By the time brothers Richard and Fred Fairbrass formed Right Said Fred in 1989 the pair were already music business veterans, having played in countless bands since the ’70s.
But it was two more years before their debut single took the world by storm. Written with third member Rob Manzoli, the infectious dance-pop of I’m Too Sexy topped the charts in Australia and the US among others, but was famously held off the top spot in their home country by Bryan Adams’ record-breaking run with (Everything I Do) I Do It For You.
Other hits like Don’t Talk Just Kiss and Deeply Dippy followed as they racked up sales of 20m records and won a brace of Ivor Novello Awards.
While they’ve never hit those commercial heights again, they’ve ploughed on and earlier this year the brothers released their seventh album Exactly, and next weekend they play at the Jack Up The ’80s Festival near Ryde on the Isle of Wight.
The new album, their first in six years, and its ensuing tour has seen the Fairbrasses reassess the way they’ve been working.
‘We’ve spent a lot of time doing public appearances in Europe,’ says Richard. ‘It pays the bills, but after a while it’s artistically stunting.
When you have a hit record it doesn’t really belong to just you any more, it also belongs to all of the people who bought it.Richard Fairbrass of Right Said Fred
‘It took us nowhere. Once we’d done the new album and we realised that without the backing of major label money, or doing a lot of grovelling, it was almost impossible to get the album heard. We got through lots of doors initially in the UK, but that was as celebrities rather than musicians, so we just stopped doing it.
‘We were haemorrhaging money and going nowhere fast, so we decided to invest what money we had into putting a live band together, which is what we’ve done.
‘We’ve done some tours in Europe as a full band, and here in the early days, but in the past Fred and I never really spent much time thinking about the sound that it made – that sounds ridiculous, I know – we gave everyone the CD and they copied it.
‘This has been the first time that the band has actually sat down and done some proper preproduction and looked at how we want to change songs, how we want to change grooves – we’ve been much more hands on with this than just handing the project over to people and reproducing what’s on the album.
‘It’s more fun, we’re in the music business, we’re not in the celebrity business.’
But that’s not to say they take themselves too seriously.
‘No, well you can’t possibly, if you’ve seen me onstage, you can’t possibly take me seriously,’ laughs Richard. ‘Fred and I feel really strongly about the music we write. Sadly the charts are full of music that’s not made with any real love or affection. I’m a big fan of eccentricity too and we don’t have much of that these days either.’
Celebrity culture isn’t something Richard has much time for, even though he admits they fell prey to being part of it for a time.
‘We have suffered under the celebrity thing. For some years, and when we were doing that in the early years and waving at the cameras at the premieres, we didn’t realise it was happening. You trust people around you and you think they’ve got your best interest at heart – which they obviously haven’t. Then five or 10 years later you turn around and realise, “Oh my god, I’m in this place”, which is what happened to us. We found ourselves in this weird place where we were celebrities and part of this Rewind circuit, but we were absolutely determined not to go down that route. That’s not a criticism of anyone else who wants to do it, it just wasn’t right for us.’
And as to the song that sent them on that path?
‘I’ve never once not wanted to play it in 26 years, not once. It always cheers me up, and Deeply Dippy too, they both cheer me up, I love both of them. We worked with another songwriter some years ago, and one thing he said, which I think is true, is that when you have a hit record it doesn’t really belong to just you any more, it also belongs to all of the people who bought it. So when you get some artists who won’t play their biggest song, I don’t think they have any right to do that – it’s no longer their song alone. I’ve got no time for that, if they can’t be bothered to play their biggest hits they should stay at home.’
And Richard is an old romantic when it comes to the power of a good pop song.
‘I love pop music, I love all music, but I love pop music because it can touch people in such a profound way, and it’s far too serious an artistic genre to be left in the hands of some artists and promoters whose names I won’t mention, but it’s a really important endeavour and it should be treated seriously but not seriously at the same time.
‘Brian Wilson was on the radio the other night playing God Only Knows. It’s as good as anything The Beatles ever wrote, it’s as good as Mozart ever wrote. I think people should be a bit more respectful of pop music,
‘That’s typified by an old interview between Michael Parkinson and Buddy Rich who were a pair of up-their-backsides, stuck-up, don’t-we-know-all-about-music and isn’t-pop-music-rubbish, snobs. I can’t stand that attitude, it makes me heave, because pop is wonderful.’
* Jack Up The’80s is at Smallbrook Stadium, near Ryde on the Isle of Wight from August 11-13. Tickets cost £10.80 for Friday’s opening party, £41 for a Saturday or Sunday day ticket, or £59 for the weekend. Go to jackupthe80s.co.uk.