“Fun, Love & Money!”
by Iain Denholm.
Sisters Mel & Kim Appleby had a dream! A dream to make their lives better. To sing and dance. Have fun, find love and make enough money to provide security...
...and in 1986, hungry to make that dream a reality, they launched a bid for pop stardom which would see them go from anonymity to worldwide fame, in under 6-months. With chart entries as far reaching as Japan, Australia, New Zealand, America, and of course the UK and Europe, Mel & Kim injected new life into an arguably stale late-80s music scene and became the girl duo of their generation, setting the foundations for a musical legacy which, quite remarkably, continues to resonate some 30+ years later.
But, of course, things hadn’t always come so easily...
Born in east London, to a British mother and a Jamaican father, in a time when interracial relationships and being of dual-heritage was often met with intolerance and ignorance, the young family experienced more than their share of challenges. After a number of years together, the girls' parents divorced, leaving their mum Gladys to raise her two daughters on her own. The three moved into one room in a woman's hostel, in the East End of London, and life was undoubtedly tough. Money was always scarce, but Gladys strived to ensure that love and laughter were in abundance. Reflecting on the girls' upbringing, record producer Pete Waterman shared, "Mel & Kim came from such a poor background, they took on the world - literally!" Throughout their childhood, music had come as a happy distraction, and both sisters fantasized about becoming 'pop stars', and changing their lives and futures. Kim recalled, "We always had music on [and we] grew up wanting to do something to do with the entertainment world. I loved to dance. Melanie was more of the singer, to be quite honest... but I always did see us 'up there'". Of course, this was a time long before the internet, when fame and being noticed were a lot harder to achieve, and the realities of life soon took over. Kim left school - quickly followed by Mel - and both tried a string of jobs, although struggled to find their niche. “We were in and out of jobs", remembered Kim. "We've worked in 'Fine Fare', in the factory, done reception... gosh, loads of things!” “I was useless”, laughed Mel. “When we used to work in the factory, we would keep the guvnor happy and wear a mini skirt, so he'd be, like, 'yeah, I’ll pay her a lotta money', you know? ha ha ha!” In truth, Kim actually excelled as a five-thread over-locker in an underwear factory, but it was Mel who really struggled to hold down a full-time job... that was until her mum Gladys took inspiration from the British 'Page 3 girl' phenomenon and suggested that she try her hand as a glamour model. Mel recalled, "My mum said, 'you've got the figure, why don't you send a picture off?' And I goes, 'no way!' So, she goes, 'Go on! It ain't nuffink!' So, I said, 'Well you sort it out then'". Gladys took a Polaroid of Mel and sent it into The Star newspaper an the stunning 18-year-old soon found herself in demand from photographers and achieving huge success as a topless and nude model. Later Mel laughed as she recalled, "Yeah, I was a 'Star Bird'. To be truthful with yah, I think it helped sell my records, you know what I mean? So, if it keeps up, it'll be handy"
As the months passed, Mel's modelling career went from strength to strength, and she soon found herself mixing with 'the right people' within the entertainment industry. Outwardly, she was ecstatic about her sudden success but secretly, Mel still harboured her childhood ambition to be a singer, and she hoped that her modelling career would be the steppingstone she needed into the music industry. It was whilst modelling that Mel met the music manager, and ex-Marmalade band member, Alan Whitehead, who was immediately bowled over by her charisma and star quality. Alan recalled, "Mel was a naturally gifted blues singer and she had a vibrancy and ‘star’ written all over her. Mel loved to sing, and she had a quality to her voice that was just brilliant!" Recognizing Mel's potential, Alan invited her to sing lead with his new club act, 'The Glamour Girl Roadshow'. The act, which Alan envisioned as the female version of The Chippendales, toured Britain’s Mecca chain nightclubs, and comprised of Mel singing cover versions of chart hits; such as the Mary Jane Girls - Wild & Crazy Love, and Work That Body, by Diana Ross, whilst flanked by a group of scantily clad fellow glamour models. It was evident to all who saw the act that Mel outshone the rest of the group, and the experience solidified her determination to leave modelling behind and pursue a future in the music business. Alan reflected, "Mel was the featured girl, she was the most talented singer and she was naturally charismatic. If you look at her on the Glamour Girl Roadshow, the focus is all on her. She just had it! Whatever ‘it’ is, she had it in bucket loads. Mel was a really beautiful, great, fun, zany, girl. I always remember her laugh! Without Mel the Roadshow was nothing!"
