“When Memories Become Souvenirs”, A Neverending Story, and even STRANGER THINGS.
Conversing with a childhood favorite, Gay Musical icon, Limahl.
When I was 9 years old in 1983, my two favorite bands from that time of life were Duran Duran and Kajagoogoo. I loved hearing these incredible voices for as long as I can remember loving music. Since then, I have been able to see, meet, shoot, many great entertainers, but I have to say, when I got the opportunity to interview Limahl, the vocalist of Kajagoogoo, I felt like life just came full circle, to finally speak to someone whom I had loved so much, for so long.
Limahl, (Nee Christopher Hamill, just switch around the letters of his last name and there you have it) is one of the greatest of the “new wave” pop voices that helped to carved out that genre, conquered the world with the hits “Too Shy” and “Hang on Now”. His smooth jazz influenced R&B style seemed unstoppable. With a short tenure in the band, getting booted, moving on to sing the theme song to the film “The Neverending Story”, he proved himself formidable. With a few solo albums, that are absolute gems, and his own patented two-toned David Bowie “Ziggy Stardust” mullet, he seemed one of the “has-beens” of the ’80s. Nothing could be further from the truth. He just released a remastered version of his single “London For Christmas”, and we talked about that, the “Age of Coming Out”, being gay in the ’80s, and now. He is one of the kindest, charming, and funniest people to talk to, and he was gracious enough to indulge a superfan. A nice resurgence of his music happened recently as “The Neverending Story” was played on an episode of Stranger Things, showing the longevity of the song.
Jeremy Hinks: So, Limahl, thanks for taking the time, I’ll start just by explaining my excitement. You are one of those voices, from the “new wave” pop era of the ’80s, it wasn’t just the dance disco stuff, and, your voice is up there with the greats of Holly Johnson, Jimmy Sommerville, Marc Almond, and Martin Fry. We called it the “Jazz/No-Rock” romantic voice club.
Limahl: Wow, I’m humbled to be compared to those guys, thank you.
JH: Well, you guys all buried it, man. You crushed Nick Kershaw, Style Council, even Spandau Ballet, not to rip on Weller, or Gary Kemp. They were good, but it was you guys and your powerful smooth voices that were, ARE legendary. You guys were in that top cadre of voices.
L: Thanks, I’m flattered.
JH: So, well, everyone in that club is gay except for Martin Fry, so, as flamboyant as he dressed, he is the straight one. (he is laughing) Anyway, the new Christmas single, “London for Christmas”, it is wonderful. I’ll explain why it clicked with me so well. I am half Scottish, and you know that band Deacon Blue from Glasgow, they did that song “Christmas in Glasgow”, and it was this very romantic soft feel to it. Then you come along with this one, and WOW, the same feeling, it was immediately a winner, just holding all the charm of … well, you.
L: First of all, I’m a big Deacon Blue fan, and I’ve never heard that song, so, when I get off the phone with you, I’m going to have to look for that, it sounds wonderful. Basically, for years, I thought I would love to attempt to write a Christmas song, as a pure songwriting challenge. It’s very difficult when we have at least a hundred years of lyrics and melodies in popular music. You think can anyone write something that hasn’t been done. In the music industry, we have a saying “Where there’s a hit, there’s a writ”, and you know there are some big instances of that lately. For instance, Ed Sheeran had to settle out of court a couple of times, and the Marvin Gay estate sued somebody else. So, to make some music that doesn’t sound like someone else work is almost impossible. So that was kind of the motive behind me doing this one. It was a big challenge to do that, and the other part of it was that I have lived in London all of my adult life, and I love it. And I look at all this, sort of landscape in music, and all of these places named and listed, that I never knew existed until the song came along, Amarillo, San Jose, Georgia, and of course, New York, and Los Angeles. And I thought, why the hell is there no songs about London, there are only two that I know of. One is really about a square in London, “A Nightingale sings in Barkley Square” which is lovely, of course. And the other was “London Calling” by The Clash, have to put that one in there too, but not in what I call the Jazz Standard vibe.
