A Conversation with Frank Tovey & Barbara Frost
12 March 1981
This is my transcript and notes from the interview I did for my ZigZag article (issue No. 114, June 1981), which took place at Frank & Barbara's Fulham flat. Some of the questions asked here are along similar lines to what I had asked Frank in my first interview the previous year, because this time I was writing for a different magazine, ie. to a different readership. So apologies for the repetitions, if you're reading them side by side.
I sometimes used to type interview transcripts & notes, then cut them up into sections and join them together with cellotape, which was the case here. They've all fallen apart over the years, though, and I've reconstructed them as best I could. So the order of topics here may not necessarily be how it was in the actual interview.
No new photos were taken on this occasion, and Barbara contributed two images for the ZigZag article. However, you can check out some of my Fad Gadget live photos on the Music Photography page if you like.
April 24: Birmingham Cedar Ballroom
Robert Gotobed: drums
He first had two musicians from Belgium, which didn't work out in the end.FRANK: There were lots of problems. The first of which was that they didn't have anywhere to stay in England, so most of the time they were just sleeping here on the floor. We were together too much, we were rehearsing together, living together... It got a bit depressing, we started to get on each other's nerves. Then the next time they came over, they stayed in a flat, and that was costing them £70 a week or something. So it was impractical, really.
So I was looking for some people that would be easier to rehearse with, and I've got a different band now. I just got them through friends, I didn't advertise for them.
We've got two drummers, but it's not like Adam & the Ants. It's more percussion than two drummers.
I got a drum machine ages ago, and I get a bit fed up with the sound of it now. It gets so predictable, you switch it on and it's bum chitty bum, just keeps going on. I'd like to bring a bit more danger into the music in a way. When you're playing with other musicians, things can go wrong, or things can happen that you didn't expect to happen. I like that idea. And there seems to be a lot more energy in it when somebody's actually playing the drums than in forms of a drum machine. The sound becomes very flat with drum machines.
What's nice about playing with a band is, every time you perform the set, it's slightly different, it's never the same. Whereas a lot of people, the way they play, they might as well not have a band, just have a tape recorder, record it all on tape, just switch it on and sing along with it. Then you might as well be listening to a record. I think when you go to see a group, it should be different from the record.
Frank will probably wear the same outfit, white chef's clothes.FRANK: I like that, beause it's just blank and neutral.
BARBARA: It's the only suit he's got.
FRANK: I can't afford anything flash.
AKIKO: I think those red trousers look good. [I'm referring, again, to the red trousers Frank was wearing on stage the first time I saw him live, at Notre Dame in October 1979. His long legs looked great in them!]
FRANK: I've put on a bit of weight now, on the stomach, so I have to sing high when I wear them because they're tight. I'll split them if I bend them.
I might wear something different, I don't know. It's not that important. It's good to have something that stands out on stage, but... White is nice, but it gets really dirty. I'm bothered about it getting dirty.
BARBARA: The world's first nudist electronic band.
FRANK: I would be a nudist if I had a decent body, but such skinny legs...
Frank and Boyd Rice will be working on an album together, starting at the beginning of May.FRANK: I wasn't really going to tell anyone about it, then Daniel let it out. I didn't want to do it under the name Fad Gadget, because it's going to be something completely different, and I thought if I did it under the name Fad Gadget, people would buy it expecting similar sort of things. So I was going to do it under a different name. Fad Gadget is just one side, and there are other kinds of music I want to play. So I might still do it under a different name, even though people might know. It's silly if I call it Fad Gadget when it's not Fad Gadget.
I'd like to use lots of different names and do all sorts of things. I don't only work in music, In the past I've dome some performance art and theatre and things like that, so that I can do other things and play to a different audience each time.
Boyd Rice is returning to England in April, and he will be supporting Fad Gadget on tour.
AKIKO: Which is?
FRANK: Completely non-musical (laughs). He just likes sounds. He just likes the sound as it is, he hasn't got pretensions to be making music or anything. He just uses sounds, like painters use paint. That's something I've done a lot in the past, with tape recorders and tape loops, but Fad Gadget is doing more pop music. So I'd like to experiment on the other side as well.
PURPOSE IN MUSIC
FRANK: I'd like to say, because I want to make money...
BARBARA: But he doesn't make money!
FRANK: I don't.
BARBARA: He goes, "well, it's something to do, innit?"
FRANK: "Keeps me off the street, donnit?" ... I don't know. I enjoy it sometimes, I don't always. Most of it's boring, all the waiting around, touring, doing gigs, I find most of that boring. But there are moments when it's quite good fun.
