, sung in Iggyish baritone, enlivened many a dull afternoon. Cue the violins…

But then my uncle (it’s always uncles) passed me the following curio and the world of muso swearing was never quite the same again.

Initially coming on like a first-rate pastiche of early-’80s UK jazz/funk as played by the likes of Shakatak, its gradual insertion of four-letter words, delivered Barry White-style, never fails to provoke a titter.

It’s puerile, silly and childish, and I absolutely defend it as a valid piece of music… Rumours abound as to who’s responsible – the most likely candidates have emerged as sundry members of The Damned.

And then there’s the whole subgenre of bands-getting-it-wrong-in-the-studio-and-swearing-alot. The Troggs Tapes are of course the industry standard, but a Culture Club outtake from 1983 recently came to light on a career-spanning box set (recently removed from YouTube, sadly…).

We join our four heroes (plus poor pianist Phil Pickett) trying to record ‘Victims’ with the underlying pressures of expensive studio costs, an out-of-tune fretless bass and Boy George/Jon Moss’s corrosive love affair.

Suffice it to say, things don’t go too well. But imagine trying to produce this lot. Come to think of it, producer Steve Levine is possibly the one voice we don’t hear. Had he given up the ghost or was he all-too-aware of not getting involved and spoiling an audio verite ‘classic’?