High kicking with the best of them
London Hippodrome 27th November 1988)
One such benefit was organised by The Friends of John McCarthy as ’32 Not Out’ which planned to mark his 32nd birthday in what was well into his second year of captivity. The powerhouse behind The Friends of John McCarthy campaign was his then fiancé, Jill Morrell whose presence was very much in evidence at this prestige West End event at The Hippodrome in Leicester Square.
I do not recall much of the journey to the venue, but I’ll second guess that a couple of pints were sunk in the infernal Tottenham before heading south down Charing Cross Road. To the rear of the venue, across the way from the Hippodrome’s stage door, there was a patch of green and the weather being fine for November we plonked ourselves down and waited to see who passed by.
The first ‘face’ to appear was The Beat’s Rankin’ Roger, who was then as now charming. Well known to be a big fan of The Clash, Roger was intrigued to know what it was that bought a handful of punks to the unlikely setting of The Hippodrome discotheque for the night. Roger chatted to us, just killing time himself before the show, for about half an hour. Shortly after a few words were also exchanged with Steve Nieve, Elvis Costello’s keyboard player in The Attractions.
Thankfully for the travellers from beyond London, the planned stage times were more conducive to getting home so by eight we were inside the venue and what a shocking place it was too. With mirror balls and chrome in abundance, the stage and dancefloor were a homage to the ‘80s nightclub culture…. an entirely alien world to most of us. Just ghastly!
Prior to the start of the entertainment, there was the job of carrying forth the key message concerning the ongoing absence of friends and loved ones who were languishing, hidden in the dessert, as we walked self-consciously beneath a constellation of the mirror balls creation. This was why we were here after all…… The press were strongly represented as party goers were invited to be photographed and filmed in a cage of a type likely to house John McCarthy. In front of the cameras also was Jill Morrell, instantly recognisable as a result of the TV media interest around the on-going hostage situation and the concerted efforts of The Friends of John McCarthy campaign to rally public support to demand a resolution. I was quite smitten by her I remember (I was 19 and it was an older woman thing I suppose!).
Compereing duties for the evening’s entertainment were taken up by The Oblivion Boys, a.k.a. Stephen Frost and Mark Arden, who were at the time seen fairly regularly on TV be it on Saturday Night Live or fronting ads for bad lager. I do not recall the running order on the night, suffice to say that Rankin’ Roger and Lynville Golding (if I remember correctly) played a handful of 2 Tone classics whilst Squeeze frontmen Chris Difford and Glen Tilbrook ran through some of their superb back-catalogue.
Perhaps JJ can shed some light on just how it was that The Purple Helmets found themselves on this benefit billing. Their appearance certainly caused some raised eyebrows amongst an audience clearly more inclined towards a white wine spritzer with Vandross than a Stella with Greenfield.
Given the event, the set was not surprisingly shortened to eight songs. Ever adaptable to unfamiliar situations, the small Stranglers throng took control and commenced bouncing up and down and off each other in the accustomed manner. At some stage during the set I took the opportunity to express my enjoyment at closer quarters. The fact that this was a discotheque meant that the stage was only about two feet high, manageable even for a non-athlete such as myself!
They say every picture tells a story and this may be true for this one. The dedication written by Dave on the back of the set list reads ‘2 Ade & his split trousers. All the best, Dave Greenfield’ which may go some way to explaining the grimace on my face and the smirk on the bass players.
John McCarthy was finally delivered from his captivity in August 1991 after five years in the hands of his kidnappers. I like to think that Jill Morrell and I had some part in this outcome (her perhaps more so!).