Liverpool singer Pete Burns died of a heart attack on Sunday. He was 57.
I first encountered Pete Burns around 1978. Me and my schoolmates would catch the bus to Liverpool every Saturday and blow our pocket money on 7” singles in Probe Records. Pete Burns served behind the counter; an explosion of black crimped hair, dreadlocks, leopardskin and black empty sockets (contact lenses) where his eyes should have been. It was a baptism of fire every time, as you risked his wrath – or even worse – his withering derision, if he disapproved of your imminent purchase.
An instantly recognisable and charismatic character, a year later he popped up again as frontman of the support band at my first real gig (‘The Damned’ in Manchester). They were called ‘Nightmares in Wax’ and I remember they did a cover of ‘In the Year 2525’. Not long after, he appeared in our style bible – ‘The Face’ magazine. The interviewer asked what he would do if he was locked naked in a room with only “ordinary” clothes. “Rip up the carpet and use that, obviously” was his scathing response.
In the dry-ice and hairspray halcyon days of New Romantics and Batcave Goth, he emerged yet again with another band ‘Dead or Alive’. The track ‘Number Eleven’ was a weekly floor-filler at alternative nights in Wigan, Liverpool, Manchester and further afield. It was clear that there was no stopping the man in his quest for musical notoriety, and the rest of the world soon caught up with Merseyside when he inevitably exploded onto the pop scene in 1984 with ‘You Spin Me ‘Round’.
Musically, he would never eclipse its success, but took to the growing celebrity culture like a piranha to water, devouring BBC shows such as Pop Quiz and Top of the Pops. Later appearances on Celebrity Big Brother, Celebrity Wife Swap and numerous catwalks and red carpets, coupled with his obsessive, numerous plastic surgery transformations (he once compared changing his face to “like buying a new sofa”), cemented his celebrity status further still.
He will be remembered as a true original, a loveable, larger than life pop eccentric who will be sadly missed.