BA DA DA DAA
I am a one legged man bobbing through traffic, drifting away. Francis
is at his weather map and Debbie McGhee beside me. Frank Bough’s
soothing fruity tones are soporific, hypnotic. Tom seems to be handling
him awfully well. The sofa is a giant pair of lips, whispering sweet nothings
to me. Then the camera swings full face and I wake up fast.
“So it’s Cramp without an ‘s” says Frank.
“And not ‘Clamp’?” He’s toying with me.
“And it’s on at the…?”
They cut straight to the news desk.
Exotically attired male models began forming up for the
fashion spot, which was next up. They were very beautiful. Tom’s
eyes were moist. He was whimpering like a puppy on a leash with the field
in sniffing distance. Frank leant across at him, conspiratorially.
“I wish I could wear clothes like that.”
“Suit you Frank,” said Tom.
“Nesta won’t let me.”
He seemed sad.
When we came off the air I rang my mother.
“How was I?”
“You looked very effeminate, somehow. Like a homo.”
I tried Pat instead.
“Your hair looked a bit thin darling,” was the best she could
On my way into the theatre that afternoon I bought a hat.
A mysterious message awaited at the stage door: Ring Rick Lloyd. I didn’t
know him but apparently he knew me. What’s more, he wondered if
I’d be interested in joining the Flying Pickets. The lead singer
had left – the one with the sideburns – taking the bald one
They’d already replaced the one with the sideburns….
“Fing is, how would you feel about coming in and having a little
chat wiv the boys?”
He was one of these people who adopted a cockney accent when it suited
them. Chat meant audition, obviously. They’d had a Christmas Number
One, I remembered, a couple of years back. That nice one. How did it go?
Ba da da daa, ba da da daa….what was it?…..all I ever knew….
“Sure Rick! A chat sounds great.”
I parked up in the multi storey and made my way along Wigmore Street to
the rehearsal rooms. The corridor was a gauntlet of cacophonous sound.
A lone trumpet gave way to a practising cello who’s bowed lament
was stolen by a soaring soprano. I knocked and pushed on door number eight.
The hot, weary room contained four thin men, middle aged and some would
say, rather unattractive (more than some, in fact. They were voted ‘ugliest
band in the world’ in 1984. All that was about to change). Each
wore the same glazed smile on his vaguely recognisable face.
The Flying Pickets. Like, wow. A pock marked type with greasy grey hair
came casually towards me. The handshake was limp, a touch almost, as if
he eschewed bodily contact. His white T shirt could not have been more
wrinkled if the dog had whelped in it.
“Rick,” he said, with a rictus grin. I grinned back. His eyes
slid away sideways and he turned away.
The next handshake was better. Vicelike, in fact.
“David,” he intoned mellifluously, eye contact secure and
twinkling. He was very small and looked a bit like Dudley Moore. But not
as much as the next guy looked like Neil Kinnock.
“Gareth.” The voice was deep, designed for sermons. The smile
kept coming, long after we’d shaken hands. The vicar was stoned.
He looked too old for that sort of lark. He had brimming eyes and thinning
The fourth one wore a glossy suit, smart tie and brogues, completely at
odds with his hair which was straining in every direction, stiff with
soap and dyed platinum blonde, a colour which argued violently with his
pepper grey beard, though at least his roots agreed. His eyes were flirty
and dancing with humour. He looked like some awful northern club comic,
but I liked him immediately.
“Ken,” he said. Ken! Perfect.
Five weeks at number one had bestowed upon them a certain
“You know we’re left wing,” blurted Ken, excitedly.
“That’s cool,” I shrugged.
They all nodded. Right answer, right dismissive gesture. I crossed to
the piano and played Stevie Wonder’s ‘For Once In My Life’.
“Christ, that was loud!” said Ken, when I’d finished.
