Best of 2016: Top 20 songs

For those who can’t get enough of self important #bestof2016 lists, here is my top 20 songs of last year, in no particular order…

Pull My Arm – Flowers
London-based low-fi indie pop trio


Lush Life – Zara Larsson
Perky Swedish pop proving that Scandinavia isn’t all hygge and crime fiction


Beautiful Thing – Stone Roses
After the disappointment of the woeful comeback single All For One, it was a relief more than anything when this arrived, full of classic Roses-isms


Out of Control – Lush
Lush returned in 2016 with an EP as good as anything they did at their 90s peak. Then, infuriatingly, they split again


Alexander All Alone – Andy Shauf
A cheery tale about someone who collapses and dies at a party. Not as bleak as you might imagine


Very Good Lock – Pete Astor
Indie royalty (ex of The Loft/Weather Prophets) returned with a lovely new album of guitar pop


I Can’t Give Her What She Wants – Suede
In a year of comebacks Suede’s Night Thoughts album, which included this track, topped the lot. Their best since Dog Man Star


Love is The Devil – M. Craft
This was recorded in a cabin in Joshua Tree in the California desert, but thankfully sounds nothing like U2


Go! – M83
Glossy electronic pop with an 80s feel


Can’t Stop The Feeling – Justin Timberlake
Annoyingly catchy


Promise I Do – Whyte Horses
The standout track on this Manchester psychedelic pop band’s debut album, packed with all sorts of influences


Nothing But Love – James
It was a great year for James, topped by a triumphant arena gig in Liverpool with the Charlatans. This was a highlight


Hold On – Teenage Fanclub
They’re back! Back!! BACK!!! And for that we are truly grateful


Teddy I’m Ready – Ezra Furman
Hey, rock n roll!


No Care – Daughter
An unusually upbeat number from the 4AD album Not To Disappear


Fading Lines – Amber Arcades
Title track from the debut album of Dutch singer songwriter Annelotte de Graaf


Hands of Time – Margo Price
Painfully autobiographical slab of traditional country, with a soulful twist


Real Love Baby – Father John Misty
In between playing dates on a seemingly endless world tour and winding people up, the “homeless Chris Isaak” released this one-off single ahead of his eagerly anticipated third album


Don’t Let The Kids Win – Julia Jacklin
Sparse indie pop with a country tinge from a new Australian singer songwriter


Kismet Kill – Haley Bonar
A fuzzy guitar romp about getting older and the transitory nature of beauty (I think)


Gone but not forgotten: 10 of the best Sarah Records singles

cherrySarah was a Bristol-based independent record label founded by Clare Wadd and Matt Haynes in 1987. They closed it down eight years later on reaching the catalogue number SARAH100. Twenty years on, the label is enjoying renewed popularity thanks to a documentary film and a forthcoming book.You can read more about the label’s history and ethos on the official website but to mark the 20th anniversary of the end of the label, here, in no particular order, are 10 of my favourite Sarah record singles (I’ve only chosen one release for each band).


The jangling guitars, slightly wobbly vocals and low-fi production reminds you of early Primal Scream and represents what many probably consider to be the “Sarah sound”. The truth is that the label’s output was far more diverse than it’s often given credit for, but nonetheless, this, Sarah’s first single, is a three-minute piece of indie-pop perfection, as good a debut release as any record company could hope for. Copies of the single now sell for upwards of £400 on eBay. Unfortunately I don’t own a copy.


The Orchids were from Penilee, a council scheme on the outskirts of Glasgow that is about as far removed from the fey, middle-class image of Sarah Records as you could ever imagine. But that didn’t stop them being with the label for the entire duration of its existence, producing three albums and a barrowload of great singles and EPs. Their music developed from standard, indie guitar-based pop to the sample-filled, dance-influenced sound of their third album Striving For The Lazy Perfection. Their finest moment (and arguably the label’s too), 1990’s Something For The Longing, fell somewhere in between the two and was as close to anthemic as introspective, indie-pop gets.


If there was a Sarah band who could – and should – have made it big, it was the Field Mice. Their records were a hotchpotch of styles – one song would be all strummy acoustic guitars, gentle melodies and dreamy vocals, the next a drum machine/sequencer wigout. Constant throughout were the angsty and deeply – sometimes painfully – personal lyrics of songwriter Bobby Wratten. So Said Kay, the title track of their 1990 EP, is beautifully, melancholic and one of their finest moments. But if the Field Mice had hopes of world domination (and this seems doubtful) they were scuppered by the fact that they were loathed by the music press, who dismissed them as twee, generic, C-86 soundalikes, despite a musical output that was far more adventurous and diverse than most bands of the time. The band split up on stage in 1991 although Wratten continues to produce interesting music under a variety of different names to this day.


