Give me back my art
There’s two sides to Dollar: light and dead serious. They both make cents to Ian Birch. Photo by Sheila Rock.
Three years ago Dollar looked disaster in the eye. Everything was on the point of collapse.
They were unhappy about the state of their music. The long-standing relationship with their original producer, Chris Neil, had grown stale. They desperately needed new blood and, after hearing “Video Killed The Radio Star”, thought they had found it with Buggle Trevor Horn.
They asked Horn to slip into the vacant driving seat but he couldn’t at the time. He had just agreed to join Yes and that was a full time occupation.
The duo decided to have a go themselves and in late ‘79 delivered a version of the old Beatles’ stomper, “I Wanna Hold Your Hand”. Although it reached Number Nine in the charts, it was a cheerless performance and only served to show their lack of sturdy songs and studio expertise.
They were equally unhappy about the state of their business affairs. They had switched managers and record companies (from the now deceased Acrobat to Carrere), but instead of this heralding a brave new future, there followed endless legal bickering and a stream of unpleasant court cases.
Worst of all, they were unhappy with each other. Their personal relationship was in tatters. They had been going out together since the mid-‘70s and the strain of being in the same person’s company twenty-four hours a day had taken its toll. The only solution was to find separate flats. 1980 certainly was a wretched year.
But the seventh cavalry was at hand. Trevor Horn left Yes and the trio met up in a Japanese restaurant to discuss what could be done to salvage the situation.
Above all, Dollar wanted to restore their self-esteem and, to do so, needed a “classic radio single”. Horn agreed to try out some ideas with one of his co-writers, Bruce Woolley, and the following week, bingo!
In one afternoon Horn and Woolley wrote “Hand Held In Black And White” plus “Mirror Mirror”. The trio went straight into the studio and drafted a mighty masterplan. They would create a brand new sound for the ‘80s by combining the lush, orchestral feel of ‘60s ballads with the rhythmic snap of ‘70s electronic pop. In Horn’s words, it was “Vince Hill meets Kraftwerk!” The recipe worked perfectly.
When “Hand Held” was released, the nation suddenly pricked up its ears and Dollar’s image changed virtually overnight.
Now David and Thereza were fashionable!
“It was lovely,” reflects David. “We were back in business at last! And the timing was just right. Punk was turning into pop and the general outlook was changing. Pop stars were dressing more stylishly and they weren’t afraid to say that they’d maybe bought a new car.
“People were broadening their horizons and everyone was much more friendly. In fact, Phil Oakey came up to me at Top Of The Pops and said that he’d bought every single we’d ever made!”
Thereza was a late convert to the dizzy delights of pop. She had grown up with classical music but at 15 everything began to change.
A school-friend introduced her first to “Suzanne” by Leonard Cohen, that doleful poet-balladeer of the early ‘70s, and then to “Goodbye To Love” by the Carpenters. The next day she rushed out and bought every Carpenters’ record she could find.
She was determined to make ‘showbiz’ her career now and attended The Arts Educational, a dance and drama college in London.
“But it just wasn’t any good,” she adds. “I wanted to go somewhere that was cut-throat. I thought I had enough technique and wanted to do things the hard way.”
Not surprisingly, she left the institution and threw herself into the pantomime, summer season and cabaret circuit.
“You get indoctrinated with the fact that you’ll do anything, go for any job, no matter what it says in the ad, just in case…”
During one of her early auditions she met Trevor Horn. Both had applied for a new, middle-of-the-road group that was to consist of three boys and three girls. Both had landed jobs. On a Friday they were told to get ready for a recording sessions the following week. However, the telephone didn’t ring and the group’s backers vanished into thin air.
Thereza was left high and dry. In order to make ends meet she did a tour of working men’s clubs round Britain. It was an alarming experience.
“I nearly got abducted in Liverpool! We had this tiny touring show of three go-go girls, a blue comedian, an instrumental guitarist and me. Suddenly these two sailors grabbed me and carried me off! I was terrified but I finally managed to get away.
“That was a really hard time and yet I would tell my parents that everything was wonderful. I had learnt to drink whisky and ginger ale, and live on peanuts. I can’t even smell whisky now without it making me feel sick.”
In 1974 she saw another advert for another proposed three girl three boy band. “I thought it would be the same lot as before so I decided to go along and give them a piece of my mind.”
In fact, it turned out to be a completely different operation. The group became Guys And Dolls which, of course, is where David enters the picture.
By this time David had also notched up plenty of handy experience, although it was more in the acting than singing world. He had attended the famous Italia Conti stage school (“It was my world. I loved it. Very show-bizzy! Very camp!”) and found time between lessons to make TV commercials for everything from Dutch butter to Clark’s shoes (“£120 for a day’s work!”) and Coca Cola (in which he pretended to be a French boy).
When he was offered a place in Guys And Dolls, he was busy playing Cousin Yellowstone in a stage version of The Wombles in Manchester.
Guys And Dolls, they both reckon, gave them “invaluable experience” for what was to come later.
“I appreciate it more now,” explains Thereza, “than when I was in it. The first year really was very glamorous. To be told a record will be a big hit and that you’ll drive around in limousines drinking champagne and it all happens, is amazing. But after the glamour wore off, I realised the records we were making were rubbish basically.”Continue »
“We were very vulnerable,” continues David. “We were hungry people thrown together for money and fame. That’s why we did it. And that’s what I’ve always been taught: get famous and make money.”
After a year, cracks within the group began to show. There was continual tension between David and lead singer Dominic.
This rivalry lead to crazy situations as with their second single, “Here I Go Again.” While Dominic sang the lead vocal on the single, David would take over on stage. And just to make matters even more complicated, the single’s bag featured a picture of David and Thereza only!
The twosome also wanted to expand and experiment in different areas. They wanted to ease out of cabaret, develop their own song writing and work with new producers. “The rest of the band wouldn’t listen to us,” says David, “and so we left.”
It then took them a gruelling nine months to convince the record industry that they had the wherewithal to make it as a duo.
“No-one gave us any credibility at all,” remembers Thereza. “We were broke. We only had enough money to buy one outfit each which we wore for every meeting.
“I had a pair of black velvet trousers and a black shirt. I used to feed David liver four times a week because it was cheap and I thought it would do him good. But it never occurred to us to give up.”
They finally found a sympathetic ear with the then newly formed Acrobat label and in November 1978 released their first single, “Shooting Star”.
Their aim today is still the same —
They’ve just finished a new album in which 8 out of the 12 songs have been penned and produced by the pair.
Thereza gulped: “It scared me half to death doing it, especially after trying it out 18 months ago and it half-working. And anyway trying to stand up to Trevor’s production is a bit like looking-up at Mount Everest.”
But from now on the image is going to take second place to the music.
“We’re not faces fronting music. We’re serious musicians.”