I mean, “London Calling” is great, its iconic, punk, pop, its wonderful, but at the time of writing “London for Christmas” I have a friend living around the corner, who is the jazz pianist for the Savoy Hotel in London, and as songwriters and musicians do, I said to come over one afternoon and we would have a JAM. There was no deadline, no rush to finish, no one tapping on the door asking when it was going to be ready. It was lovely to be able to work that way, without any pressure, or requirements, let’s just see what happened, and we went with it.
JH: Well, mission accomplished, good to know you weren’t just trying to beat the rush for the Christmas Single on the pop charts, and just did it for the sake of doing it. When I heard it, I thought “Well Done!!” You are not afraid to play with different ideas. I hope you get some more success with it.
L: Well, with the internet and technology changing so much of how you get and hear music, I thought maybe people would be interested. After the three biggest TV shows featured the Christmas songs, we hoped this would do well.
JH: Well, I follow the charts in the UK closely, and the Christmas single is always an interesting one to me, but, I’m not trashing on George Michael as a person, but, that “Last Christmas” was just deplorable, and one of the worst songs ever written, the worst of his catalog anyway. And this song is so much better than that, but you are also not up against “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” I mean who could top that one anyway? So, I think “London For Christmas” should be something new, different, and hopefully do well.
L: I’m not a huge fan of that song by George Michael either, but, yes, in the UK, as soon as they start piping those songs over the shopping malls, a lot of them I don’t like. There are maybe half a dozen that I like. They are “White Christmas”, “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”, I love that song. I think the best version is Luther Vandross. “The Most Wonderful Time of The Year”.
JH: The Sinatra version?
L: NO!!!! The Andy Williams version … (both of us laughing now) but those are the ones I really like and inspired me. And I thought if I was going to do a Christmas song, I want it to emanate the “Jazz Vibe”.
JH: I was going to mention that, once you left Kajagoogoo, and went solo, you did a lot of work with that Jazz vibe, but it stayed current as far as the sound goes. I mean, better than Spandau Ballet, not trashing on Kemp, but I wanted to ask after you got shit-canned, and with Beggs, and Jez and everyone there. How did it feel when Giorgio reached out to you to do “The Neverending Story” theme. I mean, that guy totally has the Midas touch, with Berlin, and “Take my Breath Away”, he had done with Donna Summer, Freddie Mercury, it must have been the best call ever in the business.
L: I was absolutely THRILLED to get that call from his office. How that came about was I had just performed at the Tokyo Music Festival, and my manager at the time was an Irish guy Billy Gaff, who had managed Rod Stewart through his Heyday. And Billy Gaff he was formidable, and he had dinner with Giorgio, I imagine he sat down with Giorgio and said: “Limahl is going to be the next best thing since sliced bread”. I mean, Billy could sell ice to the Eskimos I swear, he probably had a lot to do with it. So, back in the UK, Giorgio’s office called, I flew to Munich to Giorgio’s studio, and I wasn’t even guaranteed, it was like they were doing a vocal take. And I had just done this worldwide number 1, and I should be going to DO IT, not an audition or a tryout, and I was thinking “Who does this Giorgio Moroder think he is?” Haha, it was great, he had been a hero of mine, I loved the Donna Summer work he had done. So it was a thrill to work with Giorgio, but it didn’t help that I had been up drinking and partying the night before. I had almost missed the flight, I was smoking in those days, I was hungover when I arrived, and my voice was not at its best at two in the afternoon. (laughing) I did not take responsibility seriously back then, but Giorgio was very calm, he said in his Italian accent”Lim, don’t worry, we have little food, and drink, then we come back”. So after some food and a couple of glasses of wine, we went back, and we nailed it.
JH: That was magic as a story, wow. My kids listen to that song all the time still. When I was a DJ at a club we played the dance 12″ single of it and packed the floor. So did that give you the understanding that you could stand on your own, and make “Don’t Suppose” after getting fired from the first band? Did that make you think the first solo album was going to be as good as it was? I mean, I compared it to Midge Ure’s first solo album “The Gift” after he left Ultravox. He wasn’t TRYING to sound like Ultravox, but it was obvious the strong element of his voice and style were still there. Don’t suppose was a fabulous album, and you proved you could stand on your own, was that confidence cause of Giorgio? I know that was a long multi-part question, but …
L: Well, “Don’t Suppose” wasn’t really as commercially successful as the Kajagoogoo album.
