Guest Column – Right Said Fred, let’s… play bass for David Bowie, support Joy Division & more!

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Right Said FredFred and Richard Fairbrass – are back to celebrate the 25th anniversary of I’m Too Sexy (!) with an EP and new album. However did you know about their secret history with David Bowie or the time the brothers supported Joy Division? In a guest column for Q, Fred reveals the very credible rock roots the whacky pop pair (bite the supplied picture above) have tried to keep under wraps…

It seems almost unreal that it’s been 25 years since the release of I’m Too Sexy. It’s our biggest hit but didn’t go to Number One in the UK, we were the first UK band to hit number one in the US with a debt single though – it seems pretty remarkable as we had no budget and no plan!

We had been to every record label under the sun and they had all said a very big “no”. Our manager to be (Tamzin Aronowitz) said, “I know a radio plugger, let’s see what radio says”. Thankfully Gary Crowley and Simon Bates were very receptive. Gary played the 12-inch and Simon played the single edit. After Simon played it the phone lines at Radio1 went insane so he played it again.

The song gained momentum extremely quickly and it started charting all over the world, even on import. An American radio DJ was in the UK and heard the song, bought the CD and started playing it when he got back to work at the radio station. It just went insane in the US. It was number one for three weeks on Billboard but number one for a further seven weeks on the Billboard Sales Chart; ’I’m Too Sexy’ was the most common reason given for school truancy, questions in the House of Representatives weren’t answered because they were too sexy. Even now, we get synchronisation requests for the song almost every day.

However, before all the craziness of I’m Too Sexy, we’d both been involved in the music industry for a while. The British public doesn’t know anything about our time ‘pre-sexy’. We actually toured in 1978 with Suicide and played with Joy Division at the Factory in Manchester.

We were called The Actors; we were a four piece, two guitars, bass and drums. We did a shed load of gigs all over the UK from 77-79. We didn’t fit in at all with the punk or the new wave scene. We were a weird mix of power pop and what now would be called indie but we confused the issue with very intricate arrangements. We got the Suicide UK tour because we owned a PA system. So we were the sound hire company, the roadies and the support band! The show we did with Joy Division was at The Factory in Manchester while on the Suicide Tour. After the show Ian Curtis and myself hit it off and talked for ages – we ended up swapping shirts.

Rich also auditioned for David Bowie as a bass player as well and Bowie really liked him. The gig was for Jazzin for Blue Jean, but then he was invited to also be part of Loving The Alien and Labyrinth too. Rich is a very good bass player but terminally lazy, he’s just not motivated at all although he plays a lot of bass when we’re recording. We bumped into Bowie years later at Top Of The Pops when we were promoting I’m Too Sexy and he was on with Tin Machine. He said: “Oi, what the hell are you doing here?”

After Rich did the Bowie gig we both worked with Mick Jagger on his solo stuff and subsequently with Rupert Everett. Through that, the production company and a word from Rupert, I got the gig playing guitar for Bob Dylan in a movie called Hearts Of Fire. Mark Rylance was the bass player, Timmy Cappello on sax and Reb Beach on guitar. As well as filming we did a bunch of shows in Canada. Dylan hadn’t written a lot of the music so it was my job to go to his trailer and run through the songs with him. Sitting there with Bob Dylan and routining the chords with him was pretty amazing. After the film he gave me the leather jacket he wore in the movie and I still have it.

The legacy of I’m Too Sexy never fails to surprise us. We do photos and autographs on a daily basis for seven to 70 year olds. It’s got us upgraded on flights, seated in ‘sold-out’ restaurants, free guitars, discounted cars and holidays and VIP all over the world.

There are 22,000 versions of it online including Tom Hanks, Howard Stern, William Shatner, Michael Buble, Bono and Oprah Winfrey. It’s been featured on Baywatch, The Simpsons, Family Guy, West Wing, NCIS, Saturday Night Live, Grumpy Old Men, California Man, Howard Stern Show, Eastenders, Melrose Place, 90210, National Lampoon, Pret a Porter, Man of the House, The Sweetest Thing, Blank Check, Beverley Hills Chihuahua, America’s Got Talent and many more!

25 years as a self-funding independent pop artist is an interesting experience, one that all of the dives and shitholes we played for years prepared us to deal with. However challenging it gets, it rarely gets as challenging as having cups of piss thrown over you at Eric’s in Liverpool in 1978!

Putting the I’m Too Sexy 25th Anniversary aside we are really excited about the new album, touring next year and we have a great new team of people we’re working with. We’re not as famous or as rich as we were but we’re certainly enjoying it more.
Fred Fairbass @TheFreds

For more head to Rightsaidfred.com