Category Archives: clubs

Goodbye, George

george-michael-1987-portrait-billboard-650

I thought that 2016 had already done its fair share of disposing of iconic artists, but it still had a few cards to play. So the irony of hearing George Michael had passed away on Christmas day seemed a cruel joke too far (one that social media predictably jumped on in its crass, insensitive way almost as soon as the news hit that evening). But like Prince and Bowie before him, the sudden and unexpected nature of his passing was perhaps the biggest surprise, given he was only 53.

I know that it’s the new norm in the social media age to bear ones feelings online, and to lace tragedy with hyperbole and flowery language, an arms race to see who is the most upset or struck by these events, but while Bowie and Prince have been ever-present in my life, they were never the soundtrack to my childhood. George Michael, in Wham! and as a solo artist was definitely that, even before I knew much about him, or – blissfully unaware as a 7 year-old – his life, I was dancing round the living room to Club Tropicana and Wham Rap and recording hits off the radio on tape (yes, remember that?) Like any child of the 80s (born in ’75, but growing up in that oddly bleak yet flamboyant decade), pop music was central to my formative years. And what a decade for pop it was, perhaps never bettered, with so many big acts to choose from, even the one-hit wonders were somehow brilliant (think Owen Paul, Jermaine Stewart, The Buggles, Cutting Crew, Nina, MARRS). But alongside globe-spanning heavyweights like Duran Duran, Madonna, Prince, U2, Queen and Bowie, George Michael felt much more like one of us. The son of a Greek-Cypriot restaurant owner, born and raised in Kingsbury then Radlett, meeting Andrew Ridgely at school with dreams of pop stardom.

Forming Wham! in 1981, (I don’t know what you were doing when you were 18, but I was listening to his records, and wondering what my Geography degree would get me in life) they had a no.1 album within two years, with 3 top ten singles, including Wham Rap and the iconic Club Tropicana. The latter was filmed at the famous Pikes Hotel in Ibiza, and when I found this fact out much later on in life, I spent 2 summers trying to find the place outside San Antonio, just to be able to stand where that famous video was shot, such was its legend. It seemed crazy that I could be walking around that pool (luckily, no white pants for me), replaying that video in my head, wondering – and wishing – what it would’ve been like to have been at one of those weekend parties there in the mid 80s with George, Andy, Freddie, Grace and the rest.  He just made it all look so fun.

From there, the hits rolled almost non-stop, with staggering numbers: 100m albums sold, 7 UK no.1s, 8 US Billboard no.1s, his debut solo album, Faith, sold 20m alone, not to mention the list of awards, from 3 Ivor Novellos to countless Brits, MTV, Grammy and American Music Awards. But above all, he was a star, and a star all of his own making. George Michael did things his own way, and all his success came at a time when, if you were gay, you still had enough problems to deal with from daily life, but when you were a megastar, you’d be hounded relentlessly and mercilessly by the tabloids, rabidly obsessed with outing and shaming homosexuals. These are the same tabloids now eulogising him. It has ever been thus, the hypocrisy hanging rank in the air.. But Michael refused to be ashamed of his life. Much has been made of him not coming out until 1998, following his much-publicised bust (sorry, sting) in LA by an undercover police officer. But he didn’t care personally that he was gay, only that coming out publicly would affect his parents more than anything. In many ways, he was still the outsider from suburban London, but also, he didn’t exercise rigid control on his public or private life because he was ashamed, but because he felt it was none of anyone’s business. This infuriated the press, who simply attacked him further, and just made us root for him even more. His refusal to be a sexless, ashamed, out-gay man, is to be lauded, and still feels an outlier today, but in the late 90s, (having endured and survived the turbulent 80s) he was one of a few pop stars to be willing to put his head above the parapet. Even back then almost half the UK still thought same-sex relations ‘always or mostly wrong’. Many thought his career would suffer then, but of course, it was arguably one of the finest ripostes to a celebrity shaming there’s ever been: he made Outside in weeks after that arrest and ‘scandal’, lampooning at once the press, the LA Police, homophobes everywhere, showing that gay sex was still just sex, and making them all uncomfortable at the same time. A masterstroke, and one that many others would never have dared risk. He did it with gusto and humour, and I only loved him more.

