My 100 Best 80s Albums # 17

My TOP 2O so far … 20. Madness Presents the Rise and Fall by Madness 🎺 19. I Just Can’t Stop It by The Beat 🎷 18. Signing Off by UB40 and number 17 is …

WAR by U2 (1983)


War is the third studio album by Irish rock band U2. It was produced by Steve Lillywhite, and released on 28 February 1983 on Island Records. The album is regarded as U2’s first overtly political album, in part because of songs like “Sunday Bloody Sunday” and “New Year’s Day“, as well as the title, which stems from the band’s perception of the world at the time; lead vocalist Bono stated that “war seemed to be the motif for 1982.”

Much like the Rolling Stones, U2 have overstayed their welcome a teeny weeny little bit. Bono and his boys, like Keef and company, are now pretty much cartoon caricatures of their former selves. U2’s glory days were from around the release of this album (War) up until the very dawn of the new millennium (All That You Can’t Leave Behind in 2000). It has been steadily downhill from there. Before that, the boys from Ireland trafficked in big ideas and even bigger sounds. They are a band that operated on a grander scale than any other from the 80s, and because of this attracted legions of devoted fans. On the flip-side, they also had their fair share of (envious?) detractors. U2 would spend the vast majority of their time as the biggest rock & roll band in the world, a title that captures not only their popularity but their importance.

Before War they were of course yet another struggling post-punk band with only a small cult following for company. Soon though they would channel their yen for moody, experimental sounds into clearly defined rock anthems (and ballads) that would soon see them filling stadiums and arenas across the globe.

U2 in the early years. Not a beanie in site!

Here I sit one cool, overcast Sunday morning, writer’s block yet again somewhat in evidence. Its ugly presence clings to the room like last night’s tikka masala. I’m really not sure what more I can write about this legendary band. I’ve also blogged about them, and War, before – that story involving Albin Wagner returning from a trip to Scotland in 1983 with this cassette in his grubby little paws. The one with the handsome young boy on the cover. With cut lip and eyes angry the lad stared straight back at me as I admired The Punk’s treasured cassette for the first time. A black and white portrait with bold red letters on the right. U2, and below that, in vertically arranged letters, WAR.

The boy on the cover is Peter Rowen (brother of Bono’s friend, Guggi). “Bono lived across the road,” said Peter. “I don’t know why they thought of me.” He also appears on the covers of Boy, Three, The Best of 1980–1990, Early Demos and many singles. He was 5 when he shot the cover of Boy and 8 when he sat for War. Although it was many years ago, Rowen does still hold some memories of the latter shoot, although not exactly fond ones. The first is disliking the soup that was served by the photographer’s wife. “And the other memory is that Bono was driving us back from Dun Laoighaire, Ireland [where the photo was taken],” remembers Rowen. “He was talking to someone in the backseat and someone shouted to watch out for a car. Two memories from the day: I didn’t like the soup, and I was nearly in a crash.”

Boy cover, Peter Rowan now, and War cover

Here’s a story from the year War was released … and once again my guest-writer is a dear old friend – with some added input from yours truly.

by Albin Wagner (part 1)

1983 was the Centenary Year of the Boys Brigade, which culminated in a (northern) summer celebration of the various international BB Companies at Scone Palace in Perth, Scotland. I was lucky to be sent on that sponsored trip by the 1st Alberton Company as part of the RSA delegation. I used some of my meagre pounds sterling to buy a Walkman at the Virgin Records in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, where I also saw CD’s for the 1st time (there was a tiny shelf in a huge store for this ridiculous new technology of tiny shiny records). I also saw my first adult skinheads outside of a Magpies supporter shop, although that style was an anachronism by that time. The skinheads in Blackpool looked like they were 11 or 12, while the cool dudes had big fringes, wore moccasins with no socks & listened to Club Tropicana in the Blackpool pool halls!

Being from the colonies, I was hunting for punk and Oi! (please don’t judge!) music which was long passé in the UK. My local tent-mates at the Scone camp told me that I should be looking out for Big Country (obviously, being Scottish) and U2 (less obviously, being not Scottish) if I liked new edgy rock music. Unfortunately I passed up on Big Country, but a cassette version of U2’s “War” was purchased at a small record store in Edinburgh’s Royal Mile (together with a Fad Gadget single!). U2 became a permanent fixture in my Walkman!

End of part 1️⃣

Back to War with Mark Wilson …

So, with some trepidation, I slipped War onto my CD player’s plastic tray and watched the disc disappear smoothly into the mouth of my favourite ever electronic device. How would it sound all these years later? It’s an album I may easily have listened to 1000 times, but it’s been a while. Is it still worthy of a place in my top 20 I wonder to myself through the last few seconds of silence? Then, out of the speakers, comes Larry Mullen Jr’s instantly recognizable drum intro. Kick, snare, hi-hat. Kick, snare, hi-hat. Kick. snare, hi-hat – so simple, yet so effective. I gratefully receive the instant funk – for possibly the 1001st time. Always, and forever I will LOVE this album, I decided right then and there. At that moment I do not care what U2 did next, or what crap Bono now sprouts all over the planet. This album is why I fell in love with U2. I smile to myself as the Edge leaps aboard. It’s still good. His guitar effects pedal draws out a whine before his nimble fingers bring his 6-string to life. Oh yes! So very good! Adam’s poised to strike and does so as his powerful fingers thump on his bass strings. Finally, the mulleted one they call ‘Good Voice’ shouts out

[Verse 1]
I can’t believe the news today
Oh, I can’t close my eyes and make it go away

How long, how long must we sing this song?
How long? How long?
‘Cause tonight, we can be as one

[Verse 2]
Broken bottles under children’s feet
Bodies strewn across the dead end street
But I won’t heed the battle call
It puts my back up
Puts my back up against the wall

Sunday, Bloody Sunday
Sunday, Bloody Sunday
Sunday, Bloody Sunday
Sunday, Bloody Sunday
Alright, let’s go!


48,525,585 views since Dec 14, 2009 – Iconic performance of the live anthem Sunday Bloody Sunday filmed at Red Rocks in Denver

Adam. Bono. Edge. Larry.

Since 1976 when they formed and called themselves the Feedback (they became the Hype in 1977, followed by a final name-change to U2 shortly after) until today, forty four and a bit years later and it’s still – Adam. Bono. Edge. Larry. I find that incredible. Don’t you? Impressive at the very least. They say being in a band is a lot like a marriage. U2 obviously have a great one of those, and I know of no other group that have stuck together for so long, with the same line-up.

When David “the Edge” Evans, Paul “Bono” Hewson, Larry Mullen, Jr., and Adam Clayton released their first EP, Three, in 1979, they were still teenagers with an attitude and naïveté that didn’t quite dovetail with the rest of the post-punk world. Even on their earliest recordings, they didn’t sound like a band that could be contained by small venues. U2 quite simply, had to be big.

by Albin Wagner (part 2)

Fast-forward to the October break of our matric year (still 1983). The long-awaited Alberton High School cricket tour to Cape Town finally became a reality! Half of the 12 player squad were in Standard 9, the rest Matrics, with obviously little regard for the important exams which were looming! I’m not 100% sure how we split up in our train compartments, as there were a whole lot of couplings happening with Captain Mark “Biza” Wilson rooming mainly with Mark Peterson (who recently won age group colours in cricket, but was also a contact of captain Wilson’s first serious cuddle, Teresa Bezuidenhout).

Mark Wilson put the same scribble on the 1st XV rugby photo & everywhere his mug appeared in my Yearbook! At the time he was in turmoil as to whether scoring a ton in a club cricket match was better than sex (but the latter had suddenly become more available!). This was the team that toured Cape Town. Jacques Botha’s name is left off the above list – but that’s him, back row in the middle.

Someone had a boombox and I volunteered “War” after the dining car breakfast – and that poor tape was played again and again and again. Sunday Bloody Sunday, Two Hearts Beat as One and, of course, New Year’s Day became the soundtrack to the passing Karoo landscape and beyond!

[MWWe played War almost exclusively the whole trip – occasionally Dare by the Human League and You and me Both by Yazoo made fleeting appearances – but mainly the cricket team obsessed over this new band called U2]

End of part 2️⃣…

Back to War by Mark Wilson

The other popular “hit” from the first side, New Year’s Day, was originally written by Bono as a love song to his new bride but later morphed into an ode to the Polish Solidarity movement. Clayton’s distinctive bass line drives the song while The Edge alternates between the signature piano line and several guitar textures, including an actual rock guitar, lead. Though Adam Clayton’s bass line had an unlikely genesis (he was trying to play the Visage hit, Fade To Grey), its reverberations set off a chain reaction of exultant flag-waving around the world. Overall, the song portrays a great atmosphere with the optimistic fantasy of unity and theme of starting over and became the group’s first Top Ten single in England.

Directed by Meiert Avis, the video for New Year’s Day – the first single to be released from the third U2 studio album War – was filmed in Sweden in December 1982 and released in January 1983.

🎬 📽 🎥


Complementing U2’s lyrical growth is a newly developed dark sense of humour, which the band uses to striking effect throughout the album. Seconds, for example, opens with a sleepy funk riff driven by a cheerful toy bass drum. It’s a pleasant juxtaposition, but as the song’s subject matter becomes clear — the insanity of nuclear blackmail, where, as Bono puts it, “the puppets pull the strings.” The Edge interestingly takes lead vocals on this one with Bono adding succinct backing vocals and harmonies. Probably my favourite track on the album …



The album’s musical strengths are largely the product of well-honed arrangements and carefully balanced dynamics. Even as the Edge spins increasingly sophisticated guitar lines, he maintains the minimalist bluntness that sparked Boy. And while bassist Adam Clayton and drummer Larry Mullen Jr. have swung to more dance-oriented rhythms, their songs hurtle along with the sort of energetic purposefulness more frequently associated with punk. The songs here stand up against anything on the Clash’s London Calling in terms of sheer impact, and the fact that U2 can sweep the listener up in the same sort of enthusiastic romanticism that fuels the band’s grand gestures is an impressive feat.

The palette broadens on Red Light with backing vocals from Kid Creole’s Coconuts no less, and some equally interesting trumpet – the latter making slightly odd jazz noise atop the impervious surface of the band’s default setting. The hurtling zest of singer and guitarist going full-tilt on Like A Song really becomes interesting when it threatens to spill over into the thunderous rumble of Larry Mullen’s drumming. Other effective contributions arise from Steve Wickham’s soaring violin as it weaves around chiming harmonics and multi-tracked acoustic guitars of Drowning Man – something the Eno-produced James would emulate the following decade. His stirring violin also fires the anthemic Sunday Bloody Sunday, a rough-hewn stomp that superbly navigates its way between posturing and politics.


[MWAfter a rowdy start to our long train journey, sleep eventually came as we rumbled across the old Transvaal towards the Northern Cape. We woke with the train stopped in Kimberley for breakfast. I sprung from the train and hastily called Teresa from a call-box on the platform – before she left for school. Yip, I know … I was like a love-sick puppy]

by Albin Wagner (part 3)

An afternoon stop in De Aar was welcome. I distinctly remember asking the conductor for how long we would stop – and that he said TWO hours. It was a Saturday afternoon, so the only local action was the De Aar Café which had a Pacman and (probably?) Space Invaders machine. When we finally made our way back (at what we thought was half an hour EARLY) the train was gone. It was a ONE hour stop, the station master then told us.

[MWI also remember asking someone at the station what time our train left. The reply came back in Afrikaans, and I confused “half-twee” with two-thirty; when actually translated from Afrikaans it is one-thirty (or thirty before two, I think? I’m still confused, and my E for Afrikaans in matric, still somehow seems quite miraculous) Anyway it did come as a small shock to saunter back onto the platform to discover an empty train-track!!]

Doom! No tickets, no wallets, no bedding or dinner vouchers, no ties or blazers. A schoolboys worst nightmare in the middle of nowhere! We were a weird batch, four of the Matrics (Wilson, Wagner, Hickey, Parsons) plus Peterson …and Gary Joynt, the only genuine school-boy no. 11 bat / opening bowler of our time. Whereas Peterson was a bit of a rebel, Joynt was somewhat of a goody-goody, so his presence with what was now the “dirty half-dozen” was a bit of an accident. He was the one closest to tears when contemplating Mr. Minnie’s retribution if we were ever reunited with the rest of the squad.

[MWI always thought it was seven of us that were left stranded in De Aar. I recently made contact with Mark Peterson who confirmed Adrian Spence was also there … so … methinks it was the “magnificent seven!At one point we considered hitch-hiking the rest of the way to Cape Town]

De Aar to Cape Town

It turned out that all was not lost. The station master called ahead to the next station to get the ticket number from Mr. Minnie (this was long before cell-phones!) and we were able to catch the next train, four hours later!

[MWIn those days the trains (remember them??!!) were segregated as Apartheid was still in full force. The one that left us behind I think was a fancy WHITES ONLY train. The next one into the station was possibly a BLACKS ONLY affair. Or at least part of it was? My dealings, as captain of the team, with the railways staff in De Aar, have become less than vague 37 years later. I remember them shuffling some African folk out of a carriage, and squeezing them into an adjoining one, so we teenage whiteys could have the vacated one to ourselves. Even though this was normal procedure back then, I still remember feeling uncomfortable about the fact that this even happened]

That afternoon most of us were allowed to mill around the station master’s office (except Peterson, who may have been kicked out for smoking). While there, on a scratchy little black and white TV, we watched the S.A. Formula 1 Grand Prix qualifying from Kyalami before boarding the train. Mitchell Hickey was the only one who owned up to having his wallet on him, so he bought cokes for everyone. Then the captain got into begging mode and manages to guilt a newspaper and a packet of Cheese Puffs from some poor family which locked its compartment door too late! That handful of puffy snacks was delicious and the sports section of the Sunday Times provided some insulation against the evening cold.

[MW early October at night in the Karoo was surprisingly cold – at the time I didn’t know if I was going to freeze, or starve to death – it was a very long night with very little sleep, but I’m still here to add to the tale]

At Cape Town station we were met by a very stern-looking Mr. Minnie, who picked us up in a mini-van. He did not say a word except “My friends, you are in big trouble”! Mark Peterson (based to his representative cricket pedigree and relatively thick skin) was bribed or persuaded to sit in front. The rest of us cowered in the back seats. Silence. Until Peterson said: “Sir, it was cold last night. We used a newspaper as a blanket.” There appeared to the just a hint of movement at the corner of Mr. Minnie’s lip.

To our surprise, our destination was Newlands Cricket Ground. The rest of the team was sitting under the Willows in the Railway Stand with Bev Ditchfield minding them, watching a Nissan Shield game. There was still total silence until Mr. Minnie said: “Peterson, are you hungry?” “Yes Sir, we only had Cheese Puffs!” Finally Minnie couldn’t keep his straight face anymore, cracked a smile and gave Mark a few notes to buy a half-dozen of the famous President’s Stand foot-long hot dogs to rejuvenate the Dirty Half-Dozen! [MW or Magnificent Seven]

Albin, now a resident of Cape Town, is currently involved in the refurbishment of the Newlands Cricket Ground. Mr. Wagner is a retired member of the WPCA board, a former chairman of Claremont CC and now an honorary life member of that club.

End of part 3️⃣ … back to …

War is a commentary on a world that seemed to be at war in every corner. Bono told the NME at the time … “Everywhere you looked, from the Falklands to the Middle East and South Africa, there was war. By calling the album War we’re giving people a slap in the face and at the same time getting away from the cozy image a lot of people have of U2.” Protest songs and albums were not exactly in vogue in 1983 and were considered by many a thing of a bygone era. Upon its release, War initially took a beating from the critics in the UK. They expected the same serene, flowery prose from the band’s previous output.

U2 toured relentlessly in support of War, starting in December 1982 (prior to the album’s release) through most of 1983. The tour spawned a concert film Live at Red Rocks and an accompanying EP, Under a Blood Red Sky, which further increased the band’s exposure and live appeal.


[MWand finally once we had arrived in Cape Town we could get down to the “serious” business of playing some cricket matches …]

by Albin Wagner (part 4)

The first night was spent in a Camps Bay guesthouse where we bumped into none other than the then England cricket outcast (but later to be reinstated as captain) Graham Gooch! One or two of the brave souls may have asked him to sign a guesthouse brochure.

[MWIt was here where I shared a room with Mark Peterson. In the early evening young Peterson was enjoying a beer, and quiet fag in our room, when he heard Matt Minnie approaching. He passed his smoke to me in a hurry, and when I realized why he was giving me a turn, I tossed it straight back. We repeated this juggling act a few times with much giggling. Minnie watched us for a few moments, shook his head in bemusement, and then left us to continue as before]

Our first tour match was against Camps Bay High on a beautiful lush field flush against the mountain on one side and terracing towards the sea towards the other, with stunning views of the famous beach. No wonder Trevor “Bandan” Pape, whom we encountered later in life, would one day send his lovely boys to be educated there!

After the game (which we won) we were split up to be guests at various private homes – three or four bigger groups and two single quarters! Somehow Shaun Parsons got shafted by his designated bunk-mate Mitchell Hickey and ended up with the parents of two young ladies ominously referred to by the home players as “the Twisted Sisters”. I got the other single gig with a quiet guy who lived with his disabled parents in Sea Point.

There was much talk of the party to follow that evening, but somehow I dropped out of the loop. However, it turns out that the Twisted Sisters lived just down the road from my host, so when Shaun called, told me that the parents had gone out and asked to be rescued I joined him for an evening of wine, laughs and tickles with two not unattractive (but definitely strange) young ladies.

When we were reunited with our teammates at the Green Point Common, for our declaration* match against (the now long-defunct) Sea Point High, we heard wild tales of the London Town Pub in Adderley Street; Captain Biza pretending to celebrate his birthday so that he could down a yard of ale; much puking and Joynt “jolling” in his bowling boots (with the studs removed) because he had lent his white going-out shoes to Peterson (I think!). The result was that our opening bowler was in tears because we were going on to field and he was unable to get his studs back onto his boots! The majority of the team was visibly hung-over and we were thrashed by not very strong opposition. Mr. Minnie was unimpressed!

*[not limited overs. The side batting first bats until it is out, or declares. Then has to bowl out the team batting second before it gets the winning score. If neither happens by close of play, the match is declared a draw. We were bowled out quite a few runs short]

[MW A few of us stayed at the home of a pupil from Camps Bay High, called Evan Darcy-Jones. He was a lovely bloke, and very keen to show us the Sea Point night-life. With zero hesitation, we agreed to join him. Much drunkenness’ ensued and I vaguely remember all of us hitch-hiking back up to a very misty Camps Bay in the early hours of the morning]

And then came our last game against Herzlia High, which famously featured Standard 10 pupil and Western Province batting prodigy Terrence Lazard as its star player. Herzlia had this strange rule that Matrics could not play school sports during the second half of their matric year – much to the amusement of the “mature” half of the AHS contingent! Their loss, our gain, as we won a close game. This may have been the match where Jacques Botha, a tall fast bowler, and literal “preacher’s kid” dropped a catch at fine leg – because he did not see the ball, as he was praying at the time!

[MWIf it hadn’t been for the vicious hang-overs we were nursing against Sea Point we would have won all three games. We lost to the weakest team we played!! It would have been nice to have returned to Alberton unbeaten,]

And then it was time to catch the train again to the Old Transvaal and looming prelim exams! The train again made its obligatory stop at De Aar. We all stayed in our compartments…!

and that’s THE END of that story. Thanks again to my long-time accomplice in crime, and now guest-writing buddy ALBIN 🕶 WAGNER

and for the last time back to the album U2 called WAR

I’ve always loved this album for many reasons, one, of course, being the memory of that trip to Cape Town in 1983. We were all very fortunate to have been on that tour, and WAR was the perfect soundtrack to those seven days. For some reason, it sounded at its best on that cassette of Albin’s in whoever’s boombox. The record also takes me back to a time when U2 wasn’t a global phenomenon yet. They were simply that cool Irish band who had finally figured out where they were going. U2 was still our little secret, but they would soon be doing bigger, and even better things.

Go give WAR a spin. If you’re lucky enough to still have it on cassette, and even luckier to have something to play that on, slot it in, and press play.

The Edge, Bono, Larry and Adam


How long to sing this song?

Thank you, goodnight, and goodbye …… ☮☮☮☮☮☮☮☮☮☮☮☮☮☮☮

Mark 👓Wilson (February, 2021)

My 40 Best Albums of 2020


What was this 80s kid listening to in 2020? Well, come closer, and I’ll tell you about the records that got me through a difficult year.

In a crazy year all-round, at least there was always music – it saved me, and I am sure many others in some pretty confusing and dark times. It’s no wonder we felt comfort in looking back last year. Especially when the present is a minefield of confusion, anger, and distrust – throw in some ugly politics from ego-driven and greedy politicians. Why wouldn’t we want to escape?

And when we know that the old Depeche Mode album, AC/DC video, or trusty old Motown compilation CD are going to make us feel good, there seems no point in denying ourselves such a simple pleasure. At a time when nothing is predictable, we cling to our trusty favourites tighter than ever before.

So, I was bashing away at my 80s blog while enjoying the soothing sounds of my long-past youth. Plus, I was happily absorbing all the new music presented to us by the superb musicians across the globe. New music was one of the simple pleasures that distracted many others from the dread that filled 2020.