When I was a teenager, I just dreamt about being in the music business, I thought it was a really wonderful thing to do. But I'm 25 in September, so now I've got over the novelty of it. Now I'm really not bothered. If I enjoy it, I'll do it, if it gets boring I'll stop and do something else. Music doesn't mean that much to me that I couldn't give it up. If I did get fed up, then I'd do something else.
BARBARA: Is that linked with the fact that you are not making a lot of money out of it? I mean, if you were actually making a very good living out of it, how would you feel?
FRANK: Yeah, but if I'm getting bored with it, I can't write songs. If I'm not enjoying it, I won't be able to do it. If I got a number one record or something like that, and it's getting boring, then I just won't be physically able to write songs any more. It's actually getting a bit like that now, I find it very difficult to write. So when it gets like that, I'll have to stop and do something else.
AKIKO: I think it's about time you did something else.
FRANK: Really? What do you think I should do?
AKIKO: I don't know.
FRANK: I think it's about time I did something different too, but I don't know what to do.
BARBARA: Work in Woolworths.
AKIKO: More experimental things, because by now everyone else has started to catch up...
FRANK: Yeah, it is frustrating, because I was doing it two years ago, and now all these boring little wimps have just started, and they're getting chart records.
BARBARA: That's no way to talk about Daniel.
FRANK: I'm not talking about Daniel, I'm talking about Spandau... what are they called?
AKIKO: Spandau Ballet.
FRANK: Maybe I should wear silly clothes or something...
BARBARA: You do!
FRANK: Don't say I do!
AKIKO: That's the thing, people might get bored with that white chef clothes if you keep wearing the same thing.
FRANK: Yeah, what shall I wear next?
AKIKO: It's better to change before people want something different.
FRANK: Maybe I will, then.
AKIKO: If you wore something different ever night, that would be good.
FRANK: A butcher's outfit! A fireman's outfit! I could dress up as a nurse!
AKIKO: Yeah, you could go to the extreme, wear something completely silly.
FRANK: The trouble is, I always think I'd like to do something really silly, then you've got to live with it. If you shave all your hair off or something, and you've still got to walk up to the shops to buy groceries every day.
I was living in Leeds for 3 years before coming down to London and starting to work on Fad Gadget, and the only electronic people I'd heard then were Donna Summer and Kraftwerk. So I didn't really consider what I was doing as electronic music. All I used was a drum machine and some simple bass riff, just for the functional aspect.
(About Gary Numan)FRANK: I don't think much about him. I think our objectives are completely different. Mine is a lot more experimental thing, and to use music in different ways. What he seems to be doing is just try and do his best to become another David Bowie. In the past I've used music for performance, like my own shows I did, I used music for that. I don't only use rock & roll images but all types of music. I've always used tape decks and things.
AKIKO: What kind of music do you hate?
FRANK: A good question. Whenever I listen to the radio, I say "oh, I hate this!" but I don't think I really hate any music, because it's not important enough to hate. Do you know why? If it's horrible, you just turn it off. I don't really hate any music because music is not that big a part of my life.
Oh yes, Shut Up Your Face. That was annoying, because I think it sums up the British public. One week the John Lennon single was No. 1 because everyone thinks "oh, yes, he died", and next week it's Shut Up Your Face. That sums up their attitude to music, that shows how much they thought about John Lennon dying.
INTERESTS OUTSIDE MUSIC
FRANK: Collecting stamps and... (laughs).
FRANK: Nah, er...
BARBARA: ...eating, drinking...
AKIKO: What's your favourite food?
FRANK: Italian food, I think.
I'm interested in the theatre but there's so much crap on in London. I just can't find anything to go to any more. But I definitely want to go back into dance and acting and some mime. That's what I was trained in before, so I'd like to get back to doing it. Now I'm finding energy and inspiration to do it. That's harder than music, you have to use your head a bit more. With music you just have to be silly, because it doesn't say much at all.
AKIKO: What's your attitude to sex?
BARBARA: Well, this one goes: "well, something to do, innit?" (laughs).
FRANK: I'd like to say I do it for the money but... (laughs). Well, I like it quite frequently, I like to have it as much as I can, but... I mean, sex is a two-way thing, isn't it? I don't know... well, I'm married now!
BARBARA: So you don't have sex.
FRANK: We don't have sex, I'm married. What's that light flashing? Is that when you talk, or is it the batteries running down?
BARBARA: Stop changing the subject!
FRANK: Yes, I like sex, all kinds of sex.
AKIKO: Really? What are you into?
AKIKO: I'm going to write that.
FRANK: Good, write!
AKIKO: I will.
FRANK: I'll shut up now.
