Boyzine – celebrating the forgotten boy bands of the 90s

June 28, 2008

Na na na na na na na na

Filed under: Uncategorized — by Kate Perris @ 2:45 pm
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Remember North and South? The boy band with their own tv series? And members from both the north and the south of England. They held out the promise of destroying the north south divide of boy band music in 90s England, where you could be a fan of Take That (north) or a fan of East 17 (south) but not both. North and South also reversed the traditional boy band tradition of “the unattractive member” by having only one attractive member. You would have thought that the unattractive girls who learn early to settle and claim to fancy the specially designated unattractive member (Danny from New Kids on the Block, Howard from Take That when he had dreads…) would have flocked to them but it didn’t quite happen and they broke up after only 3 singles.

No Sweat, the tv series of the band, had a first series set in Brighton in which the boys form a band in order to escape their drab lives (going to school, being bullied, not even a hand job from the girls at school, and one of them has a really annoying mother). They then attract girls but only the wrong kind (not slutty enough?) and have to hide from them a lot. What believability the first series had was altogether abandoned in the second in a move reminiscent of latter day Scooby Doo when they started having real ghosts, in that they started having real ghosts. Yes, why not introduce the supernatural into your failing boy band drama? In the second series North and South tour the country in a van which actually has a house inside (predating Harry Potter), have a glam rock manager and have to hide from a goth girl a lot. The BBC are keeping both series under wraps (no DVD) and the second did so badly their album, Allsorts, was never released. As ever I’d love to hear from you if you have a copy, because the few songs they did appeal were a great mix of guitars, singalong choruses and boy band tricks – like proto-Busted or McFly.

Little was heard from any of the members until the 6th series of American Idol when a now 28 year old Tom Lowe appeared and fessed up to his UK 90s past in North and South. He made it to Hollywood with (what else?) a Luther Vandross ballad but no further. His parents, however, will no doubt be pleased that he has an education to fall back on since he graduated from Harvard, no less. The official geeky member of North and South (the one in glasses) is probably a nuclear physicist by now.


Upside Down

Filed under: Uncategorized — by Kate Perris @ 1:33 pm
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* Are you between 17 and 21 and extremely good looking (we’re only looking for the best)
* Can you sing and wish to join the next teenage all boy band sensation?

So read the advertisement placed by Nick Stollery and Paul Hawkins of “World Records”, creators of Upside Down.  With a car hire fortune behind them, they turned their attention to the more glamorous world of pop, and their spectacular failure to mould their chosen four lads into a teenage sensation was captured by the BBC for its documentary, “A Band is Born”.    Since it isn’t on youtube, this description will have to suffice.

The programme starts with Nick and Paul reducing their initial 7,000 applicants to 250 by screening photographs, with the remaining fresh faced boys assembling at a Mayfair nightclub in February 1995 to sing either “Love Me for a Reason” or “Never Gonna Give You Up”.  Many of the hopeless auditionees – who it’s hard to believe thought of themselves as “extremely good looking” – literally run away in mid-song.  The rest are screened on video by Nick and Paul at home, weeded out with such damning comments as “spotty, isn’t he?” “yes, very bad acne”.  The 250 are eventually reduced to four:  Jamie (16), Chris (22), Richard (17) and Giles (20).

Even their new manager don’t seem overwhelmed with their lads, deeming them best of a bad bunch.  Jamie seems to be their favourite but is judged “too short”.  It could also be pointed out that he has big ears and a bad haircut but when asked by the BBC “do you think you’ll be attractive to young girls?” he blithely answers “yeah, definitely, definitely”.

After the initial euphoria wears off off, the boys’ parents are (perhaps understandably) nervous about handing their sons over to two middle aged men and take legal advice.  Giles even has middle class parents and is giving up studies at De Montford University.  The contracts unsigned, the documentary makers question Nick about possible exploitation: “Surely you could give them a few extra quid?” “Why?”

So Chris holds on to his job as a waiter, and is shown in a uniform of cowboy hat, braces, a pleated skirt over trousers and a red and white vertically striped polo shirt in some kind of bizarre combination of Austria and the Wild West (what can the food be like?)  Worse sartorial horrors are in store for the band as Nick and Paul appoint a stylist.  She is instructed to give the as yet unnamed band a “boys next door” look and an unlimited budget.  We see her spend over £2,000 in two shops alone and dress the boys in black and white vertically striped suits which isn’t what the boys next door to me are wearing (I do live in Catford).  They also go to a choreographer, who schools them in pelvic thrusts “because the girlies love them.  Some boys do too.”

