Recently I saw Transvision Vamp give wimply manufactured pop music a good kick in the teeth and 100 fans went wild. Having seen them on their first tour last July I knew they'd be good but this was a much larger venue, what was in store? The lights went down, people's glasses went down, the stage lights went up as the band launched straight into 'The Only One' and it sounded great.
When I first saw them live I witnessed a powerful Rock'n'Roll band that had me tapping my foot and clapping my hands. But this time it felt different. Overall the first 3 numbers were good, no more, and I had the thought they were holding back, then it seemed as if they shifted up a gear, trying a little harder, winning a few more fans over. Then the light show began to unfold, a red spot here, a blue flash there, the audience reaction growing and in turn the band responding. Looking back there was a lot more to it than that. The band seemed totally in control, holding back at the beginning, letting the power build as the show progressed. I have the distinct impression that if they had wanted to, they could have blown the roof off the place. They had so much power! I've seen young fans reactions to bands before, but this went further. Visions of Marc Bolan and the following he had come to mind. The light show was so subtle. As the show progressed more lights were added. A screen at the rear of the stage burst into life with swirls and whirls of colour co-inciding with the more 'progressive' music of the set. It all made perfect sense. There was meaning and feeling to it all. Sure the influence of bands like the Velvet Underground was present but only because Transvision Vamp wanted it there. All too soon it was over, even allowing for 3 encores. A sea of happy faces made their way to the exit, mine was one of them.
The next tour is to start on October 16th and run until November 10th. Tonight they only played a couple of songs from the album 'Velveteen'. The next tour will include a lot of this newer material and I'm pretty certain the whole show will have progressed a step further, and that step leads to ecstasy!
Now from the present to the past. Where did such a band come from?
Nick (Christian) Sayer has a career that leads back to the south coast where in 1977 when he played in a Hastings based band called the Plastix. Nick wrote their only song to be immortalized on vinyl. 'Tough on You' appeared on the compilation album Farewell To The Roxy (Lightning Records - LIP 2). His 'partners in crime' include; Huggy Leaver (who later joined Mod band 'The Teenbeats'), Mark Wilmshurts and Mark Hoggins (later in 'Peter And The Test Tube Babies'). Songs the band played live included Nothing 2 Do/Zips & Buckles/Politics/Fleet Street/Terminal TV (a hint of things to come?)/Too Many Pills/Then She Kissed Me/Cheap Copy/9 till 5 and the aforementioned Tough On You.
By the end of 1978 they were no more. Nick (known as Sago to his friends) and Mark joined an existing unit called Fan Club and they made one record. The end result was a singled called 'Avenue/Night Caller' on the M&S label (SJP 791). It came in a photocopied sleeve only. The track also appeared on the compilation album of Brighton based bands Vaultage '78 (Attrix records - RB 3). Nick and Mark then formed a short lived band 'The Kempton Rockers'. Named after the area of Brighton where they lived. Their very first live performance was supportng the Teenbeats at the Vault in Brighton. Next came 'Midnight & The Lemon Boys', playing New York Dolls style Rock. This lasted 3 years and was very much a live band gigging on a regular basis and playing support on tours to acts such as U2 and the Photo's. As time moved on and the general music scene progressed the name wasn't considered 'mysterious enough' and so it was changed to 'A Jewel Shines Darkly'. This lasted about nine months. While humping a large amplifier Nick slipped a disc in the lower region of his back. It put him out of action for many months and he concentrated on his song writing.
Shortly before his accident Nick had been writing songs with Marcus Myers. The last song they wrote together was called 'Falling For A Goldmine'. This has now appeared in a much different form as a track on the 'Velveteen' album. Marcus went on to a band called Hard Rain, until recently signed to London records.
Now here is where it gets confusing. Wendy and Nick wrote in their recent fan club magazine and also in the recent tour programme that they met on November 4th 1982. However I believe (from my research) that it was actually '83 or '84. Either way, at the time in question Wendy James was a student living in Brighton with interests in music and acting. On November 4th she was to be seen singing Patti Smith songs to beatbox backing tracks in a run down after hours basement drinking club. Nick Sayer happened to be a member of the audience that night. "I wanted a singer, a foreign girl... European or Scandinavian. I found a beautiful Danish one but she couldn't sing." Nick, sporting a latter day punk look with matted almost dreadlock blond coloured hair approached Wendy and asked her if she would like to try singing on a few songs he'd recently written.
Locked away in Nick's Brighton bedsit they recorded song after song on his 4 track Teac 144 tape recorder. Both were on the dole and spent their money on guitar strings and cassette tapes in an effort to further their career.
18 months of hard work resulted in a demo tape of six songs. These were intended as a musical soundtrack to a film screenplay with the working title 'Saturn 5'. It was set in the future, all about a planet inhabited only by young people. Every last detail was planned, even down to the costumes they would wear, designed with the help of a girl at Brighton Art College. The six songs put down on tape had titles like:We Travel On/Space Junk/Sky High/I'll Do Anything/Rocket To Me and Satellite Boy. Obviously it was based on their love of Sci-Fi Movies. They also decided on a name; Transvision Vamp.
Somehow they met Steve O'Rourke, manager of Pink Floyd. He introduced them to recording engineer/budding producer Duncan Bridgeman with whom they became friends. Nick and Wendy didn't relish the thought him being their manager. Next up came high powered American Gary Kerferst who looked after the affairs of numerous US rock acts. Talking Heads and the B52's being just two. For about 3-4 weeks it looked as if the TV's would be managed by him. But they soon made the decision that someone with so many other interests wouldn't have much time for them.
