JOHN PEEL: Altered Images…were accused of being Banshees clones. I first heard them on a demo tape. Actually, I could take you to the spot on the road, it’s affected me that strongly, where I first heard them, and it was Dead Pop Stars that came up on the tape I was listening to….I got home, phoned you, and said, “We must book these people at the earliest opportunity”.
JOHN WALTERS: Yes, because they were amateur at the time.
JP: Well, I think they’d actually done suport to the Banshees on a tour. I think I did a gig with them at Leicester Polytechnic. They were very very good. I can say this now: I was very smitten by Clare Grogan, the only time I’ve ever felt infatuated by a pop star…She was almost the only person, apart of course from my wife, who could have persuaded me to go into a recording studio and sing! Her and the drummer [Michael ‘Tich’ Anderson-SIG] came and collected me after a programme. They hadn’t warned me about it beforehand, which is probably a very good idea, because I would have found excuses not to go. They took me out to a recording studio. On the way out there, I was horrified to find that the drummer and Clare, put together, weighed the same as me, which is a very depressing statistic.
We got out there, and they wanted me to sing on Song Sung Blue, the Neil Diamond song. [Peeling Back The Years, Part 5]
JP’s memory is not at fault. This Scottish band gave a demo tape to the Banshees, who gave them a support slot on their ‘Kaleidoscope’ tour in 1980. Happy Birthday hit the number two slot in the UK charts, they issued three widely divergent albums, and then faded away.
That initial period is probably the one evincing the most interest. Dead Pop Stars (FF 1981 #15 and All-Time 1982 #21) was accused of extreme bad taste, coming as it did in the wake of John Lennon’s murder, but was recorded before, and is in fact a punkesque criticism of the fan base surrounding musicians and its shallowness. Clare’s squeaky, defiant vocals would later mellow into a smoother, more radio-friendly sound, as displayed on See Those Eyes and Don’t Talk To Me About Love. The mistake, I fear, was to centre on Clare’s cutesy-wutesy pedophile-baiting persona, disguising the fact that here was some very fine pop music indeed.
Peel loyally continued to play them throughout the Pinky Blue era: in fact, their third and final session for the show (recorded on 4 September 1981), the one with Peel’s ‘football chorus’ vocals, nearly got the concluding track Song Sung Blue into the Festive Fifty as well (Peel mentioning with some amusement that he got a substantial number of votes for the song ‘We’re Altered Images’). Loyally, when Clare attempted a solo career with London Records in 1987, he played the single Love Bomb too: but the moment had gone. Gregory’s Girl and TV presentation beckoned for her, whereas bassist Johnny McElhone moved on to the excellent Hipsway and then Texas.