First of all, let’s tackle the ludicrous name. Memorable it may be (although I’m sure many people have spent time saying ‘You know, that band from the 80s…Kashajoojoo, no, um, Kapachoochoo …’) – but it’s obviously gibberish. And it’s intentionally so, according to an interview the band once did with Italian magazine ‘Boy Music’…
“We wanted a name that didn’t mean anything” (said bassist Nick Beggs.) “…I was thinking about something childish, like the sounds a baby makes, and “Goo, gaga-googoo” was the first thing that came to mind… I didn’t like the impact, it had to be softened. So keeping the ‘goo-goo’ end part, I tried all possible versions and when I pronounced Kaja-googoo I understood straight away that that was the right one!”
Secondly, let’s remind ourselves that, despite the fact that their ridiculously catchy single ‘Too Shy’ is on every ‘Hey, who doesn’t want to forget the 1980s?’ compilation that exists, Kajagoogoo’s main period of fame was between January and August 1983. Just seven months of UK popularity. Seemed like more, didn’t it?
The group were originally called Art Nouveau (another terrible name but it was 1978 when they got together so it sounded better back then) and hailed from Leighton Buzzard: a pop mecca well known for music luminaries such as – er – The Barron Knights. Art Nouveau were made up of Nick Beggs (vocals and bass guitar), Steve Askew (lead guitar), Stuart Croxford Neale (keyboards) and Jez Strode (drums). Their one and only release was limited edition single ‘The Fear Machine’ which, despite the backing of Radio 1 legend John Peel and the title ‘Record of the Week’’ in Sounds music journal, did not manage to secure them a record deal.
In 1982 Art Nouveau advertised for and then enlisted the talents of Limahl: a man whose exotic moniker and hair belied the fact that his real name was Chris (Limahl was an anagram of his surname, Hamill) and he came from Wigan. But never mind all that, with the new, charismatic vocalist in place, Kajagoogoo was born. They were definitely a pop band that summed up how awful the 1980s could be in terms of fashion: the hair styles were spikey, blonde and badly cut, the vests were skimpy and the waistbands were high. My favourite, however, was definitely Beggs: his bleach-blond back-combed bouffant and dreadlocks combo stood out as being particularly dreadful, which is pretty impressive during a decade of outlandish coiffure experimentation.
With their new vocalist in tow they played a gig at London’s Embassy Club. Duran Duran’s Nick Rhodes got in touch to ask for a tape (these were the days before digital music…those of you of a certain age will remember that you had to be handy with a biro if the tape unspooled while you were playing it) and then phoned Limahl to say that he was taking it to EMI Records. Kajagoogoo were signed by them in July 1982 and got working on their material.
‘Too Shy’ was the first single taken from the album ‘White Feathers’ (Rhodes and Duran x2’s producer Colin Thurston were in charge of production). It was released in January 1983 and went to number one in the UK and seven other European countries. It also reached number five in the U.S. Two further singles, ‘Ooh to Be Ah’ (I don’t know what that means and it wasn’t quite as appealing as ‘Too Shy’) and ‘Hang on Now’ (and no, nobody remembers that one) were released shortly after and both reached the top 15 in the UK. The album itself was released in April of that year.
Thanks to appearances on screen on Top of the Pops and on paper in magazines like Smash Hits, Kajagoogoo soon had a large teen following. Their ‘White Feathers’ tour of the UK was watched by over 60,000 people. And then Limahl left.
Why this happened seems to be a bit of a mystery. Kajagoogoo’s website simply uses the stark phrase ‘In August 1983, a decision was made to ‘part company’ with Limahl. Limahl, on his website, goes into more detail. ‘It seemed like just another typically busy morning on that day back in August 1983 when the infamous telephone call came….the manager said ‘Limahl we are all here, we have just had a meeting and we have decided to carry on without you.’
It appears to have come as a complete shock to the lead singer. As he says: ‘Together we had achieved so much…performing for thousands of enthusiastic and dedicated fans all over the world, whilst selling records by the millions…What the hell was going on?’
