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  Are They Listening Yet?
An interview with Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard

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by Marcus Reeves 1998

Iain and Jane met at Goldsmith’s University on the Art and Art History and Cultural Theory course in 1992 and started collaborating in 1994. Iain is an obsessive indie music fan, who grew up "looking like Robert Smith" and has been to literally hundreds of gigs. Their extensive LP, CD and video collection takes up half the dining room of their cosy South-East London flat. Jane comes from a theatrical, stage-school background and longed as a child to perform, but describes her early taste in music as "desperate".

A Rock and Roll Suicide is Iain and Jane’s fifth live event, their largest and most ambitious so far. Their first was a similar event titled The World Won’t Listen(1996), an "anthropological experiment" which brought hard-core Smiths fans face-to-face with "art people". After The World Won’t Listen came Doing it for the Kids, another live performance in Liverpool, which featured Morrissey, Robert Smith, Damon Albarn, Kylie Minogue, Bowie and Jarvis Cocker on one bill (all tribute artists, of course), pushing the idea of a tribute band as far as it could go.

Jane: "Bowie and Robert Smith doing Ashes to Ashes was the highlight of the show, Bowie also duetted with Jarvis Cocker for Space Oddity and that deadpan Sheffield accent on the countdown worked beautifully."

Both Iain and Jane graduated from the course at Goldsmith’s in 1995. Jane describes their work as following two strands,

"We make work; objects, videos and photographs, but we also have an interest in the live music experience. This became a very logical progression of what we should do with our work, which has always been about us and things that mean something to us; what means the most to us is music."

One of their early pieces, I’ve Built My World Around You, is a collection of 100 different compilation tapes from Iain to Jane. This piece was one of their first which used the idea of music as what Jane calls "a universal aid for communication".

The Smiths Is Dead was their first event at the ICA, again using the Still Ills, the first tribute band they ever saw together. The Smiths Is Dead was a celebration of The Smiths on the tenth anniversary of their split. Oddly enough, it was the night of the Still Ills’ own split-up.

"It was almost like a convention, but we removed everything to do with The Smiths, (apart from the music). There were no pictures of The Smiths, only of Jason, our Morrissey, or things related to The Smiths. We had this half-arsed theory that if you removed everything to do with the original band, you’d invite the audience to think of their own individual memory of The Smiths and to ask ‘how do I interpret what I’m seeing?’. What we ended up with was almost like a tribute audience, they went absolutely sodding crazy. They ripped his shirt off, stole his glasses and tambourine, there was a stage invasion. It was as if they thought ‘let’s treat this brickie from Birmingham as if he IS Morrissey’. But then Jason makes me want to cry as much as everyone else!"

Their next project, The Kids are Alright featuring Who’s Who, was another live performance which featured a mass audience karaoke to a film made by the duo.

When they had come up with the idea for a Bowie/Jarvis version of Space Oddity, the idea for A Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide was born,

"That re-ignited a Bowie interest, a Ziggy interest really, we started going back to the Ziggy albums and listened to them again and again. A lot of our ideas happen in a pub-table chat kind of way, very rarely are they contrived in a studio. The anniversary was pure fluke; about a year ago we realised that 1998 would be twenty-five years to the day and we thought we had to do something about Ziggy. It also links into conversations about the gigs you really wish you’d been to; the Retirement gig has got to be in everyone’s top ten if not top five ‘wish I could have been at’ gigs."

Jane is very much the more vocal of the couple, but both have a firm mutual agenda;

Jane: "When we call ourselves artists, it’s just a term that conveniently happens to allows us to do an awful lot of things without needing to pigeon-hole them, it allows you a certain freedom. Our main aim has always been to be nothing but active, and live events are great for that."

Ian: "One of my biggest motivations is an absolute hatred of apathy, that’s the thing I hate most in the world, but it’s something that’s extremely common within art. I think it’s very difficult to go and see a live music event and not feel something one way or the other. You go to school and your parents teach you and society teaches you that music is totally accessible, that you can buy a record, put it on, play it and like it. It’s perfectly o. k. to make value judgments and choices and select your tastes and buy and listen to what you like. But the same system teaches you that art is some sort of great, mysterious, ludicrous, inaccessible thing that you can never understand. As artists, were trying to change something, trying to affect people and involve more people than are currently interested in art. Using live music, we can hopefully bring in people who have never experienced art, without shoving down their throats the fact that it is art."

