RIP Jo Dunne 12/11/1968 – 26/10/2012
I heard that Jo Fuzzbox (or We’ve Got a Fuzzbox and We’re Going To Use It to give them their Sunday name) had died from cancer last night, at the stupidly early age of 43 (43! They really were babies when they started out!) when I arrived at the theatre for the final night of the play (which went very well, thanks for asking). It was weird – feeling stunned and sad and trying to keep upbeat for the show. I was on my mobile phone and I missed being online – the internet and grieving is an interesting phenomenon, and possibly one best discussed on my other website (ha, ‘my other’ as if I had but one alternative blog and not a plethora. Speaking of which, I’m on Strictly Come Bitching as well as The Bitch Factor this year). But when ‘my’ celebrities have died recently – a plethora of Doctor Who companions, in fact (sad, sad times), I’ve been online at an actual computer at the time and been able to read Twitter and forums, share videos and so on. It felt a bit detached being in the dressing room without people who would know who Jo was or would care.
If you read this blog, you know that I love Fuzzbox anyway, but maybe you don’t know just how much. They’re in my holy trinity of pop stars – along with Roxette and Kylie. (All three have also been affected by cancer – and that Kylie Minogue ‘Stand Up To Cancer’ advert totally made me want to blub even before this news).
All of Fuzzbox were my favourites – not always all at once – but Tina was a drummer, Maggie and Vickie were funny and gorgeous and Jo was just the coolest person in the world. My friend Amanda has always reminded me of Jo – not just because they’re both bespectacled brunettes, but because they both radiate that unconventional style with a super-cool attitude. Jo Dunne didn’t look like a pop star (shades aside), which made her even more of one, somehow.
So this is my tribute to Jo, and to Fuzzbox, and to break up a wall of text, I’m interspersing my love with my favourite ten Fuzzbox tracks – and it says a lot that even though they only had two albums, to narrow the love down to just ten tracks was really difficult.
Rules and Regulations
It’s probably heresy to only have Rules and Regulations at number ten on my list. I know it’s most people’s favourite, especially of the early stuff, but this list is arbitrary and constantly in flux anyway.
As an avid Smash Hits reader at the time they came back with International Rescue, I knew from the first time I read about them that Fuzzbox had been around before, using their full name and sporting multi-coloured hair. Smash Hits told me that back then they couldn’t play their instruments. But I don’t know about that, all the songs on Bostin Steve Austin sound pretty good to me. And they were so young! They were teenagers when the first album came out (Tina, the youngest, was 16 and Jo was 17). And what better song for a teenage punk-pop band than one which wants to smash ver system?
For some reason this isn’t on YouTube, but Maggie has a very serviceable SoundCloud. Thanks Maggie!
When I was in year ten at school, I was invited to join in the extra English group with the best students from the year above me. Those were fun sessions, and I’m still (well, again, thanks to the wonder of an open reunion type event before my school got demolished a few years ago) friends with one of the teachers of that class. Anyway, one week we brought in song lyrics and analysed them and gave them marls out of 10. I brought in Irish Bride and it won the vote (when we then listened to it, people were less keen… they liked the music but weren’t so sold on Vix’s voice. Philistines).
Your Loss My Gain
Fuzzbox had three big hits and a hit album in 1989 and then faded away – but more on that story later in the countdown. Suffice to say, it was all WEA’s fault.
Anyway, in 1990, they released one last single and I ordered it at WHSmith in Grimsby, where the record department was upstairs (that shop became one of the new malls in the soon-to-be-built Freshney Place shopping centre and now houses Tie Rack and Baskin Robbins – yup, it’s a 1990s time warp there). I bugged them all the time until it came in, having no understanding of release dates back then (pity the poor shopkeepers in Devon in 1989 – the holiday I bought Big Bang! – in my search for Kylie’s Enjoy Yourself which hadn’t yet been released). Then the precious 7″ was mine. I couldn’t wait for the next singles and the album… but they never came, and the band were over. It’s my firm belief that if they’d released the proper fourth single from Big Bang! then it would have charted well and this would totally have been a hit. Ah well, hindsight.
This wasn’t actually the last we ever heard from Fuzzbox. There were a couple of newer tracks added to Look at the Hits on That! (which you should totally buy at less than a fiver on Amazon right now) and the band had a sort of mini-reform in 2010-11 without Tina but with two other people (so I sort of don’t count it, sorry ladies) and they did a cover of M’s Pop Muzik, played a few gigs (none of which I got to see… sob) and then they disappeared again. *Cries*
Look at the epic 1980s camera effects on this TOTP appearance! Self! is a great showcase for Jo to wham her guitar. Note the gold suits – the Big Bang! era had them wearing the same clothing for the first three singles, in different colours (red for International Rescue, Blue for Pink Sunshine, gold for Self! and the album) – the dismantling of this for the fourth single can surely only have hindered things.