There was the usual narrative of the ‘troubled’ star, yet no one bared this truth more honestly than George himself, speaking of his demons and addictions openly and causing many of us that were teens or younger at the time to go back over lyrics and feel embarrassment over what was overtly personal and downright dirty songs, released in plain sight. But it was all part of a talent that wrote and sang songs that were emotionally inclusive and soul-baring. When he was playing the James Dean role on Faith, he was also singing about a quick shag on Fast Love, or more brazenly pushing the tolerance of radio stations and tv channels with ‘I Want Your Sex’ (famously writing ‘explore monogamy’ on his partner’s back in lipstick’. But for all his brazen nature, great copy and partying, tragedy and difficulty was never far away either. Watching Anselmo Feleppa, his partner, die of AIDS-related illness in 1993, and penning Jesus To A Child to commemorate him. Even the accidents and incidents that put him in prison briefly, the public shame heaped on him made him no less forgiving, and it was hard not to love him for that, particularly when you detest the right-wing press and their motives so much. All the while, he still looked for that next hit, writing dozens of news songs, fighting his label for control, and in recent years that next album that never saw the light of day, robbing us perhaps of a next chapter to his remarkable story.

And all through it, he was a trailblazer and a star. While he was releasing solo classics like Listen Without Prejudice Vol.1, he was donating money to charities and individuals. Stories of giving a nurse fifteen thousand pounds anonymously for her IVF, or a concert for NHS nurses following his mother’s death, donating royalties to Childline, or Terrence Higgens’ trust for AIDS, making clear that having ‘more money than he could spend’ didn’t mean he didn’t know how to use it. In a world where celebrities now do much work for charity but do like to talk about it, he was the opposite. His work for LGBT charities was huge, and he also wore the position of a global pop star figurehead for a movement with zest, whatever the personal cost.  The trail he blazed didn’t just inspire musicians and others from his music, but made it easier for people after him to be who they needed to be, and as his music success waned, his legacy’s impact increased only further.

Ultimately though, for those of a certain age, his death leaves a sizeable hole. From as early as I can remember, I danced to his music, wanted to be him – and yes, long before I had a clue he was gay, we all wanted to be him, or be with him, such was his attraction to women – and bought his records. The tapes I had from back then are mostly long gone – I still remember being so excited to buy the cassette single of he and one of my other childhood icons, Elton John, duetting on Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me from Our Price in Redhill in 1991, when it really wasn’t cool to like either that much any more – but the records remain. So many hits, that it seemed like one of his records was permanently in the charts from 1981 to the late 90s, a staggering output, especially when success is so fleeting in the modern musical world. He did so much that seems normal now, but lost him friends, success and money back then, whether it was refusing to be in his own videos (Freedom, particularly, irked Sony, but it’s now one of the most replayed videos that era, chock-full of supermodels), suing his own record company for creative control, and simply be unashamed being out and gay when it was accepted to be a career-killer. Lesser artists would’ve been hit, but he just did what he wanted to, and that’s why people rooted for him.

I’ve dabbled as a DJ over the past two decades, and now the radio show I do is based around being the best wedding set you’ve ever heard. Understandably, Wham! and George Michael have always been high on my list of #bangers since the start. How can they not? So many of them have such happy memories for me, whether it’s listening to Wham! in Africa when I was a kid, or mesmerised by him joining Elton at Live Aid, or cracking up when the LA policeman sued him for making Outside, with George at the centre of his own joke. And every new year’s day for the last seven years, dancing to Everything She Wants at Bugged Out. Even last week, I played Last Christmas (how could you not?) on my radio show’s festive edition. It seems so sad that it’s now an epitaph, rather than a celebration of someone you hoped still had gas in their career for a long time to come. He also joins the list of artists I never saw live and that I’ll never get that chance to. Everyone I know that did was in awe. That voice of his had few peers.

