Sounds January 16th 1988
Coventry's SKIN GAMES have a visual appeal that
perfectly matches their commercial rock sound.
TONY MITCHELL tips them as the likeliest contenders
to follow in the footsteps of U2 and T'Pau.
ROCK BANDS fronted by girl singers - real, traditional rock bands with guitar, bass and drums line-up - rarely have the imagination or, indeed, the guts to reject the obvious glamour angle of a femme fatale in preference for something a mite more cerebral.
And when your singer is as glamorous as Skin Games' Wendy Pigott, the temptation might seem all the more difficult to resist.
But Wendy has a lot more going for her than just a pretty face. Like a voice that can carry rousing rock anthems and thoughtful ballads with equal conviction; like lyrics which boast a bright, observational quality identifying her as intelligent New Woman rather than crowd-teasing floosie.
"The writing is the most important thing for us," Wendy confirms at our meet in a London Pub. "We don't have much of an image. We're not really a fashion-conscious band, inasmuch as I'm not into wearing designer clothes and all that kind of stuff."
It was certainly the quality of Skin Games' musical material rather than the cut of their clothes that got them to the verge of a publishing contract about a year ago. Their songs do contain an American-inspired slickness and atmospheric sensibility, but a very '80s, British provincial city sense of awareness places them closer to the likes of U2 than to the sanitised chick-rock of, say, Fleetwood Mac or Heart.
In the end it was their live performances which actually secured them a deal, not for publishing but for recording - with Epic, a label well-placed, one would imagine, to exploit their obvious transatlantic appeal and stadium potential.
"We weren't even looking for a record deal," says bass-player Jim Marr, "but Epic were very keen, and they offered us a development deal which meant we could go into the studio and record our backlog of songs, with a view to choosing a single."
So they spent a year in and out of various studios with four different producers, and the result was a 12-song demo tape which I heard quite by chance in a Camden restaurant, and which sufficiently intrigued me with its abundance of strong melodies, driving rhythms and memorable hooklines that I pursued them into the depths of Camberwell, where they rehearse.
IT WAS here I discovered that Skin Games had originated not from America, as I had believed when first hearing their tape, but from Coventry. Wendy and Jim had played in bands together there for six years dating from their college days, and the metamorphosis into Skin Games didn't happen until 1985 when guitarist Jonny Willett joined them.
Their first single, 'Cowboy Joe' / 'Blanche', released in September last year, exemplified the very diversity which makes them so appealing. While 'Cowboy Joe' drives along at stadium pace, tempered by light, bright vocals with a countrified, almost Dolly Partonish edge to them, 'Blanche' is a beautiful, introspective ballad delivered with all the vocal and emotional range of a classic Joni Mitchell song.
Before the single could be recorded, however, the band lost their drummer - and replacing him took three months.
"There's an incredible amount of bad drumming about!" says Jonny over his lager. "We saw over a hundred people and there were only three or four who really had the right kind of feel, and all of them might have turned out to be unsuitable personality-wise."
Fortunately Aberdonian Dave Innes fitted the bill on both on counts and Skin Games were whole again. But he joined them too late to feature on their new 45, the Steve Hillage-produced 'No Criminal Mind', which once again demonstrates, Skin Games' ability to deliver catchy, uptempo rock or gentle ballads with equal aplomb.
SO WHAT are the influences that have led to this distinctive, rich blend?
"There are loads of influences, but don't think there are particular influences that come in," reckons Jim. We're all influenced individually but when we come together to write as Skin Games, we've all got ideas about particular things we want to express in the music and that's what comes through."
"If we had to choose, I suppose we'd see ourselves more as an albums band, but I don't see why we can't get across to singles buyers. Record companies may all want the next 'Thriller', but at the end of the day, they all want the next U2 or Simple Minds - bands who are album-oriented and who are going to be around for a long time. Particularly in America."
"We definitely want to put on a really great live show, as well as make good records," says Wendy.
But do Epic share these objectives?
"Ah, now dere's a ting," jokes Jonny in mock blarney. "Well, when we signed, it was with that idea. We were hopefully going to be for CBS the kind of act they didn't have and haven't had for the last ten years - a British rock act that was going to go out and play live and produce albums and possibly take a few singles off those albums. But nowadays we're getting more of the, We need the hit, boys line.
