Friday, 30 November 2007

My 21st Century Boy!

Over the last few weeks, since our Tommy was born, we have been genuinely overwhelmed with the show of love and kindness from friends and family. Cards, baby clothes, toys, teddies, flowers, even a couple of bottles of Champagne for mum and dad! All very welcome and all very much appreciated. But there was one gift that took us by surprise... Before that though, lets go back to 1985, by which time the young Piley was completely immersed in music…

Everything revolved around music, three nights a week were spent at various 'alternative music' clubs, and every remaining penny was spent on gigs and records. The CV was maturing nicely, and by the age of 18 included the likes of Bowie, Roxy Music, Bolan, Sparks, Sex Pistols and the Damned. But despite my love for these acts (and I obviously chose well as I still love all of them today) there was something missing. I was playing 'catch up', and although many of these artists were still going, many of their iconic periods were behind them, I’d been hitting the back catalogue, because I'd missed the boat. Sure there had been acts that I got into 'as it happened' -- two in particular that I have had a lasting relationship with are Soft Cell and Depeche Mode. But I was still at school when I got into them, and although I did manage to see both bands live at the time (around 1981/82) I couldn't really say I was part of 'the scene'.

I used to watch every music programme on TV, and as my mum and dad had just invested in their first 'top loading' VHS video recorder, I took the opportunity to record many of the performances I saw (particularly on programmes such as The Tube). Then in 1985 it happened. I was watching the Tube replacement programme Bliss, and was presented with the most exciting band I'd ever seen. I had no idea who they were but knew immediately that they were everything I ever wanted. Literally within 10 seconds of them taking over my TV, the video was recording, as I instantly fell in love with the whole package. The sound was a genuinely unique and exciting mix. A driving, mesmerising bass like I've never heard before, a mix of Eddie Cochran and Marc Bolan on lead guitar, two drummers (and I'd always been a sucker for two drummers, my earlier loves had included Gary Glitter and Adam and the Ants), and the most outrageous preening peacock of a lead singer sounding like a cross between Elvis and Johnny Rotten! And just to top it all off there was a fabulous 'Ultra Vixen’ playing sound effects and film dialogue over the top of the whole thing. And how about that look? A space age futuristic mix of patent leather, plastic and rubber, make-up, high heels n high hair. It was awesome!

I had shivers down my spine through the whole performance as I remained hypnotised to the screen. The moment it finished, I was continually replaying it on the VHS. I hadn't been able to identify the name of the bad during the show, so it was another couple of weeks before I knew that it was Sigue Sigue Sputnik who were about to dominate my life!

At this point the band were still unsigned, and it was fantastic to be in there right at the beginning -- at last, this was my very own Ziggy Stardust. The excitement was unrivalled, I started going to see them at every opportunity. The Buzz at their gigs was incredible, the band always looked amazing... even the audience were glamorous. What a blast! Then the media started to get wind of this underground happening, and they went seriously overboard, and within a few months, you couldn’t keep the band off the front page of the tabloids. Soon, everyone knew who they were, and they hadn’t even released a record! But like all good things, it couldn't last. Once the band had been signed to EMI (£4m was the figure bandied around, but it’s unlikely that it was anything like that), the hype machine went into overdrive, and the backlash started not long after the first single was released. The fans were faithful, but for everyone else, Sputnik bashing became a national sport. Looking back I think people were simply rebelling against the hype -- they resented having this band rammed down their throats. Had people really bothered to see or hear them? Probably not, but it's easy to jump on a backlash bandwagon, especially when the tabloids get involved. Sputnik were ahead of their time, and became a victim of it. In what seemed like the blink of an eye on it was over, and in 1989 they split. But their music never disappeared from my playlist. All through the 1990s I was continually going back to their recordings, and every play evoked memories of those exciting times in the late 80s.

Then after a decade in the wilderness, the unthinkable actually happened... Sigue Sigue Sputnik the reform! The 21st-century band had teleported into the future, to a time that had caught up with their incredible sound. I'll admit I was a tad nervous when I went to see that first reform gig on Easter Sunday 23rd April 2000, but I needn't have been. It was like they'd never been away! As it turned out, there were lots of dedicated fans like me still out there and soon the band were selling out shows just like the old days. New material was next, and again although initially worried, what a fantastic album PirateSpace turned out to be! All the best of the original sound brought bang up-to-date… Had some underground alternative dance act (Daft Punk or LCD Soundsystem) recorded it, it would no doubt have got the recognition it deserved, but as it was it was largely ignored -- people have long memories when it suits!

