The Belle Stars – In Concert – Zig Zag Club, London – June 18, 1982 – BBC In Concert – BBC Radio 1
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The Belle Stars to kick off the new week. A band that may not ring bells with some of you, but were heavily talked about in the early 1980s. Originally formed as The Bodysnatchers, they were part of the Two-Tone stable of artists until the band dissolved in 1980.
After The Bodysnatchers broke up, guitarists Stella Barker and Sarah-Jane Owen, saxophonist Miranda Joyce, keyboardist Penny Leyton, and drummer Judy Parsons decided to form a new band, recruiting bass player Lesley Shone and lead vocalist Jennie Matthias (also known as Jenny McKeown and Jenny Bellestar). Their first performance was on Christmas Day 1980, before they had chosen a name.
Within a short time, the group became well-known around London, notably appearing on the front cover of Sounds magazine early in 1981. Shortly thereafter, they were signed by Stiff Records, then highly successful through its star act, Madness.
The band’s debut single, “Hiawatha”, was released in the late spring of 1981; it was produced by Madness producers Clive Langer and Alan Winstanley. The band promoted the single by playing support slots at gigs by ska acts The Beat and Madness. However, the single failed to chart, despite continuing media attention.
The same production team was responsible for “Slick Trick”, the second single. It too failed to chart. Keyboard player Penny Leyton left the band late in the year, to be replaced on saxophone and keyboards by Clare Hirst.
When the third single, the radio-friendly “Another Latin Love Song” again failed to break into the charts, the band tried cover versions instead, with some success. “Iko Iko”, a cover of The Dixie Cups’ 1965 hit (later featured in the 1988 movie Rain Man), was The Belle Stars’ long-hoped-for UK Singles Chart debut, peaking at a modest number 35 in June 1982. This single was unfortunately released at the same time as another version by Natasha England, whose version went on to reach the UK Top Ten. The Belle Stars furthered this with “The Clapping Song” (their first top 20 hit), a remake of the 1965 Shirley Ellis hit, and then “Mockingbird”, a hit for Inez and Charlie Foxx in 1963 and James Taylor and Carly Simon in 1974.
In January 1983, the Belle Stars released what would be their signature single, “Sign of the Times”, peaking at number three, and a chart success throughout Europe. The song’s music video, showing the Belle Stars in dinner jackets, was also played frequently by MTV in the United States. The song went on to become the 30th-best selling single of 1983 in the UK. “Sign of the Times” was produced by Peter Collins for Loose Ends Productions, a company managed by Pete Waterman before he became famous as a third of the Stock/Aitken/Waterman production team a few years later. A Canadian all female studio vocal trio known as “Men’s Room” covered “Sign of the Times” in 1983 almost exactly as the original, taking their version to number nine in Canada while the Belle Stars’ version did not chart there.
The band finally called it quits in 1985. As a reminder of the early incarnation of the band as the positive word-of-mouth they were getting, here is a gig recorded for the BBC Radio 1 series In Concert, presumably at The Zig Zag club in London around June of 1982.