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  • Writer's pictureMark Howitt

Songs in the Key of My Life: 11




I’m In Love With A German Film Star, The Passions (1981)


If you want an illustration of how impossibly glamorous the 1980s were, then I suggest watching - or re-watching - the first episode of time travel / crime drama Ashes to Ashes. Coming down from her flat upstairs, DI Alex Drake (Keeley Hawes) drifts through the trattoria below, permed shoulder length hair offset against her white leather jacket, eyes outlined in blue mascara, downs a glass of the “house rubbish” before joining DCI Gene Hunt at his table, all this causing both her fellow police officers and the trattoria’s owner, Luigi to stop in their tracks and stare.


One of the many strong points of Matthew Graham and Ashley Pharoah’s sequel to Life on Mars was - along with bonkers plot, attention to period detail, alarming reminders of how the Met used to (and on occasion seemingly still do) operate - a glorious 1980s soundtrack. Keeley Hawes makes her entrance here to the ethereal opening chords of I’m In Love With A German Film Star by the Passions. It’s almost perfect.


Listening to the first Passions album, Michael & Miranda (1980) - which, until this week, nearly 44 years after it was released, I’m not convinced I ever had - they were a great post-punk band, although first track Pedal Fury doesn’t encourage me to get back on my bike after my accident five months ago: “Round the corner / Oily patch / Bike skidding / Crash crash.” Definitely a John Peel vibe, a monochrome and more downbeat version of the B-52s, whose debut singles Rock Lobster and Planet Claire were released the previous year.


The Passions’ second album, Thirty Thousand Feet Over China, is a more sophisticated affair, and it’s here that their only chart hit can be found. The German film star described in the song’s lyrics was Steve Connelly who roadied for the Clash and the Sex Pistols, and - later, and rather incongruously - Earth, Wind & Fire and Barbara Dickinson. He is also credited with being the first person in Coventry to have dyed his hair green (c. 1972). But between those two roadie-ing eras he became a German film star.


Whilst working for the Clash, I had been interviewed for a German documentary, Punk in London. After the demise of the Sex Pistols the director of that documentary contacted me and asked if I would like to be in a TV show for German TV " Brennende Langeweile" (Burning Boredom) featuring The Adverts. It was shite but as I had no means of supporting myself, I took the part. After I stayed in Germany, moving to Munich, where I got more work acting for German TV, I always thought I was a crap actor, but they were willing to pay me up to 20,000 marks (around £5,000) a month - who was I to refuse. The biggest film was Das Ding (The Heist) in which me and four mates from the German army stole 250,000,000 marks, but all in 5 mark pieces. The film was directed by Uli Edel who later went on to direct an equally bad actor - Madonna [1.]. I have always been touched by the idea of a song written about me. [2.]


If the first episode of Ashes to Ashes isn’t enough to convince you of how impossibly glamorous the 1980s were, then try the Passions live performance from the Oxford Roadshow, December 1981. Drummer, Richard Williams, sporting aviator shades; bass player, David Agar, wearing a smart embroidered shirt; and Clive Timperley suited-&=booted as he plays his guitar through an Echoplex delay to get that mesmerising, haunting sound. And, at the front, feet rooted to the spot, swaying as if in a trance, Barbara Gogan dressed to kill in black and gold, as she sings her self-penned lyrics.


It’s almost perfect.


I'm in love with a German film star

I once saw in a bar

Sitting in a corner in imperfect clothes

Trying not to pose

For the cameras and the girls

It's a glamorous world

 


1. In Body of Evidence (1993)


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