What the world needs now is Johnny Dean: former Menswe@r frontman returns as Bowie
[dropcap]R[/dropcap]ecent years have seen a slew of Britpop reunions, from the scene giants like Pulp and Blur to the lesser-known acts like Shed Seven and Marion. Judging by the NME’s recent countdown of the top 100 Britpop songs, Britpop nostalgia appears to be at an all time-high, with many of the scene’s seed-planting records, like Suede’s debut and Blur’s Modern Life Is Rubbish, celebrating 20th anniversaries.
And yet, few could have predicted the resurgence of previously “missing” Menswe@r frontman JOHNNY DEAN, who returns to the stage tomorrow night for the first time in a decade-and-a-half, performing a set as David Bowie at Nuisance, a London club night at the Buffalo Bar. He’ll be backed by the Nuis@nce Band — not Menswe@r — but no worries, the show is already sold out, and all proceeds to go the UK’s National Autism Society, a cause dear to Dean, who lives with Asperger’s syndrome.
“It’s insanely ambitious when you consider I haven’t performed live for 15 years,” Dean tells Vanyaland this week. “It’s a test for sure, but I’m more interested in it being fun. Fun is the key here. So far rehearsals have been a blast, much more enjoyable than my Menswe@r days, if I’m honest. So the gig should be a corker. I’m not too bothered about getting it all spot on, I just want to enjoy myself whilst dipping my toes.”
This toe-dip is a far cry from when Dean cannonballed into the Britpop pool back in the mid-’90s. Menswear hit the Camden scene in 1995 gracing the cover of Melody Maker before ever releasing a single. Remembered for the Wire-influenced single “Daydreamer,” critics wrote them off as a manufactured pop group, but the chart success of their debut album Nuisance solidified their position as the poster boys, for better or worse, of Britpop. While the Andersons and Gallaghers and Albarns acted like they belonged at the ball, Dean was the uninvited bastard who knew he was getting away with crashing the party.
The band’s run ended in 1998 when Menswear split shortly after the release of their Japanese import-only alt-country sophomore album, Hay Tiempo.
In the years since the death of Britpop, most of the former Menswe@r members have carved out careers in the music industry: drummer Matt Everitt now works for BBC 6 Music; guitarists Chris Gentry and Simon White formed a management team overseeing top-selling acts like Phoenix and Bloc Party; and bassist Stuart Black resurfaces occasionally playing with new bands. But for many years, Dean’s whereabouts were unknown. As rumors flew about the current whereabouts of the vocalist, one blog infamously and erroneously placed him working in a mobile phone shop. In reality, he had established a quiet life in London.
Following the Menswear split, Dean was diagnosed with Asperger’s. He left the music industry and hasn’t returned — until one of the Nuisance organizers several weeks ago made him an offer that wouldn’t only put a microphone back in hand, but also raise awareness and money for his medical condition.
“I DJ’d a while back for the Nuisance Club in London,” Dean says. “It’s Britpop themed, obviously, and on the night they have an in-house band that’ll cover a particular band from that era. I’ve stayed in touch with the guys who run it and just under two months or so ago one of them, Steve Horry, contacted me and asked if I’d like to do an acoustic Menswe@r set.”
Dean wasn’t into it. After all, the enduring image of the frontman is more him prancing and preening around the stage during glam-powered hits like “Daydreamer” and “Startdust,” not as some dour tea-timer sitting on a stool stripping down past glory.
“I wasn’t up for doing menswe@r acoustically, at all,” Dean states. “But I was up for doing a set of songs by my biggest influence and all-time hero, David Bowie. The idea fits in with the club’s theme of covering Britpop bands they enjoy, this time though it’s the frontman from a Britpop band covering the artist he enjoys. Also, what with Bowie’s recent activity it was too tempting. As far as I’m concerned he’s directly responsible for a lot of that Britpop scene. No argument.”
With proceeds going to the National Autistic Society (as well as a massive on-site raffle that features roughly $2,000 in prizes), and Dean admits that Horry’s offer to make the gig a fund raiser for NAS was a deciding factor in getting him back in front of stage light.
“Autistic awareness in the UK is something I’m very involved with,” Dean says. “It’s very misunderstood and a lot of people know very little about it, or what they do know is often based on shaky information. I had a hard time struggling undiagnosed for most of my life. I don’t want anyone else to go through that. Kids with autism need to be diagnosed as early as possible so they can get the support they need straight away, so awareness is paramount.”
The gig also gives some awareness and insight on what Dean’s life is like in 2013. But he warns to not view this as a first-step toward a Menswe@r reunion.
“I have no idea, if I’m honest, where this will lead,” he says. “I’m not overly concerned about that either. I’m just focusing on this one show for now. That’s my mission from Ground Control.”
JOHNNY DEAN + THE NUIS@ANCE BAND | Friday, June 7 at the Buffalo Bar, 259 Upper St., London | 8pm | SOLD OUT | nuisanceclub.com