The epithet ‘icon’ is one that is too often freely thrown about. But when you’ve created some of the most instantly recognisable pop songs of the late 80’s and early 90’s; have Top Of The Pops performances that still cause a stir when reshown on TV; and when there are historic images of Kurt Cobain wearing your famous tee-shirt, I think we’re on safe ground with the icon label.
Wendy James is best known for her work with pop-punk band Transvision Vamp. Following the bands demise in 1991, she collaborated with Elvis Costello and Cait O’Riordan on the album Now Ain’t The Time For Your Tears. After a four year period heading the band Racine, and releasing two albums, James went truly solo with the album I Came Here To Blow Minds. In 2019, she released the Queen High Straight album and was about to tour it until…well you know the next bit. In the autumn of this year, at the third attempt, The Wendy James Band will finally be able to showcase the album, and more, during a national tour. Wendy kindly agreed to answer a few questions for us and here is what happened.
Whenever there is a Transvision Vamp appearance on TV, my social media notifications go mad. Does it surprise you how much affection there still is for those songs, and particularly those performances?
Indeed! The last couple of years have been bumper years too! Because we’re in the 30 year anniversary years of Transvision Vamp being on Top Of The Pops! So my twitter feed goes nuts too! It’s very pleasing, it makes me very happy to see how many people absolutely loved TVV then and still and continue to have an affiliation and relationship with me through all these years! I think, in all modesty, I’m now into the ‘icon’ years of my position in Rock n Roll, where my body of work is quite substantial now and unlike a lot of other musicians, I have continued to make fresh music rather than just re-tread the past, and yet, I continue to embrace my past as well. It’s very good!
You appear to be very ‘hands on’ these days. As well as singing and writing, doing your own bookings and social media, I heard that you even had to shift pallets of your latest album off the back of a truck! Have you always felt the need to be in control of every situation, or is it your experience in the music industry that has led you to be so self-reliant?
In answer to your question: Both I think…. I am independently inclined anyway, that’s my personality. I am a fact-based person, I like to know what’s going on, good or bad and be able to manage my response and actions as best as I can. Also, experience in the music business has led me to understand that if one wants quality control and authenticity in one’s work, then the creative buck has to stop with the artist. There are few things I guard as fiercely in life as my musical integrity. It’s like a person’s word. One has to have an honorable character in order for people to trust and take pleasure in the work one produces.
Your latest album Queen High Straight is your ninth I believe. Many of the artists who started at the same time as you have quit, reformed, and are now trawling the nostalgia circuit. What motivates you to continue to produce challenging new music?
Simple! I get a total sense of self-worth and purpose from creating new music and challenging myself to push further and try and make original work as all-time classic as possible. It’s a legacy after all, my songs will exist for ever, in one way or another and just once I’d like to do something so perfect it is up there with the greatest songs of all time! Perhaps a few I’ve done might already meet that measure! The impetus is there though to push for more, and seemingly the drive never extinguishes…
The word ‘eclectic’ doesn’t do the album justice. There are elements of jazz, folk, grunge and psychedelia in there (and that’s just the first four songs!). Do you have a favorite song on the album? Or a favorite one to perform live?
I am so in love with Queen High Straight, it’s hard to pick favorites of course, and although we (The Wendy James Band) played some of the songs live in 2019 when we opened for The Psychedelic Furs, my full UK tour for QHS has been Covid delayed 3 times so finally in August, Sept and Oct 2021 we will be playing many more of the songs! I can expect that The Impression Of Normalcy will be a favorite and Perilous Beauty, I also think Bliss Hotel will go down well live, Here Comes The Beautiful One, Little Melvin… there are a lot! I’ve also undertaken to perform a different set list every night so we’re rehearsing up favorites from not only Transvision Vamp, but also RACINE 1, 2, I Came Here To Blow Minds, The Price Of The Ticket! You can buy all my albums and merch here.
The subject matter of the songs on the album is quite eclectic too (songs about the Civil Rights Movement and Nazi annexation of Jewish areas in the 1930’s) . What inspires your song-writing?
It all comes down to humanity and stories don’t you think? It’s all about the emotions and experiences that myriad lives lead, including my own, but of course these seemingly disparate experiences are universal. We all have suffered pain, loss, despair, we have all experienced joy, triumph, ecstatic happiness, we all know guilt, regret, shame, we all wish for a sense of belonging, of value, to love and be loved. Some lives are more challenging than others and no two lives are the same, but we as humans are all in common with each other when it comes to how to feel and what we need.
The tour for the album has had to be rearranged twice now. How ready are you for this, and has it been difficult to ‘keep the band together’?
I’m very lucky, the musicians I work with are decent people. Very talented of course, but also decent, so – like the rest of the world, we all struggled financially throughout COVID and some of them had to sign on for universal credit, pick up alternative cash jobs etc… but we all gathered on zoom, fairly regularly to see each others faces and reassure each other we were all still here for each other!
The Queen High Straight tour is a proper tour – big and small venues across the country from Truro to Paisley. Anywhere you are particularly looking forward to playing?
There are some iconic venues on this tour, which have been on my ‘to do’ list for years! King Tuts in Glasgow, Brudenell Social Club in Leeds, CLWB Ifor Bach in Cardiff and then there are simply some very cool venues I’m most curious to get into and play! Just look at the list! Barrow Underground Music Society, Truro Old Bakery, Huddersfield The Parish, Liverpool Jimmys… I could go on and on… am very, very happy with the choice of all the venues! Get your tickets here.
What can people expect from The Wendy James Band on this tour?
A band of incredible musicians, playing some fantastic songs and me fronting the whole thing and giving you some world class entertainment!
What’s next for Wendy James?
More touring 2022, and – ALBUM 10….. I’m currently writing THE WENDY JAMES ALBUM 10… goodness knows it’s a hard act to follow from Queen High Straight but I thought that after each of my albums! You can preorder ALBUM 10 here.
For more Wendy James information and social media you can visit her website here