The Lincolnshire coast stretches for around fifty miles – from the Humber to the Wash – as a jingle from the county’s commercial radio station used to say. The North Sea winds blow without constraint and invigorate the local populace as well as the holidaymakers that come to enjoy all the seaside fripperies and the beaches; Skegness, after all, is famously, so bracing. Indeed, many holidaymakers over the years have been known to collapse or succumb to dizziness or even heart attacks after being exposed to the potency of the concentrated ozone found at the seaside!
Perhaps there is something of particular potency in the Lincolnshire sea air – a vigour which can do more than just knock out the unsuspecting vacationist – an energy that blows across the county and, from time to time, encounters the perfect vessel in which it can be animated. Yes – for a brief period, the vessel of this energy was the 80s plastic neon pop of party band Black Lace.
Black Lace began as a four piece from Yorkshire. They first appeared in Skegness for a season playing at Botton’s Bier Garten near the seafront, prior to the band representing the UK in the 1979 Eurovision Song Contest in Jerusalem. They placed seventh with the song, Mary Ann.
By the time Black Lace began performing regularly at Skegness’ Richmond Holiday Park, they were a duo consisting of Colin Gibb and Alan Barton. They appeared regularly through the 83 and 84 seasons.
It must have been during this period that I saw them perform at the Richmond – Black Lace were the first band that I ever experienced live. I would have been seven or eight years old and my parents had taken both my brother and I out for the evening. I remember the disco lights, the balloons of all colours, floating and appearing from out of the dry ice, and people dancing and cheering and two figures on the stage – tanned skin, blonde hair and bright clothes. To my mind it was as if they had been teleported straight out of the television, where most of the fantastical things I knew came from, and onto the stage through the magic of all the lights and colours and music. There was absolutely nothing naff or kitsch about this! I chased balloons. I slid on my knees. I danced with my mother.
Black Lace. Artwork by Melody Phelan-Clark
Their biggest chart hit came in May of 1984 and the single, Agadoo. Prior to that had been their pop party favourite, Superman, with its wacky dance comprised of various actions to be performed. Agadoo continued to explore the novelty dance factor but with the addition of a narrative about meeting a ‘hula mistress.’ This party anthem has a direct Lincolnshire connection – Barry Whitfield, who performed with the Richmond Holiday Centre’s resident band, Regency, was called upon by Black Lace’s manager John Wagstaff to arrange the music for Agadoo. Whitfield was born in Grimsby and grew up in Cleethorpes.
The calypso flavoured hit sold more than a million copies worldwide and was probably the high-water mark for this classic incarnation of Black Lace.
Other singles followed but did not have quite the same impact. In 1985 they recorded El Vino Collapso. The video was shot at Happy Days Holiday Park in Chapel St Leonards, a few miles up the coast from Skegness. The single didn’t quite make it into the top forty but perhaps this had something to do with the fact that it was banned by the BBC! Around the time of the single there was the Heysel Stadium disaster during the European Cup Final in Brussels between Liverpool and Juventus. A song in which drinking abroad was a central theme was considered inappropriate for radio play.
Then, in the wake of another football tragedy which occurred in the same month as Heysel, Black Lace managed to reverse the pop polarity which had impacted on El Vino Collapso. During a Third Division game between Bradford and Lincoln, a stray cigarette butt set light to the terrace of Bradford’s Valley Parade ground causing the death of 56 people. Barton and Gibb took part in the charity single to raise funds for victims of the disaster - You’ll Never Walk Alone, under the moniker of The Crowd. Along with Black Lace were several other acts, including members of Thin Lizzy, The Nolans and Lemmy from Motorhead.
Bizarrely enough, there is a further incident involving both a charity single and a BBC ban and although Black Lace were not involved on this occasion, the incident does relate directly to their spiritual home of the Richmond Holiday Centre. In 1989 money was being raised to fund a new Skegness lifeboat. To help the cause, Dave Reeve, the entertainment manager at the Richmond Centre, along with the band Regency and a group of dancers and other entertainers, set about recording their own version of the song, ‘Sailing,’ written by Gavin Sutherland in 1972 and made famous by Rod Stewart in 1975. The song was recorded in Grimsby and the performers called themselves The Skegness Boat People. Unfortunately, this new recorded version included a Mayday message and when the single was played on a local BBC radio station it caused havoc. People across the county heard the Mayday and called the coastguard. Lifeboats and helicopters were dispatched from Filey to Yarmouth, searching for a vessel in distress.
Sailing on a street in Skegness
Sailing by The Skegness Boat People was promptly banned – the first ever charity record to be outlawed by the BBC. Nevertheless, the single continued to be sold privately and did well. A new Mersey class lifeboat named Lincolnshire Poacher arrived in the town in July of 1990.
Richmond Holiday Park - Spiritual Home
Of course, Black Lace can be dismissed as a spectre of holiday-pop awfulness, with added eighties vapidity, but it is also possible to see them as a manifestation of pure abandonment and fun; the antithesis of pseudo-intellectual, self-important aural ado, symptomatic of many acts from the era. In Agadoo, Black Lace sang of going down to the shore, whereupon something powerful would be revealed to the lucky wanderer: she showed me much more, not only to dance. Perhaps, just as all holidaymakers know, there is a mystical energy that can be encountered at the shoreline – and especially the sands of Lincolnshire!
next blog post will be Feb 25th