The duo behind I’m Too Sexy are back – but they never really went away, they tell Ed Power.
In the summer of 1991, Richard Fairbrass received a phone call at the London gym where he worked.
“It was a reporter from a newspaper wanting to know if I had any opinion on the imprisonment of [Middle East hostage] Terry Waite,” he says.
“I was flabbergasted. My opinion on Terry Waite had no value yesterday. But because I’m Too Sexy is going up the charts suddenly I’m supposed to be an expert.”
Fairbrass and his brother Fred were at that moment slaying the top ten with their unlikely anthem I’m Too Sexy. The song was inescapable, rocketing to number one across Europe and North America and turning the shaven-headed duo into unlikely stars.
So sudden was the ascent the siblings had yet to quit their day jobs.
Overnight fame was something with which they were still coming to terms.
“Success is weird,” says Richard, aged 63, who brings Right Said Fred to a new audience with new album, Exactly!
(They were due to perform in Ireland, for a headline performance at the Bare in the Woods festival in June, until the event was cancelled this week.)
“It’s not what you expect. It isn’t as glamorous as you think it’s going to be. It’s a lot more stressful than you expect. Things happen that you don’t anticipate. Such as receiving a phone call at work about Terry Waite.”
I’m Too Sexy was a glorious fluke. Jobbing musicians since the late Seventies, by 1991 the Fairbrass brothers had long since put their dreams of pop glory on hold.
Sexy was written as a lark – it began with Richard gazing into a gym mirror singing “I’m too sexy” – and nobody in the London music industry wanted to touch it.
In the age of grunge, it was just too wacky.
“We couldn’t get it placed anywhere,” says Fairbrass.
“The feedback from America is that it could never be a hit because it starts with a vocal. DJs couldn’t talk over it. At that point we had no money so we couldn’t change it – it was a case of, ‘like it or lump it’.
Yet the public embraced I’m Too Sexy and the brothers’ playful personas. The difficulty was that, without a record label or any of the usual infrastructure, Right Said Fred were completely unprepared for what happened next.
“It was chaos,” says Fairbrass.
“Our record label wasn’t actually a record label – they were radio pluggers. Our manager was our guitarist’s girlfriend. We had no stylist, no budget. We were making it all up as we went.”
At the same time, Right Said Fred’s overnight success was decades in the making.
In the post punk era, the Fairbrass brothers had played in numerous underground rock bands and toured with acts such as Joy Division and Suicide.
Later, Fairbrass knocked around with David Bowie, appearing as a bassist in the video for Blue Jean. Years afterwards, when Bowie bumped into him at a London television studio, he assumed Fairbrass was working as a cabbie and had come to collect a fare.
“We’d never seriously considered ourselves pop stars, “ he says.
“I wasn’t as pretty as some of the guys in Duran Duran. It probably wasn’t going to happen for us. I loved pop music but never saw myself as part of it.
"When we recorded I’m Too Sexy we never thought anyone would buy it. The whole music business would be far more straightforward if everyone just admitted you can’t predict anything.”
Ironically, when I’m Too Sexy came along the pair were assumed to be a manufactured pop act, down to their shaved pates and gym bunny physiques.
“We’d shaved our heads two years previously. For five years we’d trained in gyms. The reason we took our shirts off in the video is that we didn’t have enough money for a second pair of shirts. It was either take the shirts off or buy new ones.”
Right Said Fred have had their moments since I’m Too Sexy. Released 12 months later, Deeply Dippy was another massive smash.
And even after the hits dried up in Ireland, Britain and the US they remained hugely popular on the Continent. They’ve never stopped plugging away and are about to release a new album Exactly, which they will be bringing on the road over the summer.
Moreover, their determination not to be trapped in the past is underscored by their response to the 25th anniversary, in 2016, of I’m Too Sexy.
“We were asked to do remixes of I’m Too Sexy, which we turned down. We didn’t want it to look as if we were trading on our catalogue. We are happy to celebrate the longevity of the track – I don’t think there are that many pop single that have lasted that long. But we were against re-releasing it and trading on old glories.”
Selling lots of singles in the mid nineties was hugely lucrative. However, the profits had to be shared three ways between the brothers and their then guitarist Ray Weston.
What money remained has been ploughed back into Right Said Fred. They were never in a position to afford ivory backscratchers or a garage stuffed with exotic cars.
The breakthrough of I’m Too Sexy and Deeply Dippy furthermore carried a bittersweet tinge for Richard. He’s gay and exiting the closet as an entertainer in 1991 wasn’t necessarily straightforward.
He worried about the people close to him, in particular his boyfriend (since deceased) and his mother.
“In my personal life it was a very big deal. I’d been with Stuart for 10 years and we’d have a very private life. There were implications for him.
“My family knew – but my mum didn’t. My dad had already passed away and it was difficult for her.”
The one regret is that he and his brother went overboard promoting I’m Too Sexy.
Rather than taking the song across the globe, they should have stayed in the UK and focused on building their reputation as a credible album act.
“Sexy was number one in 27 countries.
“The mistake we made – because we didn’t have the experience of a label – was to chase a hit record all over the world. We should have been at home concentrating on what happened next.
“By that point, there was nothing we could have done to help I’m Too Sexy. It had taken on a life of its own.”
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