Wendy: "We keep having to remind them about what our aims are. I'm sure it's very satisfying to be doing what they're doing - catering for up-to-the-minute tastes with people like George Michael. They're so good at promoting their solo artists, but it's at the expense really of the rock bands they might have or do have on their labels."
Jonny: "To be fair though, we've always known it would be like that, and so we've always gone about trying to promote ourselves under our own steam anyway, trying to go out live and organise our own tours, even doing our own record sleeves. We knew they weren't particularly good at promoting a brand new act, especially a British rock band, so we knew we had to push them as well as push ourselves."
"The important thing," thinks Wendy, "is to emerge from it unscathed. As long as we haven't compromised our music, I think we'll be alright."
I think they will too.
FLESH FOR FANTASY
Melody Maker, October 22nd 1988
"You can't get to the beers backstage now for all these young blokes who are following Wendy,'' laughs SKIN GAMES bassist Jim Marr, somewhat ruefully. The object of affection, singer Wendy Page, goes pink with embarrassment but can hardly deny the rise and rise of the Skinnies - a group of young male followers who have been doggedly following Wendy & Co since the earliest dates of this year's lengthy Skin Games UK tour. And the Skinnies are not alone...
"Our last single 'No Criminal Mind' got caught in the legendary Christmas rush and we were disappointed how few people heard it, considering it was such a strong song," says this extraordinarily attractive blonde from the Welsh valleys. "But sometimes I think that what's happening to us is like a rumour - that people are beginning to turn onto us through word-of-mouth, or almost by chance."
Those of you with the luck to have caught Skin Games live will understand just why there's excitement. Here's intelligent, fiery, exultant rock music to make your soul soar, from a fresh young band whose winning hand of shimmering guitars, insidious melodies and deeply mysterious eerie lyrics will soon be inveigling themselves into the minds of a nation. And then of course, there's the Whirling Dervish from the Welsh valleys herself.
"People have said to me I must be a bit of a schizo because I'm so quiet in real life and then there's this sudden whoosh of energy that takes me over as soon as I'm on stage. I can't imagine what it looks like - though they've shown me videos of our live work, I can't look at them because I find it almost pornographic to watch myself performing. But I know what it feels like - and it's the best thing in the world, this excitement of finally being able to express myself fully and feeling it really clicking with the audience. That's when I articulate best. I'm not very good at conversation and I'm not the kind to have a huge social circle, but I've got an awful lot I need to express and that s why the lyrics have always meant so much to me."
"I love words, I love language. And I love the sound of language, with its magical properties! Of course I'm a romantic; when you've spent your formative years in an isolated Welsh village in the valleys you can hardly escape it and as my mam's an incurable romantic who filled me with mysterious Welsh tales since I was a babe in arms, I'm surprised I'm not even more of one! I'm just lucky I've fallen in with a group of musicians who share a similar vision, a similar need to express themselves. If there is a lot of passion in our music, it comes from all of us."
The Skin Games story began at the turn of the decade when first year English Literature student Page - a woman with a consuming passion for the Brontës, Thomas Hardy and Dylan Thomas - stuck a postcard on a student noticeboard offering her services as a vocalist. The band she joined included lanky bassist and immediate soul-mate Jim Marr, with whom she immediately began writing.
Skin Games - the name comes from a short story by Dylan Thomas:- "Like him, we're determined always to delve beneath the surface of things" - spent a couple of years constantly gigging in the Coventry area ("You can always tell you're in the Midlands because the trees are so twisted and bent; a very occult area, where lots of covens are based"), and then moved down to London squatsville where in '85 they met guitarist Jonny Willett, the missing piece of the jigsaw.
"We've been through a lot together. We've scratched up from an unbelievably squalid basement squat in Brixton, we've gone through the lot and not because of any vision of fame or fortune but because we've had this passion to get across what we feel. I'd admit that, next to being in love, playing with them provides me with the greatest happiness I know. And that obviously comes across, which is maybe why it all feels like we're on the verge of something quite big."
That "something big" is likely to happen with their new material, produced by New Order/Pet Shop Boys man Stephen Hague, who was convinced by Skin Games as soon as he heard their demo of the brooding, vituperative stage fave "Tirade".
"Oh yes, that's a very angry song," admits Wendy. "That's demure little me answering back somebody with their sexist attitudes. I was defensive and angry because of the sexist comments you hear day after day, particularly when you're a woman on-stage. They can really build up when your defences are low, and this was the tirade that poured out of me."