(Mel performing with Alan Whitehead's Glamour Girl Roadshow, in the Coasters Nightclub , Edinburgh, 27th March 1986 )
Shockingly, just as Mel’s career was taking off, the 18-year-old discovered that she had contracted cancer of the liver. Happily, she recovered quickly, but the operation ended her lucrative modelling career overnight. Mel was keen to leave this experience behind her and, rather than dwell on her misfortune, she began to pursue her dream to become a singer with a new sense of determination. Still convinced of Mel's talent, Alan focused his attention on helping her to break into the music industry, and he introduced her to his friend, record producer Steve Rowland. "Mel was such a beautiful, talented girl", shared Rowland. "She was a sensational singer with a really great, soulful voice. Mel had the looks; she had the personality and she certainly had the vocal ability to be a big star." Mel went into the recording studio with Steve, and together they produced a four-track demo tape with the plan of securing her a record deal. It was during these recording sessions that Steve, stunned by Mel’s beauty and singing capabilities, jokingly asked if there were any others like her at home and Mel grabbed the opportunity to involve Kim in her imminent success. "She said, Yeah, my sister! She is better than me, she is a brilliant singer and she is gorgeous... she's better looking than me!" Laughing at the memory of this revelation, Rowland added, "I almost fell over!" Kim later also recalled how Mel kicked off their career in music. “I remember, she called me at the factory and she went, ‘Kim, I just met this geezer and he said that we can be pop stars’, and I was like, 'yeah right' (laughs).” Over the next four months, Steve recorded both girls, and sent off the tape to Nick East’s independent label Supreme Records. "I'll always remember it," said Kim. "We'd sent off a tape, but nothing happened. So, we went down there, and it was the usual story, 'he's in a meeting'. So, we just started singing and dancing outside the office. We was showing him we had rhythm, and voices to go with it!" Needless to say, Nick East was suitably impressed with 'Kimmel', (the girls original group name), and they were signed. Nick recalled, "Mel & Kim were the real deal! I liked them the moment I met them. I remember, Mel came in wearing a big leopard print coat, and she had that infectious laughter - and just a great personality. As soon as I met them, I knew they were great, I knew they had the charisma and I figured the public would like them." Supreme was closely linked to the, then fledgling, production team of Stock, Aitken & Waterman, and so they brought them on board to produce the sisters' début and the rest, as they say, is history.
The initial song written for Mel & Kim was System, but its sophisticated soul sound was quickly relegated to the B-side of their début release, in favor of the more upbeat and vibrant Showing Out (Get Fresh At The Weekend). Years later, Kim recalled that the writing team, "Wrote the songs around Mel and I - because we told stories from where we were coming from, from who we were”. System hadn’t felt a strong enough spring board as a début single and following a trip to The Gladstone Arms pub, with the girls, the production team decided that they needed a song that fit the sisters' personalities more comfortably - something with balls! Pete Waterman reflected, "They're beautiful people - fabulous and effervescent - and the moment we met them we realised we could write songs in a different style. Songs about 'Mel & Kim'." Mike Stock added, "Mel & Kim were a great resource because they were just so fun and open. My creative radar was on full alert because they were saying things and they were very forward and outgoing and funny, so there was plenty of scope for me as a writer."
