Interview: 1980-01-01: Tourists: The Tourists: Overcoming A Bad Press (AM)

The Tourists: Overcoming A Bad Press
Cynthia Rose, A.M., 1980

THE TOURISTS ARE A BAND WHO feel they?ve proved that pressures to conform and problems of access needn?t be insuperable barriers. They were founded two years ago, by singer Annie Lennox, who left her native Aberdeen to study at The Royal College of Music in London, and two musician friends, Peet Coombes and Dave Stewart.

The trio wrote some acoustic material together and landed themselves a deal with Logo Records as writers. “At the same time,” says Lennox, “we heard about Conny Plank through a friend who was going out to Germany to record and the three of us went over there, still doing our acoustic stuff. Conny gave us two or three hours of studio time and we were able to work with a drummer and an electric guitarist. We decided that was the way we wanted to go, but as soon as we got back to London there were tremendous hassles with our record company.”

She admits that the excitement of Conny?s studio ? as the man who recorded Kraftwerk, Eno, Neu, Devo, and assorted other trend setting names, Plank?s stock at the time could not have been higher ? was infectious and helped carry them through their subsequent problems.

“We were already committed to our record contract, so we had to negotiate a new management deal with our original record company. During this time we were also getting ourselves together as a group and we all had to sign on; we had absolutely no money.”

The new recruits who finalized the lineup were Malaysian bassist Eddie Chinn and drummer Jim Toomey, a London session veteran. Dave Stewart named the group, inspired by “the Tourist Information Centre near Piccadilly seen from a doubledecker bus.” He?s careful to point out, though, that the name is “just a solid name, not chosen for any big symbolic reasons. It?s not like Bowie?s The Lodger, we?re not trying to indicate transience or statelessness. At the time, we could have had any of a billion punky names ? we wanted something to indicate that we weren?t tied to a particular perspective.”

In November 1978, everything happened for The Tourists. “We signed our final contract on a Friday,” says Lennox, “and we flew to Cologne to record with Conny on the Saturday. And it wasn?t until that same Friday before we left that Eddie actually got his passport.” (Chinn, whose situation somewhat resembled that of Patti Smith?s refugee Czech guitarist, Ivan Kral, was the veteran of eight straight years of immigration hassles).

Once in Germany, the pressure was on. Although they had built up a mass of material during their enforced layoff, the band had a mere three weeks in which to bang out their debut album ? or see it delayed another five months. Working with Plank, in the modest studio which had become an artistic Mecca, there were other bands clamouring to get in from all sides. “There was more that we wanted to do and more Conny wanted to do,” Lennox concedes, “but it was just such a rush, even the machines had to press full out to get it on the market. And Germany turned out to be a bit strange. I?m not sure whether it is the great new place for music after all ? the Germans can?t sing in German commercially just now, you know, and that was obviously a big hangup for them.”

The Tourists began their onslaught on live audiences as the support band on Roxy Music?s comeback tour ? a situation they recall as somewhat tense. “There was a lot at stake for Roxy personally and professionally,” says Stewart.

At this point, The Tourists had issued two singles: the folkish ?Blind Among The Flowers? and the strong but simplistic ?Loneliest Man In The World?. Despite minor chart success with the latter, an expanding audience of fans and a slot on The Old Grey Whistle Test, the band found themselves up against a solid wall of critical disfavour.

It culminated around the time of their appearance at The Reading Festival, when John Peel went to the trouble of putting in print an assurance that his unwillingness to broadcast their work was due to disinterest rather than personal dislike.

“We got nothing but stick,” recalls Lennox. “We?ve been called everything you can imagine. If we?d had no past and emerged with a style, we?d have been slotted right in, but the music press kept saying, ?they reach for this. They reach for that; they lack direction, they?re trying every conceivable influence.? And once the attitude?s in the bag, it?s all stitched up. The freedom of the individual to create is out of the window immediately . . . I mean first we?re ?Power-Pop?, then ?Post-Modern?, then they?re eclectic?.

“I feel that we got a backlash because when the press ? or anyone else ? try to label you and the label doesn?t stick, or when the powers that be have run through a fashion and exhausted it, then they?ll turn on anyone who looks like a likely target. You enjoy a bit of this and you try a bit of that and immediately ?you?ve got no direction?. The pressure of the media and its exposure in that way on new bands or young bands is tremendous.”

“And they?re so patronizing to women,” she notes. “One critic came round to see me and he said to me, ?We want to help women in rock, we want to do a piece on you? … in the most condescending way possible. And of course they do something and six pages later there?s a picture of Debbie Harry?s bum. It?s so fucking hypocritical, that.

“I know there?s no total subtlety anywhere in rock, but you can make room for a little intelligence. ?Women in rock? ? if you say that you?ve already said they?re something separate.”

Despite the critical onslaught they were facing, September found the band back in the studio, at work on the album which would become Reality Effect. Unlike The Tourists album, on which all writing was down to Peet Coombes, Reality Effect contains the hit-single cover of Dusty Springfield?s I Only Want To Be With You and also Circular Fever, a tight buzzsaw of a contribution from Dave Stewart.

Reality Effect was produced by Tom Allom and under his guidance The Tourists? wide musical interests have found a much smoother, more graceful coherence; Allom has also brought to the fore their actual musical expertise and given them more defined edges, venturing into that harder rock which forms perhaps the most effective constituent of the live show.

With a Top 10 single and a steady, devoted following, The Tourists now feel, as Lennox puts it: “We?ve proved something important ? that the right to be creative and the right to discriminate in one?s taste are both individual options.”

And the future? “Well, I can?t deny that in working within the music business, we?re shaking hands with the capitalist system, all the things we hate about the music business ? the ligging and the phonies and the media and that sort of pressure.

“But I don?t want to change my values. We just want to provide quality work ? and I don?t mean quality coming from status or wealth or success, but quality conferred by the eye and ear of the beholder.”

? Cynthia Rose, 1980