It was not only the hip young things that gave us new sounds through the 12 turgid months recently past. Some of rock’s most notable and elder statesmen also gifted us some great new work. Bob Dylan, Sir Paul McCartney, Bruce Springsteen, Elvis Costello, Paul Weller and Pretenders all flung some excellent new work at us. Neil Young, at last, released Homegrown in 2020 …

[Back in the spring of 1975, Neil Young planned to release Homegrown, an album he completed at the start of the year, but he also had Tonight’s the Night, a rambling, heavy record cut back in 1973, ready to go. After playing the two albums back to back for a small circle of friends, Young opted for Tonight’s the Night and shelved Homegrown for the better part of 45 years. Incredible, as I can’t quite see Ed Sheeran, for example, recording an album last year and waiting until 2065 to put it out]

I wasn’t planning on writing this blog – it just kind of happened. My writing focus has been on my 80s list of albums. Then I decided that I wanted to document what had been good for me musically in 2020. A kind of modern-day musical scrapbook if you like – the records are what I want to try remember most of this peculiar time. These are a very personal collection of the albums I thought were outstanding in 2020. You will either agree, dis-agree, or not know what the hell I am prattling on about. Probably quite a lot of the latter. 😂

Through the troubled year I probably listened to well over a hundred new releases. I had to squeeze them all in-between my spinning of 80s discs from my blog – yes, luckily I have a lot of music listening time on my hands! My original shortlist was about sixty or so records, but, I managed to whittle that list down to 40. And then it grew again to 50 … before I culled it back the present size. So here we go, before I add some more.



Uneasy Laughter by Moaning

[Los-Angeles-based post-punk outfit whose sound shifted from raucous noise-pop to dark new wave]

On the band’s second album, they retain their usual lyrical concerns, but they completely revamp their sound, replacing the sheets of guitars with synthesizers and electronic loops. Not that guitars have entirely left the picture, as every song contains them in some form or another, but there’s a much wider range of tones on display here. The band still write hook-filled songs with cutting lyrics that attempt to make sense of a constant storm of conflicting feelings. While touring and working on the album, vocalist Sean Solomon became sober and extensively read books about gender and mental health. While the album’s lyrics deal with self-doubt and regret, with Solomon directing the blame at himself, the songs reflect a greater sense of empathy. He expresses the desire to love others on opener Ego. This seems like it could end up being an overwhelmingly bleak and depressing album, but the best songs are written and performed in a way that resonates, and the creativity of the music itself makes the harsh sentiments easier to digest. For fans of the Cure and Pixies …




Hate for Sale by Pretenders

[Alternative rockers, led by Chrissie Hynde, whose melodic, intelligent sound straddled punk’s rawness and the ear candy of new wave]

Hynde brought the touring Pretenders lineup into the studio, a configuration that includes founding drummer Martin Chambers, who hasn’t played on an album by the band since 2002’s Loose Screw. The result is a back-to-basics move performed without an ounce of cynicism. Much of the liveliness of Hate for Sale is due to producer Stephen Street capturing the Pretenders as a straight-up rock & roll band, adding a little flair to the mix but being sure there’s enough color and groove so it’s not monochromatic. It helps that the songs are good, too.


Foothills by The Bats

[New Zealand act featuring Robert Scott of the Clean, with a fresh take on garagey folk-rock that flirted with power pop]

The Christchurch outfit formed way back in 1982 and released their first LP in 1987. In 2020 they dropped the excellent Foothills, which is their 10th studio album. The Bats hold tightly to their time-tested sound on Foothills, producing another 12 songs of bright and wistful pop not quite like even their closest peers can manage in the New Zealand indie pop scene. The Bats’ gifts for understated arrangement come through clearly, with gentle vocal harmonies and layers of tremolo-heavy keyboards and fuzz guitar adding depth and mystery to the sonic picture.


Working Proof by Lilly Hiatt

Lilly is a fine singer and gifted songwriter with a knack for rootsy sounds and smart, unpretentious songs, not unlike her dad, John Hiatt. Working Proof is her 4th album and also her strongest work to date. An excellent set of songs that demonstrates she has a firmer grasp on the art of record-making than ever before, as well as stepping up her game as a singer and tunesmith. With a strong country/roots rock influence, Hiatt’s music is also steeped in tough, guitar-based rock, and her lyrics are unflinchingly personal missives about complicated relationships and the rocky side of life’s road.


Beyond the Pale by Jarv Is …

Beyond the Pale is the debut studio album by British rock band Jarv Is, led by former Pulp frontman Jarvis Cocker. The studio album incorporates live recordings, and was defined by the group as an “alive album”. Beyond the Pale’s songs tackle brilliantly un-rock’n’roll subjects, from evolution to the cabin fever of an aging raver, and lines like “God damn this claustrophobia/‘Cause I should be disrobing ya” show Cocker has not lost the wit that made him an unlikely Britpop icon. “Children of the Echo” has a rousing and unusual chorus that stands up to Cocker’s strongest melodies, and the verse of “House Music All Night Long” nails the classically British art of polite desperation.


Imploding the Mirage by The Killers

[Las Vegas band whose inspired retro-rock earned them a lasting following and global popularity]

🕶 With a little help from cutting-edge friends, including Lindsey Buckingham, the ex-Vegas showmen turn up the bombast. BY A LOT. Balancing their core synths-and-Springsteen sound with stadium-sized pop bombast, the Killers strike gold, dispensing with the clumsy missteps heard on the bloated Battle Born and weary Wonderful Wonderful and delivering their most focused offering since their 2000s heyday. Imploding the Mirage feels like more than just one of their best albums, but a triumphant and invigorated rut-reversal that shines with a hard-won confidence.


The Glow by DMA’s

🎶 The shimmering third album from the Sydneysiders proves why they’ve been Australia’s best kept secret for years. In swapping out some of the Mancunian swagger, DMA’s seem to have unearthed a bit of their own. Awash in tightly sequenced beats and shimmery guitars with the chorus pedal glued down. Nice 😎


The Bonny by Gerry Cinnamon

[Gerard Crosbie (born 1 October 1984), professionally known as Gerry Cinnamon, is a Scottish singer-songwriter and acoustic guitarist. He sings in his local accent with “brutally honest” lyrics]

🎸 The enigmatic Glaswegian singer-songwriter continues to go his own way with the long-awaited follow-up to his 2017 debut Erratic Cinematic. The Bonny shares a similar vibe with 2017’s Erratic Cinematic, featuring kick drum-powered crowd movers like Canter, Sun Queen, and Dark Days as well as soft insightful meditations with Six String Gun and Every Man’s Truth. Gerry Cinnamon creates a surprisingly powerful sound for just being a one-man band



Sideways to New Italy by Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever

[Sunny-sounding Australian band specializes in “soft punk/hard pop” with a smart and jangly approach]

👓 After the rush of their debut, Rolling Blackouts felt no inclination to slow down. Still dealing in brisk, melodic indie rock, instead, the band deepened their impact: the lyrical touches in their suburban dramas more telling; the piling of melodies still more effective. The interwoven lines of their three singer-guitarists still recall the pop magnificence of the Go-Betweens; the pulsing rhythms still give their songs a sense of urgency. Sideways To New Italy might sound like sun-splashed indie for good times, but there’s a great deal of angst buried within. Yet this is clearly also the sound of a band excited to be in the studio together; warmth and friendship seeps through every note. Rolling Blackouts have obviously been reflecting heavily on home recently – who hasn’t? – and here it seems that they’ve found it in one another.



Fake it Flowers by Beabadoobee

Born in 2000 in the Philippines’ Iloilo City, Beatrice Kristi and her family moved to London’s Camden neighborhood when she was three. Bea is a singer/songwriter who pairs delicately sung confessions with ’90s-inspired guitars that pack a wallop. Under the stage name of Beabadoobee she recalls the spirit of 90s stoner rock, taking her from the lo-fi world of bedroom recordings to a wider audience, assisted by some painfully honest lyrics. She’s a modern-day grunge hero dancing through the whirlwind of adolescence.



A Hero’s Death by Fontaines DC

[Dublin five-piece who have strong ties to their native city, which they translate into abrasive vocals and driving percussion.]

Arriving just a little more than 12 months after Dogrel, their five-star instant classic of a debut album, A Hero’s Death doesn’t depict the Dubliners attempting to emulate that debut album. Instead, it finds the band investigating their meteoric rise and the punishing, never-ending tour that followed, sifting through the fragmented pieces that remain. Subversive, non-conformist and melodious, this record has the credentials of a classic rock and roll album. Rather than succumb to difficult second album syndrome, Fontaines D.C. have emerged frontrunners in an already crowded field of vital, important young bands. A Hero’s Death is a resounding victory.



The Unravelling by Drive-By Truckers

[Acclaimed alt-country rockers who skew Southern stereotypes with rowdy yet high-concept work.]

On The Unraveling, the Drive-By Truckers stare deep into America’s soul and report what they’ve seen, with genuine compassion but no illusions. Simply put, this is the darkest and least fun album the DBT’s have made to date, one that makes American Band look light-hearted in contrast, and more than ever before, they struggle with the weight of questions that aren’t just important, they’re necessary, but with no simple answers offered by themselves or anyone else. Musically, The Unraveling is superb, delivering some of the most potent and nuanced performances this band has ever summoned, with Patterson Hood’s and Mike Cooley’s guitars speaking as clearly as the lyrics, drummer Brad Morgan and bassist Matt Patton laying down rhythms like the footfalls of an angry ghost, and Jay Gonzalez keying up the texture with his keyboards and guitars. While Hood and Cooley, the DBT’s songwriters, have always impressed with their gift for telling stories and creating vivid characters, they’ve rarely merged words and music quite as skillful as they have here.



Nothing as Ideal by All Them Witches

[A mercurial, neo-psychedelic, dark blues- and classic rock-influenced quartet based out of Nashville, Tennessee.]

The sixth studio effort from the Nashville psych-rockers makes for a bold and bracing collection of songs that plays to all of their strengths. Paired down to a trio after the departure of keyboard player Jonathan Draper, the band have crystallized their signature amalgam of improvisation and songcraft into an exclamation point where every soaring lead, snare crack, and mechanical whirr feels essential. Recorded at Abbey Road in London, the eight-track set makes good use of the legendary studio’s analog infrastructure, peppering the proceedings with fragmented loops and rewinding reels, all the while maintaining a radiant classic rock core. It’s also the group’s heaviest outing to date.

Hijme Stoffels on this album … “Until today I had never heard of All Them Witches. What a shame! I’m a bit of an old fart who thinks that back in the sixties and seventies the music was much better. That may be true, but ATW proves that really great rock music is still being made today. And thanks to the modern streaming services I can enjoy it immediately!



American Head by The Flaming Lips

[Ever-evolving band led by Wayne Coyne who became critical darlings for their lush, emotionally resonant psychedelic rock.]

After a decade of experimentation, the Lips returned to more graceful, accessible songwriting on their 16th LP. Kacey Musgraves was along for the ride as the group examined what it means to be an ‘American band’; but the album truly succeeded because Wayne Coyne and Steven Drozd were looking back wistfully and openly on their teenage years and the troubles experienced by them and their wayward relatives. Their finest since Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots…


The New Abnormal by The Strokes

[New York City band that ushered in a new era of indie rock in the 2000s, with spiky guitars, chugging backbeats, and self-assured songwriting.]

The Strokes entered their fourth decade (!) as a band in 2020. Produced by Rick Rubin, album six boasted plenty of indie anthems to satisfy fans who’ve been on this wild ride from the start (‘The Adults Are Talking’, ‘Bad Decisions’, ‘Why Are Sundays…’), but also ventured far, far beyond their signature sound. The sprawling synth-led ‘At The Door’ and the disco-indebted ‘Brooklyn Bridge…’ were particular standouts, the former a prime example of Casablanca’s stellar, razor-sharp vocal performance. The New Abnormal found The Strokes reconnected, experimenting and looking to the future.


Have We Met by Destroyer

[Eclectic and eccentric long-running project of songwriter Dan Bejar, also of the New Pornographers.]

Soft rock’s poet laureate returned with one of his strongest sets yet, with the coldwave chill that arrived on Ken (2017) now getting right into his bones. Dan Bejar’s 13th album as Destroyer was his most accessible to date, polishing the plush synthpop of 2011’s Kaputt to a glimmering sheen. Lyrically, of course, it remained a postmodern puzzle – “a circus mongrel sniffing for clues” – but once you’d tuned into his frequency, Bejar revealed visions of apocalyptic dread and heart-rending poignancy, all wrapped up in the continuing belief that music is the one true religion, expressed via knowing winks to The Smiths and New Order.



The Universal Want by Doves

[Manchester trio that topped the British charts multiple times during the 2000s with hypnotic, sweeping alternative epics.]

The Brit-rock survivors’ first album in 11 years is the sound of men in their 50s channeling the memories of their teens through the music of their 30s.

Prior to their extended hiatus (and thanks for letting us know it would last over 10 years, guys), Doves were one of the toughest bands to pigeonhole. They sidestepped the indie revolution, they were too sensitive for bolshy anthem-rock, and Jimi Goodwin’s tales of flawed suburbia never seemed rooted to a particular time. Perhaps it’s this that allowed Doves to hit the ground running at full pelt, when they returned. ‘Carousels’, their first song in a decade – built on a drum sample by the late Tony Allen – picked the baton directly from a band who gave us 2005’s ‘Some Cities’ and 2009’s ‘Kingdom of Rust’.

The songs are tightly written, setting the troubled lyrics to bright melodies; the dance influences subtle, seamlessly integrated and occasionally surprising. The mournful, ballad-paced title track effectively stops midway through, before reappearing retooled with the kind of beat you’d find on an old Chicago house tune: eventually everything else dies away, leaving just the rhythm track and an acidic synth.


That’s How the Rumors Started by Margo Price


[Smart, soulful retro-country singer who made her solo debut in 2016 on Jack White’s Third Man Records]

Recording in Hollywood with Sturgill Simpson in the producer’s chair, the Midwest farmer’s daughter tried her hand at a West Coast pop album for her third LP. Rather than country confessionals, then, here were 10 songs taking in Heartbreakers-esque new wave, gospel, and prime Fleetwood Mac. Complete with a more oblique, lyrical voice from Price, the result was another step forward for a musician who respects tradition but has never been shackled by it.



Eno Axis by H.C. McEntire

[Gifted singer and songwriter with a sweet voice and strong convictions; member of Bellafea and Mount Moriah.]

Back in March 2020, when the world screeched to a monstrous halt, H.C. McEntire was already sitting still. The alt-Americana artist had decided to head back to her home state of North Carolina a few months earlier, after spending the better part of the last two years as a touring backup singer for Angel Olsen. To reorient herself, McEntire settled into a farmhouse on the wooded edge of the Eno River in Durham and started doing what most folks do each day: the laundry. The daily tasks of rural life and McEntire’s meaningful devotion to them define Eno Axis, the sophisticated yet relaxed follow-up to 2018’s all-consuming Lionheart.

This may be her most spiritually and musically fulfilling work yet. Eno Axis is that rare album that feels timeless. One could imagine these songs emanating from the grooves of newly-discovered dusty 78s with McEntire’s hypnotic, ghostly vocals cutting through the surface noise. Restricted by a more confined, less spontaneous structure, the songs of Eno Axis would surely lose their healing powers. Their simplicity gives them strength and McEntire’s unfussy treatment makes for music that doesn’t distract from chaos but teaches us instead how to move through it.

Eno Axis is both a wonderful album and a handy instruction manual for our times: Follow the simple suggestions tucked within McEntire’s songs and you may just feel your weariness begin to lift like morning mist burning off a river.



Colour Theory by Soccer Mommy

[Hooky, angular indie rock with the personal lyrics and vulnerable vocals of singer/songwriter Sophie Allison. Potent emotions put to paper through melodic 90s rock]

The recent craze for bedroom pop had a further boost this year as so many of us were increasingly confined to our bedrooms, although there’s a sneaking suspicion this term can undersell the ambition of these (often female) artists. Like Beabadoobee, Clairo and other recent breakthroughs, Soccer Mommy actually makes full-bodied, melodically strong indie rock – at times you can draw lines towards Real Estate or Deerhunter, but the drowsy yet determined vocals are inimitably hers.

Sophie Allison paints with the shades of a bruise on Color Theory. Her mother’s terminal illness and her own struggles with depression appear in a wintry synesthesia of yellow, blue, and gray. Much like Sufjan Stevens in the songs of Carrie & Lowell, Allison ventures into the tundra of her despair and emerges with an unsparing and unsentimental account of survival. She buoys her bleak lyrics with the bright melodies and buzzing guitars that sound-tracked Beavis and Butt-Head’s bickering on MTV in the ’90s. These instrumentals lend a “sense of comic relief,” Allison says, “like when you joke with your friend about your unhealthy habits.” In a year when hundreds of thousands of Americans perished, we needed friends desperately—someone to make us laugh, and someone to just sit with us .With this intimate hospice of a record, Allison gave us both

NME said: “Allison is a master at painting vivid pictures with lyrics, coupling earworm melodies and warm instrumentation with shattering words that pack an emotional punch.”

The TOP 20



Women in Music, Pt. 3 by HAIM

[American sister act that creates infectious pop/rock with influences ranging from Fleetwood Mac to 80s synth pop.]

On their third album and first masterpiece, Haim sound like a band who took their eyes off the prize and found it at their feet. It should be underlined that the sororal US trio’s first two albums, Days Are Gone (2013) and Something to Tell You (2017) are very good: slick without smoothing too much over. But WIMPIII is much looser. The breeziness feels like a warm draft off the Pacific, the warmer, messier swirl of sound in the mix truer to life. They sound natural playing hip-hop breakbeats, neo-soul and even reggae, while also bringing country moods to their metropolitan pop, and the extra space throws more light on the lyrics and refined melodies: sustained strengths that make WIMPIII a truly classic record.

NME said: “[Haim] have produced a record that’s experimental, soothing and vulnerable; it’s a thing of great beauty.”




Summerlong by Rose City Band

[Mellow and textural cosmic country jam band led by Moon Duo member Ripley Johnson]

Taking cues from privately pressed loner folk and independent psych-rock albums, Wooden Shjips/Moon Duo member Ripley Johnson anonymously ushered his Rose City Band project into the world with a limited-edition LP that included almost no technical information. The band was mostly just Johnson, joined by a few friends to flesh out recordings of his stripped-down psychedelic country songs. The vocals were often buried in effects and the songs stretched out from simple chord progressions into lengthy guitar explorations reminiscent of the Grateful Dead’s cosmic traveling.

Second album Summerlong peels back the haze of the first album for a far more country-accented set of songs. This is apparent from both the relative clarity of the vocals and the expanded instrumentation, which now includes go-to country-rock embellishments like mandolin and pedal steel. The songwriting still lies somewhere midway between psychedelia and indie country, but it leans more towards straightforward song structures and arrangements.

Summerlong isn’t completely devoid of Johnson’s distinctive breed of dazzled psychedelia. The appropriately titled “Floating Out” ends with a lengthy vamp of delay-coated guitar soloing and the album ends with the ever-so-slightly Krautrock-tinged medley of “Wee Hours > Wildflowers.” No longer masked by layers of texture, Summerlong allows Johnson to showcase his gifts for songwriting and psychedelic wandering in equal measure.



Serpentine Prison by Matt Berninger

[Lead singer of indie rock group the National, recognized for his deep voice, brooding delivery, and contemplative lyrics]

Serpentine Prison is an intimate, ruminative solo debut not out of line with the more downcast output of his band. Far from a single-handed effort, he’s joined on the album by over a dozen guests, including National bassist Scott Devendorf, his El VY bandmate Brent Knopf, the Walkmen’s Walter Martin, and Andrew Bird, the latter three of whom fill multiple roles on the recording. Famed David Bowie bassist Gail Ann Dorsey (also of I Am Easy to Find) is a featured vocalist on Silver Springs, a song inspired by the waves of artists that leave home for the promise of the big city (“They’ll never understand you anyway in Silver Springs“). It opens with a slinky, melodic guitar line, then skeletal rhythm guitar and hand drums before Berninger enters with a talk-singing plea. Taken together, it’s a sequestered, rainy Sunday type of album with flawed, world-weary vocal performances that are laid bare by such impressionistic accompaniment.




Muzz by Muzz

[Supergroup trio of Interpol‘s Paul Banks, producer/multi-instrumentalist and Bonny Light Horseman member Josh Kaufman, and former Walkmen drummer Matt Barrick]

The band’s self-titled debut alludes to its members’ other projects and the greats that inspired them (which include Bob Dylan, Neil Young, and Leonard Cohen) in elliptical ways. Banks’ voice is still immediately recognizable, but he’s become a much more expressive and varied singer over the years with his softer, deeper delivery.

However, Muzz is quite a bit more than the sum of its parts. There’s an organic, painted desert beauty to the album, and its drifting moods have an unhurried feel that may be due to its lengthy creation (the trio carved out time to record it over the course of nearly five years). Muzz never comes on too strong; even its rockers, like the echo-drenched “Knuckleduster,” are more brooding than fiery. Some of the best moments, like the psychedelic, rustic “Patchouli,” feel like they were conjured out of nowhere. A testament to longtime friends coming together to make music and gently challenge expectations along the way, Muzz’s easygoing grace grows more compelling each time it’s heard.




Punisher by Phoebe Bridgers

[A Los Angeles, California-based folk-rock artist with a dreamy and hook-filled indie pop heart]

The finest songwriters develop their own singular voice, and Los Angeles’ Phoebe Bridgers has certainly done that in the six years since her first single. Her musings on sex and death flow organically but with rare power and playfulness. Her second album Punisher was her strongest work to date, the hallucinatory mix of electronics and eerie chamber-folk propelling highlights such as the title track, “Chinese Satellite” and “Moon Song”. Transcendence rarely arrives in the superb songwriting of Punisher, a record spooked by Bridgers’ tremulous vocals and self-produced, celestial indie-rock hum. Phoebe Bridgers has learned to lean into the chaos of existence in 2020. The 26-year-old Los Angeles native’s second album was filled with blissful contradictions. The result: a multifaceted ode to embracing life’s oddities and living in the moment.



