'80s - Fàshiön [Music]
'The Perfect Product: Remembered'
Fashion (always spelled "Fashiøn" on their records) were a British New Wave band consisting of Dee Harris, Al 'Luke Sky' James, Alan Darby, John Mulligan, Marlon Recchi and Dik Davis.
The band had two or three eras. The first, from 1978 to 1980, was part of the underground music of the 1970's, while punk was making their last hits in Britain, when the band, named Fàshiön Music, released experimental post-punk rock and like-reggae/ska oriented songs; and was also characterized by the presence of lead vocalist and guitarist Luke Sky, who left in 1980, ending with that first era.
Their most notable album, Fabrique (1982), saw a significant change in line-up, with James having left the band and Harris and Recchi joining. Fabrique contained the singles "Move On" and "Love Shadow", among others, it was later re-issued with additional material as Height of Fashion (1990), (2004).
29 years after the first Fashion album, Product Perfect (1979), original singer/guitarist James has re-released the first album on CD. In addition, James is finishing a book entitled [Stairway to Nowhere] and has recently completed an album of the same title.
Released in February of 2009, the Stairway to Nowhere album features James on vocals and various instruments, Vuk Pavlovic of Nature's Pocket providing drums for 3 tracks, and Balcony as the mastering and technical guru.
Exclusive Magazine had the recent pleasure of speaking with original member, Luke Sky (aka Al James) about the bands past, its present, its future, and of course, ... penguins!
Taking it from the top and just when did Al James become 'Luke Sky' ... and why? "I’ve been changing my name since I was a kid. When I was about 12 I was Rory Marx (because John Lennon was my hero). As well as being Al James, I spent time as The Subliminal Kid, and later Vince Drizzle. Having said that, Luke Sky did come out of the whole punks with silly names thing: Johnny Rotten, Rat Scabies, Captain Sensible, etc. etc. I was thus initially Luke Skyscraper on account of I’m 6 foot 9. After we signed our deal with Faulty/IRS and were playing bigger gigs, getting press, I started taking myself far too seriously and changed Skyscraper to Sky."
Your early Fashion days were very futuristic in look, very stylish in design ... was this the bands idea or was it the record label that sculpted that appearance? "The whole look of the band, including all of the artwork and graphics, was very much down to Mulligan. He was the photo-realist painter/visual pioneer of the band – you never knew from one day to the next what he was going to look like. He once turned up to rehearsal having shaved his eyebrows off – you have no idea how disturbing that can look – you should try it sometime. Then again, he was pretty disturbing - looking anyway. The record label had no input whatsoever as to what we looked or sounded like. Or what we released – 'Citinite' as our second single? Even we called it vinyl suicide!"
And so, with that in mind, where did the bands name (Fashion Music) originate ... and what else could it so easily have been called? "The band name was entirely Mulligan’s idea. We were never called anything else – even before we existed! He’d approached me in a dole queue in Brum and asked me to teach him to play bass as he was trying to impress the knickers off some bird he’d decided he was in love with. Time for an excerpt from my upcoming book “Stairway To Nowhere”, I think:
"Johnathan Salvador Mulligan was an itinerant n’er-do-well, style maven and photo realist painter. I’d seen him occasionally at various parties, sporting his own versions of the new punk look that had but recently dragged its safety pin-stuck carcass 120 miles up the motorway from London. Even in those early days, there was a certain self-generated mystique about this androgynous, elfin, leather boy."
"At that time I was between bands, having just left Rudi and the Rationals, a right cacophonous conflict of egos. Unbeknownst to me, another reason for Mulligan’s desire to be the next Sid Vicious was that a month or so earlier he’d been to one of Rudi and the Rationals lunchtime gigs at the Barrel Organ down Digbeth. Not even a drunk with a faulty ear trumpet could have called Rudi and the Rationals a good band."
"Nevertheless, I struck an imposing figure at the front of the band, almost seven feet tall, sporting my newly acquired studded dog collar (thank you very much Fido) and razor-slashed black tee shirt. Having decided, without bothering to mention the fact to me, that I was to be the frontman of his new band, Mulligan left the pub content in the knowledge that he now only had to take care of a few minor details – learn how to play, find a drummer, write some songs, get a record deal, conquer the world. Simple really."
So, when Mulligan shows up for his first bass lesson he has a rolled-up poster under his arm. “Before we get started,” he says, “I wanna show you this.”
He unrolls the poster to reveal a black and white print of 60’s Vogue model in a wide-brimmed hat and the legend Fashion music® inscribed across the top.