"I sing about Box Hill, which is where all my relatives have been buried for generation after generation, and I'm saying to the man that it's only when I'm dead he'll see me as equal. Only death is the great leveller, and that infuriates me. I see a lot of injustice around me, and my only way of articulating my anger is through the music. But it's not just anger; we all feed off so many emotions, and I love how change is the only constant there is. The paradoxes everywhere in life fascinate me. That's what really gets me writing ... "
Not that there's a lot of paradox about the beguiling new single "Brilliant Shining", a swirling, exultant celebration of idealism and hard-fought self-esteem to convert even the most manically depressed. "It's about looking into yourself for strength, rather than to the preacher or the politician - as we're increasingly pressurised to do. The brilliant shining is like a light inside. It's more than optimism, it's not as crass as that. It's something completely intangible that we all feel sometimes, but can't ever put into words. That's why we've put it into music." - KK
SKIN GAMES ARE ATTEMPTING TO PUT HEART INTO POLITICS.
KRIS KIRK GETS CARRIED ALONG WITH THE EMOTIONAL FLOW.
"I WROTE the lyric at the time of the Libyan bombings when every single newsflash was portraying Reagan as some kind of warped hero," says Skin Games vocalist Wendy Pygott of the band's lovely, rolling new single, "Cowboy Joe", which points an elliptical finger at the Cowboy in the White House.
"There's often a danger of political lyrics being too dogmatic; the trouble with 'I hate the Welfare State' lyrics is that they've only got one thing to say - by the time you hear them for a third or fourth time you stop hearing them. But, if you use interesting imagery, you've much more chance of making something with a lasting quality."
Welsh-born Wendy and lofty bassist Jim Marr have been making music together since they met in their first year at Warwick University; guitarist Johnny Willett joined them when they moved to London to what he calls an "unbelievably squalid" squat in Brixton. "I'd been working in a band that was too cerebral for me, that didn't have a lot of heart. And then I heard a tape that Wendy and Jim had made in a four-track and realised immediately that I was listening to music that was almost all heart. I went down to see them in this four-storey, incredibly dirty squat full of German drop-outs, mostly musicians."
The squat is now a Tescos, the band now a foursome with the recent addition of drummer Dave Innes, the music a curiously moving exultant swirl held together by the sheer force of Wendy's lung-power - a surprising voice to come out of someone so, well, petite ...
"When I started singing my voice wasn't exactly reedy, but kind of feminine. Then I really got into Joy Division and I loved the deeper qualities of Ian Curtis' voice and tried to pitch my own voice a lot lower than I normally sing and, over the years, I've surprised myself with the range I can get."
It's a sound which doesn't quite deal in either pop's primary colours or indiepop's shades of grey, yet happily misses by a mile any Brand New Whistle Test rock profile too.
"I suppose we'd answer to the term pop", says basso profundo-voiced bassist Marr. "We're in the framework of pop, but luckily that framework bulges all the time."
As to the brilliant "No Criminal Mind" - an extraordinary brain-scrambling melody on which la Pygott gets to wail like a banshee and which should be the band's second single in September - Wendy reveals that the song's sentiment is based on her reactions to the experience of a friend who was sent to jail for committing a robbery.
"It was written as a vindication, because the reason he did it was that he was under a lot of stress and strain. Knowing the kind of mild guy he is and seeing him in court I just wanted to stand up and sing about him. And I guess that's, why, yeah, it's very emotional ..."
SKIN GAMES - THE INTERVIEW
W# = Wendy Page N# = Neil King
N# According to your publicity you were brought up in a secluded Welsh Valley on Celtic Folklaw, how much would you say this has influenced your songs ?
W# It's hard to establish what Celtic influences are. The way I was brought up encouraged literacy and imagination a lot because there really wasn't a lot else to do. Television didn't arrive until I was 13-14. It was a good childhood, I saw lots of exciting things, nearly all my friends were farmers & I spent a lot of time in and around farms.
N# Now, the covers of the last two singles have emphasised your place as the focal point of the band. Do you resent that or do you see yourself more as a group then that ?
W# It wasn't really intentional, the idea of the cover of No Criminal Mind was to try & get across anger & if the four of us had all been looking angry it would've looked tacky & the idea on Brilliant Shining was to make the boys look like a halo round my head & if you could see the features clearly that wouldn't have worked either. But, yes, from a distance it's easy to lo-ok at a cover & see how that impression's gained.
