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Blue Eyed Pop

The Weird and Wonderful World of The Blue Eyed Boys

Article from Phaze 1, November 1988

do you really want to be the next bros?


WHICH DO YOU WANT TO BE: A TEENYBOPPER'S DREAM OR A SERIOUS MUSICIAN? A PIN-UP FOR SIX MONTHS OR AN ARTIST FOR A DECADE? MAKE YOUR MIND UP NOW AND DON'T LOOK BACK.

NEXT TIME YOU TURN the telly on, watch Bros. There's not really much doubt that they'll be there, at some point, on one of the channels. Watch Bros carefully. What do you see? Three pretty boys miming to a trite song? No. What vou see is a singer, a bass player and a drummer miming to a backing track that features no drums and no bass - it's all a product of someone else's technology. Sure, they write some strong songs, Matt has a classy (if derivative) voice, and they do look very, very pretty. But who has the real, enduring talent: the guys on the telly or the guys in the background, playing the instruments and pushing the buttons?

On the face of it, there is no harm whatever in aspiring to be the next Bros. If you make it, you'll have the world at your feet: fame, money, sex, fast cars, money, castles in Spain, and money. The problems start when the fashion editors, fat-cat record producers, cigar-waving businessmen and bank managers begin taking an interest in you, your haircut... and your music. The moment they walk into your career is the moment you can kiss goodbye to two things: (1) any hope you may have nurtured of being a credible artist, and (2) any hope you may have nurtured of lasting more than a year at the top of the pop tree.

If you haven't, as yet, nurtured either of the above hopes, then go ahead with your master plan to be the next Bros. If you have, ask yourself if you can ever aspire to long-term musical credibility if you sell out on the first rung of the ladder. Or if short-term commercial success can ever compensate for the loss of artistic integrity. Because the Broses of today rarely end up being the U2s of tomorrow. And where are Curiosity Killed The Cat now?



"THE PEOPLE WHO REALLY BECOME SUCCESSFUL IN THE MUSIC BUSINESS ARE PEOPLE WHO CREATE MUSIC THAT WILL LAST FOREVER... THATS WHAT I WANT TO DO."
GLENN MEDEIROS


Let's take, as an example, one of today's latest blue-eyed popsters: Glenn Medeiros. The man behind the smile behind 'Nothing's Gonna Change My Love For You' seems to have no redeeming musical or songwriting qualities - just a good voice and clean-cut, boy-next-door looks. But maybe this makes him more honest than many of the blue-eyed boys: he has no pretensions about his musical ability, and sees himself as that most old-fashioned of things, a "singer".

"All I want to do, really, is give people the pleasure of listening to good music, and I hope everybody enjoys the music that I put out... whether it becomes a hit or not", he says. "I hate to compare myself but I remember when I was a kid, I was a big fan of Barry Manilow. In the '70s a lot of teenagers liked his music, his love songs and everything, but the older people really liked it."

But to attain some kind of musical credibility, you have to become more involved in the creative process. Michael Jackson and Donny Osmond both went through teenybop adulation in the early part of their careers. One started writing songs and became a musical genius, the other went along for the ride and now counts himself lucky to get a plug on 'Wogan'. Even Barry Manilow wrote his own songs, forchrissakes. Unfortunately, our man Medeiros falls into the trap of not being able to differentiate between the creative and business sides of the music industry.

"Michael Jackson is a musical genius. Donny Osmond was a great singer but... there are so many things that it takes to become a hit, not just being a good performer and a good singer. It takes good writers, producers and managers behind you, people putting money into you."

It remains to be seen whether Glenn Medeiros, genuine as he is, will ever come to realise the limitations of being merely a voice on somebody else's record. Even darling Rick Astley seems to have recognised the danger signs, having just notched up his first writing and producing credit away from the Stock Aitken & Waterman conveyor-belt.



"THE RECORD LABEL WANTED TO PROMOTE ME AS A DANCE THING, EVEN TO THE POINT OF NOT SINGING. THEY WOULD HAVE BEEN QUITE HAPPY FOR ME TO HAVE 'PRODUCED' DANCE RECORDS."
STEPHEN DUFFY


Another pin-up boy that's become wary of outside interference is Stephen 'Tin Tin' Duffy. Stephen arrived in the charts in the mid-1980s as the dancefloor sensation behind 'Kiss Me'. For a few months he smiled nervously from the pages of 'Smash Hits' and was touted as the ex-Durannie who had finally made good. Today he fronts the Lilac Time, a band who are unassumingly assaulting the outer edges of the charts with their sparsely melodic, vaguely folkish pop. In short, the Lilac Time are a total rejection of the ghost of Tin Tin past.

"I decided I wanted to get back to why I started to play music in the first place", he explains, recalling a time when session musicians and orchestras seemed intent on hijacking his work. "I realised it was getting too big, that anybody could buy a session musician's time. It was the realisation that the early '80s had not been the greatest time for pop - the video revolution, the two-singles deals that everybody was signed on - it was just a fairly ropey period that pop music was going through. Generation X had written on the back of their first album 'No Session Musicians': it was the punk thing of doing it all yourself. That really is true. It's pretty easy, if you've got a record company giving you £75,000, to make a record that sounds like Barry White. It's easy to make a big production record."