Iain and Jane chose to put together a new band for the tribute gig, an interesting move;

"It would have been a commercial decision to have used Jean Genie, they are our favourite tribute band out there, one of the best tribute bands we’ve ever seen. First instinct, of course, is to go to those who do it well, but they said they wouldn’t feel comfortable doing it. So, we put out adverts, contacted agents and auditioned about twenty-five people of varying experience and quality. When you see shit-hot quality, walk through the door, knock your socks off and blow your mind away quality, you don’t turn it down. Steve Harvey stood head and shoulders above the rest. He played about twenty songs starting with Janine and a lot of early folky stuff and it was wonderful, it really captured you. But how can we say to people on a flyer ‘come, because you will not be disappointed’?"

The Band

Steve Harvey is a painter from London and will be playing Ziggy.

Iain and Jane have worked with the guitarist, Jonathan Coombes before, he is Pete Townsend in Who’s Who and he also has his own original band, Easy.

Jane: "He performs very well; he’s a show-off guitarist, he really gets off on being technically brilliant and letting everybody know that. He’s a massive asset to the band. To find a guitarist nowadays who is young but able to play in a way that is a suitable tribute to Mick Ronson is very difficult, but he does it very well."

Alan MacFeely is our bassist, he came to our attention via John and is in two bands at the moment, one of which is called Coma. He’s almost as much of a Bowie anorak as Steve, he’s into all the musical and performance details.

Our keyboardist, Tom Cawley is amazing and has just won the Young Jazz Musician of the Year award.

Silke Steidinger is our drummer and she is fantastic. Yes, we have a girl drummer. We kept saying ‘Woody looks like a girl- how are we going to find a man who looks that much like a girl?’ So, we thought why not use a girl; Steve recommended Silke and she is perfect, she’s a fantastic drummer. All of the band are dying to wear make-up. As Mick Jagger once said, you only have to ask an English bloke once if he wants to dress up and wear make-up!"

Both Iain and Jane and the whole band’s favourite song from the show is Moonage Daydream. "They love the energy of it, it’s just such a dynamic song, It’s beautifully placed in the set as well." In a spooky coincidence, it was also the Spiders’ favourite Ziggy-era song. Trevor Bolder said in 1976;

"Moonage Daydream, I think, had a lot of feel. I think it had more feel on_stage than it did on the album. When we used to do it on_stage it used to be fantastic. It really used to get the kids going. That would start the kids off. When they wanted to go _ we would do that number about four before the end and that would lift the audience up . I think the audience liked to hear it live. Every night you knew that Moonage Daydream was going to be the one that really lifted them."

Both Iain and Jane are rather sick of Space Oddity at the moment, as hearing over twenty renditions of varying quality in the auditions took its toll. Jane describes Five Years as her favourite Bowie song;

"Lyrically it’s fantastic, it’s got an excellent use of language. Also, it was the song that when Steve was auditioning, I began to well up, I got that tingly feeling. It was the moment I said to myself, ‘I really want him in the show’."

Iain and Jane are putting together a free programme for the show, featuring memories of Ziggy from numerous celebrities, including Wayne Hemingway, Paul Smith, Toyah and Neil Tennant. "Rather than telling people how they should access something, we wanted to present different opinions on the character."

As well as taking great pains over the band, Iain and Jane are going to great lengths to get as near to the original visual style of the gig. This will be helped by the re-creation of the costumes.

"Bowie himself owns all the original costumes used in the show, but Natasha Korniloff is the designer we’re using. She originally met Bowie through Lindsay Kemp and has worked with him throughout his career, most famously on the costumes for the Ashes to Ashes cover and video. She’s absolutely fantastic, she’s one of those amazing people that you meet and you’re just in awe of all the time, but she’s very understated, even though she often comes out with the most amazing stories about either David, or some of the other people she’s worked with, from Freddie Mercury or Ivana Trump, to Robbie Williams."

At twenty five, neither Jane nor Iain quite made it to the gig, but they can both remember their first encounter with Bowie’s music;

Iain: "I remember the first Bowie record I heard was Rebel Rebel. My dad had taken me to see some of my family and an older cousin of mine was upstairs, playing Rebel Rebel over and over again extremely loud, it was great."

Jane: "The red shoes in the Let’s Dance video. I also remember dancing away in my long nightie in front of Top of the Pops to Legs&co. dancing to a Bowie song, thinking "that man’s really beautiful".

As a final word on the gig, Jane said that she and Iain will personally ensure that A Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide is "a bloody good night out". From all accounts it’s well on it’s way and could be as exciting as the original gig. Bring your nighties!

---This page last modified: 12 Dec 2018---

Ziggy Stardust Scarf (1973)