Jo Dunne: Member of the 1980s band We've Got A Fuzzbox And We're Going To Use It!!

 

When Jo Dunne and her sister Maggie made their live debut with Vickie Perks and Tina O'Neill in their home town of Birmingham in 1985, they could barely play their instruments. They had three songs and a band name that was both memorable and a statement of intent: We've Got A Fuzzbox and We're Gonna Use It!! Yet, after only their second gig, Robert Lloyd, frontman of the post-punk group the Nightingales, was impressed enough by their irreverent attitude and short, sharp, strident tunes like "X X Sex" and "Do I Want To?" to sign them to his label Vindaloo, already the home of the stand-up comedian Ted Chippington.

Within a few months, Fuzzbox – as they soon became known – were recording John Peel sessions, topping the independent charts with their spiky debut EP Rules And Regulations, and selling enough copies to knock on the door of the Top 40.

In the summer of 1986, Bill Drummond, later of KLF fame but then a maverick A&R man at WEA, brought Chippington and Fuzzbox to the major company and organised An Evening With Ted Chippington, featuring both acts at the Raymond Revue Bar in London's Soho, to promote the release of the Vindaloo Summer Special EP, which included their cheeky "Fuzzy Faves" covers medley of "Sitting In The Back Seat"/"Itsy Witsy Teeny Weeny Yellow Polka Dot Bikini" and "Kookie, Kookie". Fuzzbox also backed the comedian when he performed his own novelty tune "Rockin' With Rita" on the ITV children's programme Razzamatazz, but while he remained a cult figure they went on to mainstream, if shortlived, success towards the end of the decade with the perky, polished pop hits "International Rescue", "Pink Sunshine" and "Self!", as well as the Big Bang! album.

Born in 1968, and four years younger than Maggie, Jo Dunne shared her sister's eccentric fashion sense – wild hairstyles, garish clothes and make-up, quirky star-shaped glasses for Jo – that made Fuzzbox stand out, while their early sound owed a debt to their all-girl antecedents, the Slits and the Modettes. The four constantly swapped instruments, with Perks, Maggie Dunne and O'Neill singing lead, and Jo Dunne occasionally drumming but playing bass. Eventually she concentrated on her pink guitar – with trademark Fuzzbox distortion pedal – when they became a more conventional four-piece rather than the kitsch darlings of the C-86 indie movement, named after the mail-order cassette compiled by the New Musical Express that year. Of the 22 acts on C-86, only Primal Scream and the Wedding Present achieved a higher profile.

They took off faster than they could learn their instruments, leading to patronising comments from the male-dominated music press, rightly ignored since the critics seemed to miss the point of their DIY, sometimes shambolic approach. Maggie Dunne quit her job in the dole office and the other three, who had been friends since the age of 11, left college to concentrate on the group but, even when appearing on the cover of Melody Maker or on The Old Grey Whistle Test, they kept a healthy sense of perspective and injected a dose of mischievous Brummie humour into their interviews. "Forget the sex and the drugs. We're in this band for the driving," Jo Dunne told Record Mirror in May 1986.

At the end of that year, they released the fittingly "fuzzy" single "Love Is The Slug", their first bona fide hit, as well as their debut album, Bostin' Steve Austin, whose title referenced the hero of The Six Million Dollar Man TV series. The follow-up single "What's The Point" just missed the Top 50 but sported another unlikely cover – Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody" – on its B-side and hinted at their potential as Britain's answer to The Go-Go's or The Bangles. WEA head honcho Rob Dickins duly recruited the American songwriter Liam Sternberg, who had penned the Bangles worldwide hit "Walk Like An Egyptian", to work on the next Fuzzbox album.

Sternberg helped them compose their two biggest successes, the infuriatingly catchy "International Rescue", inspired by the Thunderbirds sci-fi puppet series, and the equally nagging "Pink Sunshine", while the WEA machine went into overdrive to promote Fuzzbox's more commercial sound and glossier image – "glamour pussies" or "sex kittens" as the NME put it. "We got swept along," admitted Jo Dunne who, in keeping with WEA's policy of using a different Fuzzbox member on the cover of every single from the Big Bang! album, featured on the picture bag for their flop synthpop cover of Yoko Ono's "Walking On Thin Ice". When their next release, "Your Loss, My Gain", also struck out in 1990, WEA pulled the plug on a projected third album and Fuzzbox broke up.

In October 1997, Jo and Maggie Dunne guested on the identity parade segment of the TV quiz show Never Mind The Buzzcocks, while Perks appeared in the same slot 12 years later. In May 2010 the Dunnes and Perks reformed Fuzzbox for a UK tour and recorded an electro cover of M's 1979 smash "Pop Muzik". Interviewed on the BBC's Midlands Today at the time, Jo Dunne was keen to stress the fact that "of all UK girl bands, as opposed to vocal groups, we are still the most successful. And we did have a lot of fun." She died of cancer at St Mary's Hospice in Birmingham.

Jo Dunne, musician and songwriter: born Birmingham 12 November 1968; died Birmingham 26 October 2012.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Web Developer

£26000 - £33000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Web Developer is required to ...

Ashdown Group: PeopleSoft Developer - London - £45k

£45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: PeopleSoft Application Support & Development ...

Ashdown Group: PHP Developer - Buckinghamshire - £29,000

£25000 - £29000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Junior PHP Developer - Milton Keynes...

Recruitment Genius: Online Sales & Marketing Assistant

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This UK based B2C and B2B multi...

Day In a Page

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003