Kitchen Sink by Nadine Shah

[Evocative, North Sea-inspired, Nick Cave-meets-PJ Harvey-induced midnight indie torch songs from this U.K. singer/songwriter]

A show-stopping, pin-sharp performance at March 2020’s 6 Music Festival set the scene for another stellar year in Nadine Shah’s ever-fledgling career. Kitchen Sink, her richly-constructed fourth album, is just as uncompromising as 2017’s Mercury Prize-nominated Holiday Destination, as unlikely to mince its words as a skilled orator with a telescript. On ‘Ladies For Babies (Goats for Love)’ Shah sets her sights on toxic relationships, where a man “wants his lady… to care less / be hairless,” and to be tamed. Elsewhere, there’s the pain in witnessing richer hand-me-down friends purchasing houses for “less than I’m renting mine”, on ‘Ukrainian Wine’. And ‘Trad’ finds her wrestling with age, bluntly asking a loved one, “Will you want me when I am old?” All of this stacks up as examples of her faultless, observational songwriting – when she takes on a subject that’s usually hard to convey, she doesn’t miss. She remains a one-of-a-kind songwriter.



Folklore by Taylor Swift

[Pop and country phenom whose relationship-heavy songwriting and knack for a hook made her a superstar … here Taylor takes a trip to her cabin in the woods for the ultimate lockdown album …]

A lot of artists created isolation albums, but it was Taylor Swift’s Folklore that felt like the perfect accompaniment for the weird loneliness that’s permeated 2020. The result is wistful, romantic and adorned with entrancing melodies. Making few references to the lockdown that brought about its existence, Folklore expands Swift’s focus from her personal relationships to imagined characters, widening the emotional and narrative range of her already considerable songwriting. Taking a step away from the glossy pop that’s been a staple of her past few records, she surprise-released an astonishing collection of indie-folk tunes that acted as a soothing balm during this strange time. The record meshed Swift’s masterful songwriting with introspective production courtesy of long-time collaborator Jack Antonoff and The National‘s Aaron Dessner (who worked on 11 of the 16 songs). From the glittering euphoria of Bon Iver collaboration ‘Exile’ to complex story-telling of ‘The Last Great American Dynasty’, Folklore found Swift trying something entirely different – and sounding better than ever. A moment of stillness in the turmoil, turning even the darkest musings into something sparkling and beautiful.



Bonny Light Horseman by Bonny Light Horseman

[Indie folk supergroup who put a respectful but contemporary spin on traditional folk ballads]

Brought together by Justin Vernon and Aaron Dessner, this collaborative project from Anaïs Mitchell, Eric D Johnson, and Josh Kaufman reinterpreted the traditional songbook for our perilous times. Drawing from English, Irish, and Appalachian folk music, the trio recast lover’s laments, war ballads, and more as existential, eternal dramas, full of humanity and heartbreak. The trio’s spacious arrangements, harmony choruses, and subtle embellishments amplified the songs’ emotional punch.



Letter to You by Bruce Springsteen

[A rock & roll true believer with a poet’s heart, the Boss defined mainstream American rock in the late 20th century]

Springsteen, now 71 years old, and his 20th studio album, Letter to You, indulges in his past like never before. We should appreciate him while we still can …

Letter to You comes quickly on the heels of Western Stars, a long-gestating 2019 immersion into the lush, progressive country vistas of the early 1970s, but in a sense, it’s a true sequel to Bruce Springsteen’s 2016 memoir Born to Run and its 2017 stage companion Springsteen on Broadway. It’s an album where Springsteen reckons with the weight of the past, how its ghosts are still readily apparent in the present, an album where the veteran singer/songwriter is keenly aware he has more road in his rearview mirror than he does on the highway ahead of him.

Late in 2019, Springsteen enlisted his longtime accompanists in the E Street Band to record the whole thing live in the studio during a snowy week in New Jersey. The goal was to approximate the untappable energy of their concerts and classic albums like Darkness on the Edge of Town. Working again with his 2010s collaborator Ron Aniello, the plan might have also been to avoid the obsessive tinkering that has distracted from his straightforward, earnest songwriting on recent records.

They’re playing not out of a sense of hunger, but communion. This shared warmth carries Letter to You through the moments where the younger Bruce is perhaps a bit too precious and the older Springsteen is a bit too clear, turning a record that’s a meditation on mortality into a celebration of what it means to be alive in the moment.



Feral by RVG

[Melbourne-based indie combo blends lush guitar pop with post-punk, goth, and classic college rock]

Inciting one of its many attributes in the title, Feral is the second album by charismatic Australian indie rock outfit Romy Vager Group, or RVG. Rising out of the Melbourne suburbs with an urgent blast of lush, ’80s-inspired college rock, wiry post-punk, jangly new wave, and garage thump. Like some strange hybrid of the Go-Betweens, the Soft Boys, and Pixies, RVG’s songs are rife with melodic guitar lines and lyrics that bounce between wry absurdism, deep personal strife, and the unruly state of politics. Through it all, Vager and her band cut a jagged line through punk fervor, pop charm, and rock backbone, turning in an album that is equal parts ferocious, funny, and moving.



The TOP 10


Saint Cloud by Waxahatchee

[After the breakup of a band and a relationship, songwriter Katie Crutchfield emerged with this confessional solo project]

Following the defiant alt-rock of her John Agnello-produced fourth album, Out in the Storm, Katie Crutchfield makes another adjustment to the course of her one-time bedroom project Waxahatchee with the warmer, more contemplative Saint Cloud. Shedding distortion in favor of a more easygoing, country-rock sensibility, the album’s backing band is perhaps the best indicator of its sound; joining her throughout are Bonny Doon’s Bill Lennox and Bobby Colombo, Bonny Light Horseman’s Josh Kaufman, and Elvis Perkins in Dearland’s Nick Kinsey. Saint Cloud’s cover art underscores the approach with a photo of Crutchfield striking a pose on a pickup truck. The album reflects her newfound ease, all big skies, wide open spaces, and Americana twang. It’s both the country album she was destined to make and an acknowledgment that self-acceptance is hard-won; Saint Cloud reckons with addiction, sobriety, imperfect romance, trauma, and trying to navigate it all.




Made of Rain by The Psychedelic Furs

[New Wave icons whose regal sound grew out of Bowie-style art rock and gloomy post-punk to become unmistakably their own][Made of Rain is their first album since 1991]

After spending nearly two decades as a reliable concert draw playing the old hits to crowds happy to hear them, the Psychedelic Furs decided as the 2010s came to a close that the time was right to record some new music. After two quick sessions spent recording a few older, but mostly newly written, songs, the band’s eighth album, Made of Rain, was ready to share with the outside world. It’s a largely melancholy record that doesn’t harken back to their nervy post-punk days, or their shimmering synth pop days, or even their dance-rock heyday. Instead, they go for a spit-shined modern sound that is sure to sound good in large halls and small arenas. The powerful rhythm section, subtle keyboard flourishes, and layers of guitars provide a suitably dramatic backdrop for Richard Butler’s impressionistic lyrics and impressively unchanged vocals. His world-wearily sardonic vocals sounded old before their time when he was young; now that his age and voice finally match, they sound remarkably sprightly and powerful.




Shore by Fleet Foxes

To call Fleet Foxes’ first record in three years, and the follow-up to 2017’s rejuvenating ‘Crack-Up’, a “lockdown album” wouldn’t be completely accurate – band leader Robin Pecknold had been working on the release since late 2018. However, after scattered sessions that spanned New York, Portugal, Paris and Los Angeles, the songwriter had found himself “a bit lost”. Instead, the album – and its lyrics – started coming together as the world around Pecknold began to slow down due to the pandemic; the musician – like many – beginning to take solace from life’s simpler things and finding inspiration on long drives in upstate New York, surrounded by the vast expanse of nature surrounding him. Pecknold described the album, released without warning in September, as “celebrating life in the face of death”, and it can be seen as a perfect soundtrack for such a year – at times quietly meditative, other moments euphoric and stirring, but constantly life-affirming. It’s a record primed for taking stock in such profoundly turbulent times.




The Slow Rush by Tame Impala

Kevin Parker’s journey from slacker guitar burnout to laptop Brian Wilson has been one of the stranger and more enthralling stories of the last decade or so. The first Tame Impala album for five years found Parker almost precisely halfway between Air (1970s soft-rock tunes and diaphanous atmospheres) and Daft Punk (buzzing noises, driving beats). Soft to the touch sonically, the sweetness of the tunes helped the Frank Ocean-style confessionals at Parker’s sad disco slip down even easier.




Walking Like We Do – The Big Moon

The Big Moon – Walking Like We Do

The second album from the London quartet saw songwriter Jules Jackson and co. head off into new, brighter areas of indie rock. Their abrasive yet melodically sweet indie rock recalls groups like the Breeders and Elastica. On Walking Like We Do they pair glowing synth pads and layered harmonies with a distinctly millennial approach to the possibility of total annihilation. Walking Like We Do vaults back a few more pop generations to the brassy bonhomie, dry wit and shabby music hall charm of acts such as Dexys, or even Elton John at his brightest.




Every Bad by Porridge Radio

[A visceral blend of garage rock, slowcore, and art-punk from compelling vocalist Dana Margolin and band]

The Brighton indie-rock quartet brought some much-needed humour, humanity and modernity to post-punk with their second record. Every Bad won them a Mercury nod, spoke to a legion of new fans and should have won them scores more at festival sites across the globe. Porridge Radio nail some of music’s hardest tricks – breathing fresh life into indie and making a record that can loosely be compared to other bands in fragments, but also feels entirely their own. Porridge Radio are my my most exciting discovery of the year. This LP is quite simply a nostalgic cosmic-pop behemoth that makes you long for normality.




For Their Love by Other Lives

[Stillwater, Oklahoma-based atmospheric indie rockers invoke names like Alt-J, Fleet Foxes, and early Radiohead]

The fourth full-length effort from the Oklahoma-based indie rockers, For Their Love finds Other Lives in fine form, applying their moody sonic expertise to a spectral ten-song set that parses themes of self-worth and existential dread in an age of political, social, and economic turmoil.

The group’s love for sharp Morricone-worthy guitar stabs and ascending choral vocals is evident throughout, with the sinister “Nites Out,” a churning sea of orchestral bombast worthy of a 007 action set-piece providing the biggest bang for the buck. The plaintive “Dead Language,” with its high and lonesome harmonica and fluttery piano, filters the group’s widescreen vision through more of a portrait lens, but it retains its predecessor’s classicist ’60s cinema vibe, as does the more sprightly title track, which incorporates bursts of loungey bossa nova into its distinct, anglophile-kissed brand of chamber-Americana.

Zachary Houghton on this record … “This is an absolutely beautiful album. It could definitely be a soundtrack to an imaginary, heartfelt western, with a somehow beautiful sense of foreboding lurking behind many of the songs. The entire album is full of simply wonderful orchestral arrangements that demand one just sit and listen straight through. The sound here is large and cinematic, but never impersonal or staid. Fans of chamber pop, orchestral pop, swelling 60s influences, retro cinema, and folk rock will all find something to claim and love here.




Reunions by Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit

[Heartfelt and street-smart alt-country singer/songwriter who went from the Drive-By Truckers to an acclaimed solo career]

Now seven albums into his solo career, Isbell continued the purple patch that began on 2013’s Southeastern with what might be his richest, subtlest album to date. His loyal group The 400 Unit played a blinder, their performances funky and spacious on opener “What’ve I Done To Help” and sensitive on the atmospheric “River” and “St Peter’s Autograph”; yet it’s Isbell’s songs, both politically and emotionally aware, that were the real jewels here.




Fetch the Bolt Cutters by Fiona Apple

[Acclaimed performer whose angst-ridden, piano-based songs represented a new stage in the female singer/songwriter movement]

The return of a singular, confessional artist – right when we needed her most. Bursting at the seams with chaotically sampled barking dogs and clattering home-made percussion, Fetch the Bolt Cutters was the sound of one woman ready to break away from her sense of isolation. That it arrived when the world was forced into another form of isolation only made its impact even more profound.

Recorded over a five-year spell in her California home, Fetch the Bolt Cutters encompasses every euphoric rush and hopeless roar as Fiona Apple telescopes between historic incidents that once diminished her to find their common thread. Its homespun rhythms, swaggering and souring piano, and sweet harmonies laced with industrial clatter provide the mercurial force for her to break open the codes of silence and mistrust that exploitative men use to divide women. She breaks free of constrictions, skewers and then undresses the affectations used by the powerful to conceal their abuses, and interrogates her own part in these structures. Filled with a lifetime’s worth of compassion, Fetch the Bolt Cutters isn’t just the second best album of 2020 but a future classic, a rare combination of innovation and profound deep feeling



And it’s the legend himself in the top spot …

1. Rough and Rowdy Ways by Bob Dylan

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[Iconic singer/songwriter and musical wanderer who rose to prominence during the ’60s folk revival and changed the world of music]

Bob Dylan released the dark, unruly Time Out of Mind in 1997 following two albums of folk and blues covers. It was his first original material in a decade and summed up his 20th century. Rough and Rowdy Ways is his first new material since 2012’s Tempest and arrives during a global pandemic and the righteous struggle for racial and economic justice. These ten songs revel in forms that have been Dylan’s métier since the ’60s: blues, country, folk, rockabilly, gospel, etc. Its three pre-release singles  – Murder Most Foul, I Contain Multitudes, and False Prophet – are showcases for a songwriter who speaks directly yet remains elusive. 

It’s a testament to Bob Dylan’s interplanetary talent that his 39th studio album, released at the grand age of 79, is one of his finest yet. The man who made folk music cool – and then spent the next 50 years confounding and delighting his fans at every turn – is laidback, jazzy and deeply introspective on Rough and Rowdy Ways, the instrumentation taking a backseat to his poetic lyricism, which shines brightest on the epic closer, ‘Murder Most Foul‘.

Running for a full 17 minutes over placid piano, the song tells the story of JFK’s 1963 assassination and the collapse of the American dream which followed. Ever so slightly more conventional offerings sit alongside this grand statement, including the gruff and bluesy False Prophet, on which he sounds more like Tom Waits than Bob Dylan, and the doomed country ballad Key West (Philosopher Pirate). Flawless.


Info, writing and pictures taken from the following publications – Uncut , Pitchfork, All Music Guide, BBC Radio 6, Radio X, NME, The Guardian, Wikipedia and Mojo

See you in 2021

Mark 😎Wilson

My 100 Best 80s Albums # 18

The TOP 2O so far … 20. Madness Presents the Rise and Fall by Madness 🎺 19. I Just Can’t Stop It by The Beat 🎷 18 is …Signing Off , the 1980 debut album from a multiracial reggae band from the West Midlands in England.

UB40’s name was taken from an unemployment declaration form, in itself an active statement against the Conservative government. The record sleeve, a copy of an unemployment benefits form.

An album I can have on repeat for days on end and never tire of. The ten * tracks contained within this record will forever be stamped happily onto my brain. With, or without, some magical giggly twig, it always stands head and shoulders above all the other pop-reggae albums I have ever heard. However, it is hard to believe this is the same UB40 that later topped the U.K. charts with the likes of Red Red Wine and I’ve Got You Babe. Their debut album was a once-off they never repeated or bettered. On Signing Off, they came out all guns blazing, with music so edgy that even those who are sure there’s nothing about the group to admire will change their tune instantly.

At the end of 1979, the band approached well known local musician Bob Lamb – former drummer of the Steve Gibbons Band – and asked him to record their songs. Unable to afford a suitable studio, they ended up in his bedsit with an eight-track open reel recorder, kept going by putting the same 50p coin through the electricity meter repeatedly. The saxophone parts were recorded in the kitchen for a richer, more resonant sound, and percussion – tambourines, congas, drums – were done in the back garden. “Everybody had a lot of fun making it, and you can hear it on the record. You can hear the summer… you can hear the birds singing”, recalls Lamb.

Recorded between December 1979 and July 1980, Signing Off captured the innocence of a group of gifted teenagers in love with the music they were making. It has a simplicity and a naivety that’s rare in any type of commercial release; there’s an immediacy and an energy to it that shows the band’s post-punk sensibility.

[* the original album only had ten tracks; Madame Medusa, Strange Fruit and Reefer Madness are bonus tracks from subsequent CD releases]


Who was this Tyler?

Gary Tyler (born July 1958), from St. Rose, Louisiana, is an African-American man who is a former prisoner at the Louisiana State Prison. He was convicted of the October 7, 1974 shooting death of a 13-year-old white boy and wounding of another, on a day of violent protests by whites against black students at Destrehan High School in St. Charles Parish, Louisiana. He was tried as an adult and convicted of first-degree murder at age 17 by an all-white jury; he received the mandatory death sentence for that crime, according to state law. When he entered Louisiana State Prison, he was the youngest person on death row. Tyler’s sentence was later commuted to life in prison without parole for 20 years.

Tyler is guilty white judges said so
What right do we got to say it’s not so
Tyler is guilty white judges said so
What right do we got to say it’s not so


UB40 performing live at the Regal Theatre Hitchin in early 1983.


Many observers believe that Tyler was wrongfully convicted, as his trial and defence were seriously flawed. Tyler’s cause was taken up again in 2007 by human rights organizations and a variety of public figures after his case was reviewed by a columnist of the New York Times. In 2012 the United States Supreme Court ruled that persons who were minors at the time of a crime for which they were convicted, could not be sentenced to life imprisonment without parole, and applied this retroactively. It ordered state courts to review such cases. Tyler was released in 2016 after the state arranged a plea deal. He pleaded guilty to manslaughter, which had a maximum sentence of 21 years; since he had already served nearly twice that, he was released from prison.

Gary Tyler, speaking at the University of California, Hastings College of the Law in 2017

My guest writer this edition is Albin Wagner, who oddly enough is himself an attorney at law. We won’t hold that against him, especially as he’s also got a good UB40 story to tell. His tale includes appearances by yours truly, and the Australian Mark.

Gaborone, Easter ’89 by Albin Wagner


Humps and I were watching the final overs of a club cricket match at the lush green Rand Afrikaans University’s sports fields. The game in question involving Wits Technikon, which Mark Wilson was coaching and playing for. All the while downing a good few Castle Long Toms in the lengthening shadow of the leafy trees. Biza eventually joined us once his match was done. Over a few more tins of Charles Glass’ finest, these three fine young gentlemen (two already discharged SADF servicemen and one just 10 months away from his call-up) resolved that at the height to the cultural boycott they would watch the multi-racial Birmingham reggae band UB40 in Gaborone, where apartheid agents had just blown up an ANC safe-house!

Tickets were pre-bought, probably through Computicket. At first there would be four of us. Humps’ German neighbour Matthias (I think his name was) was going to take us there in his Golf GTi. Then suddenly he was no longer going, so we had a problem! Biza was not keen on taking his Vauxhall (or whatever his first car was) – it would in any event have been a bit cramped. So it came to a toss-up between two station wagons: the Humphrey family’s “Brown Bugger” or the Wagner’s blue Ford Cortina, with the latter emerging as the “lucky” nominee. Cherry Oh Baby!

[Mark WilsonMy first car was actually a Ford Cortina Punk. Certainly not suitable for our excursion to Gaborone. Where would we have slept? 😂]

The concert was on a Saturday night, so we left early on Saturday morning. Biza “called shotgun” as usual, with Humps getting the backseat. The main cargo was a case of Castle beer cans, a cooler box full of ice and a few cold drinks.

[MWI remember we left while it was still dark. As we reversed down my parents driveway we suckled on our first drink – which if I recall correctly was a brandy and coke – a wholesome breakfast you will agree.]

The long trip north to the border was mainly uneventful, except for Humps having a fit about a garbage bag being tossed into the pristine Highveld wilderness. There was a fairly long queue at the Botswana border, all traffic coming to a halt. Occasionally the odd car would come trudging back in the other direction, away from the border post. One such car was driven by a distant Wits acquaintance and his companions. “Hey dude, did you know you need a passport? And I don’t have one!” he explained to me. He ended up spending the weekend at Sun City instead, the nearby Boer casino & soft-porn oasis.

[MWWhat I remember most about the border crossing was the long queue of cars waiting on the South African side. There was a great vibe though and a heady whiff of sweet ganga hung in the air. Everyone had music blaring from their cars or boom-boxes now placed outside the vehicle. Most were playing our heroes from Birmingham, but the next most played would easily have been The Doors. Jim Morrison’s 60s gang still being big favourites amongst the older hippy types, and cool kids back in ’89. These two disparate bands were pretty much the soundtrack to our weekend in Botswana]

End of Part 1


[MW on Signing OffIt’s somehow hard to imagine how lead single ‘Food for thought’ — albeit being a great song, whose lyrics deal with the hypocrisy of inequality and African starvation — managed to make it to No.4 in the UK singles chart in 1980. This, coming from a rag-tag bunch of unemployed ex-carpenters and students, whose overall musical talents were just coming to light. It’s also quite possibly my favourite all-time UB40 tune! Check out the video below and the energy on stage and in the audience – when people could enjoy music without a mobile phone glued to their hands and shoved in front of their faces]


8,433 views since Sep 6, 2015

Gaborone, Easter ’89 by Albin Wagner (part 2)


The actual crossing was tame, but once in Botswana we became somewhat more nervous. There were at least three military roadblocks on the way to Gaborone. “Passports, please?! Driver’s license?! Where are you going? Do you have any weapons? Open the back!” The last request was the most concerning, because we thought they might have a problem with our beer stock and confiscate it! Also, Biza has rather recklessly packed a spare pair of brown SADF-issue socks! Luckily it was a false alarm and we were waved on.

[Mark HumphreyWe were concerned about Biza’s SADF issued sleeping bag in event of road blocks – not a pair of socks if I remember correctly]

[MWYes, that’s right Humps. Definitely my army sleeping bag. It’s all coming back to me now 😋]

We had made good time and got to the Gaborone National Stadium before lunch, ahead of the pack. We found a parking spot in the official stadium parking quite near to the turnstiles, under a tree. Some stalls were set up selling memorial t-shirts & snacks. Apart from that there was nothing to do but to drink beer and watch the increasing volume of cars arrive.