As we get older, it’s inevitable that those we love, and revere and worship will slowly slip away before our eyes. Only a fool would be unwilling to accept this. But 53 is no age to go, discovered by your partner lying calmly in bed on Christmas morning. Not when you’re re-releasing a classic album in 2017, and planning a documentary that we’ll now never see. Nostalgia is a business all of its own these days, but when a chunk of your childhood becomes a freeze-frame of memories, and no longer a living, breathing person, part of that dies with them. It’s not overdramatic to say that, because while I listen to so much new music, there’s a huge part of me that’s still that little nerdy kid dancing round the room with a comb singing Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go, and wanting to be that flamboyant guy on tv in tennis shorts and a haircut bigger than my torso, bobbing around alongside Andrew Ridgely. Knowing that George Michael is ‘never gonna dance again’ is a sad, sad day indeed.

Advertisements

No doubts…..

Anthony Collins Doubts & Shouts
Anthony Collins Doubts & Shouts

I don’t often blog about music on here, which is ironic considering my sideline/hobby/’profession’, but sometimes music needs shouting about, and March is the release of an album by a personal favourite producer of mine, Anthony Collins. He’s been laying down amazing tracks since his first came out in 2006, balancing the modern European sound with an often afro-centric flair that gives a really old-school feel while sitting firmly in 2009. It’s hard to single out a highlight, as every one of the ten is brilliant in its own way, but the epic 13-minute Prism is a joy to listen to. If there’s any justice, this will catapult him into the stratosphere.

It’s out in April on Freak’n’Chic. Buy it. Simple.

New Year? Out with the new and in with the old….

While New Year’s Eve continues (like Valentine’s with it) to be as much of a shameless money-spinner as a reason to live it up into the next 365 days and propose a few shaky resolutions while wobbly on your feet, New Year’s Day seems to be the where the smart money lies in terms of a decent night out. And there’s no better place to add to the previous night’s hangover than in a distinctly credit-crunch free environment of a pub. And that pub is the Old Queen’s Head in Essex Road.

Home to Bugged Out‘s party for a few years now, it’s an odd contradiction in terms. Shoreditch scenesters and glammed-up Londoners shuffle outside the front door waiting for the one-in-one-out to allow them entry (this is to a free night, remember, and upstairs, when entry is finally gained, it’s not Berlin-tinged techno you’ll be hearing but everything from 10cc and Phil Collins to Donna Summer and Take That. In the hands of Tayo and Johnno Burgess (he of the most entertaining Resident Advisor podcast of the year in 2008), you won’t find a more entertaining way to bring in the New Year, and anyone that turns up their nose at the thought of compromising their artistic integrity need not bother making the journey. After all, isn’t it just about having fun? It certainly is here. Roll on 01/01/2010!

A winter warmer

Chloe Live at Robert Johnson Vol 1

While those slightly behind the times may still see minimal as the sound of the underground, they’re the same that probably think Berlin is the sole arbiter of teuton cool. Robert Johnson, the pint-sized Frankfurt club, nestled in Offenbach, is one of many reasons to refute this. It has been busy getting on with its thing, long before Berlin became the place-du-jour, and 2009 sees it launch its first mix series. And it’s been worth the wait. My sneak preview of Chloe’s Live at Robert Johnson Vol 1 left me utterly inspired and in awe of the most aurally pleasurable house music I’ve heard in a long time. No fanfare, no big branding, just sumptuous music. And, being those paragons of design, there’s even a limited edition for the chin-strokers. Bliss.

