Only the most punctilious connoisseurs of early 1980s pop history remember the Piptones, but they were quite an item in their day – an all-too-meteoric flight, alas, conducted towards the fag-end of the first Thatcher administration. Dave Lee Travis made them his "morning platter" in a week otherwise devoted to the sinking of the General Belgrano, and their solitary album, Surfing with the Piptones, reached No 27 in the chart in the early months of 1983. Sadly an appearance on Top of the Pops had to be cancelled when Eric, the singer, contracted erysipelas.
But they were a proper band, with a manager, a tour-bus and a fan club. Janice – a star-truck 19-year-old with a bubble perm and rather too prominent teeth – was the fan-club's secretary. All that was 30 years ago, and the Piptones have long since dispersed. Eric is an electrician. Baz (guitar) runs a bed-and-breakfast in Totnes. Darren (drums) is in the antiques trade, while Julian, "the posh one" (bass), is thought to be teaching somewhere. On the other hand, if the band last appeared on stage at the West Runton Pavilion, Norfolk, as long ago as 1985, then their fan club, mysteriously, is still going strong.
There are not many of the original Piptonettes left – 67 at last count – but no one could say they weren't kept informed. A Christmas card wings out every year, along with a newsletter offering details of the boys' personal lives. Occasional letters from Japan, where the group undertook their one overseas tour – are answered with remorseless indefatigability. And every six months Janice writes to the music company that owns the copyrights urging the advantages of a Piptones Greatest Hits.
Why does she do it? Well, they were great days, the early 1980s, with their spandex trousers and synth drums, and Janice – grey-haired now, her children all grown up – regrets their passing. Around the time of the Miners' Strike, she even managed to go out with Darren for a month or two, but it never came to anything. As for the Piptones, they appreciate Janice's efforts while remaining slightly wary. There is talk of the band reforming to play an 1980s revival package third on the bill behind the Human League and A Flock of Seagulls. It will mean winkling Julian out of his private school and fixing Eric's medication, but Janice is on the case: an innocent obsession which it would be unworthy to deny.