“Very nice,” I say, while he fumbled a beat-up Kay bass out of its black bin liner carrying case, “what’s it for?”
“That’s our band!” he grins “That’s what that is.”
“Who else is in this band of yours then?” I ask, completely missing the “our” part of his statement.
“Well, so far … just me and you. I was up at three this morning plastering town with those.” he nods at the poster, “Getting the name out there like. You can have that one. I’ll even autograph it for you, if you like. Have you got a cable I can use? Where do I plug in?”
It's been said that at your very first gig in 1977 that you were beaten up in the bathroom! Was this before or after the gig and what did you do to deserve it?! "Me and Dik Davis the drummer were beaten up by car factory workers in the gents toilet right before our first gig opening for the Mekons. I think it was mostly because we were wearing leather and make-up Again from the book:
"Ten minutes before we’re due to go on, me and Dik have to piss big time. Not so much a question of nerves or anything, just those pints of gnat’s piss Brew XI for the men of the soddin’ Midlands we’ve sucked down. So, upstairs we go to the gents, which is stinking up the corridor outside the saloon bar. The saloon bar is full of British Leyland track workers, swilling it down and setting fire to their fingers to prove how hard they are. Me and Dik are standing in the ammonia puke stench, taking a leisurely piss, when we hear a voice behind us, slurred and thick with menace."
“What the f**k am that doin’ in the gents?”
“’Ey girls, the ladies is downstairs,” booms a second voice.
“Oh very f**kin’ funny, you c**t.” Dik says.
“Ha-soddin’-ha tossers.” I add.
“What do yow say, yow bleedin’ queer?”
Dik turns from the tile, smiling, “Your missus didn’t think I was very bleedin’ queer last night.” he says.
I don’t have time to even laugh or brace myself, much less zip up. My face is slammed into the tiles and everything goes to f**k. I get hit, I try to hit back, I get kicked, I try to kick back, but there are fists and boots everywhere. It doesn’t last long, it’s over really quickly, which is probably just as well. As suddenly as it started, it stops and they’re gone. The lads from the bar are already back in the saloon bar, laughing over a fresh pint of slop about the fun they had with the queers in the bog.
I’m down on my knees, my cheek against the tiles. I struggle up from piss-stained knees, wobbling, waiting to see how badly I’m hurt. I can taste blood and my lips feel like old inner tubes. I see a pair of black leather legs sticking out of a stall. Dik’s lying on his back, head propped against a crusty, brown toilet bowl. One of his eyes is already starting to close and his nose is streaming blood.
“Yow alright?” I ask him. My mouth feels broken. He grins up at me.
“’Ello darlin’,” he says, “Come here often do you?”
Limping like beaten dogs, we stagger from the gents back down into the Bierkeller. “Where the bleedin’ ‘ell have you been?” Mulligan asks, “We’re on in – ” He notices the damage.
“Nowhere.” Dik says. He grins and winces, “We were just upstairs in the gents. Putting some make up on like.”
“Yeah,” I say, pointing to my ruined mouth, “Lipstick and that.”
We play our 5 songs – one of them twice as an encore – and 14 minutes later we’re out of the door, up the stairs and gone, with the applause still ringing behind us.
“Better leg it, in case them prats from the saloon bar fancy another couple of rounds.” Mulligan says.
We run down onto the Bristol Road and hop on a number 62 bus. Upstairs we go for a smoke. We sprawl across the back seat. Dik magicks a bottle of vodka out of his jacket. He takes a swig, winces, and hands me the bottle.
“I thought it went quite well really,” he says, ever the sodding optimist.
Back in those days, you even managed a US tour supporting bands such as The Police and B-52s. What can you recall of those days out on the road over here and is there one stand out memory, perhaps? [Back to the book]:
Ban Johnson Fieldhouse is a great barn of a venue, sitting under the lead weight of the Ohio skies. It’s not until I walk in and see the eagle banner and the name on the front of one of the drum kits that I realize who else is on the bill.
“Oh my sainted aunt.” I turn to Annette, “You mean The sodding Ramones are on the bill as well as The Police?”
“I thought I’d keep it as a surprise.” She says.
I turn to my equally gobsmacked band mates.
“Suck my stump.” Dik declares, eloquent as ever.
“Well I’ll go to the foot of our stairs.” Mulligan adds.
I spent a whole Summer listening to the Ramones first album. Once we’re set up, we go to meet our befringed heroes. It’s weird, we shake hands, do the old how’s it going pleased to meet you, and then sit on opposite sides of the dressing room until it’s time to play, grinning almost shyly at each other, like a bunch of f**king punk rock choirboys. I reckon I’ll just concentrate on playing a blinding show … with The Ramones maybe watching from the wings. Oh shit.