N# Well, Cowboy Joe was Anti-Regan & No Criminal Mind was full of social comment, do you see yourselves as a band with a message ?
W# Oh yeah, I think so, I don't know ab-out dogmatic stuff but I know the best way I can articulate this is through my songs and lyrics. I think you can make language work several ways & I sympathise with Liz Fraser who tries to get a message across without using conventional lyrics.
N# I see your point, but where would you say your main influences come from ? Sea Song has Banshees' overtones & Brilliant Shining's been compared to In Tua Nua.
W# Has it, that's a new comparison to me. We've had lots of derogatory comparisons like T'Pau & U2 & I don't think we sound anything like them. Musically, because we've got such a wide range of tastes within the band it's really quite hard to pin down anything. I'm into a lot of indie bands, but one band we all really like is The Sugarcubes. When they broke at the end of last year, the attention they got liberated a lot of bands with slightly off the wall tendencies. Some of our songs have those tendencies, particularly the lyrics.
N# You signed to Epic, who now seem to have put some money into the band & even put you on c.d. single. Do you feel you're targeted at that market ?
W# I've no idea what market we're target-ed for. I do know it's taken a while to convince them what we're about, we're a growing band & I think it took them a while to realise that. One of our main problems is we're not right for the mainstream chart & we're not allowed in the Indie Chart.
N# Do you think that'll change when your debut album's released ? I'm told it's scheduled for the New Year.
W# Well we've been recording in Suffolk & we've put six tracks down already & we're gonna re-mix Cowboy Joe, Money Talks and No Criminal Mind as well. We're going to be going in with Dave Meegan who was the engineer on the last tracks & Stephen Hague's going to be supervising but not sitting in all the time. So basically we're gonna be doing that as soon as we get back on the 13th.
N# And are you planning a tour to promote the album ?
W# At the moment we're just looking to finish the album, then hopefully get around to writing some new material 'cause most of this album's material we've been wanting to get done for two years.
N# Do you ever see a situation when you'll record other peoples songs ? Or is there enough depth within the band to be self sustaining ?
W# Unless it was live I can't see myself doing covers. Live I could see myself do-ing Lou Reed & people I like, but I can't see myself singing other people's records, the idea appals me, they've got something to say they say it through what they're doing. You've got something to say you do it through what you're doing.
N# Can you see yourself singing about the ''Green Issues" or is it social politics that interests you more ?
W# I really believe in banishing ignorance. I think people should be aware of what is happening to the environment, things like pollution of the sea really worry me. My parents live in Yorkshire now, near a place called Bridlington where they pump waste into the sea with a regularity that's really alarming. It terrifies me the case of those children down south who've been struck down and they can't find out what the virus is. I'm sure it's something to do with the pollution of the sea. Other things that terrify me are man's complete disregard to future generations and the destruction of so much of our planet.
And, yes, I won't sit down and write a song about "You bastards you're destroying our rain forests'' but I will make it a part of what we're saying, we've got a song called Money Talks which is about greed & just thinking about material things all the time to the exclusion of the spiritual things in life which doesn't really bear on the green issues but it does bear on materialism & I can't understand why governments, why governments believe in keeping people ignorant, but I suppose it's because it's easier.
N# To change tack a bit, the stage is supposed to be the extroverts arena and you come from a secluded background, did you have trouble adjusting at all ?
W# Not really, when I first moved to Yorkshire I spoke English with such a Welsh accent no one could really understand a word I said & there was a lot of isolation & frustration in me & when I first got on stage it was like a real release for me. The over riding sense of freedom was incredible. I seemed to feel a lot more liberated then I did walking around talking to people normally.
N# There's a certain amount of that in Brilliant Shining, the inner self coming out & that bit where the preacher goes oo with its Gallic overtones.
W# I was really worried about that bit when we first wrote it because I thought it sounded too American, but it was meant to take the piss out of American Evangelism but that's interesting.
N# Certainly the lyrics do, but soundwise, for me at least, it seems to have that Celtic Irish overtone.
W# Well that's nice, most people've said it sounds very American & that alarmed me. I'm glad you think otherwise.
N# That American resentment there.
W# Don't get me wrong, I'm not a bitter & twisted person who hates Americans, it's just that I think this band's got a strong British identity & I think it really hard that people can't see that, or don't want to see that. I think it stems from the fact that if you say you're signed to a major & you can see the veils coming down & I think that's sad. You can see them thinking "Oh, they're not an indie band" & your credibility drops to zero.