The End is nigh…

The End

As if the body blow of losing Turnmills, The Key, The Cross and Canvas wasn’t enough in 2008, the news that the End would close for good on 24th Jan 2009 was probably the worst of all for the capital’s clubbers. In its 13 years it’s played host to some of the best-loved DJs, with residents from founders Layo and Bushwacka! and Mr C to Danny Howells, Laurent Garnier, Steve Lawler, DJ Marky, Andy C and stalwarts like Chew The Fat, DTPM, Milk’n’2 Sugars, Simple, Olmeto, Cocoon, Circo Loco, not to mention a list of guests that reads like a who’s who of dance music, it’s a tragedy that it’ll finally, along with its little sister, the AKA, close its doors. The centre of town is now more barren than it’s ever been.

With times tight, it’s not impossible to understand that the last in a long line of offers for the premises would be too good to turn down. The team has been there from the start, and 13 years is a long time in clubland. When time for change came, leaving it to anyone else to run wouldn’t see right, when it’s something so close to all of them, and especially when the future years, and the desire to continue ad infinitum, must be weighed up. But for those that have gone time and time again it’ll be a huge loss to the capital, as it’s surely the light that’s shone brightest in the past two decades in a capital with nightlife that is the envy of the world.

But, as they say, all good things must come to an end. And, over the past thirteen years, we’ve been spoilt. Personal memories are so many, some hazier than others. From early visits for Underwater, Missdemeanours, Be As One and Riot! to midweek carnage of record launches (Digweed and Howells’ Choice Ones were the stuff of legend) and Sunday nights misspent at Clandestino, and Mondays at Trash, maybe the least-known but most lauded residencies the club has seen. The one thing that run through it all was how easy it was to have a good time in those two hallowed rooms. The club was (and still is) run so well, with nothing more important than the clubbers and the music, that, for the uptight reputation that the capital has, it could’ve easily been Manchester or Leeds. It was a pocket of friendliness and cool that seemed to sit outside the confines of the city.

I’m not 100% sure when I first set foot in the club, it would’ve been around the end of the 90s, but I remember queueing for ages, which, back then, proved it must’ve been an experience worth repeating. And despite the changing times and clubbing climate, very little changed downstairs. It didn’t need to. The main room, with its raised central booth perfect for both worship of and performance from the DJ, and the lounge, as much for chatting, catching up, and boozing as dancing, were an example to many others on how simplicity really was the best watchword. I’ve lost count of the many times I’ve stood up the end of the bar buying shots or more beers, whether it was the fun and games of Riot! on Sundays gone by, where so many of my current friends were met, or Cocoon, taking a break from the pounding main room. It won’t seem right not having that familiar spot to take a breather, or add to the hangover of the morning after. I’ve been lucky enough to get behind the decks. It may have been only once, in the Lounge at Riot! (sadly the 2nd last in 2006) but I’m able to say I played my favourite club, and I’m not sure how many could say that.

So, what of the future? Despite all the wailing and gnashing of teeth, there are still 4 months left to give the club the send-off it deserves. Plans and line-ups for the final weeks are as yet still unreleased, but it almost doesn’t matter who plays, it’ll be the last chance to say goodbye to the place with the people that matter. Much like those gone before it, it’ll be hard to get used to walking from Holborn to Tottenham Court Road and glancing down West Central Street and finding that famous view no longer there. But like other legends before it, we can at least say, without a hint of smugness or ego, that we were lucky enough to spend many a lost weekend in its confines, and look back over those memories at the fun we had. The clubbing map is always in a state of flux, and while, 2 years ago, if someone had told me five of the capital’s finest nightspots would be lost to developers, i’d have laughed and also prayed. But we can only look back and think how lucky we were that the people behind the End gave us all those years, not be angry that it’s gone. Its significance can only be understood even more once it’s finally closed its doors. And I’ll be there when it happens, you can count on that. Monday the 25th January will be a black day in more than one way, but I’ll be taking holiday. I think I’ll need it….