By Steve Newton
Thirty years ago today–on October 13, 1984–British pop-rock/new-wave group the Fixx played Vancouver’s Queen Elizabeth Theatre. The previous year the band had had a million-selling album called Reach the Beach, which you may recall for the hit single “One Thing Leads to Another”.
In advance of the show I interviewed frontman Cy Curnin and we chatted about the band’s origins, video censorship, Tina Turner, and other stuff. Since the turkey’s in the oven and I’ve got nothing else to do for the next four hours, I’m gonna retype the brunt of the story for all those hardcore fans just jonesing for their 30-year-old Fixx fix.
Here’s the story that ran in the Oct. 12-19 issue of the Georgia Straight newspaper.
“It’s good fun coming up into Canada,” says Fixx vocalist Cy Curnin, who called the Straight from Ottawa last week. “You notice a difference moving from America to Canada, in that the audiences are really refreshing up here. They seem to listen a lot more, and at the end of the set it’s much more from the heart. It’s a good feeling.”
Curnin and his British bandmates–guitarist Jamie West-Oram, drummer Adam Woods, keyboardist Rupert Greenall, and bassist Danny K. Brown–will be trying to revive that feeling at the Queen E. tomorrow (Saturday) night. And if the local response to their latest album is any indication, the job should be a pretty easy one. According to the Straight‘s Top 50, Phantoms is the 6th most popular LP in town, a strong followup to last year’s Reach the Beach, which reached platinum status and spawned the hit singles “One Thing Leads to Another” and “Saved By Zero”.
The story of the Fixx began at a teacher-training college in England. Woods was studying to be a drama instructor, and when he met up with Curnin the two started writing stage plays together, Adam directing and Cy acting in them. They also had a band going on the side, in which Adam played drums and Cy piano.
“Spending six months working on one play and learning somebody else’s words, you discover the strength of lyrics. We became more and more serious about the band. People that weren’t so serious would leave, and then we’d get somebody in who was more concerned with the music than the drama side of it.”
Two such types were Greenal and West-Oram, and when they joined, the core of the Fixx was set. The group released an original single, “Lost Planes”, on a tiny independent label, and all 1000 copies of the tune sold out immediately. That was enough to stir the interest of producer Rubert Hine (Saga, Chris De Burgh) and current manager Geoff Jukes. The results were an impressive, Hine-produced debut LP titled The Shuttered Room, and the opening slot on an upcoming American tour by the Police. (It so happened that Jukes had given Police manager Ian Copeland his first job as an agent years back, and with that added edge the Fixx won out over 67 other bands for the support gig.
“That was a great buzz,” recalls Curnin. “We’d come over initially to do a tour with the Seagulls [A Flock of Seagulls] and the Police had just kicked off their tour. We were lucky enough to have a couple of singles at the time that were big in the same market that the Police were going for, sowe got quite a lot of attention. It wasn’t like the normal support role.”
As with Shuttered Room and Reach the Beach, Rupert Hine is at the controls for Phantoms. It was recorded at his own Farmyard Studios in Buckinghamshire, England. And according to Curnin, Hine is like a sixth member of the band, one whose input and advice is always heeded.
The connection with Hine also led to Curnin’s being able to help out one of his childhood idols, Tina Turner. Hine had been called in to produce a couple of tracks for her LP Private Dancer, “You Better Be Good to Me” and “I Might Have Been Queen”.
“We happened to be in London at the same time,” recalls Cy, “and he needed some guitars, so he phoned Jamie up. Then the next day he needed some backing vocals, and they gave me a ring. I went ‘Oh yeah! Tina Turner! I can remember her from when I was a little kid!’ Getting a chance to work with somebody like that, it’s like working with The Beatles or something!'”
And Curnin isn’t the least bit surprised at Turner’s comeback success.
“She deserves it,” he stresses. “She’s kept her mind very fresh. She’s like a little girl, a totally natural spirit, and for somebody that’s been that long in this business, it’s amazing. It gave us all confidence and strength to know that you don’t have to turn out the way a lot of people seem.”
Curnin and West-Oram also appeared in the videos for the two Hine-produced songs, a little of Cy’s old drama study coming in handy for his role as the “sloppy boyfriend” in “Better Be Good to Me”. But neither of Turner’s videos are destined to create the same sort of uproar that accompanied the release of the first Fixx video, “Stand or Fall”. The film version of the first single from The Shuttered Room was an instand add on MTV, but its anti-war images met with great resistance in England. The sight of a horse collapsing on camera caused censors to ban the clip from U.K. tellies. Curnin, however, has no regrets about the scene.
“In fact,” he points out, “that was probably one of the real elements to draw people’s attention to how we wanted to work. It wasn’t so much a fashion video, and the song itself is not so much in a commercial vein, so the two tied in well together. I think both radio and the general public were able to see a little bit of originality in our delivery.”
And what does he think about the censorship of music videos in general? The recent clips by Frankie Goes to Hollywood–both banned in Britain–were brought up as a case in point.
“I’ve seen them both,” complains Cy, “and it’s a huge commotion about nothing. I mean the things that artists do are purely abstract, and they still have the power to ban them. They’re barking up the wrong tree when it comes to censorship. They should be censoring the bad quality, not the content.
“The people who become censors are generally very consolidated people that are frightened of the institution they believe is slipping away from them. And they believe that the evil will come from the generation below them, when in fact it’s their own generation’s paranoia that’s killing us all.”