Four decades after first gracing our TV screens, belting out the tremendous ‘Top of the Pops’ on the iconic BBC chart show of the same name, the alluring Fay Fife clearly still has a passion for rock’n’roll.
Anyone who’s caught The Rezillos live knows that, and from this week onward she’ll be leaping about at venues up and down the country again, out front with co-founder Eugene Reynolds, 42 years after they first teamed up north of the border.
A shared love of ‘50s rock’n’roll and ‘60s garage bands inspired them initially, punk rock providing the spark for a ‘new wave beat group’ who could never be accused of taking the more po-faced approach to their art.
In 1978, the Edinburgh College of Art formed outfit made an impact with debut LP Can’t Stand the Rezillos, following that with mighty live follow-up, Mission Accomplished…But the Beat Goes On! By the time that latter Glasgow Apollo show was committed to vinyl they’d already split though, guitarist/songwriter Jo Callis going on to join The Human League, in time co-writing several more top-20 hits, including the Sheffield synth-pop stars’ sole No.1 hit, ‘Don’t You Want Me’. However, Fay (real name Shelagh Hynd) and co-vocalist Eugene (real name Alan Forbes) reconvened to co-front The Revillos, carrying on until 1985, and the band’s pulling power endures all these years on.
The Rezillos briefly reformed in the mid-‘90s for a number of Japanese and UK dates, with Jo Callis back on board around then, getting back together again – this time for good – in 2001 after an invite to play Edinburgh’s Hogmanay celebrations. And while the current band – with Fay and Eugene joined by fellow founder-member Alasdair ‘Angel’ Paterson (drums), 2008 recruit Chris Agnew (bass) and 2010 recruit Jim Brady (guitar) – remain busy with other music projects, they still get together when they can. That includes occasional recordings, their most recent LP of fresh material, Zero, landing in 2015. But right now, they’re heading back out again, proving – all these years on – that The Beat Goes On!
When I called Fay, she was sat at her computer, working on one of ‘various music projects ongoing’, briefly mentioning a ‘big multi-media project’ coming our way later this month. She told me, “I also have an alternative country band … but I know you’re phoning up about The Rezillos.”
It just so happens that the first tour date this time around is on my patch, visiting Preston Guild Hall’s LiVe room this Thursday, September 6th, supported by Department S, best known for 1981 hit ‘Is Vic There?’
“We’re doing quite a lot of UK dates through autumn, including London and Edinburgh. We’re kind of busy ‘til the end of the year, and then there are other plans I probably shouldn’t talk about yet.”
At this stage I professed my long-term love for the band, not least that splendid debut LP and the record that followed, which remains one of my favourite live albums.
“Oh right … I think I’ve only listened to it once!”
While the Flying Saucer Attack: The Complete Recordings 1977-1979 compilation landed courtesy of Cherry Red earlier this year, it’s fair to say The Rezillos are hardly the most prolific of acts, taking 37 years to get around to releasing that second studio album, Zero. Will we have to wait that long for the next one?
“Well, there is another in the pipeline. I wouldn’t say The Rezillos are really quick off the mark, but we are actually starting to write material for a new album. One of the new songs we’re going to do on a BBC 6 Music session, called Goodbye, My Motorbike Guy. But we really need to get to work on all that. Everybody in The Rezillos does other things, so it’s hard to get everybody together to get it done, but I’m pushing for that. If you’re going to be doing this and not staying creative, there’s no point.”
I guess that was always the case. You were always sparking off at different angles, that creative energy a key component of the band’s appeal. You also saw that in the careers you all carved out, such as your move into theatrical studies, Eugene setting up his motorbike business, Angel developing his architectural concern in his adopted Germany …
“Well, I only did the theatrical thing for a short time, then took time out to bring up my son, then later studied psychology. I don’t know what I was thinking there. I’ve done all sorts of things, and now I’ve come full circle, in the last few years returning completely to music. I wanted a more settled life when my son was growing up, but now he’s at university (aged 23, studying games design), I feel I can do more of my own thing.”
