The Rezillos

I’m sitting speaking to a young Norwegian girl called Monika, who wasn’t even born when The Rezillos originally disbanded way back at the tail-end of the 1970’s, and she’s close to tears. Tears of barely restrained joy that is. Sure, she’s been drinking, and who hasn’t, but she literally can’t believe the live band experience can be this good. Although earlier, her command of English had been near perfect, it’s now peppered with Norwegian superlatives she can’t quite translate rapidly enough to give vent to her emotions. The Rezillos, a quarter of a century on from their original conception, continue to have this effect on people.

Prior to rekindling our acquaintance over a scorching, (in more ways than one), weekend in Norway, my last encounter with ‘the fab five’ was at LeithTown Hall in the summer of ’78. Back then, riding high on a trio of blistering, beat-punk anthems, namely Can’t Stand my Baby, (My Baby Does) Good Sculptures and Top of the Pops, The Rezillos were in a league of their own. In singers Eugene Reynolds with his oversize ‘anvil’ quiff and sci-fi shades, and Fay Fife, a Day-Glo, Mary Quant mutation, they had their very own Sonny and Cher for a Future Generation. They shimmied and shook, posed and preened, and bounced and bopped whilst all around them, the group carved out the thunderous, monster-beat that was unique to The Rezillos. There was nothing like it then, and although many have tried, there’s been nothing quite like it since.

The interim years since calling it a day back in ’79 have found the various members pursuing suitably diverse creative callings. The apparently ageless Fay Fife followed the thespian route, appearing in both film and TV, only taking a well earned breather when maternal duties came calling; whilst the ever-garrulous Reynolds indulged his passion for vintage American motor-cycles by becoming the world agent and supplier for The Indian Motor Cycle Company, a situation which has resulted in him rubbing shoulders with many a Hollywood bigshot. Following a stint as a session musician in London, drummer Ally Patterson finally chose to settle for a life of architecture and domestic bliss in Germany, whilst Jo Callis found fame and chart success in The Human League during the 80’s and looks set to resuscitate his song-writing career following his signing a recent major label deal. This clearly wasn’t another punk revivalist band who needed to reform, as is often the case, due to the lure of big bucks, and it took a stage the size of Edinburgh’s Hogmanay 2002 to finally convince the four remaining members that reforming The Rezillos was the right thing to do,

“Nobody had the faintest inkling we’d be doing this now” states Eugene emphatically dismissing any theories that it may have been part of some long term Rezillos gameplan.

“That’s true”, Faye nods in agreeance, “but at least us three had the desire. There’s twenty-three years of history between us since we split up, and it may seem as if we haven’t really communicated that much over that period of time, but we’ve actually done quite a lot of different bits of work together It’s not like there’s a complete long gap.”

Jo elaborates, “Over the years, there’s been various different combinations between us all as people. Eugene and myself have done a few tunes together, as have Faye and myself, Eugene and Faye have done things together, and quite often we’ve wondered if The Rezillos had stayed together would they have made a song like this now, or could this be The Rezillos twenty years on, One of the new songs, Out of this World, Eugene and myself wrote as a kind of electro-pop thing in the late 80’s, and we thought it was quite like a Rezillos’ song, only done with synths and drum-machines and although it was done for a project of our own, Faye has since made it into a Rezillos’ song.”

Fay takes up the story, “About three years ago, the three of us got together and decided to write some songs specifically for The Rezillos, two of which we now do. And although we all had a lot of enthusiasm for it, we never really had a focus because The Rezillos do not exist unless they can do live gigs. We didn’t have a band as such, because Angel Patterson now lives in Germany. We got the idea going creatively, but it never really came to any fruition. I had a feeling that it just needed the right circumstances and something could realistically happen again. Then out of the blue we got invited to do this New Year thing, Edinburgh’s Hogmanay. Once the idea of a nice gig was on the go, something concrete, suddenly there was a band again, and once Angel agreed to drop everything to play drums, the whole thing was once again a reality. The next thing, we’re offered a tour of America, there’s offers coming in from Australia, Brazil and Europe, plus the opportunity of going back to America. And here we are at the moment, sitting in beautiful sunshine in Norway, about to headline a festival this evening”.

Yes Norway, a town called Moss to be exact, about an hour’s drive from Oslo. This is the twelfth annual Rock Against Football festival which originally came about by accident when four local bands who rehearsed in the pavilion in a wooded, rocky enclave in the spacious local park, decided to move onto the roof due to the intense summer heat. The garage-punk noise they generated attracted a gathering of some sixty or so curious kids from the town. Rock against Football was born. This year they staged their biggest event to date, attracting a crowd in excess of 1500. Whilst the bill generally comprises of around ten garage-punk bands of Scandinavian origin, this is the first time it has included a UK band. It is somewhat befitting then that amongst the Pines, Firs and Fjords of this idyllic part of Norway, the eagerly anticipated, reformed Rezillos appear to have found something of a spiritual homeland.

As the sun goes down and the heat finally lets up for the first time today, the trio of bands preceding the arrival of The Rezillos, do their best to restoke the inferno…and how! Four girls and one guy, The Launderettes, get down and dirty with their take on decidedly Cramps-like voodoo/sixties girl-band rock; local celebrity, singer songwriter Vibeke has the crowd eating out of her hand as she does her solo stint, before taking up her place as keyboardist with The Yum Yums, who appear to have existed on a diet of the finest US grunge-rock and inflicted it with a highly infective pop sensibility. This lot must have mighty impressive record collections. 

Finally, eleven o’clock arrives and anticipation is of fever-pitch proportions…only Faye Fife has disappeared and is nowhere to be seen. After a worrying fifteen minutes, she is finally located sitting on a rock down by the lake, apparently doing her vocal exercises. Then it’s showtime. Any doubts anyone may have had about their comeback is dispelled within minutes; they look and sound like they’ve never left the rock’n’roll stage, and display levels of energy which would put bands half their age to shame. All the hits and crowd pleasers are present and correct, but the band refuse to proscribe to that hoary old nostalgia trip, by playing a handful of new songs that do justice to their already impressive legacy. Crash my Car and 25 miles are genuine ballads that find Fay Fife in great voice and prove, if anything, that her vocals have improved with maturity, yet her frenetic, go-go dancing is as girlishly teasing and exuberant as ever. Eugene’s cartoon-punk thuggishness was a three-dimensional delight, while Jo Callis, resplendent in kilt and left-handed telecaster histrionics, brought to mind a melodic car-smash involving The New York Dolls and Glam-Rockers The Sweet. The rhythm-section of Angel Patterson and Johnny Terminator, the only non-original in the line-up was flawless and somehow held this gloriously, uplifting pop-art collage together.

Fay described it earlier to me as “something that was not intellectualised, it was just something that was the product of all our distinct personalities at the time, so it’s a bit difficult to try and think of it in conceptual terms, yet it was a concept, but it was more of a gut creation, rather than something we sat around and thought about”…

…while Eugene preferred to put it like this. “There was nothing like it when we did it first time around and there hasn’t been anything like it since either. It’s never been possible for me to answer the question ‘can you describe your music’ because I think if you can describe your music you’re onto a loser”

After the show, festival organiser and Yum Yums band member, Morten, made it clear that The Rezillos would be welcome to come back and play the festival every year if they so desired. Monika was still close to tears.

That says it all really. As far as Norway was concerned: Mission Accomplished

Next stop: Destination Edinburgh: Destination Venus in the very near future.