N# What made you choose Epic ?
W# The first idea was to record on our own label and put them out through Epic, as it was we felt we didn't have enough experience to run our own label and from there, well. That's not to say it's a bad deal, from our point of view it's a good one. We've had an incredible amount of artistic control. C.B.S. have a hard time understanding the young rock market, but they are trying. They've got the Darlingbuds now. They're really trying to shake themselves up.
N# Overall would you be happier running your own label ?
W# I'm not sure, I'm not seriously involved in the mechanical side of making records & if I was I think it would piss me off more than having to deal with record companies. I think what ever interferes with you going into a room with your friends, your writing & the music is a bad thing. As soon as you've stopped writing because business is getting in the way you're not fulfilling what you're supposed to. Whilst I might moan occasionally I know that I need a company that knows all about the mechanics behind me. One of our biggest problems is getting airplay. Radio 1 won't play us because they don't know where to put us.
N# But then unless you're playing music for 13-14 year olds hardly anyone's getting played at the moment. There's no reason why Brilliant Shining shouldn't get daytime airplay.
W# Try telling Radio 1 that.
N# Having said that they gave Enya airtime & that's more off the mainstream than Brilliant Shining.
W# Yeah, but it's only once in a blue moon that something like that shoots to number 1 because suddenly everyone goes "Oh how original" when the style's been around for a while.
N# How do you see your style developing into the future ?
W# Well ... I want to get much more experimental ... I'd like us to produce more of our b-sides. I'd like to start doing the a-sides as well. With 3 writers in the band there needs to be a certain amount of choice it's what makes Skin Games tick. I also think that we can go and try making the material more accessible without making it more commercial might be the answer. And by that I mean I really want to learn how to craft songs so people don't have to scratch their heads & listen forty times in order to understand what I'm trying to say.
N# Why Stephen Hague for the producer ?
W# I quite like the fact he's full of variety, despite his public image. After all the stuff I heard with the Jesus & Mary Chain we set up a meeting, & he's about the first American I've met that I can respect. He seemed to pick up on what we were trying to say very fast & I thought if he takes that much care to listen then it's going to be great. Also we had to wait for him to become available.
I think with any producer you've got to be careful & he's like a keyboard man & we wanted to keep it as English sounding as possible, & he wanted that, but he was always wanting to add a keyboard line here there & we would have to say hands off but that was fine.
It's a very stressful thing making a record, much more stressful than going on tour because you're always aware that it could be adding this little bit extra that makes a good song a great song, or does it make it sound cluttered & I do like sparse sounding records, which is where I'd like to see us go, not naked, just a little more raw, more undressed.
N# You brought a keyboards player on tour, can you see that becoming a permanent part of the group ?
W# No! We brought the keyboard along because it helps fill out the melodies, if anything we'll add another guitar player, but yes at the moment the keyboard does help with our live sound but it's not an intrusive use.
N# Do you see yourselves as helping take music back to it's roots again, helping it regain it's heart ?
W# Not really, I think it's a bit of a backlash against too much synth, that's not to say bands like Human League didn't have a heart in their music, I just think they took this keyboard thing as far as it could go at the time. Maybe in a few years there'll be another backlash against raw music.
It's a case of doing what you do to the best of your ability. Maybe in the future we'll know enough about music to think ahead, but at the moment we're happy with what we do & the way we do it.
N# The one song to another approach ?
W# Yes. At the moment we've got two songs that we're in the process of finishing & that 's a very exciting stage to be at. I think it would be quite terrifying to be where Prince is 'cause it's almost like the divine deity of your own music. But what is nice about somebody in Prince's position is he can put out what he likes as soon as he finishes it & if you're that far ahead of yourselves then it would be easy to look forward & progress at an alarming rate, but as yet we've no where near enough experience, & I think over here even if you wanted to put out more than 1 album a year or even two years and still be seen as serious musicians then problems arise from that.
N# Are there any plans to take Skin Games abroad ?
W# Brilliant Shining gets released in Europe at the end of the month and Cowboy Joe sold well and got a good response. I can't see the band going abroad for a little while at least, there might be a tour next year.
N# Are there any plans to release more singles before the album or is that it for now?
W# Yes, there's a plan for a single late January.
N# And that's likely to be ?
W# Well, it'll either be Wild Things which is a slow one or it'll be a song called Big Me which is a quite scatty song & quite off the wall. Though it might be a new song called Heaven Blessed but I haven't finished writing the lyrics for that.
