Nothing is real: We’ve turned the 1960s into an empty fantasy

Nothing is real: We’ve turned the 1960s into an empty fantasy
The V&A’s latest mega-exhibition You Say You Want A Revolution? promises the last word in ’60s nostalgia… again. But to Paul Du Noyer, a 1960s with only gilded youths and radical-chic celebrities is no 1960s at all. 

I.

In 1966 there were two great cultural revolutions getting under way. One was in China, where its figurehead was Chairman Mao and the aim was to purge the nation of lingering capitalist tendencies. The other took place in the affluent west: its unofficial figureheads were probably The Beatles and the aims were various. But getting laid, getting high and having a damned good time were top of most people’s list.

In both revolutions, youth led the charge. China’s Red Guards were paramilitary students who forged a violent upheaval that caused untold havoc and horrific casualties. In the West, there were some campus riots and the odd demo, but our collective memory is of a nice psychedelic wonderland. There were agit-prop trimmings, but hardly anyone died. More people changed their style of trousers than their ideological outlook.

And yet, even in the West, the effect of those years is still felt, and still debated. What really happened in the late 1960s? Was our society deeply transformed in some way? And if so, for better or for worse?

This is where the V&A’s latest blockbuster exhibition comes in. You Say You Want A Revolution? takes its title from The Beatles’ 1968 song ‘Revolution’ and the question mark is important. Did people literally want a revolution? Or just to throw the biggest party in history? Even John Lennon wasn’t sure, and he wrote the bloody song. Continue reading “Nothing is real: We’ve turned the 1960s into an empty fantasy”

ABC: Suave to the rhythm – Martin Fry interviewed

ABC: Suave to the rhythm – Martin Fry interviewed
In 1982, ABC transformed pop with ‘The Lexicon Of Love’. How did they throw it all away? And can Martin Fry pull off ‘Lexicon II’? “We kept rebelling against the success,” he tells Andrew Harrison

What do you do when you realise that that the first thing you did was the best thing you did? With its extravagant strings and ultrasuave showbiz stylings, ‘The Lexicon Of Love’ by ABC was the unsurpassed orchestral pop masterpiece of the 80s. Its statement singles – ‘Poison Arrow’, ‘The Look Of Love’, ‘All Of My Heart’ – were five-star examples of critically-acclaimed perfect pop which in time also attained Heart/Magic FM immortality.

Martin Fry, ABC’s gold lamé suited frontman, became an unlikely role model, a careworn Sinatra for a new dole age. Producer Trevor Horn would become synonymous with the couture megapop of the 80s. But ‘Lexicon’’s artistic and commercial success was so daunting that ABC couldn’t even try to repeat it. From their commercial peak in 1982-3 the band wilfully swerved into various antitheses of ‘Lexicon’ – unfashionable out-and-out noise-rock, Warholian plastic dance pop – shedding members and sales as they went.

“We kept rebelling against the success,” says Martin Fry on a bright Spring afternoon in 2016, over mineral water and a chicken sandwich on the airy top floor of a Soho member’s club. “We wanted to be as unorthodox as we could possibly be.”

While ABC zigzagged all over the stylistic map and their fortunes faded in the mid-80s, Fry also fought a remarkable battle against cancer, losing his spleen to Hodgkin’s Disease at the shockingly young age of 27. “I asked the surgeons, will I still be able to vent my spleen if I haven’t got one?” he says. “But I’ve been doing it ever since.”

LOVE UNLIMITED: ABC’s new video for ‘Viva Love’ revisits ‘Poison Arrow’

Now, 34 years after the original album, Fry returns to the lush ‘Lexicon’ sound with a sequel that looks at love and romance from the perspective of an older, wiser man. Recorded on a tighter budget than its predecessor, ‘The Lexicon Of Love II’ is just as luxuriously-orchestrated as its forebear – sleek, sizeable and far better than any sequel has a right to be.

 Though producer Trevor Horn was not available this time around, ‘Lexicon I’’s gifted string arranger Anne Dudley returns to superintend ABC’s Chic-meets-Nelson-Riddle modus operandi. It was only when Fry reconnected with Dudley for a 30th anniversary performance of ‘Lexicon I’ at the Albert Hall in 2012 that he realised he wanted to reprise the ‘Lexicon’ sound after all.

“I’d always shied away from that challenge,” he says. “In fact I never thought I’d make another studio album. I’d stopped writing. But playing live gave me confidence and the focus to write again. I began to accept that people will always be drawn to ‘Lexicon’ so if you’re going to do it, do it justice. Do it big, glossy and dramatic.” Continue reading “ABC: Suave to the rhythm – Martin Fry interviewed”