80s love stories discovered during lockdown

New archive celebrates the stories of couples who fell in love forty years ago.

The 1980s gave us Lady Di, big hair and cheesy love songs, but it also saw recession, rioting, AIDS and Section 28.

This fertile backdrop has inspired award-winning Wolverhampton artist Dawinder Bansal and legendary pop musician Martyn Ware – founder of The Human League and Heaven 17 – to create We Found LOVE in the 80’s. It’s a film, podcast, 3D soundscape and photo archive celebrating people who overcame everything to find love and it launches as part of the Wolverhampton Literature Festival on Saturday 13th February.

During lockdown last year, Dawinder and Martyn launched the project and interviewed a selection of people who found romance in the 1980s and who have faced adversity, financial worries, illness and stigma to stay together.

The relationships range from traditional arranged marriages to gay/queer relationships and love across cultural, racial and religious divides. From first meetings and getting together, the stories travel through the obstacles of life and the secrets of how they have stayed together through thick and thin.

“As a child of the 80s this project is so personal to me,” says Dawinder Bansal. “There were so many challenges in the 1980s that resonate with today – we had a Conservative government leading the country into recession and racism and intolerance were rife, while the world faced a deadly virus.

“But despite all the obstacles people were still falling in love, often in secret, especially if they were gay or interracial relationships. I wanted to find out about these relationships and what got people through.

“As someone who has found it difficult to find love I wanted to go on a journey with these couples to find out what has kept their spark alive all these years and ultimately, what can we learn from the past that is good?”

“I’m really happy that my work is a crucial part of this work,” says Martyn Ware. “As artists in the 80s we were lucky to be a part of an iconic era for music, fashion, politics and a melting pot of multiculturalism. But it was a time of high unemployment and uncertainty and, unfortunately, open racism.

“Art acts as a conduit for empathy and feelings of all kinds, and I’m proud that our music has been a significant part of many people’s emotional journeys.”

Some of the couples featured:

Ian and Ian found love in 1984 during the height of the hedonistic gay club scene in London. After 36 years together they run a vintage clothing shop in the East End of London.

We talked, we clicked and we’ve been together ever since,” says Ian J. “AIDS was like playing a game of Russian roulette. We lost an enormous amount of friends,” says Ian B.

Geeta and Sabash met through family matchmakers and had a traditional Indian wedding in 1989. When their grown-up daughter left home they went to marriage counselling to rekindle their love.

“During our courtship I made him 80s mix tapes of Bollywood songs that I recorded from the radio station,” says Geeta. “After 27 years of marriage we had to learn to focus on each other again, and re-find points of connection through love and kindness.”

Saroj and Kamlesh met at university in the early 1980s. Coming from different Indian castes, they had to overcome tradition and culture to marry.

“We lived together in secret for 5 years. We broke tradition by living together before marriage and had an inter-caste marriage that was not arranged by our elders,” says Saroj. “Love isn’t just about the fairytale romance, it’s about commitment, caring for the person you are with through thick and thin.”

Helen and Deirdre met in 1989 at Nottingham Castle Museum, but they had to wait until 2014 to get married.

“Neither of us had had a relationship with a woman, nor identified as gay. We had to learn to feel comfortable with being in love with someone the same sex,” says Helen. “The art of a staying together all these years is not to stay in love with the person when you met, but to keep falling in love with the same person as they change and grow.”

The We Found Love In The 80s podcast, 3D Soundscape and photographic archive launches this month and will continue to grow as more people will be encouraged to tell their stories. The film has a special screening as part of Wolverhampton Literature Festival on Saturday 13 February followed by a post-screening discussion with Dawinder Bansal and Martyn Ware.

We Found Love In The 80s can be found here.

We Found Love In the 80s film screening and discussion as part of Wolverhampton Literature Festival.