Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Shiny Shiny Gold Record

Popular music has thrown up countless number of insanely eccentric acts over the years, and the early 80s spawned more than its share of the quirky, curious, and just plain weird. Genuine one hit wonders (well beyond Britain) Haysi Fantayzee have to rate as one of the weirdest and most wonderful of pop music curiosities from that era.

With punk having almost blown out its own furious storm, and the new wave movement in danger of collapsing under the weight of its own pretentiousness, by 1982 popular music needed something a little light hearted, even frivolous, to remind people that there could be some froth and bubble to go along with the heartier fare. One of the acts to bring a tongue in cheek, whimsical slant to proceedings was the U.K. group Haysi Fantayzee. In late 1981, a Welsh born fashion photographer by the name of Kate Garner, had a notion to join with her then boyfriend Paul Caplin (ex of the group Animal Magnet), and a skinny 19 year old called ‘Jeremiah’ Healy, to construct a vibrant, colourful music act, where image was every bit as substantive as music (not entirely un-Visage like - see earlier post).

Garner had already had her share of life experience, having been a bit of world traveller from the age of sixteen, but her experiences of exotic cultures and peoples would suitably inform her for life’s road ahead. She completed formal studies in photography, then found herself working in a photographic studio, above which musician (and Doctor in Mathematics) Paul Caplin, regularly rehearsed in a recording studio. The two hit it off, but Caplin was the sort of guy who liked to keep a low profile in his musical endeavours (in fact he rarely appeared in any of the group’s cover art or publicity shots), so they needed to find a male voice, and face, to accompany Kate on their quest to revamp the British music scene. One time DJ Jeremy (Jeremiah) Healy had been a friend of Boy George’s since their teenage years, and the two had been a constant inspiration to one another in pushing the personal fashion envelope to its limits and beyond. Jeremy met with Kate and Paul, and he was the perfect fit for the Haysi Fantayzee crusade that was about to commence.

First things first, and during the latter part of 1981, Paul Caplin worked on coming up with some songs for the group, and his aim was to come up with a musical melange that combined elements of pop, reggae, jazz, disco, folk and rap - something that screamed “I’m different, listen to me!” (actually Bow Wow Wow and Kid Creole & The Coconuts spring to mind, in terms of their brazen musical bravado). Meanwhile, Kate and Jeremiah worked on coming up with the wardrobe to match. Hmmm, it’s the early 80s, so what’s gonna grab people’s attention, accentuate a cheeky waif-like sexuality, and hasn’t already been done to death on the endless pop/fashion merry-go-round? How about an amalgam of down home Hillbilly, with white Rasta (featuring waist length dreadlocks), and mildly Dickensian attire that looks like it’s been nabbed off the costume racks from Ringling Bros. Circus - yeah that should slay ‘em in the aisles! By early ‘82 the trio had several songs for which they laid down demo tracks, with Kate and Jeremiah handling vocal duties, and Paul providing the backing instrumentation. But that old thing about submitting demo tapes to record companies was so 1970s, and besides it overlooked the one thing that the trio banked on snaring Haysi Fantayzee that elusive recording contract - their groovy, zany image. So, they came up with the novel concept of sending out copies of a low budget music video for ‘Shiny Shiny’, accompanied by a wad of publicity photos. The suits at Regard Records, like several other labels bidding for the trio’s services, must have been so impressed, or just plain aghast, at the approach, that they offered Haysi Fantayzee a record deal soon after, partly because ‘Shiny Shiny’ was a catchy little pop number, but mostly because, with an image like theirs, nobody was going to overlook the duo of Kate and Jeremiah easily.

In July ‘82 the single ‘John Wayne Is Big Leggy’ (actually co-written by Jeremiah) was unleashed upon an unsuspecting British public. Word of mouth can be a wonderful thing, if positive, and the music industry was abuzz with this wacky new group that was about to hit the scene, and surely hit the charts, in a big way - they even got a write up in Melody Maker (three months before their first single was released). ‘John Wayne Is Big Leggy’ made its debut on the British charts during July ‘82, but soon after got a big leg up from Haysi Fantayzee’s appearance on BBC TV’s ‘Top Of The Pops’ in August. At the heart of the song was the issue of racism (and probably misogynist attitudes) and unabashed anti-Americanism, as lyrically it told of an argument between a character called John Wayne and his Native American squaw. Well, it was really more of an encumbrance to their marital activities caused by Wayne’s paunchy stomach. The lyric deliberately left it up in the air, as to what the eventual solution might be - because, well, it was still only 1982 and it was unwise to push the limits of explicitness too far, especially if you wanted to get your song played on air. But Kate and Jeremiah’s memorable rendition of ‘John Wayne Is Big Leggy’ on ‘Top Of The Pops’ left no doubt as to what that ‘solution’ was, and served as the first example of Haysi Fantayzee’s playful surreptitiousness. Before enough people joined the dots to create any kind of kafuffle, the song had reached #11 on the British charts, and exposed a large part of Britain to an indelibly memorable pop entity.

