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15 Minutes Of Fame With ‘We’ve Got A Fuzzbox And We’re Gonna Use It’
Sometime in the early to mid-eighties (nobody knows exactly when), four giddy schoolgirls got together and decided to do something with their lives in Birmingham instead of gracing the tills of their local Tesco. Sisters Jo and Maggie Dunne (four years older) enthusiastically learned to play guitar and bass, while frontwoman Vickie Perks had only eyes with a microphone in hand, and petite blonde Tina O’Neill already had a drum kit. grip is ready for the first lesson. He didn’t really come up with a great idea for a band name, one of them came up with the idea of playing one of the instruments they were rehearsing. A “Fuzzbox”, to describe it in its entirety, is a guitar pedal used to create a distorted sound. It was first used by Jimi Hendrix and was essential for creating the surround sound of washed-out or “fuzzy” noises, primarily in rock music. It was, and still is, the particular piece of equipment that many punk bands used at the time to give the essence of the punk rock sound. This is how “We have a fuzzbox and we use it” was born…
Although with their brightly colored rags and marketed image that was more Barbie than pure punk, they were attractive, if dated. Gracing the indie charts was about as good as it got in the early days. Next to The Slits, they’re too clean and well-made-up for everything, taking their place alongside other extreme makeup-appliers, Strawberry Switchblade, in their pursuit of puffiness, powder, ribbons and blank expressions. Now well equipped and fully mastered on their own instruments, they were ready to release their first single.
Signed to Vindaloo Records (they were the first and only label willing to take a chance on the colorblind quartet), they released the AA sided record ‘XX Sex/Rules And Regulations’ in April 1986. This was Toni Basil ‘Mickey’. ‘ all over again. She was bright, so girly and pumped up to the core with too much bass and certainly not flashy enough to tame the record buying public. Their video promo was an awkward arrangement of flirtatious scenes on a deserted street, and stunning and stunning shots of a kid brother on too many Tizers. The single itself flopped at No. 41 and failed to climb higher, but did go to No. 1 on the indie chart. It seemed like Fuzzbox needed to pull something better out of the hat if it really wanted to stay off the food isles. However, this is one of those tracks that, since their easy-earned fame a few years later, we now sit back and analyze any deeper hidden meanings. ‘XX Sex’ is just going to be a shit song. Their over-the-top squeals and screeches certainly won’t land them firmly in the punk Hall of Fame, but for a brief moment they seemed to achieve something, albeit a teddy bear retro vibe, with ‘Rockin’. “With Rita.” Teamed up with average “where are they now” folk from the same label, Duane Eddy has a strong feeling he’s bound to bring in the Teddy Boy ravers of the 70s, even if they’re all out of work as daddies by now. Once again the timing was wrong and once again a track we look back on fondly and remember the days when we imagined the guy who made up the Dodgems in Blackpool…
‘Love Is The Slug’ was actually their second chart single and brought out all the chic of girls in white stilettos casually dancing around handbags in a Saturday night cheap disco (probably in Kidderminster). It was pure Siouxie Sioux, the vocals were exhausting with their boredom and lacked any real imagination. Yet it was typical of the time. It sounded terrible, and almost to the point of holding the band hostage while recording. It wasn’t until the bubblegum ‘What’s The Point’ that we felt a definite change in the way they reflected the music scene around them. Released in February 1987, the punk image was on the way out and saw them start toning down their look without too much shaking up the last punk customers. Strangely, this time they formed an alternative to the increasingly popular ‘The Bangles’ who were happily frolicking in the middle of road pop hits. Meanwhile, Fuzzbox has been climbing through the Inidie scene. It’s not all female performance so far. Surprisingly, this bouncy, rockabilly number couldn’t get any higher than 51. Although they were Indie Queens, it was actually the commercial pop hit they were looking for…
By then, they knew that it wasn’t just their alternative, working-class, struggling lyrics that needed to change. They could no longer sing about taking a nap at the disco, washing down a pint with the boys. The green mesh had to go as well as the leggings and the pink and blue hair.
After falling out with the Vindaloo label, they moved to WEA’s UK division for their next single, and ‘International Rescue’ charted in February 1989 after a fairly quiet two-year hiatus.
In this issue, it was even more evident that Fuzzbox has a definite humorous side. We were all aware of their antics as their video performances till now have always been risqué and tongue-in-cheek. In this issue, the two dressed up as Thunderbirds, along with villain Adrian Edmundson. It’s all incredible flattery, but we wonder which is stronger, the Thunderbirds or yourselves. Either way, the trick worked, they reached number 11 and are now on their way to creating a different perspective on eighties pop music. They are already regulars on certain programs such as The Tube on CH4 and (who could forget?) The Old Gray Whistle Test! They were certainly on the verge of their most explosive 15 minutes of fame.