Released on 14th of September 1986, Showing Out was no cookie-cutter production which could have been handed to any would-be 'popstrel' who could hold a tune, as many of the later Stock, Aitken & Waterman productions became. The producers still had their feet firmly planted in the underground club scene, and they viewed Mel & Kim, with their youthful, streetwise personalities and their East-End roots, as the perfect vehicle to introduce Britain's clubbers to the fresh, Chicago House sound that had started to emerge, on imported 12" singles, from the US. Showing Out, quickly exploded onto dance floors and, quite unexpectedly (though, in retrospect, inevitably) the worldwide pop charts soon followed. Pete Waterman shared, "Suddenly, there we are at number one in the pop charts with an act that we had made as a, sort of, house music band. Suddenly, there the girls are on kids and prime time television, every day of the week, and suddenly we were selling 800 000 singles when, at that point, everyone thought that the format of 'the single' was dead. It changed everything for them, and for us as producers". Everyone knew 'the hats', as they were dubbed by fans, and Mel & Kim were suddenly the 'pop stars' they always dreamed of becoming. But of course, it wasn't just about the music... The duo effortlessly struck a balance between uber-cool and ultra-lovable. They were both stunningly beautiful and their distinctive, self-styled image, which combined chic high fashion with trendy urban street wear - and of course those hats - created as much interest as their music, leading many to initially assume that they were actually established fashion models. However, there was much more to the cool Cockney girls than just a pretty package and they quickly proved themselves to be as talented as they were beautiful, and with their feet firmly on the ground... something which sat in complete contrast to the sophisticated aloofness associated with the model elite. Pete Waterman remembered, "They're two 'jack the lads', but female. They're so independent! They reverse the role. You'd walk into a bar and say to them, "Do you want a drink, love?" and they are immediately going to say, "Stuff you mate - do you want a drink? They had a very modern outlook on life and they were so confident." Kim later recalled, "We weren't always this confident, Mel was a lot more confident!”. Mel then added, “Well, I was a lot more confident because I knew it was gonna ‘appen, I was determined!” By the end of 1986, Mel had been proven right! Showing Out was a smash hit in the UK and all across Europe, and the girls' newly acquired fans were smitten, and eager to hear what the sisters had in store for them next...
(Mel & Kim, pictured between takes ,on the video set for their first single Showing Out (Get Fresh At The Weekend) August 1986 )
Mel & Kim's second single Respectable, which was released on the 23rd of February 1987, was, once again, written by Stock, Aitken & Waterman, and the production team continued to inject the girls' colourful backgrounds and personalities into its lyrics. Written as a tongue in cheek response to the media's incessant reporting on Mel's prior career as a glamour model, Respectable perfectly incapsulating the sisters’ youthful, streetwise energy and infectious humour, whilst also making a clear statement that they were not and would not be shamed. Despite only being Mel & Kim’s second release, careful consideration was given to developing the girls' sound to be a little more radio-friendly than the heavier club-sounds of its predecessor. Showing Out was fundamentally a club record, so its unexpected crossover onto the mainstream pop charts had come as a happy surprise to everyone involved, but its success had also created a lot of pressure to follow it up with something bigger that could be embraced by the radio stations, as easily as the clubs. Respectable fuses the edgier Chicago House sounds of Showing Out with a more commercial Pop/House sensibility and a number of memorable hook-lines, none more so than its, "Tay, tay, tay, tay, t-t, t-t, t, tay, tay" vocal loc which remains instantly recognisable and played a major part in propelling the song to #1 across the globe - and Mel & Kim - to worldwide fame!
Preempting the dizzying heights that the single would achieve, the video for Respectable, was a much bigger affair than its predecessor. Recalling their second video shoot, Kim said at the time, “There isn’t really a story line. Just two girls making it good under the watchful eye of a copper!” The video's director Simon West shared how, even an unexpected press call, mid-video shoot, couldn't dampen the girls' enthusiasm."Back then, it was quite unusual to shut down right in the middle of shooting to do interviews’, and to have photographers shouting at them, ‘over here’, ‘over here’, but they were really being followed and hounded by the press. That said, they were just the same as always. Still just two kind, big-hearted young girls who were really excited to be there! I always remember Mel’s laugh! I mean, the windows would rattle when she laughed! It was huge!"
