‘Conspiracy theories’: you can’t move for ’em these days, and things aren’t much different here at movingtheriver.com.
The 1980s: a decade when uncredited ‘guest’ performances were many, producers demanded rip-offs of other musicians (a popular drummer joke* of the 1980s, with many variations: how many drummers does it take to change a lightbulb? Ten. One to change the bulb, nine to talk about how Steve Gadd would have done it…), hits came with writs and things were never quite what they seemed.
So it’s not surprising that conspiracy theories flourished during the 1980s. Here are some good ones (swearing alert). Bullsh*t or not? YOU decide. (Maybe none are as famous as the ‘Paul Is Dead’ saga, but wtf…):
8. Kirsty MacColl sings backup vocals on Dire Straits’ ‘Walk Of Life’
Uncredited of course, but these pre-chorus stacks, first heard at 1:19, sound very much like the much-missed vocalist.
7. Donna Summer performed all of Irene Cara’s vocals
Come on, they are interchangeable. Apologies to anyone in Cara’s family or Cara herself but she sounds freakily like Summer on ‘Fame’ and ‘Flashdance (What A Feeling)’.
6. George Michael wrote ‘Round And Round’ for Jaki Graham
In exchange for what? The classic single is just so in George’s ballpark, of course helped by Derek Bramble’s sparkly state-of-1985 production (he gets the songwriting credit too).
5. Adrian Edmondson of ‘The Young Ones’/The Comic Strip/’Bottom’ fame made the spoof 1984 jazz/funk classic ‘F*cking C*unt/Awkward Bastard’
Rumours abound that it’s Ade, or a few members of The Damned. No one is quite sure and no one has ever owned up, but it’s still brilliant.
4. The Dukes Of Stratosphear’s ‘Brainiac’s Daughter’ is actually a Paul McCartney joint
No one has done ‘Happy Macca’ circa 1968 as well as the Dukes, AKA XTC. But was this ACTUALLY a lost Beatles track?
3. John Bonham stuck around long enough to drum on Survivor’s 1982 hit ‘Eye Of The Tiger’
It’s just sounds so much like the Led Zep sticksman, who died in 1980. It’s the feel, and the sound of his kick and snare drums.
2. Level 42’s Mark King played bass on David Bowie’s ‘Tumble And Twirl’
Actually this one is probably ‘true’. He doesn’t get a credit on the album liners but King himself mentioned (in this podcast) doing a few sessions at the Townhouse Studios in Shepherds Bush around spring 1984 with producer/engineer Hugh Padgham so it’s quite probable. In any case it’s certainly right in his ‘Lopsy Lu’/’Heathrow’ comfort zone, and brilliant slap playing.
1. Bob Carolgees played the famous sax melody on George Michael’s ‘Careless Whisper’(That’s enough ‘conspiracy theories’, Ed…)
*Here’s a bonus drummer joke, because I’ve just read and loved it: What does a drummer use for contraception? His/her personality.
‘Level 42: Every Album, Every Song’ has been available in the UK since April and just been published in the USA, Europe, Australia and Japan.
The book has just been reprinted and is onto its second edition, so if you can’t find it in your favourite local bookstore, demand it! (Or check out the links below.)
Praise for ‘Level 42: Every Album, Every Song’:
“Phillips’ concise, forensic analyses opened my eyes and ears to new facets of the band’s music.”
George Cole, Jazzwise magazine
Jem Godfrey, *Frost/Joe Satriani keyboardist, songwriter and podcaster
“It’s excellent, it really is.”
Paul Waller, Level 42 expert and author of ‘Level 42: The Worldwide Visual Discography’
John Hannam, Isle Of Wight County Press
“To me, Level 42 are not the answer to the ultimate questions of life, yet Phillips’ engaging narrative certainly makes a strong case for it. It’s filled with knowledgeable wisdom, and he speaks his affection for the band brilliantly.”
Jan Buddenburg, DPRP
“This book is enhanced by contributions from both Mark King and Lindup whilst Phillips also provides a musician’s insight to the track by track breakdown. A worthy and welcome re-assessment. ****
David Randall, getreadytorock.uk
Thanks to Bass Player Magazine who ran an excerpt in their June 2021 edition:
Thanks to Level 42 mega-fan and friend of the band Julian Hall for his endorsement.
And I was interviewed by Giles Brown on Talk Radio Europe – listen here.
Get ‘Level 42: Every Album, Every Song’ here:
Matt Phillips will return in 2022 with the complete guide to the music of John McLaughlin.
