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Top of the Pops and Me

In 2011, the BBC started repeating old episodes of Top of the Pops. Initially, they were showing one episode a week, as close as possible to thirty-five years after the original broadcast (starting with shows from 1976). More recently, they’ve been showing two episodes a week, so we’re currently in early 1983.

I’ve been watching them avidly since they started, but I’ve been even more interested in watching them over the last year or so – since the repeats hit October 1981. That’s because that’s when I moved to London to go to university and I started to watch fewer and fewer episodes as I, increasingly, had better ways to spend my Thursday evenings. So I’m seeing many of these broadcasts for the first time.

Over the summer of 1982 I pretty much stopped watching completely. I managed to get myself elected as Social Secretary at City University and many of my evenings were spent running gigs, discos and various other entertainments for the students.

I’ve written before about a couple of things that happened while I was Social Secretary (here’s me being threatened by the lead singer of Bad Manners¬†and here I am booking Marillion at the start of their first major tour) but recent episodes of Top of the Pops have reminded me of a few other incidents.

There was the time that I was mildly censured by the London Student newspaper because I had booked Toto Coelo for a Christmas Party. Or the time I booked the Hee Bee Gee Bees (featuring Angus Deayton and Philip Pope) and ended up inviting Philip Pope back to a hall of residence party[1].

A few recent episodes of Top of the Pops have featured Blue Zoo singing “Cry Boy Cry”. I’m not sure I realised what a big hit that was. They played a few gigs at the university – including a “Blue Party Night” at a hall of residence where I painted my face blue, using dye that took days to get out. And I’m pretty sure that they were the band I cancelled when I was offered the Marillion date I mentioned above.

But a recent Top of the Pops reminded me of the biggest mistake I made while I was Social Secretary. I turned down the chance to book Culture Club.

To be fair to myself, no-one had heard of them when I was offered them. Well, no-one who wasn’t really in tune with the London music scene. Of course, you could say that someone who was running entertainment for a London university should really be in touch with the music scene. And I’d have no answer to that.

But when their agent called to offer me the gig, I hadn’t heard of them.

They were just about to start a tour and wanted somewhere to play a warm-up gig. Back then (and, I suppose, it’s still true now) bands used to like using student unions for warm-up gigs. Student unions were like private clubs – you couldn’t get in without a union card. Acts could get their performances right without making fools of themselves in front of the general public. That was how most student unions got most of their decent acts.

So Culture Club’s agent called me and offered me a warm-up gig for their first national tour. And I turned them down because I had never heard of them.

I thought that was the last I would hear of it. But I was wrong. A few months later, at the end of October 1982, they made their first appearance on Top of the Pops. I think this is it (warning, a few seconds of Jimmy Savile at the start of this clip).

Of course, these days we’re all used to seeing Boy George on the telly. But in 1982, this wasn’t the case. It was a sensation. He was all over the tabloid front pages the following day. People talked about it for weeks. Instantly, everyone knew who Culture Club were.

Oh, and the date that I had been offered for the warm-up gig – it was, of course, the day after this Top of the Pops. If I had taken the booking, it would have been a great night. I would have looked like someone who really had his finger on the pulse of the music scene.

Instead, I’m the man who turned down Culture Club.

[1] Although looking at the dates, it seems more likely that this was during the previous year – when I was just a member of the entertainments committee.

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music

Progressive Rock

Anyone remember Marillion? I do. I was a big fan at one time. In fact back in the days when I was social secretary at The City University and before they were famous, I booked them.

I mentioned this in passing on a newsgroup recently and was contacted by someone who is writing a book about them. He asked me to give more details of what happened. My reply to him is below.

I became the social secretary at City University in summer 1982. One of the things I found in my new office has a large box of demo tapes that the previous social secreatary had discarded. I found the Marillion tape in that box. I wouldn’t have bothered listening to it, but I’d read a couple of reviews of Marillion gigs in NME or Sounds and everyone said they sounded like early Genesis. I loved early Genesis, so I thought I’d listen to the tape.

I remember thinking that they didn’t sound very much like Genesis, but I thought that the tape was really good. I decided that I’d like to book them, but thought that as they were getting so much press attention they’d be too big to play a small student union bar, so I thought no more about it.

I’m not entirely sure about the next sequence of events, but at some point in September or October I was speaking to an agent about some other bands and one of us mentioned Marillion in passing. It turned out that he was either their agent or a colleague of their agent and knew that they were looking for somewhere to play a low-key warmup gig just before their first major tour. This was to coincide with the release of their first single “Market Square Heroes”. He asked if I’d be interesting in that booking and I leapt at the chance.

I’ve just checked at http://www.billfrech.com/tourhistory/1982.htm and that site has confirmed my suspicion that the date was Tue 26th October 1982. I know that I already had another band booked that night that I had to cancel. As the contracts had been signed, I had to pay them off too.

Normally on the day of a gig I’d let to roadies in and let them get on with the setup, but on this occasion I hung around in the venue for as long as I could. I chatted a bit to the band and they all seemed like a really friendly group of people.

Unfortunately, Marillion’s music was apparently not what City students wanted to listen to at that time and the turnout was pretty small. There were maybe twenty people in the audience. I do remember that a number of other London college social secretaries came along (on my guest list) to see what the fuss was all about.

To be honest, I can’t remember what they played that night – I didn’t know very many of their songs. I know I’d been sent a copy of the 12″ of the single by the agency, so I recognised all of those tracks and “Garden Party” from the demo tape. I also remember that the few people who came all had a great time.

A few weeks later their agent rang me again, to tell me that they were playing an extra gig at the Venue at the end of this short tour and to ask if I would like to be on the guest list. It was lucky that I said yes as that gig was a huge sellout. It was great to see them again – and this time with a massive and appreciative audience.

There’s one other connection between City University and Marillion. The social secretaries both preceding and following me booked gigs by The Europeans. In fact, the gig they played at City in 1983 was recorded for their live album (this is mentioned in the credits if you have a copy). It’s probably the album just called LIVE as listed at http://www.faqs.org/faqs/music/marillion-faq/part2/section-7.html.