The boys are flown to Spain in April to acquire suntans for their proposed summer single.  In a Marbella heavy metal club we see Richard trying to stay upright by holding onto a condom dispenser while moaning “oh no, fucking hell”.  A voice helpfully suggests “Rich put two fingers down your throat” but he crashes to the ground in one of those truly humiliating moments that keeps me watching fly-on-the-wall documentaries.  Marbella’s cocktails inspire the band’s eventual name, Upside Down.

Back in England they are taken to a singing teacher for vocal exercises.  “Open your mouth enough to admit the fattest part of your thumb between your teeth” she advises.  Certainly a skill worth having in the music industry.

Contracts finally thrashed out, the managers visit publishing house Rondor Music in the search for a “killer radio single”.  Unfortunately publisher Zara de Candole (!) can come up with nothing better to offer them than a song called “Arnold Schwartzenegger” which Nick and Paul openly laugh at and dismiss as “really twee”.  Haven’t they heard Belle and Sebastian?  Instead, they hire Ray Hedges to create a sound for the band.

Ray: “I was a bit reticent because I thought, well, another boy band.  I thought I want to try a harder route, I don’t want to do another boy band, so we’re trying to be more soulful.  We’ll try to take it somewhere other boy bands haven’t been before.  I can see more of a backlash than the boys can, and World Records.  I just really don’t want them to fall into the trap of thinking they’ve just got a formula to put out records.  You’ve still got to have that little spark so I’m going to try and drag it into the direction I think it should go.”  He produces a Jackson 5 style song which is fantastic, but was never released, so if you have a copy, let me know!

World Records declare Ray’s single too “black” sounding a too much of a marketing challenge, so behind his back they hire Ian Levine in an effort to “hedge their bets” (pun probably not intended).  They record a song due to have been recorded by Bad Boys Inc before they split up and which bears a mammoth debt to “Careless Whisper”.  Ian Levine comes across as very patronising towards the band and they prefer the Ray Hedges track (with the exception of Jamie).  World Records choose Ian Levine’s effort, “Change Your Mind”.

By now it is October and Switzerland becomes the location for the video shoot.  For the video, the boys are filmed lying on fur rugs in front of fires, scantily clad.  The director points to Giles’s shirt and says “if this falls off, don’t worry about it at all.”  Richard is clearly uncomfortably, pointing out “well, I’m in my underwear”.  Jamie is once again made to stand on the Yellow Pages when the group photos are taken.

Pop fame seems to beckon as Upside Down are chosen for the Smash Hits tour and attract the attention of a group of adolescent girls who scream and hold an animated discussion on which member is the most attractive, at least until Peter Andre appears.  Paul declares “I want to see a few pairs of knickers on stage.  Mine included.”  Their performance in velvet suits didn’t do it for me but some girls do wave their “show us your d*ck” (asterix in original) banner with enthusiasm, so it is declared a success.

The documentary ends with the announcement that Upside Down’s single has entered the charts at number 35, their launch having cost Nick Stollery half a million pounds.  You can buy success, but not very much of it.  For anyone who likes and defends “manufactured” bands (and I was with Ian Levine when he said that usually “pop bands survive better when somebody is masterminding them”) it hurts to see them manufactured so badly.

Upside Down’s role as figures of fun was pretty much guaranteed after the screening of “A Band is Born”, but they released 3 further singles, all produced by Ian Levine.  “Every Time I Fall in Love”, a song from the Rondor Music “repetoire” featured the lads in clashing acid bright suits (without shirts, of course), the 9 photo digipak providing plenty of opportunities to contemplate the crime against fashion.

“Never Found a Love Like This Before” was slated for being an obvious rip off of “Pray” and I can’t argue with that since the first time i heard it, I thought it was “Pray”.  It didn’t help the cause that the video was directed by the director of “Pray”.  Around this time, Richard acquired a stalker, a man whose actions were surely a cry for help.

For what was to be their final single, in November 1996, Upside Down recorded a genuine cover version, although thankfully not the cover of Petula Clark’s “Downtown” which they performed at roadshows.  In best boy band tradition they went for the MOR ballad and “If You Leave Me Now” by Chicago.  If you’ve heard Westlife and Mariah Carey’s version of “Against All Odds”, well, it isn’t as good as that.   There was a moody black and white video shot in Prague.

After dissolving their partnership with World Records, Upside Down reappeared…as a rock band, who played their own instruments, and were called Orange Orange (what do you want to bet they came up with their own name too?)  I This reincarnation met with all the success you might expect and was followed by Giles’s equally unsuccessful solo career where he admitted that the band had lied about not having girlfriends and had slept with fans.   I hope these performances were more successful than their musical ones.

It goes without saying, but if anyone knows what Upside Down are doing now, get in touch.  Their documentary was borrowed liberally from for the 1999 mockumentary series “Boyz Unlimited” which brought us James Corden (Gavin & Stacey) as the obligatory oversize figure of fun member but fiction was a lot less funny than fact (or fat).

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