‘Level 42 – Every Album, Every Song (on track)’ is my first book and the first in-depth study of the band’s illustrious catalogue.
It features recording information, musical analysis, studio gossip, full credits, stories from the road and contributions from head honcho Mark King and previous members Gary Husband and Phil Gould. The book also places their output within the wider musical landscape of the 1980s and 1990s.
‘Level 42 – Every Album, Every Song’ is available via the links below:
(and soon to be available elsewhere – watch this space…)
Every group needs a Boon Gould.
The George Harrison of Level 42, intelligent, erudite but naturally shy, he came up with consistently memorable guitar parts and the occasional exciting solo, whilst never overshadowing his more naturally exuberant bandmates.
His guitar playing probably peaked in the original band’s middle years, and he also wrote the words to many of their biggest hits including ‘Lessons In Love’, ‘It’s Over’, ‘To Be With You Again’ and ‘Heaven In My Hands’.
So Boon contributed much to one of the great bands of the ’80s. When I heard of his sad death this week, I first thought of his raunchy Jeff Beck-meets-Bill Connors solos on their jazz/funk opuses ‘Foundation And Empire’ and ‘Return Of The Handsome Rugged Man’, but then remembered how much his rhythm guitar parts added to the band’s key mid-’80s tracks such as ‘Micro Kid’, ‘Out Of Sight, Out Of Mind’ and ‘The Chinese Way’.
Guitar-wise, his peak was probably the 1984 Level 42 album True Colours, playing some fantastic stuff on ‘A Floating Life’, ‘True Believers’, ‘Hot Water’ and ‘Chant Has Begun’. The former features his heaviest riffs in a Level shirt. He also contributed lyrics to Mark King’s solo album Influences around this time.
Boon was the most reluctant live performer in the band, often afflicted with stage fright and frequently laid low by the bad food and bad sleep that are part and parcel of regular touring.
He jumped ship in 1987, his drummer brother Phil following soon after, and also who knows what kinds of pressures were involved with their elder sibling John managing the band too.
After officially leaving Level 42, Boon kept in touch and provided lyrics for 1988’s Staring At The Sun. He recorded a solo album, 1995’s Tin Man, which showed off his decent singing voice, and also came out of live retirement to guest with the reformed band during a Bristol gig in 2012.
By all accounts, Boon was a great guy, a gentle, self-effacing soul who just happened to be an excellent guitarist and intelligent lyricist.
RIP to one of 1980s pop’s unsung heroes. There’s part of my childhood gone.
Rowland Charles ‘Boon’ Gould (4 March 1955 – 30th April 2019)
We’ve looked at some of the great bits before, but what about the worst bits of ’80s pop, those moments that have you screaming at the radio?
Those randomly-generated solos, irritating choruses, ill-advised technological experiments or disastrous vocal sojourns?
Sometimes crap bits can ruin a perfectly decent song. But whose fault are they? You can often feel the band ‘spokesperson’ putting his oar in, going against the journeyman producer who probably wanted to get some session players in anyway.
And are there recurring themes? The dodgy sax solo is an ’80s staple. There are definitely repeat offenders (hello Midge). And maybe there are types of music that lend themselves to crap bits too (soft rock, mid-’80s techno-pop).
So roll up, roll up! Join us for the worst bits of 1980s pop…
15. Herb Alpert’s trumpet solo on Janet Jackson’s ‘Someday Is Tonight’
Searching for some Miles-style, brooding sexiness, label boss Herb luxuriates in Jam and Lewis’s delicious soundworld for a few seconds, picks up his trumpet and…
14. The chorus of Level 42’s ‘Running In The Family’
The most anodyne single of their glittering career, not helped by some creepy lyrics and a yukky, somewhat out-of-tune chorus.
13. The sax solo on Aztec Camera’s ‘Somewhere In My Heart’
12. The ‘false ending’ to T’Pau’s ‘China In Your Hand’
11. Lisa Stansfield’s spoken-word intro to ‘All Around The World’
Pass the sick bag. Yes, the song is an unashamed ‘tribute’ to Bazza White’s eroto-soul, but Lisa probably should have parked the sexy-as-a-dentist-chair, American-accented spoken-word opening of this UK number one (she should have done it in her Rochdale accent… – Ed.).
10. The guitar solo on Philip Bailey/Phil Collins’ ‘Easy Lover’
It’s crying out for some widdly Van Halen-inspired techno flash, but unfortunately Daryl Steurmer can only manage a tepid, weirdly unmemorable pass…
9. The sax solo on Spandau Ballet’s ‘True’
A classic ’80s single, almost ruined by Steve Norman’s dire feature. He sounds like a kid who’s just been given an alto sax for Christmas.
