Deborah Evans Stickland is best known as the slightly scary, six-foot tall, vocalist of the Flying Lizards. The band, was formed in 1976 as a loose collective of Art School graduates, and along with Deborah, the line up included musicians David Cunningham and David Toop and occasional vocalists and fellow art school rockers Patti Palladin and Vivien Goldman.
Deborah herself has described the band as “an exercise in pop absurdism” and they aligned themselves far more closely with the avant grade movement, than as potential pop stars. Despite their own admitted lack of musicianship, combined with the fact that they didn’t write their own songs, they took their arty ideas of performing only cover versions using “prepared instruments” into the UK top 5 in the summer of 1979.
Choosing the Berry Gordy Jr written “Money”, a song that had also been covered by The Beatles, the Flying Lizards booked themselves into the studio, somewhere Deborah has referred to as a “cold meat fridge in Brixton, London, at a cost of £6.50”. Practically “Money” for nothing then…
The band, the artists, the avant-gardists…pretty much mangled the rule book as far as pop production was concerned. They used a bass guitar string hit with a stick as the bass drum sound, and managed to give the piano a banjo like quality by throwing an array of objects onto the piano’s strings; ashtrays, sheet music, a rubber toy and possibly the remains of the rule book itself. These simple steps turned a humble piano into the avant-garde “prepared instrument” monster as previously described.
“Money” the single was released just two months after Margaret Thatcher became UK Prime Minister, and there was something about Deborah’s delivery that made it hard to tell if this was pure sarcasm, or some kind of anthem to the rising yuppy class. Her art school roots hint at the former.
Deborah’s vocals were unique, she delivered them in a spoken, BBC announcer monotone which gave the record an easily identifiable, robotic and entirely unemotional feel. The music too, was a simple and stripped down version of the original, relying on its repetitive rhythm, electronic sound effects and avant-garde production over any kind of virtuoso musicianship.
This is a sentiment echoed by Simon Reynolds, in his book “Rip It Up and Start Again – post punk 1978-1984″,
“All icily enunciated hauteur and blue-blooded sang-froid, singer Deborah Evans replaces Lennon’s lust rasp with the dead-eyed disdain of the ruling class. It’s no coincidence that ‘Money’ was released a few months after the election of Margaret Thatcher, who spoke in a fake-posh voice not a million miles from Evans’ exaggeratedly aristocratic tones and who championed a callous economic theory known as monetarism. This unlikely fusion of avant-garde tomfoolery and subtle political satire became a massive novelty hit in the UK and a New Wave dance-floor cult smash in America.”
Ultimately, The Flying Lizards are much more than novelty one hit wonders; at a time when many bands were softening their corners, or making themselves more palatable for public consumption, the Flying Lizards managed to produce the definitive version of a former Motown hit, by hitting bass strings, filling the piano with stuff, and delivering the words with all the emotion of an especially sulky speaking clock. In doing so, maybe they became a good case study in being wilfully arty whilst being popular too, and showed that these qualities didn’t have to be mutually exclusive. By doing what they did, and on their own terms, it’s possible that they started the groundworks on the path that would eventually be explored in the future by bands like St Etienne and Portishead.
Since their glorious moment in the spotlight, and the poshest sounding punk girl ever, Deborah has continued to work as a voice-over artist, and psychotherapist, and you can learn more about her post lizardian exploits HERE.
And if you need just a bit more Lizard deadpan, just listen to what they did to James Brown.