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Sunday, 20 July 2008

Written in granite: Beyond

The other day I came across a trailer for a forthcoming documentary about Mark Stewart and also the promotional video for The Pop Group's She Is Beyond Good And Evil. I had no recollection of seeing this video at the time, although obviously I've known and loved the single for very nearly 30 years. It struck me as astonishing that there was a time, less than three decades ago, when record companies not only signed bands this radical but gave them the resources to make promotional videos to what for the time were pretty damned high standards. There's even another promo for the even less commercial album track The Boys From Brazil. Obviously Beyond Good and Evil is an extraordinary record, with that wonderful opening image of "my little girl was born on a ray of sound..." It wasn't actually on the Pop Group's debut album Y, which made the single sound commercial by comparison, although it has been added to CD reissues. Their second album, For How Much Longer Do We Tolerate Mass Murder? (oh they just got snappier as they went along...), is also fantastic, taut and as funky as you like. But other people will tell you about these records. Whenever I hear the screeching fade-in of Beyond Good And Evil or the different screeching at the beginning of We Are All Prostitutes (one of the more unlikely t-shirt slogans to emerge from that period but far better than "Frankie Says..." I've always felt) I'm reminded of my friend Dixon who died tragically just a few years ago.

Dixon ran a Pop Group website, which is still available in his memory, from his home in Austin, Texas and it gradually grew into something of an obsession with him. I met him a couple of times when he came over Pop Group hunting to the UK and stayed at our place. My abiding memories are of the pair of us chomping on cigars over bottles of wine as we rootled through my record collection... "have you got...?" And I'd grin... "Oh yes, but have you heard...?" The drunker we got, the more brightly his eyes would shine. The last time I saw him was at the beginning of October 2001. He'd flown over a few days previously with his girlfriend, not to be deterred from his request by anything, not even all-out terrorist attack on his country. Other Americans were staying at home, but if there were flights then he was going to be on one. The pair of them spent a couple of days with us and then they were due to go to Bristol to search for more PG history. We were driving to Liverpool, for the start of an adventure of our own, so we dropped the pair of them in St Paul's and away they walked, after a hug, and disappeared into a house there. And that was the last time I saw Dixon. We e-mailed one another, of course, we exchanged Christmas cards, he was always full of enthusiasm, encouraging me in various projects and always breathlessly relaying his own news. Then suddenly there was silence. This wasn't totally unusual; occasionally a few months would go by without anything. But it continued. Then one year we got no Christmas card back and that wasn't normal at all. I checked his website and was confronted with a picture of the man and the words RIP. He'd been killed in a freak accident a few months previously. It was a strange feeling; I'd only met him twice, I think, although we'd been exchanging e-mails for perhaps 5-6 years. But I felt a real sense of loss. An e-mail address was given on the site and it turned out to be that of a friend of his so I e-mailed him and explained. It was weird to find out several months after the event and I didn't want to make his girlfriend go through the whole thing again so I sounded his friend out as to whether I should e-mail her... We left it that he'd tell her diplomatically and she could then contact me if she wanted to. She did and was very gracious.

The whole thing is and was strange. Our friendship was perhaps a virtual one but it wasn't the less of a friendship for that. I can never hear any of The Pop Group's records without remembering him. And it's to his credit that they're such great records. And now there's this documentary due out soon and I can't help thinking how excited he'd've been.

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