Tuesday, 18 August 2015

We've still got that Fuzzbox somewhere...

Back in the day, big hair and big fun. Fuzzbox soundtracked the second half of the 80s. And now? 

30 years ago, We've Got A Fuzzbox And We're Going To Use It were big. They got profile quickly, shooting fast from a bright idea to pop reality. At the height of their punk notoriety, Vix and crew used to sashay round radio and TV stations with ridiculously huge hair – pink, orange, red - bags of attitude, and an Elvis sneer. They kicked off with a silly name and punched out a few punk songs. Then, after three years of punk thrash, bingo! Fuzzbox hit the jackpot with pure late 80s pop.

And now it's 2015. I'm sitting in Yorks coffee bar with survivors Vix and Maggie. Vix is an old pal by now – I've seen most of her post-Fuzzbox incarnations. Then? A snotty kid with a great line in throwing shapes. Now? An accomplished trooper, comfortable on stage, with one very distinct new thing going for her and the band: Radio 2, the biggest station in Europe is paying attention.

Fuzzbox are having another go. 

Vix and Maggie laugh a lot. They tumble around each other's sentences, finishing each other's lines. This is going to be fun.

The wheel has now turned far enough for Radio 2 to finally discover Fuzzbox. It's rather sweet, and I'm very pleased for you, because it means they are finally recognising the role that you played.

Vix: At long last! We were wondering when on earth Sounds of the 80s were going to play Fuzzbox... 
Maggie: ...and when our true contribution was going to be recognised!
The stuff that you do, your recorded work, takes on a new life after you've done it. But you don't know what path it's going to take, and who's going to pick up on it. You can't control that, at all. But by the way, do you have control of your own old recordings?
Vix: I know the videos aren't ours. I put a few up on YouTube, and suddenly they're all gone, and now they're on Rhino entertainment. I can't put my own videos on my own YouTube channel!
Ah... there's a whole industry based on getting rights to names, recordings, other people's copyright material. But they can't nick the fact that you two are Fuzzbox. It's really nice to talk with you now, all articulate, savvy, confident - and professional. It's a long time since you kicked the band off as teenagers. You were labelled as Punk, but really you did pop, didn't you?
Maggie: If you look at most punk from that time, it really is pop. Simple, clear songs for a new generation.

Well, that might sound a bit dismissive, but you've got a point. In their day, Squeeze, The Boomtown Rats, the Police and even Tom Petty were all marketed as punk. Pink Sunshine was the biggest Fuzzbox hit. I could hear Katie Perry doing Pink Sunshine. So what you were doing was of the moment... with an ever so risqué name?

Smash Hits, 1989
Vix: We were innocent schoolgirls. Honest.
Maggie: We never intended it to be risqué. It just came out. We didn't form with the intention of being a band. It was a laugh, one Sunday afternoon. We needed a band name. I just said that. There was no idea of continuing with it at the start.
Vix: We did have other names. It was going to be Cherry Head and the Goths. I was going to be Cherry Head ... (Maggie dissolves into hoots of laughter again) and for some reason we didn't go for it. I wasn't a true Goth anyway.

How old were you?
Maggie: 15, 16... and I was 20 when we started. The frightening thing was I was the responsible adult.

So what's happening now? You two are the original members, and you've got stuff out everywhere for new members. For some reason, Ms Perks, you're always looking for bass players.
Vix: If it's an all-girl band you're always looking for musicians. The band before my current other project Vix and the MsChiefs, was Vix and the Kix. I had seven line-ups. We're now looking for bass guitar and drums. In Fuzzbox, we were always missing one instrument. It was always bass or guitar – we didn't really know we should have had both! We thought we were ever so advanced when we put the two together. Now we want a five piece, with keyboards too.

A lot of veteran bands simply recruit sidemen. Status Quo are two front guys with a largely anonymous rhythm section these days; The Who are Townshend and Daltry with hired guns. Do you need full permanent band members?
Vix: A lot of the festivals we're talking to, it might just be me on guitar and Maggie on keyboards. They have house bands. But we'll find out more as we get nearer the time. But it would be nice to have our own: we want really colourful characters. We don't want wallflowers.
Maggie: And since our time, there really haven't been too many all-women outfits. Babes in Toyland have just reformed...

Which raises something else: I can see exactly why you might want to take a pronounced feminist position in 2015. Did that drive you at all back in the day, or was that anything like the Spice Girls' 'Girl Power', which I always though was a cop-out?

Maggie: We started out with a feminist single: it was Rules and Regulations, backed with XX Sex. It attacked the then way of thinking.
Vix: I was 15 when I wrote that...
Maggie: ...and XX Sex was more direct. The two songs were about girls and their expectations in life. That seems to have been shoved under a carpet, somehow. We did get pissed off about not being taken seriously.
Vix: But sometime we were, you know? People would hope not to take us seriously when we came to be interviewed. But we wound up converting them. We didn't set out to be an all-girl band, by the way - we were just all friends. It was only when people started asking about the line-up – all girls – that the questions about favourite lipstick shades came up.

Management then... and now?
Vix: We had a woman manager, Patsy Winkelman. She was working with Vindaloo records, and would up managing us. She was very feminist. Got us female sound engineers when we could. Our current manager runs a PR company – mainly a radio plugger, Mike Mills. Now it's a partnership. Everything that's decided is through us. Couldn't be any other way, now.
Got to ask you: You're not simply milking a nostalgia thing? Lots of 80s acts are doing exactly that.
Maggie: No, not at all. It's early days, but we are looking to record something new. There are discussions going on. But that said, when we put some stuff up on Facebook, which can be a pain, we got some lovely lovely reactions and expressions of support.
Vix And for a lot of people the 80s is really special. It never really went away – well, maybe for a bit in the 90s. It's about when you grew up, and we were part of that for a lot of people. It was great in the 80s: really strong songs, a big variety. People looked like entertainers as well, and gave good shows.
Maggie: A London show case in November. We're putting the band together and setting up the schedule for next year.


The Vix website... and a link to Fuzzbox for updates

The Radio 2 Sounds Of The 80s Fuzzbox prog is here, but about to expire...

Vix's Brum Radio Muso Takeover

More music posts on Radio To Go


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Nick Hennegan said...

Another great blog Robin. Am I correct in thinking we lost poor Jo (the dark haired Fuzzoboxer) a few years ago?

Robin Valk said...

Yes, Nick - sadly Jo died of cancer in 2012. She was only 43.

Anonymous said...

What ever happened to Tina?

Robin Valk said...

She left the biz after the first split, Anon. Vix tells me she's a teacher.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for that I always wondered what happened to her