Writer Beverley Glick On The Golden Age Of ‘80s British Pop

Forty years ago this month, Soft Cell, the British synthpop duo of Marc Almond and David Ball, scored a major hit on the U.S. Billboard chart with their memorable and haunting cover of Gloria Jones’ 1965 hit “Tainted Love.” The song, which peaked at number eight, was part of a wave of new British pop music infiltrating both American radio and MTV. To this day, “Tainted Love” remains Soft Cell’s best-known song and will be performed during the duo’s American tour next month in celebration of their 1981 debut album Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret.

Before it became a hit in the U.S., “Tainted Love” had already gone to number one in Soft Cell’s native U.K., where the duo performed it on the popular music TV program Top of the Pops. Among the song’s many fans at the time was Beverley Glick, a British music journalist who had previously written about and championed Soft Cell early in their career. “I thought it was fantastic,” she recalls today of the song. “It was so bold and so different from anything else. It was so stripped back, and Marc has such a distinctive voice. I loved it. At that time, record companies had this policy of getting new artists to do cover versions for their first single. So that was part of the motivation for that. I still love it.”

Soft Cell was one of several emerging British pop acts that Glick wrote about during the 1980s. Using the pen name ‘Betty Page,’ Glick interviewed such artists as Spandau Ballet, Duran Duran, Culture Club, and the Human League—all of whom would later find success in the U.S. thanks to their catchy hits and music videos. “The bands that came out of that era did and still do give people a lot of pleasure,” she says.

Hailing from the suburbs of London, Glick grew up as a fan of such acts as the Beatles and the Monkees in the mid-1960s. However, she never harbored ambitions to become a music writer. By the late 1970s, she was working as a secretary while also singing backup in a pub rock band called Tennis Shoes. But then a friend alerted her about a job opportunity at Sounds, one of Britain’s then-popular weekly music newspapers, in 1977—the year punk exploded.

“My best friend saw it and said, ‘You’ve gotta go for it.’ At the time I was working in civil service, so not a very glamorous job. (laughs) But I was in the band and she said, ‘Oh, it would really help the band if you went to work for Sounds.’ I wasn’t sure whether to do it. Anyway, I went for the job and I got it. So that was my entrance into Sounds. I was [editor] Alan Lewis’ secretary when I arrived. I wasn’t even aware that I could write honestly.”

Glick admits she wasn’t sure what she got herself into when she first stepped into the Sounds office as the new secretary. “I had come from working in an office in Westminster for a government department to working in the Sounds office with these people who were like always late, who were unkempt, and who were picking out vinyl and throwing it across the room. There were piles of press releases everywhere and really loud music all the time. I was just completely overwhelmed. It was complete chaos. But I grew to love it.” (laughs)

At Sounds, Glick befriended Tony Mitchell, one of the music publication’s writers. The two attended concerts together and on several occasions, Glick would help Mitchell write his show reviews. “There was one day when he said, ‘Look, I’m really busy. Why don’t you write this review?’ So I said, ‘Oh, okay. But still with your name on it, right?’ He said, ‘No, with your name on it.’ And I was like, ‘Oh no, I can’t do that.’”

It was Mitchell who came up with the ‘Betty Page’ moniker, a reference to Bettie Page, the 1950s American pin-up model. Obviously Bettie Page was a real person,” says Glick, “a very fringe figure. Of course, she is much better known in the States than in the U.K. And Tony was a big fan of hers. He said, ‘Why don’t you call yourself Betty Page?’ I thought that was a nice name for a journalist. So ‘Betty Page’ it was.”

The nom de plume was the only way Glick could get paid for writing Sounds reviews since she was still the publication’s secretary. She filed her first review, which was published without much editing. From there on, Glick continued writing reviews, which never bothered her boss Lewis, who later appointed her as a staff writer. That decision initially didn’t sit well with Sounds‘ higher-ups. “They didn’t like it,” she recalls. “They fought it. They said, ‘Well, what if every secretary comes along and thinks that they can become a writer?’ But [Alan] stood his ground and he insisted that he wanted me to take the job. I would never have become a journalist without his and Tony’s support.”

