With hits like ‘Digging Your Scene’ and ‘It Doesn’t Have To Be This Way’, The Blow Monkeys epitomised the glamour of mid-80s pop at its most graceful and sophisticated. In the band’s frontman Robert Howard (aka Dr. Robert), they possessed a tall, charismatic singer who was both camera-friendly and clever, who appeared to be just as much at ease on the catwalk that is pop’s conveyer belt as he was penning witty, incisive songs. While quite clearly Robert’s band, though, the Blow Monkeys were also gifted three immensely talented musicians in bassist Mick Anker (he of the trademark bowler hat), saxophonist Neville Henry and drummer Tony Kiley.
Behind the band’s stylish veneer lay something else, which became increasingly apparent from Robert’s lyrics. While some of the Smash Hits generation avoided politics with a capital P, The Blow Monkeys openly criticised the policies of the Conservative government, railing against social injustices and adopting an openly left-of-centre stance on issues of the day.
From openly endorsing the gay community “Digging Your Scene” to an outright attack on Margaret Thatcher ‘Celebrate (The Day After You)’ – a duet with the late, great Curtis Mayfield, The Blow Monkeys were always the thinking person’s pop group.
As the 1980s progressed, so too did the band’s musical style, from a sound once dubbed “jazz punk” by Robert to a more soulful, jazzy style and an ever-increasing adoption of dance music. The Blow Monkeys of their rare, indie debut single ‘Live Today Love Tomorrow’ (recorded on a shoestring in 1981) would be barely recognisable to those who bought the Balearic remix of ‘La Passionara’ from 1990. And yet a soulful, spiritually uplifting strain has continued to run through their music – and, indeed, that of Robert’s solo recordings – to this day.
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