‘We’re not going to be sat there in Val Doonican sweaters playing acoustic guitars’
New wave legends The Rezillos – best known for iconic 1978 hit Top of the Pops – head to Preston’s 53 Degrees next Friday (April 18). MALCOLM WYATT spoke to co-singer/founder Eugene Reynolds about 38 years of music, motorbikes and madness.
Have you seen any of the weekly Top of the Pops shows the BBC are repeating, from 1978 and 1979, broadcast again 35 years on?
There have been some quality moments, not least when Tony Blackburn introduced energetic art punks The Rezillos, ironically playing their big hit, Top of the Pops.
While I can’t vouch for the rest of the band, I can reveal that Eugene Reynolds – him of the wraparound specs and gravelly voice – was more likely to be washing his hair than watching that night.
“I’m not really interested in looking at myself. I don’t know anyone in a band who plays their own records. It’s like watching yourself in a mirror all day.
“It’s about what happens next, not before. While you leave a legacy, it’s really about moving to the next thing.”
Does it worry Eugene – real name Alan Forbes – that some people might think they were one-hit wonders?
“Well, it’s not my fault if they’re ignorant, is it?”
The Rezillos were far from ignorant, as you’ll realise when you see their careers since.
Singer Fay Fife (real name Sheilagh Hynd) took on a post-graduate acting course and appeared in Taggart and The Bill before re-training as a doctor of clinical psychology at the University of Edinburgh.
Fellow survivor Alasdair ‘Angel’ Paterson completed an architecture degree before re-settling with his German girlfriend in Bremen, setting up his own practice there.
And among past members you’ll find two more architects, a research geologist, and a university lecturer.
Eugene had already completed his degree in Edinburgh, studying glass, when he joined forces with guitarist Jo Callis.
“We all had fireworks going off in our heads. I can’t stop doing things and everyone’s incredibly diffuse in their interests. One thing feeds off the other and acts as therapy for it. I’ve 1,001 interests and if I’m not playing music I’ll go and do something else, then come back to it.
“No matter how much you might love the best chocolate in the world, you can’t sit and eat it for a month, without trying something different.”
One such interest is motorbikes, and Eugene has a successful business selling Indian motorcycles, a fascination since his childhood in East Anglia, seeing them ridden at a nearby US airbase.
He set up an import business, later registering the name of the brand in the UK, even designing his own.
“I’ve flown all over the world looking for antique Indian bikes, pulling them out of swamps, forests, or peat bogs, where some missionary drove it in back in the 1930s.
“Then there are the new bikes we made. And a couple of dozen other interests. My life’s always been birds, booze and bikes – or music, motorcycles and madness.”
While co-vocalists Eugene and Fay and drummer Angel have other interests, they’re back touring again now with The Rezillos – with Chris Agnew and Jim Brady in tow.
And they’re about to release their first studio album since 1978.
So what was that Edinburgh scene like, when the band formed two years before?
“There wasn’t really a scene, not a punk rock scene. We pre-dated that, although a few bands came along and emulated what they thought punk rock should be.
“When you do that you’re only going to be a copyist. By then people decided what the uniform should be and what music they should like – that’s not what punk was about.
“We were signed to an American label, Sire, whose owner, Seymour Stein, was really excited by punk.
“It reminded him of the new wave of music in the beat era – The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, and so on. He saw direct parallels with punk – seeing it as a new wave of sound and attitude.”
Eugene was previously in The Knutsford Dominators with Jo Callis, ‘a bad rock’n’roll band with attitude’.
“It was a prototype, and they don’t tend to work very well. There was a lot of prog rock around, bands taking themselves very seriously.
“We wanted to get back to that more carefree irreverent approach, split it open, start from the middle and work outwards.”
Eugene remains just outside Edinburgh, with Fay living nearby.
Was it fate that made him choose to study in the Scottish capital?
“You make your own fate, don’t you? As you do your own good and bad luck. I just seek out the happy times.”
The Rezillos created their own look and sound, using elements like science fiction, B-movies, 50s rock’n’roll, 60s beat and garage, and 70s glam.
“It’s like anything in the art world. You absorb what’s going on around you. It was like a melting pot.
“We absorbed bits from the Ramones, The Damned, Dr Feelgood, Roxy Music, The Rolling Stones, blues and soul – anything that fitted into our blend.
“There are only so many chords in pop music, only so many words in the English language, only 26 letters in the alphabet.
“It’s like having this special lock for which you have a particular key, different from everyone else’s.
“It’s a little bit of spice in a recipe, but it’s a recipe that changes all the time.”
The original band only made one studio album, Can’t Stand The Rezillos, and a live follow-up, Mission Accomplished – But the Beat Goes On, but made a big impact.
Amid tensions, Jo Callis quit, in time enjoying major success in The Human League, from Dare onwards, including writing credits on Don’t You Want Me.
Would Eugene ever have guessed the way Jo’s future would pan out?
“No, but I don’t think he would have either. We just thought, ‘good for him’. There was no animosity by then.”
Eugene and Fay continued as The Revillos until 1996, evolving as they went, the original members of The Rezillos then getting back together again in 2001.
That reformation followed an invite to play Edinburgh’s Hogmanay celebrations. And they’ve not really stopped since, although Jo left again in 2010.
“It was purely too much too soon back in 1978, the way fame puts too much pressure on you.
“It’s ok if you have one strong-headed personality and others happy to go along with that. But our band was full of strong personalities!
“Put all those fireworks together and maybe one match sets the whole lot off!”
“If the spark works creatively, that’s good. There’s always a tension, but I’ve seen families get on less well than we do. We refer to ourselves as the Magic Family.”
While Fay and Eugene, who both have families, meet socially off the stage, they only see Alisdair when he flies over from Germany.
“We still have some big arguments, but then decide it’s probably not worth falling out and say we’ll forget about that and start talking again.”
Do they still have props like the motorbikes and the Dalek in their old live shows?
“I’ve still got the bikes, and the Dalek’s somewhere in the garage. It can be a bit claustrophobic inside though.
“Once, I rode through an audience then hit a patch of beer and almost drove into the stage. I think health and safety would have a problem with that.
“But who gives a damn? The most healthy thing is to get out there and take risks, as far as I’m concerned!”
Do they still wear lots of plastic, leather, and lurid colours?
“We did a gig where me, Faye, Alisdair, Jim and Chris all went on in black, like Gene Vincent – wearing black leather jackets, trousers, boots and gloves.
“Then a review said, ‘they bounced on stage in a day-glo riot of colour’. You think, this is someone who’s just read Wikipedia. They gave us a good review, but clearly weren’t there!”
So what can we expect at 53 Degrees?
“A set of about 20 songs, lots of old ones plus a few new songs from our forthcoming album.
“It’s not like we’re going to be sat there in Val Doonican sweaters, smoking a pipe and playing acoustic guitars on a stool.
“The Rezillos were on a rocket booster when the first album was launched, but now we’re on to the second phase, after all this time.
“We’re faced with a dilemma – to release something that relates to the first album but takes you musically further on, but not so far on that people don’t see the link.”
The Rezillos, supported by the Notsensibles and local punks Bug, play Preston’s 53 Degrees on Friday, April 18, with tickets £15 plus a booking fee.
For more details go to www.53degrees.net/