He's doing the time warp and life's a gas: Mike Fab-Gere's no ageing rock star, just a late starter. But that's because he had to make a million first

LAST FRIDAY in his house in Hampstead (he is Boy George's next-door neighbour), Mike Southon gave an insight into how the successful businessman of the Eighties spends his time in the Nineties. In 1989 Mike sold his computer business for sufficient money to mean he need never work again, and here he was preparing for a night out by filling a bag with a pair of floral loon pants, a fake sheepskin Afghan coat and several garishly patterned shirts with albatross-wing collars.

'One good thing about what I do now is that it has reacquainted me with fabrics I had forgotten,' he said, rubbing some material between his forefinger and thumb. 'Like Crimplene. Doesn't half make you sweat, but pop it in the washing machine when you get home of an evening and next morning it comes out completely dry and ready to wear.'

Five hours later, Mike emerged on to the stage of the students' union bar at King's College London, wearing enough nylon to keep ICI profitable for the rest of the decade. He was also wearing a false moustache, heart-shaped sunglasses, a towering busby of an Afro wig, and a pair of platforms bigger than anything they've got at Paddington station. Instead of laughing, the 800 or so undergraduates crowded into the place greeted him as they might Axl Rose or Jon Bon Jovi. As his alter ego Mike Fab-Gere, confused rock legend, Southon has become the biggest draw on the college rock circuit.

'Hello, peace and love,' he said, flashing V signs. 'We are Mike Fab-Gere and The Permissive Society and this is 'Twentieth Century Boy' . . . '

The moment that his band, made up of veterans of Iron Maiden, Toyah's backing group and the orchestra of the disastrous West End musical Which Witch, expertly struck up the opening chord of Marc Bolan's song, everyone in the bar started dancing. And they didn't stop until, 90 minutes later, Mike and the boys pounded out the conclusion of Led Zeppelin's 'Rock and Roll'.

'Normally, this sort of thing's total shite,' said a boy in the gents afterwards, his shirt glued to his chest by sweat. 'But I tell you what, this lot are bloody tight.'

At 39, Mike is exactly 10 years younger than Mick Jagger ('we share a birthday and have a lot in common. Except Jerry Hall') which, he says, means no one can accuse him of being too old for his new profession.

Mike has been obsessed by rock since he ran the Progressive Music Society at Wellington College, Berkshire, in 1970 and persuaded Genesis and Hawkwind to play at the public school. He had been in semi-professional bands since his student days and in 1991, financially secure after he and his partners sold their computer training company for pounds 7.5m, he decided to make a career of it.

Other millionaires might have chosen to buy a yacht and sail the world, or buy a football club and sail to the bankruptcy courts, but Mike wanted nothing more than an appearance on Top of the Pops. 'I know these days it's all crap rave bands no one's ever heard of,' he said. 'But it still means everything to my generation.'

And there was nothing haphazard about his quest for an invitation. 'When I was in bands playing at Oxford May balls I grew to appreciate you have no more than five minutes to make your mark on an audience. And nothing got people going better in those first few minutes than old Sixties and Seventies numbers. I came to the conclusion that what was needed was a purpose-built retro band, playing oldies. Besides, I hadn't an original tune in my head.'

And so Mike Fab-Gere was born, by coincidence at about the time that tribute groups such as the Abba-alike Bjorn Again came to prominence.

Mike hired a stylist to give him the look ('it's the Seventies as you imagine them; I think people would have laughed themselves silly had I walked down the King's Road in this lot in 1973') and brought in a top-notch bunch

of rock musicians to whom he gave appropriate stage names: Andy 'Snake' Hipps, Richard Keiths and Bobby Skurll (as in

the song: 'I wish I was . . .').

He then employed the marketing techniques he'd learnt in computing and sat down to work out where he could play. The student circuit offered the largest number of gigs, so he tailored his product carefully to that market.

'The biggest problem colleges have, I discovered, is with the 'rider', what bands expect to be supplied with in their dressing room,' he explained. 'Some really take the piss, demanding crates of vodka and expensive food they never touch. I tell college entertainments' officers we don't have a rider. I reckon it saves them pounds 200 straight off, and generates about pounds 500-worth of goodwill.

'I drum it into my band that they must behave themselves and we'll be invited back year after year. Of course, arrangements get cocked up on the college circuit - they're students, after all. But there's never any histrionics from Mike Fab-Gere.'

Such attention to detail quickly paid off. At first Mike offered his services for virtually nothing and offered all sorts of inducements, such as free condoms for every concert-goer. But, within a year, he had established such a reputation that he was in danger of making a profit.

'I put in the early investment, supported it from the start,' he said. 'Now it's beginning to stand alone. The thing is I'm relaxed because I don't have to make a living at it, and I can afford to plough the money back in, pay the band well. If I'd been 20 years in the business and was still churning them out on the student circuit, it would really show on stage. As it is, I never thought I'd be up there with such good musos. I'm having the time of my life.'

Mike was clearly having a good time at King's. He had the cream of Britain's youth shaking every limb, word-perfect as they mouthed along to 'The Time Warp', 'Brown Sugar' and 'I Saw Her Standing There' - stuff that their parents would have been embarrassed to dance to, numbers that were hits before they were born. Mike will play another 50 or so college gigs this year. It seems he has, as they say in marketing, identified a niche.

The King's audience certainly thought so. At one point, Mike invited a young woman up on stage to help him with what he called a 'safe-sex demonstration'.