Like their predecessors, indie-pop legends Talulah Gosh (more or less the same band with a different name), Heavenly started out all anoraks, stripy t-shirts, floppy fringes and jingle-jangle guitars before moving into slightly darker and more political territory in the mid-90s. This, their first single, is catchy and joyful guitar pop, that opens with a sample of dialogue from a Pee Wee Herman film before kicking into a chirpy tale of unrequited love. Frontwoman Amelia Fletcher, who has gone on to appear in a string of bands including Marine Research, Tender Trap and The Catenary Wires, was awarded an OBE for services to economics in 2014, which must make her unique in indie pop circles.


I don’t know much about St Christopher, other than the fact that they are from York (thanks Wikipedia), they’ve been on the go for about 30 years and that they put out a handful of excellent singles on Sarah, including this one from 1991. The minute-long intro starts with a driving drum beat, which is good. Then the guitars kick in and it gets even better. And then to top it off someone starts battering away at kettle drums. Now that’s the sort of thing you want in a pop record. To top it all off there’s a touch of the Scott Walkers about Glenn Melia’s vocals, which is even more evident on some of their other material.


From Australia, Even As We Speak were a Sarah band who probably felt the label wasn’t quite up to the job of taking them where they wanted to go. They did achieve some limited mainstream indie success in the early 90s, scoring a few indie chart hits, getting a reasonable amount of Radio 1 airplay for their album Feral Pop Frenzy and recording sessions for John Peel and Mark Goodier. This single – less than a minute-and-a-half long – is a fairly gloomy affair about going home on your own after a Saturday night out (in a similar vein to How Soon Is Now by The Smiths), but is still more uplifting than the Del Amitri song of the same name.


By the time Glasgow-based The Wake teamed up with Sarah they were already well known in indie circles, having spent several years on Factory Records, touring with labelmates New Order. However if the track Joke Shop – an venomous attack on label boss Tony Wilson (“he’s condescending and he’s running a joke shop”) – is anything to go by, the time at Factory was not an entirely happy one. They were introduced to Sarah by their pals The Orchids, and Major John, was their second single on the label. You’ll not be surprised to learn it was about the Prime Minister of the time, John Major. And you’ll be equally unsurprised to learn it wasn’t exactly complimentary despite the jolly tune.


American duo Paul Chastain and Ric Menck released two Sarah singles as The Springfields. Wonder was the second, released almost three years after the first. In many ways it’s typical Sarah, with chiming guitars, tinny drums and wistful male vocals. But the harmonies on the chorus lift it up to another level, and although it’s still very much a British sound, there’s a definite American twang to proceedings. In fact it reminds me a lot of The Pains of Being Pure At Heart and The Drums, both of whom cite Sarah as a big influence. Chastain and Menck released music under a variety of names, but had most success as Velvet Crush, best known for their cover of Teenage Fanclub’s Everything Flows, which led to them being signed by Creation.


No, it’s not the 90s girl band featuring lads mag favourite Louise Nurding, although I have to admit that would have been interesting to see what Sarah would have done with them. Rather than middle of the road RnB, this Eternal dabbled in what was known at the time as shoegazing; fuzzy guitars, dreamy vocals and, if you listen closely enough, a hint of melody hidden away amid the noise. This was their only single and they split up soon after, having played just one gig. Like fellow shoegazers Ride, Chapterhouse and Slowdive, Eternal came from the Thames Valley area and owned everything My Bloody Valentine had ever recorded (probably). One of them even went on to join Slowdive after Eternal broke up.


Harvey Williams was probably Sarah’s most prolific artist. As well recording as Another Sunny Day, he also played with the Field Mice, The Hit Parade and Blueboy and produced a solo album under his own name. This was his best single, acoustic guitars and sweeping (synthetic) strings providing the backdrop to his lovelorn vocals, as he pleads with the love of his life to spurn some other feckless interloper and return his affections, even though he seems to know he’s wasting his time.

Live Aid: The Global Jukebox

It’s 30 years since Live Aid. Whatever you think of the concert and the motivations behind it, there’s no doubt it was an era-defining event. Everyone remembers where they were and what they were doing when it was on – although for most people it was nothing more exciting than sitting in front of the telly in their front room. I was on a school holiday in Italy and watched part of it in the hotel’s TV room and part in a cafe at Venice airport as we headed home. I heard the tail end of it on the radio of the coach taking us home from Gatwick to Glasgow. Not quite on a par with Phil Collins’ transatlantic jaunt but impressive nonetheless, I’m sure you’ll agree.

cover_bigBy now everyone knows the accepted narrative of the concert – how U2 and Queen stole the show with their bombastic performances at Wembley. But we don’t care about them or their ego-driven, career-enhancing, cynical opportunism. Nor do we care about Bob Geldof swearing on live TV, even though he didn’t actually say what everyone thinks he said.

What we do care about though, are the acts that made Live Aid the truly international event that it was… just about. Back in the mid-’80s, Johnny Foreigner wasn’t taken seriously as a pop force in the UK. After the demise of chart titans Abba and Boney M, the Top 10 here was rarely troubled by European artists, and when it was, it was almost always dreadful one-off hits from mullet-and-moustachioed horrors like Opus (“Live Is Life”) and Art Company (“Susanna”).