As Respectable reached the number one spot in the UK, then repeated that success across Europe, Asia, Oceania, and the US, Mel & Kim were truly living their dream, although the demands of their overnight success, and their relentless promotion schedule, were beginning to take their toll. Despite their excitement, both girls were exhausted and Mel had begun to suffer from a persistent pain in her back, which she laughed off, initially thinking it was a result of the dance routines required by their endless promotional performances. As the 'Mel & Kim' juggernaut charged forward, there were photo sessions, interviews, and worldwide television and club performances booked, as well as the recording of their début album to complete. With so much at stake, there was no time in the schedule to be unwell.
Photographed by Dave Hogan, in Victoria Park (East London) on 24th March 1987, as Respectable reached Number 1 in the UK chart
The next few months built anticipation and excitement for the sisters' début album, titled F.L.M., which was released on April 13th 1987. Publicly, F.L.M. was an abbreviation of ‘Fun, Love & Money’, but privately, the true meaning was ‘F*cking Lovely mate’, which was a colourful expression often used in banter by the girls and their producers. Recalling she and Mel's shock when Mike Stock told them the title of the new track he had written for them, Kim laughed, “We went into the studio and they (Stock & Aitken) said, ‘Ow’d you think about calling the album F.L.M.? and we said, ‘You can’t, what would we say in interviews? We can't sing that on Top of the Pops!".
The F.L.M. album provided a great platform for Mel & Kim to showcase their vocal capabilities and express their musical influences. Of course, the Chicago House/London House vibe was there, but the album also included a strong and diverse collection of RnB and soul tracks. The title track, like Respectable before it, sampled the girls' banter in the studio. Mel laughed as she recalled the songs' spoken line, ‘Boyfriends are boring.’ “That’s ‘er bleedin’ one, you know! (They asked), ‘Do you have boyfriends?’ And Kim goes, ‘boyfriends are boring’. Then they goes, ‘would you sleep wiv a guy who bought you a fur coat? And I said, ‘leave it out…independence!'” Once again, the girls' down to earth nature and strong personalities where evident in their music. Far from being Hit Factory puppets, they were young women who were expressing their strength and asserting that power in a feminine and fun way. Mike Stock recalled, "We reasoned that, with the two of them, you couldn't really do personal love songs. So there's a lot of songs on their album where their best mate has fallen in love with this rogue and they're giving her advice."
The F.L.M. album also included the girls' cover of Austin Howard’s 1986 release I’m the One Who Really Loves You (which went on to receive remix treatments courtesy of Robert Clivillés, late of C+C Music Factory fame, for its U.S. single release). Who’s Gonna Catch You, (which echoed one of the girls' childhood music-idols, Stevie Wonder), and the energetic and urgent sounding From A Whisper To A Scream, (which Mel & Kim co-wrote with Mike Stock). There was even a heartfelt ballad, More Than Words Can Say, with the lead vocal sang by Kim, which went on to receive a limited single release in Sweden.
In what was a bold move, the styling for the album sleeve, which was shot by Brian Aris, featured the girls looking fabulous in all their hair-extensioned glory, but without the hats that had proved such an image statement for them up until that point. To many critics, this signaled a clear image progression that was developing as quickly as their popularity grew.
Exclusive melandkim.com Edit
Mel & Kim perform their upcoming third single release - F.L.M. - on the second night of The Monteux Pop & Rock Festival, 2nd May 1987
The third single is seen as a crucial point for any artist, especially when an album is already high in the charts, so it's title track F.L.M. was given a mini-makeover to provide a more comfortable progression from the two singles that had preceded it. Pre-release promotion began at The Montreux Pop & Rock Festival, in May 1987, just under two months before the F.L.M. singles' release, with the duo debuting the album version alongside their other 2 singles. Mel & Kim were now on top of the world and footage from those performances show them smiling and giving each other knowing looks, disbelieving glances, and wide smiles, as the crowds roared their approval.
Originally, the sisters were booked to perform at all three nights of the famous European festival. However, this had to be cut short when Mel appeared to slip in a restaurant, following their second performance, and the back pain she had already been experiencing had then become intolerable. Full-scale single and album promotions had to be drastically scaled back, although cover shoots and interviews with the UK's two biggest music magazines, at that time - Smash Hits and Number One - went ahead. Once again, Mel laughed off the severity of her pain in both magazine interviews, and the girls were soon flying off to Japan, to restart promotion, this time for Showing Out, at The Tokyo Music Festival.
