In a mainstay of the 80s revival scene who still hobnobs with pop stars, THEO PANAYIDES finds a family man who also sings
When his kids were kids, recalls Andy Kyriacou, they’d sometimes be hanging out at some other child’s house after school, “and [the other child’s] mum would say: ‘What does your mum and dad do?’ and they’d say: ‘Oh, my mum does this and my dad plays in a band’. ‘Oh really, what band?’ ‘A band called Modern Romance.’ And the parents would go nuts, because the parents were the age group that was listening to our music in the 80s.”
Such encounters always left little Stefan and Natalie – Stef and Nats to their doting dad – with questions. “They’d come home, ‘Dad, I told so-and-so’s mum that you were in a band, and they went mad and they said they used to have posters of you on their wall!’. And they couldn’t understand it, why would my friend’s mum have posters of my dad on her wall? And I’d say: ‘Don’t forget, when we were – y’know, at our biggest, the height of our fame, we were like Justin Bieber is for you’… But it took them a while to absorb, because they were like: ‘But it’s my dad!’.”
Modern Romance were indeed pretty huge, though mainly in the UK and only for a brief 80s window; they had their first Top 20 hit, ‘Everybody Salsa’, in the summer of 1981, and disbanded in 1985. The hits in between included ‘Best Years of Our Lives’, whose title might be taken as shorthand for how Andy feels about that time – yet in fact there was tension behind the band’s feelgood tunes, quite a lot of drinking and drug-taking, and a two-tier system when it came to remuneration. The band’s spendthrift manager (who owned a flat in central London and a racehorse called Modern Romance, all on the band’s dime) and its two founding members, including the singer with the pencil moustache – “his name I don’t even want mentioned in this article, we’ll just call him Pencil Moustache Man” – lived a rock’n roll lifestyle while Andy (the drummer) and other members were “on a basic wage of £30 a week”. His lifestyle was downright schizophrenic: he’d appear on Top of the Pops, then go down to Stringfellows in Covent Garden where, as a pop star, he’d been granted free membership for life – but wouldn’t let anyone buy him drinks, just because he knew he couldn’t afford to reciprocate and didn’t want to appear stingy. In a way, the best years of his life have been the past two decades, re-launching Modern Romance with himself as lead vocalist and becoming a mainstay of the 80s revival scene, along with many of the era’s ageing pop stars.
I’d initially assumed he was in Cyprus doing a gig – but in fact, with all due respect to the various tribute acts playing the Paphos-expat circuit, he’s used to bigger things. 21-year-old Nats has been doing backing vocals with the band since the age of 15 (“because she’s that good,” he insists, not because she’s his daughter), and Andy recounts the conversation when he first invited her. “She went ‘Yeah’ – not cocky but sort of indifferent, kind of 15-year-old; ‘Yeah, I’ll do it. How many people will there be?’. I said: ‘Not a lot. About 22,000’, and she went ‘How many?’. And I went ‘Why, you nervous now?’ ‘No, no… I just didn’t expect there to be that many’.”
To be honest, neither did I – but the scene is apparently thriving, driven by 80s kids who grew up, got married, had kids of their own, watched those kids leave home, and now want to start going out again. “Well, they’re not going to go and listen to rave music, at 45 or 50. They want to hear what they were listening to when they were young, when they first met their wife for example”. ‘80s weekends’ are his territory, ditto festivals and Butlin’s resorts where you’ll often have two auditoriums, “Kim Wilde playing downstairs and ABC playing upstairs”. For a Gen-Xer like myself, talking to Andy is like discovering a rogue strand of your childhood, long since consigned to oblivion, still intact and still, miraculously, in one piece. All these 80s icons are chums, it turns out. Cheryl from Bucks Fizz (now called ‘The Fizz’) is a good mate, so is Leee John from Imagination. Tony Hadley, once of Spandau Ballet, is “lovely”. Martin Fry of ABC recently took Andy aside to show off his new Tesla, “’cause he knows I’m mad about cars”. Nick Heyward turns up now and then, as does Nik Kershaw. Andy’s mate Kevin plays keyboards in Aswad.
It feels weird hearing all these time-burnished names in a house in the Nicosia suburb of Anthoupolis, with chirping parakeets in the backyard and a spilling-over bag of prickly pears on the floor in the kitchen. It’s not the kind of place one expects to find an 80s pop star, then again I’m lucky – and Andy’s even luckier – that it happened at all. He’s still handsome (if a little fleshier and greyer) at 61, wearing a vest over his paunch since, after all, “I’m on holiday” – but he also hobbles when he walks, and there’s a massive gash on his right leg just above the knee. A month ago, a week into a seven-week holiday in Cyprus, Andy was riding his motorbike on the highway, pulled over on the hard shoulder and a lorry (its driver obviously distracted) struck him from behind, one of its metal steps slicing through his leg; the impact literally spun him around, leaving him with fractures – though of course he was lucky: “A few inches to the left,” he notes, “and you wouldn’t be doing this interview today”. He’s been here ever since, in the home of his Cypriot koumbaros, slowly recovering and wondering if he’ll be well enough to go back to London next week.