Everything is going like a dream, the crowd love us, we’ve built them to a frenzy and half way into our 40 minutes it’s time for Steady Eddie Steady our first and, I still feel, best single. I’m glued to the mic, pouring every sweaty ounce of passion I can into my exhortation to the teenage Eddie to hold the gun steady when I catch movement in the corner of my eye.
Movement toward me. I squint round, still asking Eddie if this is the only way out, and see Steward Copeland running toward me holding open a huge pair of stepladders. He plonks these down either side of me and then Sting scampers out, scurries up the ladder and empties a huge box of cornflakes all over me as I’m crooning about having found Eddie out on a railroad track with his eyes burned out speeded black.
A great whoop of laughter wells out of the audience as I’m singing the final gun barrel trembling, gun barrel trembling in your mouth, I’m ankle-deep in Kellogs. I vow to wreak terrible revenge not only on Stewart, Sting and Andy but also their household pets and children for five generations hence, and while I’m at it, their lawns!
In the dressing room I’m inconsolable, Dik and Mulligan are furious, and Annette and Miki are doing altogether more smirking than is probably good for them. I storm into The Police’s dressing room, snatch up a full bottle of Bacardi, wave it at the room and announce to the startled Polizei: “I’ll f**kin’ have you lot of peroxide ponces. You just see if I don’t!”
I stomp back to our dressing room. Before my arse hits the legendary battered couch the bottle of Bacardi is already half empty. And no, it’s definitely not half-sodding-full, okay.
Is it true that you left Fashion during the recording of the second album, stating your reasoning as you felt the band was becoming a 'lame, pretty boy disco new wave band'?! And if so, what was so wrong about that for you at the time? "No, I didn’t leave because the band had gone disco-funk. That didn’t happen until version 3 of the band (I think version 2 with Tony Dial from Neon Hearts (bass player of Neon Hearts was Paul Raven, later of Killing Joke and Prong) was actually probably the earliest ever attempt at a Punjabi Rock fusion)."
"One of the main reasons I left was a disgust with the music business – I was actually told, that whereas Silver Blades was a perfectly viable hit single for the British charts and beyond, it was not going to be a hit because IRS were not going to spend any money promoting it. There was also a lot of other sh*t going on that comes of spending too long in confined spaces with people who weren’t really friends to start with. I was also probably clinically insane at the time – it’s hard to tell."
Knowing that you left the band in June of 1980 and that less than 2 years later the newly-designed Fashion released the well-received 'Fabrique,' were you pissed with yourself for having left just before they made it big; or were you genuinely ok with you decision? "No, I was fine. I was living in the southwest of France with a gorgeous woman and very happy with my decision to quit the music business and live in the sun. I was a bit surprised they’d veered so far toward what I saw as disco funk, but then Dee Harris had previously been Dave Harris the guitar player with Birmingham funk band The Ferraris so it made sense I suppose."
"While I was in France I turned down offers to join The Cramps after Bryan Gregory did his runner (he not only left the band he took the van and all their gear and drove to Arizona! Now that’s how to leave your band!!). In later years in France, US, and London I turned down various opportunities to play in Killing Joke, The Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Wall of Voodoo, and Howard Devoto’s band after Magazine."
"I really didn’t want to be in the music business. That’s what I love about the Internet, I get to play, record and sell music without being in “the bizz” – which is dying anyway and good sodding riddance! I’ve always been about power to the musicians and f**k the executives."
Tell us more about how you used to scratch cryptic messages into the vinyl when mastering the discs! And, how does one go about this? Was it done by many bands back in the day? "It was something I’d heard bands did as far back as the 60’s – you just have to show up at the mastering studio with a safety pin – how appropriate! It apparently did catch on with a lot of Indie bands – there’s a web site www.vinylremarks.com - I’ll have to get in touch and add the Fashion messages."
Also, how did you one day come across the message scratched into a Fashion album that read: 'But for Luke 78/80' and what did you take it to mean? "I didn’t see that until very recently – it’s on a European release of Product Perfect so it probably took me almost 30 years to get the message. Dunno – could mean “But for Luke we wouldn’t have had to change the band/gone through all this sh*t/been famous earlier/sounded like such shit – who knows?"
"I suppose me doing a runner right in the middle of the 2nd album and with a big festival in Ireland coming up did rather drop the rest of them in the shite – what an inconsiderate git I was!"