I sound really boring in interviews. I should say, "oh yes, my interests are going down to clubs, I'm really into the nightlife of London, my music is all about what it's like to go down to a disco, sit around doing nothing and dressing up, my music is about dressing up."
AKIKO: What is Coitus Interruptus about?
FRANK: Coitus Interruptus is about... see, every disco record I've ever heard seems to be about having sex, the girl songs about sex are about being in love, and the man sex songs are about getting a woman and having your way and all this. So I thought I'd write a song that was a disco song and that was really sexual, thumping - I can imagine a lot of people dancing in discos to it - but which is about not being able to have sex properly - trying it, but it goes wrong - because all songs seem to be about having sex. It's like what Boyd was saying the other day, if you write a song about hate, hating somebody, people will think, "oh, it's really odd, it's strange", but nobody thinks it's strange writing songs about loving somebody. Nearly every song in the chart is about love, so why should it be strange writing something about hate? There are always songs about sex, so I thought I'd write about sex going wrong, because sex is not always great.
Barbara contributed the photography on the cover of the first single; choir effect on the second single; photography for the fourth single, and also backing vocals.BARBARA: I did one thing, and they said "very nice too, but sounds too much like a synthesizer" and they wouldn't put it on. I say my voice is pure, and they say it's piercing. But anyway...
AKIKO: Is Barbara the source of inspiration for you?
FRANK: Yes, she is. No, I'd better not say that, because they might think Coitus Interruptus is something to do with us.
BARBARA: Make Room.
FRANK: Make Room, or Lady Shave.
BARBARA: I think Lady Shave is, in a way.
FRANK: Yeah. I mean, we just talk about things, because I'm with Barbara most of the time, subjects come up and we talk about them, and maybe that will spark something off in the song. So a lot of the songs have come from conversations we've had, she does inspire a lot of that.
AKIKO: Has your life changed since you got married?
FRANK: No, not really.
BARBARA: We got a fridge out of it, and a freezer.
FRANK: We got a lot of nice presents, that's the only difference.
AKIKO: Is that the reason why you got married?
BARBARA: Neither of us is too sure.
FRANK: We don't really know (laughs). We've known each other for six years and lived together for four years, so it didn't really make much difference getting married.
They have a white cat, 5 years old, called Lilly. And Frank is a housewife.AKIKO: You don't write songs every day, do you?
FRANK: I wish I could. I try nearly every day but when I try, it doesn't work. It's when I'm doing the washing up or something like that, that the ideas normally come.
BARBARA: Sounds awful.
AKIKO: So you don't sit down and say "I'm going to write a song!"?
FRANK: I do, but it doesn't work. "Right, I'm gonna write a song now", and nothing happens, I just sit there staring at a blank piece of paper. But then I might be doing something completely different, and ideas will come. Can't really force it.
AKIKO: Do you usually write the lyrics first or the music first?
FRANK: It tends to be lyrics first.
BARBARA: Actually, we've both made a resolution to get out and look at things a bit more. We've become very housebound.
FRANK: We've become very lazy for the last year or so. We don't go to gigs or we don't go out, just sit indoors, eating, getting fat and watching television, not doing much. We're very boring people. So we've made a resolution. Barbara's leaving her work at the end of April, so I'm going to try and support her for a little while. I've made a little bit of money on the records, and I think that can last for a little while, from the album. Barbara might be doing some writing, writing some books. She's a writer. So if I can't write any more songs, she'll write them for me.
BARBARA: I wish I could, I just can't write songs.
FRANK: I don't think there's anyone worth going to see any more. Nobody does anything on stage, everyone just stands playing. I think that's boring.
AKIKO: Well, Furious Pig...
FRANK: I've heard a lot about them. Do they still do things just with their voices? I really like that. I wanted to do that for a long time. I think I'll be using a lot more voices now. On the first album there was just lead vocals and no backing voals. I wanted that album to be a lonely album in a way, because a lot of the songs are about being isolated. I think I'll be using lots of voices now, lots of percussion, lots of everything.
AKIKO: How long did it take you to make the album?
FRANK: 22 days. 21 days, and I had an extra day to finish up the mixing.
Most of the songs on it were songs I had had for ages, like "The State of Nation" was about 3 years old. I wrote "Insecticide" in the studio, all the rest were old songs.
AKIKO: Who designed the cover? It wasn't very good, was it?
BARBARA: I think they put it off and put it off and put it off...
FRANK: We didn't know what to do, and we just left it for a long time. And I couldn't be bothered by it, because by the time we recorded it, it was out of the way, and I didn't want to think about it any more. I just wanted a plain photo, I didn't want anything fancy, glossy and flash...
