Jimmy Sommerville

Jimmy Sommerville trying to look like like a pop star

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We were swithering over Jimmy Sommerville. Good Pop or Bad Pop? Bad Pop or Good Pop?

But ultimately, if you can make it in the music industry even when the needle on the beauty barometer has settled between plain and ugly, and you are a left wing, skinny, red-headed, uneducated, working class, Glaswegian poof, then Good Pop is where you deserve to dwell.

Jimmy Sommerville was born in Glasgow in 1961. His early discovery of his sexuality meant that school life was never going to be easy. Protestant, working class Glasgow was an unforgiving environment for gay teenagers in the 1970's. Jimmy left school with no qualifications and just one ambition, "to be a member of the young generation".

Aged 18, after a series of dead end jobs, he, like thousands of Scots before and since, left Scotland for the bright lights of London.
Jimmy Sommerville - looking like a regular working-class Glaswegian - funnily enough
Jimmy Sommerville - looking like a regular working-class Glaswegian - funnily enough

Not finding the streets paved with gold, the next four years was another series of dead-end of jobs, living on social security and living in squats. But the experience was seminal. It wasn't Glasgow and it was where Sommerville became politicised.

It was also where he met the partners in his foray into the world of pop. To some extent Ken Livingston's GLC was to blame. They funded a community video that featured Jimmy S. Steve Bronski, a fellow Glaswegian saw it, liked it, and invited Jimmy to join his band, and in 1983 Bronski Beat was born and Jimmy found an identity.

Originally a synth-pop trio, there were 2 things that made the Bronski's stand out from every other synthesiser band of the time (and there were scores of them):

The first was Sommerville's vocals. It was fantastic, unique; a soaring, searing tenor voice capable of reaching a falsetto, but one that delivered tonal and emotional highs that converted mundane synth melodies to classic pop tunes.
Bronski Beat - with an original "see no evil ..... etc. etc."
Bronski Beat - with an original "see no evil ..... etc. etc."

The second thing that made them a stand-out was their overt gayness. Prior to The Bronski's there were camp performers, performers you suspected might be gay, but no overt, in-your-face queers.

The Bronski's had top 10 hits with their first two singles "Smalltown Boy" and "Why" and a number 4 album with "Age of Consent" which included a table that compared the British homosexual age of consent to that of other countries.

Although they were massive in the UK and Europe, the far more conservative (another way of saying homophobic?) American entertainment industry were less impressed, They generated little airplay Stateside and some radio stations refused to carry the album because of the age of consent information on the cover notes.

Sommerville left the Bronski's in 1985 to form The Communards. The name, taken from nineteenth century Parisian Communists, illustrated their commitment to left-wing politics. And they didn't tone down the gayness.

It was the time of Thatcher's Britain and the miners strike and Sommerville was out there, on the picket line, a skinny poof with a pink triangle dyed onto the middle of his head, back among the intolerant working-class he had left Glasgow to get away from.
communards
The Communards - Anyone seen a couple of musos desparately trying to convey left-wing credibility?

The Communards had a string of top 20 hits, probably the best known being the revival of Harold Melvin's song "Don't Leave Me This Way " which was Number 1 in the UK for 4 weeks.

They then split up and Sommerville launched his solo career which was moderately successful.

He still lives in London. Still performs, is still involved in politics, but the burning, driving rage against society's intolerance of gay people, especially the disinformation about AIDS that was prevalent in the 80's, is no longer as powerful a motive.

TRIVIA FOOTNOTE
In May 1985 The Bronski's released a cover version of Donna Summer's "I Feel Love". It was the Bronski's two-fingers to Summer's who had recently attacked homosexuality despite being regarded as a diva by the gay disco scene.

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