In late ‘82 Haysi Fantayzee’s second single ‘Holy Joe’ was released, but the song was a relative disappointment (UK#51), and soon after the critics started coming out of the woodwork, with charges relating to a lack of musical substance levelled at the group. They were set the challenge of silencing their critics by coming up with a substantive hit single, and an album that wasn’t going to be brushed away by critics as lightweight fodder. Whilst in the process of recording the album, Jeremiah was quizzed on a radio show as to what its prospective title would be, and replied with an off the cuff answer ‘Battle Hymns For Children Singing’ - it was a spontaneous and nonsensical reply, which in many ways acted as a constantly effective counterbalance for everything Haysi Fantayzee produced in due diligence. The album was released in early ‘82 (UK#53/OZ#48) just following the unveiling of Haysi Fantayzee’s latest single ‘Shiny Shiny’. The accompanying promo video was enticing enough for audiences, with Kate seductively cooing to camera and Jeremiah gyrating with an ever-present glint of mischief in his eye, but this time around the group had a song that was infectiously catchy, and a substantive and well crafted splash of pop music. Lyrically, beneath the apparently frivolous, nursery rhyme style surface, lay a clear message about the horror of a post apocalyptic world - wow, if they could manage to sugar coat that, surely they were master confectioners as well as pop musicians. ‘Shiny Shiny’ emitted a warm glow on the British charts at #16, a gentle shimmer on the U.S. charts at #74, but positively blazed down on the Australian charts during mid ‘83, when it bolted to #3 nationally. It was no doubt aided and abetted by Haysi Fantayzee’s momentous appearance on ‘Countdown’, where it was clear Molly was rather enamoured with both Kate and Jeremiah (well it’s Molly after all).

But ‘Shiny Shiny’ was to be the last single to shine through on the charts for Haysi Fantayzee. The follow up ‘Sister Friction’, which lyrically was straight forwardly concerned with lust and sexual desire, found sufficient friction at #62 on the U.K. charts to prevent any further ascent. In late ’83 the adventurous pop experiment that was Haysi Fantayzee came to its natural conclusion, as any worthwhile experiment should, lest one be wishing to reinvent one’s own wheel. But the trio had achieved what they set out to do - they’d shocked, amazed, appalled, challenged, intrigued, inspired, and just plain entertained countless thousands, and they’d had a ball doing it. They were in many respects a harbinger for the likes of Culture Club, Army Of Lovers (see recent post) and Dead Or Alive, with extravagance abounding in every facet of their collective being. Above all else the trio approached their music and performance with a playful exuberance and positive attitude, that was refreshing at the very least. Haysi Fantayzee may not have redefined pop music, or even made much of a ripple in the prevailing pop tide, but they were daringly original, taking many established notions and skewing them 180 degrees, just for the fun of it, or possibly to aggravate as many people as possible along the way. Their cartoonish antics and quirky music mix inspired the likes of Aqua among others, and established a permanent place on the honour roll of artists that unabashedly spell music F-U-N.

After the group called it a day (or night, or possibly mid morning), Jeremiah Healy went on to compose for TV commercials, then worked for a time with his old mate Boy George, before settling on a highly lucrative and popular career as a DJ/producer. Paul Caplin went on to manage Boy George wannabe Marilyn for a time, before coming to his senses and bailing. Kate Garner pursued a solo career briefly, and released one single titled ‘Love Me Like A Rocket’ which failed to get off the launch pad. She has since reconnected with her first creative love, undertaking a critically acclaimed career as a fashion photographer, shooting the art work for several album covers along the way, and now lives in L.A. with her family.

For a really comprehensive insight into the Haysi Fantayzee universe, check out this great weblink: http://www.deadoralive.net/haysifantayzee/articles/pf.html

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