The sisters flew out on June 13th 1987, but alarmingly, Mel's back pain quickly worsened, and their 10-day visit had to be extended to three and a half weeks before Mel could be flown home. The girls arrived back at London's Heathrow airport, with Mel being pushed by Kim in a wheelchair, although reassuringly, both were full of smiles, and Mel laughed and joked with the press who had rushed to photograph their ominous return. With both the F.L.M. album and single racing up the global music charts and an imminent world tour booked which would take in Japan, Australia and New Zealand, before flying on to the US, to begin writing and recording tracks for a new album, international success was theirs, and the girls' dreams were seemingly coming true. Despite Mel having seriously injured her back, to the outside world this was still a time of joy and celebration. However, behind the public smiles, the world tour was cancelled as Mel was given the news that, despite being only 20 years old, she was about to embark on her second battle with cancer.
On Mel's request, the officially promoted story was that her fall in the Montreux restaurant, back in May, had resulted in a slipped disk and crushed vertebrae in her spine, and recovery meant that she would be unable to promote the F.L.M. single and album, as planned. Ambitious plans for the F.L.M. promotional video were ditched, and footage of one of the Montreux performances of the track was quickly inter-cut with a vague story-line involving a private investigator called 'Frank. L. Morris' (initials F.L.M.) and two string puppets, representing the girls. As ambiguity swirled over her sisters' health, and their imminent and well publicised plans to tour Japan, Australia and America were cancelled, Kim courageously soldiered on, under pressure from the record company to fulfil their contractual agreements to promote. Meanwhile, Mel underwent a course of intensive treatment and remained out of the media glare. Within weeks, the tabloid publications in the UK began to run persistent headlines and stories about Mel, under hurtful and preposterously dramatized headlines such as, ‘Let me die, I'll never be beautiful again! begs brave Mel’, and the media, desperate to break the true nature of her withdrawal from public view, resorted to desperate measures to secure the exclusive rights to her 'story'. As Mel embarked on her treatment, and her family - and Supreme Records - scrambled to deal with the reality of the situation, the girls endured journalists dressed as doctors, attempting to break into their homes and Mel's hospital room, hospital staff being bribed for information, and members of the family being followed. Yet, somehow, in amongst all this chaos, Mel & Kim found themselves able to look ahead and plan for their future. Just as it had when they were children, their shared love of music provided a very welcome distraction from the grim realities of the day to day toil that both were forced to endure. The girls spent hours discussing what their comeback image would be and what they now wanted to say as artists, and they also began writing their own songs for their planned, second album.
In November 1987, 4 months after Mel had withdrawn from public view, Kim attended the PWL studios alone, to record a 'guide only vocal' for the next Mel & Kim single. Mel was still undergoing treatment, but the plan was that the lengthy construction of the track would take place between Kim and the producers, and Mel would give feedback and re-record the track with her sister, when she felt well enough. Mel longed to record with Kim again, but it would be one late evening in January 1988 before she was finally strong enough and, with determination and a little help from her friends - Stock Aitken & Waterman - she signed herself out of hospital and travelled back to the P.W.L. studios ,with Kim, to record her vocals for That’s The Way It Is... and she loved every minute of it. Pete Waterman reflected, "I remember when we did That's The Way It Is, after Mel had had a lot of chemotherapy. At this stage, no one knew she had cancer. We recorded the track at 10.30pm, with no staff around, except for myself and a couple of others. Mel arrived, and the shock knocked me sideways. The whole thing was awesome, but Mel knew it - so the first thing she did was make us laugh and put us all at our ease. Mel was only supposed to be in the studio for a couple of hours but, at 6.30 in the morning, we had to send her back. Otherwise, as I said at the time, we'd all end up in hospital. She never stopped laughing, she had us in hysterics." Kim later also recalled that the recording was “exactly the tonic (Mel) needed." Being back in the studio lifted both girls' spirits, and they were even encouraged to record one of their own newly written compositions, a song titled You Changed My Life, which was then used as the B-side to That’s The Way It Is, and demonstrated just how good Mel & Kim had become at crafting a cracking pop tune of their own. Meanwhile, the critics were also beginning to sit up and take notice, and the girls received a Brit Awards nomination, on the 8th of February 1988, for 'Best British Breakthrough Act'!