Incidentally, Fay’s son’s father was Revillos guitarist Kid Krupa, a ‘very fine guitarist and producer’ who died in his early 40s in 2005, having joined the Mk. II outfit in 1980, aged 17, later becoming a session player for the likes of Tim Finn, Roger Daltrey, Del Amitri, Bonnie Tyler and Shakin’ Stevens, later returning to the ranks for the mid-‘90s shows.
Fay also remains involved with the University of Edinburgh, where she studied after the band’s first two incarnations, these days providing services in ‘therapy for people with addiction problems’, a sideline she feels keeps her ‘fairly grounded’.
But make no mistake. This is no highbrow concern. Aside from the more serious side of punk, The Rezillos always struck me as more fun, with plenty of touches of art-rock experimentation about them too.
“I think you’re right, and there are different sorts of laughter, I guess. And if you’re feeling creative and working with creative people, you laugh very easily and humour is part of it. If you’re going to be over-serious and dour, even if you’re writing a serious song, it kind of deadens things. We’ve always had that angle to us, and are still able to tune into that.
“Certainly, myself and Eugene have a similar humour and sort of spark off each other.”
That certainly shows in their stage presence. Is it easier to get on with each other all these years on, or was that never an issue?
“I don’t know. Age brings a bit of settling down, and there is some of that, but people still maintain the core of their personality and identity. It’s not like you get older and all the problems in life disappear. You still come up against challenges, inter-personal things too, and have creative challenges as to what direction to take. All these things are still up for discussion, but in general we manage them better.”
“There’s certainly still an appetite for it. People think we’ve come back several times, but we haven’t. We reformed in 2001 and have continued on and off since, although we’ve had times when we didn’t do very much, which was a mutual decision. We’ve either got too much going on or we can’t get people to do things all at the same time, but we’ve never stopped doing things.”
The travelling continues, and not long ago they had a get-together with several fellow punk luminaries in Germany, celebrating a successful LP by former John Peel favourites Die Toten Hosen, also involving past WriteWyattUK interviewees Steve Diggle (Buzzcocks), JC Carroll (The Members) and Damian O’Neill (The Undertones), among others.
“That was a bit of a blast. What an outrageous and fun event. You could write a wee novel about that … but I’ll draw a discreet blind over that.”
That’s a shame. Maybe I’ll ask her again sometime. But seeing as I mentioned WriteWyattUK favourites The Undertones (and it doesn’t usually take me long to get on to that subject), I’ve heard great stories about their time with Sire Records, not least with Seymour Stein. How was your own experience with that renowned label boss?
“I can’t remember having any negative relationship with him, but I do recall that I seriously put his and his wife’s noses out of joint when I got a bit high-spirited at a party, with a bit of alcohol going around, and decided to put a bit of cake – a big cream cake – on top of her head. It was a laugh at the time, but I don’t know why I did it. It seemed appealing. I don’t know what came over me. But in general, I think we got on fine.”
While we’re talking travel, this year alone has included festival dates in Spain, Italy … even Canada.
“Yeah, we’ve really been galloping around the place, and these were really nice things to play. We’ve done quite a lot of travel in Spain. We’re quite popular there. We do a lot of shows and keep on doing this because we know we put on a good show and enjoy doing it.
“It does seem strange that we’re still doing that, but for me we’ve got to keep putting in new material and developing it as well as giving people the old music. We can’t deny we are a heritage band, but nevertheless – to keep it fresh for me – we keep the material developing.”
Somehow, it’s now been 42 years since it all began. Can Fay remember much about the first show? And was there a lightbulb moment when they realised this had real potential?
“I think there were several lightbulb moments, but I think the key one was at our first gig. There was another singer in the band then, Gail (Warning), and we made our stage outfits that day, really unusual things for the time. I had a red plastic dress and she had a green plastic dress, and everyone turned up that night like themselves but a slightly exaggerated version.
“When we got on stage, something happened. You’ll have to remember that The Rezillos was my first band, whereas among us two or three of us had another band at the same time. So I’d never really been on stage with a band until then. But Eugene said – and I wasn’t aware of this at the time – it was really clear once we started singing that something else happened and took over, some sort of performance thing.
