The Next Big Thing? Part 3

TwitterThe Next Big Thing? Part III
In the third part of this look at the artists Smash Hits predicted would make it big in the 80s, we look at those who never had a charting single in the UK.

Allez Allez
Year predicted to break: 1983
Belgian “neo-funk” (as they described themselves) band who were “briefly trendy” (as Smash Hits described them) but split when they were dropped by Virgin in 1984.

Virginia Astley
Year predicted to break: 1984
Experimental singer, songwriter and keyboardist who had credits on a wide variety of artists’ work during the 1980s whilst quietly pursuing a solo career. In the 1990s she was popular in Japan, but remained a cult artist in the UK. As far as is known, she is still recording, but it’s coming up for ten years since her most recent album appeared.

Blue In Heaven
Year predicted to break: 1985
Irish rock group, around for most of the 80s and early protégées of U2: they were associated with U2’s Mother record company, but their first recordings appeared on Island (the same label as U2 themselves). In the 1990s they were known as The Blue Angels.

Book Of Love
Year predicted to break: 1987
Early 80s American synth-pop group formed by Susan Ottaviano and Ted Ottaviano (no relation) (really, no relation) who came to British attention when they were the opening act for two Depeche Mode tours in the middle of the decade. They failed to chart altogether in the UK but did just make it on to Billboard Hot 100 in America in 1988 with Pretty Boys And Pretty Girls, which acknowledged the AIDS health crisis. They split in 1994 over concerns about the group’s future direction and concerns about their kind of music’s obsolescence in the era of grunge.

Dislocation Dance
Year predicted to break: 1983
Post-punk outfit with origins that can be traced to the late 70s who had some success with releases on the independent Rough Trade label at the time of the Smash Hits recommendation. They split in 1986. Trumpet player Andy Diagram (also a member of The Diagram Brothers concurrently with the early years of Dislocation Dance) later turned up in indie favourites The Pale Fountains and James, with which he had chart success.

Robert King
Year predicted to break: 1983
Former member of Scots band The Scars, King released one solo single and then moved to Spain which “apparently means that he’ll be adding a few flamenco touches to his usually light and slightly tearful electronically-based pop,” according to the 1983 yearbook. We never found out; King returned to education and eventually disappeared from the music scene altogether. A reissue of The Scars’ only album, Author! Author! on CD about ten years ago led to a critical reappraisal of their work, and ultimately to a one-off reunion concert in 2010.

David Lasley
Year predicted to break: 1985
A brave choice for ‘The Next Big Thing?’, as Lasley’s soulful falsetto voice and rather plain appearance weren’t for everyone. He was much in demand as a session singer – people like disco/dance producers Chic made good use of his vocals on their records and those of Sister Sledge, for example. He was also a talented writer but his lack of star quality meant he was unlikely to have hits with his own songs; instead, they were hits in the hands of others. He still releases the occasional collection of his own recordings though.

Light A Big Fire
Year predicted to break: 1987
Contemporaries of Blue In Heaven, both bands formed and split at around the same time and were popular with Bono Vox of U2. Light A Big Fire was originally built around two lead vocalists, but when they signed with Siren (at the time of the Smash Hits recommendation) they were down to just one, Tom McLaughlin. He put their addictive melodies and distinct Irishness down to the influence of traditional music: “In Ireland, folk music has never been away, so there’s always been good tunes there.” They made three albums, but shortly after the third of them was completed McLaughlin quit when he was challenged over his continued commitment to the band’s extensive touring itinerary. A new front man was hired but Siren wouldn’t cover the cost of re-recording the vocals for the album. When other original members of the band left in early ’89, Light A Big Fire came to an end although the remaining personnel did attempt to continue with a change of name for a short time afterwards.

Year predicted to break: 1988
A “loose collection of London types who at the last count numbered seven, including Helen Terry, who used to be a backing singer for Boy George, and ex-Adam And The Ants guitarist Marco Pirroni – though their leader is Kevin Mooney (oddly enough, one of Adam Ant’s swash-buckling Ant-men, although he staunchly denies it),” according to the 1988 yearbook. Max (“We chose the name Max because it has three letters; it sounded nice and it’s written on the volume knob of a stereo, so why not?” said Mooney) released one single but the album it was taken from, One Thousand And 1 Nights, recorded for ZTT, never made it to the shops. The album eventually appeared on a different label and in a different form as Silence Running in 1992, by which time Max had undergone line-up changes and a brief renaming to Lomax. They split in 1994; ‘lost’ recordings surfaced a couple of years ago when co-founding member Leslie Winer self-released them.

Year predicted to break: 1989
Nephew of reggae toastmaster Smiley Culture, Merlin was 17 when he rapped on Bomb The Bass’s Megablast single. He also worked with other acts on the Rhythm King label such as The Beatmasters but it was Sire that released Merlin’s own albums in the early 1990s.

Jeb Million
Year predicted to break: 1987
Canadian singer and songwriter resident in the UK from the mid-70s and for much of the 80s; real name Ged Milne. Briefly in Fury with Topper Headon before Headon left to join The Clash; Million went on to front metal band Blazer Blazer and moved to WEA for his solo career in the mid-80s, with initial releases produced by Stock Aitken Waterman. Subsequent singles were credited to a new band, Radio Earth. He died in 2013.

