The New York musician talks to cult forgotten pop artist Rex Nayman and finds out about one of Britain’s most flamboyant scenes, new romantic fashion and useless record labels
Back in 1981, British pop duo Rexy released their first and only album, Running Out of Time. Rexy was a collaboration between Rex Nayman, a fashion student and fixture of the Blitz Kids scene, and Vic Martin, a musician who started out in hard rock bands in the 1970s before touring with some of the new pop groups of the 80s. Both shared a love for flamboyant fashion and leftfield pop music, and on Running Out of Time they created an idiosyncratic style that paired drum machines and synth basslines with Nayman’s breezy spoken word delivery.
Despite playing a few shows in England and in The Netherlands (including an un-broadcast performance on The Noon Show, the Dutch equivalent of Top of the Pops), the band never really took off, and Nayman and Martin’s creative and romantic partnership fizzled out soon after the album’s release. While Nayman went on to work in fashion, Martin would play keys with the Eurythmics, Boy George, and Curiosity Killed The Cat. They didn’t speak for another 30 years.
Unbeknownst to them, Running Out of Time had developed a cult following in the intervening years. In 2010 a group of musicians were living together in Brooklyn, New York at the DIY venue Market Hotel and found a copy of the album, falling for Nayman’s carefree lyrics about cops and music industry morons. One of those musicians was Samantha Urbani, formerly of pop band Friends and frequent collaborator with Blood Orange, who was so taken by Rexy's music that she tracks down Nayman on Facebook and set about reissuing Running Out of Time via her newly-formed URU label (in collaboration with Lucky Number). As it turned out, Nayman and Martin had reconnected a couple of years earlier, and as a result of Urbani’s intervention they plan to record new music together.
The reissue of Running Out of Time comes with new cover versions of Rexy’s songs by artists who’ve been inspired by the album over the years, including Ariel Pink, Connan Mockasin, and Urbani herself. Read on for an interview between Urbani and Rexy’s Rex Nayman, discussing the Blitz Kids, her childhood, and DIY fashion.
Samantha Urbani: I’d love to hear about the formative moments of Rexy as a band. What was it like the first time you met Vic? And how long after did you first write and record together? What was that first session like?
Rexy: Vic and I used to go to a wine bar in Kingston along with other people that frequented the Blitz and other clubs. He wasn’t really part of the same group of people that I hung out with, but he approached me one evening and just came straight out with “Do you want to make a record?” I thought he might have been taking the piss but I said yes anyway — nothing ventured, nothing gained, right? I can't remember exactly how long it was ‘til we actually went in the studio, but the song and record contract with Alien Records was already in place and Vic was looking for a front person. As he had no idea as to whether I was tone deaf or not, I realised he chose me ‘cos of the way I looked — me and my friends used to dress up to the nines and wear tons of makeup (including the boys) and stood out. The first recording session was nerve wracking. I couldn't really sing, so I spoke the words and even that took me several goes. But Vic and I got on and became friends, and after the single “Don't Turn Me Away”, we made Running Out of Time.
Samantha Urbani: You’d never sung before, and didn’t pursue a music career afterwards. Why is that? Did you lose interest, or were you turned off by negative experiences, or you just found other passions that you felt stronger about?
Rexy: I was studying for my fashion degree when Vic and I met and we recorded Running Out of Time during my summer holidays. I was never under any illusion that I could sing, and after Running Out of Time I just carried on at college. It didn’t occur to me to pursue a singing career as I never thought much of my voice. As far as I was concerned, Vic was the musician and I just tried to sing and prance around in silly clothes. The fact that there is interest in Running Out of Time 35 years later is incredible, and baffling to me really.
Samantha Urbani: What do you think the differences are between underground music and the scenes surrounding them in the era of Rexy, and now, with the internet connecting everything?
Rexy: The Blitz days were so different. Even though the internet is fantastic for some things, what was better then was there was much more individuality; there wasn’t a River Island, Primark, and Costa on every high street, and the whole “celeb” thing where people are famous for fuck all didn't exist. Things were much slower. People describe 1979 as being very “grey” — we dressed up to inject glamour into our world. I loved the whole DIY thing with clothes. You made your clothes or customised stuff from charity shops and jumble sales. I guess before the internet, the whole Blitz-type scene could be kept quieter and therefore more exclusive for longer.
Samantha Urbani: Countercultural party scenes serve as a sort of safe space and a home base of expression and inspiration for people who grew up feeling different, like outsiders — “aliens”, even. Because of the community aspect that this coming together creates, there can be a new sense of exclusivity and hierarchy within the scene itself. How open and inviting and inclusive was the Blitz Kids scene? Did it feel like a sanctuary for freaks, weirdos, and artists to enter into and feel at home in, or like a cool clique that you were either accepted into or not?
