Chris Hamill, best known to all as Limahl of new wave act Kajagoogoo (“Too Shy”) fame, is having a heck of a year. The out singer / songwriter’s biggest solo hit, the theme song to the beloved 1984 family fantasy movie The Neverending Story, written and produced by Giorgio Moroder, was back in heavy rotation following its inclusion in a pivotal episode of the third season of Stranger Things. Meanwhile, “Too Shy” continues to be heard in regular rotation on oldies radio and was included in the Black Mirror movie Bandersnatch. Additionally, Limahl took the leap into holiday music with his wonderful new single “London for Christmas.” Busy as
Gregg Shapiro: Limahl, some people reading this interview first became aware of you via your involvement in the band Kajagoogoo. For those not in the know, what is the genesis of the name Kajagoogoo?
Limahl: When I first met the band, they had already been working as a four-piece for a couple of years called Art Nouveau. Then, a new UK band hit the charts here called Classix Nouveau, so we decided to try and come up with a new name. At the time, there were some really fun and experimental UK band names around like Eurythmics, Bananarama, and Yazoo. Things led to things and eventually we settled on the even crazier wordplay of Kajagoogoo. And the rest, as they say…[laughs]
Speaking of names, you recorded under the name “Limahl,” which is a scrambling of your surname Hamill, as a member of Kajagoogoo, as well as a solo artist. How did that come about?
I don’t mind my own name Chris, or even Christopher, which my mum sometimes uses [laughs], but thought it wasn’t particularly memorable for a musician. Whereas Sting of The Police, for example, seemed to really stand out. I remember reading somewhere that the members of Swedish group ABBA used the first letters of their given names (Agnetha, Benny, Björn, Anna-Frida). I couldn’t see much creative scope in Chris, so looked at my surname Hamill and “Limahl” was born [laughs]. I quite like the roundness of it starting with L and ending in L. Again, it’s another newly invented word, if you like. I’ve seen on social media that some people have named their children “Limahl” which is kind of freaky, but I guess it’s a compliment. All compliments appreciated at my age [laughs].
These days, you can still hear Kajagoogoo’s breakout hit “Too Shy” on the radio, in movies and on TV. What does it mean to you to be associated with that song?
Are you kidding [laughs]? I freakin’ love it. Something we created in our small flat in Leighton Buzzard (in Bedfordshire) that took the global music world by storm and still continues to be enjoyed? It’s probably like a multiple orgasm, if I could remember how that feels [laughs].
Heavy metal bands are often referred to as “hair bands,” but new wave acts such as Kajagoogoo also made hair statements. How did your famous ‘do come to be?
In 1979, three years before I met Kajagoogoo, I was starring in the Stephen Schwartz musical Godspell. The cast consisted of six girls and six guys. All the girls had quite different looks: a blonde, a brunette, a red head, some wavy hair, some straight. However, all the guys looked exactly the same; mousy brown, wavy hair. So, I approached the Chris Dunham, the director, and pointed this out whilst asking his permission to lighten my hair. He was supportive and said enthusiastically, “Yeah, do it.” Initially, it was blonde all over and the dark side bits came later as I experimented. But, certainly, there was no style guru employed by the conglomerate EMI Records, home of The Beatles and others. It was an organic process that just evolved.
Of all the popular musical genres, New Wave was one of the most welcoming to both LGBTQ listeners as well as artists including Boy George, George Michael, Andy Bell (of Erasure), Marc Almond (of Soft Cell), Neil Tennant (of Pet Shop Boys), Jimmy Somerville (of Bronski Beat), Holly Johnson (of Frankie Goes to Hollywood), Fred Schneider, Keith Strickland and Ricky Wilson (of B-52s), Pete Shelley (of Buzzcocks), Pete Burns (of Dead or Alive), Joe Jackson and Klaus Nomi. Being an out artist yourself, please say something about what that meant to you throughout your career.
I wasn’t out immediately, although when I look back at my early style / images, I can’t imagine anyone would have thought I was 100% straight [laughs]. I was out to the band, I was out to my family and was planning to come out at some point professionally. By the time I did, no one seemed that interested or shocked [laughs]. Many people come out late, like George Michael, actor Ian McKellen. Even Elton John didn’t come out for years. It’s a very personal journey for each of us. You have to weigh up your own situation carefully, your work, your friends, your family. Personally, I still wouldn’t walk down most public streets in the UK holding my partner of 25 years Steve’s hand because you can attract unwanted attention. In the London news recently, a gay girl couple on a late-night bus, were subjected to homophobic abuse and violence. Thankfully, they caught the three teenagers. I remember a couple of years ago in Soho, the London gay village where one would expect to be safe, a young male couple were subjected to a similar thing. I say to everyone, “Be out, be proud of who you are, but be safe and stay vigilant.” I’m sure you don’t need me to remind you about the Orlando nightclub shooting. The world seems worryingly more right-wing and aggressive at the moment, all caused by religion in my opinion – but don’t even get me started.