This was a problem for Live Aid, the self-styled Global Jukebox. The main event, of course, was split between London and Philadelphia, but to maintain at least a façade of international involvement the organisers clearly felt they had to feature contributions from other parts of the world. Hence, the output from Wembley and JFK Stadium was interspersed with live and pre-recorded segments from events taking place elsewhere. For the baffled TV audiences this was the ideal opportunity to pop the kettle on and get ready for the next act they had actually heard of. But if they’d bothered to hang around they would have got to see some top-class entertainment, although not always in the way intended.

The first overseas segment wasn’t too bad – Australia’s Oz For Africa was headlined by INXS, who had already enjoyed some international success and would soon become bona fide rock stars around the world. Time differences meant the Sydney concert, featuring a load of Antipodean pop stars including Mental as Anything and Men At Work, had taken place the previous night. The compere was Aussie pop TV legend Molly Meldrum, best known in the UK for his excruciating interview with Prince Charles in the ’70s. He also fronted the Australian TV coverage of Live Aid itself, which mostly seemed to involve random punters walking in off the street to hand bundles of dollars to Molly (for the charity obviously, not for him to stuff in his wallet), and in the absence of any famous people to interview, become a studio guest.

The Oz For Africa segment fell between Wembley performances from Adam Ant and Ultravox, fairly early on in proceedings. The acts shown in each country depended on the local broadcasters, and in the UK, the BBC showed two INXS songs, “What You Need” and “Don’t Change”. Michael Hutchence put in a fairly standard ‘80s rock-god performance, all hair-tossing, loose fitting vests and that weird dancing-on-the-spot thing that Courtney Cox does in the Bruce Springsteen video.

Then it started to go a bit weird. Sandwiched between Ultravox and Spandau Ballet, we were treated to the Japanese contribution. Japan is not renowned for its impact on the international pop-scene and from this evidence it’s not hard to see why. This was also pre-recorded but this time in a studio rather than as part of a concert. First act was the heavy metal band Loudness performing their hit “Gotta Fight”, complete with Spagna-style frightwigs, a star-shaped guitar and a lot of spandex. According to the introduction they were “known internationally through their records” but you would have been hard-pushed to find many people outside of Japan who’d ever heard of them.

Next up, according to the voiceover guy, was “a group of pop artists with beautiful harmony and sophisticated sounds.” Off Course had been around since the mid-‘60s and were apparently the founding fathers of Japanese folk-rock, a hitherto unknown musical genre to me, and not one I’ve encountered since. A few seconds into their pleasant song “Endless Night”, the feed from Fuji Television went down, forcing BBC presenter Richard Skinner to waffle to camera for a bit before the link returned.

The name might not mean much here, but Eikichi Yazawa is rock royalty in Japan. He came to prominence in the 1970s as part of the band Carol then as a solo artist and by the time Live Aid came around he was established as one of the country’s biggest pop stars. Sadly his contribution to the Global Jukebox, “Take It Time”, was as insipid musically as it was illiterate, sounding like something that had been rejected as a filler track for the soundtrack of a low-budget ‘80s action movie.

Finally, the producers unleashed a sweaty Motoharu Sano (“known internationally as Moto Sano”) to sing about “the dilemma between human conscience and greed” on his song “Shame”. The chorus, sung in English for added impact on the global stage, went simply “I’m Angry, I’m So Angry”. We felt his pain. To be honest we were all getting a bit annoyed by now.

Austria was next to get its moment in the limelight, with a live rendition of their Band-Aid style single, “Warum?” (Why?) Austria Für Afrika featured such Austrian pop luminaries as the aforementioned Opus and er, well… lots of other really famous stars. Like most of the Band Aid-style charity records, the song itself was truly appalling. In particular, the line “We’re sending money so we don’t feel bad” was, regardless of intent, right up there with Bono’s infamous “Tonight, thank God it’s them instead of you” in terms of morally-ambiguous messages. Warum, indeed.

Rather than inflict any of their home-grown popsters on the world, the Dutch sensibly chose to provide a live link to BB King performing four songs at the North Sea Jazz Festival in Rotterdam. From the country that was soon to produce MC Miker G & DJ Sven this seemed a wise decision. In contrast, Yugoslavia decided to focus on its own version of Band Aid, Yu Rock Mission, during its five minutes of fame. It was something of a rarity to get a peek behind the Iron Curtain at the time, and although Yugoslavia was the most open and “Western” of the Eastern Bloc countries, the grainy pictures from Belgrade were still an eye-opener.

The charity song “For A Million Years” was a predictable cocktail of platitudinous, clichéd lyrics and vapid melody, but what made it stand out was the absolute state of most of the performers (not to mention the fact that they appeared to have forced numerous reluctant-looking children from a variety of ethnic backgrounds to appear in their video).

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The segment from the J-R T studios was presented by Mladen Popovic, an editor on a local pop magazine show, who wrote the lyrics to the song. Looking a little like a podgy Sheldon from Big Bang Theory and sporting a standard ‘80s-issue lemon jacket with de rigeur rolled up sleeves, he seemed affable enough what with his little finger-shaking gestures and his message of hope to the watching masses: “We know that music cannot change the world, but it can make it little better place to live in.” Wise words.