The passing parade was intriguing. There was a hot-boxing VW beetle with a Bob Marley portrait painted on the bonnet, the occupants invisible through the ganja cloud. Then there was a BMW convertible transporting immaculately dolled-up hot-panted beauties. A growing crowd of young, cool(ish), mainly (but by no means only) white South Africans ready to enjoy the rare privilege of experiencing a live performance by an international act most of us had previously only encountered on vinyl records & VHS!

Our beer supply was diminishing due to rapid consumption. 24 cans shared between three thirsty lads (with the odd donation to the occasional visitor) suddenly seemed terribly inadequate – and it was only about 3 p.m. with the stadium turnstiles only opening at 6! There were no commercial facilities nearby and there was no sign of a liquor store or bar. Also, the car park was by now full, so moving the station wagon at that stage would have meant losing our spot and having to find space at the country club parking about a kilometre away.

Desperate time called for desperate measures! Biza had found a friend to talk to, so he volunteered to look after the car while Humps and I started walking into the unknown, down a dusty suburban road. A friendly local pointed us in the general direction of the nearest shebeen, which he said was 2 or 3 km away. Almost as a joke, Humps put out his thumb as if to hitchhike and to our great surprise a bakkie immediately stopped. On the driver’s door was a Botswana Defence Force emblem. Inside a Major of the BDF in his camouflage uniform, wearing a beret. He wanted to know what we were doing. Humps stood to attention and saluted. “Looking for beer, sir!”

Hop in, I’ll take you to a place where they won’t rip you off,” said the Major, taking his service-issue 9 mil. pistol off the passenger seat. In we climbed and off we drove. True to his word he dropped us off at a non-descript house with a Lion Lager logo fading on the outside wall. We bought two six packs of beer each and walked back to the stadium along the dust road under the hot afternoon sun.

By the time we got back it was almost opening time! Biza, who had been chilling in the shade, sipping on his beer and perving while we had been adventuring. He then introduced us to a young Afrikaans guy who had just arrived at the stadium after spending the all of Friday night and most of Saturday at a Botswana police station, being interrogated. Apparently he had just cleared out of an army “camp” and had left his unlaundered browns in a kitbag in his boot. When this uniform was found at a roadblock he was immediately arrested! Luckily for our new acquaintance he had eventually convinced the local Special branch that he was no threat to Botswana’s national security and he made it to the stadium just in time for the show.

End of part 2


[MW on Signing Off – Two months into the nineteen-eighties, and British popular music was enjoying a particularly purple period, with brilliant post-punk bands like The Undertones and The Jam electrifying the singles charts. There was also a full-blown ska revival going on, with The Specials, The Beat, and Madness in top form. Behind this, the reggae scene was burgeoning; Black Uhuru, Aswad, and Gregory Isaacs were all popularising the genre. Into this pop landscape, UB40’s first single, a double A-side, King/Food for Thought fitted perfectly; it was a little bit ska, a good deal more reggae, and there was a bit of dub thrown in – plus a distinctly ‘do-it-yourself’ post-punk sensibility. Food for Thought the roots-rocking indictment of politicians’ refusal to relieve famine; and King the dreamy tribute to Martin Luther “King”]


Gaborone, Easter ’89 by Albin Wagner (part 3)


There was a big sign at the turnstiles: No Weapons! No Glass! No Booze! A three-hour concert with not one beverage after spending a whole day under the African sun? Nice try! We each downed yet another beer, and Biza and I each put a can down our undies for later consumption. Humps did not participate in our cunning plan as he was distracted, having made friends with a crowd of students that was smuggling in a wine skin full of brandy.

The search at the entrance was ineffective as we made it onto the playing field with our illicit scrotal cargo undetected. Canned reggae music was pumping, people were getting merry – the prefect time to remove our beer cans from their warming genital surroundings! Biza and I cracked open the cans, said “Cheers!” and each took a satisfying swig while looking at the beer-less Humps with condescending pity.

The inspector wants to speak to you,” the dark voice behind us said. That voice belonged to an “undercover” police constable, a very short and squat man, who was dressed in a long dark-blue police overcoat and black boots. He really stood out on this hot afternoon in a crowd of scantily clad revelers – just a pity we had not seen him before breaking the law!

[MHNeither of you said good bye to me upon you being led to the stadium lock up , how did you expect to find me again ?]

[Albin Wagner Ummm, we may have been somewhat distracted by the prospect of being banged up in a foreign country!]

[MWand missing the UB40 concert! I remember panicking a bit down in the cells]

Biza and I trudged after him to the side of the field, under the stands (we both snuck in a quick swig of beer on the way to meet our destiny!). There in the shade was The Inspector, wearing a three piece black suit, crisp white shirt & dark tie; tall and slim, reeking of authority. We followed them both down a few flights of stairs nervously. The constable told him of our infraction while we were told to wait by the holding cell. The Inspector was almost dismissive, turning his back on us. We heard the words “kick out”, “charge”, “detain” and panicked! We were so sorry, it was just these two cans someone had given to us, we don’t even like beer, we pleaded while pouring the remains of the contents onto the concrete floor. The constable was undeterred and started herding us towards the cell door. Suddenly The Inspector dramatically raised his hand, stared straight at us and said: “OK, this is your lucky day – disappear!” The constable stood aside and we ran back onto the field, immensely relieved, and disappeared into the crowd – immediately finding Humps and his wine skin friends, who allowed us a few swigs to re-fortify our shattered nerves!

[MHYou two would of missed the support act. Was it Steve Newman and Tananas ? I do remember somehow that Steve Howells was the stand in drummer that day for whichever band it was …. Sons of Gaddafi maybe??]

[AWNo idea! Biza & I were too busy trying to negotiate our release from police custody, so supporting bands were not very high on the list of priorities at that particular time.]

UB40 were great and sang most of their hits. “I got you Babe” was big at the time, but unfortunately Chrissie Hynde did not join Ali Campbell on stage! Also for some reason they did not perform Tyler, which was a big disappointment. During our road trip we had changed the words to “Mandela is guilty, white judges said so” and we were looking forward to singing along with our private version at the concert!

[MWEven though we were ecstatic about the concert the fact they didn’t play Tyler was very disappointing]

[MHNo surprises that Ali Campbell asked the crowd to sing 🎶 along as loud as possible to Sing Our Own Song – which morphed into Free Nelson Mandela so that the powers that be could hear it in Pretoria.]

Biza had brought a sizeable carpet off-cut, which he named ‘The Magic Carpet‘. It was a huge hit with the ladies when there was a cloudburst just before the show started and ‘The Magic Carpet‘ was lifted to act as a canopy under which they could protect their party hair-do’s from the rain! Later during the evening it also provided a refuge for the lovelies faking panic because there was A Rat in the Kitchen (what am I gonna do?!?).

End of part 3

[MW on Signing Off – To the style-obsessed pop world of the nineteen-eighties, UB40 didn’t measure up. They had a slightly mod look, but it was too casual for them ever to be pin-ups. Instead, the band came over very much as ‘boys next door’ – a group of friends playing the music that they loved – which was precisely what they were. Being a mixed-race group, many mistakenly thought they were on the highly fashionable 2Tone label, but the band had a much more reggae sound and were in fact, signed to a tiny independent label called Graduate Records. A distribution deal was also done through Richard Branson’s Virgin Records. I Think it’s Going to Rain Today is an astonishing cover of the Randy Newman original. Little by Little was a blatant call for class warfare. Of course, Ali Campbell never raised his voice – he didn’t need to. His words were his sword, and the creamier and sweeter his delivery, the deeper they cut. The smoky Far Eastern-flavored Burden of Shame explores the dual tugs of national pride and shame over Britain’s oppressive past (and present). Van Morrison gets a writing credit with this one due to the melody on Burden being almost identical to his 1970 hit Moondance. UB40 doing the right thing for sure with this one. Check out the link below to see what I mean …]



Gaborone, Easter ’89 by Albin Wagner (part 4)


After the concert Humps and I set off to the nearby official campsite, looking for entertainment. It was pitch dark and on the way I stumbled into a latrine ditch, which did not add to my sexiness! We found people willing to share booze & doobie, then ended up in someone’s car going to the Gaborone Casino where there was more (over-priced) booze. We may have been a bit loud and irritating, because we were eventually kicked out of another car early on Sunday morning, back at the stadium after bouncing around the backseat to the B52’s “Planet Claire”!

When we got back to the station wagon, Biza was still up, debating with yet another new friend why Joe Jackson was the greatest ever contemporary male vocalist. The two of them had also finished our remaining beers. Humps found more doobie and became unusually loud & aggressively playful (not a usual marijuana side-effect, as far as I knew). He was also struggling to pitch the one-man tent which he had brought. Luckily he passed out quite soon, so we tucked Humps in under his wonky tent canvas; while Biza and I slept luxuriously in the back of the station wagon.

In the morning we found that the promised ablutions at the country club were locked, so the authorities would be left to later deal with the unfortunate aftermath in the hedges around the clubhouse. We drove off quite soon, only to find another long queue at the border post. The guys in the car in front of us said they were going to try an alternative crossing further west, so we did the same.

Instead of sitting in the massive traffic jam we headed down the reasonably well-maintained sand-road to the border between Botswana and the now-defunct Republic of Bophuthatswana, a strange “Bantustan” which incorporated not only Sun City, but other parcels of land including one along this international border. This earned us no less than four stamps in our passports in quick succession: Exit Botswana, entry Bop, exit Bop, entry RSA!

Unlike their more professional Botswana and South African colleagues, the Bophuthatswana border guards were quite insistent in coaxing us into donating some cold drinks, once we convinced them we had no more alcohol. Not even red, red wine…

The End

Thanks Punk for remembering so much (almost all!) of what happened that Gaborone weekend. Even though much of the trip is a blur to me, your excellently written story brought fond memories staggering back. Nice one 👍

Albin ‘The Punk’ Wagner, Mark ‘Humps’ Humphrey and Mark ‘Biza’ Wilson


DAN COLE on Signing Off

Growing up in the Midlands during the 80s there was always UB40 in the house. There was always some UB40 in everyone else’s house as well. Nowadays, it’s hard to fathom that at one point that this Birmingham-reggae collective were actually good. What’s even harder to remember was that their debut album was in fact really good. Amazing indeed, full of guttural angst, rhythm, dub, and soul. Perhaps if UB40 hadn’t moved on to being a derivative covers band, Signing Off would be remembered more fondly. Having moved to Berlin over a decade ago, I became re-acquainted with this classic, reaffirming a narrative I had lost about my cultural heritage, reminding me of a time when British music was political and fun.

What I love most about Signing Off is the rudimentary simplistics of the melodies. It’s the sound of a ska-band finding their feet. There are the beginnings of an up-stroke played on the guitar, a bassline, a synth line, a lead, a drum-roll. And magic. The Specials encapsulated the sound of a post-urban Midlands, but there was too much macabre in their music. Too much skank. UB40 really encapsulated the zeitgeist and portrayed themselves as the heart-ridden realists of their time. The instrumentals on the album tell the tale of a band having fun with each other – a bunch of musicians from different backgrounds jamming to test their own limits, and the limits of appropriation.

It also had a lot to do that UB40 had offered very little from Signing Off onwards. The Labour of Love collections are an offence to music, and their late 80s music sounds outdated. But going back to Signing Off, I can feel the warm, summer days of growing up in the Midlands. It felt like a time when anything musically could still happen (and it very much did). It was a time when ska and punk was over, and ingenious pop music dominated the radio and television. A moment before rap and hip-hop seeped into the mainstream. It felt like UB40, at the time, was something to stand by. If Birmingham had a soundtrack to the 80s, then this would be it.

The above taken from an excellent article Dan wrote in The Fangasm.


Thanks again to my guest-writer Albin Wagner; and to our mate Humps for his input in this blog on UB40.

This is Mark 👓 Wilson, signing off … 😁

Albin’s well worn tour t-shirt, now the property of his daughter Katya


My 100 Best 80s Albums – The Review

Hello 😎 it’s me again

Blog # 64 – Wherein I reveal the beginnings of my blog and a summary of what has come before on it. Featuring music by Everything But The Girl, It’s Immaterial, Dire Straits, The Railway Children, and The Pale Fountains.

Reasons to be cheerful – Birth of my Blog


Around two years ago, my now ex-wife Lindsay decided I was no longer for her and moved on to greener pastures. For the second time, a marriage I thought would last forever had disintegrated within half a decade. I won’t bore you with any details, reasons, or excuses, but to put it mildly, I was pretty devastated. I slipped into a dark, angry place, with bouts of depression becoming commonplace. Life for me (and those around me) became pretty unbearable. It was a low-point that would take me a very long time to recover. If I’m honest, I’m still dealing with some of the anger.

96,868 views since Nov 7, 2017


Sometime soon after Lindsay vacated the premises, one of my time-share weekends came up. Even though I know I needed to get away, and the trip would be good for me, it was the last thing I felt like doing. I didn’t feel like going all the way to White River on my own. Staying solo in the big six-sleeper also didn’t fill me with much joy. Being somewhat of a ‘Norman no-mates’ these days didn’t leave me with many options either.

In the end, my younger brother Wayne offered to go with me. Poor guy! He had to endure Mr. M. Misery Wilson for four long days and nights. I am sure he got sick of my constant bitter recriminations of why all of this had happened to poor old me! Wayne listened patiently to my whining while all the while wondering when I would cheer the fuck up! Anyway, it was not all bad as we also drank beer, played some golf, and spent a pleasant evening with old friends Jon and Steff Tombs, who were by now long-time residents of White River.

Wayne also had to endure all my music on the way to the Lowveld. As usual, I was trying to press on him some new indie band or an obscure female alternative country singer I now thought was astounding and had to be listened to immediately. He’s endured similar pronouncements from yours truly about what constituted good music a gazillion times – all the way back to when we were growing up together in Brackenhurst. Some of my worldly advice even affected him positively. I think.

[Here’s an obscure wee band from Liverpool I would have tried to convince Wayne about. I bet most of you have forgotten this tune even exists – if you even discovered it in the first place?]


81,051 views since Jan 30, 2016


However, on the return trip to Jozi, he must have decided enough was enough of my weird shit. He slipped something he liked onto the impressive music system he had in his fancy Ford SUV. Whatever it was began slowly. It consisted mainly of an ominous whistling sound with intermittent thunder. Then the piano makes an impeccable appearance, and I knew who it was – like comfort food for the soul – the music of Dire Straits filled my brothers’ car. Mark Knopfler’s voice soon entered the fray … ‘A long time ago came a man on a track / Walking thirty miles with a sack on his back’ … It was Telegraph Road on the very cusp of its 14 minutes and 15 seconds of prog-rock glory. Man, did it sound good in the car that day. My spirits, surging at the sheer joy of listening to something so familiar again. Plus, on my younger sibling’s car stereo, it sounded magnificent. He was probably also glad it shut me up for almost 15 minutes!

By the time the second track had weaved its magic, an idea comes to me. I spend so much time these days exploring all the available new music. (Mainly now on Apple Music) that I think I forget how good some of the old stuff is. I’m a complete musical sponge – continuously searching out new music, looking for my next “hit” – or the “The Funk” as Jimmy Barr so rightly named it. I needed to stop this endless search and go back to re-discover the magic that music held for me in the very beginning. 

It’s a mystery to me, the game commences
For the usual fee, plus expenses
Confidential information, it’s in a diary
This is my investigation, it’s not a public inquiry

As the liquid beauty of Private Investigations filled me with a warm happy glow the idea of this blog you are now reading came to me in a rush.

I go checking out the reports, digging up the dirt
You get to meet all sorts in this line of work
Treachery and treason, there’s always an excuse for it
And when I find the reason, I still can’t get used to it

The author Stephen King says if you want to be a writer, then go ahead and do it. Just sit down and write. I read this sage, yet kind of obvious advice of his, in the memoir he wrote ages ago, called On Writing. It’s stuck with me for a long time, and I’d always wanted to write something. The thought of doing so appealing to the loner in me. Deciding what to write about is probably the most problematic. He makes it seem simple. We all know it isn’t – unless you’re Stephen King, of course.

And what have you got at the end of the day?
What have you got to take away?
A bottle of whisky and a new set of lies
Blinds on the windows, and a pain behind the eyes

I now had a plan, Stan. My writing would be on music, 80s music to be exact. I was excited – there was so much good stuff from back then that I would soon be listening to again. I had ignored most of it for a few decades now, and I couldn’t wait to get stuck in. To make sure I would stick at it, I decided to make it a list, a countdown. I love a list! 🤣 I decided that it would be 100 – 1, and I could not stop until I had completed this task. I would write my way out of this depression and heal my broken heart if it was the last thing I ever did!!

The classic old Dire Straits tune playing in Wayne’s car came to an end. My younger brother by three years said “fuck-it” and played it again …

Scarred for life, no compensation
Private investigations

6,253,119 views since Feb 23, 2010


The Best of the Rest

50 favourites that narrowly missed out



[I was lucky enough to catch these guys supporting Lloyd Cole and the Commotions at the Wembley Arena in ’88 – here’s the “single” from the album that narrowly missed inclusion in my 100]


4,807 views since Mar 28, 2020



Before we begin to dive into my favourite 20 albums of the 1980s, I thought a summary of what’s happened to date would be a good idea. There are a few new entries due to some changes from my original “blogged 100.” I am now compiling a separate 80s list for South African albums. Therefore Tribe after Tribe and Juluka, both local artists, fall off my main list. For various crucial list-making reasons there are some other changes.

The six new entries are:

Treasure by Cocteau twins (#92), This is the Sea by the Waterboys (#91), The Unforgettable Fire by U2 (#88), Hatful of Hollow by the Smiths (#86), Sons & Fascination by Simple Minds (#81) and Fables of the Reconstruction by R.e.M. (#73). They replace the Thompson Twins, Hipsway, Heaven 17, Fun Boy Three and the two South African albums mentioned above.


[100 – 96]

[95 – 91]

[90 – 86]

[85 – 81]

[80 – 76]

[75 – 71]

[70 – 66]

[65 -61]

[60 – 56]

[55 – 51]

[50 – 46]

[45 – 41]

[40 – 36]


[30 – 26]

[25 – 21]

[20 – 1]🤐


My most popular years – albums 100 to 21

  • 1980 – 3
  • 1981 – 8
  • 1982 – 10
  • 1983 – 9
  • 1984 – 12
  • 1985 – 5
  • 1986 – 11
  • 1987 – 6
  • 1988 – 8
  • 1989 – 8

Honourable Mentions

These were just some of the commercial or critically acclaimed albums (plus some obscure stuff 🤪) I loved that did not make my Top 100 either. Let’s face facts, the 1980s was a pretty funky decade! 🕺🕺🕺🕺🕺🕺🕺🕺 😎

So (in no particular order) have a wee shuffle through these

Until next time, when I shall be diving into my top 20.

The Pale Fountains, and myself, THANK YOU … goodbye …👋 …

228,726 views since Feb 23, 2008

Mark Wilson 🤓 January 2021

My 100 Best 80s Albums # 19

The TOP 2O so far … 20. Madness Presents the Rise and Fall by Madness 🎺 19….

I Just Can’t Stop It by The Beat, remains one of British pop’s most lovable and ebullient albums, and the kind of politicized party album they just don’t make anymore.

Gary Mulholland (2012)


Following in the 2-tone footsteps of The Specials and Madness, I Just Can’t Stop It by The Beat is a cracking slice of ska-pop. Here they had more than matched their contemporaries and produced an album that somehow sounded like a greatest hits album. Yes, it’s that good!! Every song could have been a single. No flab, filler or boring experimental bits – fourteen tracks that mostly just made you want to get up and … well …. dance.

Track 1

Mirror in the Bathroom

🕺🕺🕺🕺🕺 [Try keeping still to this one] 🕺🕺🕺🕺🕺

This song is commonly misinterpreted to be about cocaine, which is often consumed on mirrors brought into bathrooms. The song actually has nothing to do with drugs, as Dave Wakeling told Songfacts: “In America in the early ’80s, everybody gave me knowing winks and said, ‘Oh, I know what that one’s about, then, Dave.’ And it wasn’t that mirror in the bathroom at all, it was the one on the wall, and not the one on your knee. And oddly, songs can become sort of strangely prophetic, though. But certainly at the time of writing, nobody had any money or any access to cocaine… until after the song was out.”

So what is it about Dave?

I was working in construction at the time, and it was the winter. When I got into the bathroom to shower up, it was snowing, and I really, really didn’t want to go. So I started talking to myself in the mirror as I was shaving up. I said to myself, Look, David, there’s just me and you in here. The door’s locked. We don’t have to go to work. And that’s how it started.

The song peaked at #4 on the UK singles chart, and #22 on the US Dance Music chart, making it one of The Beat’s most successful songs.

In 2003, Q magazine ranked the song at number 517 in their list of the “1001 Best Songs Ever”.

The song was featured prominently in a key scene from the 1997 John Cusack film Grosse Point Blank.

Mirror in the bathroom
For all my crimes
Of self defence
Queue as you whisper
Make no sense
Drift gently into
Mental illness


1,682,544 views since Dec 10, 2013


Mark, who exactly was this band called The Beat?

They were a racially integrated group from Birmingham, England and fronted by vocalist/guitarist Dave Wakeling and toaster Ranking Roger. No, not the kind of toaster that burns your bread, but rather one of these – Toasting is a style of lyrical chanting which in Jamaican Dancehall music involves a deejay talking over a riddim – got it? Before you ask – A riddim is the Jamaican Patois pronunciation of the English word “rhythm”.

They released their debut single, Tears of a Clown b/w Ranking Full Stop, through the Specials‘ 2-Tone label in 1979. The single went Top Ten in the U.K., and they soon struck a deal with Arista to distribute their own Go Feet label.

