The Sounds of the eighties that still resonate

CLOUDS of dry ice so thick the stage was almost obscured from view, a lead singer with more foundation than the Castle and a band who looked like they were wearing their mums' teatowels around their necks. Yes, it's Spandau Ballet in their 1980s heyday – or their first heyday, that should be.

Because while their hair may be smaller these days, Spandau Ballet – along with fellow 80s icons Duran Duran and Simple Minds – are big news once again, and winning a whole new generation of fans along the way.

Yet while those young fans might be willing to play the music, see the gigs and even wear the clothes – since the shops are full of 80s fashion, they can hardly avoid them – they are unlikely to go the lengths their original counterparts did in the worship of their heroes.

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These days, Merle Brown, 37, is a freelance writer living in Marchmont. Back in the 80s though she was a teenager from Roslin with a passion for Madonna.

"My friend Sam and I used to go into Edinburgh on a Saturday dressed exactly like her, with the same hair, including a bow, gloves, lots of necklaces and leggings underneath tiny mini-skirts.

"I always wore bright red lipstick like her too. I still do actually – that's where that came from, for sure.

"People used to walk by us and say 'Madonna' and we thought it was just brilliant.

"I was also a huge Bananarama fan, I knew all their songs and dances."

Merle still remembers her first gig – it was Howard Jones at the Playhouse.

"I was 15, it was just amazing. I know exactly what I wore – grey, baggy, knickerbocker-type trousers along with a bright pink shirt," she laughs.

In fact, in the early 1980s, Edinburgh, rather than Glasgow, was the place in Scotland for live music.

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The Playhouse took all of the big established acts, such as The Who, The Kinks, The Police, Bruce Springsteen, Tina Turner, and Eric Clapton – as well as nurturing some younger acts who first cam to prominence in the 80s, like Spandau Ballet and The Smiths.

Before the old cinema on Lothian Road was reborn in its current guide as the HMV Picture House, it had a string of names. Music fans of a certain vintage will best remember it as The Caley Palais, and in the 80s it hosted live shows by such Orange Juice, The Smiths and a young, still-upcoming REM. Over on George Street, meanwhile, the Assembly Rooms, played host to the Associates and New Order.

There were also a host of smaller venues too. La Sorbonne, for example, which later became Subway Cowgate and is currently known as Base, played host to a post-Mick Jones line-up of the Clash back in 1985.

Elsewhere, Coasters in Tollcross – now Lava/Ignite – put on Simple Minds, U2 and some early gigs by US rockers the Red Hot Chilli Peppers. The Astoria in Abbeyhill, now the site of a Honda showroom, hosted The Psychedelic Furs, while Tiffany's nightclub in Stockbridge, now demolished to make way for flats, saw the Pretenders and UB40 tread the boards of its stage

It was the Playhouse, however, that Forth One radio presenter Grant Stott, now 41, remembers best, thanks to his days working as a programme seller there. "I got to see a lot of bands there, including the Rolling Stones and David Bowie.

"I also used to go to Coasters in Tollcross a lot, seeing the likes of Squeeze and Simple Minds. I pretty much got to see all the bands there," says Grant, who was also the in-store DJ at TopMan on Princes Street during the 80s.

"I was into everything and although music is so accessible now, which is great, there is a generation that will not know what it's like to save up, go into town, ask for a record and look at it all the way home on the bus."

Independent record shops, however, were showing the first signs of a decline which has only speeded up in recent years.

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Renowned 1970s record store owner turned Simple Minds manager Bruce Findlay was forced to wind down his record chain in 1980 the face of fierce competition from the new music megastores of Virgin and HMV.

"Independent record stores were in a state of flux throughout the UK and Simple Minds were starting to take off so I decided to focus my energies on music management," says Bruce, 65, who still lives in Chesser.

"However, some of the last records I sold pointed to some really interesting music on the horizon with people like Tubeway Army, Gary Numan, The Police and Blondie joining more mainstream bands like Dire Straits, Fleetwood Mac and the Bee Gees. The new wave/punk scene was also starting to take off."

Edinburgh had its own new wave acts, most notably post-punk band Josef K, who are often credited with influencing a whole raft of modern acts, such as Franz Ferdinand and Bloc Party.

"Our main influences in the beginning were Television and the early Talking Heads stuff," recalls one-time Josef K lead singer Paul Haig, who will release his 11th solo album later this year.

Josef K's greatest success came in late 1980 when they supported The Clash at the Odeon, when it was one of the Capital's most popular music venues.

