Born into show-business as the daughter of a successful stage comedian, Jay Aston trained as an actress at the Italia Conti school before joining Eurovision hopefuls Bucks Fizz, who stormed to worldwide success in 1981 with Making Your Mind Up. The hit single was followed by many more, including The Camera Never Lies and The Land Of Make Believe, and the group’s success took Jay, Cheryl Baker, Bobby G and Mike Nolan all over the world.
Over the next three years the group transformed its bubbly image into a sexier one, but its continuing success was marred behind the scenes by recurrent disagreements between the band members. In 1984 a near-fatal coach-crash left singer Mike Nolan severely injured, and the group disbanded shortly afterwards to be reincarnated several times over (at the time of writing, fifteen people have now been in the line-up of Bucks Fizz, a turnover matched only by The Village People!).
The height of the Bucks Fizz phenomenon, including the notorious legends about the disagreements, has been joyously commemorated in the gay musical Night of a Thousand Jay Astons, and we caught up with Jay recently to look back on those heady days…
How did you feel when you first heard about Night Of A Thousand Jay Astons?
I was very upset when I first heard about it . Very upset, for a couple of days. They kept asking me to come and see it. I didn’t want to go to the opening – I didn’t really know what the story was. I heard bits back from people who had been, and that was even more confusing. After about a year I went and saw it live, and my take on it, having seen it live, was very different from having seen it on the DVD. So I’m all right with it now, but I went through some horror stages with it! [laughs]
You have a strong gay following. I was thinking earlier about Judy Garland and Liza Minnelli and how certain women get appropriated as [male] gay icons. Why? Why any particular person, and why you, in this case?
I don’t know. I think they identified with the tough time I had, and they liked the way I dressed! It was my image that appealed to them – or my image then. It doesn’t fit me anymore [laughs]. Yes, I think it was the clothes I wore. In the eighties things were very different for fashion, and we’ve become considerably more conservative. The eighties was a time when anything went, and you basically wore a jumble of stuff and it was all right. When you’re eighteen or nineteen, you’ll wear stuff that you won’t wear when you’re a bit older [laughs]. I guess I identified with that, because some of my stuff was quite outrageous.
How do you feel, looking back, on the very obvious make-up and big hair of the eighties?Well big hair was very in style, and my hair does ‘big hair’ very easily. You only have to look at a hairdryer upside-down and there it is. Some of that eighties style I thought was okay, for the time.
Were you responsible for the look of Bucks Fizz right from the beginning?
Quite early on. It came about because there was no-one co-ordinating our look, and we all looked like we were in different bands. And Bob – I think he’s got himself together now, but in those days he really wasn’t into fashion at all. Mike was quite good. Cheryl wasn’t really happy with what we wore…she was difficult to dress, anyway. The management decided that because I was really into fashion – and I designed and made my own clothes – that I should have a go at it.
I did a few costumes – like the Land Of Make Believe costumes – that the record company loved and that were, I think, a big part of the whole thing working. But then I found it very difficult because we had so many CDs, and so many countries where they wanted some particular thing…you know, what you are going to wear in Germany is not going to go down so well in Australia. So there were such quantities for me to do that a few of them weren’t so successful or, let’s say, weren’t so well received by the rest of the band [laughs].For example?
There were a few things…Cheryl never really liked what I put her in, and I think she resented that I had any kind of power over saying what she should wear. She was eight years older than me and she just never seemed to be happy with it. Mike and Bobby, most of the time, were happy with what I did. But as time went on and I fell out of favour that honour was taken away from me [laughs]. And then everybody just did their own thing again. But by then everybody had a bit of an identity and they knew what worked for them better.Was this light, sexy idea about the pulling off of the skirts for Making Your Mind Up your idea?
Well, it was partly my idea, with Cheryl.
How did the sexy image that you developed for the band and for yourself in particular gel with your own – what seemed to be – more private nature?
