there’s more to indie-girlie-pop than a pouting blonde and cliched guitar riffs - isn’t there?
OF ALL THE INDIE-GIRLIE-POP BANDS THAT MADE IT BIG IN 1988, TRANSVISION VAMP HAVE THE STRONGEST SONGS AND THE MOST FORCEFUL FRONTWOMAN. ARE THEY A FLASH IN THE PAN OR A FORCE TO BE RECKONED WITH?
WENDY JAMES ISN'T STUPID. She may have oozed pure sex on Transvision Vamp's video for 'I Want Your Love', but her voice is crisply dry and very rarely rises to more than polite insistence. As she holds court, promoting Transvision Vamp's latest tour de force 45 - 'Baby I Don't Care' - to a gaggle of music journalists, it is obvious that, contrary to what some have suggested, she has something to say and is prepared to give time to anyone who is genuinely interested.
But she can't tolerate answering dumb questions - and they're just the kind everyone asks her. Wendy James is often caught talking about sex, but today it isn't something she seems totally happy discussing. When forced, however, she's still assertive with her opinions, making it clear that sex is an incidental by-product of a personality, and not a weapon...
"At the end of the day, I don't think sex should be sold at all", she says. "If somebody is sexy it's inevitable that will add to why that person is doing well, but I don't think that sex should be sold in the same manner as saying: 'Hey I look great, so pay me money'."
What about the intelligent use of sex, selling yourself with the kind of business acumen that Samantha Fox or Nick Kamen bring into play?
"I don't see that as intelligent at all. I just don't think there's any real basis on which you can just sell sex, unless you've got nothing else to sell... in which case you shouldn't be selling yourself anyway."
Nonetheless, Wendy James has talked about sex a great deal in the last year.
"Well, a lot of the time last year, people were asking me to explain why I appeared the way I appeared, and now I think I've spent enough time explaining it and I'm not going to bother talking about it. Here I am - you know what Wendy James is about to a certain extent. You either like it or you don't, take it or leave it. I'm not going to talk about it any more because I think I've done enough explaining. That's it!"
Well, that's that subject exhausted. Or is it? Like many of today's more successul pop acts, Transvision Vamp are a very image-conscious band - a band that like to keep a close watch on their public face. If it were possible to copyright the image of the blonde bombshell, she would have done just that. As it is, she won't let photographers near her unless they're specially commissioned. But is this another case of style above content? Does she find controlling her image to be as important as controlling her songs?
"No, I just don't want to be abused", she explains. "A lot of photographers, especially photographers that syndicate photographs throughout the whole world, they take advantage. They make loads and loads of money out of taking one crap shot as you're walking out of a hotel - and that won't happen!
"It's my life, my music, I look the way I look... And I welcome anyone that's interested in me, it's wonderful that people are interested - but I won't have the piss taken out of me, not by anyone."
Nineteen eighty-eight was almost the year of the blonde bombshell - but Wendy James doesn't recall it as such.
"I'm not aware of that at all", she insists. "Transvision Vamp are so radically different from the Darling Buds and the Primitives. We don't sound a thing like them and the only reason we got put in with them is because of my blonde hair. But it could have been anyone! I don't care about things like that. It's got nothing to do with my music."
In fact, Wendy is right in asserting the supremacy of Transvision Vamp over their indie-girlie-pop rivals, partly because of Wendy's own personality (both on and off stage), but largely because of the songwriting talent of the Vamps' guitarist, Nick Christian Saver. Wendy is obviously the focal point of the band, hut as Nick's songs are so crucial to their success, it seems strange that the guitarist never appears for the press.
"He can't bear the idea of talking to strangers", she explains. "He'd just rather let the music speak for what he does."
Well, speak it certainly does, and eloquently too - although it appears Wendy does have a hand in penning the vocal melodies, while the band's remaining members all chip in something to the overall arrangement of each song.
As it happens, Wendy has already experienced the urge to write her own songs, but won't unleash any onto the public until she feels she's reached the required standard.
"YOU CANT TAILOR YOURSELF TO SATISFY AN AUDIENCE; YOU HAVE TO DO WHAT YOU LIKE AND IF THEY WANT TO JOIN IN, THEY WILL."
"My songs aren't as good as Nick's", she quips, "and my knowledge of the history of pop records and rock records isn't as large as Nick's. But we collaborate, we live together, and we talk about it all the time."
Oddly enough, Wendy James had never thought about being in a rock 'n' roll band until Nick suggested the idea. This is not yer typical career girl, who's nursed an ambition to climb to the top of the pop charts since an early age and is now seeing her dream come true. As a young teenager she had been a regular gig-goer, listening to music by X-Ray Spex, The Clash, The Pretenders, Blondie, Bob Marley, and the early 2-Tone acts. But until recently, her voice was given an airing only at stage musicals.
"I didn't have any aspirations to be a rock singer at all", she admits. "I used to go to gigs all the time but because I was never surrounded by the kind of people that wanted to form bands, it was never a feasible idea. I sang in lots of stage productions, but I spent all my time going to gigs. I never thought the two would crossover."
But if you're someone who's never contemplated going on stage with a band, the early days of a rock 'n' roll career must be a bit nerve-racking, mustn't they?
"The first few gigs were really frightening because I'd never done it before, and Transvision Vamp is my first group", she concedes. "But Nick and Tex and Dave had all had experience of other bands and they just said: 'Well, let's just go out there and enjoy ourselves and not worry about whether the crowd like it, because if we're any good they will, and if we're not they'll let us know'. That's the only rule really: you can't tailor yourself to satisfy an audience, you have to do what you like and if they want to join in, they will."
Didn't Wendy also suffer problems of adaptation? Obviously she did.
"Singing in a band was something that I had to learn to do, really, because I was used to singing in big theatres in stage productions and that's very different from being in a rock 'n' roll band, where you feed off other musicians."
And now that success has arrived, Wendy still has a strong affection for the early days of travelling around the country in a Transit.
"The first tour was really brilliant", she recalls. "We were playing to between 300 and 600 each night, very small venues where everyone was just hot and sweaty. And it was just brilliant fun because people used to climb in the van after the gig and come back to the hotel with us and just doss down there for the night. Consequently we've got a really hard core of followers who have been there since the beginning, who we still recognise, and they come up and say 'hiya' and we all know each other. There's a really good community of Transvision Vamp followers right from the early days."
So, despite their chart hits, Transvision Vamp have managed to retain credibility with their old following. Right?
"Oh, definitely, even after 'I Want Your Love'... And I remember we did a gig the night the album went in at number one, and we said: 'Look guys, we've got a number one album', and there was all this cheering and it was like: 'Well, we put it there, we're fuckin' pleased about it!'
"I had my birthday in the middle of January and about a hundred of them had met up from various areas around the country and all come down to my local pub: they had this massive cake and flowers and it was brilliant."
Transvision Vamp plunder youth cult and pop culture images for both their visual and musical inspiration. Their songs don't exactly overflow with originality, and last year's debut album, audaciously called 'Pop Art', featured a song about Andy Warhol. Doesn't it worry Miss James that 1988 might have been, using the legendary Warhol quote, the band's 15 minutes of fame?
"No... no, no, no, no, no, no, no!"
Does she feel any pressure to live up to what she's already achieved?
Is she still enjoying what she's doing?
Does she not think that...?
"No", she interrupts sharply. "I love making music and the day I don't is the day we won't. I love it. I don't have to live up to anything but my own expectations."
Well, it'll be fun while it lasts.
Interview by Chris Hunt
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