By now it was late afternoon in London, and after half an hour of Sting and Phil Collins boring for Britain at Wembley, followed by Rick Springfield and REO Speedwagon doing likewise in Philadelphia, everyone was in need of pepping up. So where better to turn to for a bit of cheer than Eastern Europe’s fun capital, Moscow?

It’s fair to say the Soviet authorities were somewhat wary of popular music and its related culture , what with its rebellious undertones and close associations with American culture. This was a time when bootleg cassettes of Bruce Springsteen albums and pairs of knock-off Levi jeans were selling on the black market for upwards of three or four beetroots each. Russians were clearly desperate for rock ‘n ‘ roll. Instead they got Autograph… Genesis without the fashion sense. Or the tunes. Or the lead singer dressed as a sunflower. Despite being an art/prog rock band 10 years after the rest of the world had moved on from such nonsense, they had built a huge following performing hundreds of live gigs across the USSR. So when Live Aid came around, they were the obvious (only?) choice to represent the Soviet Union to the world.

Screen Shot 2015-07-13 at 15.14.42Predictably, errant technology almost ruined their moment. After a gushing introduction from Richard Skinner, the satellite feed switched to Moscow. We got the sound OK; an introductory speech from ubiquitous and slightly sinister Russian spokesman-to-the-West Vladimir Posner followed by some tuneless, cod-reggae guff. But rather than pictures of a rock band strutting their stuff on stage, we were instead treated to a bizarre, silent film of Bulgarian cherry pickers. It says a lot that it took an age for anyone – including the BBC producers – to realise that this was a technical error and wasn’t actually the Soviets’ idea of a pop video. It took more than two minutes for the penny to drop and the correct switch to be flicked, allowing Autograph to finally burst onto our screens in all their glory. As suspected, we weren’t missing much.

The next “truly worldwide” moment came from the foot of Cologne Cathedral in West Germany, where Band Für Afrika – made up of the cream of the German pop world – performed their fundraising song “Nackt Im Wind” (and yes it does mean Naked In The Wind). It was predictably awful – worse even than the Yugoslav effort. But before the performance got underway, we had to sit through a heartfelt, if somewhat rambling, political statement from veteran rocker Udo Lindenberg condemning the West for squandering billions on “murderous weapons” while Africans died of starvation. The governments in Washington and the Kremlin, he declared, were “sick in the head”. He had a point, although the rant seemed strangely out of kilter with the general non-political nature of the event.

The final overseas segment came from Oslo and the Norwegian version of Band Aid, imaginatively named Norway For Africa. The video of Kenny Loggins and Sheena Easton introducing this for MTV as they attempted to present Phil Collins is up there with Mick Fleetwood/Sam Fox at the Brits in the toe-curlingly embarassing stakes. Not least because of Sheena’s amazing Hollywood via Bellshill accent. Meanwhile, Norway’s pop stars turned out to be a rum-looking lot, including one bloke dressed in skimpy shorts, clumpy shoes and a Hawaiian shirt, one who looked like an ‘80s geography teacher and another who could have passed for Jerry Sadowitz on a dark night. The video also featured standard-issue, multi-cultural children, who were forced to stand and stare longingly at a market stall filled with cherries.

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Forget Freddy and Bonio, this is what Live Aid was really all about. I like to believe that the cherries on the market stall were the same cherries being picked by the Bulgarian teenagers earlier. Now, how amazing would that have been?

1991: A Bit Of A Blur

Unless you’ve been living under a rock recently, you’ll probably be aware that Blur have just put out a new album called Magic Whip. It’s their first since Think Tank was released 12 years ago. And funnily enough, almost exactly 12 years before that, May 1 1991, I saw them live at King Tut’s in Glasgow.


I think it was their second UK tour and I had ticket No. 00034. These were the days when you could see Blur live for £4.40; tickets for their upcoming Hyde Park show start at around £80. Their debut single She’s So High had been a minor hit and the follow-up There’s No Other Way – complete with a bizarre video featuring art teacher Miss Booth from Grange Hill – had just been released and would propel them into the upper reaches of the charts.

Pop stardom was just around the corner. Indeed, a few days earlier they’d made their first ever TV appearance on Top Of The Pops, followed swiftly by Eggs ‘n’ Baker – a Saturday morning cookery/pop crossover show presented by ex-Bucks Fizz singer Cheryl Baker. A sort of prototype Sunday Brunch aimed at kids with Cheryl in the Tim Lovejoy role. Judging by Damon’s haircuts, the Eggs ‘n’ Baker appearance must have been filmed first.

Memories of the actual King Tut’s gig – shoegazers Catherine Wheel were the support act – are predictably sketchy, although I do vaguely remember being down the front and trying to twang Alex James’ bass for some reason. I got a swift boot to the side of the head for my troubles, which I suppose is fair enough.

