Some Eighties chart stars may be reluctant to tread the nostalgia circuit, fearing perhaps a creative loop.
But not Roland Gift, former singer with Hull pop group Fine Young Cannibals, who were a very big deal indeed as one of pop’s most fertile decades drew to a close.
Their album, The Raw & The Cooked, was number one in both Britain and the US and two singles, She Drives Me Crazy and Good Thing, claimed the top spot in the Billboard Hot 100.
Twenty-five years on – after a period away from the limelight – Gift, 54 this week, seems simply content to be performing again. “A gig’s a gig,” he says of 80s revival events such as Let’s Rock The Moor, the Berkshire festival where he recently joined a bill that included Rick Astley and Level 42.
A guest slot on Jools Holland’s 2013 UK tour got Gift “back in the saddle”, since then he’s been playing occasional shows around the country – the latest of which is due to be the Last Night Party, with Heaven 17, at Grassington Festival next month.
“It’s not like I’ve been away from that thing totally,” he says when asked if he’s been gradually feeling his way back into performing. “It’s all I’ve ever done, really. It’s not like I’m an Olympic swimmer who’s not been training and trying to get back.”
He admits he became frustrated by the business side of music after breaking up with band mates David Steele and Andy Cox in 1992.
“It was kind of tricky,” he says. “It was quite a big thing, actually, when the group split. It was all stopped – we didn’t really split we just kind of stopped – but it doesn’t happen quickly.
“It’s like any relationship, I suppose, like a marriage that’s gone bad – you might wake up one day and think, ‘Right, this is it, I’ve had it’, but it’s probably gone on for a little while. Then when you’re in a group and get signed you’re also signed as an individual so you’re in a contractual relationship with a record company and they may not be able to relate to you as an individual in the way that they could relate to you as a group but at the same time they don’t want to let you go just in case, so it gets a little bit sticky.”
Fine Young Cannibals, who Gift had formed with Steele and Cox after the pair left The Beat, had actually been at their commercial peak when things began to sour. Their second album, The Raw & The Cooked, had produced five hit singles and sold more than a million copies in the UK and two million in the US. It was also number one in the Australia and Canada and their songs were being featured in Hollywood films.
Gift admits he was surprised that things ended the way they did. “The record company hadn’t experienced that kind of success, nobody in the group had, nobody in our management had and I think one of the pressures that wasn’t good for the group was that people thought that the next album had to sell more than the one before and that’s such a short-sighted way of approaching things.
“We’d never been like that, we just did the music we wanted to do. As soon as you start aiming at the brass buckle then you’re in trouble and we proved that.”
Lacking the back-up to keep things together, FYC found themselves in turmoil.
“There were a lot of egos and things being pulled one way and another. It’s a shame because I felt like we could have offered a bit more, but then it is what it is.”
The world in which Fine Young Cannibals had found themselves at that point was a far cry from Gift’s East Yorkshire roots. He was 11 years old when he moved to Hull from the Birmingham suburb of Sparkhill in the early 1970s. He says that at the time he thought his new home was “very backward” compared to the multi-cultural city he’d left behind.
“Culturally it was very different, it was very white. I’d come from a street in Birmingham where – I only found this out fairly recently – nobody was English, the people who I thought were English were actually German so it was quite a difference coming to a place where I think there was only one other black kid in my school and somewhere that was smaller, it was strange.”
He took his first steps into performing in a drama group in Hull. “I was in the Hull Community Theatre Workshop, run by a woman called Pam Dellar.
“We used to take our lead from Hull Truck, we used to devise plays along the lines that they did, we were an amateur group. That’s where I first sang.”
His first group was a punk band. “We had this house that we rented and two of us were punks and two of us were hippies, so it was a bit like The Young Ones house.
“In the house we had a kitchen that was painted blue so we had this group called Blue Kitchen – that was the first band – then I joined The Akrylykz, who used to be called the Acrylic Victims because everybodywas at art college and they weren’t allowed to paint with oils any more. We were more punk-reggae and then we became a bit more ska.”
It was through The Akrylykz that Gift met Steele and Cox.
“The Beat came to play in Hull at The Welly and one of us gave them our demo tape and The Beat invited us with them on tour when they were touring Britain.
“That was where I first came across David and Andy and then when both of our groups had split up I got a call from Andy’s wife. I’d moved to London by then.”
• Roland Gift headlines the Last Night Party at Grassington Festival on Saturday, June 27. For details visit http://www.grassington-festival.org.uk/