Of all Fairnie’s musical projects, Writz was probably the one he looked back on with the most pride and the fondest memories. The following timeline appeared in fan-club magazine Punty, with Melody Maker interludes from Colin Irwin.
Nov 1978 The band is “WRITZ”, fronted by an odd couple, Bev Sage and Steve Fairnie. Their first press is optimistic to say the least (“…one of the names to watch for 1979…”). At last a band who dared to stitch up the tatters and tears of punk, dress up and make up. No gobbing, instead its masks and old movies, lipstick and costumes, eccentrics and exhibitionists.
Dec 1978 Writz start up their ‘Punters Club’ and produce the first copy of their own fanzine which they decide to call “Punty”.
1979 A year’s constant touring makes Writz the press heroes of the day, with ecstatic reviews in all publications.
June 1979 Writz sign to Electric Records. It’s a good deal, including working with producers Lol Creme and Kevin Godley. Their first single is released on 29th June 1979. Writz are the hottest band on the club circuit and are making waves in Europe – particularly Holland.
Oct 1979 The first Writz album is released.
Dec 1979 Writz play London’s Music Machine for the fifth time. Present are several unheard of up & coming bands who chat enthusiatically to Writz. Ever heard of Madness… or the Pretenders?!
End of December 1979 … Electric Records go bankrupt… Writz go bankrupt… Writz split up.
Colin Irwin – The Scene: 1977: the roar of punk. A band called Writz. Writz are an anachronism. They’re into old movies, and Thirties film stars, and romance, and flash, brash, gaudy stage shows. They don’t care to gob at front rows or drink 29 pints of lager and fall over. They prefer glittery costumes to leather jackets. Their hero is David Bowie. Not toeing the punk party-line at all. But they survive. Their front-line duo, Bev Sage and Steve Fairnie, thrive on the paradox, use the liberal crusading as a license for their own passion for excess. On stage they go berserk. They hammer a television set, they flaunt their exhibitionism, they stare at each other’s clothes – they build an avid following. They even inspire their own fanzine Punting. An independent label, Electric, decide that Writz should spearhead their attack on the music industry. Godley and Creme are enlisted to produce their singles. They work on an album. Electric give them the works. They tour Europe. They get wardrobes flown over to them when they’re on the road. They reckon they’ve got it made. And then Electric go bust. Ugly legal wranglings follow. A black band called Ritz get a hit single in France causing instant confusion and misunderstandings over the two names, and Writz decide to do the honorable thing. They call themselves Famous Names.
“At 6.30 a.m. on the 4th July 1980 Writz became FAMOUS NAMES. The act, developed after an intensive 18 months of touring at home and abroad, combines high energy entertainment, vocal finesse with quality musicianship. Famous Names are fortunate to have signed a recording deal with Trident Records, a company that understands their special needs and are offering the band every facility in the way of recording back-up. Famous Names will continue to consolidate on their own unique brand of experimental ‘rock-showmanship’ and innovative studio work.”
So began the first press release from the newly-formed Famous Names. Shows were getting grander, and the kids on the street were beginning to dress up a bit as Steve and Bev put together a tour to give the Writz ideal of total entertainment in a new way. Out of this the Famous Names project began. With Steve Rowles and Jules Hardwick on guitars, Arry Axel on drums and Les Cargo on bass, Famous Names undertook to put together a massive extravaganza which became the Famous Names ‘Circus 80’ tour.
Sep 1980 Circus Tour takes off at Nottingham. Arrival of fire-eater, lady wrestlers (complete with referee and ring), support band Stiletto and mime/dance troupe Shock on their first rock tour, who were subsequently to enjoy much press and publicity before their sad demise in 1981.
Colin Irwin – The Scene: November, 1980. The Famous Names Circus Tour. Lady wrestlers, fire-eaters, a wizard, four weeks on the road, three-hour shows a night, 34-strong cast and a dog. No record company backing. No publicity. The tour loses a mere £40. They arrive in Nottingham, the curious entourage parading through the streets. The good people of the city are particularly struck by the wizard, whose face is covered in tattoos, joss sticks a-go-go, and who careers around dressed as a 17th century cavalier chased by his flea-ridden dog. Bev: “After the show he comes up to me and says ‘Bev, I don’t think I’ll come back to the hotel tonight.’ So I says “okay, what you gonna get up to then?” And he says ‘Well, it’s a full moon, I’m gonna go and blow fire at Nottingham Castle walls’.”
Nov 1980 ‘Cream in my Coffee’, a play by Dennis Potter starring Lionel Jeffries, Peggy Ashcroft and featuring Famous Names is shown on nationwide TV.
Nov 1980 Famous Names fly to Berlin for a week of performances at a popular nightclub. Much inspiration gained from Bev and Steve’s second visit to this fascinating city.
Dec 1980 Writz manager killed in car crash. Steve Fairnie rushed to hospital for emergency operation on an erupting duodenal ulcer. Tour cancelled.
Colin Irwin – The Scene: Christmas, 1980. Steve Fairnie’s Christmas dinner is a Guinness ice-cube. He hasn’t eaten solids for weeks – he has a duodenal ulcer and they think he’s going to die. “Yes, it was touch and go for a bit,” he’s to say later. “I actually went without food for longer than Bobby Sands.” Bev: “It was awful, actually. It was the same time that John Lennon was shot, which made it even worse because there was this national feeling of death, and our manager died at the same time. We were travelling back from a gig in Leeds and on our way to France and we saw this horrendous accident and we were saying ‘Poor bloke, y’know, terrible’, and we went to France and did three gigs there. And we came back and the phone rang and they said accident, blah blah, and we realized we’d actually seen the crash and not known it was our own manager in it.” Bev and Steve go to their manager’s funeral, but that night Steve is rushed to hospital. They eventually have to cut half his stomach away.
Feb 1981 Fairnie out of hospital, weighing 7 stone with 22″ waist. Retreats to Nice in the south of France to convalesce. His brain is constantly active and all he wants to do is complete a Famous Names album.
March 1981 Two tracks used in the film ‘The Prostitute’. Album ‘Venetian Blind’ is finished. Band receive cheque for year’s work – it bounces. Trident are bankrupt. Famous Names are bankrupt. History repeats itself.
July 1981 Famous Names are first rock show to tour Israel, where many British bands now tour. New band includes Dolphin Taylor and Jimmy Hughes, but it is too late to save Famous Names. Finances necessitate split.
Colin Irwin – The Scene: Israel. The Golan Heights. Famous Names are the first out-and-out rock band to play there. They’ve had Donovan, and Cliff Richard, and Kelly Marie, but no good gut-and-thunder outrage. Steve hires a drum-kit specifically to throw at the audience. Bev climbs over the barbed wire and gets carried around by the audience. 1,500 kids go crazy, while on the hill above them soldiers flood the Lebanese with spotlights. Only three days ago the place had been bombed. The audience had come straight out of air-raid shelters. Steve: “Just looking at the tour schedule was amazing. We had this list of dates and some of them had asterisks beside them saying things like ‘Jerusalem Holiday Inn – War Permitting’. But we played Jerusalem and there were 2,000 kids there and it was like Beatlemania.” It turns out to be the last tour Famous Names ever do.
Oct 1981 Bev & Steve release ‘Falling in Love Again’, a track they recorded with friends “just to see what would happen”.
The Techno Twins are born.