I also remember buying one of the “controversial” topless-lady-on-a-hippo t-shirts and a copy of a Blur fanzine called Down, named after one of their early songs. And that’s the real point of this post. Not only do I still have the saucy t-shirt (it stopped fitting me many moons ago) but I’ve also still got the fanzine, so I thought I’d share a few pages.









The night Sinatra played Glasgow

Frank Sinatra

Of all the international superstars who have graced the pitch at Ibrox Stadium over the decades, none could get close to the global fame of the man who took to the stage on 12 June 1990. Cruyff, Di Stefano, Puskas, Beckenbauer, Gascoigne and Ronaldinho may have been household names, but all paled into insignificance compared to the legend that was Francis Albert Sinatra.

Sinatra may have been past his best by the time he performed at Rangers’ home. His show may have been overpriced and something of a shambles. But as events go, it was up there among the most memorable ever to take place at the stadium. Sinatra himself, at the age of 74 and after five decades in showbusiness, was moved to tears. For the audience, many of whom had waited a lifetime to see Old Blue Eyes in the flesh, it was something akin to a religious experience.

In 1990, Glasgow was enjoying something of a renaissance. Forever plagued with the No Mean City image of razor gangs and random violence, Scotland’s industrial capital had suffered badly from the decline in manufacturing in the 70s and 80s and was in real need of an economic boost. The International Garden Festival of 1988, held on the southern banks of the Clyde, not far from Ibrox, was the first step on the road to recovery. Two years later the makeover was complete when Glasgow was named European City of Culture. A year-long festival of culture ensued, which did much to change the outside world’s perception of the city, although critics argued that there were few benefits for the impoverished local population.

For many, the highlight of the festivities was Frank Sinatra’s show at Ibrox. The man considered by many to be the world’s greatest singer, hadn’t played in Scotland for almost 40 years, after a series of disastrous concerts in the 1950s when his career had temporarily gone into free-fall. But by the time he returned at the age of 74 he had assumed legendary status.

Tickets for Ibrox were not cheap, with some fans paying £60 each for premium positions in front of the stage. Even the cheapest seats were £35 and the promoters soon realised that the projected sales of 33,000 were never going to materialise. The decision was taken late to only use the Govan Stand and the capacity was cut to just 11,000. Fans who had bought tickets for other parts of the ground had to be reallocated new seats, meaning some who had paid £60 were put in cheaper areas.

Queues began to build up outside the stadium and thousands were locked out of the ground as Sinatra started his performance. Some fans didn’t get inside until the fifth or sixth song, while others had to wait even longer. Refunds were handed out to dozens of devastated fans but it was scant compensation for missing the show. Even Rangers manager Graeme Souness was affected – he discovered his £60 seats were occupied by someone else and ended up watching from an Ibrox hospitality suite.

Those who had got through the gates earlier were treated to support performances by Glasgow jazz singer Carol Kidd and, somewhat bizarrely, a stand-up act by local comedian Arnold Brown. As he would say, “and why not”.

A letter from Sinatra to then Rangers manager Graeme Souness

A letter from Sinatra to then Rangers manager Graeme Souness

But there was no question who the crowds had come to see. Dressed in a dinner suit and black bow tie, Sinatra, performed on a stage set up in the middle of the pitch, miles away from the audience. He opened with You Make Me Feel So Young. It set the tone for the night as Sinatra rolled back the years, performing many of his classics like I Get A Kick Out Of You, Strangers In The Night, Bewitched, Mack The Knife, My Way and New York, New York.

The stage set-up lacked intimacy, but the chemistry between performer and audience was so strong that the distance was barely noticeable. Tom Gardner and his wife were among those who had paid the top price for a ticket. “Our seats were supposed to be on the pitch directly in front of the stage and cost £60 each,’ he remembered.

“On the day they changed all the arrangements. Our new seats put us at the edge of the Govan almost where we normally sat on matchdays. We went back and complained and got centre front seats. I think we were ahead of the disaster that then occurred when queues lasting several hours formed.
 The show started promptly at 7.30pm. Frank came on at roughly 8.00 pm and I remember he travelled across the pitch in a little golf buggy.”

Sinatra performed for more than an hour then, as he approached the end of the show, he left the stage. To the shock, and delight, of his fans, he suddenly appeared on the track in front of the Govan stand and began shaking hands with members of the audience. Sinatra enjoyed the performance so much that he performed a rare encore, coming back onstage to perform a rendition of Where Or When.

“Just as he finished his encore, an old woman squeezed in and sat down beside us,” recalled Tom Gardner. “First thing she asked was did we know when he would be coming on. She burst into tears when we told her the show was finished.

“I believe many refunds were given out and the council lost a fortune in the end. But it was great show and for a 74- year-old his voice was pretty good. It does remind me that my mother also saw him play the Glasgow Empire back in the 1950s during one of his unpopular phases. The hall had less than 100 people in it.”

Sinatra’s English driver and friend Dennis Parker later revealed how much the Ibrox show had meant to the singer. “He hated being so far away from them,” Parker told newspapers. “Half way through, he grabbed a hand mike and walked off stage to get close to the crowd. It was completely unrehearsed. The emotion that passed between artist and audience that night was magical. Afterwards, back at the hotel, tears started running down his cheeks, he had been so affected by it.”