I loved the band so much that I collected every single magazine clipping of them I could and I hunted out all of their old singles at record fairs for several years. In many of the magazine features at the peak of their fame, they wore the gold suits, so it’s what I most associate them with. They wore it when they were on the cover of Smash Hits which was the peak of my fannish experience (well, that, and adjusting the Smash Hits review which gave Big Bang! 6 and a half out of ten so it read nine and a half – not even I could wholly condone Versatile for Discos and Parties). Somewhere buried in one of my cupboards I still have that magazine, along with all the clippings. I wanted to dig it out for this but it would mean a lot of rummaging.
I did, however, dig out the Smash Hits and Number One Yearbooks 1990, both of which feature them. In the Number One yearbook, they’re reviewing personal stereos. Jo was most vexed by the lack of rewind buttons on the majority – what WAS that with personal cassette players? Pretty sure none of mine ever rewound.
What’s the Point
I searched hard for it. I badgered my parents hard for it. But it was not to be found easily. Yes, trying to track down Bostin Steve Austin in 1989 was a difficult feat, and, being in love with Big Bang! and all things Fuzzy I so wanted it. Eventually WEA cottoned on, re-released it and I got the tape for my tenth birthday in 1990. I’ve still never tracked down a CD or digital version but thankfully all the tracks are on YouTube or SoundCloud so it’s not too bad. Would love a copy on my iPod though.
Love is the Slug
One of the 7″s I have has a little comic strip for this song, and little slug cartoons were all over their early releases. This track is pretty damn impressive for a bunch of teenagers to have written. Scuzzy production values, for sure, but that probably adds to its charm. Bloody brilliant stuff.
I don’t know why, but this was the only Big Bang! single I didn’t buy at the time, getting it instead from the newsagents after it had left the charts (remember when they did that? You could always tell it was a newsagents-sourced record ad the central disc was all cut through in a wavy pattern rather than being a solid circle. I seem to remember singles were cheaper this way than when they first came out. A few of my Kylies were sourced in the same way, and I bought a second copy of Roxette’s ‘The Look’ from a newsagent because the B-side didn’t work on my bought at the time original – imagine being denied Silver Blue… although, come to think of it, it was another mix of The Look and not the promised Silver Blue anyway. Thank heavens for Tourism. But I digress).
When I think of Pink Sunshine I always think of Saturday morning kids’ TV – hence why I chose Ghost Train as the clip rather than the official video or their two-count-em TOTP appearances for this single. It’s the song they’ll always be remembered for and the one I usually choose at parties because it’s the easiest to dance to. Try and listen to this without smiling. Impossible.
This is such an under-rated gem. When I was younger and imagined myself as a pop star, this was one of the songs I was going to cover and bring to the public’s imagination because it’s just so good and deserves to be better known than it is. Love the lyrics, love the vibe of it – my favourite Bostin Steve Austin track by a whisker.
I don’t really remember whether I discovered Fuzzbox first in Smash Hits, on The Chart Show or via some other means. It all sort of happened in a blur in early 1989. I think it was the former though – reading about their Barbarella-themed video and then seeing it and hearing the song and I just fell in love, and that love never dissipated.
This band sounded great, they looked interesting, they were both funny and fun. Tina and Jo’s faces in this video still crack me up. Ever since then, whenever I hear new bands, I have always compared them to Fuzzbox. In the 90s, a lot of the bands I liked, including Lush, Skunk Anansie, Catatonia and Belly were all added to my list of favourites because they reminded me a bit of Fuzzbox. I’m so grateful that this song came along and rocked my musical world. Big Bang! came along that summer and is still my favourite album of all time.
Fast Forward Futurama
My favourite Fuzzbox song was my favourite on Big Bang! and should have been a single. It was the band’s choice for fourth single, and had they released it, it probably would have been a decent hit and they may have had a longer career. The band clearly knew their stuff more than EMI, who chose to release Walking on Thin Ice instead, and whilst I like that song and it has a cool video:
…and I bought the limited edition Japanese gatefold edition of the 7″ with free badge, it just didn’t have the same potential as Fast Forward Futurama. They also dispensed with the colourful military-style outfits, which was another mistake.
When they released Look at the Hits on That! they did a version of FFF with Manda Rin from Bis, which you could find on YouTube even though you couldn’t find the original. I mean, that version is OK, but to not have the original up there was criminal, so I had to right that wrong myself.
Oh and look what other gems YouTube throws up!
Go to 2.58 for Jo and Tina doing the Reynolds Girls. AMAZING.
Long blog post is long, but I’m not ashamed. I bloody loved Fuzzbox and Jo Dunne was a huge part of that. It’s the least I can do to honour her memory.
So goodbye Jo, thanks for everything, and much love to Maggie and your family (and to Tina and Vickie and your other friends and former band mates). You had such a big impact on me and I’ll never forget you.