FFrom headbangers in Hastings to new romantics in Norwich, penpals and lonely hearts columns were a staple of music magazines from the 1970s to the 1990s. Hopeful, passionate and bored fans submitted their photos, names, addresses and obsessions for posting and fingers crossed, waiting for a great response. Decades before the advent of online forums, fans would exchange excited, handwritten letters with the likes of Pat Benatar and Whitesnake. Scunthorpe and Southend’s teenage goths might fall in love, the ice broken by their shared love for Siouxsie and the Banshees. The commercials in general conveyed passion for music, but between the lines were cries of connection, pleas for love.
As an obsessive with music from a small Yorkshire town, I saw my own thoughts and feelings reflected in them and began to wonder: what became of the searchers? Did they find the rock and roll romance? Do you still love the Bauhaus and Alien Sex Fiend? How was life? So I tracked down some.
‘That’s how I met my husband’
Kelly Maskell, 39, lived in Orpington, Kent. Fan of: Smashing Pumpkins.
I placed an ad after moving to Britain from America in 1997. I was 16 years old and I had left behind my school, my friends, everything I knew. My motivation was loneliness and frustration. I wanted to see live bands but didn’t feel comfortable going solo. I received about 100 responses. I met some people and, in a roundabout way, this is how I met my husband. One person who wrote became my boyfriend. That didn’t work out, but the man I would marry was a good friend of hers. We have been together 15 years.
Today I work for a large pharmaceutical company, but I still love all bands. Smashing Pumpkins will always have a special place in my heart. I’d still say I’m a goth, and I got into steampunk too. It goes with the Victorian Gothic style, the corsets and stuff. I didn’t have that tough skin back then. If I wrote to someone and they didn’t reply, I would think: “What’s wrong with me?” It’s too bad penpals aren’t a thing anymore because there was nothing better than getting regular letters out the door. When he switched to emails, he lost the magic.
‘I was in the Radio GaGa video’
Stephen Wallis, 65, lived in Hitchin, Hertfordshire. Fan of: Iron Maiden.
Some friends and I did it to laugh. There were no computers in those days, everything was by letter. He worked as a hospital porter and lived on about £ 2 a week. I received hundreds of responses. That’s how I met my wife. She saw my photo and decided to write, and I had no problem with that! She is Japanese and used to come to Britain with her friends. He followed a band called King’s X around the world. We first saw each other at an Iron Maiden concert in London and it just carried on from there. Around 1990, we got married.
I’m still going to see the old bands and some new ones too. I am now 65 years old. My all-time favorite is Queen. I first saw them in 1973 at the Hammersmith Odeon in London and have been in the fan club for 40 years. I was in the Radio GaGa video: about 400 fans were invited and we all had to wear the white suits. I still have mine at home somewhere, it must be worth a fortune now.
I have had motorcycle accidents, I have broken both arms, but things have not changed much. Now I work in a hospital as a chef. What I did in those days I still do now, except I don’t drink that much lager, it’s too expensive. I wish I had learned to play music. In the early days, he was too busy riding motorcycles. I could have been a rock star now!
‘She was a real Miss American Pie’
Garry Fraser, 55, lived in Edinburgh. Fan of: Stiff Little Fingers.
My friend Davie and I had just dropped out of school and were unemployed. We become skinheads. We could only go to concerts where you would get in for free if you showed your subsidy card. We get quite a few responses from the ad. We never met with anyone, but I wrote to a pen pal in America about two or three times a year, for about 10 or 15 years. She was a true Miss American Pie type. Because her lifestyle was so different from ours, we stayed in touch.
My brother was in the original 1968 skinhead scene when it was all Jamaican reggae and original ska. As time went by, we realized that the scene was getting more and more racist and we dated. Eight months after that image appeared, I became a dad. I was a child who became a father. Now I have three grandchildren and four children. My life now is nothing like how I would have imagined it. I have been married twice, I have four children from three women. I am doing well financially, but it has taken me a long time to get to where I am now.
He was very impulsive when he was younger. When I was 16, I thought I was old enough that I never took my exams. My advice to my younger self would be to stick with it, otherwise you’ll be 45 before you get a decent job. Go back, get your education and stop being a jerk. I am now manager of the Edinburgh council in charge of garbage collection. I still have my original 1984 pilot jacket. I wear it from time to time, out of nostalgia.
