Cherry Vanilla, The Police – Top of the World, Stafford 11th April 1977
This was one of the very early punk nights (if not the very first) at Stafford’s Top of the World, a Mecca owned establishment which hosted run-of-the mill disco’s at weekends and have band nights during the week. I’d only been here once before to see Cado Belle, a competent Scottish soul /funk outfit who were highly acclaimed but were later blown away by punk rock. A year earlier Bob Marley and the Wailers played here.
So the arrival of New Yorker Cherry Vanilla was quite a baptism of fire for the good folk of Stafford. Having adorned the cover of Zig Zag magazine and given the thumbs up by Sniffin’ Glue fanzine the vaudevillian and sexually explicit singer arrived on a wave of hype. Already in her thirties and with a colourful history of working with Andy Warhol, as a publicist for David Bowie and a self-proclaimed ‘groupie’ to boot, the punk scene was a perfect platform for the brash performance artist /singer to climb on to . Having caused a stir in New York, mostly through gigs at the famed Max’s Kansas City club, she was encouraged by record business entrepreneur Miles Copeland to try her luck in the UK. Cherry Vanilla sold her worldly possessions to finance her move to London, secured a record deal with RCA and with the help of Copeland recruited a backing band that included Sting and his brother, the drummer Stewart (Copeland). Following some showcase gigs in London, including the Roxy, the band was sent on the road to cause shock and roll in the provinces.
The Police opened up the show with Sting and Stewart Copeland joined by original Police guitarist Henry Padovani. I’m pretty certain they were billed as the ‘New York Police’, but either way they produced a lively set that included their spiky debut single ‘Fall Out’. Mercifully I can confirm there was definitely no hint of any cod reggae which would of course launch the trio into stratospheric superstardom. After a short break Cherry Vanilla entered the stage complete with her black leotard, black stockings and her infamous ‘Lick Me’ t-shirt. It was a pretty mental set, loud and for many of the young teenage punks present was probably the closest they had been to a live sex show. Interviewed in 2007 this is how Cherry Vanilla saw herself at the time.
“I was sexual and I didn’t mind being portrayed that way. I found the whole stance in the UK to be a fraud, a pose, but an exciting and entertaining pose. They were all sexual too, but they were pretending they were all political and they decided it wasn’t cool to be sexy. I was probably the most honest of the punks. We were all young, we had hormones raging, we were sexual, them in their twenties and me in my thirties, we were all fucking our brains out and getting high. I was singing about it without any shame”.
RCA were pretty keen to cash in on her punk credentials and singles entitled ‘The Punk’ and ‘Bad Girl’ bore testimony to this. With much of her image and hype derived from the entertaining live shows it was always going to be difficult to translate to vinyl and so it proved. In the same interview with punk77 she explains where she was musically.
“l was doing rock & roll and pop music and all that it encompasses. I had written a track called “The Punk,” which is actually very much a pop song which says simply “I wanna rock & roll, I wanna be a punk.” I was a punk in life. I did what I wanted, broke rules, was as bad as the boys and I was rocking’ and rollin.’ And just like country, folk, jazz, reggae had been included in the rock & roll umbrella earlier, at the time of punk much pop and all of the elements of rock & roll were included under that umbrella for many artists and bands. I was invited there and I went there. It was punk time, so they called me punk. My song “The Punk” was my most popular song, so the association was made”.
This may be so, but very few bought the single and NME described it as ‘gutless pop-muzak’ and derided Cherry Vanilla for ‘desperately trying to clamber aboard a bandwagon that got towed to the scrap yard many moons ago’. So after her initial burst of activity Cherry Vanilla’s credibility crashed to no more than a novelty act and after her two albums bombed she went back to the States and ended up with another career path – representing international musician and composer Vangelis.Cherry Vanilla’s autobiography, unsurprisingly called ‘Lick Me’, was published late last year. I’m sure it’s very entertaining.
(c) Jim Heath at junkarchive.co.uk/