8. Steve Hogarth’s piano solo on The The’s ‘Heartland’
Much beloved in some circles but always sounds a bit tentative and formless to these ears.
7. The chorus of Duran Duran’s ‘Wild Boys’
6. The sampled vocal bits in Kylie Minogue’s ‘I Should Be So Lucky’
A horrible song from top to tail, but the keyboard ‘solo’ puts the tin lid on it. See also Rick Astley’s ‘Never Gonna Give You Up’ and Mel & Kim’s ‘Respectable’.
5. Gazza’s rapping on ‘Fog On The Tyne (Revisited)’
4. Billy Joel’s ‘We Didn’t Start The Fire’
Just the whole song. Period.
3. The chorus of Ultravox’s ‘Dancing With Tears In My Eyes’
If you look up ‘bombastic’ in the dictionary, you’ll see a little thumbnail of Midge.
2. The chorus of Midge Ure’s ‘If I Was’
1. The spoken bits on Michael Jackson’s ‘The Girl Is Mine’
This one divides opinion. Macca and Jacko’s little tete-a-tete has been the cause of much merriment, but it somehow fits the song. Still rubbish though…
What’s it like seeing ‘your’ band play at a big festival, when only a small proportion of the crowd are fans and most would rather have a chin-wag and quaff cider than listen to the music?
Will your band win them over, or at least give a good account of themselves?
It was an interesting experience watching Level 42 under those circumstances last weekend. The Love Supreme Festival was celebrating its fifth birthday, no mean feat for an outdoor ‘jazz’ festival, thriving in a niche marketplace by focusing on the improvising musicians of tomorrow, established genre names and crossover artists whose presence no doubt raises some eyebrows (the other main-stage headliners this year were Earth Wind & Fire, George Clinton and Elvis Costello).
A big festival gig should, on the face of it, be a doddle for a band with as many hits and as much musical credibility as Mark King and his muckers – you knock off a lean, mean hour and get the crowd saying: ‘I’d forgotten about this one!’.
But they did it the hard way this time, kicking off with nobody’s favourite Level 42 song ‘Heaven In My Hands’ then segueing speedily into ‘Dream Crazy’, ‘To Be With You Again’ and ‘It’s Over’.
A superb ‘Children Say’, complete with a reference to Coltrane’s ‘A Love Supreme’, got things back on track musically but also seemed lost on the crowd.
King was unsettled. Had he blown it? No. He soldiered on, making some cracks about the World Cup and the Alan Shearer lookalike on trumpet, before ‘Running In The Family’ prompted an outbreak of interpretative dancing from the Brighton teenagers.
Secret weapon Mike Lindup sounded in superb voice during ‘Lessons In Love’, ‘Something About You’ and ‘Hot Water’, but, predictably, it was the classic jazz/funk/fusion-era material that gained most traction: ‘Starchild’, ‘Love Games’ and a never-groovier ‘Sun Goes Down (Living It Up)’.
Suddenly the crowd and gig came to life. There could have been much more in that vein. Where was ‘Almost There’, ‘Micro Kid’, ‘Turn It On’, ‘The Chinese Way’, even ’43’, ‘Mr Pink’ or ‘Heathrow’?
But when the material was right, the band sounded superb. King’s voice may be past its best but his bass skills have reached new heights. The slapping sometimes lacked precision but his fingerstyle playing goes from strength to strength. He embellished ‘Children Say’, ‘Starchild’ and ‘Sun Goes Down’ with some outstanding modal moves. There’s life in the Isle Of Wight lad yet.
9. David Sanborn Band/Al Jarreau @ Wembley Arena, November 1984
We were sitting high up behind the stage with a great view of two of the great modern American drummers: Steve Gadd (with Sanborn) and Ricky Lawson (with Jarreau). To be honest, my parents and I left in the middle of Al’s set but Sanborn was fantastic with Marcus Miller and Hiram Bullock running amok on the huge Arena stage. The saxophonist was at his commercial peak here and probably could have headlined the show.
8. Marc Almond @ The Palladium, 12th October 1986
I have absolutely no memory of why I was at this gig but it was a genuine eye-opener. Almond was long past his pop fame and seemed to be acting out his own private, Berlin-inspired drama. Looking at the footage today, I’m still not sure if it’s brilliant or total sh*te.