JH: I’m not talking about commercial success, I’m talking about the quality of the music.
L: Oh, well, thank you… Em, for the most part, that one flew under the radar, but I had the single “Only for Love” that went to Top 10 in German, number 1 in Norway. The thing is if you are a singer, and you went and worked with Motown, you would have had a “Motown” sound. With Moroder you get a Moroder sound. So, when I got fired from Kajagoogoo, I got fired via a phone call, everybody knows that. No big deal, it’s history now. Then I had to find a new sound, and I didn’t know what that sound was, and I wasn’t really around long enough to explore it, because basically, the record company EMI guy went his own way. And things kind of fell apart, and that was why for about those 20 years I didn’t release anything. It was tough, and I wasn’t overly confident about continuing on with the success of the band. I was confident in my vocals, I mean, I had been on stage in musicals. I mean when you are doing “Joseph and The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” you are doing 8 shows a week, and I did a musical called “Godspell” by Steven Schwartz. So vocally I was confident, and with Nick Rhodes onboard from Duran Duran, and their producer helping, they are part of the recipe. So suddenly I’m out on my own and that was tough. It’s history now, and everybody has a “What If” in their life, and for me it’s that “What if Kajagoogoo had stayed together and made that 2nd album”.
JH: It wasn’t that it was bad when they went their way, but, clearly you had the charisma and the voice for it. I mean, “Don’t Suppose” was a great album, but, “Color All my Days” was great too, that was you and Giorgio going to town, and it was wonderful. I know EMI has screwed everyone, but, tell me about that album.
L: As we say, “Shit Happens”, and after doing “The Neverending Story” and talking about my next album, I said to my manager … we’re back to Billy now, I said “I would like to work with these two guys in America, Jimmy Jam, and Terry Lewis. Billy’s response was “You just sold 4 fucking million singles around the world, number 1 in 17 countries, you are doing an album with Giorgio Moroder…. Who the FUCK are Jam and Lewis?”. So, I did “Color all my days” with Giorgio, and he would send me cassettes with music and some melodies on them, and I had lyric and musical ideas, so when I got to Germany, we just worked through them. It was so much fun working with him, cause he had a very good team, good to work with, you felt like you were on board a well-organized train. I imagine at the time he had projects in the wings, cause he had won academy awards, and he was working with me at this time. So when we had finished, and I left, and I was checking out of my hotel and his driver arrived, he came to me, with a gift-wrapped bag, and inside was 10 individually wrapped gifts. And they were all the top 10 colognes, and I never even got through them all. They sat in my bedroom cabinet for years. And he put a card in with them that said: “Lim, it was a pleasure working with you, don’t ever change.” He was such a nice guy.
JH: Wow, what a story, it is a shame that album didn’t climb to the top, cause, that was a magic duo there, your vocals, and his composition and production. That is proof that the album does not have to be the best-seller, to be considered great. Because that was a truly great album.
L: Poetic Justice for me, Jeremy, is that IF I got the opportunity to redo some of the old material again, as I said earlier, it’s almost impossible to come up with new lyrics, music, new ideas, but if you think about it, its very little you can write about that is new. A lot of stuff you hear is same old, same old, occasionally something new jumps out at you, but, rather than write something new, it might be a challenge, I mean I’m older now, my voice is very different, it’s a bit like a leather jacket, its better when worn in.
JH: Oh yeah, when I first heard the new single, I noticed that it was this jazzy feel, but much smoother voice now, than it was in the early days. I mean, we would play “The Neverending Story” in the club, or Too Shy, or Marc Almond solo, you know “Tears Run Rings”, and The Communards, because your guys’ vocals were so smooth, and powerful, and had people dancing. And yes you “Wore them in” got them to “Fit” properly like that leather jacket. Soft Cell just tied up last year a “Finale” tour, Holly Johnson does a solo performance once in a while, and I tell you, all you guys sound better than EVER. I would love to hear the old stuff, with the “Fine aged bottle of wine” of your voices today, I really would.
L: I love the fact that you loved it because I still have the rejection letter from the record company turning down “London For Christmas”, so I would really like to get some poetic justice.