Glick’s first interview as Sounds‘ freshly-minted staff writer was with Spandau Ballet, who made a name for themselves as the house band for the popular London nightclub Blitz during the early 1980s. At the time, Spandau Ballet didn’t court the older and rock-oriented British music weeklies like NME and Melody Maker. “They didn’t seek publicity,” Glick says of the band. “They were very self-contained. They associated the black-and-white inky music press with a bygone age, and they didn’t want anything to do with them really. Steve Dagger [Spandau Ballet’s manager] made me jump through many hoops to get an interview. I think the reason they said yes was because I was a blank slate. I wasn’t bringing anything into it with me. I didn’t wear jeans. (laughs) So I think they could sort of justify it in that way: ‘Here’s this sweet girl. She’s not like all the rock journalists we despise. I think we can make this work.’”

The published headline in Sounds for Betty Page’s Spandau Ballet story read: Spandau Ballet: The New Romantics — a Manifesto for the Eighties. Since then, Page/Glick has been credited with the term ‘New Romantics,’ which described a certain group of creative and ambitious young Britons who emerged from the punk scene in the late 1970s and forged their own distinct and glamorous sense of style. “On the one hand, I loved it,” Glick says of the scene, “because I loved dressing up. That’s what it was all about: dressing up and expressing yourself. It was creative. It was colorful, and this is all set against the backdrop of London at the time. There was a lot of unemployment, and all the clubs in London were really run down. I really admired the entrepreneurial nature of a lot of the people who were involved in that scene: fashion students, designers, hat-makers, hairdressers, photographers, musicians. They were all doing something really creative and expressing themselves in a way.

“And a lot of them were kind of playing with gender. When you think of where we are now, that’s kind of where it all started with gender fluidity and experimentation. So that really appealed to me because I didn’t really like what I called the ‘raincoat bands’— the dull, edgy indie bands. But on the other hand, a lot of the people [in] that scene were very clique-y. So I never felt like an insider. I was always on the outside observing. Spandau Ballet were always very friendly to me, but some of the figures on the scene were not.”

As a result of the Spandau interview, Betty Page became the go-to reporter for covering the newer British pop acts—including a group from Birmingham called Duran Duran, who had not yet released their first album. “I was quite cynical after the 16th demo tape that I got [from bands],” she says. “So when I got the call from Paul Berrow [Duran Duran’s co-manager], I was really not sure about this at all. We were very snobby about being in London, and it was all very London-centric. So the idea that there could be a New Romantic band in Birmingham, honestly I laughed to start with. But Paul was very persuasive. He said: ‘Look, there’s a scene happening up here that will rival anything in London. Why don’t you just come up and check it out and talk to the boys? I think you’ll be impressed.’”

In retrospect, Glick was glad she made the trip to Birmingham to interview Duran Duran in 1980 for their first-ever major music press coverage. She remembers the band members as the most ambitious teenagers she had ever met. “They were all charismatic in their own way. You may have read about their legendary world domination plan, which they achieved by ’84: ‘We’re gonna play Madison Square Garden,’ and all this. And they actually did it all. So I was pretty sure they were gonna be big.”

A group that Glick became close to was the aforementioned Soft Cell. Like with Duran Duran, the initial connection with Soft Cell came through a manager—in this particular case Stephen Pearce, a.k.a. Stevo. “Soft Cell had a track on the [1981 Some Bizarre] album called “The Girl With the Patent Leather Face” and I loved it. I had already been a big fan of electronic music for some time because I loved Kraftwerk and Brian Eno. I loved the minimalism and the slightly dark undertones of what [Soft Cell] were doing. They actually came down to the Sounds offices to meet me. That was before “Tainted Love” came out. I think the reason that we gelled was because I always felt like I was on the outside of the whole New Romantic thing. And Dave and Marc always felt like outsiders as well. So I think we sort of bonded in that way.”

