For those of us in the late 1980s who didn’t subscribe to the domination of the Stock Aitken Waterman bland factory pop, Wendy James was a beacon. The lead singer of Transvision Vamp, she represented a call to arms with mega hits such as I Want Your Love, Tell That Girl To Shut Up and Baby I Don’t Care as well as terrorising the pages of Smash Hits and even taking a shot or two at Kylie.
Then everything went quiet and Transvision Vamp disappeared around 1991. So, what did James do? It turns out that she honed her craft and released her own music. James is now preparing to launch the album Queen High Straight in May, and it’s a treat.
“It is a double album with 20 songs,” she explains. “I always wanted a double album in my repertoire. The Stones did that with Exile on Main Street. [My album] has a lovely gatefold presentation. The songs are ones that I wrote, mixed and mastered in that order.”
James is the captain of her own ship, taking the helm for writing, singing and production as well as mixing. This outing has clearly been a labour of love. “It took a year and two months to write and around three years in total to complete. A lot of it was down to money. I’m not wealthy enough to do it in one go. I need to earn the money to carry on, but this has served me well. If you do it in sections, you can regain your objectivity. You can walk away, not listen to it, then re-listen and make notes. There are no mistakes on this album.”
The proof is in the pudding and this album is strong. It has a lovely vibe, rich with 60s psychedelia mixed with the grittier numbers you might expect from James. “It is really Summery,” she says. “For track 18, Cancel It…I’ll See Him on Monday, I can imagine it on radio.”
The album’s main power comes from the impressive lyrics provided wholly by James (she has no collaborators in that respect). “Oh no, I’m sitting on my bed cross-legged,” she says. “That is my own private headspace.”
James is currently riding out the coronavirus crisis in Paris but she’s not letting it stop her. “I’ve not had a break. I was going on tour in May and I’ve had to reschedule that. I am now preparing promotion for the album, so it’s not changed things.”
What’s her take on this strange situation we currently find ourselves navigating? “The only way to stop this virus is to comply. I don’t understand the toilet roll business. Is everybody shitting more? It’s hard to see NHS workers who are not paid very much crying because they can’t get food.”
One of her new songs, Stomp Down, Snuck Up, seeks to encourage us through these hard times, including the line ‘don’t let the blues catch you’. Refreshingly, James sounds as resilient as ever. “I believe in humanity. Good always triumphs and the curve is always to progress, no matter how futile it feels sometimes. This lean towards the far right is not good for the planet.
“A lot of work needs to be done for democracy to overcome autocracy. I found a lot of social media posts being quite preachy about how we should all take this time to look at ourselves, but [there are] people posting really funny videos. I lean more towards the funny ones.”
Inevitably our conversation moves to Transvision Vamp. Is there any chance of a reunion? “No,” she says, firmly. “I should never say never like other pop stars, and I guess I can’t, but I like where I’m at right now.”
Would James ever put pen to paper about her experiences in the entertainment business? “I am getting asked. A lot of journalists are offering to ghost-write. I don’t have the discipline to sit down and write, ‘when I was seven, this happened’. It would be like a massive interview. But I do have stories to tell. Maybe it would be all capers and a bit of wisdom.”
That is a book I would definitely read, but all in good time. Now, Wendy James has her album to launch and a forthcoming tour to arrange. Her career is moving on and she appears to be incredibly comfortable in her own skin. She laughs: “It would be a bit sad if I was still in a pink dress singing, I Want Your Love.”
Queen High Straight can be pre-ordered here.
Wendy James will be playing Manchester Deaf Institute on September 16, Leeds Brudenell Social Club on September 17 and Blackpool Waterloo Music Bar on September 18, 2020.