Man with the golden touch; Martin Fry is back - lame suit and all.
Byline: JULIA KUTNER
Love 'em, loathe 'em, or barely remember them, the '80s are back in fashion. The Human League have reformed, Culture Club have toured in the recent past and even Duran Duran are threatening a new album and tour next year. There's another icon from that period, though, who owes his current resurgence to _ a very modern pop figure.
ABC's Martin Fry, who first hit the charts 20 years ago with Tears Are Not Enough, is back in the limelight thanks to a tour support slot courtesy of none other than Robbie Williams.
With a new single, Peace and Tranquillity, about to be released, Martin has dusted off the famous gold lame suit and been enjoying the acclaim of thousands on Williams' sellout stadium dates.
"When Robbie called and asked us to name our price to do the stadium tour, I just sat there and mumbled something about having to check my diary. Name my price! I'd have done it for nothing. We've had all the adulation and screaming that we didn't get 20 years ago," he grins.
Martin, who started working life as a rehydrated bean packer in a canning factory in Manchester, is now 43 which makes him about three times the average age of the audiences who've been applauding him.
He still has that distinctive head of blonde hair, but these days his supporters include his own children, ten-year-old twins Nancy and Louis who've been watching him onstage from the wings. So what do they think of having a genuine pop star for a dad?
"They pretend not to be too interested. Mainly the children like the idea that they can get to meet the pop stars they like," Martin says. "But I think for years they didn't really know what I was doing. To them I was just this man in the house that would go to Ikea and attempt a bit of DIY."
ABC's career peaked in 1982 when they registered three Top Ten singles with Poison Arrow, The Look Of Love (their biggest hit which peaked at No 4 in June of that year) and All Of My Heart.
In the intervening years, Martin has fought a battle against Hodgkinson's disease, a rare form of cancer, but he has now been given the all-clear after more than ten healthy years.
"I've been lucky," he admits, "but I don't dwell on it. I look forward, but I was really sick for a long time so I don't take anything for granted."
This may be the reason why ABC's tour bus and dressing rooms bear no signs of hard living, rock 'n' roll activity. In place of the usual crates of Jack Daniel's and wall-to-wall tattooed groupies, there's some herbal tea for Martin's throat, a bowl of fruit, bags of chewy sweets and an ironing board. There are mounds of white powder, though. Washing powder.
"We open up the show in white suits and we have to make sure they are mark free. Perhaps Persil would like to sponsor us?" he grins. "I am lucky that I don't need to tour to look after my family, though. I probably make more money today than I did at the height of our success, but I still love that feeling of being on stage. I do wonder if I look silly up there but I I just put the gold lame suit on, and it actually does all the work for me."
Despite the acclaim ABC have been receiving on the Robbie dates, Martin, as leader of the barmy lame army, has to be careful he doesn't steal the show .
"I was told that I couldn't upstage Robbie," he laughs. "This is our first stadium tour and it's been worth the wait. Robbie's show is amazing. The best part of this job was seeing him play every night."
So, despite the rejuvenating qualities of gold lame, age is no reason for retiring?
"Madonna and me aren't too far apart in age, you know," he laughs. "She's an inspiration. I'm also about the same age as Michael Jackson, but the three of us are easy to tell apart. I have my own nose, and I'm not married to Guy Ritchie.
"The current gold suit is my fourth in 20 years. The first one got stolen in Coventry while another got flushed down a toilet when I was in Japan. My tailor, William Hunt, made me one because we got the job with Robbie.
"They are unwashable though.You can use a fabric spray to take away the smell of show business, but my wife, Julie, won't let me hang it in the wardrobe.
"I have to wrap and seal it in several layers of plastic clothes bags before she even lets me bring it in. Ironing is impossible too... because it would just melt!"
Let's just hope the seasoned singer doesn't suffer the same fate.
Look Of Love, The Very Best Of ABC is on sale now. ABC are on tour this month. Peace And Tranquillity is released on Monday.