Fat And Frantic: A fleeting return for the masters of musical mahem

Wednesday 12th October 2011

Mike Rimmer goes to Leicester to witness the brief but welcome return of FAT AND FRANTIC

Continued from page 1

Social justice was one element of what FAF did, and that was way before social justice was anywhere close to being trendy. I always saw them as being a left leaning band. Fat Jon explains, "Well I think Jim was probably the most left-leaning and he probably wrote most of those. There was a very early song called 'Billy And Jackie' about the miners' strike from 1984, and then obviously 'Africa' and 'Freedom', those kinds of tracks, and they were primarily Jim's tracks and they were extremely powerful really. They're still singable now even though they have a slightly '80s resonance." Silas sits up as he recalls, "I remember we played Homerton Hall or College in Cambridge and we were supporting some band - I don't know who it was but the crowd were really going with us. I remember doing 'Freedom' and in the song, there's a bit where the lyric goes, 'My Jesus never gave to anyone the freedom to oppress.' I remember an extraordinary moment in the gig, the crowd were really for us and Jim sang that line and suddenly there were a whole load of 'boos'. It was just like, for us, we were just quite used to doing it all the time - flipping from one thing to another. But it felt like we had just been really offensive, and we were in student territory, but something happened there. I remember when we came off stage, saying, 'Did you notice what happened when we sang that line?' But then why not? Actually that's a slight tangent, but I do remember it. I also remember Jim doing it live on stage on his own. The rest of us left the stage - just him, at Greenbelt one year on the Sunday, as part of the Sunday morning big communion worship and he just went on. And as you've got a field, filled with 20,000 people, and him just singing it, it was very powerful."

In the years between '89 and '92 the band were full time on the road and built a following that seemed to be mainly student types. Silas remembers, "Our primary live shows were up and down the country at Fresher balls, Student Unions. We actually kind of said 'that's where we're going to play'. And so, we were playing like Leeds Fresher Ball - 1400 people turning up, probably of whom about five knew of us before, but because it's a Fresher ball, they all turn up. We had great fun doing them, there were always a lot of students at them."

The band played The Astoria in London and famously got a terrible review from the Sounds weekly music paper and a journalist called Damon Wise. Fat Jon remembers, "A lot of his ire was directed at the fact that the Astoria was packed with student looking people with their stone-washed jeans and FAF with their 'God-awful chud-a-dum rhythms'. And that was basically was his outlook, but I think the student thing really set him off." Silas jumps in to quote the review, "'Fat And Frantic ruined my weekend and I hate them for it'. And that was his opening line."

Putting the adage that there's no such thing as bad publicity the band started using the quotation on press releases. "We did use that line quite a lot," admits Fat Jon, "because you can't really buy publicity like that." Silas adds, "And I remember he said, 'FAF sing songs about the DHSS to people who spend their holiday vacations on it'. At the time I was really hurt by it, but looking back on it now, I think he totally sussed us."

One of Fat And Frantic's songs, "Darling Doris", was at the heart of a social protest. It was penned by Silas who wasn't happy with the privatisation of British Telecom! Particularly when the company decided to get rid of red telephone boxes from British streets and replace them with yellow open phone stands. "No!" Silas responds emphatically. "And actually, I think that the campaign that I started, and I'd like to take credit for it, has actually meant that if you look around Britain today, we have those red phone boxes. They haven't been destroyed, and I'd like to think that it was partly us, although no-one has sufficiently credited me with anything. The yellow ones were horrible, and there was a time when literally the red ones were just disappearing from our streets."

The band last played properly in 1992, so what made them think that there would still be any interest in them after all of this time? "We sort of took a punt on it," Fat Jon responds modestly. "We hoped that there would be some and there is, so that's good but also we wanted to get together, we wanted to play together again, we wanted to see if the old magic was still there and obviously we're all having a mid-life crisis."

Fat And Frantic: A fleeting return for the masters of musical mahem

Their music has been re-mastered and available on iTunes for a little while now. The band have also released the 'Arcade Amusement' EP to go with the short tour. They've recorded a new song, "Paradise", and re-recorded a popular live song, "Fruit Machine". Fat Jon explains, "'Paradise' was lying around unfinished and we had demo'd it I think, before we finished in '92, and we might have played it live once. We really liked it and just thought it was a great song. So we thought we'd record that one and 'Fruit Machine' and make it sound like we're really playing in 2011.We had a great time recording it and it was a lot of fun to get back together at the beginning of this year."