‘I dreamed of moving to Chesterfield’
Lesley Cripps, 54, lived in Cirencester, Gloucestershire. Fan of: Siouxsie & the Banshees.
When I was 17, I couldn’t even imagine being 21. I didn’t have many aspirations, maybe that’s why I was a punk. It wasn’t until I was much older that I looked back and realized that much of my rebellion was due to my being angry. My parents separated and my life was not always easy.
We used to visit relatives in Chesterfield and I had a dream to move there, which is why I mentioned it in the ad. But it never happened. I don’t remember anyone having contacted me. I wonder, if they had, would I have really moved?
I was quite naughty, but I don’t regret it, because in the end it made me a better person. I supported the work for a family support charity called Home Start for a time. I understood what was difficult for them. My life since then has been fantastic. I have traveled extensively and now do administrative work for luxury vacation homes. No one would ever imagine that he used to be a punk. I keep my tattoos covered.
‘It took Kerrang a year to print my photo’
Adam Cox, 38, lived in Worksop, Nottinghamshire. Fan of: Deftones.
He lived in Worksop in the East Midlands, a dead end town. Nobody liked the same music. Being a teenager before the internet and trying to meet like-minded people was difficult. He was in a Coal Chamber phase: rebellious but not too crazy. I sent a photo to Kerrang, but it took over a year to print. At the time, I looked completely different.
I still got a lot of responses and met a lot of people. We would just stroll through music stores and chat on a Saturday afternoon in the city and in the nearest cities, Sheffield and Nottingham. My main interests were music, in whatever form, and moving out of the city where I lived.
The early Fear Factory and Machine Head albums I keep playing from time to time, but generally I moved towards punk. I played in a hardcore band called the legacy for 10 years until the mid-2000s. We made a couple of albums and toured Europe. Now I work at a university, helping students with additional needs. Life is life, just keep going. I’m quite happy with how things turned out, although I still feel nostalgic for the 90s: listening to Korn and bands from that era, going to the local rock pub and getting really drunk.
‘I got an answer, from a girl from Poland’
Geoff Martin (calling himself Geofrey Mute in his ad), 54, lived in King’s Lynn, Norfolk. Fan of: The Damned.
I got into school at 16 and I just went to a lot of punk concerts. My so-called friends placed a joke ad. I didn’t know anything until people started saying, “Look, you’re there!” I only received one reply, from a girl from Poland. It was all a bit embarrassing as my classmates pissed. Unfortunately, the letter no longer exists.
King’s Lynn was not the easiest place to grow up. Many of us were outsiders. We were cruel to anyone who wasn’t punk enough. We used to call them “cheesy punks”, people who dressed up in punk on the weekends. I still listen to punk from time to time and still classify myself as one in attitude but not in clothes or looks. I still have a streak of rebellion, not bowing down to authority. On the other hand, I work for the Museum of Natural History.
I am a Senior Lepidopteran Curator. I started collecting butterflies and moths when I was about 10 years old. When punk came, you had to give it up, because it wasn’t the kind of thing you should be doing, but I picked it up later. If you had told me how it would end up here, it would have been a huge surprise. My ambition was simply to go to concerts and live in a busy position.
‘I received bags of letters from all over the world’
Paul Bolger, 56, lived in Waterford, Ireland. Fan of: Black Sabbath (up to Mafia rules album).
My mates and I were heavy metallers, punks and skinheads, we went to the youth club, we tried to go out with girls and we went to Dublin to buy records when we could afford them. I used to make money painting band logos on the back of leather jackets.
To laugh, I took a picture on a Woolworths camera and wrote that stupid ad. I received bags of letters from all over the world. I am still in contact with a couple. There was a Scottish girl who came to stay with us in 1983 and ended up hanging out with my sisters.
I was in a band called Purple Haze. We were an imitation of Michael Schenker, Scorpions and Iron Maiden. I love listening to our music now, but I couldn’t really sing it. My voice always leaned more towards blues, country, which is what I do now. I have an album coming out. I should know better at my age, but fuck it, it’s so much fun.
I went to Germany for two months and came back five years later with a family. I never got famous or rich, but I did what I wanted. At the time of that photograph, I made the decision that I would never be paid for anything other than talking, drawing, writing or singing. For the past 30 years, that’s what I’ve been doing.
Digsmak is a news publisher with over 12 years of reporting experiance; and have published in many industry leading publications and news sites.