Sinatra later told his entourage, “In all my time in showbusiness I have never had such a stupendous feeling. I have never been so moved by anything in my life before.”

This first appeared in my book Temple of Dreams: The Changing Face of Ibrox




RIP Tom Hibbert

The music journalist Tom Hibbert died in 2011. Lord Hibbert of Hibbertsworth (as he wasn’t known) was the “brains” behind the inspired lunacy that was the letters page in ver Hits (aka Smash Hits magazine) during the 1980s. As Black Type, he was an unlikely inspiration for my writing “career”.

Photo by Paul Rider

As well as developing much of Smash Hits’ unique lingo and trademark nicknames, he also interviewed most of the stars of the era – most notably the Prime Minister of the day Margaret Thatcher (favourite song How Much Is That Doggy In the Window?) and Morrissey.

With apologies to both the original publishers and the person who painstakingly typed it out, here is the full interview with Morrissey from 1985.


That’s the message from Morrissey. A message he’s “madly serious” about. He’s so serious, in fact, that The Smiths are just about to release an LP called Meat Is Murder. Yet despite his health-giving vegetarian diet, The Smiths’ singer still turns up to be interviewed looking decidedly under the weather. Is he, we wondered, permanently peaky? Wouldn’t a good McDonald’s quarter-pounder have him back on his feet in no time? “I sincerely doubt it,” he tells Tom Hibbert.

Are you feeling better?
It’s quite a struggle.
What’s the matter with you?
Oh just a general mental decay – so many things, the list is fascinatingly long. I look ill, don’t I?
Yes, you look terrible, actually. Are you under the doctor?
I don’t believe in doctors, I believe in self-cure. I’ve seen very threadbare GPs and I’ve seen very expensive doctors and I find that they’re all relatively useless.
How long have you not been eating meat?
For almost a decade.
Can you remember that last time you ate meat?
I can’t really – but I didn’t like it the last time. I’m quite sure it was bacon because I had a moderate bacon fetish. And I can remember as it came to the end of my bacon period, I thought – oh, I don’t like the taste of this anymore. It was simply the realisation of the horrific treatment of animals – I had never been aware of it before. I suppose that I knew vaguely that animals died, but I didn’t know how and I didn’t know why. I think generally that people think that meat doesn’t have anything to do with animals. It’s like potatoes or something – it hasn’t got a cow’s face and it doesn’t moo, so people don’t think it’s animals. But of course it is – as I’m sure you’ve recently realised.
Yes, I did twig. Did you approve of the Animal Liberation Front’s Mars Bars hoax?
I wholeheartedly believe in hoaxes.
But would you approve if it weren’t a hoax?
Oh, yes. Completely. Yes, I would because I think we have to take these measures now because polite demonstration is pointless. You have to get angry, you have to be violent otherwise what’s the point? There’s no point in demonstrating if you don’t get any national press, TV or radio, or nobody listens to you or you get beaten up by the police. So I do believe in these animal groups but I think they should be more forceful and I think what they need now is a national figure, a national face – sounds like an ice lolly – I think they need some very forthright figure head.
Vegetarian pop stars don’t tend to be very militant types – Paul McCartney, Limahl, etc…
Yes, very effete figures, non-political figures who would never raise their voices which, of course, is pointless. Whenever vegetarianism has been covered in the popular press, it’s been whispered, nothing ever very forceful. Nobody really concentrates on the reasons why people don’t eat meat, instead this person eats blah blah blah…
Yes. Brown rice and here’s how to cook a nut cutlet in your Habitat kitchen…
Yes, so the brown rice becomes the centre-piece of this person’s stand – when, of course, it isn’t.
Why do you think being vegetarian is almost considered effeminate? Ozzy Osbourne, Ted Nugent, so-called “macho” people like that have to be real red-blooded meat-eaters.
Yes, I’ve never really thought about that. I can’t think of any reason why vegetarians should be considered effeminate. Why? Because you care about animals? Is that effeminate? Is that a weak trait? It shouldn’t be and I think it’s a very sad reflection on the human race that it often is.
What about your heroes? I’m sure Oscar Wilde enjoyed a nice leg of mutton.
Or a big rump steak. Yes. He was a hideously fat person so I’m sure he did indulge quite often – in fact he did but he is forgiven.
And James Dean probably enjoyed a tasty hamburger.
I’m sure he did. But we all have our weaknesses.
So it’s alright, is it?
No, it isn’t. Certainly not.
How far can you take this? What do you want to achieve?
Well, I’m very nervous about it because I’m deadly serious. It isn’t, you know, catchphrase of the month. It isn’t this year’s hysteria. I’m madly serious about it.
Did you have any pets when you were young?
Yes, I had a pet which I still have, in fact. I have a cat that is 23 years old, which makes him something like a thousand in cat years. He’s actually older than the other members of The Smiths, which is remarkable.
What’s his name?
His name – and I’m not responsible – is Tibby. It could be worse but I think that was a very popular cat name in the early ’60s. It’s quite extraordinary because we have family photographs of me when I was a day old and I’m clutching this cat and there he is today still hobbling around the house.
What do you feed him on?
Regrettably, cat meat. Sad as it is, he eats meat but nothing can be done now because he won’t eat anything else. Certainly if I bought a pet today, I’d feed it on non-meat products like Smarties and baked beans. It’s a shame that Tibby is glued to meat, as it were, because – in effect – he’s eating other cats.
But cats are natural carnivores. Wouldn’t it be a bit selfish to impose your views on a cat and turn it into a vegetarian?
No, because cat food is an animal. It’s a horse or it’s a cat or it’s a dog or whatever. So how can I be selfish by not allowing an animal to eat another animal? I’m simply looking after it. Animals can live without meat. We get violently upset when animals eat human beings, it’s horrific, it’s dreadful. So why shouldn’t we feel horror when human beings eat animals?
I do.
You do what? Eat humans?
No, eat animals. Which human would you most like to eat?
Well, now. This is tricky because I spent the last 18 months criticising people, putting them down, destroying them, and I’ve reached the point where I realise that there’s not any point. Because you meet these people and you find that some of them are really quite affable. Some of them are quite nauseating.
Is Limahl affable?
No, he’s certainly not in that category. But I’ve got a new policy. I’m not going to drag people down anymore. Everybody within this curious profession has to do their own thing, however obnoxious that may be. And nothing I can say is going to change that. Besides, I’ve too many enemies. It’s quite distressing. It’s a bit of a strain because one is welcome almost nowhere. I don’t want to go to parties or go skiing with Spandau Ballet or anything but still it’s become quite tiresome, this constant barrier of hate. Silence is the safest thing.
What do you eat?
I have a daily intake of yoghurt and bread.
Do you think that this might be responsible for your present state of ill-health? A good McDonald’s quarter-pounder would put you back on your feet in no time.
I sincerely doubt it.
If you died tomorrow, went up to heaven and met Colonel Sanders of Kentucky Fried Chicken fame, what would you say to him?
Words would just be useless. I think I’d resort to the old physical knee in the groin – “this is on behalf of all those poor animals who died simply because of you.”
That was a trick question. You should have said Colonel Sanders wouldn’t be in heaven.
OK. That’s the end.
Of what?
Of the interview.
Thank heavens for that. You didn’t ask me about Band Aid.
What about Band Aid?
Band Aid is the undiscussable, I’m afraid.
You brought it up!
Yes, and I finished the sentence. Full stop.

