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Wendy James interview: ‘I was a bit of a wild girl’

Wendy James, as the face of Transvision Vamp, was a global star, a pin-up rebel. Now a solo artist, she has a new album on the way and will be appearing at the Junction in May.

Singer Wendy James. Picture: David Leigh Dodd
Singer Wendy James. Picture: David Leigh Dodd

Shooting to fame at a young age with rock-pop outfit Transvision Vamp, front woman Wendy James was something of a pop culture icon in the late 1980s, early 1990s, with her sultry vocals and unmistakeable image, which adorned magazine covers all over the world.

Now, London-born Wendy is to return with a new album, Queen High Straight, on May 1 – her fifth solo effort – and will grace the stage, with the Wendy James Band, a few weeks later at the Junction on May 23.

Transvision Vamp exploded onto the scene in 1988 when their single I Want Your Love broke into the top five. Further hits such as Baby I Don’t Care and Landslide of Love followed, until the group disbanded in 1991.

Wendy has gone on to collaborate with Elvis Costello – who wrote all of the tracks on her debut album, Now Ain’t the Time for Your Tears – James Williamson (Iggy & the Stooges), Lenny Kaye (the Patti Smith Group) and James Sclavunos (Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds), who plays drums and percussion on Queen High Straight.

Wendy began writing the new album – she wrote all of its 20 tracks and also produced it – after a long stretch of writing/recording/touring her previous album, 2016’s The Price of the Ticket, which charted in the UK at No.14.

She mainly divides her time between New York City and France. “It’s all done by me,” says Wendy of the new record, “obviously not the playing... I did some of the rhythm guitar but I had my musicians with me. I wrote the whole album and produced it, but I have done that ever since the Elvis Costello album.”

Singer Wendy James. Picture: David Leigh Dodd
Singer Wendy James. Picture: David Leigh Dodd

Wendy, 54, says that the new album is her “most evolved”, adding: “They are 20 tracks, it’s double vinyl and a deluxe CD offering, and it varies between my kind of go-to comfort zone of downtown New York, new-wave rock ’n’ roll right through to country ballads, pop tunes, speed punk, kind of ’60s girl groupsounding – all the different tastes that I have that combine to make my musical language.”

The Cambridge audience can expect to hear “a good chunk” of new songs, favourites from her other solo albums and “of course, the big Transvision Vamp hits.” Recent repeats of Top of the Pops on BBC4 have served to remind those of us of a certain age of Wendy’s undeniable star quality, as well as just how popular she and Transvision Vamp were back then.

Although she doesn’t live in the UK, Wendy has been made aware of this. “Yeah, I keep seeing it on Twitter,” she says. Does Wendy think it has helped introduce the band to a younger audience? “I don’t know... I get comments all the time on Twitter, I don’t know if they’re old or new people.

“I’ve had surprising encounters when I’ve been in London, where people that were clearly too young to have been there when Transvision Vamp was going on have come up to me and asked for my autograph – so they’re clearly people that have discovered the band in later years.”

Transvision Vamp. 'Baby I Don't Care' promo, 1989
Transvision Vamp. 'Baby I Don't Care' promo, 1989

Is it safe to say that some of the outfits that Wendy wore back then were quite risqué, especially for that time? “Well not for me, not for a teenager,” she says, “but maybe for the BBC. I was a bit of a wild girl.”

Looking back at what she particularly remembers about those heady days, Wendy says: “There were many really great experiences out on the road because we weren’t just successful in the UK, we were successful all around the world.

“We were doing massive world tours and it’s a real privilege to be 16, 17, 18, 19, into your early 20s and literally seeing all the towns of America, seeing all the towns of Australia, seeing all the towns of Europe, Japan, New Zealand... I mean this is a gift. Can you imagine trying to do that as a holiday? It’s impossible. It’s just one of the real privileges of having a band that takes off around the world.”

She adds: “I remember the first time I went to Washington and driving at night into the city, and going past the White House and thinking how relatively small it was compared to Buckingham Palace!”

The ‘classic’ Transvision Vamp lineup consisted of Wendy, guitarist Nick Christian Sayer (who also wrote many of their hits), Dave Parsons on bass, Tex Axile on keyboards, and drummer Pol Burton. Happily, Wendy – who says she’s really enjoying performing Bad Valentine, off the band’s second album Velveteen, at the moment – is still in touch with most of them.

“Not on a regular basis,” admits Wendy, “but I hear from Nick by email quite often. Dave turns up at gigs unannounced! And Tex lives in Jakarta. He’s working in Indonesia but he did rent a flat in Barcelona for a year and I was meant to spend Christmas with him but then didn’t. But I communicate with all of them.”

However, there are no plans to reform the band. “No, I don’t think about it,” says Wendy. “I get emails asking from various promoters, but I really love my band now, I really love my album now, I really love my music now, and I prefer me now... I don’t see any particular need to revisit that history.

“It’s great that Transvision Vamp still has this continued life; I’m really lucky for that.”

The Wendy James Band will be appearing at the Junction (J2) on Saturday, May 23.

Tickets: £20 adv. Box office: junction.co.uk.

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