Oct 10

At The End Of The 1980s

FT44 comments • 3,066 views

On New Years’ Eve 1989, I didn’t go to a party. I didn’t wish anyone a happy new decade. I don’t think I drank any champagne. I stayed at home and watched TV instead, and it was wonderful.

What I stayed home to watch was a special highlights show on the music of the 80s, put together (so Alan tells me) by the Late Review team and shown on BBC2 across midnight. (A Big Ben graphic pops up during a Dead Or Alive performance, discreetly welcoming in 1990). The show had no presenters – it was simply a patchwork of clips, a minute or so long each, vaguely themed (sometimes VERY vaguely) in sections. It started with Hayzi Fantayzee, at the top of a one-hit wonders bit, and ended with the artist of the decade: Prince. In between was almost anybody I remembered and a lot more I didn’t. Here’s the section called “Barking” – essentially, acts who were a bit ‘eccentric’.

You could argue, of course, that this is shabby treatment of some fantastic artists – a minute or so each in a faintly sneery category. In the context of today’s TV, where clip shows are the saturated fats of programming and there are whole channels for musical nostalgia, you’d be quite right. But this was 1989. There was no TOTP2. There was no internet. There was satellite, but in the pre-Premier League days hardly anyone had it. The only music videos I could see were the ones on the Indie Top Video cassette I’d just got for Christmas. Nostalgia radio hadn’t reached the 80s yet and even when it did it hardly seemed likely to spotlight Grace Jones and Tenpole Tudor. These archives were essentially lost except for special events like this.

So I would have been happy to sit through any editorialising to see most of this stuff – and as it was there wasn’t much commentary. Most importantly, I hadn’t been there or fully aware for a lot of it – watching TOTP when I could, not allowed to stay up for the Whistle Test, completely ignorant of anything else… so much of this stuff was new to me, and I gulped it down, my vague awareness that I’d lived through a remarkable decade for pop turned into solid delight in its variety. In this segment alone I remember the thrill of Eddie Tudor-Pole’s livewire energy, the wonder of finding out what the Radio 4 “Week Ending” theme actually was, and the disturbing stillness of Grace Jones and her full-face horned mask. Oh, and Julian Cope in a donkey jacket – “Kilimanjaro” was the first, but not the last, record I went out and bought on the strength of this show. So a minute each was more than enough when you had viewers as greedy as I was.

It seemed a good way to end the decade – certainly I had nothing better going on. In the heart of my Morrissey phase but emboldened by a successful first gig, I’d ventured out to a disco the week before. I went, I stood on my own, I left on my own, I went home and I… well, I felt OK about it to be honest. I put on the new Wedding Present album when I got home and read the Christmas NME. If it was a choice between feeling smugly indie and feeling miserably lonely I’d take the former every time. But the New Years Eve show was a precious reminder that there was more to music than dreamed of in Danny Kelly’s philosophy – a bit more, anyway. As the parade of 80s stars went by I tried to imagine how music was going to be in the 90s – the first decade where I’d be listening not as a kid but as a committed, opinionated fan.


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  1. 31
    Mark M on 4 Mar 2011 #

    Re 30: she is…

    I think people tend to assume that editors set the tone in an obvious way – sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t. As I think has probably been mentioned elsewhere on FreakyTrigger, Danny Kelly went against his own musical instincts and helped make the NME a magazine (or paper, even, as it still was) fit for House Of Love and Cud fans. You could say that the feel of his NME came not from him directly but more from the way he let Lamacq, Maconie, Collins, Quantick and James Brown loose. Likewise, Allan Jones’ Melody Maker didn’t really reflect his own aesthetic so much as give Simon Reynolds, David Stubbs, Chris Roberts etc room. I may be wrong, but I don’t think he spent much time pondering what a close reading of Deleuze and Guattari could tell us about the music of the Young Gods.

