Fiona Russell Powell
|Fiona Russell Powell|
|Also known as||Eden, Cooper O'Kelly (as poet)|
|Born||2 April 1962|
|Origin||England, United Kingdom|
|Years active||August 1984 - December 1985 as musician; 1982–present as journalist and writer|
|Associated acts||ABC, Vice Versa|
Fiona Russell Powell (born 2 April 1962) is a British journalist. She is best known for her series of interviews throughout the 1980s in The Face magazine. For a brief period in the mid-1980s, she performed with the pop group ABC in videos and onstage to support their cartoon-synth album How to Be a...Zillionaire! (1985). She performed under the stage name "Eden", so she could continue with her music and style journalism at the same time.
Early life and career
Growing up in Dore, Sheffield, she had known ABC from their early days as an electronic three piece called Vice Versa. She joined Vice Versa very briefly after keyboard player David Sydenham left the band but, after only three rehearsals in ABC co-founder Stephen Singleton's cellar, the fourteen-year-old "chickened out" when she was told they would be supporting Simple Minds in a Leeds pub the following night. A last minute replacement was found in Mancunian student Martin Fry who was studying English Lit at Sheffield University and had interviewed the band for his fanzine, Modern Drugs.
After running away from home and subsequently leaving Sheffield High School for Girls aged 15, Fiona moved to London when she was 17 and slept on Heaven 17 singer Glenn Gregory's floor before moving in to the notorious Carburton Street squat where she took over Boy George's old room. Fellow squattees included 80s transgender singer Marilyn, DJ and Haysi Fantayzee frontman Jeremy Healy, and milliner Stephen Jones. In 1982, aged 18, she started writing for The Face as a features writer, concentrating mostly on music and became notorious for her irreverent mickey-taking interviews with leading pop stars of the day. Meanwhile, she moved into a three-bedroom council flat in Old Street with Richard Habberley, who moved out of Boy George's St John's Wood flat, and Amanda Metro, a backing singer for Mari Wilson. During this time, Vice Versa had changed their name to ABC, become a five piece, and by 1982, ABC's first album, The Lexicon of Love, was released and went platinum, spawning four chart hits.
Later, she was part of the infamous Taboo nightclub crowd, being a close friend of Leigh Bowery and his artist partner Trojan, and introduced Mark White and Martin Fry to people in her circle including fashion designer John Galliano, punk ballet dancer Michael Clark (who was dating her flatmate Richard), film director John Maybury, DJ and S'Express pop star Mark Moore, among others. Mark Moore has since publicly acknowledged the direct influence of ABC's image circa How to Be a Zillionaire.
ABC's Martin Fry and Mark White loved the 1970s super pimp/space tramp charity shop meets Comme des Garçons/Yohji Yamamoto look that Fiona and her friends were sporting in the spring of 1984 - they were the first to knowingly champion a retro image. Martin and Mark had written and produced the music for their third album but knew they wanted a completely new image for ABC so decided to ask Fiona to join the band and also brought in American David Yarritu. The choice of someone with such diminutive stature was deliberate: the first single 'How To Be a Millionaire' (inspired by Martin Amis's seminal 80s book Money) was accompanied by a cartoon video, modelled on The Jackson 5. The new-look ABC was pure cartoon fantasy and the two new members reflected that. Fiona was asked to dress as she had earlier that year, and while her personal image had since moved onto what became known as Sinéad O'Connor's look, so she wore wigs, platform shoes and clothes made for her by Leigh Bowery, Bodymap and Mark Spy and Murray Blewitt, who went on to design for Vivienne Westwood. The name 'Eden' was dreamt up by Fiona, Leigh Bowery and Trojan one night over a bottle of vodka in their East London flat.
Neither Fiona nor David were allowed to contribute musically (although both were more than capable). The reasons were partly aesthetic and partly financial. Fake instruments were made for the band in homage to Claes Oldenburg's famous 'soft' drumkit. The aim was to be as luridly bright and Looney Tunes cartoony as possible in a purposeful comment about how infantile, money-driven and artificial the decade was becoming. It turned out to be an in-joke that backfired: British fans did not get it or like it at all, unhappy that the five lads in gold lamé suits had morphed into what one critic called 'The Addams Family'. Luckily, and perhaps unsurprisingly for a nation raised on Hanna-Barbera, Disneyland and McDonald's, the new look ABC went down very well in the States. Indeed, although How To Be a Zillionaire only charted in the Top 30 in the UK and 'Be Near Me' was the highest charting track off the album at No.26, by contrast it made the US Billboard Top Ten and 'Be Near Me' was a Billboard hit, a number 1 dance floor hit, a radio and MTV hit coast to coast.