They’re still just as noisy, but now they all wear the same color, seem a little tamed, and only admit to thrashing around on the floor during videos and performances. Now they’re even bigger, more glamorous, and more professional, miles away from their amateurish, bad-ass, yet energetic theme. The music now was more rock than indie. It had edge, sex on the legs and was beautifully aggressive. The Spice Girls were a bunch of cabbage patch kids, still in infancy compared to Fuzzbox. These girls were definitely all for girl power. Instead of having a cozy night in and maybe wishing you a good night; Fuzzbox would have worn him down and then thrown him out after ordering him to serve them breakfast in bed.
‘Pink Sunshine’ followed and sat quite ecstatically at number 14 in May 1989. One thing that can be said about this band, who were songwriters, producers and masters of their own mixing, they knew exactly how to command their market. They didn’t drop too many singles at once in a desperate attempt to win over the crowd, instead they would sit back and listen carefully, choosing what to release first. This particular track, ‘Pink Sunshine’, was, by their own personal standards, a track that should be released during the summer. An upbeat track and a true summer theme of bright sunshine and fun, they felt it would have been better to release it a month or two later. They were probably right, but we’ll never know.
Perhaps their greatest number was their last known single, although a few more followed. A quick and also uncredited solo from Queen’s legendary Brian May, ‘Self’ is definitely out of the Fuzzbox, as the album it’s from suggests, with a ‘Big Bang’. Number 24 was furiously in August 1989, the summer when every girl learned how to successfully sneer. It was both significant and mean. We hated anything that moved while listening to the track. The men fell in fear before a thousand young teenagers growling with the power of a hundred PMTs. It was a wake-up call for both listeners and Fuzzbox itself, but bitter grudges and disagreements between the label and band members meant that any further work would be limited.
The most poignantly titled Walking On Thin Ice, originally written by Yoko Ono, was released sometime around 1990 while the band embarked on an epic Far East tour. It was a desperate number, not only in terms of its subject matter, but it failed dramatically and the bitterness became too much. The band decided to cut their losses and continue the tour, despite knowing that Vickie wanted a solo career after a break. He is still trying to find something today.
They returned home recharged and rather flat considering the band’s poor current direction. They were supposed to work on a new album, but the reconciliation between the band and the label did not prove worthwhile. A final single from the unfinished ‘Out Of This World’ album was released just as the band decided to break up. The significant title, “Your Loss, My Gain” heralded the second line of “…and you know things will never be the same again…” as if it were the band’s swansong. It was time to take it all in and pursue more personal plans. The mystery of the Fuzzbox came to a sad end, literally going all four separate ways. Tina is now an art teacher, while sisters Mags and Jo write for other artists and DJ in the underground scene. (There must be some tightly maneuvering turntables on those escalators…)
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Looking back on this band, we wonder if it would have been possible for this band to go on. Leaving the stage on such a creative high, it always seems such a shame when the band’s departing company appear that they could have said so much more. We’ve watched Fuzzbox grow and grown with them, from their messy, confusing and overly colorful take on punk (almost an insult to real punk rockers) to briefly wanting to punk what the Cheeky Girls did to pop music; minor insult, but they broke away from it all quite charmingly and became, if only for a couple of years, the most unique girl group in the late eighties – hence the idea that they had literally 15 minutes of fame.
With no real melodic notes in their heads, they must have learned to play their instruments well, considering they couldn’t play notes to begin with. They were so bad it was brilliant. They looked terrible, they couldn’t sing and their arrangements were as professional as the Mini Pops, but they are still stuck in our heads and the world of indie pop is still a very boring and uninteresting place without them. It’s been 16 years since we either reached for the remote control to turn up the volume or searched the kitchen for the kettle. Sometime in 1998, an attempt at a comeback appeared once, but it quickly died that same year.
It was time to put away the sequins and hairspray and listen to some terrible ‘Best Of 2006’ album instead. Somehow it doesn’t feel the same…
Fuzzbox has always been and always will be;
Vickie Perks – vocals
Tina O’Neill – drums
Jo Dunne – lead guitar
Maggie Dunne – bass guitar
Albums to run out and elbow old ladies;
“Big Bang”, 1989
“BBC Sessions”, 2002
– Check out the hits! 2004
Vindaloo/WEA record labels
© Michelle Hatcher (sam1942, ciao and dooyoo) 2006
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