Following the release of her latest album, Queen High Straight, which includes a whopping 20 tracks, we talk with Wendy James, formerly of Transvision Vamp. We talk about the time she managed to film a music video in an hour, her pre-exam bleach encounter as a teenager and her long-awaited return to Oxford on Friday 3 September for a gig at the O2.
Back in May 2020, you released your fifth solo album Queen High Straight, and you were planning to go out on tour, but the pandemic stopped that. You’ve rescheduled three times so you must be so excited now to be going back out on the road and playing live.
It’s all been touch and go, but, yeah it’s finally happening!
The album has 20 tracks on it, which all vary in genre from grunge to pop, ballad and even a few nods to Motown in there. Do you have a particular process when you are writing and did you always intend for that album to have 20 tracks? It’s huge!
Yes, I sat down and although I hadn’t worked out properly, I envisaged in my head that I would do a double vinyl release, and there would be five tracks per side. I set out to do 20, and when I got to 20, I stopped.
As for the process, it flows, I’ll wake up and know that today I have to write; it’s a compulsion rather than a schedule.
I was interested to read that the order of the track listing follows the order in which you wrote the songs…
Yes, I’ve never entertained the idea of working out which songs go well where, because I think once you get used to something, that’s the way it is. The songs come out of my soul in a particular order. What could be more natural than that?
Do you have a favourite?
I want to say Cancel It… I’ll See Him On Monday, because I can’t believe how bouncy it is. I love the middle eight, I love the lyrics, I love the arrangement, but it’s not the only song on there: Perilous Beauty, Chicken Street, Here Comes the Beautiful One, Little Melvin, The Impression Of Normalcy, I’ll Be Here When The Morning Comes, Sugar Boy – I’m just going to list all of them! Queen High Straight took me three years and more to make, I just gave it everything. I love this album.
How did the current band get together?
It started with James Sclavunos who has been my drummer for eight or nine years, he’s also primarily the drummer for Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds and they are all connected in London. Both of us found the musicians to play on Queen High Straight. James Sedwards who is also known as Thurston Moore’s guitarist and also Harry Bohay, the bass player. Harry was unable to play the Psychedelic Furs tour, so we swapped him in for Leo who used to live with James Sedwards, as well as Alex Ward. They all know each other, and have played in each other's band. When one can't do something, the other one will fill in. The band is made up of a gang of people all from Stoke Newington!
During the lockdown process, did you ever think about doing any online events?
As I don’t live in England, a lot of the press that I do is either by phone, Zoom, or WhatsApp so I carried on doing all the promotions for Queen High Straight that I normally would have done. My life didn’t particularly change in as much as there was an album to promote around the world, and the interviews were to be done. I just focused on that, and I did make quite a few videos. There was a brief period last summer where lockdowns were lifted in Europe and I went to Rome and did a video for Cancel It...I’ll See Him On Monday, which is one of the songs on the album. Then, lockdown re-imposed. I’ve been recently and we did a video for The Impression Of Normalcy which I'm sure you’ve seen by now.
Did you really film that in a day?
Yeah, f**k yeah! We did it in one hour.
I mean not the editing, but the filming. That was a hell of a day. We had it all pre-planned for ages. The photographic studio, and the hiring of the amp and the mic and the cable. My director David phoned ahead to collect the amp, and the guy said if you don’t get here by 1.30pm then you can’t have the amp. So David did a 45 minute trek in 15 minutes – I don’t know how – and managed to get the amp and all the stuff. As he was thinking ahead, he phoned the photographic studio, and said can I drop all this stuff off, we’re booked in with you at three o’clock. The guy said ‘oh no, we didn’t hear back from you, so we cancelled your booking’. I was already getting my makeup done, back at where I was staying in Rome, and so Dave had to phone around maybe 12 or 13 photographic studios at short notice, and he finally found one that was an hour out of Rome. He came back to where I was, picked me up and we skidaddled to this studio. She was charging two hundred pounds an hour, so we were like f**k it, we’ll do it in an hour, so we did tons and tons of tape in just one hour, and then instead of sight-seeing Rome and having a nice time, he and I just stayed in and edited together, in real-time, and that’s how come we managed to turn it round so quickly. It’s a brilliant, perfect video.
We are looking forward to you playing at Oxford’s O2 on Friday 3 September. What can the Oxford audience expect?
Well, I’m learning a setlist of 30 songs, but I cannot predict which ones will be played at Oxford. It’s my intention that we do a different setlist every night – a gourmet buffet of 30 songs. There’s gonna be tons of Queen High Straight, but it’s from all my albums. When I listen back to Racine 2 and, I Came Here to Blow Minds, there are songs on all of these albums that I just love so much, I would love them if I’d written them yesterday. There’s absolutely no reason to not play them, they’re the favorites as much as any new album so there’s going to be a revolving setlist.
How have you found rehearsals? Have they been restricted at all?
I haven’t started rehearsals yet as I’m still in France, but the boys are prepping. They’re doing evenings together and then I later in August and rehearsals go into full effect. I think rehearsal studios in London have different policies, I wouldn’t know what they are, but we are allowed to rehearse. All of my band are vaccinated anyway.
You played Oxford back in the late 80’s with Transvision Vamp. Do you still keep in touch?
Occasionally. I hear from Nick about stuff, and Tex is living in Barcelona at the moment, so he keeps inviting me down there. Dave turned up in Bristol when I played the Bristol Fest a couple of years ago, and that was really nice because he didn’t tell me he was coming! He just walked in backstage. We are friendly, we’re not in each other's lives on a daily basis, but we are certainly friendly.
Would there be any chance ever of you getting together and playing again?
I gladly played with Transvision Vamp but I can’t foresee it on the horizon. I’m quite happy with my output nowadays
Your image is perhaps as iconic as your music, and it’s been fascinating to see it evolve over the years. Can you talk us through this part of your artistic identity?
I had blonde hair since I was 16 years old, and the story behind that, which I don’t think I’ve ever said to anyone, is that I was taking my GCSE in English and we were scheduled to take the exam at 1pm after lunch, and during the break I bleached all of my hair. My desk for the exam was at the front of the hall, and I remember walking to the front of the hall with my bright white hair, and it’s been like that since the beginning of time as a teenager! I’ve never tried to go back to a natural colour.
I bumped into you on Regent’s Street a couple of years ago and you had the same red coat on as you do on the album cover.
I put it into the dry cleaners and they shrunk it! It was my favourite coat, and I don’t have it anymore, it’s really sad.
You are now writing album number ten. How is that going?
At the moment I’m on song five. I'm learning my songs for the tour at the moment, and I’m hoping there will be a moment on Friday or Saturday when I can sit down and hum out a couple of melodies for song six. I will have album ten written during 2022 and we will also start recording in the same year.
Well, we love Queen High Straight in the office, and I hope the tour is extremely successful.
Thank you, come and say hello to me again, and everyone get down to Oxford’s O2!
All Images of Wendy James © David Leigh Dodd