Dedications: My four late friends Rory, Stan, Bryan, Jeff - shine on you crazy diamonds, they would have blogged too. Then theres Garry from Brisbane, Franco in Milan, Mike now in S.F. / my '60s-'80s gang: Ned & Joseph in Ireland; in England: Frank, Des, Guy, Clive, Joe & Joe, Ian, Ivan, Nick, David, Les, Stewart, the 3 Michaels / Catriona, Sally, Monica, Jean, Ella, Anne, Candie / and now: Daryl in N.Y., Jerry, John, Colin, Martin and Donal.

Thursday, 24 March 2016

Gay Brit pop in the '80s .... hit that perfect beat, boy

What a gay week on BBC's Radio 2: first, an hour long documentary on gay British pop in the '80s with all the usual suspects, Boy George and co, but focused mainly on that song that meant so much to us: "Smalltown Boy" by Bronski Beat, led by Jimmy Sommerville. Jimmy has done several versions over the years, as mentioned here before, but it really spoke to us back in 1984 with that simply but oh so catchy hook, which they followed by the equally good "Why?" -  the video for "Smalltown Boy" is equally a time capsule of life in the 80s then.  Their album AGE OF CONSENT was essential too, and their following hits plus Jimmy with The Communards. I spent so much of the late '80s listening to them and The Pet Shop Boys as my then disk jockey partner Rory (1960-1996) played them a lot in the clubs in Brighton and Portsmouth.

The '80s were a tough time for the gays, as the gutter press demonised them in the age of Aids, as people like Kenny Everett and Russell Harty were hounded to their deathbeds, and later in the '90s, as boyband members like Stephen Gately of Boyzone had to 'come out' before the tabloids exposed them, and then found that nobody cared - like now when guys like Tom Daley, Ben Whishaw, Andrew Scott, Russell Tovey, or Zachery Quinto, Matt Bomer, Jonathan Groff in the States can come out and still keep their careers while the senior gays like Sir Ian, Simon Russell Beale, Sir Antony Sher, Sir Jacobi and co are still at the top of the league - a long way from back in the 1950s when Sir Gielgud was arrested but also found theatre audiences were not bothered ....   

Of course British pop always had a big gay element right back from the days of Larry Parnes and his stable of rockers - only Billy Fury was the real talent - then Brian Epstein with The Beatles, and laterly producers like Simon Napier Bell (Wham!'s mastermind - his book "Black Vinyl White Powder" details it all),  high energy maestro Ian Levine, and Nigel Martin-Smith who put Take That together knowing exactly what the marked wanted ... but then suddenly the boys were not hiding in the closet any more as pop poppets like Will Young and Joe McElderry threw caution to the winds and emerged from those closets into the daylight. 
I loved "Smalltown Boy" from the start though it did not really apply to me: I did not leave home because I was not loved, on the contary - but I was 18 in 1964 and wanted to be in London, not in a small town on the west coast of Ireland .... of course now I love going back there, and will be relocating there in a year or two. Take it away, Jimmy - who I saw around town a lot back then, in London and in Brighton - good to see he is still here and still working ...
Then, also this week, the BBC gave us a 4 part, 4-hour long series on The Pet Shop Boys, tying in with their new album SUPER, covering Neil and Chris looking back on their 30 year career, with fascinating comments (2 more programmes next week, one by the fab Frances Barber, who starred in their 2000 show CLOSER TO HEAVEN) and the boys are on Graham Norton's show tomorrow, on Good Friday. The following week's Norton show features that other great '80s survivor Holly Johnson (of Frankie Goes To Hollywood) with Take That's Gary Barlow - once so big but now tarnished by tax avoidance scandal - promoting their new single written by Gary. We will always have a soft spot for Holly's Frankie hits, and Gary's Take That promos like "Pray" and "Never Forget". Perfect pop.  PS: What has George Michael been up to lately? - while Boy George queens it up on BBC's talent show THE VOICE, while Markus Feehily (the gay one in Westlife) is now making interesting solo music as well, very dark deep house. Then there is Mika and Tiga and all the others ... 

Of course before Take That became a respectable stadium act their early videos are a scream now, as canny gay manager Martin-Smith had them prancing around in camp outfits (just like early Boyzone when managed by Louis Walsh!) like that early one "Do What You Like" where they end up naked with jelly smeared on their bums - outrageous! Comedian Peter Kay had a lot of fun with that in his incarnation as transgender X-Factor winner Geraldine McQueen (from Dungannon, Northern Ireland) with his "The Winner's Song" written by Gary Barlow - Simon Cowell must have been livid!. Geraldine and the boys spoofed it all again in their hilarious concert clip here: 

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