The following reviews – both good and bad – from various music publications were provided by Rupert Loydell. Thanks Rupert!
Wanderlust brought your roving rockcrit to page six of the A-Z to catch a fleeting glimpse of the riotous Writz. Since they formed last November, this wacky sextet have son-et-lumièred around the polytechnics of southern Britain, and tonight they display their Dadaistic doodlings to a sizeable gathering of trainee farmers.
For influences they draw heavily on Salvador Dali and Billy Smart’s. Decked out in cheetah skin threads and day-glo orthapaedic macho costumes, they come on like an avant-garde Muppet Show. A cluttered pot-pourri of Disco, cool-jazz and popsicle rock was geared to incite a gala of wally-dancing abandon.
Fronted by the yummy Bev Sage, a versatile singer given to Dietrichian gotho-vamping and pizzicato squeals, and the bubbling Grouchoesque Steve Fairnie, Writz pumped an infectious mirth and moxie into the corporate corpuscles of punters present. They embellished their act with a boffo pastiche of The Osmonds, and a portentous solo on a Rickenbacker which turned out to be made of latex rubber.
The lucky ones died laughing first.
OPEN HEART SURGERY
Writz have been around for a while now, playing an immense amount of dates throughout these hallowed isles. Their debut album is on the point of release and their performances are particularly important as a result. Dare I be so arrogant to suggest that press opinions are absolutely crucial now in shoving the undecided one way or the other? Yes, I think I dare.
From the start of the set sound is crisp and tight and the lightshow is spot-on, if you’ll pardon the pun. Inevitably vocalists Steve Fairnie and Bev Sage are the centre of attention, Steve particularly so with this controlled but nonetheless manic stage behaviour. Right from the start he draws you in despite the similarly attractive activities of Bev Sage. Their theatrics never draw away from the band though – they contribute to the show. After all, Writz are emphatically a unit and the dynamic duo never upstage the musicians in the band.
Theatrics need support to survive, and Writz have it in profusion. In no way are they at all profound, concentrating instead on what’s little more than highly profesional rocked-up pop. But don’t take that as anything other than a compliment, because Writz are fun with a capital ‘F’.
‘Private Lives’ bounces along marvelously, full of shrill vocal acrobatics from Bev Sage (proving that there are substitutes for the synthesiser), while ‘Superhero’ proves a little more forceful with its strangled guitar riff and pounding drums. ‘Night Nurse’ is funky. ‘Swinging With The Reptiles’ is jungle disco and ‘Milkshake’ is another name for ‘Downtown’ à la Petula Clarke. From beginning to end your foot taps frantically and you can’t help but smile.
I expected Writz to be bizarre, distant even, after reading and hearing about them, full of the mystery of early Roxy Music or the condescension of Bowie. Instead they turned out to be purveyors of highly attractive pop superbly played and enacted, without a doubt the most open-hearted and entertaining band I’ve seen in ages.
‘Writz’ (Electric TRIX 12) *1/2
Our Robbi opines on the inner sleve that Writz are ‘a new wave influence showband’ and that she didn’t think their album would capture the power and glory of their live show but I’m glad I was wrong!’ Whereas my view is that this record is a marble-slab job, call in the next of kin to identify the corpse and hasten on with the dust-to-dust formalities.
Writz appear to be the debris of an idea that was once 10cc in the decaying orbit of what was once the bright rocketship Wisecrack Rock. Their songs clearly mean to be satirical but they are utterly humourless, laborious and empty (as typified by pieces drawing on the media for material). They approach dull subjects with dull minds. They describe without commenting. They strain horribly to make this nothing sound like something (and fail).
There is one good line on the album: in ‘Private Lives’ they describe a star of some sort as ‘Shot by the camera, scratched by the pen’. There is one half-good line in ‘TV Times’ when they almost achieve a pun about TV images flashing ‘past your eyes’ (pasteurise?). There are no other traces of wit. And their music is so barren they have to resort to the lady singer impersonating the squeaky ‘berweep’ of a syndrum to inject some interest. This is painfully irritating.
They also, I’m sure, set some kind of record for ‘repeat chorus’ fade-outs with ‘Drive Away’ setting the pace at 35 seconds only to be demolished by ‘Movies’ at 70 which is pipped at the post by ‘Private Lives’ with a decisive 75 second burst. Jeepers creepers.
And yet. The last track ‘Muscle Culture’ which sets up a future state of fascism built around beautiful bodies and empty minds and spirits does have strong elements of imagination, drama and motivation with its hypnotised chorus of ‘We must improve ourselves’ and the vocal ranted through a PA like they use to rise-and-shine you at Butlins. A glimmer at least.
There again maybe I’m wrong and Robbi’s right.