Your 1984 solo debut album Don’t Suppose contained the hit single “Neverending Story,” the theme song to the movie of the same name, co-written by Giorgio Moroder. What did it mean to you to record a Moroder tune?
It was so exciting! I was just 24 years old and flying to Munich to record with this legendary producer / songwriter Giorgio Moroder. Every UK musician was a fan of his. His body of work was already quite substantial including the amazing Donna Summer catalogue, and, of course, the seminal “I Feel Love.” I do smile when I recall how, the night before, I stayed up late partying with friends, smoking and drinking. I only got about four hours sleep and barely made the flight. When we tried the vocal at 3 pm that next day, my voice just wasn’t working. It was tired and it told me so [laughs]. Giorgio, however, was very calm and soothing in his manner and simply said, I remember distinctly, “Hey don’t worry, Lim” – he called me Lim for short – “We’ll have some dinner and wine and then try again afterwards.” He was right. It worked. Maybe, it was the wine. By 7 pm, we nailed it. I think my brain just associated singing as an evening activity and mid-afternoon, it just wasn’t connecting the dots [laughs].
The song “The Neverending Story” underwent a major revival this year through its inclusion in the Netflix series Stranger Things. How did it feel to have your song have a new life?
Thirty-five years later and, without any planning or assistance on my part! It’s definitely an OMFG moment. Delighted. Ecstatic. Over the freakin’ moon. Blow me down with a feather. I could go on [laughs]. I did a gig in North London a few weeks ago. When we reached “Neverending Story,” I started to talk about it, and a bunch of kids that were 9, 10, 11, 12 years old came running in from another room and stood there practically trembling with excitement. I was gobsmacked!
Just in time for the 2019 winter holiday season you are releasing the single “London for Christmas.” What would you say are the challenges and rewards of writing and releasing a new Christmas song?
As a songwriter, a Christmas song has always been one of my long-term goals but I wasn’t sure I’d ever achieve it. Another one of my long-term songwriting goals was the subject of London. There are lots of songs with place names. We all know them – Amarillo, San Jose, Georgia, Galveston, San Francisco, New York, Paris, and so on. But hardly any about our fantastic London. By accident, we combined the two and when it started coming together, it just felt right. My three favorite Christmas songs are “Have Yoursela Merry Little Christmas,” “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” and of course “White Christmas,” so I wanted to do something that felt a little old-school, if you like. A musician friend, Jon Nickoll, is resident jazz pianist / singer at London’s famous Savoy Hotel. We happen to live around the corner from each other, so one day we just got together for a jam. Without pressure or a deadline, it’s the best working environment creatively and that was the prefect starting point. Eventually we brought in UK maestro music producer Ian Curnow and he added the icing on the cake. It was a good collaboration and more importantly, it was fun, and it’s important to have that otherwise it isn’t worth doing.
Speaking of Christmas, you and your partner have been together for more than 25 years. Do the two of you have any special holiday traditions that you look forward to every year?
Yes and yes [laughs]. We always travel around the city to see the many Christmas lights. Regent Street, Bond Street, Carnaby Street, South Molton Street, Knightsbridge, and so on. Then there’s the department store window displays, Selfridges, Harrods and of course Fortnum & Mason (the official grocer to the royal household). Fortnum’s also has a super reasonably priced restaurant that overlooks the Christmas shopping floor and it’s great to soak up the atmosphere whilst downing a scrummy Christmas lunch – turkey, gravy, roast potatoes and vegetables followed by traditional Christmas pudding. Gawd, this is making me hungry [laughs]. I always see my wonderful mum a lot over Christmas; she’s an octogenarian now, bless her. I take her to the theatre. She loves musicals. Is that where I get it from [laughs]?
Finally, is there a new Limahl album in the works?
Absolutely. I’m planning another single in the new year, followed by an EP for starters. Then we’ll see how that goes. In this seemingly one-click world we now live in, will anyone be interested after the furor has died down? Watch this space!
Gregg Shapiro is the author of Fifty Degrees (Seven Kitchens, 2016), selected by Ching-In Chen as co-winner of the Robin Becker Chapbook Prize. Other books by Shapiro include the short story collections How to Whistle (Lethe Press, 2016) and Lincoln Avenue (Squares and Rebels Press, 2014), the chapbook GREGG SHAPIRO: 77 (Souvenir Spoon Press, 2012), and the poetry collection Protection (Gival Press, 2008).
He has work forthcoming in the anthology Reading Queer: Poetry in a Time of Chaos (Anhinga Press, 2018). An entertainment journalist, whose interviews and reviews run in a variety of regional LGBT and mainstream publications and websites, Shapiro lives in Fort Lauderdale, Florida with his husband Rick and their dog Coco.