Does Rock ‘N’ Roll Kill Braincells?! – Wendy James, Transvision Vamp

In Does Rock 'N' Roll Kill Braincells?!, we quiz a grizzled artist on their own career to see how much they can remember – and find out if the booze, loud music and/or tour sweeties has knocked the knowledge out of them. This week: Transvision Vamp frontwoman turned solo artist Wendy James.

1: Who reached Number Six in the UK Singles Chart in 2003 with a cover of Transvision Vamp’s ‘Baby I Don’t Care’?

“It was the soap opera person who’d been in Brookside, but I don’t know her name.”

WRONG. But close – it was Jennifer Ellison who played Emily Shadwick in Brookside. Did you ever hear it?

“I gave it a cursory listen – maybe the first few bars – but not particularly, no.”

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Kurt Cobain used to wear a Transvision Vamp T-shirt. Any other big musicians ever told you how much they loved the band?

“I suppose the main one is Miley Cyrus, who said she loved my look and sound. But Gwen Stefani actually told me to my face that I had been a big influence on her. Both Gwen and Nancy Sinatra asked me to write songs for them and at the time, I said: ‘No – I only write songs for myself’. Now I look back and think I was an idiot for turning them down!”

2: Name two of the items pictured on the table on the cover of Transvision Vamp’s 1989 chart-topping ‘Velveteen’ album.

“A book on The Velvet Underground called Uptight… I’m guessing, but would it be anything to do with [Sex Pistols‘ 1977 seminal album] ‘Never Mind the Bollocks‘?

WRONG. ‘Uptight: The Story of the Velvet Underground’ was one of them. The others were the books ‘Marilyn Monroe: An Appreciation’ by Eve Arnold and ‘Sex In The Movies’ by Jeremy Pascall. Also, Bob Dylan‘s classic ‘Highway 61 Revisited’ album, and Mudhoney‘s  ‘Superfuzz Bigmuff’. 

“You’re right – I can so clearly picture it now!”

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What was it like touring with Lou Reed?

“I’m a fan of Lou Reed. I love everything he’s ever done – even his Metallica collaboration [2015’s Lulu]! The Velvet Underground and The Stooges are my two grounding bands. I got to know him later as a human being and he’s really nice. But Transvision Vamp supported him on a mega European tour, alternating with The Sugarcubes as first and second band on. I knew Björk, and we used to have really good girl times together. Lou had this backstage bus all to himself and I remember Björk and I running up and knocking on his window and saying ‘Hiiiiii Louuuuu‘, and he would growl at us and we’d run away.”

3: You were voted the third Most Completely Useless Person of 1989 by Smash Hits magazine readers. Can you name either of the two people who beat you?

“No, I cannot – nor would I!”

WRONG. You were pipped by then prime minister Margaret Thatcher and Matt Goss from Bros!

“That’s a very ’80s-centric question! I can counter that by saying that in France I was voted second sexiest person of all time with Catherine Deneuve first and Béatrice Dalle third, so suck on that Smash Hits!”

You were treated as a pantomime villain by the media – often in a misogynistic way. How do you look back on it? 

“Somebody recently sent me an old interview clip from when I was very young – maybe 17 – and I was talking about women’s rights, and I was so lucid and correct and a harbinger of what women say now that I was mind-blown that I did have it together at that age.”

“I was the villain because I spoke out and said some of these things, and people were confused because I was wearing short-shorts and a bra top – they didn’t think a woman could look like that and have feminist opinions.

“It never affected me, because I surrounded myself with good people. My boyfriend through those years was Mick Jones from The Clash – who’d been through his own shit – so when I was taking hits from the media, he’d say ‘Fuck ’em!’ – which was better than somebody soothingly saying: ‘Ooh, are you alright?’”

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4: What was the name of the screenplay you wrote and recorded songs for when Transvision Vamp first started?

“Oh my God! Saturn 5?”

CORRECT.

“We had such a massive concept. We were wonderfully optimistic. Blade Runner had blown our minds, and Nick [Christian Sayer, Transvision Vamp guitarist] and I thought our first album sounded like futuristic pop, so what the hell?! Let’s accompany it with a movie! The screenplay was based on the [Alan Moore] cartoon figure Halo Jones. We’ve got a song on our debut album ‘Pop Art’ called ‘Hanging Out with Halo Jones‘, so it was about the adventures of this outer-space feminist – it would probably end up being made now!”

