80s stars cash in on thirtysomething pop nostalgia boom.
· Tickets sell out for tour celebrating the era
· Acts include Rick Astley, Bananarama and ABC
Owen Gibson, media correspondent
Wednesday January 2, 2008
They may not look or sound like obvious standard-bearers for a musical revolution: gaggles of thirty and fortysomethings bopping to songs that whip them back to the awkwardness of the school disco.
But Here & Now, a package tour of artists big in the 1980s, has become a music industry phenomenon and is now selling tickets for its seventh UK tour in May and expanding internationally. It has already taken the delights of big hair and big choruses to Japan, Germany and elsewhere.
The 2008 lineup includes Rick Astley, the studio teaboy turned Stock, Aitken and Waterman prodigy who notched up seven top 10 hits in the mid-1980s. Others include Curiosity Killed the Cat, Bananarama, Paul Young and ABC.
The unexpected success story, which plans to branch out into compilations and other branded initiatives, also laid the foundations for 2007 to become the year of the reunion.
A string of acts from all eras have retaken to the stage, from Led Zeppelin and the Police to the Spice Girls and one last hurrah for little-remembered Britpop bands. Arguably Here & Now, which launched in 2001, paved the way for all of them.
The tour adheres to some strict rules: only the hits, no big egos and set-lengths strictly governed by the number of well-known songs you've got. "It's like a live greatest hits album," said Tony Denton, the agent-turned-promoter who came up with the idea.
The appeal, he said, is simple: "It is a fast-paced show. The other important element is that I only let them do the hits."
He got the idea after persuading Boy George, who was on his books, to take part in a Culture Club comeback tour. He asked Sheffield electro-pop legends Human League and ABC to support and was surprised by the speed with which tickets were snapped up.
With several 80s acts on his books, he began to consider a way of packaging up six or seven acts. He knew the idea had legs, he said, when he persuaded Kids in America singer-turned-gardener Wilde to come out of retirement for the first one. He was lucky enough to catch her the day after she had sung for the first time in years at a family wedding.
Young only agreed after Denton came up with the name Here & Now to make it clear his best days weren't behind him.
Astley is his latest coup. Having turned it down several times, the Never Gonna Give You Up singer was persuaded to play the Japanese leg so that his daughter could see him perform for the first time.
All are backed by the same nine-piece band and as one act is taking a bow, the next is limbering up to go on.
As the format has been exported abroad and adapted for concerts at stately homes and corporate events it has been more popular than Denton predicted. It has also proved lucrative. Denton takes control of the financial aspect and pays the artists a one-off fee. "They do well out of it. If there are no artists, there is no show," he said.
Toyah Willcox, who has appeared on several tours, said the arrangement suited her: "The concert isn't under my name. I'm not having to be a guarantor to fees. That might sound cold and mercenary and not very artistic, but it's pretty important." She insists the artists get on. "You can't do that kind of package tour with an ego, you'd get laughed out of the door."
While Denton admits that some artists have taken more coaxing than others to agree to only play their hits , Willcox had no such qualms. "I've always played all the old songs. I'd go and see Peter Gabriel or Madonna and be surprised if they didn't play all the hits. People don't want to come and hear the B-sides," she said.
The timing was also important. When Denton launched Here & Now the 80s were no longer seen as naff. It was also an era when pop stars had strong images and wrote hits that echo down the years.
He doubted whether today's X Factor stars would sell out arenas in 20 years time. Wilcox added: "In the 80s, we were all writing for stadiums even if only two or three got to play them. The choruses are for the audience, not the artists."
She also noted the appetite for nostalgia-based TV, from Doctor Who to Strictly Come Dancing. "When I'm singing It's a Mystery or I Want to be Free I'm communicating with a time in people's lives," she said. "You go out and do what you're best at: performing hits everyone wants to hear."
The revivalists Big hair, gold suits and faded denim
Curiosity Killed The Cat These days few can whistle their hits - Down to Earth in 1986, Misfit in 1987 and Hang on in There Baby in 1992 - but most remember that the singer, Ben Volpeliere-Pierrot, left, (Ben Vol-au-vont-Parrot to Smash Hits readers), wore silly hats. He later went solo and the nation shrugged.
Paul Young Former miller's apprentice who hit the money with his third single, a cover of the Marvin Gaye classic Wherever I Lay My Hat (That's My Home), No 1 for three weeks in 1983. Also former owner of impressive bouffant.
This London three-piece had huge hair and a huge hit with a song about Robert de Niro Waiting and talking foreign. The current lineup features just two of the original Bananarettes, Keren Woodward and Sara Dallin, both of whom appear to have got younger in the 26 years since releasing their first single.
ABC Sheffield band whose debut album, The Lexicon of Love, is regarded as a classic today. Singer Martin Fry, liked preposterous gold suits, while the rest of the band favoured skinny ties over school shirts. Has influenced numerous modern artists, from Aphex Twin to N*E*R*D. Acceptable to like unironically.
Rick Astley He had a ginger quiff and penchant for wearing trousers so high-waisted that his belt chafed his nipples, but it didn't stop this Lancashire choirboy from becoming the ultimate 80s heart-throb, causing school girls to sob with longing whenever he appeared in his faded denim shirt in the Never Gonna Give
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