However, they did meet Brian Carr through him. Brian became their lawyer and is still their legal eagle to this day. Simon Watson had been a long time friend of Nick, the pair had met around 1976 and had even managed some of the bands Nick had previously been involved with. He had also met Wendy. He was the one to offer advice when the two musicians needed it. An objective ear. Simon now took the official role of Manager. He had worked within the music/management industry for some time and therefore offered a wealth of experience.
With demos in hand, they did the usual trek round the record company A&R departments meeting lots of nice but obviously deaf people. At one point it looked as if EMI would be the one. But at the last minute EMI backed down. During this period Dave Ambrose furthered his career with a move to MCA records. On December 8th 1986 Transvision Vamp were signed to a recording contract with MCA.
Signing to a major record company is just the start for a new band and this proved to be the case for 'The Vamps'. It took nine months and one day before their first single 'Revolution Baby' was finally released. Everything seemed perfect, the song, the production, the image, everything had been planned down to the smallest detail. Unfortunately nobody told the record buying public these details. The sleeve design by Jamie Reid, responsible for all the Sex Pistols artwork along with the many large adverts the record company placed in the weekly music papers caused many tongues to wag. According to the record company it reached number 76 in the charts. Here's a little known fact for you; If you compare the 7" and 12" record sleeves you will find that the picture of Wendy touting a gun is on the left on the 7" but on the right on 12" sleeves!
Record Mirror (amongst others) decided Wendy looked good enough to grace their front cover. (September 5 1987). "Do you mind if I take off my wig?" enquired Wendy at the beginning of her RM interview with Stu Bailie. She went on to explain that she had had her hair cut just as the record company had put together the promotion campaign, based on a girl with long hair. Like the Sex Pistols who had rehearsed for years before they actually played a gig Transvision Vamp had spent the previous months well. The album was already recorded. However, as often happens, many of the people working at the record company were sacked. The 'new' people didn't like the mixes and the band were ordered to 'Remix the entire album'.
'Tell That Girl To Shut Up' was released in March '88 and the radio stations gave it a lot more airtime than it's predecessor, which in turn enabled it to reach a higher chart place, number 45. Quite why it failed to get higher is a mystery. Just listen to that intro. The bass guitarist alone should win an award for such a superb riff. A perfect slice of pop/rock music. Perhaps it was a little ahead of it's time? Third time lucky, 'I Want Your Love' is such a natural hit that even the most diehard critic of the band must have been forced to visit their local record shop and purchase a copy. Certainly enough people did to take it to number 5 in the charts. Of course we can only guess just how many rushed to buy it after seeing the video as opposed to before they saw the video. It doesn't matter, it's money well spent. A superb slice of modern Rock'n'Roll music that you can still remember six months after last hearing it. At last the band were getting the recognition they deserved. Looking at a review I did in issue one of Spiral Scratch (still available at £1.75+50 P&P), when the band took off to play a handful of live dates in late June/July, including a gig at London's famous Marquee Club (then located 90 Wardour Street) the single was at number 32 in the charts.
One year after it's original release, MCA issued a new remixed version of 'Revolution Baby'. Of course this time the song would gain it's rightful chart place. It peaked at number 30. Who said life was fair!
Late September saw the start of their second UK tour. This time the following had grown so much that they played two nights at London's Town & Country club. In all they played 20 dates, slotting in interviews with local radio stations as they went. November went off with a bang when Sister Moon was released. To help sales MCA issued more formats than ever before. 7" single. 7" picture disc, 12" single, 12" in gatefold sleeve and 5" CD single. It showed the record company was desperate to keep their records in the charts. With it's highest chart position of 41 something had to be done.
The album 'Pop Art' released on October had faired much better. While on tour Wendy proudly told the audience one night that it had gone straight into the charts at number 4. Oh ye of little faith! From the opening scream of 'Baby I Don't Care' you just knew the charts were saying 'welcome back'. This became the bands biggest hit to date. It reached number 3 and stayed there for two weeks, staying in the charts so long that Radio One was asked to stop playing it, to give the follow up a chance.
All the previous singles had been recorded prior or as part of the first album. This track helped to indicate the strength of the forthcoming new opus.
The next single 'The Only One' was issued without the help of any limited edition formats. It reached 15 in the charts. A good song which could have faired better. Personally, I would have preferred more harmonies on the chorus vocals.
If the crowd cheered on the night Wendy announced the chart placing for Pop Art imagine the screams they would have let out had the band been on tour when the latest album 'Velveteen' went crashing into the charts at number one, joining the longstanding 'Pop Art', still there after 9 months. Within six weeks of release it had sold in excess of 100,000 copies in the UK alone. The new album looks set to do even better. It should do, it's a superb album that comes across on a multitude of levels, both consciously and subconsciously. For me it's one of the greatest releases of recent years. It will help young fans realize that 'pop' music doesn't have to be bland, without feeling or depth. Maybe Wendy is blonde and beautiful but that's just a bonus. 'Born To Be Sold' - by the million I hope!
The new single 'Landslide of Love' is set for release on July 24th. Other tracks are 'Hardtime' and 'He's The Only One For Me' with an extra track appearing on the 12" and CD single 'West 11 Blues'. This bonus track is a demo originally intended for the last album.