❉ It’s Goldfrapp before Goldfrapp! The complete works of ‘70s band Fox under one roof.
As a label whose reissues are associated with both value for money repackages and a home for long forgotten or second division bands of yesteryear that have often slipped through cracks in the ‘approved’ rock and pop canon, Cherry Red Records have been delivering the goods with their ‘albums’ collections of glam and punk also-rans; nifty repackages of select bands’ albums (in miniature replica LP sleeves) bundled together with a gap-plugging bonus disc and an informative booklet liberally illustrated with vintage picture sleeve art, all under one roof for less than a score apiece. Remarkably good value for ’70s pop obscurists and completists!
Cherry Red’s latest offering in this range, ‘The Fox Box’, covers the recorded work of the band Fox, who enjoyed a number of catchily commercial yet eccentric hit singles during their mid ‘70s heyday – Imagine Me, Imagine You, He’s Got Magic, Only You Can, and the sibilant-heavy S-S-Single Bed – as well as a freak minor hit in the early ‘80s with Electro People, the theme song for ‘The Kenny Everett Show’.
The voice and face of Fox was vocalist Noosha Fox (real name Susan Traynor), who made quite an impression on teenage male fans with her wistful, fey demeanour; bewitching, breathy vocals and ‘30s starlet glamour straight out of a Biba catalogue or Nova fashion shoot. This alluring combination of the fey and whimsical, coy and seductive, ethereal and kooky made her something of a forerunner for Stevie Nicks, Kate Bush and most strikingly Alison Goldfrapp, whose ‘Strict Machine’ era incarnation – all retro glam chic and silky, sensual, half-whispered vocals – was uncannily reminiscent of Noosha in her heyday.
But the real mastermind behind Fox, as this collection makes clear, was its ringleader, songwriter and producer Kenny Young, who was responsible for all three Fox studio albums and their attendant singles, and whose career spanned the hit factory of Brill Building in the ‘60s, including some of Bernadette Peters’ first recordings, through to Quincy Jones’ Ai No Corrida (co-written by Young and the Blockheads’ Chaz Jankel) and The Bug, a 1999 dance hit for Face on Mars. The full range of Young’s impressive musical career is given prominence in the Fox Box’s accompanying booklet, with a three page sleevenote from the man himself providing a gloss of his career and an extensive interview with Spectropop’s Brent Cash offering full chapter and verse.
The key to Fox’s short-lived but fertile lifespan was the killer combo of Young’s pop savvy and proficiency as an arranger and producer, and the hypnotic spell of Noosha’s dreamy vocals. As Kenny Young notes in the booklet, it was “a sonic marriage of music and voice.”
Their first recording, the calypso-flavoured Only You Can, with Noosha’s eccentric, unforgettable vocal delivery front and centre – of which Young proudly notes, “John Peel raved about (it) on his show before it was even released!” – landed them a deal with Dick Leahy’s GTO Records label, and Fox was born, releasing three albums in as many years: ‘Fox’ (1975), ‘Tails of Illusion’ (1976) and ‘Blue Hotel’ (1977), all included here with bonus tracks.
Of these three originals, ‘Fox’ and ‘Blue Hotel’ are worth the price of admission alone and recommended if you haven’t experienced the charm of Noosha and friends, with Noosha’s playful, coquettish vocals floating over slick pop that takes in stately chamber orchestra vignettes reminiscent of Tony Visconti’s string arrangements for T. Rex (The More), playful experiments with calypso and reggae (He’s Got Magic), lazy ballads in the then-current vein of Manhattan Transfer or Bette Midler’s retro cabaret-pop (Dejenina), and kitschy power pop not a million miles from 10cc or Cockney Rebel Mk.I (Red Letter Day).
Lyrics-wise, unless Noosha is purring coyly about offering her gentleman friend a bunk up in her s-s-s-single bed or other smokily seductive endeavours (including a memorable take on ‘40s standard Love Letters, itself covered not once but twice by Elvis Presley in the ‘60s), the lyrical content doesn’t really bear close scrutiny – as with a lot of contemporary pop outside of glam rock’s anthemic chants and space-age fantasy, there’s a lot of effete, post-hippy, sixth form poetry gibberish about ‘Pisces babies’, ‘patient Tigers’ and suchlike.