The gigs and the new material kept on coming, and the reformed Sputnik actually released more albums this time around than in the 80s. But just like before, it seemed over in a flash. This time a massive internal row saw them split (almost certainly) for good.

But a Phoenix has emerged from the flames in Sputnik2, lead singer Martin Degville's all-new band carrying on where Sigue Sigue Sputnik left off. His passion for the classic Sputnik sound shines through in the solo work he's released so far, and his live shows are a real treat! New songs stand side by side with those from the 80s and early 2000 and the result is seamless. Martin has a faithful audience of old, and a healthy injection of students discovering the 21st century of rock 'n' roll for the first time.

I have the utmost respect for Martin, and more than two decades after Sigue Sigue Sputnik burst onto the music scene, he has proved beyond doubt that he was (and still is) the blood pumping through the veins of the Sputnik monster.

So after reading all of this, you’ll perhaps be able to appreciate the shock I experienced on opening a parcel addressed to young Tommy, only to find a handmade, personalised ‘Sputnik Baby’ T-Shirt, a handmade, personalised baby card and a signed picture of the man himself! So how did it all come about? Well I am one of a large number of fans who post on Martin's messageboard. I happened to mention on there that Tom had arrived, and the next thing you know…. a parcel arrives direct from Sputnik HQ!

In a time where the traffic between artist and fan is almost exclusively one way, I think Martin and his right hand (wo)man Lynn both deserve a large pat on the back for their thoughtful and kind gesture – I can assure you it was very much appreciated, and is something that will be treasured forever.
For the last 2 or 3 months, Martin has been competing in season 3 of Famecast. This is a global X-Factor kind of idea with a novel twist... all the contestants have talent! All the entrants write their own material, play instruments and sing. Round after round he has come though, and he has now made it into the final 5 of his section (Electronic), so is flying out to Austin, Texas for the grand final, which will be shown live online. The winner will be the one who receives the most online votes, so why not give Dirty Degz a helping hand? Even if you're not much of a fan, surely he deserves a few extra votes just for being an all round good egg?! Martin's performance in the final is on the 5th December, and voting (which is free... no X-Factor 50p a vote rip-offs here!) starts next Saturday (8th December). You can submit one vote per day.

For more information on the Famecast finals and to submit your vote click here

Martin's page on Famecast is here

If you’d like to see what Martin's up to these days why not check out his website here

Finally, 22 years on, here is part of that incredible appearance on the Bliss TV show that kicked it all off for me. I love the bemused look on 99% of the audience faces! Only the goth chic with the shades on (and her mate) really get it, and then there's the slightly pissed guy in the white shirt and white socks down the front, who looks like he said "fuck it, I can wobble along to this"!! Enjoy:



Anonymous said...

A fabulous story, to echo many others I would think!
Once you get the Sputnik blood pumping through your veins, it's there to stay!
Thankfuly Martin continues to fly the flag forever onwards, he is a legend!!

Great pix of young Tommy!

Good luck to Martin in Famecast, he gets my vote. :-))

Mondo said...

I'm all for Sputnik - They're like a space age New York Dolls and Pirate Space is a belter too - what great pics. Are you gonna make a fun size fright wig to go with the Tom's T shirt?

Anonymous said...

What a great story Piley! And full marks to Martin for being a top bloke. A very nice touch.

Will certainly make sure that I cast a few votes for him next week.


Anonymous said...

Great story mate...really amazing!

I will be voting for sure.

Bet you didn't know that Sigue did a collaboration with Billy Joel once- no really it went summing like this..

Siamese, Lebanese, Chinese speaking strip TV's,Embryo, UFO, freako psycho horror show - We didn't start the fire
It was always burning
Since the world's been turning
We didn't start the fire
No we didn't light it
But we tried to fight it.

(chorus) I'm a space cowboy
I'm a 21st century whoopee boy

Axe Victim said...

Nice story. Like the pics of you with your boy too. Cool.

E F RICE said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
E F RICE said...

This is amazing stuff Piley ! I agree with axe victim as well regarding the pics.

So will Marc Almond and David Bowie follow suit ?!

Carl said...

I never did get SSS i used to call em Sick Sick Shitbag :-). Went to see em with Piley a few years back and they were much better live , rockin in fact. That first single they did sounds like a casio watch. Give me New York Dolls any day xx.

Piley said...

I remember that gig well Carl! Rock Garden in Covent Garden in the early 2000's.

No matter if you like em or hate em tho - you've got to give Martin credit for the gesture I wrote about here eh?

Nice to see you over here again Carl - don't be a stranger eh?!