Department S & Spizzles Sunderland Mayfair 9th April 1981

Department S & Spizzles Sunderland Mayfair 9th April 1981
imageI was driving yesterday, when the great Department S single “Is Vic There?” came on the car radio, reminding me that I saw the band at a gig at Sunderland Mayfair. It was around the time that the record was in the charts and they shared the bill with Spizzles, who were the 1981 incarnation of Spizz aka Spizz Energi (Where’s Captain Kirk). Spizz was always good for a crazy sci-fi laugh, but I went to the gig to see Department S and to hear them play “Is Vic There?”, which had such a catchy hook; it was one of those songs that once you heard you could never get out of your head.
Department S were formed in 1980, and took their stage name from the 1960s cult TV series of the same name which featured the great Jason King. They hit the UK charts with their debut single, “Is Vic There?”, which was originally released in December 1980 and reached No. 22 in 1981. Although Department S are usually characterised as a new wave band, “Is Vic There?” is quite a rocky guitar oriented song, with shades of darkness; the opening sequence of the song reminds me of the music of the Groundhogs. I remember that Department S were pretty entertaining live, although the only song that I, and the rest of the audience, recognised was the hit single; and I think, they also did a cover version of T.Rex’s “Solid Gold Easy Action” which was the single’s B side. For “Is Vic There?” singer and front man Vaughn Toulouse held his mike like a telephone, to fit with the recurring ring tone from the record.
Wheres_Captain_Kirk_SleeveVaughn Toulouse was born Vaughn Cotillard on Jersey in 1959. He followed the Clash on tour in 1978 and wrote about the tour in “The Face” magazine. He then went on to form the bands Guns For Hire and Department S. Toulouse became a regular “face” of the ’80s London club scene, writing for the music press, performing as a DJ, appearing on the cover of the Jam’s final record, and playing with the Style Council. Vaughn Toulouse died in 1991 of AIDS-related illness.
“The night is young, the mood is mellow
And there’s music in my ears
Say, is Vic there?
I hear ringing in the air
So I answer the phone
A voice comes over clear
Say, is Vic there?”
(Is Vic There? , 1981)

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