Katrina and the '80s
The Latest Retro Futura Tour Features a Cavalcade Of '80s Video and Radio Stars

By Lee Valentine Smith

In 1983, Katrina and the Waves released a limited-edition vinyl LP to showcase their catchy tunes and to sell at shows. Copies of the self-funded record made their way around the world - from fans at local gigs around Cambridge to fellow musicians, record companies and the press - including this writer.

In addition to the original version of their biggest hit, the instantly recognizable "Walking On Sunshine," the record contained nine other hook-laden, '60s-influenced, power-pop songs. Clocking in at just under 30 minutes, the brief collection eventually earned them a short-lived deal with a Canadian label. After The Bangles successfully covered "Going Down To Liverpool" on their own debut long player in '84, the Waves signed a lucrative international contract with Capitol.

With the major-label machine in place, "Sunshine" became an inescapable radio and video hit in the summer of 1985. It remains popular as a wide variety of films, television shows and advertisers continue to license it, generating impressively lucrative royalties.

When the band broke up in the late '90s, Katrina Leskanich soldiered on as a solo act, touring with her own band, releasing a string of new albums and occasionally appearing on nostalgic package shows. This summer, the new edition of the Retro Futura Tour takes her back on the road to rewind the '80s - including a stop at Atlanta's Chastain Park. INsite chatted by phone with the amiable singer-songwriter at her home in London.

The last time you played Atlanta was at Center Stage in '85 when "Walking On Sunshine" was still new. You guys arrived super late and the opener had to play two long sets.

Oh my God, the Center Stage! I remember that show because my sister was living in Atlanta and she was there with me. We arrived in some fancy limo, though I don't know how or why. And the press were taking pictures of us. She was very glamorous and a real head-turner and she got out first. All these flashes went off and there was just this big excitement. When I got out, the penny dropped. I used to go visit her every single summer. We would hang out at the Buckhead Diner. She's passed on now, and I haven't had much call to come back but I still have a niece who lives there so I'm really looking forward to finally coming back to Atlanta.

Now a mere 32 years later, you'll be revisiting the '80s at Chastain Park.

You know, my sister used to tell me what a fantastic place it was. She saw Roy Orbison there once. She went with a bunch of her friends and she's like, "Roy Orbison? Who is that? But let's go anyway, we'll get the picnic and the bottle of wine." She said it was about the best concert she'd ever seen so I'm looking forward to playing there very much. When we did the Retro Futura tour last time - I guess it was about three years ago now - we got so much flack because we didn't play Atlanta. People said, "How can you have a US tour not play Atlanta?" I said, "I know!"

You're certainly back with a strong lineup.

Yeah the last tour had Howard Jones along as well and this year we've added Paul Young [and Men Without Hats, Modern English, The English Beat and Annabella from Bow Wow Wow]. Paul and I will be sharing a bus which should be fun. I know him well but not that well, you know? You really get to know people when you have to share a bus with them. I think there's nearly 30 dates and there's only three hotels listed, so we'll be sleeping on the bus. Very rock 'n' roll.

This is an '80s retro affair, but it's very much like one of those '60s package tours.

I'm telling you! I've read a lot of those books about the old package tours in the '60s, those soul shows driving through the South. The buses would have those horribly flimsy, uncomfortable seats where you sat almost straight up. Diana Ross said the Supremes would be sitting bolt upright in those seats, still wearing their stage clothes. And it was so hard for them to find a restaurant or a toilet to use because of course they were black. Just crazy times.

Thankfully a lot has changed since those days.

Oh yes! But I'm about 5'10" so it's going to be pretty tight with those bunks. You know the older you get, you start thinking - could this be the last tour? The last big adventure on one of these buses where we're all crammed in. Where it all the comes down to the smell of people's feet and all the little rules of the road. But there's nothin' like it so I'm up for it.

'80s music endures. The last time you played here, did you have any idea you'd end up as part of a nostalgia movement?

In the '80s I thought it would never last. And even in Katrina and the Waves, we used to laugh at some of the clothes people were wearing and some of the crazy hair. They had their hair all up like cockatoos and were wearing pirate outfits like, you know Spandau Ballet and Duran Duran. We really thought this is never going to last. Now all this time later, I'm still making a living doing '80s music.

There were some great songs from the era that are becoming standards at this point, including your biggest hit. I hear it somewhere every day.

I went into my coffee shop this morning. Now, I live in a part of London that is, in city terms, off the beaten track and I keep a low profile. I'm just in there with a baseball cap on and nobody knows who I am. And "Walking On Sunshine" came on somebody's Spotify. All these kids were singing along and dancing to it! Then following it came "Don't You Want Me Baby" by Human League. And they were singing along to that too. I thought, "See, these songs really do endure." Will anybody be singing anything from the '90s or from the last decade?

A lot of the 80s stuff - especially stuff from the UK - are like time capsules or little history lessons.

Yeah the stuff from the English scene in particular were little sociological statements about the state of the UK at the time - the miners' strikes, social unrest, Margaret Thatcher and all that. But people didn't really pay much attention to that because the music was so distinctive, iconic and melodic. That's why it still resonates now; it really was just down to those incredible melodies.

So many hooks and such raw, primal performances - especially compared to the bombast of the '70s.

Yeah, I think a lot of the musicians in the '80s were drawn to play music because they saw it as a sort of a sanctuary for misfits. A lot of them couldn't really play their instruments very well. In a lot of songs from the '80s the bass line just follows the guitar because we didn't know how to be fancy. I never studied music or really knew much about it. Our guitar player [Kimberley Rew] just said, "Right, put your fingers here and here." That's how I learned.

Because of that naiveté it's a very pure, unfiltered art form. Very much like folk art.

Right and that's what comes across. That innocence and that authenticity really resonates with people, I think much more than something that's technically brilliant. In the '70s, you had people like Yes, who really studied music; they studied for years at University. But all of us in the '80s were just kinda getting by.

Another great thing about the '80s is the rise of strong women in the scene.

Oh yeah, look at the women who spearheaded it in the late '70s like Siouxsie Sioux and Chrissie Hynde and Deborah Harry. They were all very strong and sexual women and you knew who was boss and in charge. It was never coquettish. Now it's very much more about show business than the music business. But I'm way too old to take a different route. For me it's the same outfit, the same music. I don't know how to really progress or break out of what I've always done. So I guess that's gonna be it for me.

It still works.

Well we'll see! At Chastain, I think Annabella from Bow Wow Wow is on first and then me. So you'll get two women - two pretty strong women - back to back. Then we'll let the guys take over from there. It's kind of like, "All right guys, follow that."

The Retro Futura Tour hits Atlanta on July 28 at Chastain Park.For more information visit retrofuturatour.com.

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