After ascertaining that her name was Jackie, he produced a giant Swan Vesta match and a condom, and invited her to put one on top of the other. She expertly ripped open the condom's packaging and, to much applause, rapidly unfurled it over the match.

'Jackie,' said Mike, when she had finished. 'To us you're more than a safe-sex demonstrator - you're the . . . Wild Thing.'

As Richard Keiths churned out Reg Presley's ageless riff, the audience went, well, wild. So did Jackie. Grinding her hips into Mike's, she arched over backwards invitingly as he leant over her and sang about how she made his heart sing. For a moment it all made sense: you would be hard pressed, if you were nearly 40 and completely grey, to think of better ways of spending a million than grooving up on stage with a hot little number like Jackie.

After the concert and out of costume, Mike repaired to the bar for some refreshment. Jackie was ordering a drink. Had she enjoyed it? he asked.

'Yeah, man.'

Had she fancied Fab-Gere himself? he probed.

'I thought he was fab,' she grinned, clearly not spotting that the man whose loons she had been mentally removing a few moments earlier was now, shorn of wig, 'tache and kaftan, asking her some personal questions.

'Mike told me to tell you he thought you were fab, too,' Southon shouted at her back as she walked away. She smiled politely over her shoulder.

'I love wandering through the crowd after a gig listening to what they thought and seeing if anyone recognises me,' said Mike, sipping at a lager and watching Jackie disappear into the crowd. 'No one ever does, of course. Why should they? I'm a sad old computer man. It's the wig, you see, that does it.'

(Photograph omitted)

Arts & Entertainment
A stranger calls: Martin Freeman in ‘Fargo’
tvReview: New 10-part series brims with characters and stories

Arts & Entertainment
Shaun Evans as Endeavour interviews a prisoner as he tries to get to the bottom of a police cover up
Review: Second series comes to close with startling tale of police corruption and child abuse
Sport
Raheem Sterling and Luis Suarez celebrate during Liverpool's game with Norwich
football Another hurdle is out of the way for Brendan Rodgers' side
Arts & Entertainment
Charlotte Brontë, the English novelist, poet and the eldest of the three Bronte sisters who lived into adulthood, has been celebrated with a Google Doodle depicting her most famous novel, Jane Eyre.
arts + ents "Reader, they doodled her".

VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Arts & Entertainment
Schwarzenegger winning Mr. Universe 1969
arts + entsCan you guess the celebrity from these British Pathe News clips?
News
Portrait of Queen Elizabeth-II by David Bailey which has been released to mark her 88th birthday
peoplePortrait released to mark monarch's 88th birthday
Arts & Entertainment
The star of the sitcom ‘Miranda’ is hugely popular with mainstream audiences
TVMiranda Hart lined up for ‘Generation Game’ revival
Life & Style
The writer, Gerda Saunders, with her mother, who also suffered with dementia before her death
healthGerda Saunders on the most formidable effect of her dementia
Sport
Manchester United manager David Moyes looks on during his side's defeat to Everton
footballBaines and Mirallas score against United as Everton keep alive hopes of a top-four finish
Sport
Tour de France 2014Sir Rodney Walker on organising the UK stages of this year’s race
Arts & Entertainment
Jessica Brown Findlay as Mary Yellan in ‘Jamaica Inn’
TVJessica Brown Findlay on playing the spirited heroine of Jamaica Inn
News
YouTube clocks up more than a billion users a month
mediaEuropean rival Dailymotion certainly thinks so
Arts & Entertainment
The original design with Charles' face clearly visible, which is on display around the capital
arts + ents
Arts & Entertainment
‘Self-Portrait Worshipping Christ’ (c943-57) by St Dunstan
books How British artists perfected the art of the self-portrait
News
People
News
Sir Cliff Richard is to release his hundredth album at age 72
PEOPLE
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Geography Teacher

    £130 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Ilford: Secondary Geography Teacher Lo...

    Do you want to work in Education?

    £55 - £70 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: Are you a dynamic and energeti...

    SEN Teaching Assistant

    Negotiable: Randstad Education Group: SEN TAs, LSAs and Support Workers needed...

    Private Client Senior Manager - Sheffield

    £50000 - £60000 per annum: Pro-Recruitment Group: The Sheffield office of this...

    Day In a Page

    Rubin ‘Hurricane’ Carter: The man who could have been champion of the world - and the Bob Dylan song that immortalised him

    The man who could have been champion of the world

    Rubin ‘Hurricane’ Carter and the Bob Dylan song that immortalised him
    Didn’t she do well?

    Didn’t she do well?

    Miranda Hart lined up for ‘Generation Game’ revival
    The Middle East we must confront in the future will be a Mafiastan ruled by money

    The Middle East we must confront in the future will be a Mafiastan ruled by money

    In Iraq, mafiosi already run almost the entire oil output of the south of the country
    Before they were famous

    Before they were famous

    Can you guess the celebrity from these British Pathe News clips?
    Martin Freeman’s casting in Fargo is genius

    Martin Freeman’s casting in Fargo is a stroke of genius

    Series is brimming with characters and stories all its own
    How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

    How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

    Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
    Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

    British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

    The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
    Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

    Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

    Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
    A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

    A History of the First World War in 100 moments

    A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
    Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

    Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

    The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
    Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

    Cannes Film Festival

    Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
    The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

    The concept album makes surprise top ten return

    Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
    Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

    Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

    Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
    10 best baking books

    10 best baking books

    Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
    Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

    Jury still out on Pellegrini

    Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players