Zac Foley

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The Independent Online

Zachary Sebastian Rex James Foley, guitarist: born Gloucester 9 December 1970; died London 3 January 2002.

Zac Foley was the bassist with the alternative British group EMF whose naggingly catchy rap-rock crossover single "Unbelievable" dominated charts around the world at the beginning of the Nineties.

Known for his manic stage presence and backstage antics, Foley nevertheless contributed to the band's impressive run of 10 Top Thirty singles, which ended in 1995 after a cartoonish collaboration with the comedians Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer on a cover version of the Monkees' "I'm a Believer". Foley subsequently formed the indie group Carrie before last year rejoining a revitalised EMF, who have since been surfing a wave of Nineties nostalgia and were planning an American tour to promote their recent greatest hits collection Epsom Mad Funkers.

Like most of his fellow EMF members, Zachary Foley was born in Gloucestershire. The son of a painter father and a mother who practised alternative medicine, Foley grew up a rebellious type and was thrown out of school at 16 for having long hair. By 1989, he was playing bass guitar in rehearsals with the keyboard- player Derry Brownson, drummer Mark Decloedt and the angel-faced singer James Atkin.

Adding Ian Dench, a more experienced guitarist from neighbouring Cheltenham who soon became their unofficial leader, the band named themselves EMF. "Everybody thinks it stands for Ecstasy Motherfuckers, but it doesn't," they claimed. "We're just stringing people along. We never do things to shock: we're just taking the piss." Fans were left to make their minds up about the true origin of the name.

Following a few sweaty, cider- fuelled gigs in locations such as caves in the Forest of Dean, EMF attracted considerable media attention, including comparisons with the Sex Pistols, and signed to EMI. The group's heady collision of riffs, bleeps and beats fitted alongside their label-mates Jesus Jones. In fact, EMF soon overshadowed Jesus Jones when their début single, "Unbelievable", released at the tail end of 1990, reached No 3.

The following year, the equally infectious and frantic singles "I Believe" and "Children" made the Top Twenty and Schubert Dip, EMF's début album, peaked at No 3. Its release had been delayed when Yoko Ono objected to one of the tracks, "Lies", which sampled a recording of Mark Chapman, John Lennon's killer, reciting lyrics by the former Beatle.

By then, "Unbelievable" was gaining considerable airplay on college and modern rock stations in America. The track had entered the US listings at a lowly 87 but rose steadily to top the charts eventually in July 1991. "Unbelievable" repeated this feat on a world-wide basis, its blend of rock, rap and electronic loops undoubtedly influencing the current crop of American nu-metal acts. Unfortunately, it also became something of an albatross for EMF.

Exhausted by a hectic touring and promotional schedule which included visits to Australia, New Zealand and Japan as well as the US, Canada and most of Europe, EMF marked time with an EP, Unexplained, which included a mighty cover of Iggy Pop & the Stooges' punk classic "Search and Destroy". Indeed, Stigma, their second album proper, issued in October 1992, proved to be a less radio-friendly, punkier offering and alienated most of the mainstream Smash Hits- reading fans who had been attracted by James Atkin's backwards baseball cap and Zac Foley's brooding persona. "Around the time of Stigma, I was pumping myself full of anything," Foley admitted later.

In 1994, EMF spent a considerable amount of time and energy and exhausted the patience of several producers while working on their third album, Cha Cha Cha. They secured the services of the actor and writer Stephen Fry as narrator on the rumbuctious closing track "Glass Smash Jack". However, even a video shot in Miami to promote the annoying "Perfect Day" in 1995 couldn't turn the fortunes of the group around. The single struggled to make the Top Thirty; "Afro King", its follow-up, performed even worse; and the album proved a flash in the pan. Despite the success of "I'm a Believer", which teamed the band up with Reeves and Mortimer, the writing was on the wall. Musical tastes had moved on.

Dropped by their record label, EMF split up, but most members soon resurfaced with other projects. With the American singer and guitarist Steve Ludwin, Foley formed the band Carrie (named after the Star Wars actress Carrie Fisher). In 1998, Carrie played the Glastonbury Festival and issued the album Fear of Sound on Island Records but their adrenalin-fuelled power pop never caught on.

However, EMF's signature tune "Unbelievable" refused to go away. The song has been covered by the likes of Tom Jones and is still used on a regular basis by American television stations trumpeting their new schedules or film-makers wanting to give their soundtrack an edge (for instance, Coyote Ugly in 2000). Last year, EMF duly reformed and sold out the London Astoria in June. As ever, the enthusiastic Zac Foley proved the perfect foil to his bandmates' sneering, brattish behaviour.

Pierre Perrone

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