We all remember those legendary Top of the Pops moments: Boy George’s first appearance which confused an entire nation; Morrissey’s marriage proposal; all those shows presented by Jimmy Savile.
Anyway. My own favourite TotP* moment pales into insignificance compared to most, but that’s the odd thing with favourites isn’t it? Back in 1996 Brit Pop was all the rage, its two behemoths (Oasis and Blur – or was it Catherine Wheel and Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci? I forget) spawning no end of chancers, equivalents, and superiors. Falling into one or more of those categories came Space. On their debut Top of the Pops appearance, the opening line to Me and You Versus The World (“I first met you hanging knickers on the line”) caught my attention and I was hooked for the rest of the song; the tragi-rom-com story of a modern day Bonnie and Clyde set the tone for their first album Spiders.
Tommy Scott’s songs of love and hate are full of bizarre, cartoony characters and settings, including Saddam Hussein and John Major, as well as tearing into the popular hate figures of the Queen and Margaret Thatcher. His wonderfully, fiercely Scouse singing voice** was backed by a raucous, sometimes messy agglomeration of drums, guitar, keyboards, and odd vocal samples. Their poppy uniqueness came from the band being one part lyrical weirdness, one part guitar enthusiasm, and one part dance, with their first two albums both featuring dedicated dance tracks.
Space’s zenith came as they were promoting their second album, in the afterglow of the three hits off the first. A breakthrough to the big time beckoned, with endearingly daft appearances on mainstream TV programmes: on This Morning the band performed Avenging Angels, with Tommy telling Richard and Judy that he did indeed believe in these protective beings, and in fact had seven of them himself***.
While Tin Planet did give them their biggest ever hit, The Ballad of Tom Jones (which proved ultimately to be more of a platform for Cerys Matthews), it failed to be as successful – or as much fun – as the first album.
Llistening back to both albums, I’m now struck by how much dark humour – and just plain darkness – lurks beneath the chirpy Scouse surface, with spade-loads of anger, murder, paranoia and despair. Exhibit A, the twisted genius of Drop Dead’s “I’m your number one fan and I go to every picture / The more I see you, the more I wanna hit ya”.
From here the band suffered label difficulties and a rapid turnover in members, with the planned album I Love You More Than Football never seeing the light of day. The occasional song popped out, including the enjoyable Diary of a Wimp, later followed by the album Suburban Rock n’ Roll, which was poor fare, even to the ears of this dedicated fan.
The most basic of internet search results in the promise of a new album (worryingly titled Attack of the Mutant 50ft Kebab), but this dates back nearly two years so I won’t be holding my breath just yet****. The associated live clips on YouTube suggest a move towards ska, which nearly threatens to work – time will tell.
Despite a sad fading away at the end of their initial fame, Space will always be the soundtrack to much of my late teens, and will always put a smile on my face. Nothing sounds quite like them, and ultimately Tommy Scott was right: Felix the Cat was a twat.
*as the show was inevitably re-branded during its final days on palliative care
**Scott described how he became a singer to emulate the singers idolised by his Dad. Whichever style he adopted (including Mexican, Sinatra, and plain old fruitcake) his Scouse twang was prevalent
***sadly I can’t find any footage of this appearance. Tommy made his way through the interview with admirably straight face
****I will be
Of late I have become pretty much completely obsessed with Roxy Music. In the absence of the will or ability to write anything meaningful about them, and in particular Bryan Ferry, (yet), here’s a superb clip of them performing Virginia Plain on Top of the Pops in 1972.
It’s played at a slightly slower tempo than the studio version, making it a little easier to hear (if not necessarily understand) Ferry’s lyrics (“Havana sound we’re trying / Hard edge the hipster jiving, woah / Last picture shows down the drive-in” anyone? Anyone?).
What’s particularly noticeable is an in-cred-ible visual performance by Ferry. Here’s the video: