15/02/2019

Fantastic Noosha Fox


Every time a slightly quirky female singer emerges comparisons with Kate Bush are never far behind. Yet in 1975, some three years before `Wuthering Heights`, there was Noosha Fox. Though she was not a solo artist nor penned her own material there is something in her charismatic presentation that seems to foreshadow Bush’s subsequent image to some extent. Noosha Fox’s time in the spotlight was comparatively brief and she remains destined to be a footnote rather than a chapter in the history of pop music but it’s an intriguing note nonetheless.  At a time when most of pop’s unconventional performers were male she brought something a little different to the party.
 


The story behind Noosha Fox is multinational. Born in Australia her real name is Susan Traynor and she was originally the singer in a band called Wooden Horse. Her career was transformed by an American songwriter Kenny Young who was the co- author of well -known songs like Under the Boardwalk`, `Ai No Corrida`, `Captain of Your Ship` amongst others. The two had worked together on Young’s solo album `Last Stage for Silver World` in 1973 and he subsequently decided to form a band which would showcase her distinctive voice. The band was named Fox after her newly adopted stage name Noosha Fox, Noosha being a made up name derived from a sort of scrambled version of her real one but it sounded exotic.  Her unusual voice and the atmospherically light arrangements of the songs combined with a Marlene Dietrich inspired image grabbed immediate attention propelling the band’s debut single `Only You Can` into the top 10 and a critically acclaimed debut album followed  which also provided another hit with `Imagine Me, Imagine You`. 

`Only You Can` has Noosha singing in a breathy, compressed and deeper voice than you’d expect and if you look at old TOTP performances she seems cautious if not diffident in her delivery. It’s an alluring, interesting performance and sound that perhaps did influence Kate Bush.

Yet this was clearly her image as she told `Look In` magazine at the time about her performances: “I don't think I've ever been nervous. I certainly like the studio atmosphere and find the audience really friendly. I suppose I don't get away from being aware of what is happening. I don't just stand there and sing, I am aware of everything. I can even look into a camera! I'm still conscious though of people who might be watching. As for me watching myself on television. In a way, I don’t want to do that. I suppose if you see yourself and notice a raised eyebrow, you might take a note not to do that next time!"

Talking about the band’s music she said: ‘We want our music to be happy and free, that’s all.

I like to feel a song and treat it in context of its lyrics and tune. I do the songs the way I think fit, rather like acting out different characters in a play."

Another mid 70s interviewer asked her about her image which appears to have come about by accident when she opened a wardrobe in a second hand shop and saw three 1920s silk dresses which she bought for a princely 35p. "At the time, I wasn't making stage appearances, so I just wore them to parties. But since I've worn them on stage, other beautiful things just seem to come my way. People find things for me from their grannies' trunks or some relative's cast-offs. it's wonderful where they all come from. I mix and match them with old scarves and other accessories, so I hardly need to have anything new. Nearly everything I have is old Thirties stuff.” 


On the video for `Imagine Me Imagine You` she begins lying down before sitting up to sing the verse. Like its predecessor it flows easily with a danceable groove built in. “Imagine Imagine You inside each other’s eyes, what would we see?” she purrs. There’s also a very catchy if meaningless repeated refrain of “Doolang da lang alang doo lang” that will stick in your head. On this song you can also hear the more musical members of the band itching to prog things up with guitar runs and a synth solo that are both curtailed before they overwhelm it. It is an odd fit really showing how accomplished the musicians were.

In fact Fox’s self- titled debut album certainly does contain a diversity of musical styles and is a proper collection rather than the fillers a lot of pop groups of the day would use to accompany the hits. Noosha’s voice varies too, some songs have her clearer natural vocal while others mirror the more eccentric delivery of the singles.