Knowing that a couple of them have sadly passed, are you still in touch with any of the remaining Fashion guys, perhaps? "I last saw my best friend, our producer, Miki Cottrell in the Spring of 2000 just before he died of cancer. I last saw drummer Dik Davis in Brum the morning of Miki’s wedding – at which I was best man. Dik had fallen out with Mulligan, Fashion was over as a band, he wouldn’t tell me why – we got wasted on Red Stripe and I nearly missed the wedding."
"He was dead a few months later – drink and drugs so I heard. Sad. Mulligan, I’ve had one hatchet-burying email exchange with just after Miki died – other than that I’ve had no contact with him since 1980. Dik played guest drums at a show in Brum that I did in 1983 with a short lived band called Earl Grey – Mulligan was in London that night but Marlon Recci was in the crowd as were a whole load of former Fashion cognoscenti."
And do tell us about your new acoustic recording project ... what can we expect and when can our readers grab a hard copy of it, perhaps? "These recordings will be very different from the original Fashion sound. The vocals will be smoother, there will be some acoustic guitars in the mix, some ethnic beats and instruments, and the lyrics will be a lot more positive. You’ll probably hate it – but then I’ve never been worried about that! I’m hoping to have it available on CD and by download by the end of this year."
After 30 years since the initial release of the debut Fashion album, 'Product Perfect,' you re-released it recently. What did you do to enhance it, were extra tracks added, and how different is it now to the one that came out in 1979? "The master tapes are dust somewhere so I had the vinyl digitized and then my tech guru (who was also the singer with Earl Grey actually) Stephen Lester ran the files through a gazillion dollars of post-production software to give it a 21st century kick up the backside – but there’s only so much you can do and I didn’t want to lose the original feel, just make it a little louder and clearer. I also replaced the original album tracks “Fashion” and “Bike Boys” with versions we recorded in 1978 as I felt they had a bit more oomph!"
So, how long have you lived in San Francisco, CA ... and is it true you reformed Fashion? Will there be some live dates around the US? "I’ve lived in the San Francisco Bay Area since 1988. I fell in love with the city when we toured here in 1979. And no I haven’t really reformed Fashion. I just wanted to record something 30 years later that was in the same spirit as the first album – I hope I’ve done that. There is no live band – I wrote and played all of the instruments – except for 3 tracks where the drums were provided by my friend and Fashion fan Vuk Pavlovic from the band Nature’s Pocket."
"Vuk is from Savannah, GA and we’ve never met (at least not so far) we recorded by file transfer. Actually, whereas Mulligan was largely responsible for the way Fashion looked, I wrote most of the music, so the new album is in that respect in the same spirit as the first one. I have no plans to put a touring band together – I’m not sure anyone would show up to see us if I did. Then again, that doesn’t mean that I might not – I do have a garage you know!"
Please tell us more about your new upcoming autobiographical book and CD, 'Stairway To Nowhere' "I’ve almost decided I don’t want or need a publisher. I mean, I might end up in the bloody writer business! The economic decline has hit the publishing industry hard anyway, so I’m looking to sell enough CDs to self-publish and sell the book through the Internet. We’re not talking rich and famous here, either for the book or the CD – breaking even on the production expenses and continuing to spread the music and the stories are all I care about."
I once went to a Fashion concert at the Hammersmith Odeon ... at home, I had self-created, hand-drawn a Fashion t-shirt (using the primary image from one of the singles at the time on the front, sweeping around to the back ... very stylish, as I recall!) ... and I wore said t-shirt to the gig. Once in and past the merch table, I got complimented on this t-shirt all night, people asking me where I purchased it, etc. So much so that I ended up taking @ 15 orders for these t-shirts to be recreated (one by hand drawn one!) down the line! So, my question is, and even though you weren't in the band at the time, but yet still own the rights to the bands name, because I took away from the Fashion merch table that night, do I owe you some profit sharing residuals perhaps?!?!??!? "That’s pretty funny – I’m really not into ownership – if you can make a few bob or a couple of bucks from something Fashion-related then good luck to you. Hey, just as long as you spell the name right, eh."
OK, if asked to record one for charity, what '80s (and possibly cheesy!) pop/rock song would you love to cover today ... and why?! "It would be 'Shout' by Tears For Fears – I actually think they (he) wrote some great pop songs."
Lastly, and throwing you a journalistic curve ball, Exclusive Magazine love Penguins ... do you?! "They’re always the books I look for first when I’m browsing my local used book store! They publish some of the best fiction and those orange and white spines are really easy to pick out!"
Interview: Russell A. Trunk