AKIKO: But you could have chosen a better photo, couldn't you?
FRANK: I wanted to have a live photo, I was just going to have that and nothing else. We looked through the photos we had, and that was the best live photo we had. I just wanted a photo on the whole cover, with "Fad Gadget, Fireside Favourites", and that's all. I didn't want it to be precious. The cover doesn't matter. But Daniel said, "oh, you can't have the whole picture right across the cover, you've got to have some kind of a border. And you've got to have a bit of colour in it." So we ended up fitting a red line in the middle, which is even worse.
AKIKO: Are you satisfied with the album?
FRANK: Not really. I think I did the best I could do in that situation at the time, but I'm never satisfied with anything I do. I can always see how I can improve it. So I'm never totally satisfied with something, which I think is good in a way, because if I thought the album was good and something very special, then there wouldn't be any point in carrying on. The reason why I carry on is to improve on what I have already done. That's why I tried to redo The Box, I'm not sure if it worked. A lot of people said they don't think it's as good as the original. But what I tried to do with that was, the song was about claustrophobia, about being trapped in something, and I wanted to try and give it more of a claustrophobic feeling. I don't know if I achieved that or not. I actually recorded the vocals inside a box, I sang in a box so that it would sound like I was closed in, but you can't really hear that.
BARBARA: A concept album.
FRANK: I'm not against trying to do something better, I don't think there's anything wrong taking an old song and doing it in a different way, if you can improve on it.
I don't think there's any point in doing a cover version if the original is so good anyway. If the original is really good, I don't think there's any point in doing it again unless you're going to change it and make it completely different.
ARE YOU HAPPY WITH MUTE?
FRANK: The only thing is, we can't afford publicity. We can't afford adverts in the papers. That's why I'm on this level, while Spandau Ballet and Visage and all that get a lot of press. We can't afford putting adverts in all the papers, and they have people hyping the charts.
BARBARA: Do you want to hyper the charts?
FRANK: Well, it would be nice.
AKIKO: Do you want to go on Top of the Pops?
FRANK: I wouldn't mind. I mean, the only way to change this [the programme] is to get people doing good things on it. The trouble is, you have to be pretty wimpy to get on it. If there's any sort of guts in your music, they don't like it.
BARBARA: I don't know, some of the bands they have on are, honestly, so naive. If they get into the charts, unless it's very obviously offensive, they just play it. I don't think people who plan Top of the Pops have a clue about people who are on it.
CURRENT MUSICAL INTEREST
FRANK: I've been listening to Carmina Burana by Carl Orff.
BARBARA: That's voices.
FRANK: It's mostly voices, choir. Recorded in 1939, I think.
BARBARA: Voices can sing the same notes in same arrangements as instruments, practically, but they noticeably have a...
FRANK: ... greater emotional....
BARBARA: ... more power, more impact.
FRANK: So I think I'll be using a lot more voices in future. Experiment with mixing in the voices, because, in a way, I find synthesizers too limiting. It's not sensitive enough. You can set up a synthesizer, and no matter how much you bang it, it doesn't play differently. You've actually got to set what you want. I like things that, the harder you hit them, the harder they sound, and softly you touch them, softly they sound. Synthesizers get a bit frustrating after a while, because you've got to programme everything. I like the idea of playing things that react. You hit something, and it makes a louder sound. But I think electronics thing will develop in that way. For too long the synthesizer has been tied to the keyboard. I think it needs to get away from the keyboard. Now I'm using things like electronic percussion, and I've got a long pole that triggers a synthesizer, things like that. So hopefully, if I carry on using electronics, I'm trying to find new ways of playing them and triggering them, rather than just all this standing still, just doing this.
I can see my approach to live gigs in the future is becoming more of a ritualistic thing, more dance music and more audience participation, hopefully. It's horrible when you play a gig and people just stand there, staring. It'd be good if people danced and enjoyed themselves. People don't dance any more at gigs, do they? I think a lot of people go to gigs to be seen there as well.
AND ONE MORE QUESTION: THE MONOCHROME SET VIDEO*
[* Frank appears as a clown in the Monochrome Set's video for their song "Alphaville".]FRANK: We kept doing [the scene], and it kept going wrong. You know I was banging John's head on the drum, and we kept doing it wrong, and John was like this, dying, and his hair was permanently sticking out, and he didn't complain once. Every time I went like this, to make it look real, I'd hit him really hard, and in the end he was just like this. And I was spitting out this white stuff everywhere, and he was covered in this stuff at the end. And he didn't say anything! He's really shy.
(c) Akiko Hada 1981/2019