N# Has it mainly been the colleges you've played on this tour ?
W# On this tour yes & I think they've been some of our best gigs, particularly Warwick which was almost like going home for us. It was great to start the tour there. You've, really got to work hard these days as less & less people are prepared to listen to one band for an evening, so you've got to be that bit harder, that bit sharper.
N# Thanks very much.
W# You're welcome.
Skin Games The Comment
Skin Games are that bit sharper, both live & on record. They are a band worth seeing if they play in your area. They are a band I'd not have expected to find on EPIC. I hope Skin Games is the first of a new direction at C.B.S. & it's sub-labels.
Tin Tin Out interview - From the Eden/VMG TinTinOut website
How did you hook up with Wendy and what do you feel she's brought to the new material?
DARREN: We were looking for a song writer at the time, and a vocalist actually, and I heard Perfect Moment,
the song she wrote for Martine McCutcheon and absolutely adored it. So as we're both with Virgin we just sort of asked our A & R guy to find out if she'd be interested in coming in and doing some co-writing and backing tracks for us.
What tracks has she worked on with you then?
DARREN: She's done the majority of the album. She literally came down here with some songs and asked if she could sing them to us. She did and we decided there and then that she had the gig.
LINDSAY: We obviously knew her songs, but we had never guessed that she could sing as well. She's got a really great voice. There's an awful lot of really good singers out there, but she's got an instant recognition to her voice.
WENDY PAGE - Interview by Susanna Glaser
Wendy Page recently joined forces with Tin Tin Out and the result is, predictably, awesome. In her time the Welsh singer-songwriter has collaborated with the likes of drum'n'bass don A Guy Called Gerald and Asian beats fusionist and Mercury winner Talvin Singh as well as written bagfuls of chart-busting songs for Martine McCutcheon and Billie. Eden caught up with her to discover what makes her tick.
When and where were you born and brought up?
WENDY: I was born in Sheffield. But I only lived there for six months. Then my parents moved to South Wales, to a little village called Llannon. I lived there for 16 years. I'm now 29 [she winks].
When did you get interested in music?
WENDY: When I was just four I started my first band! It was called the famous four. I was obsessed with music ever since I was really small. I used to make my mum and dad buy the Smash Hits songbook. And I'd learn all the songs that were in the top twenty. I'd sing it on my mum and dad's sofa and force them to sing them as well!
Is that a Welsh thing, to sing all the time?
WENDY: Well, yes, it's a way of life. The only social life you had was singing, stuck in the middle of the countryside like that. Everybody would go to the local farmers' club and get stuck into some folk dancing.
You met your singing partner Jim Marr at college, right?
WENDY: Yes. I wanted to go to college for two reasons. To please my parents and to join a band. My sister was one year at Warwick and it was great for bands. They'd have one every week. I used to skive off school and go and see the bands with her. When I started there, I met Jim and we started a band.
Then what happened?
WENDY: When we left, I became a showroom model (you're like a receptionist but you also model the clothes for clients) and even did some catwalk modelling. But I was missing the music so much. About 9/10 months after leaving college I was going mad. I had all these ideas building up in my head. So we got the band together again. It was called Skin Games. We sounded a bit like the Cranberries before the Cranberries happened. Celtic guitary stuff. But it was hard for people to pigeon hole us. It was a bit too ahead of its time. We did a lot of stuff and I had a good time but in the end I wanted to break free.
After you left Skin Games what did you do?
WENDY: I did some solo gigs, at the Orange bar and at the Borderline. And I got myself a deal with Chrysalis publishing. And in early '95 the A&R person there was Cheryl Robson, who now works at Innocent. She had been my manager, actually. I was writing so much stuff. I've never pushed songs out like at this time. And I couldn't do them all myself. It was during this time, actually, that I wrote Perfect Moment. I think I wrote that in March '97. I sang it to Jim in the car. He was like, "that's not bad!" It was a poem originally. A lot of my songs start off as poems. And then I'll work them into lyrics.
You've worked with A Guy Called Gerald, didn't you! That's pretty cool?