They were one of the key bands in the U.K. ska revival of the late ’70s and early ’80s, the Beat (known as the English Beat in North America to avoid confusion with the Paul Collins-led power pop group of the same name) achieved a near-perfect balance of pop melodies and taut rhythms that made them stars in Britain and won them a substantial cult following in the United States.

Hold on a minute Mark Ska? I’ve heard of it, but am not sure exactly what it is?

Ska is a music genre that originated in Jamaica in the late 1950s and was the precursor to rocksteady and reggae. It combined elements of Caribbean mento and calypso with American jazz and rhythm and blues. Ska is characterized by a walking bass line accented with rhythms on the off beat.

And Caribbean mento music Mark?

Mento is a style of Jamaican folk music that predates and has greatly influenced ska and reggae music. Mento typically features acoustic instruments, such as acoustic guitar, banjo, hand drums, and the rhumba box — a large mbira in the shape of a box that can be sat on while played.

Okay I’ve got you, I think … but … Two-tone, what is that?

2-tone is a mixture of ska, punk, reggae and pure pop that had spades of blokeiness for the boys; and enough melody and rhythm for the girls. Or so I had always hoped. Strangely I do not recall the young ladies of my time being even slightly interested in the wonderful racket bands like The Beat, Madness or The Specials were making. The seemed to be only popular with the lads, but, I could of course be wrong, and look forward to being proved incorrect. I didn’t know many females back in 1980/81 as interaction with members the opposite sex mainly filled me with fear and dread. They were scary creatures back then, and if I’m honest they still are 😆

2-Tone Tony and the Beat Girls

Track 2

Hands Off … She’s Mine

Here our fear of emasculation is satirized as male possessiveness. Records don’t get anymore downright joyous, infectious and danceable than this classic ska track.

I told my friend I’d check for you
He told me that he liked you too
But then I saw him kissing you
I could’ve died when he said,
hands off she’s mine
Said hands off she’s mine
Hands off she’s mine
Hands off she’s mine,
I want her all the time
Hands off she’s mine,
hands off she’s mine.

🕺🕺🕺🕺🕺 [Try keeping still to this one] 🕺🕺🕺🕺🕺


57,793 views since Oct 2012

Tell us more about The Beat Mark

The Beat formed in 1978, and made their live debut in March 1979 in Birmingham, England, as several other like-minded ska-influenced bands (including the Specials, the Selecter, Madness, and Bad Manners) were beginning to make a noise on the U.K. club scene. Beside the two I have already mentioned, Dave and Ranking Roger (real name Roger Charlery) you also had the following bandmembers: Andy Cox on guitar, David Steele on bass, and Everett Morton on drums. They soon grew to a sextet with the addition of Saxa (aka Lionel Augustus Martin), a sax player who had worked with ska legends Desmond Dekker, Laurel Aitken, and Prince Buster. Saxa was already 49 years old (!) when he joined The Beat. The next oldest when they formed was the drummer Morton who was an elderly 28 – the rest were in their very early twenties.

Spot the 49 year old

RIP – Saxa – 1930–2017

[Saxa was a Jamaican saxophonist famous for having performed with the British ska band The Beat. Born in Croft’s Hill, Clarendon Parish, Jamaica, he moved to the UK in 1960, living in London for 18 months before settling in Birmingham.]

Track 3

Two Swords

The slashing anti-violence of Two Swords questions the era’s anti Nazism. The lyrics suggest that they were only fighting to ‘always attack those things in someone else or maybe reflections that you can’t face in yourself!’ Lyrics that are even more valid today – 41 years later.

I’ve never been one for the punch-ups/But look, I really hate them Nazis/A certain something starts to wind me up/How could I hate them oh so violently?


13,860 views since Jun 8, 2013


Track 4

Twist & Crawl

An insanely funked up tune … and yes, try keeping still to this one 🕺🕺🕺🕺🕺

Dave Wakeling says of this song: “I filled out the lyrics, but it was actually a friend of David Steele’s, the bass player, Peter Greenall, that wrote the words to it. We sat and talked a bit once and he showed me his poem. I filled in the song and made it scan a bit more. I then wrote the changes in sort of middle 8 breaks and stuff like that. It was about somebody wanting to be in the Twist And Shout kind of casual ’60s confidence, but found that it was more like twist and crawl. Just social discomfort to the point of pitiful pain of always feeling you’re in the wrong place at the wrong time and saying the wrong thing to the wrong person. Never getting anywhere with it.”

And let me (Mark Wilson) just say this … if David Steele’s bass line that kick-starts this song, doesn’t bring on an instantly heavy dose of THE FUNK, then you have a problem. Go get it looked at.

You broke my heart in several pieces
Not supposed to be that easy
Have to read the books again
Twist and crawl, twist and crawl, twist and crawl
Twist and crawl, twist and crawl, twist and crawl


8,421 views since Jul 3, 2008

Track Five

Tears of a Clown

[First recorded by Smokey Robinson in 1967 and eventually a U.K. hit for him in 1970]

Dave Wakeling on how they came to record this song:

When we first started rehearsing, the drummer (Everett Morton) thought our songs were a bit weird. We would rehearse and it would go okay for a minute, and then we would all veer off on our own little tangents and we’d lose the groove on it again. And so Everett said, ‘Why don’t we find a song that we all know and learn that one by ourselves, come back next Tuesday, and we’ll play that song and get a groove going with that one. And then we’ll go back and play one of your weird songs, like that mirror thing.’ And so that’s what we did, we’d play ‘Tears Of A Clown,’ then we’d play ‘Mirror in the Bathroom,’ then we’d play ‘Tears Of A Clown.’ We’d play ‘Twist And Crawl,’ and we’d play ‘Tears Of A Clown,’ ‘Big Shot,’ ‘Tears Of A Clown,’ ‘Click Click,’ ‘Tears Of A Clown.’ And by the time we got five or six songs that would hold together, David Steele, the bass player, said, ‘Let’s do a show. We should do a concert.


378,225 views since Mar 10, 2013


Track Six

Rough Rider

[Cover version – written and performed by Prince Buster – from 1968]

Yeah all right
They was a rough rider
a rough rider
Me take off me jeans
and she starting to scream
Take off me knickers
and then she says, “Good grief!”


764 views since Apr 5, 2019


Track Seven

Click Click

Ominously feverish and filled with twitchy ferocity. The Beat at 200 b.p.m. and their most punky. Guess what this one’s about 💀

It’s a
One shot magazine , give it a spin
Open your mouth slide the barrel in
If you don’t like it just don’t do it again

Itchy finger, finger, trigger, trigger
Click click
Click click click


50,293 views since Oct 17 2011

Track Eight

Ranking Full Stop

“Ranking” is a popular Jamaican saying according to Roger …

“‘Ranking’ is just like in top ranking, or high ranking, you know. It would be the sort of boast or name that an MC, a Master of Ceremonies will toast at a concert he’ll give himself. The guy that works with the DJ and talks over the radio and talks over the songs and introduces the band. So that would be where ‘Ranking’ Roger came from.”

“Ranking” is one of many Jamaican expressions that became popular in England. According to Dave Wakeling: “There were hardly any black people in England until the mid-’50s, which I think a lot of people don’t know. My Mum tells me she remembers seeing her first black person ever sometime in the 1940s during the War. They were all very excited and followed him down the street, poor bugger. But it wasn’t really until after the end of the second World War when the British infrastructure had been devastated with the German bombings, that they invited people from the British colonies and protectorates and commonwealth – British Commonwealth country, they call them – to come and help rebuild the motherland. And the idea was that people would come out for three years, make a load of money, go home, and build themselves a big house in Jamaica. But like anything else, when you travel across the world on some sort of spurious idea like that, people ended up setting roots, people ended up having kids, going to school, you never quite saved enough money to go back and build that big house in Jamaica. But although some people now have some roots that they’ve re-established in Jamaica, the vast majority of the population ended up staying in England.

Here is a modern version of The Beat performing at the BBC. That kid standing absolutely still in the front row cracks me up. How do you not at least jiggy around a little while this is happening a few feet in front of you? Maybe he is related to Denise Pape? 🤣Check out all the oldies (our vintage 😂) having a blast around him though.


222,114 views since Oct 28, 2016

Track Nine

Big Shot

The English class system has long been a source of fascination and frustration for writers, artists and musicians, and the Beat made their views clear in Big Shot: “Yes, I’ve seen you go to work in your big car/Yes, you’re fat and can afford to be tasteless/You’re a big shot…


Track Ten

Whine & Grine/Stand Down Margaret

“Whine and Grine” originally performed by Prince Buster & the All Stars

Because of Bob Sargeant’s tough and simple production and its historic place as the first digitally recorded album, it hasn’t dated. And this despite the presence of anti-Thatcher anthem Stand Down Margaret, which now sounds like one of pop’s most futile gestures.

1979 was the year of Margaret Thatcher’s ascendancy to the role of British Prime Minister, and The Beat couldn’t let that momentous occasion go unrecognized; with its prominent reggae beat, “Whine and Grine” morphs into the rather blunt “Stand Down, Margaret.” It makes the band’s feelings for the newly-appointed P.M. clear even as they preach “love and unity.”  It’s incredibly effective, and as lacking in subtlety as Elvis Costello’s “Tramp the Dirt Down,” Morrissey’s “Margaret on the Guillotine” or even Elton John and Lee Hall’s “Merry Christmas, Maggie Thatcher.” 

If you watch The Crown on Netflix then you may recognize this classic ska track. It made a glorious appearance during the recent Season 4. This season of course featured Gillian Anderson doing a rather excellent job of playing Margaret Thatcher.

Look out for Lenny Henry introducing The Beat in the video below.


233,310 views since Mar 10, 2013

Track Eleven

Noise in this World

The Noise in this World was also the name of the band’s fan club newsletter. It was produced, edited and neatly handwritten by a close friend of the band named Marilyn Hebrides, and her editorial perspective, punk rock cut and paste design style, comments and insights about her friends who had suddenly become pop stars makes for some very entertaining reading.

From May 1981

As background, Hebrides shared a cottage with the band’s guitarists Dave Wakeling and Andy Cox on the Isle of Wight in 1978, where the three of them worked to build solar panels, When they weren’t busy working, Wakeling and Cox played their guitars and wrote songs. As such Hebrides was privy to the very early days of the band as the duo of Wakeling and Cox began writing songs that would be recorded for their first album. One of those songs was a nascent version of “Best Friend” which caught Hebrides attention.  She urged them to start a band.  When they did and quickly became a success, they in turn asked her to be in charge of their fan club.



Track Twelve

Can’t Get Used to Losing You

The Beat brought a whole new dimension, and a sweetness, too, to the already-irresistible melody of Andy Williams’ “Can’t Get Used to Losing You.” Saxa wails over the chill, almost bossa-nova groove of the Doc Pomus/Mort Shuman song, a hit for Williams on both sides of the Atlantic in 1963. It’s one of the most unexpected cover versions the band ever recorded and one of my favourite tracks of theirs.

Check out the two guitarists who look like brothers and went on to later form FINE YOUNG CANNIBALS. Seen in is this video perfecting their dance moves later seen in FYC videos.


259,278 views since Mar 10, 2013


Track Thirteen

Best Friend

Possibly the best song by The Beat ever? Well it’s certainly my favourite. As I listen to it now I just can’t stop my 54 year old self from swaying along to its irresistible groove. I adore the twin chiming guitars that recall the mid-60s pop of bands like The Byrds.

“I just found out the name of your best friend/You been talkin’ about yourself again/And no one seems to share your views”


282,049 views since Apr 23, 2010

Track Fourteen


When this song ends it means it’s time to play the album again 😁🕺🕺🕺🕺🕺🕺🕺🕺🕺🕺🕺

This song’s called the jackpot
Well look at that

Say hip, hip hurray, yeah, yeah
Hip, hip hurray, yeah, yeah

You got your jackpot
You got your jackpot when you hit the top
You got your jackpot
You got your jackpot when you call the shots

Say what a joy
What a joy
What a joy
What a joy
What a joyful sound

What happened to The Beat after their debut album Mark?

Firstly, the album in question remained on the British charts for a whopping eight months, eventually peaking at Number Three. Time has not diminished its glory – I love it and listen to it often. Writing about it now and all the repeated listens have been a complete joy. 😍 Hands Off … She’s Mine is currently playing and I just can’t help myself – as a I jump up, and pogo around the room, “singing” along at the top of my voice. The exuberance of youth hey! 🤣🤣🤣

When 1981’s Wha’ppen? and 1982’s Special Beat Service failed commercially, The Beat split up. Dave Wakeling and Ranking Roger going on to minor US success as General Public. Bassist Cox and guitarist Steele hitting the mother lode alongside Roland Gift as Fine Young Cannibals.

Fine Young Cannibals – Roland Gift, flanked by two ex members of The Beat (Andy Cox and David Steele)


Dave Wakeling, Saxa, and Ranking Roger in more recent times


R.I.P. Ranking Roger

In January 2019, it was announced that Roger had undergone surgery for two brain tumours, and was undergoing treatment for lung cancer. He died at his home in Birmingham on 26 March 2019 at the age of 56


The Beat

I’m sorry to say
But I’m on my way
I won’t be back for many a day
Say goodbye everybody
Goodbye everybody
Goodbye everybody
Say goodbye everybody
Say it’s a love and unity song
Goodbye everybody
Say goodbye everybody
Goodbye everybody, yeah


Mark 😎Wilson

My 100 Best 80s Albums # 20


The Rise and Fall – Madness (1982)


  • Graham ‘Suggs’ McPherson (b.13 Jan ’61) – vocals 🎙
  • Mike ‘Monsieur Barso’ Barson (b.21 May ’58) – keyboards 🎹
  • Chris ‘Chrissie Boy’ Foreman (b.8 Aug ’58) – guitar 🎸
  • Lee ‘Kix’ Thompson (b.5 Oct ’57) – saxophone 🎷
  • Mark ‘Bedders’ Bedford (b.24 Aug ’61) – bass guitar 🎸
  • Dan ‘Woody’ Woodgate (b.19 Oct ’60) – drums 🥁
  • Carl ‘Chas Smash‘ Smyth (b.14 Jan ’59) – horns, vocals, dancer 🕺📯🎤

Mark Wilson Presents the Rise and Fall

Madness were leaders of Britain’s ska revival with their catchy melodies and sing-along choruses. They formed in Camden, London in 1979 out of a Kentish Town outfit called The Invaders. As their career progressed, Madness branched away from their trademark “nutty sound” and incorporated large elements of Motown, soul, and British pop. Although the band managed one crossover American hit in 1983 – Our House – they remained a British phenomenon, influencing several successive generations of musicians and becoming one of the most beloved groups the country produced during the ’80s.

To the teenage boys of Alberton High in the early 80s Madness were all of the above and much, much more. We, in plain-speak, obsessed over them. If I was to name the one group that stood out above all the others through high school, it would most likely be these seven quirky two-tone lads from North London. Their irrepressible dancefloor shuffles, embellished with loose-limbed piano, and witty lyrics immediately won us over. They were the gang that we all wanted to be in! Their brass-infused rock ‘n roll, and accompanying promo videos thrilled us until we were dizzy. But, most importantly, they somehow seemed within touching distance. How they looked and dressed – yes we could pull that off – and sometimes we almost did! Dressing, or having a haircut like Suggs, was a bit easier to attempt than say Simon le Bon, Martin Gore, or heaven forbid, Boy George! Allow me here to insert the following little known fact. Albin Wagner, being the only boy from Alberton High I know of, that made any attempt at dressing like the singer in Culture Club! 🤣

I digress. Woody, Suggs, Mike, Chris, Lee, Mark, and Chas Smash. These were … OUR … guys.

Without further ado, my first guest-writer on the group that find themselves at NUMBER 20 on my list of favourite records of the 80’s …


By Stephen Knight

Now here I could ramble on incessantly for pages but I’ll try stick to the brief. If there was ever going to be a band that us 80s kids would identify with and party to it had to be Madness. Their catchy and brilliant tunes are indelibly etched in our minds. The famous M letter with the Pork Pie hat and tapering pants down to the pointy shoes is perhaps the badge to represent our generation. So much so that it was inked on to every second “Khaki haversack” of the day as well as “carved” in to most of the school desk tops, using compasses and other sharp tools.

We loved them, and so much so, a group of us boys decided to do a “recreation” of this now iconic band for some variety show at the school. I struggle to recall the year but think it was 1981, our standard eight year(40 years ago next year, feck we’re growing old), when seven of us, Craig Trethewey, Paul Kennedy, Jimmy Barr, Henry Featherstonehaugh, Desmond O’ Hanlon (Dead Dog), John Dagley and myself fitted ourselves out as a suitable re-enactment of this wonderful group and took to the stage in all our youthful carefree reckless abandon to dance out the now famous “One Step Beyond”. From the opening bars of the Sax to the very end we had a jol. The beginning and end of my stage career, regrettably, but hell what a memory. After which some of those lads, the really good looking ones 😂, went on to being stars in the school production of West End Story, with most of them, if not all getting leading rolls. Down to their stage presence and success of the Madness skit me thinks.

Camden Town v Alberton Town

A lot of us are still friends to this day. I cannot hear that song without thinking back to those years. Some kind of wonderful.

The End

Stephen 😎 Knight October 2020


Mark Wilson Presents the Rise and Fall ...

When the fourth LP by our favourite group arrived in late 1982, we were in Std. 9 (Grade 11). As usual, we threw ourselves with devotion to their new music. The first single, Our House, came out in the October of ’82 and immediately blew us away. Written by Chas Smash (inspired by his own over-crowded childhood home) and guitarist Chris Foreman, it recalled great Kinks tunes like You Really Got Me or All Day and All of the Night. The song’s highlight for me is the flatulent bass guitar bit at the 12-second mark. Before that we have searing guitars and Barson’s clattering piano melody. Then, the song achieves lift-off with Mark Bedford’s now-familiar “barp-barp” burst on his trusty four-string. This is followed by some sexy sax, bold brass and sweet strings. Suggs then joins his band-mates with possibly one of his best vocal performances ever. Simply joyous!

The Madness Gallery


Through the tail-end of ’82 and into ’83, we were happily absorbing this tasty new offering from our favourite group. There were some faint mutterings in the school-yard that it wasn’t as good as the first three LPs they had gifted us. “BOLLOCKS!” I exclaimed, followed by “It’s their masterpiece,” I countered to the odd naysayer. In all reality, Madness had done three records as the “Nutty Boys” and had here tried for something slightly different. Previously, grey lyrics had always been soaked, in a fizzy ska-pop shine. Everything about their music got your feet tapping and hips shaking. Surging sing-alongs were commonplace. Rise and Fall is not a solemn album, by any stretch of the imagination. But, Madness had indeed just made their first “serious” record.

The following All Music Guide review by Stephen Erlwine says it all. He puts into some eloquent words what I was trying to say about the LP way back in 1982.

‘There’s a certain grandness to the title of Madness Presents the Rise & Fall, the group’s fourth album and undeniable pop masterpiece: it’s clear that the band has ambitions, to go several steps beyond ska, to craft nothing less than a Village Green Preservation Society for the ‘80s. The Kinks figure heavily in Madness’ design for The Rise & Fall, both in individual tunes and the overall arc of the concept album, but so does Ian Dury’s celebration of the riffraff of London, the latter giving Madness an earthiness that Ray Davies’ crew lacked during their time on the Village Green. While Madness’ forefathers are evident, The Rise & Fall is recognizably Madness in sound and sensibility; faint echoes of their breakneck nutty beginnings can be heard on “Blue Skinned Beast” and “Mr. Speaker Gets the Word,” the melodies are outgrowths of such early masterpieces as “My Girl,” there’s a charming, open-hearted humor and carnivalesque swirl that ties everything together. All this comes to a head on “Our House,” as divine a pop single as there ever was. So undeniable that this very British anthem actually crossed over into the American Top Ten in 1983 … but that’s merely the splashiest evidence of Madness’ popcraft on The Rise & Fall. The rest of the record contains the same wit, effervescence, and joy, capturing what British pop life was all about in 1982, just as Village Green Preservation Society did in 1968 or Blur’s Parklife would do in 1994.’

By the way ……… have you seen ……. Our House?

[Verse 1]
Father wears his Sunday best
Mother’s tired, she needs a rest, the kids are playing up downstairs
Sister’s sighing in her sleep
Brother’s got a date to keep, he can’t hang around

[Chorus 1]
Our house, in the middle of our street
Our house, in the middle of our

[Verse 2]
Our house, it has a crowd
There’s always something happening, and it’s usually quite loud
Our mum, she’s so house-proud
Nothing ever slows her down, and a mess is not allowed


22,377,895 views since Aug 24, 2011

Chas Smash of Madness

My second guest-writer in this edition (Jimmy Barr) was another member of the Alberton High troupe that so admirably performed their version of One Step Beyond on the school stage to the adoring hordes of young female fans. Why were you not treading the boards that day, Mark? I hear you ask. Well, I am still wondering myself, if I am honest. 😥Sadly it was just one of the few teams I never gained selection for. I probably never even came into consideration – nowhere near cool or popular enough, I expect. To this day, I do wonder why Desmond O’Hanlon – not a true Madness fan – made the stage that day. Although, having a Madness-ready nickname like Dead Dog worked in his favour this time around. Desmond was because of this unfortunate moniker, therefore a shoo-in for a position in the magnificent seven. I watched them all perform that day with a smidgeon of envy. All made worse when their gig went down so well, and they were all, well, pop stars for the day, and, even worse, on to the next week and beyond. One Step Beyond!


by Jimmy Barr

During a dressing down, I imagine most seventeen-year-old boys have heard this, or a variation of this from their fathers – you think you’re Jack the Lad. Around that age, I heard it from my old boy regularly (although mine would say, Jack the Fucking Lad – the slow-spoken profanity added some mustard and sounded so much better). He was wrong. At seventeen, I didn’t want to be Jack the Lad. I wanted to be one of the lads.