WRITZ TAKE THE BISCUIT
Anglo/French relations be damned! I’m being chucked out of Le Palace!! And howls of ‘Leave it out, lunkheads, I’m with the band’ don’t cut the mustard with these hulking Parisian doormen. It’s out on yer ear, and no questions answered.
A fitting end, I reflect, to the somewhat strange course of events that’s led yours truly to meet up with an English combo billed as a ‘New-Wave Muzickshow’ playing Amsterdam’s bastion of the bouncing bombed, the Melkweg, to take up the driving-seat of a gas-starved Paris-bound Transit, to watch its occupants whoop it up live for national radio, and now – for no apparent reason – to be heading fast through the exit of this celebrated rock niterie, strong-armed by a brigade of beefcakes.
And it’s all on account of Writz, whose new single ‘Movies’ is currently hacking with an ice-pick at the south face of the French charts, and whose posters are wall-papered across the city’s billboards at a rate only topped by the B52s.
These posters depict six sharp, slick, ‘modern’ figures in hard acrylic tones; all black and white chequered shirts, funny shoes, thin ties and outsized plastic shades; the trappings of a finely focussed, slightly self-conscious rock’n’roll showband.
These figures peel off from the poster and come to life on the boards losing little of their chiselled visuals en route. They deliver an inflexible set of tightly structured multi-vocal rock/cabaret (dare I say, art-school vaudeville) wedged into fashionable funk/disco shapes and handled with a seasoned flair by Arry Axel (drums), Nick Battle (bass), lead guitarist supremo Jules Hardwick, Steve Rowles (rhythm), and a twin vocal-point of Steve Fairnie (zebra-striped locks) and Bev Sage (Lovich inflexion and baggy jump-suit).
Into this melange of dancebeat, minor league theatrics, scepticism and garish coloured lights, they introduce a fistful of props – foam rubber guitars, binocular specs, TV screens, et al… Bizarre they’ve been called, and bizarre they most certainly ain’t.
Writz, assembled backstage nervously prior to taking to the airwaves, don’t care for this label much themselves.
Rowles: ‘Everyone started saying “Come and see this bizarre band”, and the word “bizarre” would appear on our posters even, and so everyone was expecting us to kill chickens on stage or wear Tubes-type gear or something…’
Fairnie: ‘What we really want to do is establish “characters”. Look at someone like Tom Waits – just a spotlight, a piano and a glass of gin. I find that far more powerful than a huge spectacular lightshow. We’d like an intimate atmosphere; we don’t like it so much to be a rock’n’roll concert.’
You’d be right to suspect that such an approach wasn’t born of rock’n’roll but sneaked in the side doors rom various other artistic factions. Fairnie, with a grand total of eight years’ sculpture and painting tucked under his belt, formed the band in ’77 from the ashes of his ‘folk duo’ with Rowles, a music/drama student. Bev Sage (a fashion photographer) was enlisted from a four-girl vocal troupe, and this nucleus – gradually adding the other three members – carved out the current set.
Rowles: ‘Our whole sound is a development of what I think some of the people in the thick of the new wave movement were doing – such as Lovich and Dury.’
Fairnie: ‘Everyone’s got sick of shaving heads like mohicans, and bands are now doing what they want to do, bands like The Yachts and Original Mirrors. You’ve just got bands who are getting up on stage and not feeling embarrassed ‘cos they’re not in the vogue thing.’
It strikes me their lyrics are still very much in the ‘vogue thing’. It seems pretty rich at the fag-end of ’79 to have fused Zappa’s cynicism (‘TV Times’ is uncomfortably close to ‘I Am The Slime’ and even features ‘Don’t touch that dial’) and the Bonzos’ whacked-out suburban sarcasm (‘Muscle Culture’ is not unlike ‘Mr Apollo’), and direct most of this towards lampooning the media and its attendant liggers (‘Swinging With The Reptiles’), its ‘Super Heroes’, and its heinous, two-faced newshounds (‘Private Lives’) without suggesting anything more worthwhile to replace them.
Now safely tuned into Radio 4Bev leaps to the defence of ‘Private Lives’: ‘It’s more of an observation than a comment, like at the way, say, that Andy Warhol observes society. He can see right through it, but he still enjoys it for what it is. Anyway, it’s meant to be as complimentary as it is hard-hitting, as the media actually raises you. It gives birth to you, it establishes you. So in fact the lyrics are very well-balanced.’
But what do they hope to add to all the media/press gripes that everyone from The Jam to Joe Jackson have been foisting upon us?
Rowles: ‘When we were writing the album, that was when we were most concerned about getting reviews in the press. So, in retrospect, there’s probably more media thing in it than we actually intended.’
‘We’ve written about the media now,’ Bev grins. ‘We’ve got that our of our system.’
Which is all well and good, of course, just as long as that gets them into its.