“That was me personally, and altogether we just completely gelled and took off. And we really communicated with the audience, and you could tell they were getting it. So that was the big moment – that realisation that our performance was quite something.”
There was also that love of ‘50s rock’n’roll and ‘60s beat bands that you had in common. But there seems to be a blurred line between the likes of The Rezillos and pioneering US bands with similar influences like The B-52’s and The Cramps. Did they predate them?
“I don’t know if we did. I think we were all around about the same time. We were certainly independent of each other. We actually went to New York to record Can’t Stand The Rezillos and sort of linked up with Lux (Interior) and (Poison) Ivy, becoming good pals with them. They’d been around New York for a while trying to get a thing going and were aware of the B-52’s too. So I think it was around the same time for everybody.”
This tour includes a visit to La Belle Angele in Edinburgh (Friday, October 19th). Is it always good to have a hometown gig?
“Well, yeah, and we did a gig here in early summer for a big exhibition of pop music, Rip It Up, with this festival to celebrate the opening. But this is our own show, so that should be good too.
“I always think we’re an Edinburgh band, although I’m the only person in the band who actually lives here. Eugene lives nearby, in the countryside, Chris lives in Fife, Jim lives in Glasgow, and our drummer lives in Germany. So we do feel this is our hometown gig, but Glasgow is almost our other hometown gig and also very important to us. We’re not there this time, partly because of the big fire in Glasgow (at the celebrated Mackintosh building, the School of Art, in June), but we’ll put that off until a wee bit later.”
When I spoke to Eugene for this website (April 2014, with a link here), he told me life’s always been ‘birds, booze and bikes’ or ‘music, motorcycles and madness’. How would Fay describe her own experience with The Rezillos over the years?
What indeed. And does she still get people asking about her acting days and appearances in Taggart and The Bill?
“No, you’re the first person who’s asked me for about 15 years or something! It was just such a small part of my life. I didn’t really take to acting very much. I really loved doing lots of improvisation but didn’t really take to it other than that. It was more like a side-step. It was interesting, but it’s music I really like.
“Interestingly though, I’m currently working with an actor and I understand a bit where she’s coming from, because I’ve done a bit of that and understand it from a different performance perspective. Even though I’m not an actor and I’m not theatrical, I’ve been there to some extent.
“And interestingly, last night I was working on another project with (former Casualty regular and current Coronation Street star) Rula Lenska.”
Finally, when I think of The Rezillos, I think not only of those first two albums but also one of those memorable Top of the Pops appearances in 1978, Fay decked out in classic ’60s chic, behind the boys but still hogging the camera shots in lurid green and orange spotted white mini-dress, huge hoop ear-rings, and orange tights, with plenty of excessive pointing at the audience during the chorus as if to underline the irony of the lyric, the location, and the occasion. But are there moments across the band’s history that stand out above all others more for her?
“To me, the first of two great peak moments of everything I’ve been involved in goes way back to when The Revillos were touring America. We did it on a fairly small scale, although we played a few shows with a pretty big capacity. We were in a mini-bus, and traveled all over, including down to Tucson, Arizona, and through the Grand Canyon, and over the Rockies. It was like being in an extended, bizarre musical adventure. It reminded me of Scooby Doo, such an amazing experience.
“That was fantastic, and more recently, maybe three years ago, we were touring America again, this time on the West coast. We had a really great tour bus and I had my room at the end and felt like Tammy Wynette. I just loved the fact that you’d sometimes wake up really early and look out on really amazing scenery. We travelled down from Canada right down to Mexico, and there was something about it that was quite transcendent.”
I can understand that, and there must be moments where you realise this isn’t such a bad way to make a living.
“Yes, sometimes you feel that, then others, it’s, ‘My God, I’ve spent about a million hours getting to the gig, I’ve gone on stage for 45 minutes, and then I’ve gone home!”
The Rezillos and support Department S kick off their autumn tour at Preston Guild Hall LiVe on Thursday, September 6 (01772 804 444, with details here). For more dates and all the latest from the band, try their web, Facebook and Twitter links.