Finally, here’s the final [I hope] installment of “The Ones That Got Away” – bands that I collect but have never seen live.
- Toyah – I came by Toyah Willcox fandom in a strange way. First, I saw her records positively reviewed by Robin Shurtz in Dogfood, my local New Wave music paper. Robin had “prog leanings,” but I knew him from my junior high school, where he had taught English. Then I bought an issue of Flexipop which had the photo as seen above on the cover of her “Thunder In The Mountains” 7″ single. I thought that anyone who went through the trouble to have that otherworldly John Swannell photo taken in elaborate Richard Sarah makeup just might be worth listening to. It was so calm yet determined that I took the bait. I found that Toyah’s records were somewhat comparable to Siouxsie & The Banshees, but with a detectable prog undercoating that made them neither fish nor fowl. They can be lumped in with the small but significant musical estuary of New Wave/Prog Rock, which sounds like an oxymoron, but believe me, it isn’t. When she ultimately married Robert Fripp in 1985, she all but sealed her Prog Wave credentials. Of course, none of her albums save for “The Lady Or The Tiger,” which she released with her husband in 1985 were ever accorded a US release, so it goes without saying that I’ve never seen her in concert. The woman is a multimedia star with films, plays, television credits, books, documentaries and yes even records adding to her 30 years of fame in the UK but if you say her name to an American, they’ll think you are talking about LaToyah Jackson.
- Ultravox – This tale is well told to those who know me. I discovered Ultravox via their superb “Passing Strangers” song and video. The full, elaborate story is recounted on this post if you want way too much detail! Almost as soon as I first heard them, they were playing a gig a month later at the Cuban Club in Tampa, Florida. This was 90 miles away from Orlando, where I lived at the time. I was just 17 at the time. I didn’t drive yet. Nor did any of my friends. Trekking to Tampa for a show was years in the future for me, unfortunately. The salt in the wound is twofold. First, in the next decade, I eventually became friends with many people who had made the trip to the event. I just didn’t know them early enough to hitch a lift! Then, the “other tours” which I intended to catch in layer years never materialized. The band, who signed with Chrysalis because they had a US division to help break them here, never broke here. Chrysalis was too busy pushing Huey Lewis and Pat Benatar. They just didn’t get Ultravox. There was a tour pencilled in for their “best selling” US album, “Quartet” in 1983 but it was spiked at the last minute as the album quickly fell out of the Billboard hot 100 LP chart. Needless to say, they are the second biggest fish [following their original lead singer, John Foxx] to have gotten away. Since you asked, yes – they did reform in 2009 and toured the UK and Europe to frenzied fans. Who hasn’t? No, I wasn’t there for any of those shows.
- Was (Not Was) – I first encountered this brilliant, yet eccentric band during the “Ze Funk” phase of WPRK, the radio station of Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida. In the second half of 1981, the station seemed to be playing a lot of the bands signed to the Ze label out of NYC. Was (Not Was) specialized in a strange blend of Detroit funk with white beat hipster attitude. Imagine Frank Zappa and Parliament/Funkadelic in a blender. I saw their video for “Knocked Down, Made Small [Treated Like A Rubber Ball]” maybe once on MTV so I never got a handle on their brilliant “Born To Laugh At Tornados” album. Many years later, they managed to get a commercial foothold with “Walk The Dinosaur” and lo and behold, they were finally all over the tube, and in stores, and I liked what I heard. Their third album is a [hybrid] vigorous blend of damned good R&B mated with dadaism. I bought it and became a huge fan, working my way backward. They appeared once in Orlando on their tour for the “What Up, Dog” album and I missed them. They made one more album before imploding on the twin pitfalls of unexpected popularity and Don Was’ burgeoning production career. Happily, they reunited in 2008 for the excellent “Boo!” album, but as of yet, there hasn’t been a second opportunity for me to miss their gig.
- Mari Wilson – I saw Mari Wilson’s campy video for “Just What I Always Wanted” on MTV once or twice and wasted no time in seeking out all of her wonderful records, that existed in a unique time warp; some sounded like lost 1962 pre-Beatles UK kitsch pop masterpieces, others were a similar style yet au courant 1982 studio concoctions as made by New Musik’s Tony Mansfeld. Against all odds, here debut album, “Showpeople” managed to get a US release, but their 11 piece show band was just too expensive to tour internationally. They barely managed their UK tour opening for Roxy Music! After that 1st album, Mari disappeared into the jazz clubs before re-emerging in 1991 with her second album, pictured above. Her style moved away from kitsch-jazz to the MOR variant now well known in the UK and exported abroad successfully by the NWOBJP movement. This year, she performed what must have been her first ever US show in Los Angeles. It must have been nice.
- XTC – This New Wave band was active from 1977 to just a few years ago. I was on board from 1980 onward. There should have been an opportunity or two to see them in concert but for the salient fact that singer Andy Partridge had a nervous breakdown in 1982 and never played a live show again. Ironically, XTC did do an in-store in Orlando at Peaches Records in 1989 on the back of the nifty “Oranges & Lemons” that no-one knew about.
So that’s the bitter end of this list. It’s far happier to dwell on the amazing acts [some against all odds] that I have managed to enjoy in a live setting, but that’s another list for another day. Next, look out for the return of the ROCK GPA®!
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