■ The former frontwoman of 1980s pop-rock group Transvision Vamp talks lockdown and her new album
Where are you and what are you up to?
I’m under lockdown in the South of France. I live in New York but I happened to be here when the borders closed. I’m quite happy here. I’m in the countryside, there’s fresh air and not many people.
Do you miss anything about the UK now that you live in New York?
I’m from west London and I miss walking down Portobello Road and going to the market and looking for vintage things. I miss the pub culture but I still go out in Soho when I go back to the UK. Soho is so different now. I remember when Berwick Street was a proper grimy fruit and veg market, and now there are shops selling artisanal pizzas.
What can people expect from your new album, Queen High Straight?
Twenty songs and it’s one hour and 27 minutes long. I wanted to make a double gatefold album — so there are two bits of vinyl, four sides with five tracks on each side. They’re inspired by my comfort zone of music, the 1970s downtown New York, new wavey sound — Television, Talking Heads, Ramones. I’m also informed by The Stooges’ first two albums and The Velvet Underground. I’ve also proven quite well on this album that I can turn my hand to a sensitive ballad and speed punk, and there’s a Motown influence too.
What double albums inspired you to do your own?
The king of the double album is Exile On Main Street by the Stones. That record is everything. As a kid I owned Meaty Beaty Big And Bouncy by The Who, which was thrilling, and of course Sandinista! by The Clash, which is a triple album. I’d come off the back of the momentum of my last album, which had charted and which I’d released in all the formats, including a picture disc, and I thought, what do I want to add to my repertoire? And I decided I wanted to be an artist with a gatefold album.
What was the first record you bought and the first gig you went to?
The first record was Heart Of Glass by Blondie. The first gig was The Clash at the Brighton Centre. I was 14. I was at the front, got suffocated and was pulled over the crash barrier by security. That was a pivotal moment for me. I didn’t come from a background where you formed rock ’n’ roll bands but it was like that moment from When Harry Met Sally when she fakes the orgasm and the lady sitting next to her says, ‘I’ll have what she’s having.’ I saw Joe Strummer singing at the front of The Clash with his mohican and that was my awakening — I decided, whatever it is he’s doing, I’m going to do.
You started your career at 16…
Yes, I was just out of school when I met Nick Sayer from Transvision Vamp. We got a demo together and, with complete conviction, walked into EMI and said to the receptionist, ‘We’re going to be the biggest band in the world.’ She said, ‘Well, I’d better put you through, then.’ We met Dave Ambrose, the same A&R who signed the Sex Pistols, and he gave us demo time in the studio.
What were the highlights of your time with Vamp?
The first time we ever heard our first song, Revolution Baby, on the radio. We all gathered around the radio and listened — it was genuinely thrilling. The first time we did Top Of The Pops was a highlight. The real highlights were the gigs. We hit the crest of the wave quite smoothly — all the gigs sold out, everyone knew every lyric. We did a tour where we did so many dates at the Hammersmith Apollo and Brixton Academy, it was the equivalent of doing three nights at Wembley Arena.
Did you keep any Transvision Vamp memorabilia?
No, and I’m from the period when record companies even released cassingles [cassette singles]. We’d tour Japan and the record label would give me a box of cassingles, which looked amazing as they package things very well there. But I’m not a hoarder so I gave it to Mick Jones from The Clash, who was my boyfriend at the time. I’d give him all my stuff. Now it’s all in his lock-up in Acton.
What’s been the most unusual gig you’ve played?
Playing on a boat sailing around Alcatraz with David Bowie in the front row. It was a gig sponsored by a radio station. Bowie liked Transvision Vamp and came to a few shows. That was a ‘pinch me’ moment — sailing around Alcatraz with David Bowie in the front row.
What lessons has your career in the music industry taught you?
I’m wise enough to know now, and I know it sounds trite, that things sometimes work out for the best. It’s never the disaster you think it is at the time. You absorb the shock of what’s gone wrong and you make lemonade from lemons.
■ Queen High Straight is out on May 1 and is available to pre-order from thewendyjames.com