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)

Bigmouth Strikes Twice: More Great 1980s Music Quotes

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Art Blakey

Here’s another selection of choice quotes taken from various 1980s magazines, TV shows, biographies and anthologies that have drifted through my transom in the last few months.

Check out the first instalment here if you missed it.

‘Morrissey’s a precious, miserable bastard. He sings the same song every time he opens his mouth. At least I’ve got two songs: Love Cats and Faith.’

Robert Smith of The Cure, 1989

 

‘It’s a better product than some others I could mention.’

David Bowie defends the Glass Spider Tour, 1987

 

‘The gig I have as the drummer in King Crimson is one of the few gigs in rock’n’roll where it’s even remotely possible to play anything in 17/16 and stay in a decent hotel.’

Bill Bruford, 1983

 

‘When I toured with The Rolling Stones, the audience would come up to me after the show and say, “Man, you’re really good, you ought to record.” How do you think that makes me feel after 25 years in the business?’

Bobby Womack, 1984

 

‘I find politics ruins everything. Music, films, it gets into everything and f*cks it all up. People need more sense of humour. If I ran for President, I’d give everybody Ecstasy.’

Grace Jones, 1985

 

‘I’m not the most gifted person in the world. When God handed out throats, I got locked out of the room.’

Joe Elliott of Def Leppard, 1988

 

‘I’m lazy and I don’t practice guitar and piano because I’ve gotten involved with so many other things in my life and I just had to make a sacrifice. Stephen Sondheim encourages me to start playing the piano again. Maybe I will.’

Madonna, 1989

 

‘Nile (Rodgers) couldn’t afford to spend much time with me. I was slotted in between two Madonna singles! She kept coming in, saying “How’s it going with Nile? When’s he gonna be free?” I said, “He ain’t gonna be free until I’m finished! Piss off!”’

Jeff Beck, 1989

 

‘I’ve never really understood Madonna’s popularity. But I’ve talked to my brothers and they all want to sleep with her, so she must have something.’

Nick Kamen, 1987

 

‘They ask you about being a Woman In Rock. The more you think about, the more you have to prove that you’re a Woman In Rock. But if you’re honest, it doesn’t matter whether you’re male or female. That’s the way we work.’

Wendy Melvoin, 1989

 

‘In Japan, someone told me I was playing punk saxophone. I said, “Call me what you want, just pay me”.’

George Adams, 1985

 

‘In the past, we’d bump into other musicians and it would be, “Oh, yes, haven’t I heard of you lot? Aren’t you the bass player that does that stuff with your thumb?” But once you’ve knocked them off the number 1 spot in Germany, they’re ringing you up in your hotel and saying, “Hey, howyadoin’? We must get together…”‘

Mark King of Level 42, 1987

 

‘We played London, we played Ronnie Scott’s, and I noticed that there were a lot punk-rock kids in the audience. After we finished playing, we had to go to the disco and sign autographs, because “Ping Pong”, the thing we made about 30 years ago, is a big hit over there.’

Art Blakey, 1985

 

‘I believe music – just about everything – sounds better these days. Even a car crash sounds better!’

Miles Davis, 1986

 

‘It’s a dangerous time for songwriters in that a monkey can make a thing sound good now.’

Randy Newman, 1988

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‘To have those glasses on the cover was important because it was a statement and you have to understand that it was like John wanted you guys to see those glasses.’

Yoko Ono, 1989

 

‘I’ll f*cking… I’ll go and take on anyone, any white singer who wants to give me a go.’

Matt Goss of Bros, 1989

 

‘I’ve never said this before but my drums is so professional, man, know what I mean?’

Luke Goss of Bros, 1989

 

‘I hate parts of my own albums because I know I’m hearing something that doesn’t translate to piano. In fact, I’m being dishonest by playing piano at all.’

Keith Jarrett, 1987

 

‘When I began to see how Elvis lived, I got such a strong take off of it. It was all so revolting!’

Albert Goldman, 1989

 

‘The best way to make great art is to have it trivialised by other people as much as possible. That way, you fight and fight and fight.’

Julian Cope, 1989

 

‘Whatever you’re tops in, people is trying to bring you down, and that’s my philosophy.’

Samantha Fox, 1987

 

‘Call me fat and I’ll rip your spine out.’

Ian Gillan, 1983

 

‘Sure I care about my fans. Because fans is money, hahaha. Muh-neee! And who does not care about money? Me, I like muh-neee, haha.’

Chuck Berry, 1988

 

‘I have this long chain with a ball of middle-classness at the end of it which keeps holding me back and that I keep sort of trying to fight through. I keep trying to find the Duchamp in me.’

David Bowie, 1980

 

‘People who say, Oh, I don’t know anything about music – they’re the people who really do know about music because it’s only really what it does to you.’

Steve Winwood, 1988

 

‘I notice that critics and others don’t credit black people with the ability to write ingenious, creative lyrics.’

Nile Rodgers, 1981

 

‘I’m below the poverty line – I’m on £16 a week. We needed some clothes and our manager said, “I don’t know what you do with your money. I mean, 16 quid!”’

Gary Daly of China Crisis, 1984

 

‘You take four or five of those rattlesnakes, dry ’em out and put them inside your hollow-box guitar. Lightnin’ Hopkins taught me that trick.’

Albert Collins on his guitar tone, 1988

 

‘People are bored with Lionel Richie going “I love everybody, peace on earth, we are the world…” F*ck that! People love bastards.’

Terence Trent D’Arby, 1987

 

‘Epstein dressed The Beatles up as much as he could but you couldn’t take away the fact that they were working-class guys. And they were smart-arses. You took one look at Lennon and you knew he thought the whole thing was a joke.’

Billy Joel, 1987

 

‘I remember when the guy from Echo & The Bunnymen said I should be given National Service. F*** him...’

Boy George, 1987

 

‘The industry is just rife with with jealousy and hatred. Everybody in it is a failed bassist.’

Morrissey, 1985

 

I couldn’t stand it – all that exploitation and posturing, the gasping at the mention of your name, the pursuit by photographers and phenomenon-seekers. You get that shot of adrenalin and it’s fight or flight. I chose flight many a time.’

Joni Mitchell, 1988

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.

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 shown on Channel Four in 1985.

He then returned to front two series of ‘The Max Headroom Show’ in 1985 and 1986. The show then moved to the US for two series shown in ’87 and ’88.

People probably either loved or hated Max but I was an immediate fan. I even bought the book. Large swathes of his monologues are indelibly etched on my memory. 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, the 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 smarmy 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 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’.

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 loved the way he ridiculed 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.

 

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. Long live Max!

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…

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.

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 and random insults never fails to provoke a titter.

It’s puerile, silly and childish, and I absolutely defend it as a piece of music. Rumours abound as to who’s responsible – the most likely candidates have emerged as sundry members of The Damned… (But if anyone knows for sure, please leave a message at the bottom of this post.)

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…).

It features 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’?