I vocally busked along to ‘River Deep Mountain High’ and tried
not to ruin ‘Only You’. I put on my latest demo. A bit of
banter later, they offered me a job. But first I had to finish a national
tour of ‘Cramp’. I commuted from wherever to Wembley to record
a single with the boys: – Take My Breath Away. They gave me the
lead vocal, an early test.
‘Think sex and money!’ whispered Ken as I entered the vocal
booth. ‘And left wing’, I muttered to myself.
The other new guy was there, Gary. He did trumpet impersonations
on Esther Rantzen’s ‘That’s Life’. He looked like
a cross between Max Headroom and the front end of an ‘e’ type
jag. He was handsome in a Sherlock Holmes kind of way and laughed a lot,
though the eyes were watchful. His hair was prematurely grey and he smoked
his cigarette like a girl, narrowing his eyes as he did so. The eyes were
bedroom and the voice smooth, too smooth We were as different as two new
boys could be but we had our new boy status in common and were younger
than the others, so we bonded.
I went on a diet and bought myself a black kohl eyeline pencil. We did
our first group photo session. ‘Cramp’ was drawing to a close
and I rang Rick every couple of days to reassure myself I had a job to
“Oh hi man,” he would say, casually, “Listen, can you
see if River Deep suits you in A? What else? John Sherry’s got the
photos and they’ve come out well – Sherry, our manager? He’s
picked one out. What else? Good feedback on the single. I’m sure
there was somefin’ else. Oh yeah. Spain. Live T.V. Is that okay?
For your first gig? It clashes with an Amsterdam T.V. date but it’s
Last time I was in Barcelona it was a dingy pensione with bickering women
and howling babies in the corridor. Now it was double room, T.V. remote,
fridge, massive mirrors and marbled bathroom. We ate in the Plaza Real
off the Ramblas. Then Gareth disappeared into the red light district.
Rick went off for three minutes and reappeared with some dope. They were
behaving like proper rock stars.
I was here to lip-synch for the first time in my life, to Only You, of
course. Playing it safe they’d given me the vocal snare drum part
– ‘Ker CHU!’ I had to go, ‘Ker CHU!’ over
and over, for three and a half minutes. It wasn’t very difficult.
We were supposed to pretend it was Xmas day. Amazingly, that was when
this would be going out in Spain. The cameras started rolling as a nubile
blonde slipped into the seat in front of me and a waiter filled our glasses
with champagne. The camera honed in on us. Blonde babe beamed dreamily,
as if we were starring in a toothpaste advert with a champagne mouthwash.
I knew what was required of me. Ker-Chu! I went in her beautiful face,
Ker-Chu! I was tasting pop stardom. Don’t ask me what she was tasting.
Back at the hotel, I smoked some dope in Ken’s room. It had been
a long time. Twelve years to be exact.. A cloud of locusts seemed to be
plaguing my vision so I coolly made my excuses and left. I somehow found
the key to my door and passed out on the floor.
Next morning, Ken was all of a lather. We were waiting for Gareth, who
could not be revivified in his room.
“Everybody’s so selfish” he ranted. “It makes
me want to shoot you all, that’s my dream. I hope you all fucking
die and the human race is eaten by the leopard and the square taken out
We were about to miss our flight.
“I’m held to ransom by people’s drunken personalities.”
Ken didn’t drink.
“I really resent it. I’m at a very crucial stage in my life.
It just takes one thing.”
Brian – our tour manager - decided to save time by settling the
extras himself on Gareth’s room. One hundred and fifty pounds. We’d
only been there for one night. Mine had come to four pounds fifty. I would
try to do better next time.
For our second excursion, miming got even easier. We were lip-synching on
the radio! Yes, such a thing exists. Work doesn’t get any easier than
miming on the radio – especially in Belgium. We fell out the van late
and wandered in through the nearest door, only to find ourselves onstage
in a room combusting with applause. Happy faces shone up at us.
“Here at last!” crowed the presenter.
A track began playing. Only the Lonely.
Only the Lonely? We don’t do Only the fucking Lonely! Do we?
I looked uncertainly across at Rick who nodded minimally in answer.
