The Photos are one of those bands who were signed, packaged and delivered by a major record company, in the dust cloud of post punk.
Initially marketed as a “British Blondie”, The Photos failed to capture the imagination in anything approaching the same way, and we think it might be safe to assume that which ever bright spark in the marketing department of said label hadn’t the slightest idea of quite how much they had bitten off by making that sort of lazy comparison early on. Blondie had become the benchmark of chart friendly post punk, the holy grail mix of street cred and huge record sales, and so it was hardly a great leap of the imagination to that major labels were actively claiming that their new signings were the “next Blondie” or “The British Blondie” or “the whatever Blondie” – probably dooming the poor band from the get go, because, how ever you look at it, there was NEVER going to be another Blondie. This wasn’t the Photos fault, they disagreed with the tag line from the start,
“I’d prefer to be like Siouxsie and the Banshees than Blondie,” said Wendy Wu in 1979. “The whole thing with us is the music, not the ritzy image. I’ve never considered myself as a sex symbol. No way.”
Formed in 1977, Worcester based punk rockers Satan’s Rats released three independent singles before going their separate ways. Original members Steve Eagles and Ollie Harrison decided that their next band would feature a female vocalist and initially set about trying to entice Jane Casey to join them. Jane had other ideas, and after leaving Big In Japan went on to form Pink Military, leaving the former Rats, singerless. Undeterred, the set their sights on the former manager of pub rockers City Youth, a certain Wendy Yates who joined in 1979.
Almost straightaway the new band were signed by CBS records and The Photos released their eponymous debut in 1980.
Enjoying a major label publicity budget, “The British Blondie” were unleashed upon the world in a barely disguised Blondie-esque blaze of “similar but completely new and different” artwork and publicity. If Blondie’s album artwork was black and white stripes, then maybe The Photos album artwork could be brightly coloured rectangles, but still straight, and sort of what you might call….parallel. You can almost hear the cogs of the promotional department grinding in their copycat sockets.
Wu was initially a regular face in the music press, and their debut ep was expected to skyrocket to the top. Instead industrial action at the BBC prevented them from appearing on Top Of The Pops, and a second album “Crystal Tips and Mighty Mice”, was recorded, but never released. The single “Irene” reached the heady heights of number 56, and very much unlike Blondie, the band split the following year.
The Photos were always a popular live band, they played all over the UK in 1979/80, so what happened to them? Even after 40 years, the Blondie thing apparently still irks them and on their current facebook page they ask,
“Did Britain need a Blondie? Would Wendy Wu be on your bedroom wall next month? Just two of the questions that accompanied the arrival of The Photos in 1979. The questions were half-answered when a poster campaign followed the band’s appearances, “The Photos – England’s Answer To Blondie.” The band disagreed; they preferred Ramones and The Undertones”.
Wendy went onto release a couple of solo singles and form the short-lived duo Strange Cruise with Steve Strange in 1986. If anyone’s still in touch with Wendy, we’d love to hear from her.