`The Juggler` could be an offering from some West Coast 70s outfit, `Patient Tigers` has a hint of country music about it with slide guitar and tinkling piano in the background. `The More` uses a classical backing and multi tracked Noosha vocals for it’s brief duration. `Spirit` really does sound like some lost early Kate Bush track. `He’s Got Magic` was the album’s third single and has a sort of Eurovision stomp that makes it difficult to understand why it wasn’t as big a hit. `Pisces Babies` contains one of Noosha’s best vocals mixed to the front over the rolling tune; it’s less obvious but might have been a better single. `Love Ship` is probably the most mid 70s sounding song, again you could imagine it as a single with its narrative lyric. The closing `Red Letter Day` uses a string arrangement to start before blending into a catchy chorus with more than a hint of Abba about it. Together with the two hits it all adds up to an excellent album.

Fox returned in 1976 with a second album `Tails of Illusion` in which somewhat bizarrely Noosha shared vocals with other members of the band. Also the songs she does sing have her voice rather too low in the mix. It seems an odd decision and the results were not as successful even though there is no doubting the ambition of the band. In fact while there are quite a lot of ideas to be found, the overall production seems to dampen the material down. `Strange Ships` seems to have been the main single but is washed in so much arrangement that the thrust of the song is lost. As a whole the album is suffused with a very American vibe to the extent that `For Whatever Its Worth` actually sounds like the soft rock band America whose `Horse With No Name` this is something of a homage to. The tracks without Noosha singing lack the distinction she gives songs and sound. `Howdja` is probably the best song which experiments with shared vocals.


However Fox returned in 1977 with their biggest hit `S-S-S-Single Bed` which made the top 5 and is funkier than the earlier hits and returns Noosha’s voice to the prominence it deserves. The third album `Blue Hotel` features just her on the cover suggesting something of a recalibration. In the event the album did not provide any other hits and is generally somewhat relaxed in feel.  `Living Out My Fantasies`, `Dejinina`, `Almond Eyes` `Moustaches on the Moon` and `Make It Like It Used To Be` are all laid back and probably could be described as easy listening. Noosha’s vocals shine through what are slightly ordinary arrangements. `Blue Hotel` itself comes on like some prog ballad with lashings of guitar solos and a piano led verse that oddly suits Noosha quite well. `Magic Machine` takes this template further and is positively early Seventies

The other single taken from the album was `My Old Man’s Away` which is livelier than much of the other material though the sentiment probably didn’t play too well for it to be a big hit. `Under Your Own Umbrella` might have been a better punt at the charts being possessed of a catchy enough arrangement and that little twist of Fox oddness missing from some of the other songs. `Friendship Rose` is even better bringing banjos into the equation and has the most interesting musical arrangement on the album edging towards folk. Its use of laughing vocals prefigures some of the interesting things Kate Bush would later do.

Fox split up after this and in 1977 Noosha launched a solo career with an attention grabbing single `Georgina Bailey` which almost made the top 30 but was banned by the BBC due to its controversial lyric about a girl living with her uncle and their unconventional lifestyle. Quite a menu for a rather lovely story telling song with a continental vibe. This was quite different to the band and her voice sounds fuller.

Like many an interesting pop star, Noosha Fox disappeared from mainstream view though in  late 70s and early 80s she made several other singles but none were hits and she later left the music industry. There was a brief Fox reunion in 1990 and again the mid 90s.In 2007 she was said to be recording a new album though nothing has since emerged.

Fox were one of those Seventies artists who although they had success never seem to get mentioned much these days. During her relatively brief public singing career, Noosha Fox never quite seemed to achieve what she might have done as she was reliant on song writers. As far as I can tell she didn’t write any songs herself. Yet whatever type of song she was placed in- and there’s a quite a variety across the Fox albums- her vocal always stood out as characterful and interesting. It would have been intriguing for her to have worked with other songwriters and in other situations but it didn’t happen. As for her influence it is difficult to imagine Kate Bush was unaware of her and there is more than a hint of Noosha in some of Alison Goldfrapp’s vocals. However Noosha Fox disappeared and Susan Traynor carried on living a family life outside the music industry; a few years back it was revealed that physician and journalist Ben Goldacre is her son. I wonder what Susan thinks of Noosha Fox all these years later....




1 comment:

  1. I can hear the Kate Bush thing, too, but I also hear Clare Grogan in `Imagine Me Imagine You`.

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