7. Miles Davis @ Hammersmith Odeon, 21st April 1982
I remember someone shouting ‘Turn the guitar down!’ Poor Mike Stern wasn’t the critics’ flavour of the month and Miles was obviously exceptionally ill, but the gig was unforgettable. One of my first and very best. I saw Miles three or four times during the ’80s but this was the bomb for sheer atmosphere and occasion.
6. Robert Palmer @ Hammersmith Odeon, 25th September 1988
There really isn’t anyone around these days like the much-missed Robert with his gravelly voice, weirdly cosmopolitan compositions and ever-present smirk. He had a highly-drilled, sh*t-hot band with him at the Hammie Odeon too featuring Frank Blair on bass and Eddie Martinez on guitar. The gig started with a five-minute Dony Wynn drum solo which fair blew the minds of my brother and I.
5. Yes/No People @ Limelight, 9th September 1986
I think this gig was part of what was then known as the Soho Jazz Festival. There was a lively crowd of ‘jazz revival’ hipsters and rare-groove fans – this was my first taste of an underground scene that was quickly building momentum. DJ Baz Fe Jazz kicked off with some Blue Note post-bop (yes, people actually danced to that stuff) and then Yes/No People featured Steve Williamson on sax and the cracking Mondesir brothers (Mark and Mike) rhythm section. The band only lasted a year or so but nearly dented the charts with their ‘Mr Johnson’ single.
4. John McLaughlin/Mahavishnu Orchestra @ Hammersmith Odeon, 12th July 1984
The sign on the door said ‘Billy Cobham will not be appearing’ – heartbreaking to me at the time (McLaughlin apparently dumped Billy just a week before the tour). But Danny Gottlieb sat in with some style and John rattled off some outstanding licks in black shirt and black headband. It was bloody loud too. It was the first time many British fans had seen him since Mahavishnu Mark 1 days and as such there was a big hippie turnout.
3. Bill Withers @ Hammersmith Odeon, 18th September 1988
From memory, Bill spent most of the gig sitting at the front of the stage, talking about his life and career while Pieces Of A Dream accompanied with gentle jazz/funk. Bill wore a sweater and golfing slacks and seemed incredibly old, more Val Doonican than Curtis Mayfield.
2. Weather Report @ Dominion Theatre, 26th June 1984
The duels between keys man Zawinul and drummer Omar Hakim were spellbinding. This was clearly the dog’s b*ll*cks. Well, it was better than Duran Duran anyway. Omar’s huge shades, trash-can cymbal and big grin linger in the memory.
1. Level 42 @ Wembley Arena, 12th January 1989
Level again, but this time for all the wrong reasons. We were in the back row of the dreaded Arena, and the band were flogging their substandard Staring At The Sun album. The audience reaction to the ‘new stuff’ was distinctly subdued. After a contractually-obliged encore of ‘Chinese Way’, Mark King returned to the stage alone. ‘You ‘ad a good night?’ he bawled. The audience erupted. ‘Well, you can all go and f**k off home then’, deadpanned the thunder-thumbed one. Reply – and further encore – came there none…
Mike Stern/Bob Berg Band @ Town & Country Club, November 1989
Will Downing @ Hammersmith Odeon, 20th November 1988
Coltrane Legacy (Alice/Ravi Coltrane, Reggie Workman, Rashid Ali) @ Logan Hall, 10th July 1987
Ry Cooder @ Hammersmith Odeon, 27th May 1982
Bill Frisell @ Town & Country Club, 24th April 1989
Ornette Coleman/Prime Time @ Town & Country Club, 28th August 1988
Check out the first selection of memorable gigs here.
Were you at any of these concerts? Let me know your memories.
The London live music scene was buoyant in the 1980s.
There was a gig on pretty much every corner. You could see a Goth band, a pub-rock band, a reggae band, a psychobilly band, a soul band – sometimes all on the same bill.
Places like The Rock Garden in Covent Garden, Swan and King’s Head in Fulham, Clarendon in Hammersmith, Red Lion in Brentford, Astoria in Soho and Mean Fiddler in Harlesden are quite understandably still revered by music fans of a certain age.
There were brilliant nightclubs too: The Bat Cave, Dingwalls, Wag, Blitz, Limelight, Marquee. Let’s be thankful a handful of legendary venues from that era survive (The Half Moon in Putney, Ronnie Scott’s, Roundhouse, Scala, Borderline) and long may they last.