He puts it down to rivalry between him and the band’s manager: ‘I can only think he must have seen me as some sort of threat after I had spoken to the band members regarding some of his business decisions.’ Limahl also lays a percentage of the blame at the feet of the other band members as ‘after all, they could have said ‘no’ to the manager, right?’ although he acknowledges that he later discovered that Jez Strode fought to have Limahl stay in the group.
Limahl went on to have a ‘great solo career’ (his words…) and is still performing to this day. He also still rocks an 80’s hair style. Which is nice.
In August 1983 Kajagoogoo reverted back to a four-piece with Beggs back at the microphone. Their next album (yes, they didn’t just disappear, despite what you may have thought), ‘Islands’, was released in 1984 and its move away from pop was received positively from music critics although it only reached no. 35 in the UK album charts. Three singles were released, ‘Big Apple’, ‘The Lion’s Mouth’ and ‘Turn Your Back on Me’. They reached numbers 8, 25 and 47 respectively in the UK Singles Chart but the latter did manage to hit the top of the 12 inch USA Dance Charts (yes, that’s a thing). The album was retitled ‘Extra Play’ for the U.S. and the band themselves were retitled Kaja (with no explanation as to where the ‘googoo’ ended up).
Perhaps the disappearance of letters in their name was meant to represent the rapidly diminishing members of the band itself because in 1985 Jez the drummer also left the band. The website puts this down to ‘writing commitments for the bands (sic) 3rd album…’ although it’s hard to see what they might have been if all he did was drum in the band. Or perhaps he also worked shifts in McDonalds.
Nick, Steve and Stuart, now playing as a trio, moved to California to record their next album: ‘Crazy People’s Right to Speak’. An updated sound gave them more of a rocky feel but their new vibe didn’t seem to resonate; after the release of one single, ‘Shouldn’t Do That’, the band ‘decided to go their separate ways’. EMI did not promote ‘Crazy People’s Right to Speak’.
Thankfully, Kajagoogoo hadn’t been completely resigned to horrendous haircuts and natty sleeveless vest pop heaven, however. Music channel VH1 managed to get all five of the original line-up to get back together for a one-off special in 2003. On the back of this, the band were given several opportunities to reform for real, and an attempt at this was filmed by the same channel for their show ‘Bands Reunited’, but it seems that there were still too many long-standing tensions between them to be resolved.
In 2004, Nick, Stuart and Steve (by now styled as a dubious country/biker three-piece) wrote a new track, using the name Kajagoogoo (yes! The ‘googoo’ is back!). ‘Tears’ was a track on an 80’s compilation called ‘This is Not Retro’. A three and half year interlude followed this, when Steve and Nick worked with Industrial Salt, a girl band that is hard to find out about as an internet search tends to bring up a huge amount of information about – well – industrial salt. They had one hit, in Japan, with the single ‘Loop and Loop (Under the Thunder).
In 2007 a US label got in contact to ask whether Kajagoogoo would be interested in a record deal, which resulted in ‘Rocket Boy’ being released in June and generating interest on both Radio 2 and BBC 3 Counties Radio. They also performed at RetroFest in the September of that year, alongside other heavyweights of the 1980s The Human League, Howard Jones, ABC, Bananarama, Tony Hadley, Imagination, The Blockheads and Go West. Kajagoogoo then made an MP3 album, called ‘Gone to the Moon’ free to fans until 2009, after which it became available to buy on CD.
The guy who requested that Kajagoogoo played at RetroFest, Bradley Snelling, obviously knew the right things to say as he later became the manager of the band - which included all five members! They went on to play several dates in Europe and released an EP titled ‘Death Defying Headlines’ in 2008. They continued to tour and write new music and while there are no live dates advertised on their website at the moment, appear to still be together, at the same time as they pursue individual projects.
Which, considering they were only at the height of their powers for around seven months, 30 plus years ago, is not bad really.