paint fumes, false teeth and fab-mobiles
Updated: Aug 23, 2020
One of the more interesting things that I have read about in my research of Paul is his brief interactions with the early 90s 'prank' rock band Fabulous. This guest column comes from a conversation with Fabulous singer Simon Spence who talked a little bit about the humorous band and how Paul got involved.
We were introduced to Paul by Jeff [Barrett] when we recorded our debut single for Heavenly circa 91. Paul designed the 7inch sleeve. We knew his work well - most of Fabulous worked at the NME: the band was set up as a prank - deliberately provocative 15 minute live shows with the intent on conning a major label to bung us £1 million. I’d interviewed / reviewed the Manics, Scream and Flowered Up for either NME, The Face or i-D and knew Jeff pretty well…
I thought of Paul as a real artist in the grand old style - real wild and real loose - certainly not as a considered graphic designer or sleeve designer like [Peter] Saville. He seemed to live for creating his paintings and sculptures and that was it… he didn’t have a head for business. Corporate wasn’t his thing but he was hot property and could probably have made a career in that field… but his personality was too open, honest and free.
At an early gig in London we had Paul support us instead of another band and he painted the huge backdrop live … stank out the place. He also designed our T-shirt (left) (censored for your convenience) which caused lots of laughs (no it wasn't me in the pic!) and consternation (and some police attention - possibly that's still an illegal image?) ... Paul delighted in putting the royal seal of approval in the top left of the T-shirt. His biggest contribution to the band's brief infamy, however, was painting my Austin Maxi - which became known, embarrassingly, as the 'Fab-mobile' … we parked it up at gigs, used it many photo shoots and often slept in it....
Paul painted the car in an East London back street, under a railway arch… I recall he was nervous that we might be nabbed for some reason. I guess we made quite a mess. It was all him - ducks, smiley face, flowers, some of his trademark patterning and, of course, the huge ‘arrest me’ he wrote on on the boot (which at the time I felt was a little too provocative but remarkably I only ever got stopped once in that car - ironically with Paul in the passenger seat and two bin bags of our T-shirts in the back). He signed the roof… the car was the star attraction when we were profiled in a Rapido TV feature… https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vq1QWn8KXsw Eventually it clapped out… and I had it scrapped... wish I had kept it.
I don’t recall exact chronology off-hand - but Fabulous left Heavenly to sign with PWL and we embarked on a catastrophic relationship with Pete Waterman. We were - you may have guessed - heavily under the influence of the Sex Pistols. It was actually Malcolm McLaren who had advised us to sign to PWL. Paul would visit his Sex shop as teen buying Seditionaries gear and was a Pistols fan... so it was a nice touch when McLaren posed with the 'Fabmobile' (I interviewed him for NME. Martyn Goodacre, another Fabulous, took the shots).
I got closer to Paul when I ended up living with him at his house in Ilford for six months or so - in 92 I think. He was older (and wiser) than me but never anything but kind, helpful, sweet and enthusiastic. I was surprised he’d get up and go do a morning gig that involved (I think) the manufacture of false teeth… around that time I wrote about Paul for Dazed & Confused and the Independent on Sunday as his own media profile increased. He had a room upstairs in the terrace house full of painting, the door kept locked… the paintings were stacked ten deep up against the walls… he told me he was painting with his right (wrong) hand as his left hand felt too schooled… There are some great photos of Paul from the Dazed session by Russell Underwood who was also in Fabulous. [Below, Russ is testing the lighting as I pose in front of one of Paul's paintings.]
After Paul got the loft at Creation to use for his studio - and [Alan] McGhee’s financial support, I saw less of him but we reconnected circa 95 when he started up with his band Crawl. He’d always had bands with the other guys in the Ilford house (they’d rehearse in the cellar) but now I think he was going to be on Creation…. I'm not sure how that worked out but he was excited by the band and the opportunities. I thought the single they cut was brilliant. I went to watch him rehearse in King’s Cross (and maybe interview him again - Martyn [Goodacre] was taking photos that day). Des [Darren Penney] was there as well … him and Paul made a really great twosome. I thought and hoped Crawl would go places. It was a hot day. We had a beer or two. Centre of the universe feel. That was the last time I saw Paul. I recall crying watching him play in that little rehearsal… he really moved me. At some point he gave me a drawing he'd done of myself (left) and Des (right), placing himself firmly in the middle. The drawing apparently really amused Paul.
I was so sad when I heard he died. I couldn’t believe there was no big tribute to him. I felt guilty at losing touch with him… I was so proud when the Royal Mail used his sun on a stamp (in 2010)… I bet he would have been made up too. I’d love to know what happened to all his paintings… and to see all his work collected and archived in one place.
Simon Spence is an author and journalist who you can find at wordsonmusic.co.uk