That’s The Way It Is was released on February 20th, 1988, with the story of Mel's 'slipped disk' still being given by Supreme Records as the reason the sisters could not appear in the newly filmed video, or promote the track in person. Much of the girls' promotion for the single was made up of telephone interviews with the worldwide press, although there was also the unusual move of a live telephone interview on the British children’s Saturday morning show, Going Live. Mel & Kim sounded as chirpy and happy as ever, reassuringly laughing about their future plans, their recent interior house decorations and Mel being sent a ‘Gordon’ soft toy by a fan ('Gordon the Gopher' was a hand puppet character on the show). However, during the interview Mel had to deflect a very forward call from a young fan who asked her outright about the press reports that she had cancer. At the close of what must have been a difficult interview, Mel & Kim received a round of applause from those in the Going Live studio, and it was clear that many already knew the truth and wanted to express their respect, support and admiration for Mel, Kim, and their family. Unfortunately, the tabloid media’s lack of visual access to the girls during the promotion of the single, led to a price being put on Mel’s head. A price that was too big for even someone close to her to turn down...
On March 27th 1988, a tabloid publication ran the front-page story titled ‘Mel’s First Steps’, accompanied by an unrecognisable, yet incredibly courageous, photograph of Mel. The story was accompanied by a two-page spread, boasting more photographs which had been sold to the paper by Kim’s ex-partner. When asked about this later, Kim recalled “I was so angry, but Mel was so great about it. She said nonchalantly, “Oh well…”. It was just some low-life trying to make some money. I don’t want to talk about him too much as he probably thinks he is famous. It was bad for Melanie to be seen that way, but it was something that we coped with!” Mel referred to the photographs, at a later press conference, saying, "If people want a cheap thrill out of me looking ill, that’s up to them!” The photographs had been taken in Kim’s house as part of a family celebration to welcome Mel home from hospital for Christmas, in 1987, and the accompanying story of Mel’s ‘torment’ was tasteless and thoughtless, displaying no regard for the feelings of a brave and frightened 21 year old girl and her loved ones... But the photographs are inspirational and show the strength of spirit and determination Mel possessed. Unbelievably, despite the trials she is going through, Mel is pictured in the photographs laughing! After the initial shock of the story breaking, the girls admitted that it was also a relief that the truth was now finally out there. Mel was feeling stronger and the effort of hiding herself had been taking a heavy toll on her and her family. Kim later recalled, “It became really hard keeping it a secret and hiding her from people, when the news broke, it was a big relief.”
On March 24th 1988, three days before the publication of the photographs, Mel & Kim made the difficult decision to hold a press conference, in London's Russel Hotel, to finally face the world and take the wind out of the impending Tabloid story and photographs, which were set for print that weekend. The duo may have sang the line “We ain’t ever gonna be respectable”, but the sight of the incredibly brave young girl leaning on her equally brave big sister, and hobbling slowly, with the aid of sticks, into the conference room, earned the respect of the gathered press instantly - and you could have heard a pin drop. Those present did not know what to expect, given that the ‘outing’ of Mel’s illness had not been of her own doing, and she and her family obviously had been coping with a huge amount of pressure and pain over the last year. However, any nerves and discomfort in the room soon vanished when Mel sat in front of her microphone and laughed loudly, before announcing, "Yeah, I’m wearing a wig! I’m as bald as a coot! Don’t anyone in here open the window, otherwise a wind will blow through and me wig will come off!” She then dissolved into more giggles, before adding, “I was having to take steroids, so my weight went up to 11 stone. Only a couple of weeks ago I looked like a cabbage patch doll!” It wasn’t only Mel’s humour that was clear to see, her strength of spirit was also shining out! "I WILL make a full recovery, I have never thought that I am going to die. I am not going to let that happen!” When asked how she had felt about the private photographs of her, in recovery, being sold to the press, Mel said, “What it has done is made me show myself in public much earlier than I wanted to. I don’t feel any pain at all now, but believe me, if I’d have come out in public a few months ago, my face would have been screwed up because of the pain!” When asked about maintaining her humour throughout such a grave experience, Mel laughed loudly and said, "Me and Kim have had a sense of humour throughout the treatment. We've had to laugh at a lot of things. I feel I could handle anything now. You've got to keep looking up. Don't look on the downside."
