It occurred to me recently that there isn't a proper genre name for early eighties UK pop-soul. You know, the sort that was festooned with synth drums, modal chord changes and 'squiggly' synths, as performed on Top Of The Pops by style-conscious vocalists in white gloves and 'cool' sunglasses with neon bits on them, while one of the backing band mimed on an instrument that wasn't actually audible on the record, and some balloons fell on them. Some sources out there seem to suggest 'jazz-funk' as a viable candidate, but that doesn't really nail down anything about its sound, style or indeed sunglasses, and could theoretically apply to anyone from Herbie Hancock to Level 42 via Curiosity Killed The Cat, Carmel and that band Ant Jones off Grange Hill had in that baffling Pop Pirates film. So it's time to do something about it.
Like all good genres, and indeed all bad ones, it needs a label that evokes the sound and the era in equal measure. Something that says both Roland synths and Latin percussion with a side order of what-time's-Tales-Of-The-Gold-Monkey-On?. Problem is, most of the immediately obvious suggestions just won't do. 'Post-Threads Soul' is at apocalyptic odds with the upbeat nature of the music, and conjures up worrying images of Jaki Graham scarpering from armed guards with a pilfered box of Prawn Cocktail flavour crisps. 'Deeleybopper Soul' really points more towards the zany Radio 1 DJs who introduced the records, and in any case it's probably illegal to mention them by now. Short-lived soft drink inspired 'Quatro Soul' almost nails it with the hint of sophistication and indeed suggestion of vague post-New Romantic influence, but would also allow bastard Five Star in through the back door, and that's not happening on my watch.
So the only sensible name left to give it is 'Pigeon Street Soul', in honour of a TV show that not only fits the timeframe perfectly, but also had a theme tune more or less cut from the same musical cloth. Arguably with slightly more sophisticated lyrics too. Incidentally, if anyone has a copy of the full-length version of the Pigeon Street theme as was very nearly released as a single by BBC Records And Tapes but then wasn't, please do get in touch.
Anyway, if we're inventing a genre, then we at least need to take a look at some of the key examples of it.
Imagination - Just An Illusion
Leee John, the man who inspired a million unfunny sketch show parody songs about how he'd 'forgotten half my trousers', and indeed a million unamused-for-different-reasons letters to Points Of View on much the same subject, with a handclap and slap bass-heavy ode to backing singers 'symbolically' appearing and then disappearing, and a video set in a Haunted House that, on closer inspection, seems small enough for him to have just jumped out of if he was that unnerved. Extra points for the none-more-genre-defining freeze-frame that lingers just slightly too long.
Junior - Mama Used To Say
Squiggly synth-dominated musical call-to-arms that was to Pigeon Street Soul what Purple Haze was to 1967, bafflingly illustrated here with Simon In The Land Of Chalk Drawings-inspired antics that caused much excitement to younger siblings when the video showed up on Top Of The Pops. All-conquering credentials more than confirmed by its subsequent retooling as the theme for TV-am's summer holidays stand-in for 'computer'-based Saturday Morning hoedown Data Run, Summer Run.
Linx - So This Is Romance
David Grant and company with their other hit, hitting all the right cultural touchstones with a bit of ‘prop’-based performance involving waving a letter around when it gets mentioned in the lyrics, the comic mugging to the camera of the other dinner-jacketed band members, and the bloke who has apparently been employed simply to stand at the back doing a weird stiff-legged hopping-from-one-foot-to-the-other dance that makes him appear constantly on the verge of falling over. And - AND - there's Simon Bates doing a trademark 'emotional' intro!
Joboxers - Just Got Lucky
New-fangled 'Boxerbeat' as touted by a band who dressed like they were looking to have a 'word' with Pogo Patterson at the end of an episode of Grange Hill, and a song that can have entire offices punching the air when it makes an unexpected appearance on Radio 2. Look out Pogo, they've got a 'cartie'!