But that’s almost beside the point of Fox’s appeal, you don’t sit down and listen to ‘Fox’ or ‘Blue Hotel’ to rigorously scrutinise the lyric sheet, it’s more a kind of ‘70s mood music, something to let wash over you in a slightly stoned, Sunday afternoon hazy ambience, the aural equivalent of photographer David Hamilton’s soft-focus, softcore erotica ‘art’ movies like ‘Bilitis’ (1977) or ‘Laura’ (1979), or indeed the Biba catalogues and Nova photoshoots that clearly informed Noosha’s none-more-70s Laura Ashley-meets-‘Witchcraft Today’ image.
The joker in the pack, nestled between these two albums in chronological order, is ‘Tails of Illusion’. ‘Tails’ was something of a personal project for Young, who – having recently enjoyed a holiday in Bali and consequently fallen in love with its colourful wildlife and the “klanklink and tinklink frenzy” of Bali’s native Gamelan music – wanted to pay tribute to the exotic island that had bewitched him, and is evident all over the package, from the cover art and native song titles (Kupa Kupa, Howjda, Yuli Yuli) to the ethnically flavoured arrangements. In all fairness, Young was ahead of the ‘world music’ curve of the ‘80s, before the liberal buzzword ‘cultural appropriation’ made such ventures unfashionable and ‘problematic’, however well-intended.
‘Tails of Illusion’ lacks the appeal of its bedfellows in two important respects: Firstly, unless you share Young’s passion for all things Balinese, this foray into musical ethnography isn’t as immediately accessible as its pop-savvy siblings, and sidelining Noosha Fox to allow other band members to share the stage messes with a winning formula. In the booklet’s notes, Young concedes: “In hindsight, (letting other bandmembers sing) may have been a foolish move, as Noosha was really the voice behind Fox and that’s what the fans expected.”
As with previous volumes in this range that have focused on members of the Bell Records stable, the box set is rounded off with a generously stuffed bonus disc, ‘Images’, which, in addition to the bonus tracks appended to each album (identical to Cherry Red’s 2004 standalone reissues) provides pretty much everything a Fox fanatic could require. ‘Images’, cherry picks the highlights of 2014’s 2-CD ‘Images 1974-1978’ whittled down to a single disc.
Here you’ll find all the singles and their attendant B sides, including the aforementioned Electro People and its memorably titled flip, If You Don’t Want My Peaches (Don’t Shake My Tree), orphan tracks from other Kenny Young projects, and Noosha’s cover of Captain Of Your Ship. In case you’re wondering, Noosha’s 1977 solo hit Georgina Bailey, which those of you with long memories and short trousers may recall, is appended to 1975’s ‘Fox’; Noosha’s other solo hit, the totally tropical The Heat Is On (which became Agnetha Faltskog’s first post-ABBA single) is absent entirely, which is a bit of a pity but nobody said life is fair.
In summary, then, ‘The Fox Box’ is a nifty little package that rounds up this quirky, eclectic pop outfit’s back catalogue under one roof at a bargain price, including one bona fide minor classic of ‘70s glam-pop; fans and collectors of ‘70s pop ephemera (who are pretty much Cherry Red’s target market with this range) will want to add this to their CD library to spend a few hours under the spell of Noosha Fox.
If you’re a Fox fan who’s already punted out for the original albums when Cherry Red reissued them in 2004, you could be tempted to double up for the well-stuffed bonus disc which includes single tracks lifted from superior sources to previous releases and the accompanying booklet with its fulsome recollections from Young.
❉ ‘The Fox Box’ (CRCDMBOX28) was released by Cherry Red Records on 27 January 2017, RRP £16.99.
❉ Kenny Young was the founder of Rhythms Del Mundo, a project created by Artists Project Earth to raise awareness of the impact of climate change and to fund organisations that are actively doing something about it. All projects are directly funded from sales of Rhythms Del Mundo albums, with over 1.5 million sales worldwide. Proceeds from the sales of these albums have so far funded over 360 projects from coral reef restoration to agroforestry projects in Brazil. The new ‘Plastic Oceans’ CD is to be released in early 2017 to help save our oceans. To find out more about these inspiring projects visit: http://www.apeuk.org/projects