  2. 32
    pink champale on 4 Mar 2011 #

    @31 i think that’s probably right. i read every single of issue of nme during the kelly years and, while the jovial and slightly ironic tone of the paper at that time was recognisably his, he didn’t seem that much of a presence. I can remember only two bits of his writing, one his awe-struck 10-rated review of ‘fear of a black planet’ that (i think) includes the claim that it made him cry and second a cover story where he comes out strongly for blur during their wilderness period, which very much had the tone that liking blur was against his instincts.

    relatedly, i’d love to know from someone that is familiar with it, what nme was like during the danny baker years. I’ve never seen an issue and can’t really imagine what it was like. genius (radio) broadcaster that danny b is (and i really do mean genius – i would honesty put his various radio shows over the years up there with pretty much any body of artistic achievement you could mention) he has, from all available evidence, *supernaturally* terrible taste in music – if it’s not hoootie and the blowfish, it must be the doobie brothers.

  3. 33

    The NME up to c.85 had an employed writing staff — a team whose collective job it was to wrangle the direction of the paper. The editor was more like the referee of the prima donnas and the factions. This broke down when Neil Spencer left: his successor was an extremely poor referee, unfortunately.

    Tastewise, Danny B was an outlier all the time he was there: though he came up via punk he liked black music, for want of a more precise term, and wrote very well and funnily about it. He was also funny about pop stars and their intellectual and political pretensions.

  4. 34
    pink champale on 4 Mar 2011 #

    i can well imagine him being very funny and acute about that sort of thing. less so, him creating the slightly forbidding intellectualised environment that is my received impression of 80s nme, but from what you say, the hierarchy didn’t work quite like that then anyway. also (notwithstanding your very excellent piece on this on another thread) this is all pre-history to me so i’m probably getting it in a bit of chronological muddle.

  5. 35

    “slightly forbidding intellectualised environment” <-- probably i should write something about this some time, as i do think it's something of a misconception, and i think danny b fitted in far more tonally than he did tastewise... it was a funny read every week!

  6. 36

    and yes clever, but self-taught clever not bought-by-the-yard clever, if you see what i mean

  7. 37
    the pinefox on 5 Mar 2011 #

    >>> Danny Kelly went against his own musical instincts and helped make the NME a magazine (or paper, even, as it still was) fit for House Of Love and Cud fans.

    What were or are his own musical instincts?

    BTW, liking The House of Love (as I do) doesn’t necessarily go with liking Cud. Not that I can now remember anything Cud ever did.

    I heard Baker on radio during World Cup 2010 and enjoyed it. The day after England 0-0 Algeria he was very good on how we’d dragged Algeria down to our level.

  8. 38

    Well, to be honest, I seem to recall he rather liked House of Love. Certainly he liked reggae but didn’t fight for it latterly. He was/is an indie-boy with punky roots: working class London-Irish catholic. Good but not great writer; very funny man in the pub, less funny on the page. Self-taught again.

  9. 39
    Mark M on 5 Mar 2011 #

    Re: 37 What I meant to say was House of Love fans and Cud fans, but those were just two guitary bands chosen for their broadly representative nature. (Andrew Collins, in particular, loved Cud).

    Re: 38 Ah, I’d heard he was broadly on a soul tip, but you knew the man and I don’t, so I defer (as ever) to the greater Sinker wisdom.

  10. 40
    Mark M on 6 Mar 2011 #

    Re 29: Watching that 12 best British new novelists thing on BBC2 last night, it is hard to get away from the notion of how much more presentable and marketable the new generation of writers are, in a way that somewhat matches the changing profile of NME editors.

  11. 41

    What do you mean? I have a bath once a year whether I need it or not!

  12. 42
    Mike carling on 13 Mar 2014 #

    Can’t believe I found this. I had it on tape for years and years but lost it. Some , or most, of those songs are still some of my favourites 24 years later. Cheers for the post.

  13. 43
    Alan not logged in on 13 Mar 2014 #

    If you follow the link back to youtube you’ll find the uploader has put all of that show on, in chunks…


    I’ve dropped into this playlist a few times in recent years (since I found it). I too remember watching the original show and had the VHS for many years, but probably let it go a house move or three ago in the batch of last tapes standing. At a guess that, Robin of Sherwood and a couple of Dr Who stories.

  14. 44
    David Kelly-Durrant on 6 Oct 2014 #

    Is the 4hr best of the 80’s available anywhere please?

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