JH: Well, I hope you get a lot of hits from this article, a few to push you up the ladder for Christmas. I mean, well, you did age well, you did mention in some articles, you had some work done. (Laughing). So, your situation at the high point of Kajagoogoo, you said you were not ashamed of being gay, or afraid to come out, but that there was this whole demographic of fans being teenage girls, and… well, you did have the patented haircut. Did the guys in the band know? Was it an industry secret? If you had been out, would that have made a difference in your writing?
L: Of course, I was out in the band, I was out to my family, and I would have come out eventually, I probably would have done what George Michael or Ian McKellen did, and come out later, it just felt too early. I thought if I get successful, then I’ll come out, and maybe it would have been more interesting then. But I didn’t really get the chance because, you know the Andy Warhol saying, it was my 15 minutes, and it was all so quick. So then, by the time I came out, no one was very interested, I wasn’t on the radar anymore.
JH: Well, you weren’t pushing the limits like Frankie Goes to Hollywood, I mean they were at the same time roughly, and they went all out, and they took a beating for it, but they also burned out because of it. But, I remembered hearing about you come out years later, and there was speculation that that had been the reason why you got sacked. But even then, in your corner of the music industry, it didn’t seem very homophobic.
L: People have suggested that was the reason because Nick and Stewart were born again Christians, but I was NEVER lead to believe that, or that they had ANY feelings of homophobia. But, if that was part of the reason, then I feel sorry for them, but no one ever even talked about it.
JH: Do you still talk to the guys?
L: Well, we did that one quick reunion, and that lasted briefly, but it was fun, however, the manager had other stuff going on, and when you have 5 strong personalities, you need someone to crack the whip, and it just fell apart again. BUT, we still talk occasionally, an email here or there, but no animosity, no legal issues, nothing, we are all over that now. Its cordial, but I get asked this a lot, and it’s a bit like being jilted by your first lover, and this morbid fascination, and that’s how I feel about Kajagoogoo, and Nick especially, I’ll always be interested in what they are doing, that has always been part of my journey. It’s like when they did the 50th anniversary of Motown, and Michael Jackson’s moonwalk, and if something came along that looked fun and interesting, I would consider it, we had some good times, we had some great success. There are too many good things that happened than to ignore it.
JH: I remember reading a few years back about how someone tried to make it a scandal that you were renting a room from another gay celebrity. I thought, “man, those guys are hard up for news”. Why is someone trying to make this a scandal?
L: Yeah, Paul the radio DJ… Yeah, I was renting a room off Paul, I had become famous, I had nowhere to live, I had been with the band, he was a friend. It was perfect tabloid fodder, a pop star living with a gay American DJ. I had met Paul in the gay club, where I had met Freddie Mercury and many others, Heaven was the big gay nightclub, owned by Richard Branson, and I met Paul in the club, and I dropped a demo in his door, Paul met the band, and he had just been approached by the new TV station, Channel 4. He was doing a documentary show, he did Phil Collins, who was successful, then he wanted to cover us, the starting up band. EMI was onboard, and they gave him a gold pressing of “Too Shy” after they printed a million copies.
JH: Well, if that pressing disappears suddenly, don’t go pointing fingers at me.
Well, we talked so much about the music industry and the history. But now, I would like to ask the same question I ask everyone. From your perspective, being gay “Then” and out “Now”, what would your message be to that young LGBT kid, the one in the closet, the one afraid to come out? The one that is vulnerable?
L: That is an interesting question, It’s a very important question. What is my example? I was gay in such a different ERA, there was no internet, that has changed everything. My dad was a bully, and an alcoholic, so when I knew I was gay, he was going to kill me, so I had to just get out of there. But in this day, there is so much help out there, there is NO reason for young gay people to feel isolated. GET HELP, BE PROUD OF WHO YOU ARE AND HOW YOU FEEL. We live in a world now, with all the great gay achievers, Alan Turing, the codebreaker, among others, where do you start? Be proud of yourself, love yourself, be tough, but be sensible. There are still hate crimes, don’t over advertise, be in a safe area and environments. Don’t invite trouble, even now, I am nervous to walk down the street and hold my partner’s hand, we have been together 25 years. All eyes are on us, but I don’t like that. It’s safe in a gay bar, or the red carpet, but, be wise.
JH: Well, thank you so much, and have a happy Christmas.