Rexy: There may have been a bit of a hierarchy amongst the scene, but I don't remember there being much of one. We were all trying to escape the dreariness of the late 70s and were a group of kids that maybe didn’t fit in — gays, artists, art/fashion students — that wanted a place to express ourselves and dress up and have fun. I guess it was exclusive — Steve Strange was very picky about who he let in and you had to look the part. David Bowie was allowed in, but Mick Jagger wasn'’. Vic and I have written a new song about it, actually.
Samantha Urbani: Was the music scene competitive or communal? Who were some notable, favourite, or least favourite peer bands?
Rexy: I don’t think I felt involved in a music scene really. The music played at the Blitz was quite eclectic. There was a lot of electronic stuff — Gina X, Telex, Kraftwerk, le Dusseldorf — but also the Jackson 5 were played, and the theme tune from Thunderbirds and Aquamarina. I loved it! I liked The Cure, and Kid Creole & the Coconuts and Dr. Buzzard’s Original Savannah Band.
“What was better then was there was much more individuality; there wasn't a River Island, Primark, and Costa on every high street, and the whole “celeb” thing where people are famous for fuck all didn't exist” – Rex Nayman
Samantha Urbani: Who were some of your best friends in this world? I'd love to hear about some of the characters that were around and how they all fit into each other's lives, and whether everyone continued to be in touch over time.
Rexy: Well, thanks to Facebook I’ve reconnected with a lot of the old people after having lost touch. I knew (Princess) Julia and Steve Strange, Philip Sallon, Stephen Linard, Stewart Mechem... Me and Stewart were partners in crime. He used to drive us round in his Lada dressed as the pope in high heels! Which was a bit of a nuisance when he had to change a flat tyre.
Samantha Urbani: What were some of the experiences and circumstances in your early life that drew you into a creative, countercultural scene like this?
Rexy: I was terribly shy as a kid and got really badly bullied in school. I always felt like a misfit. When I left school and went to a sixth form college, I kind of reinvented myself. Plus I’d started to go clubbing at 15 and people were dressing in alternative styles. There was a whole 40s Glenn Miller/swing revival thing going on, and that's where my life of fancy dress started. I loved the clothes and the music. Most young people at that time were wearing flares and platforms or were hippies — looks that were so incredibly un-sharp. No wonder me and my friends rebelled against it.
Samantha Urbani: A lot of the fashion and music that came out of this time and place was very androgynous, challenging norms of gender and sexuality. How did it feel to be a woman in this scene, as opposed to being a woman in other times/places in your life – when you were working in other fields, or engaging with other types of people?
Rexy: Well, a large proportion of the men I knew at the time were either gay or experimenting with it. The experimentation, I think, was very much of its time, somehow. It was almost encouraged. I guess it just seemed normal then for “straight” blokes to be trying homosexuality. If you were looking for love as a straight woman, the Blitz was definitely not the place to look. But it was fantastic the way people were accepting of things that were previously deemed “shocking”. It sort of feels as if we were part of the dawn of the modern era.
Samantha Urbani: Tell us the story behind the lyrics of one of your favorite songs on Running Out of Time.
Rexy: We wrote “Alien” about Alien Records, which was our record company. They were pretty useless, and this song was a dig at them. One of them, Nigel, was a bespectacled bicycle rider — hence the lyrics “get your cycling clips in place and get on your fuckin’ bike”. And Charlene was a macrobiotic American who used to speak out of the corner of her mouth — “but how could it be straight with it coming out the side”. We felt let down by them. They did nothing to promote us, so we wrote “Alien” as a way of venting.
“If you were looking for love as a straight woman, the Blitz was definitely not the place to look. But it was fantastic the way people were accepting of things that were previously deemed shocking. It sort of feels as if we were part of the dawn of the modern era” – Rex Nayman
Samantha Urbani: What was it like for you and Vic to get back in touch again? Are you in similar places in your life, is the chemistry still there?
Rexy: Vic actually contacted me via Facebook in 2009 and we did chat regularly. We didn’t actually meet until our first meeting with Lucky Number in 2013. It was no different really; it was like we hadn’t not seen each other for so long. No change at all, really.
Samantha Urbani: How have your experiences in your adult life affected the way you might express yourself now? Do you think new Rexy music would be similar to the old album, lyrically, musically, vocally, energetically?
Rexy: Well, as you know, we’re writing and recording new stuff together again now thanks mainly to you and your interest. We’re certainly writing the same mix of moody stuff and old nonsense like before. I'm not sure if it's similar — it probably is, but it's hard to be objective about your own stuff. I'm writing much more lyrics now which I'm really enjoying. It’s a great way to vent.
Samantha Urbani: Do you wish anything had gone differently with the band? How do you view it all now, 35 years later?
Rexy: Of course it would have been fun if we’d have carried on and made a success of Rexy instead of it all being over before it’d really begun. I think it was a great experience — a lovely fun extra that I’d never dreamed would happen to me, and which I look back on with great fondness; something which was a little bit magical for a moment.
Uru release Running Out of Time on March 18th