Evidently the chemistry was immediately there when they were all in the same room together. "It's just fun," Silas shares. "I think the thing was it's just a bunch of six guys who are friends and actually between '92 and now, I think in some form, we've still played. Generally we did rock 'n roll covers at parties, sort of Elvis, Buddy Holly - that sort of stuff. We have every year since, in those gaps. So the friendship was still there. But we were just never playing FAF stuff, we were just playing the rock 'n' roll, and I think that's the thing that's so exciting about the tour. It's like, being on stage for an hour and a half with my friends, just having a laugh. It's great."

It's been a complicated business getting the band together as they all have busy schedules. Three of the members are church leaders. Jim is a doctor of 15th century Italian art. Craig "Tuffy" McLeish is working as an arranger and record producer whilst drummer Simon Saunders is a master cabinet maker. So getting these few dates to play together has been difficult but does it mean they can all get it out of their collective system and return to normal life or would they consider getting FAF back together again on a more permanent basis? "I think we'll have to sit down, at the end of the tour", says Silas, "and my hunch is we'll probably say 'that was a lot of fun, but let's put it to bed again'. We've had to set aside time to get it to the point where we feel like on the tour we'll do a good show. It is actually quite a lot of work. We've got wives and families who actually have to sacrifice quite a lot of time, and a bit of summer holiday this year, because this is our time off. So. I don't know."

Is it strange for them, because there must be lots of people, friendships that they have made, church members that they lead, who have got no idea that they actually did this when they were younger, so that must be really weird for them to discover that Fat Jon and Silas were in a pretty popular band. "I think it is really," Fat Jon says, "and I've got some people from my church coming to the Bristol gig, and I think they're quite intrigued and bemused and excited about what their vicar is up to and what he used to do."

Silas seems quietly bemused by it all. "I've discovered three members of my church congregation, since we put the posters up for the gig in Bristol, who have come up to me and they've been part of the church for two or three years, and they had no idea. They used to go and see us, they'd seen us at Greenbelt, and they had no idea that I was in FAF. They had not connected that was who I am, and so they're all coming to the gig, which is great. But also for me, the really great thing is for our kids, you know my kids are all teenagers now, and actually I really want them. and they're really excited to see what we did, because I think they were about two when we stopped. My eldest was two and the others hadn't been born."

Of course the tour is not without its challenges because physically everyone is a little older. You might not see such great leaps or perhaps the stage dives of old. And then there's Silas! "I've actually probably got a bigger problem than the rest of them," he admits, "because four weeks ago, tonight, I was having my appendix taken out, and I had got peritonitis, so 12 days ago I was in hospital. Actually tonight is a bit of a test because the stitches on the outside have healed, but technically I'm meant to give it six weeks to heal, and it's four weeks tonight. So. and the problem with adrenalin is that you do things that you wouldn't normally do. So I've got to be slightly careful, on the other hand, it also gives me an excuse not to have done any fitness and running. I kept on thinking, I've got to get fit! But basically I think I've got an excuse to be called for the tour - to be Fat and Static rather than Frantic, but I don't think any of the others have."

After the interview, Silas points out that I didn't ask about the 1994 doo wop album the band did called 'Precious Lord'. The album was recorded for Kingsway after they had sung acappella at Steve Fairnie's funeral. I had mistakenly thought that it was never a "proper" FAF album. I also discovered that in the late '80s the band had been considered as an opening act of an American tour by Amy Grant but when the singer heard their material, she nixed the idea. It certainly would have made an interesting combination. I also heard recently that 6Music's Adam & Joe had been the band's security at one point. I feel convinced that there are plenty of stories from 20 years ago that we'll never hear about.

While we've been talking in the café, the rest of the band members arrive. There have been terrible problems on the M1 which has held everyone up. The band run through a few numbers on stage to get a feel for things and get their sound balanced in their stage monitors and eventually they pronounce themselves happy. Before the gig they gather backstage for a time of worship and then they're ready.

On stage the band are anarchically cheerful with the usual interplay and nonsense on stage. Instruments are swapped and lead vocals interchanged. Jim can't remember some of his trumpet solos so Silas holds up the music for him to read but no one cares. Silas makes us count down from 26 to introduce that most catchy of songs from their new 'Arcade Amusement' EP, "Fruit Machine". All is as it should be. The band sound fresh and tight so it seems amazing that it's been nearly two decades since their last tour.

I expect we'll all be using zimmer frames when they next do this! CR

The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.
About Mike Rimmer
Mike RimmerMike Rimmer is a broadcaster and journalist based in Birmingham.

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