PS This article also appears online here and here

A full obituary appeared in the Guardian

Dancing On The Valentine: Smash Hits, April 26, 1984

Thirty years ago this week, when I was 12, I bought my first ever issue of Smash Hits. This is it.

1I found it baffling – full of in-jokes I didn’t understand and references to people I’d never heard of. But something about it drew me in. I immediately ditched my regular order for Roy of The Rovers and every second Thursday for the next four years had Smash Hits delivered instead.

This was a golden era for pop music – and crucially as far as Smash Hits was concerned – for pop stars. Of course every generation has its own great pop and everyone thinks the music they listened to growing up is the best, but it’s not always been the case that the artists behind the hits have been worth reading about.

In the mid-to-late-eighties, though, the pop world was overflowing with funny, interesting, controversial and outspoken people. Boy George, Duran Duran, Spandau Ballet, Morrissey and Frankie Goes To Hollywood all had plenty to say for themselves, and Smash Hits was more than happy to provide them with a fortnightly platform to impart their “wisdom”. The writers clearly loved and understood pop, but the tone of their coverage was far from reverential or obsequious. The magazine enjoyed nothing more than poking fun at the pretentions of pop stars and ridiculing their pomposity but did it with a sense of humour and style – and, perhaps even more significantly, without any of the sort of cynicism that you’d expect today.

As the eighties progressed, Smash Hits developed its own parlance that started in the letters page (overseen by the mysterious Black Type) and soon seeped into the rest of the magazine. Much of the credit for this goes to the late Tom Hibbert, the brains behind the letters page.

Among the many Smash Hits inventions and obsessions of the mid-eighties were Sir Billiam of Idol, Lord Frederick Of Lucan, Uncle Disgusting, Um Bongo, foxtresses, various spellings of actually, the overuse of exclamation marks (!!!!!!!!!) and “inverted” “commas”, Mark Unpronounceablename of Big Country, Frightwigs (as sported by Tina Turner, Sigue “Sigue” Sputnik and Spagna), Fab Macca Wacky Thumbs Aloft and the phrase that somehow answered everything… Roland Orzabal and a kangaroo.

In 1984, under the editorship of professional Paul McCartney lookalike Mark Ellen, Smash Hits was just setting off down this road. Here’s a look back at some of the highlights of that first issue I bought exactly 30 years ago. For context, Hello by Lionel Ritchie was at number one in the UK charts, and the Top 10 also included Phil Collins, Queen, Thompson Twins, Duran Duran, Shakin’ Stevens, Kool & The Gang, Captain Sensible, Depeche Mode and OMD.