Betty Page’s career went on an upward trajectory along the popularity of the British pop acts she covered. In 1982, she oversaw Noise, a pop music supplement to Sounds launched in direct competition with the hugely successful Smash Hits. Later, Glick went over to Record Mirror, a music publication that published the Official U.K. Charts (the British equivalent to Billboard). “I didn’t want to go,” she says about leaving Sounds. “I wasn’t sure if I wanted to go to Record Mirror because I’ve never taken Record Mirror that seriously. I always thought of Sounds as a proper rock music paper and that Record Mirror was this sort of throwaway pop paper. I was a little bit dismissive, but I decided to go for it anyway. So I’m glad I did in the end.”

As a female music journalist, Glick recalls experiencing pushback from some of her fellow male colleagues at the time. “I would say that I was very aware that I was seen as the person who wrote about the fluffy pop bands,” she says, “and that the men did the serious rock writing. For instance, I would never be allowed anywhere near the Jam, the Clash or bands that were sacred to those sorts of male music journalists. Honestly, I don’t think I would have been interested in them at the time anyway. But there was that feeling of, ‘Oh well, we’ll get her to write about the chart bands.’ And then, of course, that became more formalized when I was moved off Sounds onto Noise.”

“I did sort of get a vibe from a lot of other male music journalists over the years that they didn’t take me seriously, because maybe I didn’t know as much about Motown or I didn’t have a bigger record collection as they did. But that didn’t matter to me. It was my enthusiasm about music that counted and my ability to convey that enthusiasm in print. And I knew that I was able to do that because of the letters I used to get: ‘Thank you so much for telling me about this band. You made me go out and see them or buy their record.’ That was brilliant for me. So I didn’t care, although there were times when it got to me. There were times when I was a little bit naive about things, but I managed to largely, most of the time, keep myself out of trouble.

By the end of the 1980s, as the popularity of British New Wave music in America dipped, Glick left Record Mirror and wrote for such outlets as Sounds, NME and the Observer through the 2000s. Amid the decline of print newspapers and the rise of online news, Glick transitioned from being a journalist to her current role as a public-speaking/life coach. “I had always been into personal development,” she explains. “So I decided to train to be a life coach, thinking that that’s what I was gonna be doing. I was still working freelance for The Telegraph during that time. I joined a business community, and that’s where I met the woman who I now work for as a public speaking coach and trainer.”

Glick is currently working on a book about language and how people respond to and absorb it, as well as the words that influenced her life—including, quite fittingly, ‘New Romantic.’ “I started to reflect on the power of language. I was following American politics quite closely and had been getting increasingly alarmed about it. This phrase ‘words have consequences’ just kept coming back all the time. That’s really when we start thinking about my relationship to language.

“So I’ve chosen words that have had an impact on me at different times in my life, and use those as a gateway way to kind of reflect on the power of words and the power of those particular words on me. I’ve got ‘New Romantic’ in there and a couple of other words that are associated with that period of my life. It’s a reflection on my relationship with words, but written in a way that hopefully will help other people to reflect on their relationship with words and language.”

Having experienced and documented a glorious period in British pop music in the early to mid 1980s, does Glick miss writing about music today? “I enjoy talking about it in hindsight, but it was so of its time,” she says. “I wouldn’t want to be a music journalist now because you can’t really make a living out of it. It’s very different. I’m extremely grateful that I got to experience that era and have so much fun with it at that time because the rules are so different now. I couldn’t imagine if Twitter had been around in 1980, I would not have been the first person to use the term ‘New Romantics.’

“I think with some bands they can have a direct relationship with the fans now [through social media], so they don’t need music journalists as much. We did have amazing access to all these people, not just through the record companies, but we would socialize together. We used to hang out with bands for hours. I don’t think I would want to do it now. I’m in a different phase of my life now anyway. I’m very glad that I experienced what I did at that time.”

You can find Beverley Glick’s music writings as Betty Page archived on Rock’s Backpages. For more information on Glick and her public speaking coaching, visit her website.

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