As Haig explains though, playing alongside a wealth of local talent in the Edinburgh music scene was just as enjoyable as playing with big-name acts..

He says: "Once we gained a bit of recognition we started playing more venues such as Valentino's.

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"One of the most memorable nights was when we played there in the same bill as The Fire Engines, The Scars and The Associates. I remember it was great to get that kind of exposure."

Some of the greatest bands of the early 80s were managed by Edinburgh-based figures. There was Bob Last, who managed the original line-up of the Human League, along with the Gang of Four and, later, Heaven 17, and also released singles by The Fire Engines through his Fast Product label. Another central figure was Lenny Love, who signed The Rezillos to his label, Sensible Records.

When Simple Minds started to take off, Bruce Findlay also took more bands under his wing including China Crisis, from Liverpool, and the Glasgow-based The Silencers.

Findlay adds: "There were some great Edinburgh bands around at that time.

"The Fire Engines played this really aggressive, full-on, pop/rock sound and they were the hippest band around.

"Goodbye Mr Mackenzie also came out of Bathgate in the later period and had a few minor hits – I remember one song in particular called The Rattler – but they were known as a fantastic live band.

"I think if they had formed a few years later they would have been hugely successful. "

As it stood, Goodbye Mr Mackenzie's moderate success was overshadowed by the international fame of former keyboard player Shirley Manson, who went on to front Garbage in 1995, but they're still fondly remembered at home.

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Former Mackenzies frontman Martin Metcalfe moved to Edinburgh in 1982 with drummer mate Derek Kelly from his hometown of Bathgate.

"There was only one nightclub in Bathgate and it played all of the usual disco garbage and maybe 15 minutes of punk if you were lucky," says Metcalfe, now with Mackenzies offshoot Isa and the Filthy Tongues, who have just released their latest single, Big Star.

"When I got to Edinburgh we had clubs like The Hoochie Coochie Club, near Tollcross, and Manifestos, which later became Fat Sam's on Fountainbridge.

"Edinburgh was in the grip of the New Romantic scene so everyone was walking round with ruffled shirts and fluffy black hair, or wearing ankle boots and sporting mullets.

"I remember big trousers were in as well. I went to see The Cure in about 1981 and Robert Smith had trousers on with a waistband that came up to his nipples.

"The music was all pretty dire but there were a few bands around like The Fire Engines, The Associates, The Au Pairs and The Pop Group who were playing this post-punk jaggedy guitar sound."

By the time keyboard players Shirley Manson and Rona Scobie came on board, they found themselves part of a string of bands, like The Smiths, who were less Day-Glo and more adolescent angst than Duran and Spandau.

"The Smiths changed my life," says bassist Fin Wilson, who joined the band in 1987.

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By then the music world was about to change with the arrival of house music and the rave scene, and with it the end of shoulder pads, mullets and ripped jeans.

Until now, that is.

Additional reporting: Colin Blyth and Catherine Salmond

City groups who can raise a glass to lager ad exposure

By Gary Flockhart

IN the late Eighties, brewers McEwan's were responsible for some pretty innovative and memorable TV ads, perhaps none more so than the famous Chinheads series.

The Chinheads were fictitious, but the band responsible for the music were very much real.

One of the most memorable adverts featured Edinburgh act The Love Decree, a local pop/soul band comprising Grant McIntosh (vocals) and Robin Gow (keyboards). Their song was called Something So Real.

The award-winning 1988 Chinheads ad which featured the track was directed by Steve Barron, who was also responsible for such classic 80s music videos, as A-ha's Take On Me, Dire Straits' Money For Nothing, and Michael Jackson's global smash Billie Jean.

The Love Decree track went on to chart at Number 63, and after the band split up, McIntosh went on to manage bands, while Gow now writes music for film and TV.

Another Edinburgh act involved in a popular advert for McEwan's Lager were Win, who formed from the ashes of the Fire Engines, the post-punk outfit whose skewed, discordant guitar pop influenced current indie darlings Franz Ferdinand.

After the Fire Engines split up in 1981 (though they reformed in 2004 to play their first gig in 23 years, at Edinburgh's Liquid Room), enigmatic frontman Davey Henderson formed a new band, Win, with former bandmate Russell Burn plus Ian Stoddart, Mani Shoniwa and Simon Smeeton.

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The 1989 McEwan's advert featured their first single, You've Got The Power, and the track became Win's only hit before they split in 1990.

Main man Henderson has since pursued a fiercely maverick musical path, and his current band, The Sexual Objects, also features fellow ex-Win member Smeeton in the line-up.

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