When Fay Fife walks into a room, people notice. The veteran Rezillos chanteuse might not be quite so beehived up as she was when the capital’s premiere day-glo cartoon punks shimmied out of Edinburgh College Of Art thirty years ago and sang a song called Top Of The Pops on the TV show of the same name. But then, an eye-catching ensemble of biker boots and faux leopard-skin coat is hardly standard lunchtime wear en route to a swanky uptown brasserie. For a still hyper-active diva about to play her first ever solo show, however, such a guilelessly brassy entrance – part sixties Brit girl vamp, part totally wired pogo-friendly mentalist – it’s perfect. Especially for a show she’s christened Fay Fife Sings Punk Dusty, which premieres on Valentine’s night in the bijou confines of Edinburgh’s Voodoo Rooms.
“It’s an experiment,” Fife says of the showcase. “It’s supposed to be a low-key thing, for me as much as anyone, and it’s not a complete gig. We’re only doing 5 or 6 songs, so it’s a wee taster. I just thought, this could be a low-key place to spread my wings a wee bit. I mean, I’ve got lots of stuff, but it’s too girl group for The Rezillos. Although that influence goes into the Rezillos, my songs don’t sound straight ahead enough for us. The Rezillos have a really tight identity, and you can’t take it outside that. But this has been burgeoning away in my mind for quite a while to do something.”
Ever since, it seems, Fife worked on the soundtrack for “a very obscure film” called The Limits Of Thermal Travelling with the late Rezillos guitarist Kid Krupa.
“I was proud of it,” she says, “I know the songs are good, and I want them to see the light of day I was speaking to someone I was really close to, and they said, why don’t you do your own thing. I was like, nah, it’s too late now, blah, blah, blah. But it must’ve buried itself into my brain like a wee worm.
The show’s title is a bit of a give away in terms of where Ms Fife is coming from.
“Obviously,” she says, “punk’s what I am, that’s what I do and that’s where I come from. I like a racket, but the main thing is the girl group influence. When I was a kid growing up I liked older music. In my early 20s I was obsessed by the Shangri-Las. If one type of music is my touchstone, it’s the Shangri-la’s and Dusty Springfield.”
Fife first fell into the music scene after enrolling in Edinburgh College of Art. She was supposed to take up a painting foundation course, but ended up doing fashion design instead.
“I only did it so I could make plastic dresses to wear onstage,” she says now. “But God knows how I ended up getting co-opted as a musician, because I wasn’t in bands or anything. I guess I sort of looked good. That was about it. Me and my pals had a certain thing about us. We had our own style. No-one else looked like us. Then I ended up going to sing with The Rezillos, but lo and behold, I’d actually been practicing in front of my mirror for years.”
Fife says she could always sing, having been exposed to pop standards via “quite a wild musical family. Wild women in a wee working class mining village on the outskirts of Dunfermline. Mum was always singing and dancing. She had a great voice, and was a frustrated natural entertainer. I was raised on all that. There was always music around. It sounds like something out of the Victorian era, people playing the piano and singing.”
Growing up in a small town, however, wasn’t exactly conducive to such a singular vision as hers.
“I looked a bit freakish,” she says, “and people used to hit me and spit at me. By the time I got to art college, I’d had many hair disasters, and had it shaved many different colours. I was so arrogant at that age, and I spent the next decade being arrogant. I just thought people had no idea. I felt like I was the coolest person alive, because my hair was all pink and I had really bad acne and I put tons of make-up on and wore stilettos, which weren’t in fashion then. It was post hippy era, and I just thought, what are these people like?”
At that stage Fay Fife was still Candy Floss, and only adopted her new nom de plume after a passing drummer teased her that she was “fae’ Fife.”.
“I remember I looked different from everybody else,” the still reinvented Fife recalls, “then gradually people caught up. The Rezillos were quite insular. We thought we were the bees knees, so although it was nice to socialise with other bands, we always thought we were the coolest.”
What was really cool was when The Rezillos got to record their debut album in New York and hang around CBGBs. The one-time trad music venue turned bombed-out Punk hang-out was in the throes of birthing everyone from The Ramones to Blondie, another act who recognised the correlation between trash and glamour.
“That was special,” Fife says, “At that time New York was really scuzzy. That whole experience burned into my brain, and really influenced me. I actually feel like a New Yorker wandering around Edinburgh,” she says, having adopted further extremes if her style from women she saw on the lower east side. “I’ve got the mentality. I’m just a very arty-farty person. There’s always been something about faded glamour that’s appealed to me.”
The Rezillos split into two shortly after, with Fife and singer Eugene Reynolds getting even campier in the wigged-out Revillos. That band too eventually fell apart.
“I consciously gave it up” Fife says of showbiz. “In my 20s it was huge fun, but it was like a huge rollercoaster of doom, disaster and adventure. Lots of drama. But I got to the end of my 20s and thought it’s not good for my head anymore. You don’t need to be a doctor of clinical psychology to see that lots of people fall off the edge of the cliff, and I had no intention of doing that.”
Fife became an actress, working with an experimental theatre company in Cardiff which “suited my artistic pretensions no end.”
In the mid 1990s the band reformed to tour Japan. It was around this time Fife worked on the film with Krupa, then became pregnant. Fife became a full time mum before deciding she wanted to do something with her brain. Thinking university would be restful, she enrolled for a psychology degree followed by a doctorate. Fife herself is now a clinical psychologist, and only returned to The Rezillos a second time after a one-off Hogmanay show turned into a fully fledged reunion. A brand new Rezillos album is half recoded, though sessions were aborted after the studio was dismantled.
“The Rezillos are always coming to an abrupt stop,” opines Fife. “I wouldn’t say we’re very good at moving forward. In the early days of The Rezillos, we were that immature. We were a bit daft. We’d probably have had a punch-up if there was anything out of the norm. I suppose it’s like being in a war. If you’re in it, you can’t really see what it’s like from the outside. I think I spent most of my 20s never really using one brain cell in my head, and I never really thought about anything. Considering we did our first album 30 years ago, we’ve been taking our time on the second.”
As for Fife, in one sense she’s come full circle. If she’d stuck with the music business, a solo outing might have happened a whole lot sooner.
“Being in a group is like being married,” she says. “You have these little affairs here and there, and play with other musicians, and next time I do it, it might be different. There’s been plenty of periods when I’ve given up music, but then music comes back and reclaims me. As far as I‘m concerned now I‘ll never give it up. I know that I sing much better than I used to, and I take great pleasure in that. When I was a wee tot, I could sing, but I didn’t really know what I was doing. Now, what I do is completely natural. It’s not like I have to get myself in the mood to do it. My identity is at one with Fay Fife. People from the outside think I maybe exaggerate or that I’m playing a part, but Fay Fife is completely me.”
Fay Fife Sings Punk Dusty, Limbo @ The Voodoo Rooms, Edinburgh, February 14th
The Herald - June 2008