So in the early ’80s, our infatuation with Madness was to be expected – they were the gang of lads we all aspired to be. The timing was perfect – we were restless teenagers eager to Houdini ourselves out of rigid disciplinarian chains, and Madness were our cheerleaders from across the airwaves. It was a match made in heaven – we related to their lyrics about smoking, misbehavior, and general laddish revelry. We had come of age, and we were banging on the door to the House of Fun.

9,548,078 views since Sep 1, 2011

Like Madness we also had a nasty school headmaster who;
Sits alone and bends his cane/Same old backsides again’
Me, and the pack I ran with, could’ve written this lyric ourselves;
‘Our house it has a crowd/There’s always something happening/And it’s usually quite loud

Madness provided the soundtrack to some of the best days of our lives;
‘I remember way back then/When everything was true and when
We would have such a very good time/Such a fine time, such a happy time
And I remember how we’d play/Simply waste the day away
Then we’d say nothing would come between us/Two dreamers

The music press and other media tried to shoehorn Madness into various boxes. They were labelled as ‘skinheads’ and just another ‘SKA band’, but the truth is, they were always a sound and a style unto themselves. Nobody looked like them, and nobody sounded like them. If the young Mike Barson (Monsieur Barso) ever took piano lessons, I’m sure his tutor must’ve repeatedly spanked the back of his hands with a wooden ruler and said, “softly Mike!” Luckily for us, he ignored this, and as a result, in years to come, he would bring us his unique, rollicking, carnival style piano playing that became the bedrock of the Madness sound. Not since the great Jerry Lee Lewis had we heard such a delightful lack of respect for the piano. Pounding away mercilessly, it sounds like he might be playing a game of Whack-A-Mole on the keyboard.

The radio hits from their debut album, ‘One Step Beyond’, were the title track, and their breakthrough single, ‘My Girl’. But tucked away on side two of that album, the track that for me, epitomizes the spirit of Madness, is ‘Swan Lake’. Here, with typical Madness impertinence, Barson creeps into the kingdom of the elite and half-pinches Tchaikovsky’s classic ballet. Like a cultural Robin Hood, he returns from these swanky suburbs, to share this treasure with the unwashed masses. Stripping it of all pretense and finery, Barson gives ‘Swan Lake’ the Madness treatment. Along with his unrefined piano, he throws in a rude, farting saxophone, a reggae organ, and a big squirt of ‘fuck off’ attitude. Now crammed full of working-class funk, the tune became accessible and extremely danceable. Once posh and sophisticated, it was now relegated to garage party status where young rabble would shuffle around to it, holding quart bottles of beer and staring at their scuffed shoes. Molested and deflowered, ‘Swan Lake’ somehow survived the whole sordid ordeal. The desecration of ‘Swan Lake’ made all ballet purists want to take a delicate shit in their tutus. Barson probably offended stuffy old gits from the Bolshoi to the Royal. I was very impressed.


102,347 views since Dec 31, 2014


This was the essence of Madness. Like us, they were noisy, brash and unpretentious. So in 1982, when we got wind of an upcoming school talent show, we saw it as an ideal opportunity to pay tribute to our rough and ready idols – and more importantly, to have a bit of a jolly in the process. Unfortunately, time has smudged my recall, so it feels like all my memories should all be suffixed with the disclaimer, ‘…but I could be wrong’. For what it’s worth though, here’s what I remember.

The few rehearsals we had were about as disciplined and productive as an EFF conference. The only idea they yielded was that we form a Nutty Train behind a closed stage curtain, which would open to the, ‘Hey You – Don’t watch that…watch this…’, shouted intro of ‘One Step Beyond’. After the spoken word introduction, the lazy saxophone winds up. We all then jumped out of the train, dispersed to various parts of the stage, and started bopping like we were standing on hot-plates. That was all the structured choreography our collective seventeen-year-old minds could conjure up. I also have a vague memory of Paul Kennedy shrugging to a hall full of kids and miming the lyrics, ‘Please my darling it’s not true…I don’t know this girl called Sue.’ If that memory is reliable, it means the song ‘Believe Me’ was part of the performance. I know that we concluded things with the call-response track, ‘Chipmunks Are Go!’, which also closes the One Step Beyond album.


19,365,375 views since Sep 1, 2011


So although the event didn’t launch any music careers, for about ten minutes, it felt like we were all ‘one of the lads’, and we were a part of the heavy, heavy monster sound. The answer to the question; ‘Did you have a good time tonight boys?’, was an emphatic; ‘Yep, we sure did!’

I never scored a last-minute winning try or hit a huge boundary against a rival school. When I want to bore my son with ‘Glory Days’ stories, I tell him about my mate Paul strutting around the stage in a purple suit and a pork-pie hat, when we did Madness at school. Oh what fun we had.


Jimmy 👓 Barr December 2020


Mark Wilson Presents the Rise and Fall (part 2)

This album saw Madness at their most experimental, exhibiting a range of musical styles including jazz, English music hall, and Eastern influences. NME described it at the time of its release as “The best ever Madness record“. Initially conceived as a concept album about nostalgia for childhood, the idea was eventually dropped, though the original theme is still evident particularly in the title track and the album’s major hit Our House. Although the band had previously been avowedly apolitical, the track Blue Skinned Beast was an overt satire on the then-Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and her handling of the Falklands War, paving the way for more political comment on subsequent Madness albums. This is possibly my favourite track on the album.

Three cheers to the blue skinned beast hip hip !
To the blue skinned beast hip hip !
Three cheers to the blue skinned beast hip hip hip hip !
To the blue skinned beast hip hip !


2,873 views since Sep 25, 2017


Showcasing their uncanny skill at juxtaposing fairly downbeat subject matter with a jolly tune and a big chorus, Madness released Tomorrow’s (Just Another Day) as a single in 1983, when it stayed in UK chart for nine weeks and peaked at number 8. The video was filmed at a more serious point in the band’s career as they moved away from the nutty ska quality of their earlier work to a more sophisticated pop sound. They got to wear fancy dress though: they were still Madness, after all.

I hear them saying
Tomorrow’s just another day
I hear them saying
And it gets better every day
I hear them saying
Tomorrow’s just another day


1,586,505 views Sep 5, 2011



So what happened to Madness after this album?

1983 – 1986

In 1983, their single Wings of a Dove peaked at number 2 in the UK charts, followed by The Sun and the Rain (no. 5, November 1983).Their following album, Keep Moving, peaked at number 6 in the UK Albums Chart, and two singles from that album reached the top 20 in the UK Singles Chart.

Mike Barson officially left the band in June 1984, following the release of One Better Day, however finished live performance with the band in 1983. Paul Carrack (Mike and the Mechanics, Roxy Music, Squeeze, Roger Waters) took Barson’s place whilst the band toured America in early 1984. The six remaining members left Stiff Records and formed their own label, Zarjazz Records, which was a sub-label of Virgin Records.

In 1985, the label released the band’s sixth album, Mad Not Mad. Barson’s keyboard parts were filled by synthesizers and Steve Nieve (Elvis Costello & the Attractions) joined the band to take his place. In later years, frontman Suggs described the album as a “polished turd”. The album reached number 16 in the UK charts, which was the band’s lowest position on the album charts to date. The singles for the album fared even worse, with Yesterday’s Men peaking at number 18 in the UK charts. The subsequent singles, Uncle Sam and Sweetest Girl, failed to make the top 20, which was a first for Madness singles.

The band then attempted to record a new album, and 11 demo tracks were recorded. However, musical differences arose between band members. The untitled album went unreleased, and in September 1986, the band announced that they were to split.

Six long years passed before our favourite North London nutters were heard from again …

1992 – 1999

Towards the end of 1991, It Must Be Love was re-released and eventually reached number 6 in the UK Singles Chart in February 1992. Following that, the singles compilation Divine Madness was released and peaked at number 1 in the album charts. Madness then announced plans for a reunion concert, Madstock!, which was held at Finsbury Park, London on 8 and 9 August of that year. The original line-up reunited, performing together for the first time since Barson left the band in 1984. Over 75,000 fans attended the weekend festival.

The band continued to reunite for annual UK Christmas season tours and held three more Madstock! festivals; in 1994, 1996 and 1998. Also in 1998, Madness returned to America for their first tour there since 1984. The live album Universal Madness was recorded at the Universal Amphitheatre in L.A. and released the following year.

And then the unimaginable happened … something truly … well … wonderful.

In 1999, Madness released their first studio album since 1986, entitled Wonderful. The album reached number 17 in the UK Albums Chart, and the lead single, Lovestruck, gave the band their first new top 10 hit in the UK since 1983.

2005 – the present

2005 – release of the album The Dangermen Sessions Vol. 1 on V2 Records. During the sessions which produced the album, in mid-2005, guitarist Chris Foreman announced his departure, citing “the petty, time consuming bollocks that goes on in the band” as his reason for leaving. The band completed the album without him, and on release, it peaked at no. 11 in the UK Albums Chart, which was the band’s highest studio album chart position in 21 years.

Their next album, entitled The Liberty of Norton Folgate, was released on 18 May 2009. It charted at No. 5 in the UK Albums Chart.

Madness’ 10th studio album Oui Oui Si Si Ja Ja Da Da (yes yes yes yes yes yes yes yes… I kid you not) was released on 29 October 2012 and entered the UK Albums Chart at no.10. In January 2013 the album re-entered the chart at no. 16 on the back of the airplay success of the single Never Knew Your Name.

The band’s most recent long-playing record Can’t Touch Us Now dropped out of nowhere in May 2016. In support of the album, the band played the Pyramid Stage at the Glastonbury Festival in June of that year.

In December 2019, the band released a new single Bullingdon Boys (Don’t Get Bullied by the Bully Boys). The NME described the song as a ‘barbed swipe at Boris Johnson and his Eton cohorts.’

And finally…

Late in 1995, at Stephen Knight’s 30th birthday party, I would at last make a Madness “team.” Making up for the one I was left out of, all those years before.

Mark Wilson (partly obscured), Mark Davies, Stephen Knight, Jimmy Barr, Craig Trethewey and Paul Kennedy
Mark Wilson, Mark Davies, Stephen Knight, Jimmy Barr, Craig Trethewey (partly obscured) and Paul Kennedy.

This blog is dedicated to our dear departed friend

PAUL KENNEDY 1965 – 2017

Stephen Knight & Paul Kennedy

Thanks to both Stephen “Slim” Knight and Jimmy “Monsieur Barr-so” Barr for taking the time to write a couple of lovely pieces on our beloved Madness.


Thanks to everyone for reading my blog on our lives in the 80s, and the superb soundtrack that accompanied it. See you again soon for N-n-n-n-nineteen.

Mark 💥 Wilson, November 2020 – January 2021.

Madness 2nd VII – 1982 from l to r … S.Knight, A.Dead-Dog, J.Dagley, C.Trethewey (captain), H.Featherstonehaugh, P.Kennedy and J.Barr
Slim, Dead-Dog, Dags, Craig, Fanshaw, Paul and Jimmy


My 100 Best 80s Albums # 21


Fellow music obsessive, Jimmy Barr writes an excellent blog called Bubbles from the Swamp. It’s often darkly funny, and always well worth reading, so look out for it. I think he hits the nail on the head in his blog loosely built around Ultravox’s song “Vienna.” Here he come up with his theory on something called “The Funk.” I can only agree with the point he is making. Here follows a short excerpt from Jimmy’s blog.

THE FUNK ” – By Jimmy Barr

If your answer to the question ‘…so what do you listen to?‘ is, ‘…Oh you know, whatever’s on the radio.’, then we probably can’t be friends. At best, I’ll regard you with mild suspicion. On a bad day, this could escalate to verbal abuse. But don’t feel bad – my hostility would be based on fear. I’d fear you like I’d fear a Trump voter – I just don’t understand you. What’s that?… you can’t name Depeche Mode’s studio albums in chronological order? You don’t know John Lennon’s middle name? What the fuck is wrong with you? These are important issues.

Wondering why the music magnet pulls harder at some people and not others is futile. Why are my eyes red and not green? These traits and characteristics are parts of the operating system installed in us at birth. I could’ve been born with a capacity for solving complex equations, or for generating crates of money. Instead, I’m gifted with the ability to remember that the other two Supremes were Mary Wilson and Florence Ballard, and that Laurie Anderson was married to Lou Reed. You know, really useful shit like that.

Some people are born with organized and analytical brains. Some of us get something even better…something magical. It’s a substance that flows with the blood in our veins. An additive that fizzes like sherbet when it’s mixed with good music. It’s called “The Funk” – a divine, innate narcotic that exhilarates, nourishes, heals and sustains. It’s the stuff that makes you close your eyes, nod your head and bliss out when the right song is played. That involuntary foot tapping when you hear that naked drum beat at the start of “Billie Jean?” That’s “The Funk.” Those irresistible air drums you play in the middle of “In the Air Tonight?” – That’s “The Funk.” The strong urge to get up and break something when Joe Strummer first snarls, “London Calling?” Again, “The Funk.” The stunned giddiness you felt the first time you heard Kate Bush sing “Wuthering Heights?” You guessed it…”The Funk.” If you were an only child, it turned music into the siblings you longed for. If you lived in chaos, it was the serenity you escaped to...

[used with the kind permission of James Barr]



Alberton, the early 80s, probably between ’80 and ’83

Back in our school days, Stephen ‘Slim’ Knight and I were pretty good mates with another two-some, Hilton Rahme and Russell Dinwiddie. Rahme and Dinwiddie were close, that was for sure. Big Steve and I had somehow managed to break into their tight-knit circle of two. Hilton was a laid-back dude, of Lebanese extraction, who maneuvered himself through high school well below the social radar. He was a lovely lad and it’s a pity more people didn’t get to know him better. Calm, even-tempered, always friendly and helpful. Dinwiddie, who was a short little shit, was almost the polar opposite. A slightly cocky guy, who I am sure rubbed a few up the wrong way, but I kind of enjoyed him.

Hilton was unlike most of the other Hispanic types roaming around our neck-of-the-woods in the Deep South of Johannesburg. He wore thick black-rimmed spectacles (was blind as a bat without them) and was pleasantly geeky by nature. An olive-skinned, Mediterranean Jarvis Cocker before we knew the singer in Pulp even existed. As I said before, he was a good lad.

Russell Dinwiddie’s Dad was a racehorse trainer out at Turfontein Racecourse. Probably also an ex-jockey, which is where little Russell got his slight frame from, I’m sure. Rahme and I both towered above the dinky Dinwiddie. If Stephen and Russell Dinwiddie had been boxers, they wouldn’t have fought in the same weight division either 🤣. Russell’s old man organized the two of us a job at Turfontein racecourse during a few school holidays. My work there involved being a cashier at the “BLACKS ONLY ” entrance to Turfontein. There I sat, accepting the hard-earned cash from dirt-poor Africans as they arrived full of hope that this was the day they were going to strike it rich betting on the ponies. Not only was this still apartheid era South Africa, but of course, a flutter on the horses was the only legal form of gambling available in the “vekrampte boere republiek.” (narrow-minded Boer republic)


Stephen, Hilton, Russell and myself, the “gang of four,” occasionally headed out to the South Downs golf course. This was a ropey old goat-track that faintly resembled a place they played the ancient game. It was all we novice hackers needed, and handily situated only a few km’s outside of Alberton. The four of us used to sneak onto the course somewhere in the middle of the layout and then wack the little white ball around, hoping nobody caught us indulging in a free “round.” We would always bring along a two-liter bottle of coke for sustenance. Once some of the Coca-Cola had been drunk, we sometimes topped it up with some form of alcohol – usually rum or brandy. There is nothing quite like playing golf with a bit of a “buzz.” 😁

When the teenage hunger pangs set in, we could not adjourn to the nearby half-way house for a wee snack. The members in the clubhouse would, of course, wonder from whence these four hillbillies had suddenly sprung! So, two of us would hop over the fence again and nip up to the nearest corner café to secure a humungous bag of “slap” chips. (Oh dear! How do I translate that into English? 🤣) The remaining two of the 4-ball would guard our golf-bags while waiting for our greasy, carb-laden feast, to return.

[A few years back, I made a nostalgic return to the South Downs Country Club. I was playing league golf for Leeuwkop, and I was excited to see the 18-holer of my youth, was now on our schedule for that particular season. I was looking forward to returning to the scene of our teenage “crimes” and wondered how the golf course now looked over 30 years later. Happily, I can report that South Downs had undergone some major transformation. While still not exactly Augusta National, it was nevertheless looking pretty fantastic. Much improved since our illegal visits in the early 80s! I even got to sit and eat in the clubhouse with the members this time around!I

Russell Dinwiddie had an older brother. If we even knew his name back then, I have long forgotten it. His brother was a music fan with an impressive record collection. This small fact became the main (possibly only) reason I began visiting Russell on anything like a regular basis. Young Russell had somehow been allowed access to these classic bits of vinyl. So when we were there, he proudly spun his older sibling’s music for us. Stephen Knight and I discovered some staggeringly good stuff at Dinwiddie’s house. Here in his cramped bedroom was the first time I ever heard the name Bob Marley. Russell, had one afternoon, proudly put on Kaya, his 1978 album, featuring tracks like “Easy Skanking” and also the sublime “Is This Love.” It was all quite exhilarating for my tender young ears. Signing Off by UB40 and The Wall by Pink Floyd first came to our attention in that self-same bedroom. Each time I heard these albums, I became more and more smitten with the sounds contained within them. We played these three often, I can tell you. Once again friendships grew out of a shared love of music.



One day Dinwiddie placed a new arrival on his rickety little bedroom turntable. It had an odd cover featuring what looked like a helmet with horns * coming out of it, and next to it was a bird – possibly a falcon, we had thought. “Wait until you guys hear thisexclaimed the often superior sounding Russell Dinwiddie. The group’s name was faintly familiar – I’d heard of them somewhere before, I was sure. Yes, it came to me that they’d had a hit on the radio** a year or so earlier. I couldn’t quite recall the name of the song, but I knew I’d liked it.

Russell carefully placed the needle onto song three on side one of the album in question. The Funk that Jimmy Barr writes so eloquently about at the beginning of my blog came cruising towards and then crashing, straight into my musical soul. The track had started with a quiet sophistication we were not yet accustomed to – subtle synths accompanied by gentle hand-held percussion begin proceedings. Both soon to be followed by a quite delicious bass line. All of this in the first 15 Seconds! By the time the vocals start, at the 17 seconds mark, and Bryan Ferry sighs – “Now the party’s over, I’m so tired” – I am well and truly FUNKED.

[The song’s distinctive backing vocals were performed by Haitian singer Yanick Étienne, whom Bryan Ferry encountered during the recording of the album. He heard her in the adjacent studio and invited her to contribute backing vocals to the recording. She didn’t speak a word of English. Her boyfriend, who was her band’s manager, came in and translated.]

Like instant ear candy, the song that would become as familiar to me as my own face, had weaved its magic across the room. All four of us sat transfixed as we continued listening to Avalon, by Roxy Music, for the very first time. We were quite obviously, all under the spell of … “The Funk.”


22,009,700 views since Jun 15, 2010


* The artwork for the album was designed by Peter Saville. Although less visually obvious than it had been with past releases, Avalon continued the tradition for Roxy Music albums to feature images of women on the cover artwork. Bryan Ferry’s girlfriend (and soon to be wife) Lucy Helmore appeared on the album cover wearing a medieval helmet with a falcon perched on her gloved hand, evoking King Arthur’s last journey to the mysterious land of Avalon


Avalon – Roxy Music (1982)

Russell Dinwiddie unwittingly lit quite a fire under my already quite manic obsession with music. Before he got to Roxy Music, he played and exposed us to a lot of stuff that we had not yet heard. Of course, there were plenty of Queen records – everyone’s older brother seemed to be into Freddie Mercury’s gang, Van Halen or AC/DC. I think we also heard Rumours (Fleetwood Mac) in its entirety for the first time at his house, but I can’t be sure of this. Russell also occasionally hauled out a record that did not go down so well. Mike Oldfield’s album Five Miles Out managed one spin (maybe only half) and was never heard from again.

** The Roxy Music tune I had heard on the radio, before Russell introduced us to Avalon, was a ironically a track titled “Oh Yeah (On the Radio).” It was lifted off their 1980 record called Flesh + Blood. You may remember it, or at least I hope you do.


1,856,745 views since Apr 24, 2010

I’ve noticed over the years that some older (i.e. from the 70s) Roxy Music fans do not preach the gospel of Avalon as I do. Sure, I quite enjoy their earlier arty stuff with Brian Eno still in the band, but it is Avalon, my album at # 21 on my list, that I always turn to the most. Certainly, the lush, elegant soundscapes of Avalon are far removed from the edgy avant-pop of their early records, yet it represents another landmark in their career. Bryan Ferry has never crooned so romantically and the band blended so sophisticatedly with washes of synthesizers, tasteful guitar accents, soaring saxophone and a rhythm section that’s smooth and cool. Superbly crafted songs like The Main Thing, More Than This, Take A Chance On Me and the title track Avalon sound as relevant today as they did 38 years ago. It’s a rich, textured album and a graceful way to end the band’s career.

Take a Chance with Me, if I had to choose, is possibly my favourite Roxy tune ever. It is quite simply a lovelorn masterpiece. The music is beautifully composed, and I love those mysterious guitar riffs in the chorus that follow the synths. Magical. Mysterious. Masterful. Roxy ….. Music.