Unfortunately, during the time the album was rocketing up the Billboard charts, Martin Fry was extremely ill with Hodgkin's Disease, so the band could only make limited promotional appearances. Fiona continued with her journalism during the down time, writing for Time Out and Interview as well as for The Face, while also spending time in New York after being adopted by the then-cognescenti, including Andy Warhol who was impressed by her cutting edge look and success in two separate fields. Although Fiona was not allowed to sing, she did contribute to ABC in that she influenced them with the people she introduced Martin and Mark to, such as the avant garde jeweller and stylist, Judy Blame, who became the subject of a B-side, 'Judy's Jewels'. One of Michael Clark's dancers, Les Childs, was brought in to choreograph the group, and various up-and-coming young designers dressed the rest of the band while Leigh Bowery designed Eden's fun fur jacket and double-brimmed super-high glittery military-style cap.
Two much-talked-about Eden incidents: Eden wore a dildobelt she made on The Tube, the '80s Channel 4 live music show, which was a belt covered in 'ladyfingers' - very small white dildoes - to look like a bullet belt. The B-side of 'How To Be a Millionaire' has a track called 'A to Z' which introduces all the band members. When it gets to the girl, we hear "Hi, I'm Eden, and I want you to kiss my snatch" accompanied by suggestive kissing sounds. Fiona agreed that while it IS the sort of thing she would say, being well known for making provocative gestures, it's actually Martin Fry's voice speeded up and was recorded entirely without Fiona's knowledge. The reason given was that there wasn't enough time to get her into the studio. Fiona says she has since discovered that, as it was not her real voice, royalties did not have to be paid to her.
Although many music journalists are said to be frustrated or failed rock stars, she says the reason she joined the band was because "I thought - incorrectly as it turned out - that it would be fun. Also, it was a great opportunity to experience the music industry from the inside. Unfortunately, I discovered all too quickly why the other band members had left and cut off contact with Martin and, to a lesser extent, Mark. As Martin was very ill -something I knew absolutely nothing about until the day he turned up at the airport when we flew to LA - after we did the US TV shows, I didn't hear anything from either of them again although I was kept on the payroll for another four months. I was unceremoniously dumped when I was no longer useful. I understand that business is ruthless but we were supposed to be mates. They'd known me since the age of 14. They didn't even have the courtesy to call me, I'd served my purpose and that was that. It was depressing. Occasionally, I would bump into Mark in a club or at a fashion show but I didn't see or hear from Martin until '97 or '98 – 12 years later - when I wrote a piece for ''The Times' about the retro phenomenon and the Here and Now Tour that Martin, as ABC, was on."
Fiona Russell Powell has written for Loaded and Punch, The Face, i-D, Evening Standard, Daily Express, The Idler, Dazed and Confused, Interview, Penthouse, Time Out, Arena, Arena Homme Plus, New Humanist, Woman's Journal and Fashion Weekly among others. She has also featured in the press on more than one occasion, having had various incidents and antics documented, . In the mid to late 90s, she frequently appeared on British television debates, such as the BBC's peaktime You Decide discussing the decriminalisation and legalisation of drugs, having previously written extensively about her own battle with Class A drugs. In 2006, Fiona was co-director (along with Patrick Lilley, who was one of the original Carburton Street squatters and founder of the Queer Nation Club in London, and Christophe Demoulin, artist's agent) of The Outsider festival, a ten-day-long arts festival curated by Angie Bowie that focussed on films, photography and club nights celebrating underground sub-culture in London and the UK since the early 80s. The project was commissioned by Sony PSP, and was the world's first downloadable arts festival. Fiona also co-wrote 40 Ans de Musique au Gibus, which chronicles four decades of seminal musical acts at the famous Paris nightclub.
- Dance/Club Play songs. Week of 28 September 1985
- Interviewed by Bill Brewster in Mark's West London flat DJhistory.com, 20.7.04
- Pop groups should not make comebacks, says Fiona Russell Powell. The Times, 7 March 1997
- 40 ans de musiques au Gibus (Broché)
- www.fionarussellpowell.com - Official website of Fiona Russell Powell
- Fiona Russell Powell at the Internet Movie Database