Writz became a fixture on the post-punk London scene, headlining at major venues including the Marquee Club. Outright commercial success was elusive but 1979 single Night Nurse (produced by 10cc’s Kevin Godley and Lol Creme) was a minor hit and was followed by the album Writz. The band – now Famous Names – played in the Dennis Potter LWT production Cream In My Coffee, before folding in 1981. Many of the band and crew moved on to other musical projects, most notably lighting designer Willie Williams, who went on to become an integral part of the U2 entourage, sound engineer Ken Watts, who is George Michael’s tour director, and monitor engineer John Roden, whose clients now include Paul McCartney.
Rising phoenix-like from the ashes of Fish Co, the distinctly post-punk art-school Writz sought to take fans to unexplored areas of aural and visual delights. The Fairnie-Rowles-Sage core was now ably complemented by former After The Fire stalwart Nick Battle on bass, the interestingly named Arry Axel on drums – the former soon went on to a number of solo and group projects with varying degrees of success and the latter famously shaved off his eye-brows for no apparent reason… photographic evidence exists somewhere – and Fish Co veteran Jules Hardwick on lead guitar, a talented, creative and innovative musician whose contribution to the band was hugely influential.
Despite a rapidly-growing following in London, outright commercial success was elusive. 1979 single ‘Night Nurse’ was a minor hit though, and the band even played a bit-part in the Dennis Potter LWT production ‘Cream In My Coffee’. An eponymous album on Electric followed. For legal reasons (a US band with a similar name), the moniker had to be dropped and by 1980 the group had become Famous Names , Les Cargo replacing Battle on bass. The LP was re-christened ‘The Writz Album’ and Famous Names went on to release a lone single, Holiday Romance. A bona fide Famous Names record (the now-mythical ‘Venetian Blind’) was made but remains unreleased to this day.
Writer Stewart Henderson was impressed by their set as headliners at that year’s Greenbelt festival: “… as the chill night air stalked the site watched by a polished black sky, Fairnie, Rowles, Bev, Jules, Les and Arry came strutting out to turn a gaping audience sideways, upside down and finally into human pogo sticks with a gig of searing musical intensity and brilliant showmanship… Their spectacular encore consisted of Fairnie playing a hi-tech Goebbels beseeching the crowd to improve themselves whilst behind him the lovely Bev Sage led a group of PT exercising super race aspirants all dressed in ghastly white as a backing tape of anthemic voices chorused, ‘you must, you must improve yourselves’…”
While the flight case containing stage props had hitherto contained little more than a fake electric guitar with a bendy rubber neck, Famous Names were now going on tour with circus troupes. Dancers, acrobats, fire-eaters, you name it, they were probably on stage.
By 1981, the Famous Names set-up had run its course. Steve Rowles particularly was feeling the brunt of the band’s financial difficulties (not helped by the fact that a £30,000 cheque from the record label bounced…). He allegedly sold his soul to the Tweets and dressed up as a bird on TOTP for hard cash. Bev went into the studio to record ‘Falling In Love Again’ with Steve producing, and what emerged was the first Techno Twins venture, one of two radically different directions that were then to run simultaneously: pop duo the Techno Twins and electronic music & art collective Casualtease. Meanwhile the Writz/Famous Names legacy is that of having moved the goalposts of rock performance. Several inches either way. Why, even Boy George was a fan and rarely missed a London show. Just think: no Writz = no Culture Club. How scary is that?
Writz reformed for a one-off surprise gig at Bristol’s Hope Centre on 16th March 1991. Fairnie had been lured out for what he thought was a Chinese meal to celebrate his 40th birthday, and ended up on stage for a half-hour set. The lyrics were fumbled in places, the moves weren’t quite as smooth as in the old days, but what the heck. For one evening it felt like it was 1980 all over again.