But when Stephen felt it was time to put his musical integrity back on the straight and narrow, he found an obstacle in the form of his record label. They wanted him to make dance music, Stephen wanted to make "English country records".

Now he says: "they did want to promote me as that kind of dance thing, even to the point of me not singing on the records. They would have been quite happy for me to have 'produced' dance records. That was the state of record companies at that time: if it wasn't dance you were nowhere. Now, two years later, we're in the studio mixing 'Black Velvet' for a single. That shows how radically things have changed, that a guitar and vocal track could be considered for release by a major record company."

So artistic integrity can win through in the end - even if the past can sometimes haunt those acts who chose to sacrifice it early in their careers.




"IT WOULD HAVE BEEN THE EASIEST THING IN THE WORLD TO GO WITH A BIG VIDEO AND THE BIG RECORD COMPANY HYPE AND GO STRAIGHT TO THE TOP OF THE CHARTS."
ELLIS BEGGS & HOWARD


Nick Beggs knows just how ghostly the past can be - and how long a shadow it can cast over future plans. Beggs has been through it all. As the dreadlocked bass-slapper with the dreaded Kajagoogoo - possibly the most hated pop band of all time - he achieved a number one hit with his band's first-ever single, and received all the attention that 15 minutes of fame brings.

But when the 15 minutes are up, where then? Today Nick Beggs is one-third of Ellis Beggs & Howard, an exciting new act who've been combining soul and rock to some critical acclaim.

This is a second chance for Nick, a real attempt at musical credibility. But when you're an ex-member of Kajagoogoo, do you really deserve to be given a second chance? Well, Nick doesn't see his participation in Kajagoogoo as the major crime against humanity that some people view it. Indeed, he feels no regrets, no desperate need to atone for his past sins - only a sense of optimism about the future, having learnt important lessons from the experience of his own past.

"I made a lot of money out of Kajagoogoo", he recalls. "I had a lot of musical fulfilment and I had some very good times. There were mistakes that were made, there were things that went wrong, and there were people who couldn't handle stardom. But having said that, it's a lifetime's experience in two years and I'm lucky enough to have a second bite at the apple... I'd be lying if I said it hasn't been of great benefit to me. There's only a certain amount I can draw on, but I feel armed and prepared for the future. I'd hate to feel like a veteran - I'm only 26."

Nick's partner in crime, Steve Ellis, displays a laudable attitude that may well be derived from his partner's previous encounter with the Great Treadmill of Pop. Ellis Beggs & Howard know the importance of being (or being seen to be) a "real band". They know that musical credibility can never be bought - it has to be earned.

"It would have been the easiest thing in the world to go with a big video and the big record company hype and go straight to the top of the charts", says Ellis. "But we said: 'let's build a following first, let's earn ourselves a reputation'. We didn't even have to play live if we didn't want to, but we thought it was important to build up a following."

Nick Beggs may not regret his past, but it's a previous life that will take a lot of eclipsing. There are music papers that deny the existence of Ellis Beggs & Howard.

"The 'NME' and 'Melody Maker' won't touch us; they won't give us an interview because I used to be in Kajagoogoo." But Nick's attitude is healthy. He believes that, at some point, those papers are going to have to sit up and take notice. And when they do, Beggs and his colleagues will have the last laugh.

Yet for all his recent realisation that respect has to be earned, Nick Beggs still sees chartdom as the ultimate goal. The route may be different, the motivation changed, but the target remains the same: to land a place in the history books by selling a lot of records.

Stephen Duffy, in contrast, isn't too concerned about popular success, and doesn't see it as essential to maintaining credibility - or securing a substantial chapter in the pop world's Hall Of Fame. He has no regrets, for example, about turning his back on dance music and returning to basics.

"I made that choice, and looking back I was ahead of the game by saying no to all that, even though the charts are still dominated by Acid House."

Perhaps it's his lack of reverence for the past ("it's just not important enough to feel sorry about") that makes Stephen so single-minded about his career. "You can't change the system", he muses, "you can just kinda create your alternative... and that's what we did. That's what the Lilac Time is."

And how about the pop world's biggest (only?) self-confessed Barry Manilow fan? Does Glenn Medeiros believe his music will stand the test of time?

"I think the people who really become successful in the music business are people who create music that will last forever", he reflects. "Many of the songs that come out today are songs that will be great hits for about a month or so, then you never hear of them again. The thing about great artists is that they make songs that stay with you forever; they make songs that if you pick up in your Walkman and listen to ten years down the road, you'll love them because they're great. That's what I want to do - create songs like that. And I think I did that with 'Nothing's Gonna Change My Love For You'."

Time will tell on that one, Glenn. It's true that some glossy singers have made records that still shine out from the murky blandness of mainstream pop, decades after their first release. But which do the Walkman wearers really remember: the singer or the song? Throughout pop's long and turbulent history, the real monster names have always contributed more to their work than a pretty face and a nice voice. Elvis. The Beatles. The Stones. U2. Michael Jackson.

Maybe we ought to leave the final words to Wacko Jacko. When his good friend Donny Osmond casually asked how he could revive his flagging career, Jackson's reply was simple: "how about changing your name?"

Don't let that happen to you.


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Publisher: Phaze 1 - Phaze 1 Publishing

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Phaze 1 - Nov 1988

Feature by Chris Hunt

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