There is no doubt that hitting on the right image can project an aspiring pop star into the stratosphere. Being a great performer and producing brilliant music are obviously important but we all know that for every talented musician who makes it, many equally accomplished acts fail to get a break. A striking image is certainly one way to get noticed and it is also a great way to get copied!
Back in the 1980’s I was working in a music venue in Liverpool. The place was inhabited by many wannabes, several stars and a lot of fashionistas. The place was always awash with odd looking people who were trying to look different but of course as soon as anyone came up with something original the new look would be instantly copied. An interesting case in point was Pete Burns.
A New Look
I will never forget the first time that I clapped eyes on him! I was walking in the town centre when I saw a striking but androgynous figure wearing a strange smock and sporting dreadlocks, a tall hat and plenty of makeup. My friend informed me that he was a bit of a local celebrity. I thought he looked very interesting but when I eventually met him he didn’t turn out to be very friendly.
Who Copied Who?
Not long afterwards I was stunned to see a familiar look on Top of The Pops. The smock, dreadlock, big hat and makeup thing had gone down a storm and the act was at number one in the charts but it wasn’t Pete Burns it was Boy George! I soon discovered that there was no love lost between the pair but I never have got to the bottom of who copied who as they both blamed the other. One of them was certainly telling fibs.
By that time my attention had turned to another rising star with a distinctive image. Adam Ant was rapidly becoming the biggest thing on the planet and despite the blatant commercialism one trip to see him live had been proof positive that this was a performer who really had the X factor. His look which combined military history, native American Indian and pirates was instantly recognisable and he has stuck with it to this day.
Naturally Ant was copied and I have seen elements of his get up appear all over the place. Interestingly I always thought that Johnny Depp’s Jack Sparrow must have been influenced by Adam Ant. I didn’t know if that was just me until recently when I saw a video on YouTube. The footage had been shot by an Ant fan outside of a television studio. As Adam emerged to sign autographs a youngster who happened to be passing could be heard in the background asking who the star was and proclaiming “is it Johnny Depp?”
Naturally the fans of big acts adopt their look too. A great image helps you stand out from the crowd but then just creates a crowd of its own. People are naturally sheep and rather tribal and the costumes are the perfect way to ally themselves to a group. Much as I am still a great fan of Adam Ant I have thus far resisted the temptation to wear a Hussars jacket and a stripe across my face. I feel that now I am 50 this might look a little foolish but then Adam is 59 and judging by the gig I attended at the weekend he looks anything but!
Sally Stacey is a keen writer who worked in several clubs and music venues in both Liverpool and Nottingham.