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Friday, 18 May, 2001, 14:52 GMT 15:52 UK
Romantic revival
Simon Le Bon, Human League and Boy George
Early 80s glamour contrasted with the social backdrop
By BBC News Online's Helen Bushby

Pop music from the early 80s usually gets more attention for its stars' haircuts and lipgloss than the tunes they produced - not least because many of them were men.

But BBC Radio 2's new series, The Look of Love: The Story of the New Romantics, presented by ABC frontman Martin Fry, aims to change that.

The radio show is a compelling mixture of music, social comment and reminiscences from some of the era's best-known pop stars.

A softly-spoken Fry said he thought the early 80s produced "powerful music which embraced innovation and produced stylish pop".

Although it could be argued that Fry is somewhat biased, broadcaster and journalist Robert Elms backed him up.

Martin Fry
And he made the analogy that new romantic music was the "glittery fall-out" after the explosion of punk.

It embraced new technology, which gave budding stars access to synthesisers, samplers and video.

However, the music was set against a gritty backdrop of Thatcherism, the miners' strike, riots and unemployment.

DJ Rusty Egan pointed out: "You had to dig around, you had to glamorise your glum, horrible, boring existence with no future on the dole in Thatcher's Britain."

The programme goes some way to explaining why the new romantics decided to just "party and get dressed up" in the face of social hardship.

It also reveals how they broke the mould when it came to image - many were routinely beaten up for their "unusual" appearance.

Elms, who wrote for the pioneering Face magazine, said he was regularly victimised by "gangs of surly, grumpy boys", and that the freedom to dress as you wished was hard-won.

Heaven 17's Glen Gregory reported that he and the Human League's Phil Oakey suffered similar problems.

But it is not all doom and gloom - the show also digs out old favourites including Ultravox's haunting Vienna and several early hits from Spandau Ballet and Gary Numan.

It is well-researched, and takes you comfortably down memory lane, but avoids any sentimentality by focusing as much on the social comment as the music.

Style author and broadcaster Peter Yorke summed it up well.

"There was a period when the 80s vanished down a very dark hole. The closure came with the 1997 election, when the Tories went, the bright new world occurred and people felt safe to talk about those days."

And about time too.

The Look of Love: The Story of the New Romantics is a seven-week series on BBC Radio 2 on Thursdays at 2200 BST. The first programme was on 17 May.

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18 May 01 | Reviews
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