You can see the full issue (minus a couple of pages that turned out to be missing from my copy) here.



When Nena, the German foxtress with the hairy armpits, scored a number one single around the world with 99 Red Balloons, her record company bosses must have assumed that a glittering global career lay ahead of her. They were wrong. The follow-up Just A Dream reached number 70 in the UK and the dumper was soon beckoning.


Song lyrics were one of the big selling points of Smash Hits, especially in the early days. Phil Collins sitting side-by-side with Sandie Shaw and The Smiths, summed up the eclectic nature of the magazine.



Sandie Shaw recorded Hand In Glove with The Smiths. So here she is on the news pages posing with her hand in a glove. Clever, eh? Meanwhile, Andy McCluskey of OMD claims Liverpool FC is one of his obsessions, then adds “Funny, because I never go to the games or anything”.


Fifteen posters for £3? Worra snip! Meanwhile, future Big Brother contestant Pete Burns coins the phrase “Gender Bender” to describe people who “look like him” ie Boy George and Marilyn.


Toni Basil, The Fraggles and Spear of Destiny, rub shoulders with The Cure, OMD and Echo And The Bunnymen on the album review (half) page. But who on earth remembers Bauhaus spin-off Tones On Tail?


David “call me Dave” Gahan of Depeche Mode reviews the singles. He likes the Cocteau Twins, Gene Loves Jezebel, Echo & The Bunnymen and, er, Marilyn. He doesn’t like King, the Flying Pickets or Alvin Stardust much. Or, surprisingly, Roland Rat. And Morrissey is “obnoxious and narrow minded” towards other songwriters…


Not sure that “young, free and single” teenagers having their names and home addresses published in a national magazine was a particularly clever move, but it seemed like a good idea at the time. The 80s was such an innocent era. Wonder how many responses the call for “actors, poets and Steve Wright fans” got. A pretty niche group, you’d imagine.


This was C&A fashion, 1984 style.


A brief history of the Eurovision Song Contest by Tom Hibbert. In the days before post-modern, irony it was simply mocked for being dreadful. The UK’s 1984 entry by Belle And The Devotions came seventh, although Belle would go on to have much greater success as one half of a fey, indie pop duo with the historical novelist Sebastian Faulks (Are you quite sure about this? – Ed)


By 1984, picture discs were soooo old hat. Shaped picture discs were, like, where it was at.


Want to know Green Gartside’s home address? Or where Jim Kerr does his shopping? Linda Duff (no relation) has all the answers for creepy stalkers.


Tape the Bluebells off the charts and sing along with this handy lyric sheet.


George Michael denies rumours of a “romantic link” with Hazell O’Connor, two members of Fiction Factory get on a tube train and a selection of football folk go to a George Benson concert. Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan also gets an unlikely mention among the “hot” gossip.



Frankie says… 1984 was the year of Frankie Goes To Hollywood. Three consecutive number ones singles (in the days when that actually meant something) and a million-selling double album, more controversy than you could shake a stick at and those swanky t-shirts. Oh, and the interview was by soon-to-be Pet Shop Boy Neil Tennant, fact fans.


Nile Rogers did some fiddly bits in the studio and transformed a mundane Duran Duran album track into this stomping pop masterpiece. The single is also notable for some of the most impenetrable, meaningless, bonkers lyrics ever committed to vinyl.

You’ve gone too far this time
But I’m dancing on the valentine
I tell you somebody’s fooling around
With my chances on the dangerline
I’ll cross that bridge when I find it
Another day to make my stand
High time is no time for deciding
If I should find a helping hand

So why don’t you use it?
Try not to bruise it
Buy time don’t lose it
The reflex is an only child he’s waiting in the park
The reflex is in charge of finding treasure in the dark
And watching over lucky clover isn’t that bizarre
Every little thing the reflex does
Leaves you answered with a question mark

I’m on a ride and I want to get off
But they won’t slow down the roundabout
I sold the Renoir and the TV set
Don’t want to be around when this gets out


Oh the reflex what a game he’s hiding all the cards
The reflex is in charge of finding treasure in the dark
And watching over lucky clover isn’t that bizarre
Evey little thing the reflex does
Leaves you answered with a question mark

A few foaming beakers of Um Bongo were quaffed before that was written, you’d wager.

The letters page with Black Type. Soon, it would all get very strange.


If such a thing existed, would the Smash Hits of today carry a live review of Grandmaster Flash and the Furious 5 (or their modern day equivalent)? I think it’s doubtful, Nice frightwig though.


Nick Heyward was slightly bonkers, what with all his talk of “giant onenesses” (whatever they are) and the like. He should have been a superstar.


A full page ad, but you do wonder how many Smash Hits readers bought this single by post-punk psychobilly rockers King Kurt, even with its free flexi-disc


And speaking of Mack The Knife…


Lastly, a life size poster of be-snooded pop pixie Nik Kershaw. Pin it up!!! Take it down!!!! Hours of fun guaranteed!!!!!