That’s where he was born and raised, north London, “near the Arsenal”, a familiar London Cypriot background (“Surprise surprise, my mum was a machinist, doing dresses. That’s something different – not really!”) and a solidly working-class childhood. He got his first drum kit at 15 (rather late for a drummer) and immediately became besotted, leaving school with nothing but a few useless CSEs – then compounded the mistake, in his parents’ eyes, by abandoning a position in a bank for a job as a van driver, simply because he could use the van to get to gigs more easily. By his early 20s he was an established drummer, specialising in soul and funk (“For a white boy, you’re very funky,” he recalls being told) then crossing the pop divide when he joined Modern Romance; that’s why the band were happier after Pencil Moustache Man left in 1982, he tells me – not just because he was “so up his own self”, but also because they could now do more of the funky covers Andy loved so much.
His animosity towards P. Moustache is atypical; Andy’s vibes are almost uniformly positive, and he doesn’t seem the type to bear a grudge. Partly it’s because he and Pencil Moustache went to court a couple of years ago, in a dispute over the band’s name (PM lost, Andy having legally taken over the name in 1999) – but it’s also easy to see, if the man were really so vain and pretentious, how his style might’ve clashed with Andy’s, which is resolutely unpretentious.
“I must admit, I do sometimes say to myself – even all these years later – I think: ‘What’s all the fuss about?’,” he confides, speaking of celebrity. He’ll sign autographs and hobnob with pop stars – but remains “the same gaaros [donkey],” as his Cypriot friends say, the same cheerful idiot he always was. His dad worked as a handyman, back in the day, and Andy seems to have the same hands-on, problem-solving approach to life. One could even say he was personally responsible for Modern Romance’s success – not by writing songs, but by coming up with the practical idea of doing ‘personal appearances’, i.e. going to clubs and miming to the songs instead of playing. The genius of the plan was that they didn’t have to lug any equipment, and could work several clubs in the course of a single night – and the DJs at those clubs often worked in radio during the day, so they played ‘Everybody Salsa’ on their shows; “in the end, so many provincial radio stations were playing the record, that the BBC had to start playing it!”. Nowadays he’s unofficial manager as well as singer – and remains a bit of a hustler, “diligent” (as he puts it) in the pursuit of new gigs.
His energy is astonishing, almost force-of-Nature-ish; he only needs about four hours’ sleep. “My wife used to say to me, ‘You’re an alien, you’re from another planet” (Andy was married for 13 years, in his 30s and early 40s); “My other half – I’ve got someone I’ve been with for seven years – says ‘You’re obviously a vampire’.” He’ll work in his office till three in the morning, and wake up at seven; often, he works through the night – even now, at 61 – then has meetings all day, and still only needs four hours’ sleep. He never joined the others in drinking themselves to oblivion or doing loads of drugs, back in the 80s (the management was happy to supply £200 of cocaine a night, had he asked for it; it was only if he wanted the £200 in actual money that it wasn’t forthcoming). He’s never drunk, smoked or taken drugs in his life, toasting the future with orange juice – while everyone was quaffing champagne – at his own wedding. The energy came naturally, and required no stimulants; it was also virile. “My vice,” he admits – “and yes, you can quote me on this, because everyone who knows me knows about it – my only vice was women”. Being famous helped, so did being an excellent dancer, so did the fact that the rest of Modern Romance were too wasted to live up to their band name; whatever the reason, he never went a single night – especially when on tour – without sleeping with (at least) one woman. He’s currently transcribing the diaries he kept in his pop-star years, he chuckles, and recently showed his son Stef (who’s a writer himself) a rough draft: “Dad,” said the young man, reading the pages with an expression perched between glee and mortification, “you were such a whore!”.
That was then, of course; this is now. These days he’s likelier to unwind by watching telly – everything from cop shows to animal documentaries – and spending time with family. “I see myself as a family man whose job is to sing,” declares Andy piously, “not a singer who’s got a family… All [the kids’] friends can’t believe the relationship we’ve got. We joke around. I’ll say something and she goes, ‘Dad, you’re such a wanker at times’, I’ll be ‘Yeah, you can piss off as well then’. But it’s all in jest! People say, ‘Did you just call your dad a wanker?’.” There is indeed something young about him – not the showy immaturity of the professional manchild but something simpler, the lifelong musician who’s forgotten to grow old as long as the music keeps playing. He never stopped making music, including in the ‘lost’ decade between pop stardom and finding his second wind; that was when his Cypriot side came to the fore, backing Elpida at the 1986 Eurovision and playing in a bouzouki-tinged band called Spartacus. “I’m very proud of being Greek,” he tells me, reeling off a list of UK Cypriot pop celebs: “There used to be George Michael, Peter Andre, Antony Costa and me. Now there’s just three of us.”
It was almost ‘two of us’, had that lorry veered a few inches further. Andy had a bad few days thinking about his near-miss – the thought of never seeing his kids again rocked his composure – but “I thought ‘No, I’m not letting this get me down’, and I’ve been fine ever since”. The work is going well; he’s putting out a re-recorded version of ‘Everybody Salsa’ this month, a record he made last year cracked the US dance chart – and of course he keeps doing gigs, with the rest of the ageing idols. Doesn’t it feel weird, still playing pop in his 60s? “No, because I don’t feel like I’m in my 60s… I mean, my kids have posted a couple of times on the internet, going ‘Here’s me and my dad, the biggest kid I know’. They say: ‘Dad, you don’t act like a 61-year-old dude – you act like you’re three sometimes!’.” Best years of our lives? To quote another 80s hit, life’s what you make it.