Ahead of the release of their long-awaited new album Smoke and Mirrors, we spoke to original band member of The Fizz (formerly Bucks Fizz), Jay Aston, to discuss the band’s past, present and future. Originally making a name for themselves back in 1981 when winning the Eurovision Song Contest, The Fizz have since sold over 15 million records worldwide and seen the coming and going of 16 different band members. We spoke to Jay about the journey they’ve been on, and the ways in which it has helped their creative process.
Your 2017 album, The F-Z of Pop marked your return after a 30 year hiatus didn’t it?
It was a bit of a bridge album because we were working with a fourth member Bobby McVay, and we were just starting to work with Mike Stock. We’d covered a couple of the old hits and we wanted to do something that was a bit more 80s. That first album was a bit of a try-out really whereas now it’s like a routine because we all know how to work together.
What is it about Mike’s way of working that attracts you?
Mike has got to know us well enough, that this album is almost autobiographical, more than we realised. He has a very developed way of recording in that when he has a song, he knows what he wants with it. Occasionally he lets us adlib a bit – Cheryl’s very good at harmonies so he’ll often say, ‘What do you think here, Cheryl?’ He’s very precise in his craft which is great because it means we can often do two songs a day when we’re working on a new album so it happens quite quickly, compared to in the old days when it might have been three days per song.
Are there any pressures today in releasing an album which didn’t exist 35 years ago?
We’ve now got a core of fans that we know will support us and we’ve got one of the most successful songwriters and producers ever, writing and developing the songs. We’ve all learnt so much about ourselves and our art. It’s a finely tuned machine now whereas before when we were very young and naïve, we had a lot of pressure on us from the record companies so it’s actually a lot more enjoyable now than it was then. We’re only doing it now because it is fun, and people still want to hear our music.
You recorded the vocals for ‘From Here to Eternity’ on the day you got your cancer diagnosis. Did that affect the vocals you gave on an emotional level?
It was so emotional that everyone was crying in the studio and although I got through it and I managed to get a vocal down for that day, I did imagine that I’d have to go back and redo it. When I was in the hospital, I used to listen to a little clip of the chorus which I’d recorded on the piano and I kept playing that over and over again thinking, ‘Hopefully I’ll go back and finish that, one day.’ At that point I didn’t really know what my outcome would be. I just felt that it was significant that I was singing that song, which at the time seemed to be very poignant.
There have been various health scares in the band, like the 1984 coach crash. Do those sorts of things bring you closer together?
Yeah, they definitely do. We all got very bashed in the coach crash, Mike being the worst. Cheryl broke her back and Mike had a huge blood clot removed and he still has problems with his tunnel vision. We don’t always see eye to eye, and we don’t always agree on things, but there is an undeniable bond that’s been built over about 40 years and you just sort of get on with it. Even if you’re not all on the same page about something, a couple of weeks later it’s like, ‘Oh well, we all nearly died a couple of times so let’s just move on.’
How fondly do you look back on Eurovision?
It’s the thing that made us, so very fondly; it was something of a heyday for us. I did a little documentary about Eurovision and I asked people in the streets of Manchester about it, and some of them didn’t even know what I was talking about! It’s not the thing it used to be and there are a lot of people who don’t like it but fortunately there’s still this huge fanbase across Europe who love it.
Talk us through the dance routine.
It was shocking but there have since been many versions of these outfit tricks on Eurovision. Although it was seen as raunchy, we were only going from long skirts to miniskirts, it was just the first time anyone had done it in that situation. It came from a disagreement where Cheryl and I couldn’t decide whether we wanted to wear miniskirts or long skirts, so we compromised. She suggested it a bit tongue and cheek and then started to develop it into the act. It was a serendipitous moment of compromise.
Why the title Smoke and Mirrors?
It’s an overall flavour of the album but there are a few ways you can look at it. Show business and entertainment is all smoke and mirrors, it’s all about the image and how you’re portrayed – it’s kind of an illusion really. When we were talking about the title last year – particularly with what was going on with Brexit and the whole vibe of the country – it felt like it was all smoke and mirrors. For me personally it was about, ‘Who the heck can you believe?’
Will you tour it?
We’re doing a few of the songs – certainly the singles – in our tour we’ve got coming up called Up Close and Personal. It’s a bit like ‘an evening with’, we will be doing some of the new songs from the album. I think it’s a particularly good album, we’re all really looking forward to it. It’s been a long time coming because of my recovery and now we’re just really excited to see what people think about it.
Smoke and Mirrors is out today (6 March).