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“I don’t like pop music“: The time Neil Tennant went on tour with Kajagoogoo

In mid February 1983, Kajagoogoo stormed their way to the top of the charts with a massive debut single co-produced by Duran Duran‘s Nick Rhodes, and even bigger barnets. But that summer the musos from Leighton Buzzard did a Haircut 100 and unceremoniously sacked their gay party boy singer, Lancashire lad Limahl.

Just weeks before the band broke with the frontman, a future Pet Shop Boy hitched a ride on their tour bus. Documenting the shebang for Smash Hits, he sensed there was murder in the air…

The Sound Of The Crowd: The Kajagoogoo Tour
Neil Tennant, Smash Hits, 26 May 1983

Shrieks, squeals, gasps, wails…It gets even louder when the band actually come on stage. The Kajagoogoo tour is not an experience easily forgotten. Neil Tennant picks his way nervously through the heaps of fainting bodies.

BEFORE THE show’s begun, the first girl faints. Her friends point down at her and the security chaps lift her over the crash barrier and away to safety. Then the lights dim and the screaming starts in earnest.

In recent months I’ve seen audiences squeal at Soft Cell and Spandau Ballet, but this is different.

Waves of emotion and excitement are crashing noisily onto the stage of the Guildhall in Portsmouth. As the taped introductory music dies away and Stuart, Steve, Jez and Nic run onstage, the air vibrates with shattering, piercing screams. When Limahl creeps on towards the end of the opening instrumental, it’s overwhelming.

“It’s quite incredible,” says Nick Beggs afterwards. “It’s like standing on a hill when there’s a really, really strong wind blowing and it takes your breath away.”

Portsmouth is one of the more low-key shows so far on Kajogoogoo’s first headlining tour. During the songs most of the audience quieten down and listen – unless Nick smiles at someone or Limahl points – and there’s something to enjoy if you’re prepared to listen.

During the months since Kajagoogoo arrived with ‘Too Shy’, they’ve become established as the most criticised group for years. It’s become commonplace for other musicians to publicly denounce them. Paul Weller, for instance: “A lot of audiences seem quite frightened of new things. How would a group like Kajagoogoo get to Number one otherwise?” Or Dave Gahan of Depeche Mode talking about ‘Too Shy’: “That single is slime.” Or Sean McCluskey of JoBoxers: “If it’s a question of them dressing up like us or Kajagoogoo, I’d rather they dressed up like us…at least we’re not corrupting anybody.” Harsh words all culled from recent issues of Smash Hits.

I was a mildly fierce critic of the group myself until it began to dawn on me that, if they were criticised so widely and so frequently, they must be doing something right.

At Portsmouth I was quite impressed – not just by the screaming but by the group. Nick Beggs has an admirably fluid bass style on stage as on record. The next day I learn about his love of Jazz: onstage I can hear its influence. Steve Askew is a stylish guitarist and Limahl is a quite compelling performer, a strong singer and sinewy dancer, who establishes an old-fashioned rapport with his audience.

All this is not to suggest that Kajagoogoo are musical heavyweights, just a recognition of the fact that that they possess a still-developing talent for writing subtle melodies, arranging them and playing them. Their lyrics are also a little more thoughtful than you might expect. The song ‘White Feathers’ takes the image of cowardice (in World War one pacifists used to be handed white feathers to label them cowards) and ‘Frayo’ is about military rule in Poland.

“It’s nice to have that little bit of depth. I’m proud of it, “Limahl maintains. “People think we’re a thin pop band but we’re not that at all. I wouldn’t be in this band if we were.”

He also denies the frequently made accusation that Kajagoogoo are somehow manipulated and were manufactured by their record company.

“We had our hairstyles, we had our songs, we had our morals – everything. Nothing’s changed. The record company just do what they’re good at: providing the money to make a record and press it.”

Both Nick and Limahl used the word “moral” to describe their approach to life without making a song and dance about their religious beliefs.

“We’ve been asked to go to South Africa,” says Limahl, ” but we’re not going because of the whole system over there. I didn’t know too much about it so, when they asked us to go, I really enquired. The black people are very smothered – they’re not allowed to go out with white people, they’re prosecuted, they’re not allowed to eat in white restaurants or travel in white buses. It’s crazy. I can’t go over there and be seen to be supporting that. Just for my own conscience.

“Any anyway,” he adds, “we can survive quite happily promoting record in the rest of the world. I just hope that one day something will happen.”

The group are enjoying this tour. They travelling in a luxury coach complete with a video-player (Tron was showing as they travelled from Portsmouth to Leicester). Music plays as well: Limahl pushes in a tape of ‘70s hits (‘Sugar Sugar’, ‘Never Can Say Goodbye’, ‘Toy Town’) while Steve listens to a cassette of Ryuichi Sakamoto on his Walkman and Nick plays Frank Zappa’s jazz-rock Joe’s Garage on his.

“I don’t really listen to much pop music. In fact I don’t really like pop music,” he claims. So why is he playing bass in Kajagoogoo?

“A lot of artists are like that: they cater for a different audience than they are themselves. They stand outside and look at things differently.”

Jez meanwhile sleeps, stretched out along the back seat, and Stuart chats to his girlfriend, Cathy and signs photographs. All day long, on the coach, at hotels, outside venues before sound checks, autographs are patiently signed. Hundreds of them.

Everything has been carefully organised. Caterers provide food so everyone on the tour is well fed and Nick and Limbahl get their vegetarian food. One of the most frequent sights is the singer lugging around a big cardboard box (with Domestos stamped on the side)full of food. After the show at Portmouth he runs barefoot up and down the coach offering round sandwiches and cheese and sausage rolls (to the meat-eaters).

“I get depressed if I don’t get the right food,” he confides.

The front of the coach is smattered with lipstick imprints, believe it or not, where some fans have kissed it. While the group are still patient and happy with their fame, sometimes it can get a little out of hand. Limahl was badly scratched outside one venue and now around him when there’s a large crowd of fans waiting.

At the De Montfort hall in Leicester the atmosphere is far more frenzied than the previous night in Portsmouth. When the group run onstage the sound of hundreds of voices united in a shrill, high-pitched scream is both shocking and thrilling. And the audience is surprisingly wide-ranging with both girls and boys in their early and late teens. A few Mums and Dads forget to oversee their offspring in their enjoyment. A couple of Rastas nod their heads. Dozens of girls faint and are carried off by the St. John’s Ambulance men. Backstage the manager of the hall is moved to reminisce about the time The Beatles played there.

After the show, hundreds of fans congregate outside to catch a glimpse of the group. Every time a member of the road crew or the hall’s staff walk past a window, they set off a bout of squealing. It could be one of them. Today Kajagoogoo are undoubtedly a teenage pop sensation but they’ve got the potential to grow into something more. For the moment, though, it’s difficult to hear through the screams and the tears.

A group of girls huddle together outside to compare notes.

“Was you crying? We was crying. Was you?”

© Neil Tennant, 1983

Edited by Steve Pafford

Courtesy of

The singer, Limahl, was the only Kajagoogoo member not to hail from Leighton Buzzard. Though, to his credit, having been an extra in the Adam & The Ants video for Stand & Deliver more than compensates. I think


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