2001. I was a 17-year-old boy, miserable in a suburban high school. Relentlessly bullied for being a “faggot, poofter”, et al. I, as usual turned to music to quell my fears that society wasn’t as harsh as the boys at school threatened it would be.
At a local record store, an empathetic seller knew just what I needed: a 12” single of ‘That’s The Way I Like It’ by Dead or Alive, a song I was already familiar with by the disco group K.C and the Sunshine Band. The cover featured a creature clad in leather. I, of course, bought it.
Pete’s voice bellowed at me; this was a man who was a force to be reckoned with. Dead or Alive, consisting initially of Pete Burns, Steve Coy, Mike Percy and Tim Lever grew out of the nucleus of the punk group Nightmares in Wax and dominated the pop charts for a few years.
After a string of indie singles, they finally made the charts with the aforementioned disco cover (something Pete would loathe for a short time as he feared it would be the only thing the Liverpool band would be remembered for). But the video – a must-see for those loving gender-bending pop – hit a nerve in their homeland and in the USA. Epic, a record label who were naturally nervous about signing a band that featured Pete who had doused himself in make-up with an attitude to match, signed them.
In 1985, the band hit pay dirt. A collaboration with Mike Stock, Matt Aitken and Pete Waterman (SAW) and produced the enduring single ‘You Spin Me Round (Like A Record)’, which charted heavily from the album ‘Youthquake’.
It helped Dead or Alive score further with their follow-up LP, ‘Mad, Bad, And Dangerous To Know’ in 1986, including the ‘Something In My House’ single, which went to #12 in the UK and a surprise success with ‘Brand New Lover’, which hit the top 20 in the US.
After leaving SAW, the band, now consisting of Burns and Coy, released ‘Nude’ in 1989. While it lingered around the bottom of the charts across the Atlantic, it was a success in Japan that was enviable to any artist: one single ‘Turn Around And Count To Ten’ spent 17 weeks on top of the Japanese charts. That country had always embraced the group: particularly Pete.
Australia had also been kind to the group. Their 1996 release of ‘Nukleopatra’ hit a nerve and ‘Spin’ entered back into the charts. I was enamoured. I didn’t know what I wanted to be, but seeing Pete in his boots, wig and attitude inspired me greatly. I tried to replicate it and the sneers and jeers were gratifying: this is how Pete Burns had lived his life for the last 40-odd years.
He helped me shape my sexuality. He helped me appreciate the notion of gender-f**k. His brash attitude delighted me. In 2006, he participated in ‘Celebrity Big Brother’ in the UK, which yielded some spectacularly diva moments. His appearance may have shocked some; it is said he has had over 300 skin treatments.
It was to be his downfall. Leaving behind a legion of fans and husband, he died from cardiac arrest on 23 October. Pete Burns was a trailblazer: before Boy George and Marilyn, his gruff vocals and hearty disco-inspired aesthetics endured him to an audience that was still behind him today as a 19-CD boxset, ‘Sophisticated Boom Box’ is about to be released.He was a true visionary; one who helped me shaped the man I am today.