WENDY: Yes, I did seven tracks with A Guy Called Gerald. He's now in America. My publisher introduced us. We got on so well. I had quite classic pop and jazz influences and he's got drum'n'bass. And the fusion was just really good. We toured the European festivals and stuff in '96. We toured Denmark, Spain and did all these incredible gigs with Blur and Iggy Pop playing as well. And we did a gig at The Blue Note. Then he went to America. I nearly went to America as well. I came really close, that time! But I haven't quite made it across the water yet. However, right as we speak, Billie's album Honey To The Bee is doing really well in America so I might make it over soon!
What about Talvin Singh - the guy who won the Mercury Awards recently - didn't you do some work with him as well?
WENDY: It was at a time when I really wanted to explore co-writing during 1997. I wanted to see where it would take me as a singer. That's what I really wanted to do, to sing and get back on stage. My publisher at the time was Steve Sasse. And he introduced me to Talvin. Talvin's totally mad. I just had to accept the fact that he's bonkers. He'd come into the studio two hours late. And he'd say stuff like, "sorry I'm late, but last night the spinach was really beautiful." But the chemistry between us was really great. I did a track on his Soundz of The Asian Underground album under a pseudonym Leone. It was great, really mysterious. I think I was infected by his bonkersness!
Do you find it hard to consolidate that fact that you write pop for Billie yet might then work with others like Talvin on the more underground scene?
WENDY: Not really. I don't write crass pop, anyway. I write pop with an edge. I like a bit of a twist. Not quite what you expect. That's something I'll always do whether it's Talvin or Billie I'm working with. Take Honey To The B. I'm quite amazed it got past the censors! Then again, she came up with Love Groove! I always like a bit of a twisted angle. Anyway, it wasn't like I went to Gerald - let's write a classic underground dance tune. And I don't go, oh, Billie needs an up tempo dance track. I just write what I write that day. At the end of the day I'm constantly searching for the classic song. Ballad or pop. Singing and peforming are my main things - that's a big big buzz. If anybody had a problem with it, I'd just say listen to the music and listen to the song. Whether it's Billie or whoever. I've never written anything I'm ashamed of.
And what about Tin Tin Out, then, how did all that happen?
WENDY: Oh, it does sound like 'the incredible adventures of Wendy Page' doesn't it! I was at the Brit Awards and I sat next to Steve Sasse. And he said he'd really like me and Tin Tin Out to get together. They had Eleven To Fly done as a backing track. But I'd just started Billie's second album. So I was like, "I don't know". But then I found out that their studio is so close - I live in Clapham North and their studio's on Acre Lane just up the road. Not that I'm a lazy cow or anything! So I ended up writing Billie's stuff in the day and then I'd go down to the Tin Tin Out studio in the evenings. And we got on really well. They gave me three backing tracks and I wrote three songs and it started there. It was like going to an audition. They asked me to sing. I was really nervous! It was a bit like being at the Roman gladiators. But I sang and they gave me the thumbs up. They asked me to join and I thought, why not? At that point Perfect Moment was number one! So it was a good thing for them and for me. With Tin Tin Out we're concentrating on getting the band together - we're trying to give the band some clarity. And then we'll tour with the album. We'll tour before Xmas if we can. The album should come out this side of Xmas. But it really works as a live thing. I've also got loads more songs inside me. I feel like there's a great build up of song constipation now!
Has it been frustrating that it's taken a long time to get where you are now?
WENDY: Morrissey described it best. 'I've been here a long time/But you only just realised'. I've been writing and singing for a long time. But I never found the right thing until now. With Tin Tin Out, after co-writing and learning about writing different ways of writing, i'm bringing all that I have to the table and it's all become very clear.
Tell me about some of the tracks on the album.
WENDY: The Language Of Fingers is this quirky and Chinesey one. Anybody's Guess is like a dark rock track. Tell Me is all about somebody leaving you. And Numb is about how you feel when you've loved and lost and you feel paralysed by the pain. Weird is just weird! A cross between an Indian and a Celtic thing, it's got this really old celtic chorus.
What was that about scarab beetles attacking you while you were shooting the video for Eleven To Fly in Morocco?
WENDY: We were there doing an all-night shoot. At first we thought people were throwing stones at us. All these black things landing on us. And then they'd fell to the floor with a thud. Turned out that they were giant skarab beetles. Every five minutes there'd be a new load of them falling everywhere. I was really paranoid about one of them falling into my mouth! But luckily they were too big for my mouth. They weren't as bad as the ants. I had ants in my bed. They'd give you little nips. I'd have pin pricks on my body in the morning. Get me out of here! It was a great place to do a video though, people were so good natured. And by the end they were all singing along to the song.