I had no idea how the arrangement went.
‘Dum dum dum dumbeedooah’
I sang, walking towards a dead mic. glaring at David. He was too busy to
notice. He was preening himself for a lead vocal, I could tell.
‘Woah woah woah – yay-yay-aah’. I could feel myself growing
hysterical. I felt like Eric Morecambe, crossing the back of the stage with
his shopping bag on the way to the bus stop. I was part of the act, and
yet I wasn’t in on it.
||We drove to Holland for a residency in a small theatre in
Amsterdam. The wives arrived. Suddenly it all became rather… cosy.
Domesticated would be the wrong word. Mo – Ken’s girlfriend
– was an avant garde performance artiste more at home talking about
drum machines than washing machines and Bunny – Rick’s girlfriend
– seemed to have blown away the back of her throat in an avalanche
of coke. Only Pat was normal, and Pat’s not normal. But at least Pat
and I were abroad together for once. Holland was flat but it sure wasn’t
Lincolnshire. We visited Ann Frank’s house and by way of contrast
the Museum of Sex with its photographs of men with unfeasibly long penises.
We got stoned in a Bulldog café, emerging beatifically into the street,
sending cyclists colliding. We trod in dogshit, crossed a square with more
mime artists in it than pigeons and headed into the theatre for the band’s
first live date. My first gig.
We Flying Pickets hit the stage and two girls leapt to their feet to dance.
A bouncer tried to remove them. Ken stepped forward, mid song. “Leave
them alone, you fascist bastard!” he stormed. Cheers. A prolonged
stamping of feet. The show was easy after that, in the pocket. It had been
a stroke of genius. The two girls, of course, talked all the way through
and heckled us for being too old. We had them removed to the back.
Gareth was responsible for most of the banter and very good at it he was
“I’d like you to imagine you are standing on an
English pier,” he said. “Lord Whitelaw, for preference.”
My first lead vocal – Young and In Love – came and went.
“For those of you interested in sartorial elegance,” said Gareth
pointing to my green jacket, “the rest of the carpet arrives on Tuesday.
Those trousers are also available in his size.”
Gary pinched Ken’s arse on stage and got a laugh. Ken found it an
offensive gesture. He berated Gary after the show.
‘I felt patronized.
It assaulted my dignity. I also found it offensive to Gays.”
Gary and I exploded in unison.
“No, no, I agree with him”
I went off to forage for food. The theatre manager gave me a free meal in
the restaurant. Fourteen members of the audience sat around the big white
table watching my every mouthful in silence. A woman next to me spoke in
Dutch to her friend, touched my cheek, and laughed.
she say?” I asked the friend.
“She says on stage you are
beautiful and off stage you are ugly.”
Obviously, this was the kind of thing I was going to have to get used to.
Last night’s review was open at the page as we came in the dressing
room, next day. “What’s it say about me?” I asked Theo
Theo looked embarrassed.
“Spit it out Theo,” Gary encouraged.
“Hereward Kaye sang with the beautiful airy freedom typical of the
Welsh voice,” he read, “despite the strangling effects of his
And so it came to pass, one failed single, one Spanish
T.V appearance, one Belgian radio fiasco and a few gentle dates in Holland
later that we were ready. The great British public awaited. We unveiled
the new line up on the stage of The Hackney Empire, over three nights,
just before Christmas. We had a backdrop of the Leningrad skyline. During
‘Space Oddity’ a hardboard Karl Marx flew across it, hammer
and sickle in hand, dressed as Santa. I had died my hair purple for the
occasion and borrowed Ken’s black leather jacket.
The hard-line fans were there – Tina and Gina, who ran the fan club,
Bridget the midget and Liz the policewoman; the voodoo twins Brenda and
Glenda; fans who were going to have to get used to two strange new members
replacing their beloved Brian and Stripe.
||Looking down from the balcony, Brian Hibbard – the one
with the sideburns – got up and left, halfway through the show.
“You can’t watch your old group.” he told Gareth.