On April 29th 1988, a few weeks after their press conference, the sisters appeared on the hugely popular prime-time British talk show ‘Wogan’, where they charmed the studio audience, TV viewers, and the host - Sir Terry - with their fun-filled banter and unfaltering optimism. Within minutes, the girls were full of laughter, sharing stories from their life experiences, and playfully referring to the show’s host as "Tel!" Mel looked far improved from the photographs that had been published the previous month, but she was still bloated from her punishing medication regime, and she was wearing a wig. During the interview, Mel shared with the audience her continuing struggles to get on her feet. “At the moment I am still working on my walking, ‘cause I walk with sticks, but by summer, I should be getting it together.” Despite the obvious seriousness of Mel’s condition, the conversation was peppered, as ever, with fun and laughter, and it remains a very personal and touching interview, showing both girls' strength, humour and tenacity. In addition, the interview also showcased a verse of a new song, penned by the sisters. While chatting about writing their own songs, they were asked to sing, and launched into a faultless rendition of a track they called, Oh Yes, I’m Leaving - in acapella, no less. Certainly, any prior questions over the girls' vocal talents were immediately silenced, as the sisters harmonised together, pausing only for Mel to mimic the bass guitar line and to, as always, laugh! (This track was later re-titled If You Cared, and became Kim’s fourth single release from her solo album).
Another TV appearance followed in August 1988, this time for the British early morning show TV AM, to promote the need for teenage cancer wards in British hospitals. In the interview, Mel's recovery was apparent. She had lost much of the medication-induced bloating she had experienced, and her hair was now growing back. With Kim protectively by her side, and sporting a short hair cut to match her sister's, both girls sounded animated and positive, and Mel’s fighting spirit was clearly still in evidence. Referring to a comeback, Kim said, “The fact that Mel is back is enough for me. Whether we have the career again, it’s just not important”. Mel quickly interrupted her sister, saying, “Well we WILL have the career again, were just lyin’ low, ha ha!” Kim added, “She’s the leader on that!” to which Mel, half in fun and half in pure defiance, raised a fist into the air and did what she always did – she laughed!
(Mel & Kim's last TV appearance, in a prerecorded interview with Anne Diamond for TV-AM, August 1988)
Tragically, this would be the last TV appearance the sisters would make as a duo, and on the 18th of January 1990. Mel passed away, with Kim and her family by her side. A simple cold had developed into pneumonia and her immune system, badly weakened by the last few years of intensive chemotherapy, had not been able to fight off the infection. She was 23 years old.
Sisters Mel & Kim Appleby had a dream! A dream to make their lives better. To sing and dance. Have fun, find love and make enough money to provide security...
...and they made that dream a reality whilst securing themselves a place in pop history - forever. The girls were nothing short of a phenomenon and their songs continue to be played today, eliciting joy and stirring memories of a different time. Memories that, despite the cruel way things ended, have their foundations rooted firmly in fun, laughter and great pop music.
More years have now gone by since Mel’s passing than the 23 years that she was alive, yet her spirit continues to live on through the sisters' music and the love and affection that remains for them both. Mel & Kim will long be remembered but, perhaps, it is a memory shared by Kim that is the most poignant. When asked what her lasting memory of her sister was, Kim answered, “Her bubbliness really. She really loved life. She laughed a lot and was a bit of a scatterbrain. She was just a very warm person. I always think of the good times. Now and again the negative stuff creeps in but mostly I have this image of Mel... laughing!”