Year predicted to break: 1984
Physique never put a record out, let alone placed one in the charts. Two years after they featured in the The Smash Hits Yearbook they were still trying to break through, but the only vaguely notable fact about the group was that it included Andrew Ridgeley’s brother Paul.

Year predicated to break: 1983
“A seven-piece all-girl rhythm orchestra,” Smash Hits explained. “Some of Pulsallama play basses and bang things, while the others sing, chant and make the kind of whoopee that gets made when New Yorkers discover African-influenced pop music.” An official press released described them as “probably the most outrageous group in the known world.”

The Sapphires
Year predicted to break: 1983
Singing south London sisters Ruby, Vicki and Sylvia, originally named Sylvia and The Sapphires after the latter member. They released a few singles on Stiff records but received more attention for their work as backing singers for more established names. Without a hit they returned to session work after a couple of years.

Seona Dancing
Year predicted to break: 1984
Duo who got their record deal on the strength of a demo tape. “We were incredible lucky to get our deal that way, but the days are gone when you had to play pubs and clubs before anybody noticed you,” they said, having noticed that trend already. They split in the year Smash Hits had predicted greatness for them; singer Ricky Gervais (who admitted back then to being a Simon and Garfunkel fan and a former choirboy) achieved international fame in the 21st century when his comedy show ‘The Office’ finally provided his break via comedy, acting and writing.

Phil Thornalley
Year predicted to break: 1984
Thornalley spent most of the 1980s in the studio, his name turning up on records for Duran Duran, Kim Wilde and (for which he was nominated for a Grammy award) Thompson Twins as engineer and producer, but he also had a contract as a solo artist before replacing Clark Datchler in Johnny Hates Jazz. He co-wrote the song Torn in the early 90s that was an international hit later in the decade for former ‘Neighbours’ Natalie Imbruglia. In 2009 he co-wrote and produced a pair of British #1 singles for Pixie Lott for her debut album.

Torch Song
Year predicted to break: 1985
Ambient dance trio who had some success in clubs but no commercial hits. For the rest of the 1980s, multi-instrumentalist, writer and producer William Orbit was in demand as a remixer and released a couple of instrumental albums under his own name. He finally achieved a Top 10 hit in the early 90s with Fascinating Rhythm with new group Bass-O-Matic. He reunited with Torch Song’s ethereal vocalist Laurie Mayer for a couple of tracks on his 1993 classic Strange Cargo III, which also featured Beth Orton, with whom he had teamed up for a single the year before as Spill. Extraordinarily prolific in 1995, he released three albums: another in the Strange Cargo series, a new Torch Song LP (with original member Grant Gilbert replaced by Rico Conning), and a collection of his electronica versions of the work of classical composers. In 1998, he co-wrote and produced on Madonna’s acclaimed Ray Of Light album; he has worked with her on several occasions since, most recently on 2012’s MDNA. Further hits with other artists and for himself have followed.

Year predicted to break: 1983
Jazz-influenced pop trio who completed their sound with the aid of numerous guest musicians and paved the way for sophisti-pop later in the decade. But instead of making it big in 1983, they split up. Member Simon Booth retained elements of the group’s sound for a new project cunningly titled Working Week which survived into the 90s and briefly featured a pre-Swing Out Sister Corinne Drewery.

James Wilde
Year predicted to break: 1989
Probably the most obscure of all Smash Hits’s predictions, 22 year old Wilde had been taken on by Pet Shop Boys and Bros manager Tom Watkins in December 1987 and was recording his first LP at the time of the 1989 yearbook, but what happened next is a mystery. A single was expected but unless he put it out under another name, it was never released.

NEW SINGLES on sale from Dec. 20
No release scheduled for this date.


4 thoughts on “The Next Big Thing? Part 3

    • Thank you for this information Pop Fan! As indicated, I suspected a name change but was unable to verify it – I may revise this article at some point in the future as a result of your lead! ~IfYouWereThere


      • I only remembered him as one of the teen mags (I think it was “Number One”) dismissively reviewed his “Who’s Got My Number” single as a rip off of Paula Abdul’s “Straight Up.” I re-found the magazine recently and tried to look him up. Not a lot of info on him but some of the international MTV sites have two of his videos online:

        “Stroke of Luck” is OK, a little generic but no worse than many of the Bros singles. “Who’s Got My Number” is definitely a “Straight Up” knockoff though. I think his image may have been too mature for the teen market in the end. He looks more Bruce Willis than Matt Goss.

        Anyway, loving your blog! I’m American and it was hard to get info on UK pop back in the late 80s other than the occasional imported “Smash Hits” or “Number One” I could find. And so many of the big stars like Bros or Jason Donovan were total flops on the American pop charts. I just stumbled upon you when I was Googling info on SAW’s “All the Way” LOL.


      • Thanks for your kind words about the blog Pop Fan, and for the links to James’s videos. I think you’re right about his image; in particular, the voice doesn’t match the look for me. In the Smash Hits piece he very much presents himself as a “boy next door” type, but his publicity photos and the video clips seem to want to depict a very mature, confident man. Polydor certainly had their work cut out marketing him – I’m wondering if he was really 22 after all.


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