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Belinda's still on the Go-Go
She was the teen punk-turned-pop princess, whose purry vocals and upbeat lyrics epitomised the sunny side of the Eighties.
To anyone who remembers Belinda Carlisle on Top of the Pops, her 1987 chart-topper Heaven Is A Place On Earth is a reminder of carefree summers and heady school discos.
“It’s one of those songs that doesn’t come along too often,” she says. “The first time I heard it was an acoustic version, it had the perfect blend of melody and lyric I look for. It had the right sound at the right time.”
The catchy crowdpleaser will be heading up the set list when Belinda comes to Bradford in February – one of just three UK dates on a solo tour.
“If I didn’t do the hits I’d be disappointing a lot of people, but there’ll be some obscure stuff for the hardcore fans too,” she says, on the ‘phone from America’s West Coast.
Having appeared over recent years on Here and Now nostalgia shows, alongside fellow Eighties acts such as the Human League, Howard Jones and Flock of Seagulls, Belinda is looking forward to going it alone.
“With Here and Now you’re only on stage for half-an-hour, but this time it’s a full set which is something I haven’t done for a while,” she says. “I was playing with the Go-Gos last summer, which was a blast.
“When I went solo after the Go-Gos all those years ago it was a little strange at first because I didn’t have anyone to bouce off on-stage. It was just me.”
After a stint as a drummer with punk band The Germs, when she called herself Dottie Dangers, Belinda co-founded and fronted the Go-Gos, who went from Californian cult darlings to a hit American act, pushing the New Wave sound onto mainstream radio. The first all-female band to top the US album charts, with double platinum 1981 debut Beauty and the Beat spawning the hits We Got the Beat and Our Lips Are Sealed, they sold more than seven million albums in three years.
The Go-Gos’ hellraising days are well documented – “they scored in every sense of the word”, says Belinda’s promotional blurb – and they’re regarded among pop professors for breaking barriers for female bands.
“We had a lot of impact on the music industry, in the States anyway,” says Belinda. “We started in 1977, in the middle of punk. I went to London and saw the Sex Pistols and the Clash; the UK scene was more angst-ridden than in LA – where I guess we didn’t have anything to be angry about!
“But without the punk ethos – that anyone could have a go – the Go-Gos wouldn’t have existed. We learned everything, playing instruments, writing songs, performing, as we went along. I learned that anything is possible – my career is a testament to that.”
So what does she make of today’s music scene. “Here’s where I sound like my mother,” she laughs.
“I don’t listen to much new stuff, I like opera and I spend a lot of time in India, listening to world music. I like Adele, but who doesn’t? Today it’s mostly about marketing though. There isn’t the freedom that we had.”
She’s not a fan of the X Factor route to fame. “I don’t watch it because I came from an era when you started off playing in a garage and you busted a gut on the road, hauling amps around. It was a lot of work, we didn’t expect instant gratification,” she says.
The Go-Gos’ achievements were recognised last summer with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. “They gave it to us right outside where we used to rehearse. It was very emotional,” says Belinda. “It was the first time we’d been recognised in such a significant way. We never got Grammys or Emmys.
“At the time we were the only all-female bands doing our own thing, like male bands did. We broke the mould, and I’m proud of that.”
Born in Hollywood, the eldest of seven siblings, Belinda was a cheerleader grooving to the Beach Boys before she discovered Iggy Pop. “I wouldn’t be here without Iggy,” she says. “I have an indie side and a melancholic side.”
Following the Go-Gos’ demise in 1985, she became a solo artist, rivalling Madonna as queen of the classy three-minute pop single. Debut solo single Mad About You failed to trouble the charts – but then came the radio-ready Heaven is a Place On Earth. Packaged with a video directed by Diane Keaton, co-starring Belinda’s husband Morgan Mason, son of actor James Mason, it was Number 1 both sides of the Atlantic.
Out went Belinda’s peroxide spikes and in came a sleek auburn bob, and there followed power-pop hits including Circle in the Sand, Leave a Light On and We Want the Same Thing.
Now 53, with a teenage son, James Duke, Belinda looks back on her career with affection. “The Eighties was the last great decade with its own look and sound. Before that it was the Sixties,” she says. “The music transends itself, it still means a lot to people. I’m proud to be a part of that.”