Here are a few gigs that still loom large (all in London unless otherwise stated). I hope they spark some memories of your own. Eagle-eyed readers will notice that I pretty much camped out at the Hammersmith Odeon in the late ’80s – well, it was my local, and it seemed like almost everyone came through that brilliant venue…
9. Frank Zappa @ Wembley Arena, 18th April 1988
Yessir, Frank was in town for the first time in four years. I was a new fan and very excited to see him live. His guitar was insanely loud and very trebly. The reggae version of ‘Stairway To Heaven’ was particularly memorable. Lots of onstage banter and political rhetoric. Lots of old-school hippies in the stalls. What a treat.
8. The New York Jazz Explosion (Roy Ayers/Tom Browne/Lonnie Liston Smith/Jean Carn) @ Hammersmith Odeon, 24th February 1985
I’d never heard of any of these guys when my dad offered me a ticket but I’m bloody glad I went. Lonnie started the show with some prime, instrumental, Rhodes-driven jazz/funk, then Roy played some old favourites and quite a lot from his In The Dark album. I don’t remember much about Jean or Tom but Roy blew me away (I’ve seen him at least five times since). The Odeon was packed and a very raucous crowd made a lot of noise in those glorious days when almost every famous US soul star played there. A real eye-opener.
7. David Sylvian @ Hammersmith Odeon, 30th May 1988
It was pretty much the first sight of David since Japan’s split and there was a genuinely exciting atmosphere in the old venue. Lots of screaming girls and a large Goth contingent. An unsmiling, slight and pale Sylvian silenced them by playing keys for the first few ethereal instrumentals (with hindsight, very reminiscent of Bowie’s ‘Stage’ tour a decade earlier). Fantastic band: David Torn, Mark Isham, Steve Jansen, Ian Maidman, Richard Barbieri.
6. Art Blakey @ Ronnie Scott’s, 26th January 1989
Ronnie’s hosted a lot of the bona fide jazz greats in those days. My dad took me to a see a fair few but catching Bu was a revelation. His sheer presence was memorable and his press rolls made the walls of the club shake. The suited-and-booted band, including top-notch Brit pianist Julian Joseph, were excellent too.
5. It Bites @ Brunel University, March 1988
My schoolmate Nigel had played me this band’s debut The Big Lad In The Windmill and I was becoming a massive fan when we got a lift out to darkest North-West London just before the release of their second album Once Around The World. They played in the low-ceilinged students union bar and it became one of the most outstanding pop gigs I saw in the ’80s. A terrifyingly tight band – ‘coming at you like a f***in’ juggernaut’ as singer/guitarist Francis Dunnery said recently – with humour and chops. And a cracking version of ‘New York, New York’ in the middle of ‘Once Around The World’ to boot.
4. Level 42 @ Hammersmith Odeon, 13th November 1985
They were finally making the big pop breakthrough with World Machine but still had one foot in their jazz/funk ‘roots’ – this era was an exciting mix of both approaches. These boys were going places but were still quite naughty/rough’n’ready with it. Sadly this was the peak of the original four-piece band, but it was another brilliant, noisy, sweaty night at the Odeon.
3. John Scofield @ Half Moon Theatre, Docklands Festival, Sept 1988?
This took place at a makeshift venue in the back-end of nowhere within Thatcher’s huge Docklands development. It was a long car ride from West London into a strange wasteland. I had wanted to see this band since Blue Matter had come out a year earlier and accordingly watched drummer Dennis Chambers like a hawk throughout. From memory, he in turn eyeballed me throughout. His playing was pretty mindblowing from 10 yards away.
2. Wendy & Lisa @ Town & Country Club, 25th April 1989
It was a hot, sweaty night at the T&C, and the nearest to seeing Prince in such a small venue (which does a great disservice to Wendy and Lisa’s excellent playing and songwriting, but there you go). There was a genuine star quality to the (almost all-female) band and a very cool clientele – everyone was clocking a peak-fame Sinead O’Connor at the bar. The gig delivered the promise of summer and some cracking music too.
1. Animal Logic @ Town & Country Club, 25th May 1989
Back in the late ’80s, you only really gleaned info about musicians from magazines. When Rhythm – the now-defunkt UK monthly – printed that Stewart Copeland and Stanley Clarke were doing a gig in North London, we just had to be there. It was a surprise to say the least. There had literally been no sign of Copeland in the UK since The Police and the crowd seemed to be entirely composed of their fans – a huge roar erupted when Stewart’s kit was rolled onto the stage. Unfortunately the songs weren’t great but the atmosphere was.