As they say, two can play / But keep that song away from me / In my time, too much love / Has made me sad for so long / I was blind, can’t you see


Film is “Leave Her to Heaven”. Won Oscar for best color Cinematography in 1946
184,857 views since Oct 22, 2012


It’s been said over the years that Roxy’s earlier work inspired the post-punk and new-wave sound of the late 1970s and early 1980s. Well if that’s the case, then ‘Avalon’ was the band’s way of showing that- at the height of that particular musical craze- they invented the sound, then perfected it, and finally showed that they could do it better any anyone else that they had inspired (from Duran Duran to Spandau Ballet to ABC).

Jon DB on All Music Guide


When we walked out of school for the last time in early December 1983, Stephen and I bade farewell to the odd couple that was Hilton and Russell. I imagine they were both also army-bound, but I may be wrong. We may have seen them occasionally the following year, but again I may be mistaken. Eventually though, there was no sightings of either of them. They both vanished from my life (and Stephen’s) as people do. I have never heard of, or from them since. Absolutely nothing.

Stephen Knight and I recently sat drinking a quiet single malt together. As the beverage took effect, we began reminiscing, as men of our advanced years tend to do😁. Almost out of nowhere came some of the old Dinwiddie and Rahme stories. We had not spoken for many years about these two old school chums. Some of the tales and memories we recalled made us chuckle heartily. We wondered where on earth the two of them had ended up, shrugged, said cheers to them both, and moved on to the next topic.

An artists impression of what none of us looked like in 1983



Russell Dinwiddie – for playing your older brothers records for us, all those years ago. Hilton Rahme – for being the best Lebanese person I’ve ever come across. I hope your lives have been filled with both health and happiness.

Jimmy “The Funk” Barr – for his, as always, much valued and appreciated contribution to my bloggety blig blog.

And last, but not least, ya’all for reading. I will be back with my TOP 20 👀 albums of the 80s sometime in 2021.

Mark 👓 Wilson

My 100 Best 80s Albums # 22

Look up the word “underrated” in the dictionary and the entry will read:

The House of LoveBritish noise pop band whose shimmering guitars, effortless melodicism, and cavernous production made them indie darlings in the late 80s

The House of Love – The House of Love (1988)


London 👱‍♀️ the late 80s

It’s 1988, and I’m still residing at Denise Pitt’s flat in North London. I’m listening intently to John Peel’s show on the little radio I have with me in the bedroom while avoiding my host, who is still not really talking to me. We had an altercation the night before at the Hammersmith Odeon during the Erasure concert. Denise had become irritated when the music fans seated in front of her dared to stand up and dance during the gig. “Sit down! I can’t see” she had continually berated the poor folk in the seats before ours. “Bloody hell Denise! It’s a concert, people are supposed to do that!” I shouted across to her over the loud, saccharine, electro-pop sounds of Andy and Vince. Denise glared back at me, and the evening went downhill for us from there.

When we left the arena after the show, Denise had charged off down Queen Caroline street a good few metres ahead of me. Puffing furiously on one of her Silk Cuts (back then, she still smoked and ate meat) while steadfastly ignoring my presence traipsing along warily, somewhere behind her. This silly spat had been building for a while. I had been testing her patience and driving Denise nuts for a few weeks now. My days of free board and lodging in her large, airy Wembley flat were rapidly nearing an end. We sat well apart on the tube ride home. Denise, occasionally glowering at me from a different part of the train.

Denise enjoying Clifton’s 4th beach in 2020 with her eldest son, the sporty Sean Pape – my godson

So there I was enjoying Peel’s legendary show on the BBC’s Radio 1. Suddenly out of the tiny speakers drifted a song that immediately grabbed my attention. My ears prickled while my spine tingled, or was it the other way around? “Ooh, what’s this?” I thought as I sat up and started paying more careful attention. “Holy smoke!” I said to no-one in particular as some shimmering guitars weaved their magic across the small room. Music geeks live for these moments, and I was suddenly in melodic heaven. Now I just had to find out who was responsible for these sublime new sounds.

A little while later, the inimitable and droll voice of John Peel returned to the wireless … “that was the rather excellent House of Love with their debut single called “Shine On” he expounded. “Hmm, I must tell Barney about them, I thought excitedly to myself.


358,374 views since Jun 22, 2018

Johannesburg 😀 1987

The previous year, I had found myself working deep within the dungeons of the SABC in Auckland Park, Johannesburg. It had seemed the ideal place for me to be as I had long toyed with the idea my most suited job is that of a radio presenter – a DJ. The national broadcaster, of course, being the home of RADIO 5. “I’m sure once I’m in there, I can connect with the right people and land at least the late-night or very early morning slot on-air,” I had breathlessly explained to my mates. My dream-job was within touching distance, or so I had hoped.

I worked in the radio advertising department at the SABC, which may sound slightly glamourous, but it wasn’t. My work-space was a fluorescent-lit cubby-hole deep within the bowels of the earth. Here I found myself in what was called the “Spots or Spotting Department,” I forget which. Also, it was in Afrikaans, so whatever “spot” is in that other language. What the hell are these spots, you may well ask? Well, they are those little adverts you hear played between songs and chat on the radio. Playing them generated income for the radio station, and of course, the good old SAUK.

My job there entailed taking a daily schedule of these little voices recorded adverts and applying them in the correct order to enormous reels of tape. Each radio station (there were many at the SABC) would have a new one for each day, sometimes two. Everything was analogue in those days, so each recording would have to be almost manually spliced onto the tape. It was tedious, slowish work, and our little underground department was open 18 hours a day because of this. So there were also the dreaded late-night shifts to look forward to.


The House of Love, 1988

The post-Smiths guitar pop of the House of Love was popular for a short time in the late 80s and early 90s, as many college and alternative rock fans became converts to their mixture of shiny ringing guitars, pseudo-psychedelic melodies, and bursts of noise. The British group formed in 1986; it featured Guy Chadwick (vocals, guitar), Terry Bickers (guitar), Andrea Heukamp (vocals, guitar), Pete Evans (drums), and Chris Groothuizen (bass). Their demo tape attracted the attention of Alan McGee, the head of Creation Records. McGee signed the band for a single, “Shine On,” which was released in May of 1987 to some critical acclaim; it and its follow-up, “Real Animal,” both sold poorly.

The H o L – now a 4-piece, following the departure of the sexy Dutch girl, Andrea Heukamp.

The House of Love have some great influences that you can hear within their music – the Velvet Underground, Doors and Echo and the Bunnymen – are the most obvious. Check out the sudden, thrilling solo on “Salome,” a fantastic song that easily equals the Church at their most thrilling and powerful, or the even-more-memorable break on the deservedly famous leadoff track “Christine,” once described aptly as the Jesus and Mary Chain meets the Left Banke. The breakdown in “Christine” when the song drops to “and the whole world dragged us down” is still absolutely spine tingling.

764,827 views Sep 7, 2006

SAUK/SABC – Johannesburg 😎 1987-88

So once we had the reel of adverts completed with the correctly ordered spots, we would load them all in a big cart with these flimsy roller-castor wheels below it. One of us (usually me, the newbie, and easily the youngest there) would then push this trolley laden with gigantic rolls of tape around the SABC and on to each radio station. There we would wait outside the studio until the little green light above the door came on indicating that we could enter the dimly lit domain of the resident DJ, his producer and whoever else might have in there with him or her. The tape would be taken from me and positioned for playing. I would also collect any completed reels which we then used again. We had plenty of these stations to service – Radio’s RSA, Highveld, Good Hope, Lotus, Oranje, Port Natal, Zulu, Bantu etc. etc. all, spring to mind. Then there was my favourite – RADIO 5.

I would spend a lot of time loitering around the FIVE studios trying to attract the attention of whoever was in there. My tape reel drops at the multitude of other radio studios at Auckland Park, ate up as much of my time combined, as the one I did at Radio 5! I found myself there a lot, and often. The people at my real job must have wondered often where the hell I was. Speaking to the actual presenter was challenging (they were often live on air while I hung around nonchalantly) and, in the beginning, quite frightening. Look, it’s Alex Jay right in front of me!! Eeek! Eventually, I overcame my initial shyness and got to know some of them reasonably well. The “Jay-Thang” once offered me a cigarette from his pack of Marlboro’s but made sure to warn me which ones did not contain tobacco. Besides Alex, there were also household names like Chris Pryor, Rafe Lavine, David Blood, Phil Wright, Tony Sanderson, and Dave Charles. Martin “The Little Irish Devil” Baillie might also have still been around, but I can’t be sure of this. I never met him that I do know. 

A Night at the SABC


There was a time when my friend Mark Wilson always used to get the cool jobs. He spent time as a cricket pro in Ireland (although because of unforeseen visa problems he also had to moonlight as a roofing contractor). Later he worked at a publishing house (albeit in the warehouse, but he could organize free copies of ”reject“ books!). And then he started working at the SABC, which was at the time not only SA’s only TV broadcaster (including sports!), but also home to Radio 5, then a rock/pop/dance radio station with a smattering of alternative music and included local idols like Alex Jay, Derek the Bandit and Barney Simon. Although Beza’s job was in the advertising department, we were fascinated by his tales of encountering various celebrities in the super secure national key point facility which was the state broadcaster’s monolithic home in Brixton.

One day Mark said that he thought that he had worked out a way of smuggling someone into the SABC premises – and I volunteered to be the guinea pig! So that Sunday evening when the place was at its most quiet we drove to the SABC in Beza’s car and parked in the staff parking lot in the lengthening shadow of the Barry Hertzog Tower. There was a double security door, guards behind one-way glass, scary stuff! Mark’s scheme involved me tailgating him through one door, then picking up the access card he had “accidentally” dropped while passing through the second door, swiping my way through and then confidently striding past the security guards.

Somehow this hair-brained scheme worked and I found myself in the bowels of the state broadcaster! The radio section was in what appeared to me to be a basement, massively long, empty  corridors, all clad in sound-proofing and doors with red “Broadcast in Progress” lights. Mark showed me where he worked. There were left-overs from an office party – half-empty bowls of crisps and boxes of wine. He may or may not have shown off where the (then still illegal) sex tapes were hidden as he gave me a tour of the various studios. All the time we nipped back to the party venue to top up our plastic cups with room-temperature red and white dooswyn (box-wine)

Mark had made friends with the Radio 5 DJ who had the 8 to midnight gig on Sundays. His name was Dave Charles. A slightly older guy with a super mellow voice, who played equally laid-back rock music while sipping on whisky. He was very friendly and allowed us to sit in the studio while he presented his show. He also shared his whisky and Beza partook freely! Due to an earlier unfortunate single-malt-induced passing-out episode I was off whisky at that stage, but I made frequent trips down the passage to refuel my plastic wine cup. I may have lingered to inspect the illicit porn on occasion before re-joining Dave and Mark who were deep in conversation about rock music, the Blues and life as a radio personality. We got to flip  through records and eventually even to answer some phone calls, as late-night listeners called in to make requests or just to chat.

Towards midnight, which was the end of the show, Dave took a call from a very husky-sounding lady who also seemed to have travelled down Bourbon Avenue. She was insistent on telling her favourite DJ how she loved his voice, what she wanted to do with his naked body, and that he had to stop at her place on his way home so that she could show him how much she appreciated him. The final set of songs was coming to an end and DJ Dave had to finish off his show, but this cougar just would not let him go! So he handed to phone to Beza, who was promptly invited to join Dave when he visited – apparently there would be enough Jack Daniels and lady-love for both of them!

Mark was lapping it up until the last song finished and Dave Charles started saying his goodbyes on air with Mark still babbling away on the phone. Dave hissed at Beza to shut up, which was the latter’s opportunity to tell the lovelorn groupie on the phone that he had to go, before hanging up. No addresses obtained, no harm done! Except that the DJ then crapped us out for making a noise in the studio while he was wrapping up the show and pointing out that he had serious responsibilities while “riding the national airwaves”! Beza and I expressed contrition, but were really too pissed to care all that much.

The trip home was probably unlawful and generally uneventful except the odd skipped robot, but there was very little traffic and thank goodness no roadblocks!

The end

Albin Wagner, December 2020


The House of Love, 1988

Guy Chadwick’s yearning vocals and ear for memorable melodies matched beautifully with Bickers’ fantastic guitar. The Pete Evans/Chris Groothuizen rhythm team had their own fine moments as well. The snaky crawl of “Road” in particular suggests Echo and the Bunnymen’s own brilliant work with rhythm. “Man to Child,” a reflective, softly crushed ballad, won many plaudits as well, Chadwick’s portrait of aging and angst deft and quietly understated, matching the similarly wistful, just-sad-enough music beautifully.

However, the secret highlight of the album would have to be “Love in a Car,” starting with a keening, haunting high guitar part from Bickers and then slowly evolving into an evermore tense and dramatic all-band performance. Chadwick’s singing is some of his wounded best, and the final slow fade keeps all the intensity right to the end.

My love in a car / We’re gonna go far / It’s a beautiful car / My love / You touch / I dream / No words / Just the faintest glow / My love in a car

107,414 views since Jan 31, 2011

The single I first heard on John Peel’s show is not on The House of Love’s self-titled debut album. Instead  “Shine On” gets re-recorded in an arguably much more powerful performance with Evans’ drums and Bickers guitars pounding away out in front. It appears on their second album (from 1990) which confusingly is also called The House of Love. Or as it’s commonly known, the ‘Butterfly album‘ due to it’s distinct cover.

Their second album


SAUK/SABC – Johannesburg 😎 1987-88

It wasn’t only the DJ’s I managed to see close-up but often also their guests. Usually South African bands coming into Radio 5 to promote their latest LP. No Friends of Harry, the Psycho Reptiles, Dog Detachment, Robbie Robb, and once even David Kramer, that I can recall. Late one afternoon I was hanging around when two very familiar faces wandered in and sat on the sofa in the lounge area alongside the studio. It was Rick Parfitt and Francis Rossi of the English rock band Status Quo! I pretended to be ever so busy shuffling papers around in a cupboard nearby while they completely ignored me a few feet away.

Then of course there was Saayman. Barend Saayman, or Barney Simon as he preferred to call himself, with good reason.

Legendary South African DJ Barney “The Skin” Simon started out as an engineer on David Gresham’s radio show and later Keith Lindsay on Radio 5’s “Saturday Shadow Show”. He soon worked himself into a position where he was co-hosting the show as one of the “Terrible Twins”, ultimately ousting his other half and converting the show to “The Powerhaus”.

Barney back in my day … and … today … entertaining my Mom on Jacaranda FM

Barney was of course the only way back then we could get to hear any decent “alternative” type music on the radio. He was as close as we were going to get to a radio hero – our very own John Peel, so to speak. Thank goodness for him and Neil Johnson, as quite simply, there was nobody else playing the cool new wave, ska, and post-punk stuff that some of us were desperate to hear. I got to know “The Skin” the most during my stint at the SABC. He was the one guy I simply had to go and say goodbye to when I decided to call it a day there. The place was far too stiflingly Afrikaans for me. Too many petty rules and it reminded me of being in the army in many ways. So, when Karen Lepora broke my tender young heart, and then Jon Tombs persuaded me to join in him in England in ’88, my “career” at the SABC was certainly not holding me back.

The day I bade farewell to Barney he scribbled down the direct-line number to the Radio 5 studio. He said I should reverse charges call him from London. He’d then put me live on air to chat about what I was getting up to, what bands I had seen, etc. Sort of like his informal roving reporter out in the field so to speak. We worked out when I should call and then shook hands. I said a final adios to “The Skin” and have never seen him since. I did however call him on quite a few occasions, and apparently, there I was, live on air, prattling away about the Deacon Blue concert or the anti-apartheid protestors gathered outside South Africa house in London. It was quite a thrill and as close as I was to come to being on the radio.

I fed him info on quite a few new bands I had discovered, including, of course, the House of Love. I distinctly remember the day I squeezed into one of those old-fashioned, bright red phone booths in Piccadilly Circus and placed yet another reverse charges call through to Auckland Park in Johannesburg. I breathlessly informed Barney Simon of Guy Chadwick’s great band. He’d as yet never heard of them and thanked me for the tip before we chatted on about whatever else I had been doing. I’m not sure how much influence I had on what Barney played. But, for a short while, I felt quite important.

The end

Denise served me my eviction notice not long after the Hammersmith Odeon incident. She was moving to a smaller flat in a posh part of London, and there would be no room for me. I soon moved in with a family associated with the cricket club I played for in North London. When I returned a few years later for my stint as a professional cricketer in Ireland, I stayed over at Denise’s new pad on both my inward and outward journeys to and from the Emerald Isle. Our friendship very much still intact, and it was always great to see her. We could also now laugh about the Erasure concert.

I lost all contact with Denise Pitt for the middle part of the 90s. Then, in 1997, my mate Trevor Pape and I were at a party in Greenside, and we stumbled (yes, quite drunk, as always) into Shelley Coetzee, another ex-Albertonian. I was surprised to hear that Denise had moved back to South Africa and was now living somewhere in Johannesburg. Shelley gave me her contact details, and not long after, I met up again with my old friend. Somewhere during our lunch, Denise had expounded how hard it was to meet a decent man. Her exact words being – the good ones are either gay or married.

The first words out of my mouth were, what about my mate Trevor PapeHe’s not married, and I haven’t noticed many homo-sexual tendencies (🤣)I told Denise. It just so happened Trevor and his business partner (also Mark) were having a party at the place they shared that very weekend. After some persuasion, I convinced Denise to come through to Kyalami Estate that Saturday. The rest, as they say, is history. Love came quickly, and Trevor and Denise moved in together in 1998. In 2000, Pitt became Pape, and the happily married couple soon produced two boys – Sean and Matthew – who are both now fine young men.

This, is really, THE END


Thanks to “The Punk” for contributing such a fine piece on our night out at the old SAUK. Most of what he wrote about I had forgotten, so I appreciate the old memory banks being stirred Albin. Mr. Wagner, you are quite simply, a very good man. ❤

Thanks to ya’all for reading. Look out for my upcoming number 21, as I cautiously snake my way, into a hopefully, impressive top 20 in 2021.

Mark 🤓 Wilson, December 2020

My 100 Best 80s Albums # 23

All around me are familiar faces / Worn out places, worn out faces / Bright and early for their daily races / Going nowhere, going nowhere


For me, this is one of the most heartbreaking album covers of all time. One can only imagine how significant the image of the distraught young boy is to the lyrics contained within the music on this recording. The Hurting would have been a daring debut for a pop-oriented band in any era. It was an unexpected success in England in 1983, due mainly to its makers’ ability to package an unpleasant subject, the psychologically miserable family histories of Roland Orzabal and Curt Smith, into an attractive and sellable musical format.

Tears for Fears first came to my attention with the release of the claustrophobic synth-pop hit single Mad World in 1982. They scored another top-five single the following year with Change and were up and running. This young Mark loved those songs so much that he rushed out and snapped up a copy of their album a mere days after it hit the local record shop shelves. Unfortunately, it was one of those locally manufactured vinyl pressings that liked to hop, skip and stick its way through some of the songs. I bought the album on CD a decade later, and it was by far a more pleasant listening experience. Some of the jumps and sticks are so ingrained in my familiarity with the vinyl LP that I still expect them when listening on CD! 

Ideas as OpiatesSuffer the ChildrenWatch Me BleedChange, and Start of the Breakdown are powerful and personal pieces of music, beautifully executed in an almost minimalist style. Memories Fade offers emotional resonances, while Pale Shelter functions on a wholly different level, an exquisite sonic painting sweeping the listener up in layers of pulsing synthesizers, acoustic guitar arpeggios, and sheets of electronic sound. On this record Orzabal, and Smith wear their inspirations on their sleeves, specifically The Beatles, Joy Division, OMD, Japan, The Cure, and Gary Numan. They take these influences and use them to form a distinct sound that is all their own. The sound of this landmark album greatly influences later releases such as Depeche Mode’s Construction Time Again and The Blue Nile’s A Walk Across the Rooftops. So the musical debt has, in a sense, been repaid.

The song Tears for Fears are most famous for, Mad World, has been covered many times …

Below is the original video of Gary Jules‘ cover version of Mad World, directed by Michel Gondry. Throughout the video children are making animated figures on the sidewalk below. (the song was featured in the movie Donnie Darko. If you haven’t seen it yet, seriously consider doing so)


154,224,630 views since Jan 9, 2006


My guest-writer this edition is none other than the one some call Bandan. This particular nick-name earned due to the sad loss of those lovely curls he once had in an earlier life. Bandan apparently meaning bald man in a local indigenous language. He leapt at the opportunity to write on Tears for Fears and of course their debut album.


How he eventually found THE HURTING and other tales

Songs From the Big Chair (1985)

It’s May 1985 and I’m standing in the queue waiting for lunch. The weather is warm for this time of the year, even for the Lowveld. My army base is at spot close to the southern border of the Kruger National Park. We slowly shuffle forwards towards the open flapped kitchen tent where Chef Jose is serving up the days fare (I think that was his name, a pleasant chap from south Joburg, Rosettenville I think. You had to make him pleasant because he is the one keeping your tummy happy. No matter what he serves up) I catch a sound that is vaguely familiar coming out of Chefs cassette player. But I can’t exactly place it. As my rumbling stomach gets closer to the grub that sound is even more familiar. On the tip of my tongue. No not the food. It’s telling me to “SHOUT and let it all out.” Very catchy and almost rolling along like a wave. By the time I get the days fare dished into my varkpan (pigpan to some, a metal receptacle container) the song has switched to more introspective lyrics and music. The voice is soulful, pleading, but in a kind of soothing way (this was THE WORKING HOUR) Then on comes this tune that really blows me away. Catchy easy on the ear and soaring. It’s telling me that EVERYBODY WANTS TO RULE THE WORLD. What a power anthem. “Jose, who’s the band?” I ask our chef. “Tears for Fears, their new album Songs from the Big Chair, Great Hey!” he answers with some conviction. “AHA” I say and give him a big thumbs up.


