So who were the Wilsations, and what was the experience of seeing them live at this point like? Just as Beware Boyfriend arrived in the shops in late 1982, Mari and her entourage arrived at the Hammersmith Palais in London and Melody Maker was there to witness the show. “There was Harry, Larry, Barry, Gary, Cary and Jim,” the review began. “There was Cinderella and Barbarella. There was Kurt… there was Hank B Hive and of course there was Mari. Mari, Mari. High priestess of hairspray. Cool and sophisticated under a Centre Point of setting lotion, a cliff face of coiffure. A star so pure and dazzling that, in her own sweet words, she barely goes to the toilet. Perhaps The Wilsations do it for her. They already do a hell of a lot – juggling, backing, compering, dancing, singing. It was as if the Palais mirror ball had lowered itself to the stage for the occasion. If Mari was the spotlight that focussed on it, then the Wilsations were the shiny surfaces that sent her twinkling round the hall.”
And the verdict? “In short it was fantastic. Incredible… Hank’s MC spiel sets the pace (it’s at least ten minutes before the well B hived one appears on stage). There are introductions to be made, jokes to crack. In fact there are so many people in the band, the hellos carry on for an hour and a half, slotted between songs, allowing for off-stage costume changes and giving the whole performance a perfect feel of pace and dynamics. Just What I Always Wanted comes early, closely followed by the new single (Beware) Boyfriend… three dresses, a fistful of numbers (one smoochy ballad Cry Me A River) and too few finger-snappin’ minutes later we’re into Rave. It’s the night’s wildest exercise. Anyone who’s playing is thudding the beat through the floorboards, anyone who isn’t is doing a cartwheel; a few appear to be managing both.”
The quality of the live shows was matched by the quality of the studio recordings that Wilson was issuing. Surprisingly, there was just one album (also 1982; a follow-up planned for 1984 was apparently shelved), but there was a string of excellent 45s each exquisitely packaged and supplied with intriguing sleeve notes. Mari herself matched the wit displayed in those notes when she was interviewed: “Diana Ross preaches Love. Well, I preach Tupperware,” she declared in Smash Hits (16-29 September 1982) – but she wasn’t giving all her secrets away. “At the moment, I’m a cult figure, but I don’t know how long I want that to go on. David Bowie is a cult figure but he’s also incredibly successful. That’s partly because there’s still so many things people don’t know about him. That’s why I’m not going to tell you what type of washing powder I use.”
Regardless of how much her audience knew about her, the chances were that she would remain a cult figure with only one album of her own on the market. (She did contribute tracks to other long-playing collections, such as the essential A Young Person’s Guide to Compact.) Her favouring of intimate venues for gigs in the second half of the 1980s, where she often performed jazz standards, only increased the mystique. In addition, with the winding up of The Compact Organization in the middle of the decade, her records became increasingly hard to come by. “My LP Showpeople is included in this exquisite cachet of loveliness,” she wrote in the sleeve notes to the 2007 compilation The Platinum Collection. (It had never been released on CD in the UK, meaning it had been unavailable in its entirety for some 15 years.) “Meanwhile I’m tracking down some of my own hidden gems, rarities and unheard demos for future release – I bet you’re squealing with excitement!” she continued. And yes. Yes, we are.
1 Larkin, Colin. “Mari Wilson”, The Virgin Encyclopedia of Popular Music, Virgin Books, 1997.
NEW SINGLES on sale from Nov. 5
SIMPLE MINDS (Jim Kerr) Someone Somewhere (Virgin VS538)
VISAGE (Steve Strange) Pleasure Boys (Polydor POSP523)
WAH! (Pete Wylie) The Story Of The Blues (Eternal JF1)
Mari WILSON (Beware) Boyfriend (The Compact Organization PINK5)
DEAD OR ALIVE (Pete Burns) You Spin Me Round (Like A Record) (Epic A4861)
HUMAN LEAGUE Louise (Virgin VS723)
Nik KERSHAW The Riddle (MCA NIK6)