God's gift to MTV returns home for gig in Birmingham

Singer, songwriter, playwright Roland Gift

Singer, songwriter, playwright Roland Gift

First published in ShuttleXtra
Last updated

HE was God’s gift to MTV in the 1980s and now Roland Gift is returning to Birmingham for a intimate homecoming gig, writes Steve Zacharanda.

Roland Gift's unforgettable face graced the cover of the Rolling Stone and was a global star at the height of Fine Young Cannibals fame.

His face also was on my wall as a teenager as I did not take down the FYC 1989 calendar until 1991 but that is another story.

Also forging an acting career Gift had the world at his feet in the early 1990s when he decided to shun the stardom and enjoy family life.

However, after a hiatus the Birmingham born singer is back touring with a six piece band playing old hits and music from his forthcoming album Return To Vegas, which is the soundtrack to a film of the same name he wrote the script for and will act in.

Last year he was a hit with audiences as a guest vocalist with Jools Holland and his Rhythm and Blues Orchestra and is now relishing being the main man again.

He said: "I'm getting to know the band and have enjoyed the gigs and festivals that I have performed at over the Summer, the audience reaction has been great.

"I am playing the kind of music that I like, not a million miles from the stuff we did with the Fine Young Cannibals as well as some ska."

And the 53-year-old is looking forward to returning home to the Hare and Hounds, King's Heath, on Wednesday.

He said: "I used to come back to Birmingham quite a lot but not as often these days. I've noticed the Bull Ring has changed a lot but that's about it.

"The last time I was in the Hare and Hounds was for a wake, so it will be nice to be returning on a happier note."

A funeral is the starting point of Return to Vegas when the main protagonist Johnny returns home for the funeral of his ex-con mentor.

Gift said: "It is good to see people at funerals but it is a shame we leave it to that to catch up with people."

Lately Gift has concentrated on the writing process penning Return to Vegas.

"It is set in Hull so I have been going up there a lot to get inspiration and have spent a lot of time on my own writing.

"I like writing fiction it gives you a lot more freedom, but it is a lonely process writing, I have been in tears writing some of it."

Brought up in Sparkhill in the 1970s Gift found his musical feet in Hull when he studied at art college.

First with punk outfit Blue Kitchen he learnt his craft and then moved on to ska band Akrylykz.

He said: "We played a lot of gigs and did lots of Rock Against Racism gigs which was an important thing to do at the time."

With Akrylykz he played the saxophone and became known in the ska scene but he has not played saxophone for a while.

He said: “I was up in Hull and a woman said her son had my old saxophone from all those years ago but he didn’t play it anymore, so I managed to buy it back.

“I need to get some reeds for it so I have not been playing it yet.”

However, despite his woodwind skills it was his distinctive looks and iconic voice which soon got him acclaim. The break-up of brilliant Birmingham ska band The Beat was his gain when Andy Cox and David Steele asked him to front their new venture - The Fine Young Cannibals.

Hits including Johnny Come Home and Suspicious Minds in the mid-1980s followed before She Drives Me Crazy and Good Thing became American number ones. The Raw and Cooked was at the top of the US charts for three months. His face, alongside Annie Lennox from the UK, were perfect for the feldgling video US channel MTV and FYC's videos were a mainstay in the late 80s. 

Gift had the ultimate rock and roll compliment when he made it onto the cover of Rolling Stone in October 1989.

However, the iconic front page does not adorn the walls of his London home.

He said: "I am not sure where it is, I tend to live in the present, my awards and gold disks are in some boxes somewhere and not on show."

He added: "I am just happy to be performing again."

Roland Gift is at the Hare and Hounds, Kings Heath, on Wednesday.

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