In the early eighties, a new genre of music hit scene in a big way. It was called new romantic and was emphasized by bright colour outfits, make up, neckwear and crazy hairstyles. Culture Club, Spandau Ballet and Duran Duran were the mainstays, but there were others who weren’t quite as successful.
One such group was Modern Jazz who formed in 1980 and featured the line up on Andy O (Overall) on vocals, Tim Parry on guitar, Mike Ansell on bass and Mike Sparrow on drums.
In early 1981 the band signed to Magnet records and went into Mickie Most’s RAK studios to record their first single with Mickie’s son Calvin. The track was called In My Sleep (I Shoot Sheep) which failed to gain airplay for two reasons, one is that Dave Lee Travis refused to play it because he believed the sentiment of the song was doing a disservice to sheep and secondly because some presenters who may have had a long liquid record company lunch might have had trouble pronouncing it! The band did send a letter to DLT which he read out on air and explained that the song was nothing more than a dream sequence, and that resulted in some airplay. Incidentally Calvin became Calvin Hayes and was a member of Johnny Hates Jazz.
Within a few months they changed their name to Blue Zoo, Andy explained why, “The word zoo conjures up a nice atmosphere. It means the environment outside and the band observing from the inside of it. We don’t see ourselves as animals trapped in a cage or anything like that.” Why blue? “It’s my emotional frame of mind most of the time.”
They began recording at Alaska studios in Waterloo which was damp and dank but it was the owner of these studios, Pat Collier, original bass player for punk band The Vibrators, who produced the bands next single, Ivory Towers. Their first TV appearance was a live performance on the Oxford Road Show in Manchester where they performed, Love Moves in Strangeways, The Attic and what was to be their third single I’m your Man. This was their debut UK hit which, despite being championed by Peter Powell, stalled at number 55.
Tim Friese Green was a producer who had first worked with the rock band Praying Mantis and Irish rockers Stiff Little Fingers. He then struck lucky when he produced the UK number one The Lion Sleeps Tonight for Tight Fit.
He began working with Blue Zoo and collaborated at Battery studios in Willesden which resulted in the recording of two tracks, the provocative John’s Lost and the catchy Cry Boy Cry which was a re-working of a song previously named Turn and Face The Wall. It reached number 13 in the UK and a respectable number six in Israel which led to a short tour taking in a run of shows at the Coliseum in central Tel Aviv. They even had a future star in the audience on the first night when actress Brooke Shields turned up.
Andy was a Bowie fan and Cry Boy Cry was inspired by him from his Ziggy Stardust period, he even has Bowie tattooed on his arm. They had one further UK hit called (I Just Can’t) Forgive and Forget which reached a lowly number 60 in May 1983.
Interests within the band were divided but they decided to record on more track and went into the studio with producers Colin Campsie and George McFarlane and came up with the wonderfully entitled Somewhere in The World There’s A Cowboy Smiling, it got very limited exposure, in fact one solitary appearance on Crackerjack and so the band decided to split. Andy was tied into his contract with Magnet and was groomed as a solo artist without success and was finally released from his contract in 1985.
Years later Andy discovered an interest in wild mushrooms. He said recently, “I started the Fungi To Be With Mushroom Club’ back in 1996 recognising that I wasn’t the only one interested in wild mushrooms and the need to re-connect people with their natural environment.” He launched a business under the same name and began supplying the vegetable to various London restaurants. Tim Parry went into production and worked with Yazz and De La Soul, Sparrow worked with Neneh Cherry and Ansell moved into the property market. In 2010, Blue Zoo played their first concert in 28 years at the Ginglik in Shepherd’s Bush Green. Only Parry is missing from the current line up, he’s been replaced by ex-Spear Of Destiny guitarist Neil Pyzer and they’ve added Graham Noone on Keyboards and they are currently recording new tracks soon to be released later this year on iTunes.