Didn’t French film director Jean-Jacques Beineix once want you to star in a movie?

“Yeah. He had me come to Paris to have a lunch meeting with him but it resulted in him asking me if I was prepared to take my clothes off, so it was one of those kind of meetings. But I still think Betty Blue is an amazing movie.”

5: At the 1991 Brit Awards, you and Vic Reeves got drunk, rode bumper cars and hurled abuse at which now-TV presenter?

“Oh I don’t know! I know I hurled abuse at the singer from The La’s [Lee Mavers] because he was antagonising me from a balcony. But Vic Reeves is hilarious – we had a good night.”

WRONG. Apparently it was The Sun’s then pop columnist, now ‘Good Morning Britain’ gammon-king Piers Morgan.

“Oh GOOD! I can’t remember doing that but whatever we said, he deserved it! I agree with whatever I said back then!”

What’s been the most rock ‘n’ roll night out you’ve had?

“I went out to dinner with Van Morrison and Bob Dylan one night at Langan’s Brasserie in London’s Mayfair. I was sitting in the middle of a triangle table and they were at the two opposing sides, talking to each other about very abstract things. I remember digging my nails into my knee just to stop myself laughing – not from humour, but from freaking out!”

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6: Your 2016 ‘The Price of the Ticket’ solo album contains a song referencing which notorious rock journalist?

Lester Bangs – the track ‘You’re A Dirtbomb, Lester’”

CORRECT. 

“Nick from Transvision Vamp used to tell me what an awesome journalist he was. I’ve been living in New York for the past 16 years, and ended up working on that album with James Williamson from The Stooges and Lenny Kaye from the Patti Smith Group. Two of my dearest friends are Chris [Frantz] and Tina [Weymouth] from Talking Heads. All of these people knew Lester. I went to an event where Chris interviewed journalist James Wolcott about his book about life as a Village Voice rock critic in the ’70s. An audience member asked ‘What was Lester like?’ – to which James replied: ‘Man, he was a real dirtbomb!’. Personal hygiene was not his number one priority! That’s when inspiration struck.”

7: Why did angry parents write into the BBC’s Points of View in 1991 complaining about you?

“Is it because I didn’t wear underwear on children’s TV?”

CORRECT.

“That’s so funny! But I was wearing a corset that had everything attached. I was actually marched up to the production office and forced to apologise to the head of children’s television otherwise I was told I would no longer be welcome on BBC premises!”

8: What was unusual about your 1989 interview with comedian Rowland Rivron?

“It was in the River Thames.”

CORRECT. You were both floating in East India Docks

“That’s crazy. I don’t know if I’d do that now! What a bizarre idea! I suppose they must have had lifeguards on hand and taken some insurance out. The River Thames is very polluted and it has quite an undercurrent! It was a Saturday late-night chat show back in the days when you only had four channels and a captive audience.”

9: What number did Transvision Vamp’s debut single ‘Revolution Baby’ reach in the UK charts in 1987?

“Pfft! Well either that or the next one ‘Tell That Girl to Shut Up‘ went to Number 45. Am I wrong?”

WRONG. It reached 77.

“OK! So ‘Revolution…’s 77, ‘Tell That Girl…’ is 45, then ‘I Want Your Love‘ was Number 5. That’s how quick the progress was.”

How do you feel when you start trending on Twitter when your Top of the Pops appearances are repeated on BBC4?

“It’s amazing. It’s really insane! But then I have been working hard in all these interim years with my solo albums so there’s a hardcore fanbase that have come with me, and I’ve maintained my mooring – I haven’t gone off the rails or become a nutter or a freak.”

What’s been the most surreal offer you’ve turned down?

“I did get offered a lot of money to be in a gentleman’s magazine and I turned that down – but then I went topless on the cover of my last solo album [Price of the Ticket] anyway.”

10: In a phone interview with Manchester’s City Life listings magazine in the ’90s, what caused you to scream down the line?

“I have no idea.”

WRONG. You dropped a match and set yourself on fire.

“Really?! Well, the fire didn’t take because I have no burns marks. Mate, I must have just dropped a match! No damage done!”

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The verdict: 4/10

“So I’m not completely brain-dead then? That seems a pretty realistic score!”

Wendy James’ new album ‘Queen High Straight’ is released May 1. She tours the UK from September 3

 

 

 

 

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