104,144,438 views since Aug 9, 2013

And so my love affair with this band really begins. A few months later I secure a tape recording of the slightly unusually titled album and play that small cassette to death. The introspective I BELIEVE the frenetic BROKEN rolling into HEAD OVER HEELS (or the other way round. I can’t remember!) finishing with the interesting instrumental LISTEN amongst others.

The Seeds of Love (1989)

A few years go by and I am waiting in anticipation for the next Tears For Fears album. Finally it arrives four years on. It has a psychedelically sounding title track “ Sergeant Pepperish?” but overall the album is distinctively TFF, perhaps a slicker production than previous. I’m not disappointed. As good as The Big Chair. Purchased this time late in 1989, via this new thing called a compact disc, for R59.90 from the Strangers Record Shop in the Randburg Mall. I know this cos the Strangers little sticker is still stuck on the jewel case of my CD! It also contains my favourite TFF song FAMOUS LAST WORDS.

Trevor’s knackered old copy of The Seeds of Love

A hint of a sad song at the beginning is pushed aside by words of love, brotherhood, the sun, the moon. Truly splendid (a song to be absorbed with headphones, no outside interference, whilst relaxing in the vortex at the time of my domicile in Bordeaux. No! Not the south of France, the one in Randburg rather. The vortex was my cheap sofa bought a few years earlier on a special at Joshua Doore’s in Pretoria!! You really did get sucked in).


335,026 views since Aug 9, 2013


Elemental (1993) and Raoul and The King of Spain (1995)

As we moved on through the 90s TFF released a couple of, if I’m honest, inferior sounding albums. These being Elemental (which was nevertheless a good companion in my time in Bangkok in 1994) and Raoul and The King of Spain.

Fast forward a bit and it’s now the late 90’s, or early 2000’s, and I’m discussing the pros and cons (not of hitchhiking) of the best Tears for Fears album with my good mate Giggsy a.k.a Mark Wilson. We had now been friends for a few years having met in the mid 90s playing a sport that we loved dearly – cricket. We both represented Old Parktonians, a premier league club based in Craighall Park, Johannesburg. You have to love a guy who names his dogs Gooch and Lara after famous cricketers – Graham Gooch and Brian Lara. We also had a friendly rivalry on the EPL front via Manchester United and Liverpool. I had many games/years of heartache watching United soar above my beloved Liverpool with my good chom to that point, with many more heartaches still to come!!) So naturally I default to the Big Chair. Or is it Seeds Of Love? I’m not sure? I love them both.

The Hurting (1983)

Giggsy says “what about The Hurting?” I say what about it? It’s got those hit songs Mad World and Change on it, that’s all!  “No! No! No!” Giggsy says whilst wagging his finger at me. I think to myself “well he is the music guru, he must know something that I don’t.” So I take his advice and soon realize that I have been missing out for nearly 20 years on a gem of an album.

The truth of the matter is in 1982, at its time of release, I found the song MAD WORLD almost too “disco-ee.” If you know what I mean? Although I was impressed with the dance moves one could do to the song. That is, feet firmly placed closely together whilst swaying the hips, moving the arms in a majestic synchronized kind of way, feet occasionally moving to the beat. Gals would certainly be impressed with such a dance technique…well I thought so…Oh boy!! The video for MAD WORLD has some fella [Roland] dancing in this way staring blankly out on the edge of a lake, hence I copied the dance…simple…not!

[For those that have never seen Mr. Pape dance, like he describes above and more – IT IS TRULY SOMETHING TO BEHOLD. Side-splittingly funny does not even begin to describe the ‘Trevor Travolta’ 🤣 M.W.]


16,359,144 views since Aug 9, 2013

The single CHANGE did not gel with my ears at all, somehow at the time I felt it had no heart and soul. An innocuous tune. Therefore, The Hurting was initially consigned to the musical scrap heap. Listening now MAD WORLD just sounds brilliant. Sad lyrics set to a happy dance beat. How do you write lyrics and music so? Genius!

All around me are familiar faces
Worn out places, worn out faces
Bright and early for their daily races
Going nowhere, going nowhere
Their tears are filling up their glasses
No expression, no expression
Hide my head I want to drown my sorrow
No tomorrow, no tomorrow

And I find it kind of funny
I find it kind of sad
The dreams in which I’m dying are the best I’ve ever had
I find it hard to tell you ’cause I find it hard to take
When people run in circles it’s a very, very
Mad world
Mad world
Mad world
Mad world

Also see the slowed down recent lockdown version by Curt Smith and his daughter Diva. In 1982 a portent for things to come in 2020, how real are those lyrics!!


5,399,347 views since Apr 5, 2020

Boy does PALE SHELTER soar, Smith gets the voice high up in the sky, a tune with a great beat, goose bump stuff. My personal favourite on the album.

“It’s a kind of a love song, though more referring to one’s parents than to a girl.” —Roland Orzabal

How can I be sure?
When your intrusion is my illusion
How can I be sure
When all the time you changed my mind
I asked for more and more
How can I be sure

When you don’t give me love (You gave me pale shelter)
You don’t give me love (you give me cold hands)
And I can’t operate on this failure
When all I want to be is
Completely in command


3,335,935 views since Feb 8, 2019


The Hurting the album, released 7 March 1983, is music grounded in synth, bass and drums … with juicy bits of guitar thrown in and some sax here and there. It’s the combination of the generally upbeat delivery with often stark painful lyrics that make it so special. What a debut album! Four singles from the album MAD WORLD, CHANGE, PALE SHELTER (All in the Top 5 UK Charts) and SUFFER THE CHILDREN (originally released 1981).

The Hurting 🎶🎶🎶 Trevor’s track-by-track

THE HURTING (the song) intros the album. Music with melody and beat but paired with such downbeat, negative lyrics and gives us a clue as what is to come.

Is it an horrific dream/Am I sinking fast/Could a person be so mean/As to laugh and laugh/On my own/Could you ease my load/Could you see my Pain/Could you please explain/The Hurting

MEMORIES FADE – a pleading Roland Orzabal sings, beautiful sax piece in the middle, later with an oboe I think?

SUFFER THE CHILDREN – upbeat and danceable as you suffer the children

IDEAS AS OPIATES – stark with the synth drum beat and the vocals almost cry in pain

WATCH ME BLEED – upbeat rhythm …can you be upbeat when you are bleeding?

THE PRISONER – somewhat jarring, the weakest track in my opinion

START OF THE BREAKDOWN – another stark song, the piano and synth combo with Curt Smiths angst form a perfect match

Curt and Roland aging well

1983 Tears for Fears comprises:

  • Roland Orzabal – lead vocals on 5 tracks, backing vocals, guitars, keyboards, rhythm programming (Mr. Orzabal wrote all the songs on The Hurting)
  • Curt Smith – lead vocals on 5 tracks, backing vocals, bass, keyboards
  • Manny Elias – drums, rhythm programming
  • Ian Stanley – keyboards programming, computer programming


[Trevor “Bandan” Pape, October 2020]

Worn out from his morning spent writing, Trevor took to the beach for a long snooze in the sun

Thanks so much to Trevor Pape for his excellent review and memories on the album at # 23 on my list. Trevor, whose day job is that of a geotechnical engineer for Aurecon, demonstrating here that he is also pretty nifty at this music journalism lark. I’m also kind of okay that “the hurting” he experienced at the hands of my precious Manchester United has eased somewhat over the last few years.

Thanks for reading OUR blog on Tears for Fears especially if you got this far. Hello Giuliana 😊

See you soon for # 22.

Mark 👓 Wilson, 5 December 2020


My 100 Best 80s Albums # 25

Synthesizer Soul


Upstairs at Eric’s – Yazoo (1982)


Yazoo was a duo from Basildon, Essex, comprising of synth-king Vince Clarke and singer Alison Moyet. Their debut Upstairs at Eric’s was preceded by two top three UK singles, the ballad Only You and the more up-tempo Don’t Go. The album is a hugely expressive set of songs, stemming from Moyet’s ability to sing from deep within her soul. Vince Clarke can claim involvement in two stunning debuts in only two years: Depeche Mode’s Speak and Spell and Yazoo’s Upstairs at Eric’s. While Speak and Spell is, by far, the more consistent record, Upstairs at Eric’s is wholly more satisfying, beating the Depeche record on substance and ambition, and is light years ahead in emotion.

Ever wondered who the hell this Eric was? Well, let me tell you. Yazoo recorded their debut album at Blackwing Studios, a recording complex housed inside a deconsecrated church in South-East London. All Hallows was unfortunately partially destroyed during The Blitz in 1941. After the war, Southwark Cathedral retained the north aisle and carried on using it as a temporary church. The damaged south aisle was later turned into gardens and maintained by residents from 1968. In the late 70s Blackwing Studios was developed inside part of the church by one Eric Radcliffe

Yazoo began recording their debut album at the aptly named Splendid Studio, which was located downstairs from the main musical compound. A problem arose when the band’s recording time took longer than expected. Another group of musicians had the small studio booked, forcing Vince and Alison to vacate the premises. Radcliffe had to urgently build a temporary studio at his own house so Yazoo could complete their record there. So there we go, Upstairs at Eric Radcliffes, who incidentally, also produced the record.

The first Depeche Mode album, Speak and Spell, was also recorded at Blackwing.

The site of Blackwing Studios in February 2010

Blackwing Studios closed down in September 2001 and the space has been empty ever since, but the church building and gardens are still there. However, this may soon not be the case as Southwark Council have been submitting plans since 2005 to redevelop the site with a four-storey development of private flats.


That two 20 year old kids could write and record an album this good in itself is amazing. How it still sounds so fresh and relevant almost 40 years later is no mean feat either. In addition, Vince Clarke is still going strong today, and somewhat sadly, still a completely unsung genius. They certainly don’t make them like him anymore. Upstairs at Eric’s was the second record I ever bought. It closely followed Business as Usual by Men at Work into my infantile music collection as the music bug took it’s firm hold. Like its curious cover, Upstairs at Eric’s presents a fractured, well-lit, and paranoid urban landscape. In my humble opinion, and in it’s only little way, it is a synth-pop masterpiece.


Continuing on with contributions from my team of guest-writers here is my oldest friend in the world – 43 years and counting – on what he recalls of Yazoo’s debut album.

Stephen Knight

on Upstairs at Eric’s

Upstairs at Eric’s was an album that is forever ingrained in my mind, heart and soul. This was a collection of songs by the wonderful Alison Moyet and Vince Clarke that came out in 1982, our standard nine year at school. Bouncing hormones, young love and other teenage adventures as we neared our final year and whatever lay beyond. It is the back beat to my first love, played to death on vinyl and cassette, in party mode, romantic mode, chilling mode whatever. (Depeche Mode Stephen? 😉🤣) I shudder to think what our kids would consider a suitable comparative listening music is to their lives, and I suppose there must be a few bands or musicians that would fill that role. I however have not taken the time or effort to listen to any and prefer to revel in my songs of the 80s. Short sighted perhaps, but hell our beloved 80s and the likes of Yazoo are very hard to beat.

S.R. Knight (September, 2020)


A few weeks after quitting Depeche Mode Vince Clarke responded to a Melody Maker advert looking for someone to form a “rootsy blues band.” He’d written a new song and wanted to find someone to record the vocals. The ad had been placed by fellow Basildon resident Alison Moyet, who he knew from the local post-punk pub circuit. The song was Only You and when the pair agreed to meet up, Moyet instantly nailed the vocal and Yazoo were up and running.

Only You is a perfect summation of why Upstairs at Eric’s remains so acclaimed and adored, as it showcases the curious blend of danceable synth-pop and powerful, bluesy vocals the duo is remembered for. Alison Moyet’s consistently sublime purr gives Clarke’s robotic beats and rhythms a human touch, providing listeners with songs that are as equally danceable as they are heartfelt. On paper it doesn’t work, but in reality it’s most definitely satisfying. Only You has been covered by something like 50 artists over the years.

6,011,769 views since Aug 11, 2012


Track four on my vinyl copy of Upstairs at Eric’s is called I Before E Except After C. For some reason, it is not on the CD version I also have of the album. Clarke’s love of experimenting with early synth technology finds its home on this mainly instrumental piece – the 4 minutes and 43 seconds is comprised of a repeated loop of two voices reading out the same 3 or 4 sentences, spliced with scant blips and beeps in the background. The male voice belongs to Vince Clarke, while the female one used here is that of producer Eric Radcliffe’s Mum. It’s also her laugh of delight, which is allowed to break free towards the end of the track. This odd little track fascinated back in 1982 and continues to do so almost forty years later!

While recently listening to Upstairs at Eric’s, the above song, featuring the mnemonic rule of thumb for English spelling, came on. My thoughts inexplicably drifted back to my English teacher in high school. Her name was Mrs. Mey, and besides taking me for English the last few years of school, she also taught me Latin the first two years I was at senior school. If I am honest, I often think of dear Mrs. Mey while I am writing these blogs of mine, especially when pondering where to put the bloody comma or when stressing about my grammar. The art of spelling is now almost no problem at all, spell-check being a gift from the Silicon Valley Gods, for which I will be eternally grateful.


23,968 views since Feb 28, 2017


Mrs. Mey was probably one of our better teachers at old Alberton High. She was inspiring in her own inimitable way, and I feel misunderstood, and unappreciated, by most of the pupils, myself included! I remember her having flame-red hair and seemingly being quite ancient. No doubt she was probably only in her forties or thereabouts, but of course when you are 17 or 18 that kind of age is absolutely teetering on the edge of the grave as far as we were concerned. She must have inspired me in some way though as here I still am, writing away, and loving how the words continue to tumble out of me and onto the screen in front of me.

For a very brief period (about an hour and a half) towards the end of school, I considered a career in journalism. However, it was my arduous uphill battle with English grammar and then the army that did me in the end. My matric marks were at best average but mostly merely abject, which meant I missed the required university exemption to contemplate heading down to Rhodes University in Grahamstown to study further. The less said about my matric finals mathematics symbol, the better. Oh! How silly of me, there was no symbol, just that damning little dash [ – ]. The life-draining two-year army stint many of us had to endure squashed any lingering desire I may have had to attempt another crack at bettering my matric. The best I could now hope for going forward was a role at some point as the “Mayor of Simpleton.”🤣🤣 After 1983 the only thing I would ever study again was the liner notes inside record covers, golf leaderboards, cricket, and football scores, you know, important shit like that.


Upstairs at Eric’s opens with the iconic and era-defining synth-funk of Don’t Go. The track begins with what has to be one of the most memorable and infectious keyboard riffs of all time. It then finds its sprightly electronic melody getting warmed up by Moyet’s aggressive, emotional delivery. Alison undoubtedly has one of the funkiest blue-eyed soul voices of the 80s. Funny enough, when we first heard this tune played on the old wireless, some of us thought the singer was a man! An error that seems ridiculous today, I know, but it’s a true story. There was much debate and conjecture until we eventually saw Alison on Pop Shop, with the video for Don’t Go, that any lingering doubts we may have had were finally settled once and for all.


As I continued listening to the album I wondered what some of my team of guest writers memories of Mrs. Mey would be, if any. I didn’t have much joy with the first one I asked.

Jimmy Barr

Mark I don’t have many happy memories. As I recall she was a bit of a dragon and mostly what I remember was just a vague impression of her unsmiling disapproval of me. [that’s how she looked at most of us Jimmy 🤣🤣🤣]

But a bit more feedback came from the following source …

Stephen Knight

On our high-school English teacher

Mrs. Mey was an elderly, and dear woman, who had the thankless task of trying to educate us youngsters in the art of the English language. To give her her due I believe she succeeded to a large degree. She smoked like a chimney, was of a calm or even temperament most of the time and looking back I think she was endlessly patient with us. A few of my favourite memories of her as follows:

  • When asking to be excused to go to the loo with the old “Ma’am, can I please go to the toilet?” her fixed and famous response, “You can, but may you?” and then waiting, with a cocked eyebrow and folded arms, for the corrected “Ma’am, may I please go to the toilet”
  • Her hate of the word “Got”. Mrs. Mey believed that one should never use the word “Got” and should always find a suitable alternative. To this day I rarely use the word “Got.” I suppose it was her way of teaching our young minds to always seek a better alternative word.
  • When she finally lost her patience, and kicked Mark Wilson and I out her class. She told us to sit outside her door, upon which one of the heads, Mr. Kallman if I recall correctly, found us and marched us down for a beating. On our return I remember her being very sad that we had been punished so severely as that was not her intention.

Looking back I can honestly say I enjoyed her classes and if she were alive today, although I doubt that, I believe she would be the one teacher to say she is proud of us. When you consider Mark Wilson and Jimmy Barr’s writings I have to believe some of that stems from her teaching us to enjoy the English language.

S.R. Knight (September, 2020)


Alison Moyet manages to change the mood of the album with some of her tasteful lyrical efforts. She wrote the chilly Winter Kills, the soulful Midnight, the energetic Goodbye 70s, and the anthemic Bring Your Love Down (Didn’t I). There are now icy cold piano melodies aplenty, all gently floating behind Moyet’s more deliberate vocals for her own words. The video below is well worth watching as it features shots of Eric Radcliffe, Blackwing Studios, the church, and images of the album cover photo shoot. Amazing also to see the ancient 80s computers Vince Clarke had to make his analogue magic out of back in those days!

9,869 views since Apr 28, 2017


Here is what one of Mrs. Mey’s bright shining stars had to say about her …

Albin Wagner


Magistra Mey et Bona Annos Singulos

Standard 6 was the first year of high school and it brought choices! One of my first decisions was to try Latin as an elective subject. The Latin teacher was Mrs. Mey, a tall, gawky, somewhat eccentric, but extremely strict-looking middle-age school ma’am with short hair, glasses and an overall frumpy appearance.

Mrs. H. Mey

Later in life I became well acquainted with the boring repetitive study of tenses and declensions which this classical language can entail. The problem for me was always the boring emphasis on the systems and patterns of this admittedly impressively designed but ultimately dead classical language.

Standard Six Latin was different, partly because the curriculum was designed to softly lure unsuspecting introductory scholars down the dark path which would later be made treacherous by the introduction of declensions, pluperfect tenses and other intricate features and rules with inevitable and inexplicable exceptions. The other reason was Mrs. Mey. I suspect that she was a classics nerd. She loved ancient Rome and brought Latin to life for her students. We got to dress up as Romans with togas, swords, sandals and all, to re-enact scenes of ancient Roman life! Reading Asterix books in English and Latin was encouraged and we all “Latinized” our names by adding an –a or –us, depending on gender.

In those days preceding the availability of video players at schools (never mind You Tube & Netflix!) she organized an excursion for us to watch a performance of “Rinse the Blood off my Toga”, a wonderful parody of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. Mrs. Mey brought Rome and thus Latin to life for us students and this made it easy and joyful to pick up the basic structure of the language and a starting vocabulary. It was both rewarding and easy to achieve good marks in such an environment.

One Sunday morning, while the family was reneging on its Catholic obligation to attend Holy Mass (as usual except for Christmas and Easter) there was a knock at the front door of my parents’ home. My pyjama-clad self was dispatched to investigate the unwelcome intrusion.

Imagine my surprise when I found that the otherwise anonymous group standing at our porch was led by Mrs. Mey! I was pleased to see my Latin teacher, but confused as to why she would be at my house, especially at such a strange time. It was like when a traffic cop pulls you over when you know that you had very carefully adhered to the speed limit, you have your valid driver’s license on you and you are stone-cold sober…

Mrs. Mey seemed even more startled to see one of her students there, but she quickly gathered her composure. She smiled, greeted me by my name and requested to see my mother. I was not too worried, as I was pretty good in my Latin class, but could not shake off at least a degree of worried anticipation. Off I went to called my mom, telling her my Latin teacher was here to see her! My mother appeared somewhat less confident of my innocence and was more than a bit apprehensive about a weekend visit by one of my schoolteachers. She was almost relieved when Mrs. Mey unveiled herself as a Jehovah’s witnesses doing her conversion rounds!

My mother gave Mrs. Mey and her entourage a slightly more polite version of the usual “Not interested, we are Roman Catholic!” send-off. Mrs. Mey made no mention of it on Monday and the following year a much more conventional Mrs. Peddie took over the Latin mantle – and totally ruined it for me!

A.A. Wagner (October, 2020)


There’s an abundance of other concise, synth-pop classics on the album, including the sublime Situation with its low, bubbling melody and Bad Connection with its undeniably cheesy but utterly charming chorus, “Can you hear me? Can you hear me at all? Got to get the operator, make a telephone call” – it’s just one of several instances of pure, synth-pop perfection to be heard on Upstairs at Eric’s.

A synthesizer, a great voice and a loads of talent nothing more!! Yazoo, legends, and ahead of their time. If the following 12″ U.S. version of Situation doesn’t make you want to get up and boogie on down, then I’m concerned for you.

383,646 views May 22, 2016


Vince and Alison performing in more recent times


When I was 20, I thought anyone in the music business over 25 is past it. Then at 30, you think anyone still doing it at 35 is ridiculous. Suddenly, you find yourself at 60 and still doing it, so I don’t know what to say, really. (Vince Clarke – Depeche Mode, Yazoo and Erasure)

Vince now and … then


When I saw Adele, I thought: ‘I’ll give it an hour before people say I was her,’ just because I was fat. When you watch ‘X Factor,’ you can bet your bottom dollar, every single fat singer sounds like me as far as the judges are concerned. Can you imagine if they did that with every black artist? (Alison Moyet – Yazoo)

Alison then … and a startlingly svelte more recent picture


Thanks to STEPHEN KNIGHT and ALBIN WAGNER for their contributions to my blog. I appreciate you taking the time to write so eloquently about our long gone and mostly forgotten youth. Oh yes, and JIMMY BARR, of course, for his typically blunt memory of his favourite ever teacher.

To everyone who got this far … thanks for reading our nonsense on the 80s. I will return with due haste with number 24 😮 on this, my mighty musical, and memory filled list.

Mark 🎧 Wilson (November, 2020)