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Now That’s What I Call MY ’80s

I have a problem. I find these compilation albums that say they represent a certain era difficult to digest, with none being more apparent than those who represent the 1980s. OK, the music they feature were hits during that decade, but they feel contrived to me, as if they’ve forgotten what vast changes in the music scene were happening at that time, because they feature artists like Cher, Tina Turner or ZZ Top who come from earlier eras but due to more up-to-date production techniques had further cracks at those all-important chart positions.

My musical landscape was different. It grew from the punk ethos of going your own way and using a blend of instrumentation or solely based around the new kid on the block, the synthesizer. In these cases, electronic drumbeats replaced a full kit, whirring sounds replaced guitar chords and mechanical voices replaced the belted singing of old, as highlighted by Gary Numan and his band Tubeway Army. In time even elements of Industrial Metal Bashing took hold, making sounds from amplified tensioned springs or even shopping trolleys (as I witnessed at an Einturzende Neubauten gig in London).

In 1980 I turned 15 and I started to discover music like I’d never heard before. A real mish-mash of sounds that was exciting to a teenager of my age. Only David Bowie, Joy Division, Neu! and Kraftwerk ever came that close to being different before that point in time. Over the next five years, this swirling mix of sounds became infused into my life as I travelled around the country watching different bands playing live or dancing on a disco floor to some strange collection of anarchic beats. Some of the artists I listened to did hit the big time and are still around today, in one form or another like New Order, The Human League and Soft Cell, while others disappeared into oblivion and even finding references to them via the internet becomes a challenge.

It wasn’t just about the music though. Homosexuality, bi-sexuality and trans-sexuality became more accepted and worked together with the concepts of the sounds to create the start of a new more open world. From 17 years old onwards I used to frequent a club in Milton Keynes called The Joint that basically had a policy of anything goes. Unlike the other nightclubs around the area at that period, where as a bloke you were expected to where a jacket and tie to enter, The Joint allowed you to wear a dress, paint your face to look an alien or be openly gay. Within its walls you found three rooms: the ambient bar, the reggae room and the main dance floor where DJ Eddie Richards would spin and mix tracks in a constant pulsating vibe that carried you through the night. I was one of the more conventional attendees, coming straight from my part time job dressed in black jeans, a baggy jumper and a cap on my head to party the night away until the doors shut at 1am. You didn’t need a partner to dance with, just let yourself get enveloped in the music and drift into the sounds. Having little money I formed an alliance with the club management to give me free access if I captured photographs documenting the clientele, many of whom had spent the entire week preparing to dazzle everyone with the creation they were going to wear that night. My images were naive at times, the exposures needing more refinement but what was captured was a sense of that time and the lasting legacy that the short period held.

The club, on occasions, became the venue of some live performances, which were my favourite nights. I had a passion for live music and other than The Milton Keynes Bowl (now know as The National Bowl) which hosted some of the bigger acts at that time, including The Police, Genesis and David Bowie for three nights of his Serious Moonlight Tour, there was no other venue in the city that catered for my tastes.

Saying that, the first act to be purported as playing live at the club was Six Sed Red, a duo comprising Cindy Ecstasy on vocals (she who added the female vocal to Soft Cell’s track Torch) and Rick Holliday of lesser known early 80s cult band b-Movie (who I had seen live in Birmingham before their demise then rebirth) whose one and only single Shake It Right barely made an impact.

Unfortunately, the performance was billed as a showcase with the duo playing no more than a four-song set that seemed mimed to a backing track. Needless to say The Joint’s attempt at becoming a live music venue almost stalled at the first hurdle as the gathered crowd were not impressed. Learning from this mistake, the management decided that bands needed to play live and from that point onwards the building foundations were rocked to its very core. Kicking off with Vision we were treated to performances by many underground leading lights including Portion Control, 400 Blows, Brilliant (featuring Youth from Killing Joke), Specimen, Dormannu, Pleasure & The Beast, Skeletal Family and The Bollock Brothers/Red Lipstick. Though the most memorable performance The Joint witnessed came straight out of the London Bat-cave Gothic Nightclub enclave, when Alien Sex Fiend ripped the place to shreds. The onslaught was fabulous, the crowd screaming so much for more that the band couldn’t leave the stage and kept playing, with the lead singer Nik Fiend finally collapsing onto the floor and, as a way to show his appreciation of the adoration, kissing the stage as a mark of respect, leaving a wet sticky lipstick mark that was probably never washed off.

(Some photos from The Joint, my first venture into photographing live music)

(Photo descriptions are in the photo gallery on the main blog page)

The Joint didn’t last long, being shut down after its year and a half reign. Unfortunately the diverse nature of its clientele also attracted a certain element that didn’t like their non-conformity and the violence that occurred outside attracted constant police attention alongside the drug taking inside. So the license was revoked and the venue shut its doors after one last super party in 1984.

Still this was my 80s and when I left Milton Keynes a year later to attend college in Swansea (never to return back to the city to live there again), I took with me a unique record collection that I would spin on the college decks when I took over running the club nights in the student union bar almost from day one because… they had been playing ZZ Top!!! Ugh!

Love them or hate them (and in no particular order) here are some of the tracks that made my Eighties.

Alien Sex Fiend – Ignore The Machine

Bauhaus – Bela Lugosi Is Dead

The Bollock Brothers – The Bunker

Cabaret Voltaire – Walls Of Jericho

DAF – Der Mussolini

Gina X – No GDM

The Human League – The Sound Of The Crowd

Killing Joke – Wardance

Danse Society – We’re So Happy

Einturzende Neubauten – Yu-Gung

Soft Cell – Memorabilia

Portion Control – The Great Divide

The Southern Death Cult- Fatman

Theatre Of Hate – Do You Believe In The Westworld?

400 Blows – Pressure

Test Department – Compulsion

Spear Of Destiny – Liberator

The Sisters Of Mercy – Temple Of Love

New Order – Temptation

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Tupelo

b-Movie – Marilyn Dreams

I hope you enjoy listening.

Thank you for reading, until next time...

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