I think they wanted us to appeal to an older audience. When we started getting the albums out, the manager wanted us to appear more mature and not be so teeny-bopper. Some of the things I came up with were far too over-the-top, but I didn’t realise…I didn’t see it then, what it seemed like.
Your very powerful solo voice rarely got an outing on the singles. Was that frustrating?
Well, I did sing solo on a few tracks, but I think on the singles they wanted us to look like a band, certainly in the early days. Then Bobby sung more of the leads, but that was a consequence of all kinds of politics that I’m not going to go into. So when Cheryl and I had a go at the leads, it was always in the one key, and it was never going to be changed. We’d either sing it or we couldn’t, and of course Bobby could always sing it.You seemed to have the broadest range of any of the vocalists in the group. How did that divide up the singing duties?
I always ended up doing the third harmony. We’d [Cheryl Baker and Jay] double up the lead on the third harmony. I used to sing her harmony a bit, but predominantly I was third and she was a fifth.
Did last year’s re-union heal some of the rifts?
Not really. It was hopeful, but it sort of just went back to where it was.
What are your relations like with the rest of the band now?
I’m kind of on good terms with all of them individually. But as a band, it just doesn’t work, and it’s a shame, but it doesn’t. There’s always been two camps – Cheryl’s camp and Bobby’s camp, and I was the one in Bobby’s camp, and Mike was always in Cheryl’s camp.
For the music you’ve done since, one might have thought you’d be in a darker kind of band in the eighties, if you hadn’t been brought into Bucks Fizz…?
Probably, yes. I listened to Genesis and David Bowie…Peter Gabriel, when he left [Genesis]…Pink Floyd – who my brother likes. Yes, stuff that’s a bit more cerebral than just pop. But I was only young…nineteen.
Are you done with recording now?
Well, I don’t know. I’m just not into it at the moment. But never say never! But I think I’ve recorded the majority of my solo songs. They’re out and that’s done.You acted before Bucks Fizz, in To The Manor Born and Citizen Smith. Did you think of doing any acting after the group finished?
I had a couple of things offered to me that I turned down, which I kind of regret. West End shows, TV series, presenting…I was offered so much stuff, and I didn’t do it.
Were you exhausted from the experience of Bucks Fizz, or did you just want to do something else?
I wanted to concentrate on live stuff, and that’s what I did. Those songs are out and I like them. I think I was more trying to find myself.
The coach crash has been painted as a kind of metaphorical inevitability of years of tension. Was that the moment that you knew it was over?
I made my decision to leave three days after the coach crash.Were you badly injured in it?
I had a head injury and I was paralysed down the left side. It came back slowly over a few weeks, and within about six months I was fine.
Now that your name is in a theatrical production, do you have any ambitions to appear in theatre?
Well, I went up for Chicago, which I didn’t get. I also auditioned for Blood Brothers. It got down to between me and one of the Nolan sisters, and the Nolan sister got it. It took them months to decide. I’m stuck in a bag – people won’t give you a chance unless they’ve worked with you. When people have worked with me, they usually want to work with me again, but it’s that thing where you’re going into a new camp as an outsider and you’re an unknown quantity. They won’t take the risk, and I have such a stigma and history with being in Bucks Fizz, that I haven’t managed to quite convince them yet. [laughs] It doesn’t break my heart – it’s just one of those things!
Would you be interested in work in films or TV?
I would like to do some. I always wanted to be an actress. I never wanted to be a singer and dancer. I did as a child, but when I got older that was what I went and trained for at Italia Conti, where I did an acting course.
Do you find teaching fulfilling?
Yes, I enjoy teaching. Funny enough, I did that before I was in a band and I went back to it.
Is there anything that you miss about the eighties, in terms of the decade itself?
The space. When I lived in London, it had half the population that it currently has [laughs]. I find coming into London quite claustrophobic. I haven’t lived in town for quite a few years, so that’s probably the main thing.