I ARRIVE, two hours late, outside a church in North London. I push open the huge wooden door and find myself being smiled at by Dave Stewart, looking a lot less ominous than he does in pictures. “You must be Johnny Black,” he tells me, inviting me in. “It’s my new religion, Blackism.”
For a moment I assume I’m being got at but, as Dave leads me through the warren of offices, dance studios, recording studios and other creative areas within the converted church, the true meaning of “Blackism” is quietly explained.
“It started off when I painted my bedroom black about three months ago,” he says as we wander through to a reception area where Annie Lennox is busily choosing photographs of the band to be sent to America. “You see, I was manager of the band, as well as writing the music and everything. My flat was knee-deep in files and papers, and every morning I’d wake up to phone calls and bike messengers banging on me door. I was going spare.”
To halt this creeping insanity, Dave and Annie bought the lease on part of a disused local church and began the process of turning it into their Creative Business Centre. Once all the files, computers, synthesisers and most of the furniture had been carted off to the church, Dave reacted to his new freedom by having his bedroom painted black. Annie looks up from the floor. “I was worried about him then. Thought it was a bit psychologically doubtful.”
Dave smiles at her indulgently and continues. “So that’s how I relax. Everything is black. Even a standard lamp with a black Chinaman’s hat.”
“It’s all very odd,” adds Annie. “Especially that black and white chequered bedcover. It looks like something out of a nightmare.”
“So that’s where Blackism comes from,” says Dave. “When life gets a bit too squiffy I go in the black room and chant Hare Krishna backwards,” he adds with no hint of a smile. I decide not to ask if he’s serious, but by this time we’re discussing Annie’s sense of interior decor.
It transpires that Annie recently painted her bathroom bright pink with little white clouds. All of this activity seems to be related to the fact that, since the success of ‘Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This)’, Eurythmics have taken hold of themselves and refused to let success control their lives. Instead, they ploughed their money back into the band.
“It annoys me sometimes,” says Annie, “that people tend to focus on me as the centre of the band, but Dave really has most of the ideas for the music and the videos. He’s the real strength.”
Dave attempts to deny this. “Oh no, everything’s shared in this partnership. Right down the middle,” he says, “Sixty-Forty,” then bursts out laughing as he realises his slip of the tongue.
One thing they don’t share any more is the same house. For some time they lived together, but their emotional breakup didn’t affect their creative partnership. “Even though our relationship was over, we were so creatively linked together that we never even considered splitting up musically,” insists Dave. “Although we did think about getting married once.”
Annie has a fit of giggles. “You know the way Abba always used their love lives for publicity?” she explains. “Well, RCA offered that if we would get married, they’d hire a ship and fly journalists out to it for a huge reception. We considered getting married and then starting divorce proceedings the next day, but it didn’t seem worth it.”
Since their breakup, Annie has been seen frequently in the company of photographer Peter Ashworth, whose work turns up in these very pages, but any attempt to establish their closeness is met with a polite but very firm “no comment — and you can print that”. She’s equally — and understandably — guarded about the curious (and quite definitely unfounded) suggestion that seems to be circulating that she used to be male and has had a sex change. “Oh, that’s not a bad rumour,” she laughs, exchanging a knowing grin with Dave, obviously quite content to let it keep on going.
Manipulation of their image is a vital part of the Eurythmics’ mystique, setting shambolic Dave against severely macho Annie. Like everything else, it didn’t happen by accident.
“The thing is, we had been so stitched up when we started out as the Tourists in ’78, and even as Eurythmics at the beginning, we just had to take things into our own hands,” recalls Annie. “That line in ‘Sweet Dreams’ about being ‘used and abused’ refers directly to my own experiences. Not just in love, but in this business too. Right at the beginning Dave said to me, ‘Annie we must have a manifesto’, so we wrote down all the things we liked to do on a big sheet of paper.”
“That way,” interrupts Dave, “we’d be sure that if we got famous it would be on our terms, doing something we enjoyed.”
Once Dave and Annie get the double act going, your bemused reporter is obliged to sit back and listen, eyes flicking from one to the other like a man watching a high speed action replay of Wimbledon.
“What I like is performing, changing my image, writing lyrics, making videos, so I’m always in the forefront . . .” says Annie.
“. . . whereas I prefer fiddling around in studios until the early hours of the morning, making funny noises, building up backing tracks, dreaming up ideas for videos . . .” says Dave.
“So when we get together, we’ve always got a lot to discuss. That’s how we write the songs too . . .” says one of them.
“I have a sort of collage of musical ideas and she has a lot of words and images and we just sort of marry it all together in the studio,” says the other one.
Eventually, they wind down, and I’m allowed another question. Hesitantly I ask what they’re working on right now.
“Well, we’re between albums, so we’re putting together a video which features identical puppets of me and Annie and a model of this church. Lots of clever cutting where the puppet of Annie goes through a door and becomes the real Annie on the other side, or the puppet of me throws a baton into the air and when it comes down it is caught by the real me and I’m conducting a gospel choir in a beautiful Turkish Bath.”
If that last sentence sounded quite coherent, that’s because I missed out the bit about how the baton originally belonged to the North Nibley Choral Society in 1922. And the bit where Dave went into a sports shop in Cleveland, Ohio, to buy a pair of roller skates and came out with a stuffed, life-size black Scottie dog (ideal for the Blackist room). And the fact that they’re so busy they’ve had to turn down the British dates on the David Bowie tour.
“I’m also collecting parking tickets,” announces Dave with obvious delight. I hear a groan from behind me and turn to see their manager opening a drawer and pulling out a huge handful. “That’s only this week!”
Having asked about half the things I’d carefully planned, I switch off my recorder and take my leave, hoping my sanity will eventually return. And making a mental note: next time bring twice as much tape.
© Johnny Black, 1983