Sixteen Today and Up For Fun


Here is another “What Ever Happened To” featuring three guys I had major crushes on as a teenager: Suggs from Madness, Ian Astbury from The Cult and Dr. Robert from The Blow Monkeys. The crazy part is that each guy hovers around the age of 50 today. Whoa. Indulge me for a minute here.

Suggs, lead singer of Madness most widely known for its 1982 hit “Our House,” is turning 51 this month and recently kicked off a stage show in London called My Life Story. Billed as “an evening with,” the show features words and pictures taking the audience through the singer/songwriter/DJ/producer/writer/comedian/reality TV host’s sordid life that includes being born to drug addicted parents and growing up in the music scene in the ’70s and ’80s. It all came about when Suggs, born Graham McPherson in 1961, had three major events take place in his life. Firstly, he was turning fifty. Second, his two grown daughters, both musicians, had moved out of the family home. And third, was the death of his cat. He recalls being in the bath when he heard a loud crash. His cat was sleeping on a glass shelf that Suggs had built, when it collapsed. He knew by the way the cat was lying on the floor that it had died. Riddled with guilt, he suffered from depression. This deluge of emotions triggered memories and feelings about his own life. Instead of falling into a drug haze or deeper depression like so many in his profession, he began to write it all down. Thus his one-man show was born. Much of the emotions unearthed stemmed from his tumultuous childhood. He was born to a father that cared for his heroin addiction more than his child and subsequently left Suggs and his mother, a jazz singer, before he was even born. One good thing that came out of this experience was that he steered clear of drugs throughout his life. In 1977 when Suggs was just 16 years old, he joined Madness, one of the most beloved British ska bands.

Musically, Suggs has done some pretty cool collaborations. He sang backing vocals on Morrissey’s “Sing Your Life” and “Piccadilly Palare.” He’s done a bunch of acting work (stage and screen) in projects such as the stage musical Our House, based on Madness’ song, and various British TV shows. Madness, of course, famously appeared in The Young Ones twice–the episode Boring featured them singing “House of Fun” and Sick featured “Our House.” He hosts a radio show in the UK. And in 2007, he starred in a series of BirdsEye commercials hocking frozen veg, fish fingers and chicken–this also spawned a popular online game based on the commercials.

In 2009, he released his first book, Suggs and the City: My Journeys Through Disappearing London.

He’s been married to Bette Bright, a singer, since 1981 and they have two daughters, Scarlett (29) and Viva (25), shown above. He’s currently performing his one-man show and working with the guys from Madness again on a new album.

Ian Astbury, the ethereal lead singer and songwriter for the British rock band The Cult was born Ivan Robert Astbury. I remember seeing The Cult open for Billy Idol in 1986 in Hartford (or maybe it was the New Haven Coliseum…it’s been 25 years. Memory is a bit foggy.) and they were one of those great live bands. Ian’s father was a seaman and moved the family around a lot, having lived in places such as Liverpool, Glasgow, Belfast and Brixton. This has led to Ian’s love of travel and today he spends much time in places all around the world. Growing up, he was undecided as to what he wanted to do with his life. In 1979, he spent 29 days in the army. That didn’t really work out. That same year, he heard “The End” by the Doors in the film Apocalypse Now, and he had a “religious experience.” Music became the focus of his life and in 1980 he worked as a member of U2’s road crew. The following year, he became a founding member of the punk band Southern Death Cult. By 1983, the band became The Cult with Ian working alongside guitarist Billy Duffy, bassist Jamie Stewart and drummer Raymond Taylor Smith. It was the release of the band’s second album (Love) that really resonated with me, and the single, “She Sells Sanctuary” became their first really big hit.

The next two albums, Sonic Temple (1989) and Ceremony (1991) showed audiences how the band was evolving. Not all of their fans followed suit. In 1991, Ian wasn’t feeling the love anymore and moved to Los Angeles. That same year, he married “actress” Heatherlyn Campbell. Los Angeles brought a new group of friends, including Oliver Stone who has stated that Ian was his first choice to play Jim Morrison in the biopic, The Doors. Through the years, Ian worked on several side projects and 1999 saw The Cult reform for some successful tours and new contract with Atlantic Records. A fight with the record label ensued that Ian called “soul destroying.” In 2002, The Cult took another hiatus. That same year, Ian was approached by the remaining members of The Doors to replace the late Jim Morrison on a project called The Doors of the 21st Century. In 2009, The Cult began to work again touring across the U.S., Canada and Europe billed as “Love’Live” where they performed the entire Love album. I don’t know how I missed that, but I am, as we speak, kicking myself. Ouch. Today at age 49, Ian lives in Los Angeles and is a divorced father to two sons Dustyn and Che (yes, the latter is named after Che Guevara). Still an avid traveler, Ian also collects World War II memorabilia. He’s also a huge Everton Football Club (English Premier League) supporter and plays locally for the over-30s team of Hollywood United. Teammates today include fellow Cult member Billy Duffy and Steve Jones of The Sex Pistols. The club has also featured players such as actors Dermot Mulroney, Donal Logue and Brandon Routh; musicians Robbie Williams and Ziggy Marley and professional soccer players Alexei Lalas and Vinnie Jones.

The British band The Blow Monkeys were formed in 1981, and Dr. Robert (Bruce Robert Howard) the well-dressed, finely coiffed frontman with the distinctive voice, lead them in their four albums. It wasn’t until 1986 that they would gain much airplay stateside with “Digging Your Scene” off of the band’s second album, Animal Magic. The song helped gain them a few photo spreads in Star Hits magazine, highlighting Dr. Robert’s good looks. His lipstick-wearing skills were right up there with The Cure’s Robert Smith. The song also attracted some controversy at the time as the lyrics mentioned the backlash against the gay community as the AIDS crisis was growing.

Through the years, the band had the privilege of being featured on the soundtracks of such prestigious films as Police Academy 4: Citizens on Patrol and Dirty Dancing. Needless to say, these types of career moves lead to their downfall and in 1990 the band broke up. They briefly reformed in 2008 for a reunion tour. I personally remember seeing The Blow Monkeys at the Palace Theatre in New Haven around 1987 and loved them! In 1992, Dr. Robert formed his own label, Artbus, and began working on many solo and collaborative projects with musicians Beth Orton, Kym Mazelle, and Paul Weller, just to name a few. Dr. Robert is 50 years old today lives with his family in England.


4 responses »

  1. I was never a big fan of these bands but this music did play throughout my childhood home. I grew to enjoy Madness’ “Our House”. I can even remember the video on MTV.
    Whatever happened to, (is it: Dixie ) and the Midnight runners? I still really like the song: “Come on Ilene”.
    Two of the three artists aged well enough to still be recognizable on the street. But Dr. Robert … Ooooh – Faaa!

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